On the Law of God 7-9

On the Law of God by St. Philaret the Confessor

by St. Philaret the Confessor

VII. Humility

According to the teachings of our Holy and God-bearing Fathers–the athletes and lamps of Christian piety–the first of all Christian virtues is humility. Without this virtue, no other virtue can be acquired, and the spiritual perfection of a Christian is unthinkable. Christ the Saviour begins His New Testament precepts of blessedness with the precept of humility: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of the Heavens!”

In the usual sense of the word, we consider a person poor who has nothing and must ask others for help. The Christian (whether materially rich or poor) must recognize that he is spiritually poor, that there is no good of his own within him. Everything good in us is from God. From our own selves, we add only evil–self-love, caprices of sensuality, and sinful pride. Each of us must remember this, for it is not in vain that the Holy Scripture says: “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.”

As we have already said, without humility, no other virtue, is possible, for if man does not fulfill virtue in a spirit of humility, he will inevitably fall into God-opposing pride, and will fall away from God’s mercy.

Together with a true, deep humility, each Christian must have a spiritual approach such as that spoken of in the second precept on blessedness. We know that humility abases and judges one. Often, however, this is not a profound, constant frame of mind and experience of the soul, but a superficial, shallow feeling. The Holy Fathers indicated one manner by which the sincerity and depth of humility can be tested:

Begin to reproach a person to his face, for those very sins and in those very expressions in which he “humblyjudges himself. If his humility is sincere, he will hear out the reproaches without anger, and sometimes will thank you for the humbling instruction. If he does not have true humility, he will not endure the reproaches but will become angry, since his pride will rear up on its haunches from the reproaches and accusations.

The Lord says “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.In other words, blessed are they who not only sorrow over their own imperfection and unworthiness, but mourn over it. By mourning we understand, first of all, spiritual mourning - weeping over sins and the resultant loss of God’s Kingdom. Moreover, amidst ascetics of Christianity, there were many who, filled with love and compassion, wept over other people - over their sins, falls and sufferings. It is also in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel to account as mourners all those sorrowing and unfortunate people who accept their sorrow in a Christian way: humbly and submissively. They are truly blessed, for they shall be comforted by God, with love. And those who, on the contrary, seek to obtain only pleasure and enjoyment in the earthly life, are not at all blessed. Although they consider themselves fortunate, and others consider them as such, according to the spirit of the Gospel teaching, they are most unfortunate people. It is precisely to them that this threatening warning of the Lord is directed: “Woe unto you wealthy! for you have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for you shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for you shall mourn and weep.”

When a man is filled with humility and sorrow about his sins, he cannot make peace with that evil of sin, which so stains both himself and other people. He strives to turn away from his sinful corruption and from the untruth of the surrounding life - to turn to God’s truth, to holiness and purity. He seeks this truth of God and its triumph over human untruths and desires it more strongly than one who is hungry desires to eat, or one who is thirsty desires to drink.

The fourth precept, which is bound to the first two, tells us of this: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.When shall they be filled? In part, here in the earthly life, in which these faithful followers of God’s truth already see, at times, the beginnings of its triumph and victory in the actions of God’s Providence and in the manifestations of God’s justice and omnipotence. But their spiritual hunger and thirst will be satisfied and quenched in full there, in blessed eternity, in the new heaven and new earth, wherein righteousness lives.”


True or false.

______ 1. Humility is the first of all Christian virtues.

______ 2. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

______ 3. Only some of us must recognize that we are spiritually poor.

______ 4. Most good in us is from God.

______ 5. We add only evil to ourselves.

______ 6. Without humility no other virtues are possible.

______ 7. Truth can be accepted without anger when one’s humility is sincere.

______ 8. When one is filled with humility and sorrow, one cannot make peace with that evil of sin.


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

VIII. Conversion of Sinners

We have discussed the subjects of man’s free will and examined the first of virtues humility, spiritual mourning and striving toward God’s Truth. Now, we must speak of the process of the conversion of an erring sinner to the path of righteousness.

The parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32) is the best example of this process. This parable tells us of a young son who is annoyed by the careful guardianship of his father. The son senselessly decided to betray his father, and came to him asking for his share of the inheritance. Having received it, he departed into a distant country. It is clear that this senseless son represents each sinner. Man’s betrayal of God is usually manifested in this way–one receives everything that God has given one in life, and then ceases to have fervent faith in Him, ceases to think about Him and to love Him, and, finally, forgets about His law. Is this not like the life of many contemporary intellectuals? Overlooking what is truly essential, they live in remoteness from God.

In that far away land, so deceiving from a distance, the senseless son squandered and wasted his possessions, living dissolutely. Thus it is that the senseless sinner wastes his spiritual and physical strength in the pursuit of sensual enjoyments and in “burning through his life,and departs, in heart and soul, further and further from his Heavenly Father.

The prodigal son, having squandered his possessions, grew so hungry that he took a job as a swine-herd (a keeper of animals which, according to Mosaic law, were impure). He would have been glad to eat swine’s food, but no one gave him any. Is it not so that a sinner, entangled finally in the nets of sin, hungers spiritually, suffers and languishes? He tries to fill his spiritual emptiness with a whirlpool of empty pleasures, which cannot drown the torment of hunger from which his deathless spirit grows weak.

The unfortunate-one would perish if it were not for help from God, Who Himself said that He “does not desire the death of the sinner, but that he should be converted and live.The prodigal son heard the call of God’s Grace and he did not push it aside nor reject it, but accepted it. He accepted it and came to himself as one who is ill comes to himself after a torturous incubus. There was a saving thought: “How many of my father’s hirelings abound in bread, but I, his son, am dying from hunger.”

