THE MADNESS OF PRIDE AND HUMILITY OF MIND
Sermon on the Sunday of the Venerable Saint Mary of Egypt. 02.04.2023
We hear the following words in today’s Gospel: the Apostles James and John come up to the Lord and asked Him of the honor to be the first in the Kingdom of Heaven, so one sat on the Lord’s right and the other one on His left in the Kingdom of Heaven. They ask to do them the honor and prefer them to the other Apostles.
If we come back a little, what will we see? Right before they came up to the Lord and asked Him to do them such a great honor, right before this, the Lord says, “I am going to be crucified.” What madness should be in your head, when someone tells you, “your beloved Teacher is going to be crucified,” and you come up to Him at this moment and ask, “May I be there, in the Kingdom of Heaven, higher than anyone?”!
Pride on earth is the greatest madness. Pride and self-conceit make a madman of a person. Didn’t they love Him? They did love Him, sincerely, like little children. However, at the very moment when He told them, “They will crucify Me soon,” they come up and say such trivial and ignoble things. The ignobility of this is seen in contrast with what the Lord says, “I am going to death.” And they ask to do something from their pride, “May I be the first and he the second, or rather both of us will be the first.”
The greatest madness on earth is pride. All the sins on earth, all wars begin with pride. All insults and disagreements, everything is mixed with pride. This is because pride does not simply make people angry, but it makes them mad. Such mad people lose their mind and it seems to them they do righteous deeds. This was the way religious fanatics acted. They killed, burned and demolished the whole cities in a righteous rage, as it seemed to them, but they simply raved. Pride makes people crazy, while people become wise because of… There is a church word, which secular people do not use; they lost it because they lost God. This word, or rather, a combination of words is present only in church now, it is a “humility of mind.” The two words make one notion. Mind, or wisdom and humility. Humility makes a person wise.
In the next Gospel today we read about the harlot, who spends precious myrrh pouring it on the Lord and wiping His feet with the hair of her head.1 Why does she do this? The master of the house who invited the Lord is there too. He invited the Lord because he respects and holds Him in reverence to an extent. He partially saw His miracles, heard His teaching on earth, and this is why he invited the Lord to his house, laid the table and called other guests. However, he is sillier than the harlot, because the harlot has humility of mind. The harlot knows she is a harlot. She is very much ashamed of this, and her worthlessness burns her. This is why she does not come up to the Lord and does not say, “Take me to Your Kingdom and make me sit here or there.” She simply comes to Him. Do you remember? There is one more moment. The Lord says to a poor widow, “I came to feed Israel with spiritual food.” To which she says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”2 This is how she defines herself and this is how she feels about herself. And the Lord says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.” This woman and the harlot, they understand who they are. But this state burns them and does not give them much peace. They could have run far away and hid from the sight of the Lord, like stupid Eve and Adam did. They sinned in Paradise, but the Lord came out to meet them. Didn’t He know what they had done? Surely, He knew. He says, “Adam and Eve, where are you?” But they hide. They hide because their shame is not wise. A wise shame makes people run, fall on their knees and ask for forgiveness. While their shame has already been dissolved by pride. Pride does not allow them to show themselves before their Heavenly Father in a sleazy appearance. Meanwhile, the harlot has a wise shame. Realizing all the depth of her worthlessness, she overcomes her shame, goes, falls on her knees, and wipes the Lord’s feet with her hair. She supposes that the master of the house will say, “Don’t You know who is approaching You?” The master considers himself righteous and thus behaves like a madman. And this harlot and nullity is being wise. Because she has humility of mind.
This week we commemorate the great saint, Mary of Egypt. Who came up from the greatest worthlessness, almost from hell, if someone remembers the story of her life. She even was, I beg your pardon, even among harlots there are more or less restrained or temperate people, but she was one of the filthiest. She was as rotten as no one gets. She even came on board a ship that brought pilgrims to holy sites. Then she acknowledged during her confession to Zosimas, “I boarded that ship in order to corrupt those people who traveled to the holy land.” Do you imagine how low a person can fall? She boarded the ship to fornicate with the people who went to venerate the holy sites. And after such a depth of worthlessness she becomes a great saint.
There is a notion. When a person drowns and has neither strength nor a way to get out, he or she has only one means left – having touched the bottom, kick off it. The water does not hold you, you are sinking deeper and deeper, paddling and clambering, but water is an unstable substance, and you cannot hold on to it. There is only one way – when you get to the bottom, shove off it with a jerk and go up. Perhaps, this is how it worked with Saint Mary of Egypt.
The greatest madness is to read about Saint Mary of Egypt and say to ourselves, “Glory to You, O Lord, I am not like her.” Why aren’t you? You just did not have an opportunity and had other circumstances. You are the same. Yes, the same. Your case was different. But all of us have predispositions. A great fornicator lives in every one of us. A killer lives in every one of us. And a traitor lives in every one of us. You know, I have been serving in prisons for 25 years and once I said during a sermon at a prison, “Guys, you are all traitors, or rather, we are all traitors.” And suddenly they felt uncomfortable, “How come we are traitors?” “What is Motherland for you then? Is it something abstract and shapeless? Or is it something definite? Is your own mom the Motherland? Yes, it is. How much grief has she had and tears shed because of you? If she is still alive and did not die of a heart attack. What about your father? And your poor wife, to whom you lied saying, ‘I love you. I will hold you in reverence.’ How much evil did you cause her? Your children are fatherless having a living father.’ I am a witness, I visited orphanages where consciously children tell lies, ‘My father is on a business trip. He will be back soon.’ Isn’t this a Motherland? This is the Motherland. Your wife is the Motherland. Your mother is the Motherland. Your children are Motherland. How much good could you do for your Motherland if you were a decent worker? But now your Motherland feeds you at this prison, guards you and pays salary to the staff. Isn’t this your Motherland? It is, if you look at it closely.” Do you think only they are like this? Every one of us is. Everyone.
The Apostle says, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation.”3 And I may continue, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is fornication, murder and what not.” One more story from prison. A seventy-year-old man cries like a little child. He drank vodka with his own son. He says, “I was drunk and switched off. When I woke up, my son was lying stabbed. I do not remember how I stabbed him.” And he cried, shedding big tears. “I killed Sashka.” If he were sober, nothing would have happened. But the main thing is that we are not drunk with vodka, we are drunk with madness. There is a mess in our heads. We do not see simple things in our life. We discuss some high things, or how a country should be governed, or something else… At such moments, I simply want to say, “What country management are you talking about? Go and wash your dishes. Where do you know how to govern or how to improve the economy? Go wash your dishes and iron your trousers.” There we have drunkenness, in our heads. Why do we have it there? I gave you an example. Pride deprives us of our mind. Humility of mind gives us reason.
Let us acknowledge once and for all, we are mad people, we are fornicators, we are murderers, and we are traitors of our Motherland. And then, for our humility, the Lord might give us reason. Wisdom is God. We are silliness.
Why do we go to church? To have our silliness enlightened by the Wisdom of God. You do not go to church, live as you wish then. This will be this way. You will live by inertia, die, and people will forget you. Your close relatives die, and there will be no one to renovate your tomb cross. This is the point of life. It consists of stealing everything by death. The cross will fall and become rotten. That’s it. Amen. The end of meaning. The meaning is only in God. Glory to God, Saint Mary of Egypt became humble of mind and now she has been venerated for so many years. The whole Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to her. We served the Standing of Saint Mary of Egypt on Thursday. Who deserves such an honor? A former harlot, who is a great Saint now.
Glory to our God, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages! Amen!
1 Lk. 7:44
2 Mt. 15:27
3 Eph. 5:18