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Athonite Flowers: Seven Contemporary Essays On The Spiritual Life

and loses meaning among those who merely talk about it – produces the climate in which this loneliness is not
permitted to thrive. Behold how the desert – that good mother, excellent philosopher and theologian – speaks
about holy humility, silence and peace.
The humble person, according to Abba Poimen, is comfortable and at peace wherever he may find
Abba Isaac tells us that he who makes himself small in everything will be exalted above all. And his
discerning voice continues: “Hate honor and you will be honored indeed. He who runs after honors causes
honor itself to be banished from him. But if you merely disdain yourself hypocritically in order to appear
humble, God will reveal you.”
In the Gerontikon, which contains a wide variety of spiritual writings from the Fathers, it is repeatedly
made clear that “the humble-minded and lowly in heart is not the one who cheapens himself and talks about
humility, but the one who endures joyfully the dishonors which come from his neighbor.” In another place the
Gerontikon states that “the person honored more than he deserves is actually harmed, while the person who is
not honored at all by his fellow human beings will be honored in heaven by God.”
Abba Poimen gives us this advice. “Every possible sorrow that comes to you can be overcome with
Abba Isaiah agrees with him: “Until your heart is at peace through prayer, make no effort to explain
anything to your brother.”
In studying the writings of the holy fathers of the desert, one can easily observe a common mind, a
common noble spirit, a humaneness, an understanding, a wisdom. These are dew drops of the Holy Spirit,
which fall in the arid desert after long struggles, which make fragrant flowers grow among the communities of
faithful committed totally to God, and which make fragrant the souls of those who truly thirst for God.
Abba Isaiah, that great mind, notes with particular grace and subtlety: “He who humbles himself before
God is capable of enduring every insult. The humble person is not concerned about what others say about him.
The person who bears the harsh word of a rude and foolish man for the sake of God is worthy of acquiring
Abba Mark, on this important topic – our relationship with ourselves and with others, in which we find
ourselves stumbling on a daily basis – goes on to note the following: “When you become aware of the thought
in your mind dictating human glory, you should know for sure that this thought is preparing you for shame.
And if you discern someone praising you hypocritically, expect also his accusation some time soon.” And with
the daring precision of a surgeon of the soul, the holy Abba continues: “When you see someone crying over the
many insults he has received, you should know that, because he was overcome by vainglory, he is now
unknowingly reaping the crop of evils in his heart. He who loves pleasure is grieved by accusations and abuse.
On the other hand, he who loves God is grieved by praises and other superfluous remarks. The degree of our
humility is measured by slander. Don't think that you have humility when you cannot forbear even the slightest
Abba Zossima goes even further: “Remember the one who has ridiculed you, who has grieved you, who
has wronged you, who has done evil to you, as your physician, your healer. Christ sent him to heal you; don't
remember him with anger.”
Evagrios considered those who spoke badly of him as benefactors.
The divine wisdom of these physicians of the desert has tremendous significance to our topic. It has
been said that these remarks are addressed by monks and for monks, but this is a superficial view. The
epidemic of loneliness and depression that we are discussing results from proud minds lacking in humility, from
failed interpersonal relationships, from unsatisfied egotistical aspirations, from self-aggrandizement, praise-
seeking and self-love. This loneliness is strong enough to weaken a person and to make him sick. But love is