Have Mercy on Yourself

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

We, on our part, have apparently become poor, even as Christ our God, Who though He was rich became poor for our sakes (2 Cor. 8:9). How shall we be accounted as showing mercy toward Him, Who for our sakes became like us, while we show mercy toward ourselves? Think carefully what I’m saying! For your sake God became a poor man. You who believe in Him owe Him the debt of becoming poor like Him. He is poor according to human nature, you are poor according to divine. Consider, therefore, how you may feed Him! Pay careful attention! “He became poor that you might become rich,” that He may impart to you the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7, 2:7). For this reason He assumed flesh, that you might become a partaker of His divinity (2 Pet. 1:4). When, therefore, you make ready to entertain Him, it is said of Him that He is about to be your guest. When you are hungry and thirsty for His sake it is reckoned as food and drink for Him. How? Because by these actions you cleanse your soul and rid yourself of the famine and squalor of passions. God, who receives you and thus makes His own all that concerns you, desires to make you a god, just as He became man. Whatever you do to yourself He counts as though He undergoes it Himself and says, “As you did this to the least one, your soul, you did it to Me” (cf. Mt. 25:40).

By what other works have those pleased God who have “dwelt in caves and on mountains” (Heb. 11:38), save by love, repentance and faith? They have left all the world and followed Him alone (Mk. 10:28). They have received and entertained Him as their guest through penitence and tears; they have fed Him and given Him drink when thirsty. Likewise indeed have all those by reason of Holy Baptism are entitled sons of God, yet according to the world are insignificant and poor. Those, then, who realize in their souls that they are sons of God can no longer bear to adorn themselves for a transitory world, for they have clothed themselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). Who among men clothed with royal purple will ever allow himself to put on a filthy and torn garment on top of it? Those who do not know this and are naked, without the royal array, yet endeavor to put on Christ by means of penitence and other good works that we have mentioned, clothe themselves with Christ Himself. They themselves are christs, just as they are sons of God by virtue of divine Baptism. But even if they were to clothe all the naked people that are in the world, but fail to do this and so leave themselves naked, what have they gained?

Again, we who have been baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat. 28:19) bear the name of Christ’s brethren (Heb. 2:11f.). We are more than this, for we are also His members (1 Cor. 6:15, 12:27). As His brother and His member you may honor all others, give them hospitality, and care for them. Yet if you ignore yourself and, instead of striving by every means to attain to the summit of that life and honor which are pleasing to God, leave your soul in the famine of laziness or the thirst of indifference or imprisoned in the dungeon of this filthy body through gluttony or love of pleasure, lying in filth, squalor, and deepest gloom as though it were dead, have you not treated Christ’s brother with contempt? Have you not abandoned Him to hunger and thirst? Have you not failed to visit Him when He was in prison (Mat. 25:42)? Surely, for this you will hear Him say, “You had no mercy on yourself, you will be shown no mercy.” (The Discourses: IX On Works of Mercy 5)

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