On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee
Humility and Conceit
Why does humility lead up to the heights of righteousness, whereas self-conceit leads down to the depths of sin? Because anybody who thinks he is something great, even before God, is rightly abandoned by God, as one who thinks that he does not need His help. Anybody who despises himself, on the other hand, and relies on mercy from above, wins God’s sympathy, help and grace. As it says, “The Lord resisteth the proud: but He giveth grace to unto the lowly” (Proverbs 3:34, LXX)
(St Gregory Palamas, Homily TWO, On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee)
The Parable of the Publican and Pharisee is a case study in how to and how not to think of oneself. St Gregory’s homily talks about this often.
In our day (and perhaps in any day, although the difference in our day is that technology and media bolster bad attitudes and try to squelch good ones) conceit clouds the minds of most people. It is a rare person who can honestly see themselves for what they are. This is only possible for the humble.
Another side of conceit is self-loathing. Our world is also inundated by this passion. To “despise oneself”, as St Gregory describes, is not the same as having “poor self-esteem”. The true Christian knows that he is a sinner, above all other men, and yet has confidence in God’s mercy, because God sees his humility and comforts him.
It takes a lifetime to learn this lesson.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2011 St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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