Christ is risen!
According to Wikipedia self-deprecation is the “act of belittling or undervaluing oneself”. But according to the behaviour of monastics (those who shine brightly as examples for us struggling in the world), self-deprecation is the act of knowing one’s self and revealing that knowledge in word and action.
Such statements are perhaps disconcerting when we first hear them. The first few times I heard a monastic say “I had the thought – with my stupid mind – that [insert opinion here]” it threw me off guard. And being the over-analytical person I am an inner dialogue began:
Does speaking like this draw unnecessary attention to one’s self ? Or is it prudent and constructive to speak openly and inexcusably about our weaknesses, our fallibility?
St. Ignaty Brianchaninov says: “Everyone who wants to dispassionately and seriously investigate the state of his soul will see the illness of insensibility in it; he will see its broad significance, its gravity and consequence, and will have to admit that it is the manifestation and witness of his deadness of soul.”
In one of his many “classes” (held in the church hall) Protoprebyter Theodoros Zisis said, “Self-knowledge was the virtue of paganism; self-abasement is the virtue of Christianity”. And what exactly is self-abasement? Isn’t it “a broken and contrite heart”?
Elder Joseph the Hesychast once said, “We are dirt, and are worthy of being used as plaster on the walls of an outhouse”. Do you find that statement hyperbolic? I don’t, because the truth is the only thing that is good in us comes from God, having been made in His image, and the only good we do we do because God works through us. Therefore self-deprecating statements woven through our speech – and especially when we are stating our own opinions – are neither showy nor meaningless, but practical ways of reminding ourselves and others that without God “we can do nothing” (Jn. 14:5).
So the sisters approach conversation with a healthy dose of self-deprecating thoughts and words in order to acquire and maintain a “broken and contrite heart” which we know “God will not despise” (Ps. 50:19). They never speak as though what they say has authority. Everything is qualified by “in my opinion” or “the way I see it” so that they do not make the mistake of indiscreetly clinging to their thoughts and opinions, or worse still pressuring others to blindly accept what they say as the last word on the matter.
Elder Paisios says, “The devil does not hunt after those who are lost; he hunts after those who are aware, those who are close to God. He takes from them trust in God and begins to afflict them with self-assurance, logic, thinking, criticism. Therefore we should not trust our logical minds. Never believe your thoughts.”
In making self-deprecating statements the individual never forgets the possibility that he can, and more than often does, err. So when it comes to their own thoughts and opinions they can call them “stupid” and yet when it comes to the doctrine of the Church monastics state the teachings of the Church unequivocally and with firm convictions, just as we in the world ought to do.
Practicing healthy self-deprecation is the perfect combination of self-knowledge and self-abasement. It is completely counter-cultural but perfectly in line with life in Christ, Whose divine self-abasement wrought salvation for the world: “In amazement angel armies lift up their song as they glorify Thy self-abasement, Lord”!