“Now there was a dispute among [the apostles] as to which of them should be considered the greatest…‘But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be like the younger, and he who governs as he who serves…Yet I am among you as the One who serves’” (Luke 22:24,26)
Jesus performed the demeaning act of washing the feet of His disciples in order to challenge the attitude of pride that afflicted them in jockeying for status over one another. It is imperative that spiritual leadership be expressed in humility. The leaders are to lead in displays of meekness, gentleness and acts of kindness. These are the ways of holiness. To be like the Lord Jesus is to imitate His humbleness. It’s not an attribute that comes easily to Americans.
Consider the qualities defining the various nations of the western world. We speak of English reserve. Scotch frugality. We may know a good German or an honest Dutchman. The French boast of their glory: “la gloire du nom francais.” We have heard of a true Irishman and the loveliest of all such national titles, Holy Russia. Our nation never seems to tire of the self-labeled attribute: Proud American. “Proud to be an American.” We are a people unashamed to praise ourselves over all the things we are proud of: Proud Parent of an Honor Student at [insert school]. Proud Owner of [something or other]. Proud [fill in state or sports team].
Even as I write this, I wonder if it will be read by fellow Americans with dismay and even resentment. Pride defines who we are. Never mind that our Lord, God and Savior expects another set of attributes from us. For Him humility is the flip side of pride, and yet it doesn’t appear to matter all that much for us. A basic ingredient of pride is self-confidence. We’ll decide who we are, what we believe and how we’ll prioritize our value system.
Can you imagine that we Orthodox Christians might also campaign for the right to call our nation Holy America? Who would march with us? Where would we begin to make such a statement to the press and public? And how long would it be before we would attract notice as another weird group looking for attention from the media? And yet an argument might be raised to justify such a goal which for many or even most could be considered quixotic at best, perhaps even ridiculous. We attend a holy Church. We worship a holy Trinity. We understand ourselves to be a holy people who honor our holy God and blessed saints. Why not live in a holy nation?
I would argue that like our Lord Jesus Christ we are called to make public, or in scriptural terms, to evangelize the gospel given to us to promulgate. Even though we are more comfortable keeping our beliefs to ourselves, treating our parishes like monasteries shut off from the world outside our walls, this attitude itself is not what our Lord wants or expects from us. Let us agree with the criticism and do something about it. What do we do when we bring the non-Orthodox to the true faith in Christ? Teach them the real meaning of the Bible. Explain the workings of the Holy Spirit through history from Pentecost to the present. Show them how to pray. Point out the beauty and glory of iconography and the veneration of icons. But is it not the main purpose to lead them into holiness? The life in Christ that becomes Christ’s life in us, adoption into the Holy Family of the Trinity, learning what it is like to call the Almighty “Father,” “Abba”? How can that be if we are not holy ourselves? And if we love our fellow citizens, do we not want the very best for them? In humble faith, let us say: “Lord have mercy on us. Teach us the joy of humility.”