The Mystery of Humility (From the book, Wisdom from Mount Athos by St. Silouan)

Chapter 9, On Humility, pp. 91-97

As Christians, we constantly talk, read, or hear about the concept of humility. In this chapter, St. Silouan wants us to meditate on this concept and understand it on a deeper level, with our hearts as well as our minds.

“To believe in God,” he tells us (italics are mine), “is good, but it is more blessed to know God.” Silouan urges us to delve from the level of mere familiarity and theoretical understanding to that of divine knowledge and experience.

Humility is not simply a set of rules or pattern of behavior. It is a mystery, modeled for us by Christ.

The mystery of the humility of Christ is a great mystery, impossible to unfold.

Yet, unless we experience Christ-like humility in our souls, the Holy Spirit cannot dwell within us.

The Lord does not manifest Himself to the proud soul…Her pride will not make way for the grace of the Holy Spirit, and God is known only through the Holy Spirit.

God’s presence brings us peace.  Even then, however, there is the danger of the very humility we are experiencing generating pride for our accomplishment of having achieved it.

The moment the soul exalts herself above her fellows,” St. Silouan reminds us, “she is attacked by some thought of impulse unpleasing to God.” Inner peace is shattered, and the passions of envy, resentment, anguish, ambition, hatred, control, and others overwhelm our soul.

There is no other gateway to peace, love and union with God than humility.  “Thus,” St. Silouan concludes, “the whole spiritual warfare wages around humility.”

This is significant. Without humility, we cannot experience God and His peace. Our most fundamental, daily battle, therefore, must be against the first indications of pride in our hearts and the onslaught of passions it subsequently unleashes.

Paradoxically, true humility frees and uplifts our souls rather than make them subservient. This is because, free from the pursuit of glory and the fear of loss and humiliation, our inner peace no longer depends on external circumstances such as others’ approval or rejection.

The proud man fears reproach, while the humble man cares for nothing.

Silouan compares the state of such soul to the sea.

The soul of the humble man is like the sea: throw a stone into the sea—for a moment it will ruffle the surface a little, and then sink to the bottom…

St. Silouan does not minimize the difficulty in attaining and maintaining humility, however:

Humility is not learned in a trice,” he says. It takes a long time to cultivate.  Some, in fact, have grown old trying to achieve humility without ever succeeding. And, in the spirit of humility, he makes an astonishing confession

Day and night, all my life long,” he admits, “I have striven after humility, yet I am not able to capture it.”

We are startled by this passage. We have unknowingly assumed that saints and great patristic writers who advocate for virtues must already possess them. Yet St. Silouan is not afraid to admit to something that would jeopardize his “status” and reputation as a great, “saintly” figure.

His advice, then, is not theoretical but stems from soul-wrenching personal struggles and hard-earned conclusions and insights. Silouan does not talk down to readers delivering superior knowledge that he, alone, possesses. He addresses us as fellow sojourners and spiritual co-warriors and, hence, lifts up our souls through love.

Humility, he reminds us, starts with, as well as enables, love:

From love the souls wishes every human being more good that she wishes herself, and delights when she sees others happier, and grieves when she sees them suffering.

The acquisition of humility is a hard, life-long, and daily pursuit. Yet Silouan wants us to know that we are not alone in this struggle. God, himself, wants to dwell within us.

And the Lord desires to be with us Himself, and in us.

God’s absence, then, is due to our own choice of pride over humility.

The Lord is our joy and our gladness, and when pride causes us to withdraw from Him, it means that we deliver ourselves up of our own accord to suffering. Anguish if heart, dejection, and evil thought lacerate us.

In the end, St. Silouan holds out hope in the knowledge that God will give peace to “every humble soul:”

Blessed is the humble soul. She is beloved by God…

When the soul has given herself to the will of God the mind contains nothing but God, and the soul stands before God with a pure mind.




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