St. Silouan on Humility

From St. Silouan the Athonite.

Enlightened by baptism, people believe in God. But there are some who even know Him. To believe in God is good but it is more blessed to know God. Nevertheless, those who believe are bless, too, as the Lord said to Thomas, one of the twelve: ‘Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.’

If we were humble the Lord in His love would show us all things, would reveal to us all mysteries, but our trouble is that we are not humble. We puff ourselves up and boast over trifles, and so make both ourselves and others unhappy.

The Lord, though He is merciful, oppresses the soul with hunger on account of her pride, and withholds grace from her until she has learned humility. I was perishing from my sins, and would long ago have been in hell, had not the Lord and His most holy and blessed Mother taken pity on me. O, her quiet, gentle voice! A voice from heaven the like of which we shall never hear on earth! And so now in tears I write of the Lord of Mercy, as He were my own Father. It is sweet for the soul to be with the Lord: Adam tasted the sweetness of this bliss in paradise when he saw the Lord with open eyes, and we feel in our souls that He is with us according to His promise: ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’

The Lord is with us. What more cou8ld we desire? The Lord created man that we might live and bask in Him for ever – that we might be with Him and in Him. And the Lord desires to be with us Himself, and in us. The Lord is our joy and gladness, and when pride causes us to withdraw from Him, it means that of our own accord we deliver ourselves up to suffering. Anguish of heart, dejection and evil thoughts lacerate us….

The proud man fears obloquy, while the humble man cares nothing. He who has acquired Christ-like humility will ever upbraid himself, and it rejoices him to be abused, and grieves him to be acclaimed. but this humility is still only elementary – when the soul comes to know the Lord in the Holy Spirit, how humble and meek He is, she sees herself as the worst of all sinners, and is happy to sit in shabby raiment in the ashes like Job, while she beholds other men in the Holy Spirit shining in the likeness of Christ.

May the Merciful Lord give all men to savor Christ’s humility which passes description. The soul will then know no further desire but will live for ever in humility, love and lowliness.

Some added thoughts of my own…

I am constantly aware of the many dangers that assault us. Dangers from within (for the Orthodox) and dangers from without (for us all). And yet I know of no danger that is not defeated in the humility of Christ. There is something about danger that speaks to us and calls us to battle – and yet, such battle does not yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness. That which speaks to us in such cases is fear – the same that would call us to run away. Humility alone knows no fear and never runs away. It does not fear the battle for in the humility of Christ the battle is already won, the victory complete. Humility does not run away but embraces the Cross with joy, for it knows that humility is indeed the very similitude of God. If we run away or fight the battle on the brave terms of man, we lose, for we do not fight in the humility of Christ. Christ alone is victorious and humility alone can save us in the manner of God’s gracious salvation.

How hard and yet how simple!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


15 responses to “St. Silouan on Humility”

  1. Ben Avatar

    “He who has acquired Christ-like humility will ever upbraid himself, and it rejoices him to be abused, and grieves him to be acclaimed. but this humility is still only elementary – when the soul comes to know the Lord in the Holy Spirit, how humble and meek He is, she sees herself as the worst of all sinners, and is happy to sit in shabby raiment in the ashes like Job, while she beholds other men in the Holy Spirit shining in the likeness of Christ.”

    I think for me, coming from a Protestant background, this is why it is so important to read the lives of the saints and gaze upon their icons. It forces me to be humble because one cannot help but be humbled by such great and holy examples. And that humility has been what has allowed God to rework and rewire my mind so that I may understand the Orthodox Christian faith.

    I am truly the worst of sinners

    Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Indeed.

  2. Marina Avatar

    Father bless,

    Thank you for sharing this passage. It seemed to speak to my heart directly. Truly, humility is probably the most difficult lesson to learn for a believer.
    After reading this, I proceeded to read the entire chapter from St. Silouan on humility, and I was taken by the sincerity with which this saint speaks about his struggles. Throughout my spiritual journey I thought that there exists some miraculous line, upon the crossing of which I would experience pure and struggle-free communion with God. How foolish and how prideful!
    May I never cease to offer my heart to the Holy Spirit, praying that it be filled with humility and contrition.
    Thank you, Father, for the constant source of inspiration and spiritual guidance through your blog.

  3. Chris Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen, Father bless,

    Please address the difference between humility and self-loathing. For those (and I’m one of them) who come from abusive backgrounds and who have struggled all our lives with feeling not simply unworthy, but completely worthless, the line between hating oneself and having true, godly humility is hard to draw. I’ve been told by my priest to pray the post-communion thanksgiving prayers as a way to understand that God really does love me and does not hate me.
    I also want to have true humility and live a life of repentance. It is possible to simultaneously hate yourself and feel pride. How insidious sin is! Please help.

    God’s peace and thank you,

  4. Mary Avatar

    “Humility alone knows no fear and never runs away.”
    Lord have mercy on us!

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    Healing is indeed the way forward. Humility differs deeply from a morbid self-loathing. I think of it this way, “He must increase while I must decrease.” If I focus on His increase in my life and elsewhere, I need not worry about my decrease. It is one of the ways out of the self-loathing/pride trap.

