St. Symeon the New Theologian was an 11th century monk and abbot of the monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople. His title “Theologian” is an honor share with only two others: St. John the Apostle and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. The following two excerpts reflect an understanding of the Christian life that is not only rarely preached today (and if preached, preached poorly), but actively resisted from pulpits across the globe. I pray that it will mess with you as much as it messes with me:
“Our salvation is not by the baptism of water alone, but also by the Spirit. Neither is it by the bread and wine alone of communion that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and participation in life, but also by the divinity which mystically accompanies and is unconfusedly mingled with them. We say “mystically” because that divinity is not revealed to everyone, but to those who are worthy of everlasting life, and it makes them sons of the day and of the light who see it. Those who do not see the light, though it shines clearly, are rather instead the people who sit in darkness.
Brothers, do not let anyone fool you with empty words; neither let anyone rejoice merely in his faith in Christ. For “Christ,” he says, “if you be circumcised, will be of no advantage to you” (Gal 5.2); and again: “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (Jas 2.17). Just as the body without a soul is dead, so faith as well is dead without works. Those who confess that Christ is God and do not keep His commandments will not be reckoned merely as denying Him, but also as insulting Him. Nor this alone, but as even more than those who circumcise their bodies will they be justly condemned as mutilating God’s commandments. How shall he be accounted a son who dishonors his father? How could he walk in the light as in the day who is separated from the light? Brothers, this is impossible!
If someone should say that no one is able to keep the commandments, let him know that he is slandering and condemning God as having ordered us to do what is impossible. This man will not escape the inevitability of justice but, like the man who said: “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not winnow” (Mt 25.24), so will he be condemned. He shall be likened to the serpent who said to Adam: “God knows that when you eat of the tree you will be like Him, for this reason He commanded you not to eat of it” (Gen 3.4). In effect, such a man calls God a liar and a deceiver, and filled with envy. A liar because while He said: “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mt 11.30), this man declares that not only is it not light, but indeed unbearable. A deceiver because He came down and made us many promises without wanting to give us anything. And more: jealous at our salvation, He has ordered us to do and keep such things as are impossible for us to fulfill, in order that He may take advantage of this excuse to deprive us of His good things. But woe to those who say such things, unless they repent. Our Master and God has commanded nothing which is burdensome, nothing oppressive. On the contrary, all is at once light and easy.”
In another passage, St. Symeon raises the bar to a new height, saying:
“Those of whom I speak and whom I call heretics are those who say that there is no one in our times and in our midst who is able to keep the Gospel commandments and become like the holy Fathers…Now those who say that this is impossible have not fallen into one particular heresy, but rather into all of them, if I may say so, since this one surpasses and covers them all in impiety and abundance of blasphemy. One who makes this claim subverts all the divine Scriptures. I think (that by making this claim) such a person states that the Holy Gospel is now recited in vain, that the writings of Basil the Great and of our other priests and holy Fathers are irrelevant or have even been frivolously written. If, then, it is impossible for us to carry out in action and observe without fail all the things that God says, and all that the saints, after first practicing them have left in writing for our instruction, why did they at that time trouble to write them down and why do we read them in Church? Those who make these claims shut up the heaven that Christ opened for us, and cut off the way to it that he inaugurated for us. God who is above all, stands, as it were, at the gate of heaven and peers out of it so that the faithful see him, and through his Holy Gospel cries out and says, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ (Mt. 11:28). But these opponents of God or, rather, antichrists say, ‘It is impossible, impossible.’”
Friends, the true opponents of God are most often those who follow Christ in vain in that they follow Him according to their own terms, and then teach others to do the same. May our laziness and self-justifications perish as we humbly come to Him. Amen.