One woman had an abortion and went to confession. But it was not enough in her case. Besides revealing your sin, you need to humble yourself and repent of it.
Humility is action, not words. Words are sweet in taste. Words give a feeling of sweetness, moving the soul and making it melt. Humility, on the other hand, tastes very bitter and pungent. Or rather, hearing about humility is sweet, but practicing it is bitter. Father George (Karslidis), a famous confessor in Northern Greece, said to this woman who had an abortion (and she was a very beautiful, wealthy aristocrat):
– Here’s what you have to do. You will dress in rags, you will not tell anyone who you are, and you will go to such and such a village. You will be begging for alms there for a full week, not telling anyone about your past or present. You won’t even mention your name. This humiliation will help your soul to truly humble itself and cleanse itself of the evil that you caused to the soul of your child, who died before being born.
The woman did all of that and felt relief, something that she had not felt during the confession. She was healed of her sin.
When we first embark on the path of humility, the first temptation that comes to us is vanity. As soon as you want to be humble, conceited thoughts immediately begin to appear in your head. What is vanity? This is when a person does a good deed, and secretly begins to be proud of it. For example, when I fast, a thought comes to me, “Well done! Since I’m fasting, I’m not like the others! I’m different, I’m better!”
Or, for example, one can dress modestly (which is good in itself), but then vain thoughts begin to appear, followed by arrogance and complacency. The person begins to think, “Look at what’s going on all around. The world is dying, everyone dresses provocatively, but I am not like that. Well done!” This “Well done!” part that we say to ourselves after every good deed, is vanity. This is a temptation that we will always face when doing a good deed, because every time something inflates in us from within causing the thoughts, “Well done! I did this in secret!” But the minute we say “well done” we are already proud. This is the least like humility.
Humility implies a desire to learn. When a person has humility, he does not say, “I know everything!”. He asks questions, for example to his spouse, or even his child. At one time this made an impression on Saint John Climacus, when in one monastery he saw gray-haired elders asking questions to a priest hearing their confessions (that priest was forty years old). These elders were monks, tempered in prayer and spiritual warfare, and they humbly asked questions to a person younger than themselves.
This happens today too. There are abbots on Athos who are younger than many of the monks in their monasteries. Despite their dignity, they go to the elders and ask them for advice in order to humble themselves, and not act on their own. It is good for their souls.
Let’s avoid saying things like “I know everything” or “Don’t tell me what to do”. Such an attitude is transmitted to all our family members and everyone around.
However, there are times when a Christian has the right to be indignant about what happened and thus demonstrate certain “selfishness” without harm to the soul. What are these cases? Sometimes it is necessary to stand up for the Orthodox faith. These are the times when we can and must be categorical and strict. This will not be selfishness, but a confession of faith. When false accusations were brought against Saint Agatho, he accepted all slander. He was called a sinner, a liar and an egoist… But when he was called a heretic, he replied:
– Listen! As for everything that you have told me before, I have hope to improve. But if I agree that I am a heretic, then I will lose hope of salvation! If I am a heretic, then I cannot be saved. Therefore, I disagree with your words.
The Holy Fathers explain the behavior of the Lord in the Jerusalem Temple in the following way. Taking the whip and driving out the buyers and sellers, He did not feel anger at that moment. He was not angry with anyone and was in complete control of His behavior and actions. He turned over the benches and scattered the money, but when he was in front of the cages with pigeons, which were intended for sacrifice, he said, “Take it from here!” (John 2:16)
That is, if Christ had lost control over Himself, He would have overturned the cages with birds. But since the pigeons were innocent, He did not harm them. This is what the interpreters of the gospel say. Therefore, the Lord was not in a nervous state. He did all this not out of selfishness, but out of love – true love for the Law of God, wishing to protect the Temple. Similarly, a Christian who wants to become humble cannot be angry or Impertinent.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds