Blessed Humility

Counsels and sayings from the Saints related to Humility.

Let us take the example of trees. When they have much fruit the branches are bent downwards... The branch without fruit is raised up and grows upwards. In some kinds of tree's no fruit is produced as long as the branches grow upwards but if somebody takes a stone and binds it to a branch and pulls it down, then the branch will bear fruit. It is similar with a soul, when it humbles itself, it bears fruit and the more fruit it bears the humbler the soul becomes. The more the saints approach God, the more they see themselves as sinners.

I remember once when we were talking about humility and one of the leading lights of Gaza, heard us saying, "The more one approaches God the more one sees himself as a sinner." He was surprised, and said, "How is this possible?" Not knowing he wanted to learn the reason. I said to him, " who are the most important person here, how do you see yourself in this town?" He answered me saying, "I consider myself to be great and the first in the town." I said to him, "how do you see yourself when you go to Caesarea?" He replied, "There I see myself as insignificant amongst the important men of the town." Again, I said to him, "how do you see yourself when you go to Antioch?" He replied, "I see myself as a peasant." I then said to him, "When you go to Constantinople, near the Emperor, how do you see yourself?"

"I consider myself to be a beggar" he answered. After all this I said to him, "See [in the same way] this happens with the saints, the more they approach God, the more they see themselves as sinners." Thus, when Abraham saw the Lord he called himself "dust and ashes." Isaiah also said, "Woe is me for I am undone because I am a man of unclean lips." Likewise Daniel when he was in the lions den, and Habakuk brought him his meal saying "take the meal which God sent to you," replied, "did God remember even me?" You see what great humility he had in his heart when he was among the lions in the den, and they did not harm him not just once but twice; he was surprised and said, "Did God remember even me?" Do you see the humility of the Saints, how their hearts are moved?
-- Dorotheus of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings

Please note: The whole soul profiting text on humility, in mp3 audio format, by Abba Dorotheus, is available by clicking this link.

Meekness and humility of heart are virtues without which it is impossible to inherit the Heavenly Kingdom, to be happy on earth, or to experience inner calm.
-- Counsels of Venerable St. Antony (Putilov) of Optina

Our humility is our surest intercessor before the face of the Lord. It is by dint [means] of humility and penance that the last shall be first.
-- St. Macarius of Optina

Know that when you do not possess calm, you do not have humility within you. The Lord revealed this in the following words, which indicate as well where to seek after calm. He said: “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29).
-- Advice from the Holy Elder St. Leo (Nagolkin) of Optina

"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..."
-- Fr. Paisius The Orthodox Word, Vol. 28, No. 1 (#162—Jan-Feb, 1992).

"The humbler our opinion of ourselves, the more swiftly our prayer rises to God. So soon as we lose humility, each and every ascetic effort is nullified. If pride is active in us, or fault-finding, or unfriendliness, the Lord stands remote from us."
-- Archimandrite Sophrony (His Life is Mine: Part 2, Chapter 3; SVS Press pg. 123):

"Humble-mindedness will bring all the virtues."
-- St. Anthimos of Chios +1960

If, according to the example of Abraham and Job, we think that we are earth and ashes, then we shall never be robbed, but we will always have something to give to others: not gold and silver, but an example of humility, patience, and love toward God. May there be glory to Him forever. Amen.
-- Saints Barsanuphius & John, Guidance Toward Spiritual Life

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.

Believe that dishonors and reproaches are medicines that heal the pride of your soul, and pray for those who reproach you, as for true physicians of your soul, being assured that he who hates dishonor, hates humility, and he who avoids those who grieve him, flees from meekness.
-- Venerable Dorotheus, hermit of Egypt (4th c.).

Extirpate two thoughts within thyself: do not consider yourself worthy of anything great, and do not think that any other man is much lower than you in worthiness. Learn humility beforehand, which the Lord commanded in word and showed forth in deed. Hence, do not expect obedience from others, but be ready for obedience yourself.
-- Saint Basil the Great.

If you will endure an offensive word, then you have extinguished an ember. But if you will think about it, then, like someone kindling a fire, you will produce smoke, which is confusion. However, one can conveniently extinguish it too by silence, prayer and a bow from the heart.
--Venerable Dorotheus.

Even if your soul should suffer somewhat from an offense, keep the sorrow within yourself. For it is said: "Within me my heart is troubled" (Psalm 142:4), that is, the passion has not come out, but has been humbled like a wave that has broken up on the shore. Calm your raging heart. Let your passions be ashamed at the presence of reason in you, as playful children are ashamed before a man commanding respect.
-- Saint Basil the Great.