    Humility is not, indeed, focused on the self at all. It is focused on God, on the other, whoever they may be, and in love making room for them in our heart.

    To pray, “Forgive the wounds of my self-loathing and heal me.” And “Grant me the grace to love that I might know Thy healing.”

    May God indeed grant you grace. Your priest sounds wise and caring.

  6. Mary Gail Avatar
    Mary Gail

    The topic of humility is very deep and multi-faceted but I have found one concept useful, that is, one aspect of holy humility is the setting aside the drive or “need” to establish oneself as worthy of earthly or human honor.

    It was after the Lord convinced me that I was precious to Him that I found that I could begin to relinquish the desire for honor from my fellow human beings. Of course, I will always desire genuine and holy love from my fellow human beings as opposed to “honor” or “high standing” in the human community. If my love for another human being is Godly then I desire their highest welfare and I seek to serve them, not dominate them or intimidate them or rule over them.

    The Lord’s love provides perfect contentment of the human heart and nothing more is needed. Given that striving for earthly honor is simply unnecessary and a burden which produces no lasting good for anyone.

  7. Chris Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen and Mary Gail. Your comments certainly help. My priest is wise and caring and I thank God for him. I’m so glad that our salvation is in community. My priest tells us an old Russian proverb: “The only thing we do alone is go to hell.”

    Some of our prayers include phrases like “worthless sinner,” which are hard to say, because I think I interpret such phrases in light of my tendency to believe I am worthless. I don’t think that’s what the prayer is saying, and each of us needs to hear a special word as it were from God to meet the particular need of our soul. Thanks for being Christ’s word to me today.

    Love and humility properly understood are powerful medicine. Pray for me.

  8. Mary Gail Avatar
    Mary Gail

    Chris, you might find this interesting.

    It is one of my favorite quotes, I have taken it from the website of the Greek Archdiocese of America. It is found under the heading “Faith-Growing in the Knowledge of Christ.”

    I hope Fr. Stephen doesn’t mind me using up all these pixels.

    The aspect of knowledge [of Christ]we are presently studying implies mutuality. A relationship is a two-way situation. Saint Paul emphasized this truth when he said “now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God.”[9]We know him and he knows us, and this reveals, in an exciting way, the nature of knowledge of Christ as a relationship active at both ends. Saint John Chrysostom, in an inspiring homily, beautifully presents the idea of this mutuality when he has Christ speak to the believer in the following manner:

    “I am a father for you, and a brother, a bridegroom, and a home, a nurse and a dress, a root and a cornerstone. Whatever you want I am for you. I don’t want you to be in any need. I will serve you, because I came not to be served but to serve. I am a friend, and a member, and a head, and a brother and a sister, and a mother. I am everything for you. Only be in contact with me. I have been poor for you and a wanderer for you, I have been on the cross and in the tomb for you. High above with the Father I mediate for you. Down here I arrived as an ambassador sent by the Father to you. You are everything to me, a brother and a co-heir, a friend, and a member of my body. What more do you desire?”[10]

    The Divine Liturgy of our Church, culminating with participation in the Holy Eucharist, offers a splendid example of knowledge as an intimate mutual relationship. We approach him with all our will, soul, mind, and body. He enters into our existence with all his divinity and humanity in an ineffable, yet palpable way, and this constitutes the supreme experience of a love relationship, and the ultimate knowledge of who Christ is. What we find in one of the texts of the Early Church, the Didache, written around 100 A.D., is very indicative. There, in the prayers before and after the Eucharist, in an elated mood of thanksgiving, the believers express their gratitude for the knowledge they have received: “We thank you for the knowledge and faith and immortality which you have made known to us through Jesus your Son.”[11] The knowledge this prayer speaks about is inextricably bound with the Eucharist. A relationship like participating in Holy Communion is interpreted and understood as knowledge of Christ because it is knowledge – knowledge engendered by and manifested as an intimate relationship.

    He knows us completely and loves us anyway, why should we not accept this love as enough and love ourselves in a holy and healthy way.

  9. shevaberakhot Avatar

    Humility is that narrow gate with a sign that says “Child of God”. Amen.

  10. owen59 Avatar

    I caught your blog at random and am glad I did. I haven’t read anything from the Orthodox church before and this is great food for thought (and trying to be).

  11. Mary Avatar

    A seminar titled “Guilt and True and False Repentance” which examined at length the matter of shame vs. repentance was held at St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Here is the link to the download: Guilt and False and True Repentance: Two Part Seminar, held on May 23 and May 30, 2007 at St. Catherine – taught by Fr. Deacon Jan Veselak (from All Saints of Russia Orhodox Church in Denver).

  12. Mary Gail Avatar
    Mary Gail

    Welcome Owen59.

  13. Michael Avatar

    A quote i once heard:
    “Humility is not thinking less of your self, but rather thinking less about yourself.”

  14. shevaberakhot Avatar

    Funny how it’s always someone else’s sin that is offensive.

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