The Fragrance of Many Virtues: Reflections on Courteousness

ImageA monk posted these thoughts on courteousness a few days on Facebook, and I particular loved what Met. Seraphim had to say. I remember learning at Mt. Mission School from my Junior-Senior Bible teacher that we all too often fail to be courteous to others. What Met. Seraphim says here about it is very great advice and contains a jewel of a virtue to possess.

Many have heard me say these two quotes from Richard Mouw a lot recently:

A lot of people today who have strong convictions are not very civil and a lot of people who are civil don’t have very strong convictions. What we really need is convicted civility.”

Too often in life we proceed with a hermeneutic of self-assuredness and criticism of those for whom we disagree rather than a hermeneutic of self-criticism and grace for others.”

I believe that courteousness lies at the heart of these quotes. I pray that we will take to heart the Metropolitan’s wisdom.

The Apostolic Guidance of Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria in Greece:

Allow me to deposit to your love a few thoughts borrowed from the Holy Fathers of the Church regarding a virtue that is scarce in our day and age; a virtue that is missing from the persons of our Clergy, but also from all of us:

 It is COURTEOUSNESS!

First of all – what is courteousness? It is not simply a virtue, but a resultant of many virtues.

It is not merely the guide to proper behaviour, containing certain rules of social life, but the fruit of an inner life which comes as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the space of our soul.

Courteousness is the overflowing of one’s soul towards fellow-man. It originates from the excess of the heart.

It is born within a reborn and renovated heart.It is the resultant of a struggle for an upward course. It expresses itself in every person – young and old.

The content of courteousness is underlined for us by the Apostle Paul: “…Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another…” (Rom.12,10).

It is lauded, furthermore, and admired by the Fathers of the Church:

“Man must not be arrogant or a flatterer, neither should he also reach audacity, or stoop to subservience, given that “inconsiderate behaviour is wrong”, as Saint Isidore the Pelusian stresses.

Secondly – A courteous person is simultaneously a discerning one.

He becomes “weightless”; that is, he does not become burdensome, to each and every fellow-man.

He always applies the words of the Apostle Paul in his life: “And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself” (2 Cor.11:9).

He does not ask for anything; he gives. In that way, he preserves both his freedom as well as his dignity.

A courteous person avoids harshness, and even more, audacity, which is repulsed by people, because he is aware that audacity is not a strength but a weakness.

And one reaches the point of audacity, when – as the Fathers of the Church stress – he does not implement boldness with measure.

Courteousness never goes as far as using abusive language and vulgarity. It does not familiarize itself with disrespect and impertinence, which, according to Saint Theodore the Studite, is a “huge and devastating evil”.

Besides, Saint Ephraim the Syrian will say that impertinence is the mother of profligacy.

Thirdly – A courteous person never talks about himself.

He never presents himself as a saviour. He does not create followers or groups, but always behaves with prudence. In general, he is a balanced personality.

A courteous person respects and honours the elderly, not hypocritically, but spontaneously and honestly, in every way and at every moment in his life.

 A courteous person is patient, consistent, willing, careful, pleasant, grateful, and he never becomes tiring and a nuisance.

A courteous person is one who controls the quality of his behaviour: first of all inside himself, and then also inside his own home.

Because one cannot be a tyrant at home and towards his own, and at the same time be seemingly pious to those outside.

One cannot appear barbaric to his children and at the same time wear a broad smile for all the others.

True courtesy begins from within the space of our heart; it is expressed inside our home, to our family members, then to our fellow-man, and it is addressed to everyone, without discrimination.

A courteous person always willingly and sincerely apologizes, not for the sake of appearances, but because he can feel his conscience bothering him.

A courteous person is simultaneously meek. He is tolerant. He does not resort to the passion of anger. He is discerned for his sobriety.

But most of all, he is careful with his use of words. He thinks before he speaks, how he will speak, if he should speak, and when he does speak, he will say what is appropriate.

Whispering is absent from a courteous person, as Saint Basil the Great says, and “also speaking unbecomingly”, as Saint Gregory the Theologian reminds us.

A courteous person furthermore is careful, even about his gaze, which quite often can offend his fellow-man.

That is why it is written that a courteous, modest and respectable person has, as his motto, the words of Saint Gregory the Theologian: “Observe…decently”.

My beloved fathers, I have conveyed all the above to you, because this virtue of courteousness is inclined to diminish in our day and age, even from the persons of our Clergy.

In my ears are echoing the words of the Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra Monastery: “If you can’t become saints, at least be courteous”.

A Clergyman, especially in our days, must be a par excellence courteous person:

Courteous in our home.

Courteous to the people of our Parish.

Courteous and beneficial to people who are suffering.

Courteous to the various Public Services, from which we daily seek assistance.

Courteous to every person, regardless of his status.

The various localisms and the supposed privileges that we think we have are rejected and condemned by our Church.

That is why I am addressing a fervent request to your love:

Let us embrace this virtue of courteousness, which is the fragrance of many virtues.

Only thus will we succeed in attaining our spiritual balance and calmness in the space of our heart, and that love and peace be offered to our fellow-man who is in such need of them.

If the priest is not at least courteous, then all his ministry goes to waste!

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us, sinners +

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About Joel

Joel is a 32 year old currently residing in the southeastern United States. His interests lay in philosophy and theology. He is a writer for The Christian Watershed.

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