Has someone offended you? Guard your breast with the sign of the Cross; remember what took place on the Cross, and all will be extinguished. Think not of offenses only, but recall also whatever good you have received from the one who has offended you, and at once you shall grow meek. Bring to mind the fear of God, and quickly you shall grow more temperate and calm. Train yourself not to offend another during offenses themselves, and then, when offended, you will not feel grief. Think to yourself that he who is offending you is in a frenzy and not in his right mind, and then you will not be vexed at the offense.
-- Saint John Chrysostom.

He, who grieves sorely in his heart when dishonored or offended by others, ought to know from this that he bears within himself the ancient serpent. If he will bear the offense in silence, or will answer the one offending him with deep humility, then he has thereby weakened and crushed this serpent.
-- Venerable Simeon the New Theologian.

Having fallen from his heavenly rank through pride, the devil constantly strives to bring down also all those who wholeheartedly wish to approach the Lord; and he uses the same means which caused his own downfall, that is pride and love of vainglory. These and similar things are the means by which the demons fight us and hope to separate us from God.

Moreover, knowing that he who loves his brother loves also God, they put into our hearts hatred of one another - and this to such degree that at times a man cannot bear to see his brother or say a word to him. Many have performed truly great labors of virtue, but have ruined themselves through folly. It would not be surprising if the same thing were to happen to you too; if, for example, having cooled towards active work, you begin to imagine that you already possess virtues. For there you have already fallen into that devilish disease (high opinion of yourself), thinking that you are close to God and are in the light, whereas in actual fact you are in darkness.

What made our Lord Jesus Christ lay aside his garments, gird himself with a towel, and, pouring water into a basin, begin to wash the feet of those who were below Him (John 13:4, etc.), if not to teach us humility? For it was humility He showed us by example of what He then did. And indeed those who want to be accepted into the foremost rank cannot achieve this otherwise than through humility; for in the beginning the thing that caused downfall from heaven was a movement of pride. So, if a man lacks extreme humility, if he is not humble with all his heart, all his mind, all his spirit, all his soul and body - he will not inherit the kingdom of God.
-- St Anthony the Great, "Early Fathers From the Philokalia," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, (London: Faber and Faber, 1954), pp. 45-46

Humility is, not only to humble your own self, but also to forbear the humiliations which others impose on you.
-- Archimandrite Joel Giannakopoulos +1966

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. (Luke 17:10)

This is the mark of Christianity--however much a man toils, and however many righteousnesses he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, "This is not fasting," and in praying, "This is not prayer," and in perseverance at prayer, "I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains"; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, "I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.
-- St. Macarius the Great

...the more a man is found worthy to receive God's gifts, the more he ought to consider himself a debtor to God, who has raised him from the earth and bestowed on dust the privilege of imitating to some degree its Creator and God. For to endure injustice with joy, patiently to do good to one's enemies, to lay down one's own life for one's neighbor, and so on, are gifts from God, bestowed on those who are resolved to receive them from Him through their solicitude in cultivating and protecting what has been entrusted to them, as Adam was commanded to do (cf. Gen. 2:15).
-- St. Peter of Damascus (Book 1: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 176)

Abba John (the Dwarf) said, "Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues."
-- Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

As in all things to the good, God is prepared to help man acquire humility. Yet man himself must take care of himself. The Holy Fathers say “render up blood and receive spirit.” This means, struggle even to the point of giving up your blood, and you will receive a spiritual gift. While you seek after and ask for spiritual gifts, you are unwilling to shed your blood. That is, you want everything, but do not want to be bothered or disturbed by anyone. But can one ever acquire humility living a life of tranquility? Humility consists of seeing oneself as the worst of all, not only of people, but even of dumb beasts, even the evil spirits themselves. And then, when people disturb you, you are aware that you cannot stand it, and that you become angry with people; involuntarily, you then will consider yourself to be a bad person… If in the process you regret being bad, and reproach yourself as incorrigible, if you truly repent of this before God and your spiritual father, then you will already be on the path to humility. But were no one to bother you, were you live in tranquility, how could you become conscious of your badness? If they are trying to demean you, they want to humble you. You yourself are asking God for humility. Why then should you lament over people?
-- Spiritual Counsels of Holy Elder St. Amvrossy of Optina

Do not become a disciple of one who praises himself, in case you learn pride instead of Humility.
-- St. Mark the Ascetic

Even if an angel should indeed appear to you, do not receive him but humble yourself, saying, 'I am not worthy to see an angel, for I am a sinner.'
-- St. Clement of Rome (d. 101 AD)

