Category Archives: Humility

On Pursuing Virtue: Humility

This is the first in a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that we as Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!

The first virtue we should teach to our Sunday Church School students is humility. Why? Because it takes humility of heart for a Christian to pursue any of the other virtues! So, until we humble ourselves, we will not be able to properly obtain any other virtues. That is what makes humility a necessary starting point for Christians of any age who are pursuing virtue.

What is humility, and how can we teach about it to our students? Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble.” We can demonstrate this definition in a hands-on way as we introduce the concept of humility to our Sunday Church School students. Before class, we will need to cut many pieces of string 2-3 feet long, and slip a small piece of paper (with a hole punched in its corner) onto  each piece of string. Pile the strings and some writing utensils where all of your students will be able to reach them when they arrive in your Sunday Church School classroom.

Begin the class by asking your students what they are proud of: ie. accomplishments they’ve achieved, things they can do well, etc. Then have them draw or write each thing on one of those pieces of paper. Select one student to be a model of an Orthodox Christian, and have them stand before the class. One by one, have the class members present the thing(s) they are proud of and gently tie the string attached to the paper around both ankles of the model, as though the model were proud of that item or thought. Once the model has all the things/thoughts around their ankles, have another student read the Merriam-Webster definition of humility. Have the class look at the model Orthodox Christian, and ask, “Is this person humble? Are they free? Can they easily walk?” (If it seems safe for them to try to take a step or two, encourage the model to do so. Stay nearby so that you can spot them and catch them if they begin to fall.) Then talk about what the string-tied ankles represent. “This model is each of us! We all have things we are proud about. Many times, those things tie us up and make it hard for us to walk with Christ. Can (model) walk in God’s ways right now? Or are they tied down by pride? If we want to be humble, we need to let go of these things so that we can be free, the way God created us to be. Then we can be a true Christian, one who is really walking with Christ in the way that He meant for us to live!” Have the class suggest ways that the model can become free. Some of the things they may be able to just step away from (if they’re loosely tied); other things they may have to bend down (or humble themselves) to free themselves from (if the string is tied tightly but in a bow); and still others they may not be able to undo and only the teacher (with a scissors, representing God) can release them from those prideful things/thoughts (if the string is tied tightly and in a knot). Compare the model’s release from the “pride ties” to real life release from pride: some things are easier for us to release, some require us to exercise a good bit of humility in order to let them go; and still others only God can release us from, and then only if we ask Him to do so (again, requiring humility). Throughout this lesson, we must be sure to emphasize to our students that it is not bad to have accomplishments. For example, it is not wrong to win a trophy for a fast race. But when we think about those accomplishments, brag about them to others, think we’re better than others because of them, or focus so much on trying to win them again that we don’t think about God – THAT is when those accomplishments become pride and trip us up from walking with Christ. We want to be free so we can walk with Him better. The way we can be free is to let go of those things, to be humble.

Have each student gather their tags from where the model discarded them, and spread them out where they can look at all of their own tags at once. Ask each student to think about the things that they are proud of, and decide if that thing is tying them down, keeping them from walking with God in humility as they should. Encourage them to begin to become more humble by selecting one of those things (more if you have time) and planning how they are going to humble themselves with regard to it. You may want to suggest ideas: ie. in the case of the trophy for the fast race, the student could take down the trophy from their bedroom shelf; purpose to not mention it when others are talking about racing; and/or deliberately allow someone else to win the next time if they’re struggling with feeling proud about their win. Perhaps you will want to invite the students to write or draw about their plan, or tell a friend what they intend to do; or simply offer quiet time in which each student can think and pray, telling God about their intention to become more humble in this regard: whatever will work best for your class.

Another idea (or an additional idea) is to ask your students to make a connection, to think of people or characters in their own experience who are models of humility. Invite them to share these examples with the class. Who do they know (a friend, a Saint, an example from the Scriptures) or who have they read about in books (historical figures or fictional characters) who lives/lived a humble life? How does/did that person demonstrate humility? What can we learn from them about living humbly? At the top of a large piece of chart paper, write “Humility” in large letters. On the rest of the page, list characteristics of those people: what does humility look like in each of them? Display the poster where you will all be reminded of what this important virtue looks like when it is properly lived.

