From the Elder Sophrony’s Wisdom from Mount Athos:
Thus the whole of spiritual warfare wages round humility. The enemy fell from pride, and would draw us to perdition by the same means. The enemy praises us, and should the soul listen to his praise grace withdraws until she repents. Thus throughout her life the soul is occupied with the lesson of Christ-like humility. So long as she has not humility wrong thoughts and impulses will always torment her. But the humble soul finds the rest and the peace of which the Lord tells.
Fasting and abstinence, vigil and withdrawal into silence, and other exploits of spiritual discipline all help, but humility is the principal power.
Humility is not learned in a trice. That is why the Lord said: ‘Learn lowliness in heart and meekness of me.’ To learn takes time. And there are some who have grown old in the practice of spiritual endeavor, yet still have not learned humility, and they cannot understand why things are not well with them, why they do not feel peace and their souls are cast down.
It made me think how many times i read about the life of this or that saint that “left wordly achievements and glory”, and in my enthusiasm for the spiritual i mistook the point; for i imagined that that departure in itself amounted to great glory and achievement.
Only much later i realised what it meant in the human sense: the ridicule (“he must be nuts!”), the loneliness, the unceasing inner warfare with years of struggle…
So how do we learn humility? What can we do toward this?
Sharon, I think one thing is to make no great efforts to avoid humiliation. We sometimes lie in order to avoid such pain (including to ourselves). A regular careful and honest use of the sacrament of confession is important as well. “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51) points to the fact that humility is a gift from God. Daily life will always have enough events to accomplish the work of humility if we allow ourselves not to run away from such work. I also think that in His kindness, God does not do this work too quickly – lest we be crushed.
We do not need to defend who we are. Such defense prevents us from becoming who we’re meant to be.
Father Stephen +
much to consider. thank you, father stephen. would you go in to what you mean by being crushed? do you mean by facing the truth in our lives? i, at this point, see everyone, including myself in denial about something, even though i work very hard to face the truth.
Seven kids, especially when they become teenagers, can also help! What I find hard is how to reconcile the necessity to protect one’s children (especially children with special needs) and humility. The former can seem to border on pride (and probably is).
Father, bless — your answer to Sharon’s question is a blog post in itself. Thank you for those words.
There is a beautiful passage in Metropolitan Anthony Bloom’s book “Beginning to Pray” – I’ll paraphrase… but basically humility comes from fertile earth and not a sense of being destroyed and humiliated or sheepishly demure when complimented. We become fertile earth for God to plant the seeds. We take the refuse of the world – the garbage, the left overs, the rot and turn it into compost and fertile earth. The soil can then be tilled and it is rich. God then can grow a beautiful weed free garden in our hearts that we on our own could never grow.
Only our Lord can teach us true humility. Ask Him to do so and He will…trust only in Him.
“Our efforts” toward humility (except to pray God help me) are counter to humility. If “we” could help ourselves obtain humility…then we could take pride in our own ability..once again, this is not humility.
Amen to what Fr. Stephen said above concerning humility.
In 12-Step circles, humility is presented as consisting of “teachability”. While for authentic Christianity, this cannot exhaust the question, it seems certainly true that teachability and the “willingness to follow directions” (aka “obedience”) are in fact the beginning of humility.
Some years ago, I read a novel in which the main character, who eventually becomes a clergyman of the Church of England, learns that the basis of all spirituality is the fact that “I could be wrong”. Obviously, this is very much related to teachability and obedience. May our Lord grant us all true humility.
“We do not need to defend who we are. Such defense prevents us from becoming who we’re meant to be.”
You have no idea how that line speaks to me.
‘Thank you father stephen for your lessons and may God grant you many years!
“”Humility is not learned in a trice””.
I would say that Humility, like Truth, is a Person (Christ).
Many years, Father!
I like the reference to fasting in relation to humility. This is a great reminder to walk in the humbleness of Christ in my daily life. I tend to think of fasting as what I abstain from, and what I am supposed to do more of during those times. The exhortation to humility is a breath of fresh air that blasts out the stagnant, stale air of error. I am only a catechumen, and I’m already getting it wrong, even with direction from my priest. Pray for this sinner.
