I have seen some Orthodox Christians recently begin talking about the possibility of making June ‘Humility Month’ or ‘Humble Month’. The idea is that, as the secular culture around us is celebrating gay pride (including the advocates of secular culture from the sadly predictable usual quarters), we should seek to exalt instead the virtue of humility as an antidote to pride of all kinds. Speaking as an Orthodox Christian layman, I’m here to say that ‘Humble Month’ is a bad idea… but not for the reasons you might think.
Two days from now, in the Orthodox Church, we will celebrate the feast of the fullness of the revelation of the Holy Spirit in history. We will celebrate the Last and Great Day, the dawning of the great fire, the holy fire which descended upon the heads of the Apostles as they gathered together ‘in one place’, in the Cenacle at Jerusalem. It is the last of the great feasts in the Church, and it marks the historical beginning of the Church in the world.
Let us be absolutely clear about the meaning of this feast. It is a day upon which the Gospel of salvation went forth by grace into the hearing of all peoples. A new word, indeed the Word of Truth, was proclaimed even in the tongues of the most despised barbarians.
The Book of Acts mentions several nations which heard this word in their own native language: Parthians and Medes (speakers of Iranian languages); Elamites (speakers of an extinct language isolate); Mesopotamians (speakers of Aramaic, with Akkadian still in liturgical use); Judæa (Aramaic and Hebrew); Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia Minor (dialects of Greek); Phrygia (Phrygian); Pamphylia (Greek); Egypt (Coptic); Libya (Tamahaq, Greek and Latin); Rome (Latin); Crete (Greek); and Arabia (Arabic). These languages were all explicitly sanctified in Scripture by the Holy Spirit. And even those which were not explicitly sanctified here were blessed in the Great Commission. (As a result, it makes better sense, following the logic of Pentecost, for Orthodox Christians to celebrate June as Indigenous History Month the way they do in Canada. The languages of those who were here first are similarly blessed. But I digress.)
The fire that descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost was not a destroying fire. It was not the fire that consumes. It was the same as the fire that Moses beheld in the Burning Bush—a fire which illumines, is the essence of creativity. This is the fire of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost calls us to a creative and self-giving relationship to the world. What better evidence could there be of this, than of the Word being preached in the tongues of all the nations present in Jerusalem? It ought to go without saying, though, that Pentecost also calls us to be humble. As Saint John of Kronstadt said: ‘The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who fills the whole universe, passes through all believing, meek, humble, good, and simple human souls, dwelling in them, vivifying and strengthening them.’ Pride has no place at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit finds no place to dwell in those who are filled up with themselves, their own ‘me’-ness.
So ‘Humility Month’ gets at least this one thing—and it is quite an important thing—right. Humility before the Holy Spirit is very much needful; without it, we are nothing. On the other hand, though, the whole ‘Humility Month’ business strikes me as a purely reactive posture. It takes as primary, not the witness of the Orthodox Calendar and the Liturgical cycle ordained by the power of the Holy Spirit… but instead the imitative liturgics of the surrounding secular culture. It bases its witness not on Pentecost, but on an evil or a privation to be opposed. This is, to put it bluntly, almost an anti-Pentecost approach.
If such reaction is at times a deep and understandable temptation in an age where identity politics and ‘woke’-ism seem to have gone completely amok, we should nonetheless understand the impulse as temptation, as a passion in the Patristic sense. Orthodox Christians should certainly not strive to mimic the culture in opposition—in other words, to posture as a set-theoretical not-X to the culture’s X. There is so much that is truly good, that is original in the Orthodox culture—what I should say is, the Orthodox cultures that were sanctified at Pentecost, be they Greek, Arabic, African, Persian, Syriac, Latin, or any of the cultures that were baptised afterward—that there should be no need for us to make a commemorative ‘Month’ that is simply the stated opposite of what a weak, shallow and exhausted consumerist culture finds ‘good’.
Let us be truly humble, then, if that is our aim. Let us proclaim the Pentecost in whatever language we can find to hand—surely that language will by no means exhaust the Holy Spirit’s glory. Let us be creative and self-giving as the Apostles were then. Let us make more than a Month of it, for the Pentecost is the fiftieth day, the fullness of time in the new creation. Let us be proclaimers of Christ Risen and Ascended. Let us be seekers of the Father’s abundant mercies. Let us be witnesses of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world.