Consider printing this bookmark as a tool for your Sunday Church School students to use: http://www.antiochian.org/prayer-st-ephraim-bookmark-meditation-tool. This prayer, which we pray throughout Great Lent, is a very daily way to help us gain humility.

At the end of class, pray and ask God to help each of you to become increasingly humble.

Here are some other ideas of ways to help your students to pursue humility:

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This visual comparison of two balls will help elementary-aged Sunday Church School students to think about humility in the context of the familiar story of the Publican and the Pharisee. http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/01/publican-pharisee.html
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Although this is written for parents, not teachers, and even though it is not written from an Orthodox perspective, there are many parts of this lesson plan that Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can easily utilize in a lesson plan about humility! The myriads of scriptures listed, the “fruits” chart (of rotten or good ways to show humility), the experiment, and many of the fun physical activities could help Orthodox students learn more about humility. Download the lesson here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/humility

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Show this episode of “Be the Bee” to your Sunday Church School students. As they watch, encourage them to think about how it relates to humility: http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-77-first-among-sinners

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Introduce your students to a saint who is a model of humility. Tell the story of his/her life, list together examples of his/her humility, and discuss ways to emulate it. For example, share the life of St. Nicholas Planas, who humbly greeted an enemy with joy every day, eventually turning that enemy to a friend. (See https://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/st-nicholas-planas-humble-of-spirit/, http://www.serfes.org/lives/stnicholas.htm, http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/feast-days/our-venerable-father-nicolas-planas/, or  http://www.roca.org/OA/56/56e.htm for many more stories of his humility.)

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Invite older students to read, ponder, and discuss these perspectives on humility:

Amma Theodora said said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. She offered as an example the story of an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked the demons, “What makes you go away? Is it fasting?” They replied, “We do not eat or drink.” “Is it vigils” They replied, “We do not sleep.” “Is it separation from the world?” “We live in the deserts.” “What power sends you away then?” They said, “Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.” Then Amma Theodora said, “Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?”

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“As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes.” St. John Climacus

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“The heights of humility are great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.” Abba Isidore of Pelusia

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“The natural property of the lemon tree is such that it lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit, but the more the branches bend down the more fruit they bear. Those who have the mind to understand will grasp the meaning of this.” ~ St. John Climacus

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Abba John said, “Who sold Joseph/” A brother replied saying, “It was his brethren.” The old man said to him, “No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said, ‘I am their brother’ and have objected, but, because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt.” The Desert Fathers

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Instead of teaching older students about humility, consider allowing St. John of Kronstadt to do the teaching. This blog post is full of his teachings on humility. Print copies of the blog, or portions thereof, and have the students read whatever part they receive, and then share a summary of their portion, as well as their own reaction to what they’ve read. http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/11/on-humility-by-st-john-of-kronstadt.html

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Tikhon of Moscow (March 25/April 7)

On January 19, 1865, Vasily (Basil) Ivanovich Belavin was born to the family of the priest Ioann Belavin. Ioann was the priest in the countryside of Russia, in the Toropetz district of the Pskov diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a child, Vasily spent time with the poor in his town. He loved to be part of the Church from a young age, and was unusually meek and humble. Ioann’s deceased mother once appeared to Ioann in a vision and told him many things that came true. One of the things she told him was that Vasily would grow up to be a great man.

Ioann passed away soon after that, but Vasily began his great work. He began by studying and, he studied hard. From 1878 through 1883, Vasily was a student at the Pskov Theological Seminary. The other students at the seminary liked him because he was so helpful, smart, and holy. They teasingly called Vasily the nicknames “bishop” and “patriarch” and would often ask him for help when they didn’t understand a lesson or when they needed help with their writing.
After he graduated, Vasily returned to the seminary, but this time he was not a student: he was a teacher! He taught Moral and Dogmatic Theology when he was only 23. The seminary and the whole town loved him. He lived a very pure life, in a tiny and simple wooden annex to a house. When he turned 26, he was tonsured as a monk. Vasily, now “Tikhon” (after St. Tikhon of Zadonsk), wanted to spend his whole life serving the Church.
In 1892, he was transferred to the Kholm Theological Seminary, and made an archimandrite. Five years later, Archimandrite Tikhon was consecrated as the bishop of Lublin, and was the Bishop of the Kholm Diocese. His hard work and pure lifestyle made him popular among the all the people in his region, no matter what their nationality.
Bishop Tikhon’s life changed once again in 1898 when he was made the bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, the head of the Orthodox Church in America. At the turn of the century, Bishop Tikhon’s diocese was extended beyond Alaska to all of North America. He was so well loved and respected that the Americans made him an honorary US citizen.

