Tag Archives: St. Theophan the Recluse

Humility is the situation of the earth.

“To me, humility is not what we often make of it: the sheepish way of trying to imagine that we are the worst of all and trying to convince others that our artificial ways of behaving show that we are aware of that. Humility is the situation of the earth. The earth is always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, somewhere we cast and pour out all the refuse, all we don’t need. It’s there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite of corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness, open to the sunshine, open to the rain, ready to receive any seed we sow and capable of bringing thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold out of every seed.”

-Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

(I stole the quote from Tavi’s Corner, from Met. Anthony’s Beginning to Pray. And I see that the general idea has been shared in slightly different words elsewhere, and credited by Met. Anthony to St. Theophan the Recluse.)

What the World Needs Now

A recent confluence of thoughts began with hate and destruction, in a blog post from Fr. George:

When we dream about changing the world, we are expressing our own dissatisfaction with it, and thus our rejection and disdain for it. Can you really change something you hate? Not really. What you really want to do is kill it. We want to destroy the world to build one of our own liking.

To love is to accept things as they are, calling the good as good and the bad as bad, and not needing to change them in order to accept them. The truth is you can only change yourself, and even there we have limits because we were all made in certain ways and some things were not made to change.

Fr. George’s exhortation to love and accept “things as they are” brought to mind this poem by Mary Oliver that I have posted in the past:


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

When I pay attention, I can hear that a message is always being sent my way, a choice is set before me every day, and on some days it seems to come every few minutes: Will I receive life, and my life, as a gift, or will I fight against what is handed to me, and try to create my own life and self the way I see fit?

I’m familiar with the teaching from wise church fathers that acceptance is a large part of humility. And when I read this passage from Metropolitan Anthony (from “Meditations on a Theme”) it seemed to go right along with these other expressions I’ve gathered here, on what should be my attitude in this life I’ve been made steward over. Met. Anthony credits St. Theophan as the source of his comments about how the earth can teach us:

Just think about what earth is. It lies there in silence, open, defenseless, vulnerable before the face of the sky. From the sky it receives scorching heat, the sun’s rays, rain, and dew. It also receives what we call fertilizer, that is, manure—everything that we throw into it. And what happens? It brings forth fruit. And the more it bears what we emotionally call humiliation and insult, the more fruit it yields.

Thus, humility means opening up to God perfectly, without any defenses against Him, the action of the Holy Spirit, or the positive image of Christ and His teachings. It means being vulnerable to grace, just as in our sinfulness we are sometimes vulnerable to harm from human hands, from a sharp word, a cruel deed, or mockery. It means giving ourselves over, that it be our own desire that God do with us as He wills. It means accepting everything, opening up; and then giving the Holy Spirit room to win us over.

This week I’m getting ready for a trip to the mountains, to My Lake (see posts with the label cabin). I’ll be getting the garden watered, and in the mountains I’ll be seeing lots of earth and its fruiting forests and wildflowers. I will try to take it all as a reminder to open up and give the Holy Spirit room.