What does it mean to be a devout and committed Christian? What is at the very core of our approach to and relationship with God? Allow me to answer these questions with a quotation from our Lord. “ At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, ‘Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Then Jesus called a child to Him, set him in the midst of them and said, ‘Assuredly I say to you unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Mt.18:1-5).
Who do we honor in this life? Typically we honor entertainers, athletes, the wealthy, politicians, CEO’s of corporations, successful, accomplished men and women. They are often motivated, hard working, self-sufficient, and articulate.
Who do we honor in our Orthodox faith? We hold up as examples and honor after our Lord, the saints. Without a doubt, many of the saints were gifted with similar qualities as those possessed by the “idols” of our times. However, the saints accomplished something that few have. They were “converted” and became as little children. Now, that does not mean that they were childish, with the immaturities of childhood. What it does mean is that they were childlike, with a purity of faith, trust and love for God. It means that they were humble and always ready to learn, never looking at themselves as better than another, seeing that anything good that they did was as a result of God’s Grace and not their own. This childlikeness was something that they, through humility had to re-learn. They were “converted” to this attitude of life. Since after the Fall of humankind our tendency is to rely on our self and not God. Most of the “great ones” honored in our world, with our fallen tendencies focus on their accomplishments and possessions. A “converted one” learns to direct any good away from self and towards God. The truth is that in my experience, even within the Church this is not easily accomplished. More times than not our attitudes are not “converted”. This is the main reason why petty differences and power struggles occur everywhere. Our own egos keep us from this childlikeness and humility. In our circles, this applies to clergy and laity a like.
Our Lord tells us, “…it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 19:24). This reference specifically is towards wealthy people. However in principle “wealth” can refer to anyone who thinks of him or herself as great or at least greater than another, when essentially we are nothing without God. Tito Colliander in his book, Way of the Ascetics, says, “The holy Fathers say with one voice: the first thing to keep in mind is never in any respect to rely on yourself…This decision not to rely on self is for most people a severe obstacle at the very outset…For how can a human being receive advice, instruction and help if he believes that he knows and can do anything and needs no directions?” (pg. 4).
How then can we “convert” to this childlikeness? Step I is to, in humility recognize in our heart’s depths God’s incredible love for us. “ God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). He loved and loves us even though we are not perfect. Step II is to strive to love God as first and foremost in our lives—above self, parents, spouse, children—everyone. We have a challenge in our maturation process to learn to depend on God attitudinally as a child depends upon a parent. I emphasize maturation because this assumes adult responsibility to do things that we ourselves can do and to not wait on our parent (God) to do them for us. When we do them, however we do them for His Glory and not for our own satisfaction and glory. Step III is to love others and learn to not focus on their limitations but rather to focus on God’s grace within them. After all, if God loves us in our imperfection, it stands to reason He loves others as well. Step IV is to be ever vigilant and not let one’s guard down. Our fallen tendency is always there until our final breath with temptation lurking in the shadows wanting us to rely on self, thus judging others and even God as inadequate to direct or guide us.
In Humility and like a little child, let us submit to our Lord and God and Savior Jesus our whole life so that through God’s Grace and Strength we may live in His Presence and enter into the kingdom of heaven.