On the Power of Humility

De quibusdam interrogationibus (Concerning Certain Questions)

Περὶ ἐρωτήσεών τινων [CPG 3965], ed. K.G. Phrantzoles, Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα, vol. 3 (Thessaloniki: To Perivole tes Panagias, 1990), 359-362.

Concerning those things about which you inquired and wished to learn, I shall speak briefly. It is impossible for something to succeed and achieve its purpose if it is not done with the fear of God and perfect patience. As the Apostle says, ye have need of patience, that, doing the will of God, ye may receive the promise (Heb 10:35). And the Lord teaches, saying to his disciples, in patience possess ye your souls (Lk 21:19), and again, he that endureth to the end, such a one will be saved (Mt 24:13). And he did not say “to this or that point,” but to the end. For in the beginning the end is not known, but in the end the fruit is obtained. Join, then, the beginning with the end, that, having obtained victory, you may receive the promise.

And let us preserve our sanctification, for this is sought especially by those who lead the solitary life. Let us not be vainglorious, that the Lord might not say to us, too, all their works they do to be seen by men, for they love the first seat in the synagogues and salutations in the public places, and to be called Rabbi by men (Mt 23:5-7). Thus let us be humble in word, deed, and manner of life, that we might obtain grace from the Lord, since the Lord blesses us in our humility.

I knew a brother in the Lord.[1] He lived as a hesychast in a certain place, in great submission. And it came to pass that in that same place there was a brother who was being troubled by a most wicked demon. And this brother began to call out to the hesychast, shouting and saying things. This brother lived within the community, guarded by younger monastics. But the hesychast about whom the demon would scream was in his own cell. When the abbot saw the demon’s vehemence, he summoned the hesychast, that he might stay with the afflicted brother. And when he arrived, he found that the afflicted brother received some relief. But as he spoke with him, the brother was suddenly overpowered by the unclean demon and began to shout and say the following: “You have wickedly returned, once more, to the path of evil. Your undertakings are evil. Since you speak evil, you will hear evil. First you cast me out, and you bound me in your humility.” And the demon spoke to him again: “Do not be puffed up, O good one, do not be puffed up. For you would have been lost (cf. Judges 21:3) were you not protected by your humility.[2] Even now it presses me and wars with me.”

If even the demons themselves unwillingly confess that they are impotent in the face of humility, but rather fear it and tremble, why do we not heed its great value? It shines as a spiritual mark that the arrogant demons are unable to bear. The Lord says, learn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and ye shall obtain rest for your souls (Mt 11:29). Let us, then, say to him: “We thank thee, O Lord, our God and king of all, for thou art become for us a way of salvation. Even the demons, O Lord, dost thou restrain, and thou dost rescue from every evil them that hope in thee.”

And do not fail to pray for me, that I might obtain mercy from the Lord when I am finally caught up and suffocated by death; that I might not be put to shame when the Lord reveals what is hidden in the darkness and makes manifest the inclinations of every heart. Woe to him that is put to shame in that hour. And may God, the master and ruler of all, who tries every word, be compassionate with both you and us, according to the multitude of his compassions; and may the name of each of us be written in the kingdom of heaven. For to him is the glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] Cf. 2 Cor 12:2. It is not unreasonable to assume that, based on this rhetorical trope, Ephrem, like Paul, is here referring to himself.

[2] There is a pun here, since his humility protects (σκεπάζῃ) the monk from harm (ἐπισκεπῆναι).


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