Archive for January, 2014


The Ladder of Humility: Step 6

The sixth degree of humility is, if a monk be content with anything though never so vile and contemptible; and to think himself inadequate, and unworthy to succeed in whatever he is commanded to do; saying with the prophet: “I was brought to nothing and knew nothing. I am become like a brute beast before thee, yet I am always with thee.”

~ Rule of St. Benedict, 7

“Glory to God for all things!” These are the famous last words of St. John Chrysostom, whose memory, along with St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian, we Orthodox celebrate today. This “sixth degree of humility” of St. Benedict’s ladder has the same spirit behind it. It is a difficult saying and a difficult step to embrace, but like all steps along the way of life, once traveled it seems much easier in hindsight. Continue reading

The Ladder of Humility: Step 5

The fifth degree of humility is, humbly to confess to the abbot every unlawful thought as it arises in the heart, and the hidden sins we have committed. The Scripture advises this, saying: “Reveal your way to God and hope in him”: and again: “Confess to God because he is good: for his mercy endureth for over.” And in the prophet: “I have made known my sin to thee, and have not covered my iniquities. I have said, I will declare to God my own iniquities against myself: and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my heart.”

~ The Rule of St. Benedict, 7

While none of us in the world have an abbot, many of us have a priest or other spiritual elder or a counselor. While I would greatly caution my readers not to make confessions to an inexperienced and untrained confessor, there is much good—and humility—that can come from regularly confessing “every unlawful thought” to a wise person who can be trusted. Continue reading

The fourth degree of humility is, when anyone, in the practice of obedience, meets with hardships, contradictions, or affronts, and yet bears them all with a quiet conscience and with patience, and continues to persevere. The Scripture says: “He who perseveres to the end, the same shall be saved,” and again: “Let your heart be strengthened, and wait for our Lord.” And to show that the faithful servant ought to suffer every trial for God, the Scripture speaks in the person of those that suffer: “For thy sake we are killed all the day long: we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

~ Rule of St. Benedict, 7

At the fourth step of St. Benedict’s ladder of humility, he offers two correctives to common spiritual images. In the first case, he rightly puts Christ’s statement: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10) in the context of humility and self-denial (“in the practice of obedience”). In the second case, he references Psalm 43 (44 in most English Bibles), correcting the common, Sunday-school image of God’s people as a happy flock of sheep. Instead, he reminds us what sheep are for: “we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.Continue reading

The Ladder of Humility: Step 3

The third degree of humility is, when anyone submits himself with obedience to his superior for the sake of the love of God, after the example of the Lord, of whom the apostle says: “He was made obedient even unto death.”

~ Rule of St. Benedict, 7

Today is the 221st anniversary of the public execution of King Louis XVI of France. How fitting to reflect on obedience to one’s superiors on a day when men of the modern age claimed to have none, God included. Continue reading

The second degree of humility is, if anyone, not wedded to his own will, finds no pleasure in the compassing of his desires; but fulfils with his practice the word of our Lord: “I came not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” The Scripture also says: “Pleasure hath its penalty, but need winneth a crown.”

~ Rule of St. Benedict, 7

Having introduced the logic of humility and then the first step—the fear of God—we now come to the second step: self-denial through spiritual practice. Continue reading

The Ladder of Humility: Step 1

The first degree, then, of humility is, to have the fear of God ever before our eyes: never to forget what is his due, and always to remember his commands: to revolve in the mind how hell burns those who have contemned God, and how God has prepared eternal life for them that fear him: to preserve ourselves from the sins and vices of thought, of the tongue, the eyes, hands, feet, self-will and fleshly desires.

~ Rule of St. Benedict, 7

Having introduced St. Benedict’s ladder of humility in my previous post, we come now to this cheery beginning: “the fear of God” and “how hell burns”! I think, however, upon closer examination these will not seem so gloomy. Or, well, they will not be gloomy in the usual way, that is. Continue reading

[B]rethren, if we want to attain true humility, and come quickly to the top of that heavenly ascent to which we can only mount by lowliness in this present life, we must ascend by good works, and erect the mystical ladder of Jacob, where angels ascending and descending appeared to him. That ascent and descent means that we go downward when we exalt ourselves, and rise when we are humbled. The ladder represents our life in this world, which our Lord erects to heaven when our heart is humbled. And the sides of the ladder represent our soul and body, sides between which God has placed several rungs of humility and discipline, whereby we are to ascend if we would answer his call.

~ Rule of St. Benedict, 7

The excerpt above begins St. Benedict of Nursia’s teaching on the ladder of humility, which consists of twelve degrees (or, we might say, steps) as well as the top of the ladder itself. In order to take each degree seriously, I intend this to be the first installment of a running series. We begin at the base of the ladder with the above introduction by St. Benedict to the logic of humility. Continue reading

The Art of Eternal Life

[Abba Isaac said:] “St. Antony … uttered this heavenly, inspired, saying on the end of prayer: ‘That prayer is not perfect in which the monk understands himself and the words which he is praying.'”

~ Conferences of Cassian, 9.31

In all our striving for the right method of spiritual progress, sayings like this one can be both comforting and conflicting. Continue reading

O Voice of God

In honor of the Feast of the Theophany today and the synaxis of St. John the Forerunner (the Baptist) tomorrow, I offer the following.

It is inspired by reflecting on an interesting disparity in the Gospel accounts of the baptism of Christ (which we celebrate in the Theophany). In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the voice of the Father booms from the heavens, declaring Jesus his beloved Son. In the Gospel of John, however, no voice is mentioned. That is, no voice is mentioned other than John the Baptist, who responds to the Pharisees that he is neither the Prophet, nor the Christ, but, quoting Isaiah 40, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” In the Fourth Gospel, John is the voice of God. This curiosity was confirmed to me by a hymn for the feast of the finding of the head of St. John the Baptist (which is in the summer) that refers to him in just this way: as the voice of God. Thus, the following petitions are addressed to John, through whom the voice of God spoke, witnessing to the central confession of the Gospel: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Continue reading