Thoughts from the Early Church

Symeon the New Theologian

Blessed are the poor in spirit.

When holy Scripture is being read we should look at ourselves as though in a mirror and consider our state of soul. Let me explain what I mean. We hear the Lord saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Gospel)

This must make us always examine and test ourselves whenever we suffer humiliation, whenever we are insulted, dishonored, and treated with contempt, to see whether or not we possess the virtue of humility.

A person who has it bears everything without feeling hurt or taking offense. His heart is not wounded by anything that happens to him.

If he is slightly wounded he is not completely upset; on the contrary, because of that heart wound, simply for having been slightly pained instead of accepting what happened with joy, he is distressed and thinks himself despicable, he grieves and weeps.

Withdrawing into the inner chamber of his soul or his cell, he falls down before God and confesses to him as though he had completely forfeited eternal life.

Then again we hear: “Blessed are those who mourn.” Notice that the Lord does not say those who have mourned, but those who continually mourn. Concerning this too, then, we must examine ourselves to see whether we mourn every day, for if we have been made humble by repentance, obviously we shall not pass a single day or night without tears, without mourning, and without compunction.

And again: “Blessed are the gentle.” Can anyone who mourns every day continue to live in a state of anger and not become gentle? Just as water extinguishes a blazing fire, so mourning and tears extinguish anger in the soul so completely that a person who has long been given over to it sees his irascible dispose transformed into perfect serenity.

Again we hear: ”Blessed are the merciful.” Who, then, are the merciful? Those who give away their possessions or who feed the poor? No. Then who are they?

Those who have become poor for the sake of him who became poor for our sake, those who have nothing to give, but who in a spiritual way are always mindful of the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the sick.

Seeing them frequently, they have compassion on them and shed burning tears over them. Such was Job, who said: “I wept over every infirmity.” (Job 30:25)

When they have anything they cheerfully give alms to them, as well as ungrudgingly reminding all of how they can save their souls, thus obeying the one who said: “What I learned with pure intention I pass on without grudging.” (Wis 7:13)

These are the ones the Lord calls blessed, the ones who are truly merciful, for such mercy is like a step by which they ascend to attain perfect purity of heart.

In virtue of this God then proclaims the pure of heart blessed, saying: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” (Gospel)

The purified soul sees God in everything and is reconciled to him. Peace is established between God our creator and the soul, his erstwhile enemy, and it is then called blessed by God for being a peacemaker: Blessed are the peacemakers, he says, for they shall be called children of God.

(Catechesis 31:SC 113, 226-230)

Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was born in Galata in Paphlagonia, and educated in Constantinople, where in 977 he entered the famous monastery of Studies. Soon afterward he transferred to the nearby monastery of Saint Mamas, was ordained priest in 980, and about three years later became abbot.

During his twenty-five years of office he instilled a new fervor into his community, but opposition to his teaching forced him to resign in 1005 and in 1009 he was exiled to Palonkiton on the other side of the Bosphorus.

He turned the ruined oratory of Saint Marina into another monastery, and although he was soon pardoned, chose to remain there until his death rather than compromise his teaching.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson