Chapters on Humility

One Hundred Chapters: How One Attains Humility (CPG 3936)*



A flower is the beginning of fruit-bearing, and submission in the Lord is the beginning of humility. The fruit of submission is longsuffering, and longsuffering is the fruit of love. Love is the bond of perfection, and perfection is the keeping of God’s commandments. The commandment of the Lord is resplendent, illumining the eyes; and eyes that have been illumined are wont to flee the ways of the lawless.

Let humility be your throne and your garment of acquittal. Let your speech be shining in converse, in the love of God.  For the Savior said, ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Whence will high-mindedness be recognized, which is unrestrained? It is stubborn and disobedient, following its own reasoning. But humility is obedient, compliant, accommodating, imparting honor to the small as well as the great. He who acquires it, let him believe that he will receive a reward from the Lord with eternal life.


If two of you live in one cell, pray for each other avidly, knowing that the Lord is in your midst. For he himself said, ‘When two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.’ For even if you do not see him in your unworthiness, yet he, as God, sees and examines both the innermost desires and the work of each of you. To whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.


We have heard Wisdom say, “To the lecherous man all bread is sweet, and he is not wearied till he comes to his end. The man who strays from his bed, saying in his soul, ‘Who shall see me? Of whom should I be careful? Darkness encircles me and walls hide me. None sees me. The Most High has not remembered my sins.’ The eyes of man are his fear. And he does not know that the eyes of the Lord are infinitely brighter than the sun, beholding all the ways of men and peering into the hidden parts. Before they were created, all things were known to him; truly, even after they come to an end. Such a man shall be judged in the open streets of the city. And when he does not expect it, he will be brought down (cf. Sir. 23:24-30)”


Beloved brother, if you acquire for yourself reverence, be watchful, lest through reverence, the Evil One introduce another thought, namely that of vainglory and pride, in not wishing to labor together with the brethren. Rather, work as if your brethren shared a single soul with you, and together guard your reverence. For disdain destroys reverence, and a word of reproach brings disdain upon him who acquired it. Therefore, yoke reverence with assiduousness and knowledge, and you shall be truly reverent.


Beloved one, if you acquire for yourself humble-mindedness, attend to it and cling to it tenaciously, lest the Enemy steal you away and remove you to another path by suggesting one of his own works. As Wisdom says, “Say not, ‘I am hidden from the Lord, and who from on high shall hear me? In a multitude of people I shall not be remembered. For what is my soul in the midst of a creation without measure (Sir. 16:17)?'” And he continues: “Behold, the heaven of heaven is the Lord’s. The abyss and the earth reel at his sight; likewise the mountains and the foundations of the earth quake with trembling when he looks upon them (Sir. 16:19-19).” You must, therefore, yoke humble-mindedness to faith, that you plow straight the furrows of humble-mindedness.


A certain brother entered the monastery wishing to become a monk. He wished to stay in a cell with someone older. After some days, he was attacked by thoughts and said, “I cannot stand to be with this brother.” Another brother advised him, saying, “If you had fallen in among barbarians and were handed over to some one of the barbarians, would you be able to say, ‘I do not want to spend my time with him?’” And when the brother heard this, he was pricked with compunction by the words. And he did a prostration, saying, “forgive me.”


He said, again, that whoever wishes to become a monk and does not endure abuse and contempt and loss, is not able to become a monk.


A certain brother was attacked by the thought of vanity, which told him that he had already accomplished something with regard to the virtues. This brother, wishing to conquer the thought of high-mindedness, put his hand under a lit caldron and said to himself: “Cease to be high minded! For we see that the three youths were placed in the midst of the burning flame (Dan. 3), and none of them was exalted in heart. Rather, they hymned God with great humility and glorified him in the midst of the furnace, saying, ‘In a broken soul and a spirit of humility may we be accepted before thy sight’ (Dan. 3:15[39]). Yet you, standing in complete comfort, practice high-mindedness.” And with this he conquered the demon of high-mindedness.


If you should find someone who is unusually industrious and hard-working in acquiring the virtues, let no one look down on him. Rather, we must receive such people, for they are pleasing to God and bring benefit to the whole brotherhood. Let us learn from the two camps, that of the Hebrews and that of the Philistines [see 1 Sam 14, where Jonathan single-handedly defeats the Philistines], and from David fighting one on one with Goliath. Let us learn, too, from those who were suffering shipwreck on the sea (Acts 27:13-38) and were saved for the sake of the righteous man that was found among them. As it is written, Fear not, Paul. It is necessary for you to stand before Caesar, and, behold, God has granted to you all them that sail with you (Acts 27:34).


A brother, having taken up the schema**, was struggling with the thought of leaving the monastery. His thoughts presented him with the following image: “Consider,” they said, “the herbs of the garden. Notice that, if the one who is caring for the plot does not uproot the plants and plant them in another place, they will not grow.” So the brother acted with discrimination towards the thought, saying, “Does the gardener pull absolutely everything that he has sown out of the plot? No,” he said. “He leaves in the furrow those that are able to grow, and he uproots only those that are not strong, as those are that remain in their place. Become, then, one of those plants that is not uprooted.” And in this way he conquered the thought, with the cooperation of God’s grace.


A certain brother said, “I prayed that God would give grace to my handiwork, and the whole coenobium (that is, monastery) was nourished by him. Was this not a source of joy for me?”


You who have been set over others, you have heard the Apostle Paul saying, Let him who is in charge carry out his work in diligence (Rom 12:8), and, Let no one despise your youth (1 Tim 4:12). See to it that you never use your position to fulfill your own passions. For the Scripture says elsewhere, Do not lord it over those under you, but become an example for your flock; and when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive an unfading crown of glory (1 Pt 5:3). And again, Paul says: Become imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). For high-mindedness is alien to those who believe, as it is written: God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).


A certain brother was starting out in the coenobium and was always silent, cutting off boldness from himself. So his fellow novices said about him, “He does not refrain from speaking for pious reasons, but because he doesn’t know how.” Others said, “No, rather, he has a demon.” When the brother heard this, he did not judge them, but he gave glory to the Lord in his heart.


A certain brother said, “I sought this thought of humble-mindedness from the Lord, that when my brother commands me to do something, I should say in my thoughts, ‘This is your lord; listen to him.’ And if  another brother does the same, I should say again, ‘This is the brother of your lord.’ And if a child: ‘Listen to the the son of your lord.'” And resisting outside thoughts in this way, he did his work without trouble, with the cooperation of grace.


A certain brother, starting out in the coenobium, was besieged by thoughts in order to test him. But he answered it, saying, “You wicked slave! You have been redeemed; and yet what can you accomplish now?” So the Lord extended consolation to him.


Blessed the monk who keeps the commandments of the Lord and attends to these three things: (1) stillness in prayer, (2) effort, and (3) meditation. For it is written, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Ps. 45:10); and again, ‘I am poor and in struggles from my youth’ (Ps. 87:15); and again, ‘In his law will he meditate day and night’ (Ps. 1:2).

*Κεφαλαὶ ἑκατόν. Πῶς κτᾶταί τις τὴν ταπεινοφροσύνην, ed. K.G. Phrantzoles, Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα 2 (Thessaloniki: Perivole tes Panagias, 1989), 280-362.

** The schema is an ancient, cruciform garment received by a monastic at his tonsure. It can be seen in Byzantine iconography of monastic saints, wherein it covers his head, shoulders, and front-side down to his legs. Schema corresponds to the Latin habitus, though ‘habit’ has taken on a much more generic meaning in Western monasticism, signifying any kind of religious garb.

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