A Mystery Solved

IMG_0537If you practice an excellent virtue without perceiving the taste of its aid, do not marvel; for until a man becomes humble, he will not receive a reward for his labor. Recompense is given, not for labor, but for humility.

-St. Isaac of Syria


I cannot count the number of times that people have complained of their lack of “progress” in the spiritual life. In our cause and effect model of life, we are used to doing something and seeing some result from our action. Things are not like that in the spiritual life where Christ is the cause of all good things – and He does not behave as an impersonal cause.

Thus, in the words of St. Isaac, “recompense is given… for humility.” And it is well that it is so – for recompense “given for labor,” would establish only the strong and never the weak. We would see the same oppression in the Kingdom that we experience in our fallen world. Instead, God gives us what is “necessary for our salvation,” and it is humility that is required above all for “God resists the proud.”¬†

I recall Archimandrite Zacharias (of Essex) saying, “Never praise a monk – it’s bad for him.” He had just been introduced with a ¬†typical American flourish. You could hear the pain in his voice when he asked not to be spoken of in such a way again. It was the sound of true humility – the sound of knowing how dangerous is the cult of personality.

How dangerous is the cult of all things proud.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. And not a single voice of “I told you so” will be whispered on that day.


  1. says

    This reminds me of the 8th letter of Elder Joseph the Hesychast in Monastic Wisdom: ‘If a righteous person falls even 10,000 times, he does not lose courage, but he rises up once more and gathers his strength, and the Lord registers victories for him. However, He does not show him his victories, so that he will not think highly of himself. Rather, He makes him fully aware of his falls, so that he sees them, suffers, and is humbled. But once he has passed the barracks of the enemy and has amassed unseen victories everywhere, the Lord begins to show him little by little that he is winning and is being rewarded; that his hands are touching something that he was previously seeking but had not been given.’

  2. Mrs. Mutton says

    I was especially pleased to read the words of Archimandrite Zacharias. That’s always a tough call for me, since I have a truly *great* priest — but how do you compliment a priest without being a temptation for him?! I asked that on one of the Orthodox chat groups, and was told, “Just do what he tells you and offer him respect.” So I try. But when it comes to Byzantine chant — urgghhh. ONLY for this man would I EVER attempt Byzantine chant!!!!!

  3. says

    And with humility comes true charity.

    Some of the most humble saints were accused of arrogance because they spoke with great certainty about Jesus Christ. Strange what the world sees as arrogance.

  4. Lou. says