The Whole of Spiritual Warfare Wages Around Humility

MariabaptFrom the Elder Sophrony’s Widsom from Mount Athos:

Thus the whole 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 meekenss 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.

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.



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20 responses to “The Whole of Spiritual Warfare Wages Around Humility”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Photo: I can think of nothing more humble than the act of Holy Baptism.

  2. Michael Liccione Avatar

    I’m not sure what to make of this passage from Elder Sophrony. He says: “…should the soul listen to his praise grace withdraws until she repents.” But doesn’t repentance itself depend on grace? That seems painfully clear in my struggle with humility. I know I am not humble because I’d rather be somebody else–somebody whose gifts, in my estimation, are more needed by the Church than mine. As a result, I have a hard time accepting who I am, gratefully, as a gift from God. I know that isn’t right and that it stems from pride in my own estimation of things. But I have no idea how to overcome that problem by my own efforts. All I can do is pray and give thanks without feeling like it. That does not make grace descend; it can only open the heart to grace. But it doesn’t even do that very well unless it grows from repentance, which only grace can effect.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    There is obviously a sense in which grace is always given and present – and yet there is also this mysterious sense to which the Elder refers – common in the intimate writings of the saints of the “withdrawal of grace.” The general interpretation is that this presence and withdrawal is a dynamic of our experience of God that God uses to draw us closer to Him. All things are for our salvation – and never for anything else. I am assured beyond doubt about this.

  4. Yudhie Avatar

    This is wisdom which bring joy, Father. Thanks for sharing this.
    Hm, I noticed that you tag this posting with “religion of the heart”, what does it mean? Thanks


  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Working with the categories in my tags, it’s a way of speaking about the faith as it is lived in the heart, rather than the head. A matter of how we live rather than how we think. Not that thinking is bad, but it is often substituted for the proper life of faith. Thus, actually becoming humble is more important than reading about humility (or writing about it). It’s a common phrase in Orthodoxy, or at least related to the phrase “prayer of the heart,” which is the manner of prayer taught by the Fathers.

  6. David Avatar

    I am still humbled (and not in a comfortable way, though discomfort in this case is not an evil) each time I remember my Baptism.

  7. jonathan Avatar

    Yes, faith is in our heart. That is how you can feel joy and peace in life. I enjoy reading this blog Father Stephen, thanks.

  8. elizabeth Avatar

    Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen. You have definitely touched upon a difficult area for me: humility. I love Ilia Delio’s book, The Humility of God. At the same time, I wonder how anyone can even begin to approach anything like that, and I am so far out of the ball park as to need some kind of vehicle to reach the gate. The irony is that I have a reputation of being humble — people say that to me and behind my back. God knows, though, that they are mistaken. They judge because my management style is MBWA (management by walking about) and servant leadership. I judge differently. I know when my acts and my emotions do not match. MBWA and servant leadership are a psychological (social/behavioral) conditioning, i.e. habit, for me. My heart still needs to be conditioned. I think when one reaches a high position in any supervisory chain of command, it is difficult to maintain one’s humility (if one even started from a point of humility), and the higher one goes, the harder it seems to become. The greatest help for me has been a sign I put on my computer: PG. It reminds me to pray to God before making any decision that will affect another human being. It helps, but God knows you have pointed out a definite weakness for me. I see so few leaders who are humble. How do those that are manage it? Any insights? I do see Jesus setting an excellent example of servant leadership, but truly his steps are hard ones to follow without frequent stumbling!

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is indeed difficult.

  10. Cameron Avatar

    Nothing like some light, encouraging words to begin Saturday morning! 🙂

    In all seriousness, thanks, Father, for posting what we (I) need to hear. But it does sting and not a little. Very challenging words.

  11. Karen Avatar

    It is a difficult thing to find myself loving to hear such a message, heartily agreeing with it, longing for its beauty to fill my whole being, and yet in the next moment failing to live it in even its most elementary way with my children, spouse, family and friends! Is there hope for such a one as me? Pray for me, a sinner.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar


    There is Christ. What more hope should we have?

  13. Karen Avatar

    Ah, Father, I’m pierced to the heart by your reminder. Truly. Christ is risen!

  14. Yudhie Avatar

    Thanks Father Stephen for the explanation 🙂 and also to Jonathan, about the faith in our heart

  15. Jesse Avatar

    “The enemy praises us, and should the soul listen to his praise grace withdraws until she repents.”

    Do we then receive no praise from God, and should we refrain from praising others? I realize when I ask that that receiving praise from God immediately seems like a strange thing. We receive love, acceptance, and grace, and we long to hear “well done, good and faithful servant,” but not so sure about the idea of God praising our work.

  16. Steve Avatar

    There are no space-time limitations in the Redemption. We look through a veil (as it were) but He sees what the stones really are. It takes some getting used to, seeing the world as He does.

    He redeems, we praise. This though, never changes!

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    We receive whatever we need from God and nothing from God harms us. If His praise would tempt us He would not give it. I too long to hear “well done, etc.” Though in the parable it is the last thing you hear. If I need to wait for that – then God help me to wait.

  18. Steve Avatar

    Yes true praise uttered is in any case His. There we find echoes of the last trumpet call (in a good sense, where evil is destroyed and new creation is brought forth).

    One not to be missed!

    On another note. The transfiguration (a higher form of praise in non-linear time) is very much a phenomenon of our ‘time’.

    Other examples abound…

  19. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    For some Protestant edification, I believe this quote is attributed to Oswald Chambers:

    “Later in life, all the lessons are lessons in humility.”

  20. Stephen Avatar

    (I might add)…and all throughout life if we are open to this lesson. Sometimes the lessons are easier to recognize but they are always there at all stages of life.

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