God descends to the humble as waters flow down from the hills into the valleys.
-- St. John of Kronstadt

I saw all the snares that the enemy spreads over the whole world and I said, groaning, "What can get through such snares?" Then I heard a voice saying to me, "Humility."
-- St. Anthony the Great

Let our praise be in God, and not of ourselves; for God hateth those that commend themselves. Let testimony to our good deeds be borne by others, as it was in the case of our righteous forefathers. Boldness, and arrogance, and audacity belong to those that are accursed of God; but moderation, humility, and meekness to such as are blessed by Him.
-- The First Epistle Of Clement To The Corinthians, Chapter XXX

Those who seek humility should bear in mind the three following things: that they are the worst of sinners, that they are the most despicable of all creatures since their state is an unnatural one, and that they are even more pitiable than the demons, since they are slaves to the demons. You will also profit if you say this to yourself: how do I know what or how many other people's sins are, or whether they are greater than or equal to my own? In our ignorance you and I , my soul, are worse than all men, we are dust and ashes under their feet. How can I not regard myself as more despicable than all other creatures, for they act in accordance with the nature they have been given, while I, owing to my innumerable sins, am in a state contrary to nature.
-- St. Gregory of Sinai, Philokalia, Vol. IV

No man, wise in his own opinion, because he has studied all the sciences and is learned in external wisdom, will ever penetrate God's mysteries or see them unless he first humbles himself and becomes foolish in his heart, repudiating his self-opinion together with the acquirements of learning.
-- St. Simeon the New Theologian (Practical and Theological Precepts no. 116, Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart; Faber and Faber pg. 124)

Once a spiritual brother of mine and I visited Elder Zosimas, a Russian hermit at Karoulia (on Mt. Athos). We found him seated on the ground chopping firewood. We asked for his blessing, venerated the icons of the small church, and then asked him to tell us something comforting. Only then did he lift us his joyful face and utter one word in Russian. It was a word that contains the entire immense spiritual life of man: "Smirenia, smerenia," he said, which means humility. Nothing else. He put his head down again and patiently continued to chop the few bits of firewood he had for the winter.
-- An Athonite Gerontikon

Pointing out that man has nothing of which to be proud, the Elder added “Actually, what does man have to crow about? A ragged, wretched beggar cries out for alms: ‘Have Mercy! Have Mercy!’ But as to whether he will be shown mercy, who knows?”
-- Counsels of the Venerable Elder St. Amvrossy of Optina

Pray simply. Do not expect to find in your heart any remarkable gift of prayer. Consider yourself unworthy of it. Then you will find peace. Use the empty cold dryness of your prayer as food for your humility. Repeat constantly: I am not worthy; Lord, I am not worthy! But say it calmly, without agitation.
-- St. Macarius of Optina

The Russian ascetic, Father Tychon, who lived sixty years on Mt. Athos after he had visited three hundred monasteries in Russian, said, "God blesses with one hand in the morning the entire world, and uses both hands to bless the humble man. A humble person is above the whole world."
-- An Athonite Gerontikon

The heights of humility are great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.
-- Abba Isidore of Pelusia

The natural property of the lemon tree is such that it lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit, but the more the branches bend down the more fruit they bear. Those who have the mind to understand will grasp the meaning of this.
-- St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step25: On the Destroyer of the Passions, Most Sublime Humility, Which is rooted in Spiritual Perception

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.
-- St. Isaac of Syria

When a man penetrates the depths of humility and recognizes that his is unworthy to be saved, his sorrow releases springs of tears, and as a consequence spiritual joy floods out in his heart. In this way, hope rises out of this spring, grows with it, and strengthens our certainty of being saved.
-- St. Symeon the New Theologian

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

When pride retreats from a man, humility begins to dwell in him, and the more pride is diminished, so much more does humility grow. The one gives way to the other as to its opposite. Darkness departs and light appears. Pride is darkness, but humility is light.
-- St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Journey to Heaven.

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, in The Philokalia, Vol. 2.

The man who endures accusations against himself with humility has arrived at perfection. He is marvelled at by the holy angels, for there is no other virtue so great and so hard to achieve.
-- St Isaac of Syria

The mind that realizes it's own weakness has discovered whence it might enter upon salvation and draw near to the light of knowledge and receive true wisdom which does not pass away with this age."
-- St. Gregory Palamas

Where poverty of spirit is perceived, there is also the sorrow that is full of joy.
-- St. Symeon the New Theologian

There is a humility that comes from the fear of God, and there is a humility that comes from the fervent love of God. One man is humbled because of his fear of God, another is humbled because of his joy. The man humbled from fear of God is possessed of modesty in his members, a right ordering of his senses, and a heart contrite at all times. But the man humbled because of joy is possessed of great exuberance and an open and insuppressible heart.
-- The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac of Syria.

