Chapters on Humility

One Hundred Chapters: How One Attains Humility (CPG 3936)*



A flower is the beginning of fruit-bearing, and submission in the Lord is the beginning of humility. The fruit of submission is longsuffering, and longsuffering is the fruit of love. Love is the bond of perfection, and perfection is the keeping of God’s commandments. The commandment of the Lord is resplendent, illumining the eyes; and eyes that have been illumined are wont to flee the ways of the lawless.

Let humility be your throne and your garment of acquittal. Let your speech be shining in converse, in the love of God.  For the Savior said, ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Whence will high-mindedness be recognized, which is unrestrained? It is stubborn and disobedient, following its own reasoning. But humility is obedient, compliant, accommodating, imparting honor to the small as well as the great. He who acquires it, let him believe that he will receive a reward from the Lord with eternal life.


A certain brother entered the monastery wishing to become a monk. He wished to stay in a cell with someone older. After some days, he was attacked by thoughts and said, “I cannot stand to be with this brother.” Another brother advised him, saying, “If you had fallen in among barbarians and were handed over to some one of the barbarians, would you be able to say, ‘I do not want to spend my time with him?’” And when the brother heard this, he was pricked with compunction by the words. And he did a prostration, saying, “forgive me.”


He said, again, that whoever wishes to become a monk and does not endure abuse and contempt and loss, is not able to become a monk.


A certain brother was attacked by the thought of vanity, which told him that he had already accomplished something with regard to the virtues. This brother, wishing to conquer the thought of high-mindedness, put his hand under a lit caldron and said to himself: “Cease to be high minded! For we see that the three youths were placed in the midst of the burning flame (Dan. 3), and none of them was exalted in heart. Rather, they hymned God with great humility and glorified him in the midst of the furnace, saying, ‘In a broken soul and a spirit of humility may we be accepted before thy sight’ (Dan. 3:15[39]). Yet you, standing in complete comfort, practice high-mindedness.” And with this he conquered the demon of high-mindedness.


If you should find someone who is unusually industrious and hard-working in acquiring the virtues, let no one look down on him. Rather, we must receive such people, for they are pleasing to God and bring benefit to the whole brotherhood. Let us learn from the two camps, that of the Hebrews and that of the Philistines [see 1 Sam 14, where Jonathan single-handedly defeats the Philistines], and from David fighting one on one with Goliath. Let us learn, too, from those who were suffering shipwreck on the sea (Acts 27:13-38) and were saved for the sake of the righteous man that was found among them. As it is written, Fear not, Paul. It is necessary for you to stand before Caesar, and, behold, God has granted to you all them that sail with you (Acts 27:34).


A brother, having taken up the schema**, was struggling with the thought of leaving the monastery. His thoughts presented him with the following image: “Consider,” they said, “the herbs of the garden. Notice that, if the one who is caring for the plot does not uproot the plants and plant them in another place, they will not grow.” So the brother acted with discrimination towards the thought, saying, “Does the gardener pull absolutely everything that he has sown out of the plot? No,” he said. “He leaves in the furrow those that are able to grow, and he uproots only those that are not strong, as those are that remain in their place. Become, then, one of those plants that is not uprooted.” And in this way he conquered the thought, with the cooperation of God’s grace.

*Κεφαλαὶ ἑκατόν. Πῶς κτᾶταί τις τὴν ταπεινοφροσύνην, ed. K.G. Phrantzoles, Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα 2 (Thessaloniki: Perivole tes Panagias, 1989), 288-289.

** The schema is an ancient, cruciform garment received by a monastic at his tonsure. It can be seen in Byzantine iconography of monastic saints, wherein it covers his head, shoulders, and front-side down to his legs. The Latin for schema is habitus, though the ‘habit’ has taken on a much more generic meaning, signifying any kind of monastic garb.