I think I’ll go stand before the Extreme Humility Ikon and think about this reflection. Thank You Fr Stephen.
Franco, I think all the spiritual disciplines from prayer and fasting, to preaching the gospel (hopefully with all our lives as well as our words) to almsgiving and ministering to the poor and the sick, work together to extend Christ’s Kingdom. This excerpt from Fr. Sophrony is one small snippet from a whole treasury of wisdom gleaned from Christian monasticism throughout the ages. If we look at the lives of these saints, we discover they did all the things that you suggest are a part of fulfilling Christ’s commands in abundance, but they focused in their teaching on describing for fellow strugglers the internal workings of the soul and the heart’s deep motivations because this is the well from which all true spiritual fruit springs.
I have found the emphasis within Eastern Orthodox Christian monasticism on “cleaning the inside of the cup” in order to come into full experiential communion with Christ to be a healing corrective to my own more superficial and external focus on doing the right Christian things. From an Orthodox perspective, no spiritual discipline, including that of prayerful self-examination, is an end in itself, and if it becomes so, it brings death, not life. The only thing that matters is “faith working by love.” The fact is, though, none of us is competent of ourselves to “continue the work Christ began” as you put it apart from abiding in Him, in His words, and in His love (John 15). And this is an ongoing, daily personal struggle.
I find that the distractions to avoid this abiding in Him, this “one needful thing,” are endless and, in fact, any spiritual discipline viewed as an end in itself becomes just this sort of distraction. Raised in an Evangelical Christian tradition with the Protestant “work ethic” before becoming Orthodox later in life, I found I was constantly distracted away from taking any serious in-depth look at the dynamics at play within my own heart by the frequent call to various forms of external Christian activities (all, of course, with their Scriptural justifications). Subtly, this emphasis produced a kind of externalism in me where I felt constantly pressured to try to validate my identity as a Christian by performance, rather than abiding in Christ’s love, and thus a lot of my Christian activity proceeded out of an ego need to feel significant or for the approval of others, rather than from the love of Christ for others experienced in my own heart (1 John 4:19).( I identify a lot with Martha in the Gospel story of Mary and Martha.) The result was a predictable spiritual aridity in my life where my thirst for Christ was not being quenched. According to 1 Corinthians 13, any good work I do, even giving my body to burned, is spiritually worthless apart from love. And Christ taught in Matthew 7:22 that not all who call him Lord and even “cast out demons” and “do many miracles” in His name are among those who truly know Him in the sense of this intimate communion in His love!
Recognizing our inadequacies in the face of the gaping human needs around us is perhaps a beginning of humility, but from an Orthodox perspective, true humility (having the mind of Christ) is the fruit of a deep abiding in Christ wherein His love consumes our heart entirely. I am finding extending Christ’s Kingdom begins in my own heart, and I have learned from experience taking back the territory of my own heart from the enemy will be an ongoing battle until I draw my last breath. When I reach the Judgment Seat of Christ, I hope He will be able to say as He did of Mary, “Karen has chosen the one thing needful, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Karen, I love your post! I also agree with it completely. It is so difficult to formulate complete statements when it comes to God and our relationship with Him. I see that my post sounds like, “let’s be busy about the work(s) of the Kingdom.” I agree with you that relationship with Him, or what you and Jesus call abiding, or some call hosting the presence of God, is the basis of Christian life.
What I was trying to get across is that as we “go” and minister as we are commanded, the testing and trials we encounter are adequately and sufficiently humbling.
I totally agree with you that the western church by and large has become outward driven. It is taken with programmatic service that is as you say performance driven. It is also driven by the fear of man, not of God. That is why evangelism scares most Christians. When we burn from a genuine relationship or abiding, evangelism happens almost spontaneously, driven as you say by love.
Thank you for your post. I hope this one will be up long enough for you to see. I’m guessing that my last post was expunged. I would love for you to comment on my blog some time.