Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | March 26, 2008

Archimandrite Zacharias on Orthodox Humility

I keep trying to organize some of Achimandrite Zacharias’s scattered comments on suffering into one piece… but that’s a bigger project. Here is a short out-take on humility that seems to correspond to discussion points on “The Island”:

“…. if we were truly prophetic, we would not show any of our inner activity, of our inner life; it is more humble not to show anything, in order to preserve humility, which is precious, and so as not to provoke the conscience of our fellows. This is the culture and ethos of the Church. In the Church, we avoid doing anything that might provoke attention. For instance, the way we read in the Church is in a neutral tone, so that the people of God who are present can hear it if they want, and they can disengage if they want to follow their own rhythm of inner prayer. This is the culture of the Church. If I spent the whole night in prayer, and have a different rhythm within me, I am not forced to follow another one: I have my own rhythm, and I do not provoke anyone. Therefore we do everything in order to protect our humility, and to protect the consciences of our fellows. That is why, in the Orthodox Church, truly charismatic people do not make a show of their gifts and graces. “

The contrast between this freedom and respect for fellow worshippers with traditions here in this country at certain times and in certain places couldn’t be more stark. Visit any Colonial American church and you’ll likely find a long pole somewhere used to whack those caught yielding to their own rhythms…. or as Archbishop Ware puts it…. “doing what normally happens when a voice somewhere keeps droning on and on and on….”


  1. I loved the movie “The Island.” Not sure why. It spoke to me about the inner man and keeping it hidden, which Fr. Zacharias said.

    Fr. Anatoly, by being a Fool-for-Christ, kept his inner man hidden because people focused on his “quirks.” They were the obvious distraction to draw attention away from and keep protected what God was doing in his soul.

    Fr. Anatoly didn’t even really “know” of his own saintliness I think. At least not fully. God sometimes protects His children from seeing their true inner state in order to keep them in a state of humility and to keep them from the sin of pride. At least this is what I understand my friend and spiritual big brother, Fr. Seraphim, taught me. He and Fr. Zacharias are monastic brothers and both spiritual children of Blessed Fr. Sophrony.

    This is one thing that I like about Orthodoxy but which I fail at so often…keeping my eyes turned towards myself and my sins, and not looking (read that as ‘judging’) at others around me.

    Good thoughts to bear fruit.

  2. Athanasia… thanks for your comments. I think you’re right in this about God’s blessing in keeping virtues hidden from us, too.

    You are fortunate in your choice of a spiritual big brother. And yes, the emphasis on turning inward to look only at our own sins through humility… or something to that effect isn’t just tough, but at truly a compelling virtue in the Church.

    I’ve been thinking more about the visit at the end with Tikhon. Increasingly I think it was a mercy granted by God to know that the misunderstanding (the “shooting”) was itself a gift for Fr. Anatoly’s salvation. Our Fool for Christ seems to see this, and dies in peaceful “assurance”. Clearly a man of lesser faith could have reacted differently, but this just seems more natural. Maybe it is a blessing of the simple life to not second guess God.

    All in, I’m not sure it is the movie that’s hard… so much as the subject matter: spiritual warfare. The film is well-conceived, well-written and well-acted, and beats hands down last Russian film I watched… by some guy named Eisenstein…..

  3. James, not only was the misunderstanding a gift for Fr. Anatoly’s salvation but for Tikhon’s salvation as well. Both benefitted, perhaps one more than the other but one would be hard pressed to choose which.

    The subject matter of spiritual warfare is one I do not understand very well except to be learning the hard way what it is and what it feels like to be the one attacked. There is a necessity to ever vigilant in prayer for protection and more so for preparation.

    I do appreciate your thoughtfulness!

  4. The comment of Archimandrite Zacharias is the contrary what Elder Sophrony did. Elder Sophrony read liturgy prayers aloud with hearable fear of god and pain in the heart. And Elder Sophrony wrote an auto-biography of his life and spiritual life. Can someone explain how does this sort of humility which Archiamdrite Zacharias explain, fits in the way of life of Elder Sophrony? Is there a comment of Archimandrite Zacharias especially to the way of humility of Elder Sophrony, that he explains? I don’t judge Elder Sophrony, never! I venerate him. I’m just curious.
    Thank you!

    • Boris, you pose a good question. Yet I’m afraid I can do no more than offer reasonable speculation in reply.

      Like you, I cannot imagine that a disciple of Elder Sophrony – especially one as humble as Archimandrite Zacharias appears would question his elder either. And yet I do not think this is what he does, but rather, I have assumed he intends to praise a reading which quietly delivers a passage and can at the same time convey to the listener the impact it has had on the reader’s heart. In my mind, this is precisely the sort of reading you’ve just described.

      The contrast I think Archimandrite Zacharias intends is with the noisy, opera-like (but sometimes beautifully musical) readings we may hear from time to time that may bring pleasure to the ear: These may accomplish a different objective, and even have their place… but my guess is the power and intention behind a rendition of this latter sort lies elsewhere.

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