“I shall arise,he decides, “and go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am not worthy to be called your son. But accept me into the number of your hirelings.’“A firm intention, a decisive resolve–he arose, “and went to his father.”

He went, all penetrated with repentance, burning with the consciousness of his guilt and unworthiness–and with hope on the father’s mercy. His way was not easy, but when he was yet far off, his father saw him (it means that the father was waiting and was perhaps looking every day to see if the son was returning). He saw and took pity, and running out, threw his arms around his shoulders and kissed him. The son was about to begin his confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am unworthy to be called your son .. .But the father did not allow him to finish. He had already forgiven and forgotten all, and accepted the dissolute and hungry swine-herd as a beloved son. The Lord said, “There is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not have need of repentance.(Lk.15:7).

So gradually the process of falling away and conversion to God occurs in one. One is, as it were, lowered and then elevated by steps. At first, betrayal of God, going away from Him to a “distant country.In this alienation from God, there is a complete serving of sin and passions. Finally, there is a full spiritual bankruptcy, a spiritual hunger and darkness–the person has reached the depth of falling. Here, however, according to the words of Apostle Paul, where sin has multiplied, an abundance of Grace appears to instruct man. The sinner accepts the saving, Graceful appeal (or rejects it and perishes–and alas, this happens). He accepts it, and comes to himself, and firmly decides to part with sin and go with repentance to the Heavenly Father. He goes along the path of repentance, and the Father comes out to meet him and accepts him, all-forgiven and with as much love as ever.


1. What is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk.15:11-32)? Tell it in your own words.

2. What did the prodigal son hear?

3. How did the prodigal son go to his father?

4. Whom will we meet on the path of repentance?

5. What did the son actually say in his confession to his father?

6. What does Luke 15:17 say and mean to you?

7. What happens when we part with sin?

IX. Grace and Salvation

Speaking about every truly good, Christian activity, the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Without Me, you can do nothing.Therefore, when the matter of salvation is being considered, the Orthodox Christian must remember that the beginning of that truly Christian life which saves us, comes only from Christ the Saviour, and is given to us in the mystery of baptism.

In His conversation with Nikodemos about how one enters into God’s kingdom, our Saviour replied, “Amen, amen, I tell you, except one be born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God.Further, He clarified this saying, “... except one be born of water and of the Spirit, one cannot enter into the Kingdom of God(Jn. 3:34). Baptism is, therefore, as that door through which alone one can enter into the Church of those being saved. For, only one who will have faith and be baptized will be saved. (Mk.16:16).

Baptism washes away the corruption of the ancestral sin,1 and it washes away the guilt of all sins previously committed by the one being baptized. Nevertheless, the seeds of sin sinful habits and desires toward sin–remain in one and are overcome by means of lifelong moral struggle (man’s efforts in cooperation with God’s Grace). For, as we already know, God’s Kingdom is acquired by effort, and only those who use effort attain it. Other holy mysteries (sacraments) of the Church–repentance, Holy Communion, anointing and various prayers and divine services–are moments and means of the consecrating of a Christian. According to the measure of his faith, a Christian receives divine Grace in them, which facilitates his salvation. Without this Grace, according to apostolic teaching, we not only cannot do good, but we cannot even wish to do it. (Phil. 2:13).

If, however, the help of God’s Grace has such immense significance in the matter of our salvation, then what do our personal efforts mean? Perhaps the entire matter of salvation is done for us by God and we only have to “sit with arms foldedand await God’s mercy? In the history of the Church, this question was clearly and decisively settled in the fifth century. A strict and learned monk, Pelagius, began to teach that man is saved by himself–by his own strength, without God’s Grace. Developing his idea, he finally reached a point at which, in essence, he began to negate the necessity itself of redemption and salvation in Christ. Augustine (of Hippo) stepped forth against this teaching, and demonstrated the necessity of the Lord’s Grace for salvation. While refuting Pelagius, however, Augustine fell into the opposite extreme. According to his teaching, everything in the matter of salvation is done for man by God’s Grace, and man has only to accept this salvation with gratitude.

As usual, the truth is between these two extremes. It was expressed by the fifth century ascetic Righteous St. John Cassian, whose explanation is called synergism (cooperating). According to this teaching, man is saved only in Christ, and God’s Grace is the main acting strength in this salvation. Nevertheless, besides the action of God’s Grace for salvation, the personal efforts of man himself are also necessary. Man’s personal efforts alone are insufficient for his salvation–but they are necessary, for without them, God’s Grace will not begin to work out the matter of his salvation.

Thus, man’s salvation is worked out simultaneously through the action of God’s saving Grace, and through the personal efforts of man himself. According to the profound expression of certain of the Fathers of the Church, God created man without the participation of man himself–but He does not save him without his agreement and desire, for He created him unfettered. Man is free to choose good or evil, salvation or ruin–and God does not impede his freedom, although He constantly summons him to salvation.

1. That is, baptism is a regeneration, a liberation from the fear of death and a new beginning in the Holy Church. It is not at all a forgiveness for some sort of “original sin,but only for one’s own personal sins.


Complete the following:

1. “Without Me, ______________________________________________.”

2. The Christian life which saves us, ______________________________, and is ___________________________________________________.

3. Baptism is _________________________________________________.

4. Baptism washes _____________________________________________.

5. Holy Mysteries of the Church __________________________________.

6. Man’s salvation is ___________________________________________.

7. Man is free _________________________________________________.