The one who has come to understand the weakness of human nature has had experience of the divine power, and such a person who because of it has succeeded in some things and is eager to succeed in others never looks down on anyone. For he knows that in the same way that God has helped him and freed him from many passions and hardships, so can He help everyone when He wishes, especially those who are striving for His sake. Although for His own reasons He does not deliver all from their passions right away, still as a good and loving physician He heals in His own good time each one of those who are striving.
-- St. Maximus the Confessor, Four Centuries on Love

It is useless to accuse those around us and those who live with us of somehow interfering with or being an impediment to our salvation and spiritual perfection… Spiritual or emotional dissatisfaction comes from within ourselves, from inexperience and from poorly conceived opinions we do not want to abandon, but which bring on doubt, embarrassment, and misunderstanding. All of this tires and burdens us, and brings us to a sorry state. We would do well to comprehend the Holy Fathers’ simple advice: If we will humble ourselves, we will find tranquility anywhere, without having to mentally wander about many other places, where we might have the same, or even worse, experiences.
-- Counsels of the Venerable Elder St. Amvrossy of Optina

Let all who are led by the spirit of God enter with us into this spiritual and wise assembly, holding in their spiritual hands the God-inscribed tablets of knowledge. We have come together, we have investigated, and we have probed the meaning of this precious inscription. And one man said: “It (humility) means constant oblivion of one’s achievements.” Another: “It is the acknowledgement of oneself as the last of all and the greatest sinner of all.” And another: “The mind’s recognition of one’s weakness and impotence.” Another again: “In fits of rage, it means to forestall one’s neighbor and be first to stop the quarrel.” And again another: “Recognition of Divine grace and divine compassion.” And again another: “The feeling of a contrite soul, and the renunciation of one’s own will.” But when I had listened to all this and had attentively and soberly investigated it, I found that I had not been able to attain to the blessed perception of that virtue from what had been said. Therefore, last of all, having gathered what fell from the lips of those learned and blessed fathers as a dog gathers the crumbs that fall from the table, I too gave my definition of it and said: “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, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step25: On the Destroyer of the Passions, Most Sublime Humility, Which is rooted in Spiritual Perception

Nothing done in humility for the sake of God is bad. But things and pursuits differ. Everything not strictly necessary is a hindrance to salvation - everything, that is to say, that does not contribute to the soul's salvation or to the body's life. For it is not food, but gluttony, that is bad; not money, but attachment to it; not speech, but idle talk; not the world's delights, but dissipation; not love of one's family, but the neglect of God that such love may produce; not the clothes worn only for covering and protection from cold and heat, but those that are excessive and costly; not houses that also protect us from heat and cold, as well as anything human or animal that might harm us, but houses with two or three floors, large and expensive;...not friendship, but the having of friends who are of no benefit to one's soul; not woman, but unchastity; not wealth but avarice; not wine but drunkenness; not anger used in accordance with nature for the chastisement of sin, but its use against one's fellow-men.
-- St. Peter of Damaskos (Book 1: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 pg. 156)

One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, "Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?" He replied, "I have indeed been taught Greek and Latin, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant."
-- The Desert Fathers

One elder passed seventy weeks in fasting, eating food only twice a week, as he begged the Lord to reveal to him the meaning of a passage in Holy Scripture. But God would not reveal it to him. Seeing this, the elder said to himself, "I have labored long and hard, and I have accomplished nothing. I will go to my brother and ask him."

When he had left his cell and locked the door behind him, an angel from the Lord appeared and said to him: "Seventy weeks of fasting did not bring you nearer to God. Now, however, when you have humbled yourself and resolved to go to your brother with your question, I have been sent to you to explain the meaning of this passage." And fulfilling this, the angel departed.
-- The Paterikon of Bishop Ignatius, found in Spiritual Sowings. Translated by Elizaveta Baranova

Pray Simply. Do not expect to find in your heart any remarkable gift of prayer Consider yourself unworthy of it-then you will find peace. Use the empty, cold dryness of your prayer as food for your humility. Repeat constantly: "I am not worthy, Lord, I am not worthy!" But say it calmly, without agitation. This humble prayer will be acceptable to God.
-- Elder Macarius of Optina