On Pursuing Virtue: Humility

This is the first in a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that we as Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also  desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

We’ve heard the Proverb, “Pride comes before a fall,” and unfortunately, most of us have probably tested its truth the hard way: by experience. St. James says that “God resists the proud…” (James 4:6). If we don’t want God to resist US, then it appears that we need to stop being proud. That sounds so cut and dry, and is easy to say. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to do. We are tempted at every moment to fall into pride. However, we should not only turn away from pride, we should instead be making strides towards its counterpart, humility. St. James’ statement continues, “…but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we need as much grace as He will give to us. The promise of receiving God’s grace when we walk in humility should seal the deal for us in terms of choosing how we will live. To live a truly Christian life, one must live humbly, and continually turn away from pride.

But what exactly is humility? It is a starting point, a reality check, and the perfect companion to every other virtue.The Orthodox Church of America’s website offers a helpful article about humility (see link below). The article suggests that humility is where we must begin if we wish to live a truly Christian life. “In the Orthodox tradition, humility has often been called the ‘mother of all virtues,’ and pride has been named ‘the cause of all sin.’ The wise and honest person is the one who is humble.” It continues, “Genuine humility means to see reality as it actually is in God.” St. Isaac the Syrian suggests that humility is the seasoning that must accompany every other virtue in our life: “What salt is for any food, humility is for every virtue. To acquire it, a man must always think of himself with contrition, self-belittlement and painful self-judgment. But if we acquire it, it will make us sons of God.”

How can we begin to attain humility? For starters, we must study the Perfect Model of Humility, consider others better than ourselves, and then look for ways to serve all of creation regardless of whether that service is “in our job description.” Our Lord Himself modeled humility for us, as the Creator took on the form of the creature and humbled Himself throughout his earthly life, so we can certainly look to His example to see how One Who is Truly Humble would act. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians offers practical steps which we can follow in our pursuit of humility: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2.3–11) And the previously-mentioned OCA article also suggests this step: “the humble lay aside all vanity and conceit in the service of the least of God’s creatures, and to consider no good act as beneath one’s dignity and honor.”

This is only a tiny glimpse at the virtue of humility. There is so much for us to learn! In order to better pursue this virtue, we will need to continue to learn about it. Below are more quotes about the virtue that can help us to continue to grasp the depth and importance of this virtue in our lives and suggest ways for us to successfully pursue it. May we humble ourselves as Christ Himself did, so that, with the help of humility, we can better attain all of the other virtues and thus become closer to who He created us to be.

O Lord and Master of my life,Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Find the OCA’s article on humility here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/humility


“True humility for the sinful man is to know that indeed, according to one’s own possibilities and gifts, each one is truly the first and greatest of sinners (cf. 1 Tim 1.15), for each one has sinned in his own way “like no other man” (Saint Andrew of Crete, 7th c., Penitential Canon). The truly humble person is the one who, confessing his sins, is “faithful over little,” and doing so, is exalted by the Lord and is “set over much.” Only such a person will “enter into the joy of his Master” (Mt 25.14–23, Lk 19.17). (https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/humility )


“The holy Fathers also tell us that Theosis has stages. It begins from the lowest and progresses to the highest. Once we have humility, in order to become cleansed from the passions we start our asceticism by applying the holy commandments of Christ, beginning our daily struggle in Christ with repentance and much patience. The holy Fathers say that within His commandments God himself lies hidden. When a Christian observes them out of love and faith in Christ, then he unites with Him.” ~ from http://www.greekorthodoxchurch.org/theosis_qualifications.html


“…true humility does not say humble words, nor does it assume humble looks, it does not force oneself either to think humbly of oneself, or to abuse oneself in self-belittlement. Although all such things are the beginning, the manifestations and the various aspects of humility, humility itself is grace, given from above. There are two kinds of humility, as the holy fathers teach: to deem oneself the lowest of all beings and to ascribe to God all one’s good actions. The first is the beginning, the second the end.” ~ St. Gregory of Sinai


“A man who is truly humble is not troubled when he is wronged and he says nothing to justify himself against the injustice, but he accepts slander as truth; he does not attempt to persuade men that he is calumniated, but he begs forgiveness” ~. St. Isaac the Syrian, from The Ascetical Homilies


“Humility is a nameless grace in the soul, its name known only to those who have learned it by experience. It is unspeakable wealth, a name and gift from God, for it is said: “learn not from an angel, nor from man, nor from a book, but from Me, that is, from My indwelling, from My illumination and action in you; for I am meek and humble in heart and in thought and in spirit, and your soul shall find rest from conflicts and relief from thoughts.” (Matthew 11:29) ~ St. John Climacus


‘Seek God daily. But seek Him in your heart, not outside it. And when you find Him, stand with fear and trembling, like the Cherubim and the Seraphim, for your heart has become a throne of God. But in order to find God, become humble as dust before the Lord, for the Lord abhors the proud, whereas He visits those that are humble in heart, wherefore He says: ‘To whom will I look, but to him that is meek and humble in heart?’” ~ St. Nectarios of Aegina


“When anyone out of kindness praises you to others, and they pass on these praises to you, do not consider them as a just tribute of esteem really due you, but ascribe them solely to the kindness of heart of the person who spoke of you in this way, and pray for him that God may strengthen him in his kindness of heart and in every virtue; but acknowledge yourself to be the greatest of sinners, not just out of humility, but truthfully, actually, knowing as you do your evil deeds.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt


“Since salvation comes to you as a free gift, give thanks to God your saviour. If you wish to present Him with gifts, gratefully offer from your widowed soul two tiny coins, humility and love, and God will accept these in the treasury of His salvation more gladly than the host of virtues deposited there by others. Dead through the passions, pray like Lazarus to be brought to life again, sending to God these two sisters to intercede with Him; and you will surely attain your goal.” ~ St. Theognostos


We can have a “checkup” on our humility, via these words from St. Isaac the Syrian: “Humility is accompanied by modesty and self-collectedness: that is, chastity of the senses; a moderated voice; mean ( i.e. unadorned) speech ; self-belittlement; poor raiment; a gait that is not pompous; a gaze directed toward the earth; superabundant mercy; easily flowing tears; a solitary soul; a contrite heart; imperturbability to anger; undistracted senses; few possessions; moderation in every need; endurance; patience; fearlessness; manliness of heart born of deliberations that are ponderous, not light; extinction of thoughts; guarding of mysteries; chastity; modesty; reverence; and above all, continually to be still and always to claim ignorance.”


“Humility is the thought and conviction of our heart that we are more sinful than all men and unworthy of the mercy of God. Reviling ourselves does not mean that we have true humility. True humility is when someone shames and abuses us publicly, and we endure it and say, “God ordered that brother to shame me for my many sins.” We should receive everything as a command from God. When someone shames you, say that God commanded him to do it. When someone takes something of yours, God commanded him to take it, in order to make you a monk. When you are removed from a higher place, God changed your place so that you would change from your passions and bad habits. This is true humility. And the pride is when we trust in ourselves, in our mind, our strength, when we think we are more capable than someone else, better, more beautiful, more virtuous, more pleasing to God. Then it is certain that we are overcome by the ugly sin of pride, from which may God, who humbled Himself for our salvation, preserve us. Let us humble ourselves, brethren, because a proud man cannot be saved. Let us weep for our sins here, so we can rejoice forever in the next life, for after we leave this world everyone will forget us. Let us not hope in men, but only in God…” ~ St. Paisius


“What does purity of heart have to do with humility? Everything!” Read Fr. George Morelli’s Lenten reflection on humility here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/17377


“If you wish to be truly humble, then consider yourself lower than all, worthy of being trampled on by all; for you yourself daily, hourly trample upon the law of the Lord, and therefore upon the Lord Himself.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
Read more of his hard-hitting-but-truthful words on humility in this blog: http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/11/on-humility-by-st-john-of-kronstadt.html


“What is our level of humility? What can we do to become more humble yet not neglect any of our duties nor fully use our talents?

One discipline to help us in this is the Jesus Prayer. It is a prayer of humility and one that when practiced like the Fathers instruct us will lead us to a mind where this prayer going continually no matter what we are doing.” This practical advice on pursuing humility was found here: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2016/03/one-necessity-humility.html (See the bottom of the blog for links to many more blog posts about humility!)



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