Is humility a more difficult goals for modern Western Christians to achieve, or are we simply to complascent to go to the lengths that the abbas and ammas were in order to achieve the mind of Christ?
For the abbas and ammas, being of the same mind that was in Christ Jesus meant aligning oneself with God’s purposes, and being able to think, feel, and act as Jesus would. It was also about unity: unity of heart, mind and spirit. But only the humble, in their attempts to be like Christ, have the desire and strength to empty themselves of their egos and be filled with the Spirit – “for it is God who is at work in you” (v 13) – that they might “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (v 2). Such unity within oneself, with the Holy, and with the community was the goal of the spiritual life in the desert.
A brother asked Abba Tithoes, “Which way leads to humility?” The old man said, “the way of humility is this: self-control, prayer and thinking yourself inferior to all creatures.” With a focus on unity, and the pathway to unity through humility and prayer, the desert fathers and mothers did much to advance the spiritual life.
Homily Service: An ecumenical resource for sharing the word, Vol. 41, No. 4 (1 September 2008 – 23 November 2008) p. 43.
Diane Stephens, an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is a spiritual director, retreat leader and affiliate faculty at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She also serves as convener of the Liturgy & Spirituality seminar group of the North American Academy of Liturgy.