Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Symeon the New Theologian
“Anyone who is not against us is for us.” (Mk: 9:40)
Do you not tremble when you hear God saying to you day after day throughout the whole of divine Scripture: “Let no evil word come from your mouth. Indeed I tell you that you will have to answer for a sing1e careless word, and: You will receive a reward.”
My brothers [and sisters], do not deceive yourselves. God loves us, and he is merciful and compassionate. I myself testify and acknowledge that it is his compassion that makes me confident of being saved. Never-the-less you must understand that this will be of no avail to those who refuse to repent and to keep God’s commandments in every detail and with great fear. On the contrary, God will punish them more severely than people who are unbelievers and unbaptized.
O brothers, do not deceive yourselves; let there be no sin that seems small in your eyes, and that you treat lightly, as though it did no great harm to our souls. Right-minded servants make no distinction between a small sin and a great; if they offend by so much as a glance, a thought, or a word, they feel as if they have fallen away from the love of God, and I believe this is true.
In fact, whoever has the slightest thought contrary to the divine will, and does not immediately repent and repel the assault of such a thought, but welcomes it and consents to it—that person is counted guilty of sin, and this is so even if he is unaware that his thought is sinful.
Consequently we need to be extremely vigilant and zealous, and to give much time to searching the divine Scriptures. The Savior’s command, “Search the Scriptures” shows how profitable they are for us.
So search them, and hold fast to what they say with great exactitude and faith. Then, when the divine Scriptures have given you an accurate knowledge of God’s will, you will be able to distinguish without error between good and evil, and will not listen to every spirit, or be carried away by harmful thoughts.
You may be certain, my brothers, that nothing is so conducive to our salvation as following the divine commandments of the Savior. Nevertheless, we shall have to shed many tears, and shall need great fear, great patience, and constant prayer before the import of even a word of the Master can be revealed to us. Only then shall we perceive the great mystery hidden in short sayings, and be ready to die for the smallest detail of the commandments of God.
For the word of God is like a two-edged sword, cutting off and separating the soul from all bodily desire and sensation. More than that, it is like a blazing fire, because it stirs up zeal in our souls, and makes us disregard all the sorrows of life, consider every trial we encounter a joy, and desire and embrace death, so fearful to others, as life and the means of attaining life.
Catechesis 13: SC 96, 299-305
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 Studios. 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.