By 1905, the American Mission became an Archdiocese, with Bishop Tikhon leading it in his new role of Archbishop. He was given two bishops under his care to help him with this huge and diverse diocese: Bishop Innocent in Alaska, and Bishop Raphael in Brooklyn. Later that same year,
Archbishop Tikhon gave his blessing for a new monastery to be built. This monastery is named St. Tikhon’s, not after the archbishop who blessed its building, but for the saint for whom he was named: St. Tikhon of Zadonsk.

By just a few years later, in 1907, he had unified the different ethnic groups of Orthodoxy and planned a Council with all of them in February 1907. He didn’t get to go to that meeting, though, because in January he was appointed to Yaroslavl back in Russia, so he returned back to his home country again. In no time at all, he was (once again) well loved by the people now under his care. Although he was an archbishop, he spoke kindly to those beneath him instead of showing off his power. Even when he had to scold someone, he did in a kind way, and sometimes even with a joke, so that the scolding was easier for the other person to take.

In 1913, Archbishop Tikhon was sent to serve in Vilnius, Lithuania. While he was there, he worked hard to get the needed money for the local charities. Once again, the people in his care very quickly loved him because they could feel his love for God and for them. While he was in Vilnius, World War 1 began. When the war began, Archbishop Tikhon did everything that he could to help the poor in the Vilna area. Because of the war, some of these people no longer had a home, and others had no way to make a living, so they came to their archpriest for help.

A few years later, in 1917, Archbishop Tikhon was raised to the role of Metropolitan. He was put in charge of a council whose job it was to make the Russian Orthodox Church work in the way it was supposed to, including by having a patriarch. Three names were considered for the patriarchate, and the name selected from the ballot box was that of Archbishop Tikhon. That is how he came to be Metropolitan Tikhon. But even this new, more important role did not change how the metropolitan interacted with others! Everyone who met him noticed his simple life, his modesty, and how easy it was to be with him. But he could be tough when he had to: he was tough when it came to church matters, especially if he needed to defend the Church. It was a tough time for the Church herself, and it was made even harder by all that was going on in the world. Church property was being taken away by the government, the clergy were being taken to court and being persecuted, and it was difficult for Russian Orthodox Christians all over Russia. Metropolitan Tikhon kept shining the light of Christ and encouraging his fellow Christians to do the same by living godly lives full of repentance. He encouraged the clergy under his rule to stay as far from politics as possible in order to save their people.

Then a famine came to the Volga region of Russia in 1921. Patriarch Tikhon asked for help from other Russians and also from people all over the world. He even gave his blessing for donations to be made of valuable things (not used in liturgical services) from churches that could then be used to help the victims. Another group changed this to include all valuables from the church and they said that these items must be confiscated, which was against the 73rd Apostolic Canon. Not only was this against the Canon of the church, but also not all of the money for all of those items taken from churches was given to the victims of the famine. Some of it was kept by those who took the items out of the churches. This led to a uproar that ended in thousands of trials, more than 10,000 people killed, and the Patriarch himself was put into prison for over a year, Throughout this time, the patriarch was faithful to God and His Church. And when it was all finally over and the troublemaking priests and hierarchs repented and came back to the Church they were met with love by Patriarch Tikhon. It made the Patriarch very sad to see all of these troubles in the Church, but through it all, he gave himself completely to the Church and encouraged other church leaders to do the same.

