On the Definitions of Rich and Poor

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

No one in creation is rich but he that fears God; no one is truly poor but he that lacks the truth. (Homily on Admonition and Repentance 21)


  1. Please, what does it mean to fear God?
    This question is from a newly-baptised Orthodox with NO background in what the word “God” or “Christ” means. I have no doubts but I do doubt human passions and machinations and rationalizations. I don’t expect this to be answered either but would appreciate some thoughts.

  2. God grant you many years! Welcome to the struggle my brother. As you are newly baptized and chrismated I assume that you’re meaning no background on the Orthodox (vs. the heterodox) meaning of “God” and “Christ”. That comes with time, struggle and life in the Church. Please remember that when our Lord was baptized He was immediately driven into the desert to be tempted so be watchful and ready. As far as the learning (an unlearning) we all must do, the mystery of chrismation will be an ever-present help throughout your entire life:

    1 Jn. 2:27 But the anointing (grk. chrisma) which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.

    You should open your heart to your spiritual father as well. You also asked what is it to fear God: in the Scriptures fear is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Love is the completion of wisdom (1 Jn. 4:18). St. Anthony in his sayings says he no longer fears God, he loves Him; and yet in the very next saying he says, “fear God”. It’s one of the great paradoxes. Here is an answer to your question on fear from the early 2nd century:

    Fear, said he, the Lord, and keep His commandments. (Eccl. 12:13) For if you keep the commandments of God, you will be powerful in every action, and every one of your actions will be incomparable. For, fearing the Lord, you will do all things well. This is the fear which you ought to have, that you may be saved. But fear not the devil; for, fearing the Lord, you will have dominion over the devil, for there is no power in him. But he in whom there is no power ought on no account to be an object of fear; but He in whom there is glorious power is truly to be feared. For every one that has power ought to be feared; but he who has not power is despised by all. Fear, therefore, the deeds of the devil, since they are wicked. For, fearing the Lord, you will not do these deeds, but will refrain from them. For fears are of two kinds: for if you do not wish to do that which is evil, fear the Lord, and you will not do it; but, again, if you wish to do that which is good, fear the Lord, and you will do it. Wherefore the fear of the Lord is strong, and great, and glorious. Fear, then, the Lord, and you will live to Him, and as many as fear Him and keep His commandments will live to God. Why, said I, sir, did you say in regard to those that keep His commandments, that they will live to God? Because, says he, all creation fears the Lord, but all creation does not keep His commandments. They only who fear the Lord and keep His commandments have life with God; but as to those who keep not His commandments, there is no life in them. (Shepherd of Hermas Bk. 2 Commandment 7)

    I hope this helps a little…

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