In 1924, the Patriarch began to feel sick. He checked into the hospital, but would not stay always: he would leave on Sundays and Feast Days so he could continue to serve the Liturgies. The last liturgy he served was on Sunday, April 5, 1925. Two days after that, in the evening, one source said that he took took a nap until 11:45. He asked what time it was, and when they told him, he made the Sign of the Cross twice while saying, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” Patriarch Tikhon died before he was able to cross himself the third time. (Our other source said of his death that the patriarch was poisoned and that is why he died, and then the official record of his death was changed to make it look like he died naturally.)
Nearly a million people came to his funeral, so they overflowed from the cathedral, all over the Donskoy Monastery, and out into the square and the streets! The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church glorified the Patriarch to sainthood in 1989. For almost 70 years, the saint’s relics were believed to be lost, but they were found hidden away in the Donskoy Monastery in February of 1992.

Troparion to St. Tikhon:

Let us praise Tikhon, the patriarch of all Russia, / And enlightener of North America / An ardent follower of the Apostolic traditions, / And good pastor of the Church of Christ. / Who was elected by divine providence, / And laid down his life for his sheep. / Let us sing to him with faith and hope, / And ask for his hierarchical intercessions: / Keep the church in Russia in tranquility, / And the church in North America in peace. / Gather her scattered children into one flock, / Bring to repentance those who have renounced the True Faith, / Preserve our lands from civil strife, / And entreat God’s peace for all people!

St. Tikhon of Moscow, intercede for our salvation!

 

Sources: https://oca.org/holy-synod/past-primates/tikhon-belavin and  http://gnisios.narod.ru/tikhonmoscow.html

 

Here are some ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students learn more about St. Tikhon of Moscow:
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Find a more detailed biography of St.Tikhon of Moscow’s life here: http://www.antiochian.org/Bishops/tikhon.htm

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Find photos of St. Tikhon of Moscow, along with an interesting article about him here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86631.htm

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Teachers of younger Sunday Church School children can show their students these icons of St. Tikhon’s life as they tell his story: https://oca.org/media/photos/the-life-of-st.-tikhon-of-moscow

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Tell your Sunday Church School students the story of St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life, emphasizing the ways that he exemplified humility. From his early years, he reached out to those beneath him and became a friend to all. Help your students begin to think about how to apply this humble lifestyle to their own life. Teach your students James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” As Orthodox Christians, our main objective in life is truly to be like God and to live for eternity at peace with Him. We cannot rise to His level, so we need God to descend to ours. Share with your students this quote from St. Tikhon:

http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_tikhon_of_moscow_god_descends.pdf

To whom does St. Tikhon say God descends? To the humble! Talk together about practical ways that we, like St. Tikhon, can live humbly even when we are successful and could become proud. Illustrate St. Tikhon’s quote with this visual: Find a way to illustrate how water flows down a hill. If you have a hill outside of your church, take a bucket of water and go on a field trip to demonstrate and observe. If not, use a cookie sheet “hill” that empties into a plastic bin “valley” to demonstrate. Either way, before you pour the water, ask your students what will happen to it. Will it go fast or slow? Will it stop halfway down and sit there, or keep going as far down as it can? After the demonstration, ask them to think about St. Tikhon’s statement and how this demonstration applies to it. How does God descend to the humble? If we want to be near God, we need to be humble.

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Here is a printable abbreviated version of St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life. Make copies of this version for your older students to read during your lesson: http://saintnicholas-oca.org/files/bltn16/10_9_16.pdf

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After introducing your older Sunday Church School students to St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life, show them a printed copy of this blog post and ask them to underline something they already knew about the saint and circle something new that they just learned from this post. After they’ve had some time to do so, compare notes and discuss their findings. http://orthodoxhistory.org/2015/04/20/who-was-st-tikhon/

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Teachers of teens and adults may want to purchase this recent translation of St. Tikhon’s sermons and writings: https://www.stspress.com/shop/top-25-best-sellers/st-tikhon-of-moscow-instructions-teachings-for-the-american-orthodox-faithful-1898-1907/
And/or this biography of his life: https://www.holytrinitypublications.com/Book/354/Chosen_For_His_People.html

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St. Tikhon of Moscow was instrumental in the establishment of the St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery in Pennsylvania, America’s oldest Orthodox monastery. Learn more about the monastery here: http://sttikhonsmonastery.org/home_about1.html