St Symeon the New Theologian: Do You Wish and Choose to Become Holy?

Feast of St James the Apostle, Son of Alphaeus

Symeon_Square_3.jpgBUT PERHAPS someone will come forward and say, “The things you are saying are great and exaggerated and beyond human power.” I on my part will tell you, “They are indeed great and above nature, for they are God’s words, as I have said.” He will say, “How is it that none of the great Fathers has spoken so explicitly about himself, or spoken such words as you speak about yourself?” My good man, you deceive yourself! On the contrary, the Apostles and the Fathers have spoken things that are in harmony with my words, and even go beyond them. It is the credibility of those who speak that makes what they say acceptable and credible. Our worthlessness, however, makes even the things that all recognize to sound false and abhorrent.

Still, I have another reason to speak, for which I, however unwillingly, have revealed these matters. What is it? It is the false, unreasonable, and foolish notion of those who claim that there does not at the present time exist such a person on the earth and in our midst. Look how ingenious this malice is! Were we not speaking openly, but anxious to keep our gift hidden, they would think we were speaking the truth! But if we disclose the truth by speaking of it they immediately condemn us for being proud and ignore what the holy apostles said. But what did they say? “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2.6). I would say to them, is this, in your judgment, an excess of pride? Then too they said, “By this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given us” (1 Jn. 3.24). How can you understand this to the discredit of the speaker? Then this saying, “Do you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me?” (2 Cor. 13.3) and, “I think that I have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7.40). Similarly, “We did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but the Spirit of adoption, in which we cry, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts” (2 Cor. 4.6). Do you consider all these things to have been uttered out of pride? How silly!

But if you wish to learn how the illumination comes about in those who love the Lord, listen to Paul himself as he says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4.7), that is, in our bodies. But, you say, there is no such person at the present time! Tell me, why not? You may say, “Because in my opinion, no one could become such a person at the present time, even if he wanted to, any more than one who does not want to.” But if you claim that even he who wishes cannot become so, what shall we make of the passage, “But to all who received Him, He gave power to become children of God” (Jn. 1.12), and “If you will, you are all gods, and sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82.6), and, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1.16)? But if it is impossible for one to become such without desiring it, see that you have condemned yourself by neither wishing nor choosing to become holy; for if you want to, you are able to become that!

Even if you are not such a person, yet by God’s will there are others, very many of them, whom you do not know. For if in the days of Elijah God has seven thousand who had not bent their knees to Baal (1 Kgs. 19.18), how much more now, when He has poured out His Holy Spirit richly upon us (Tit. 3.5f.)? But if one does not strip himself of everything and draw near to Him naked and seek to receive, the fault is not on God’s part, but on the part of him who is unwilling. Just as fire eagerly (if I may say so!) and naturally takes hold of the fuel, so the grace of the all-holy and adorable Spirit seeks to enkindle our souls, so that it may shine even to those who are in the world and, through those in whom it shines, direct the footsteps of the multitude (cf. Ps. 5.9) that they may go on the right way. Thus they too may draw near to the fire and one by one, or, if possible, all of them together, may be enkindled and shine like gods in our midst, that “the seed of the God of Jacob” (cf. Is. 2.3) may be blessed and may multiply (cf. Gen. 22.17), and the godlike man may not fail, but shine as a light upon the earth.

This, in my opinion, is the truth of the matter, and such is God’s counsel toward us whom He has formed, and whom He has honored and glorified of old with the glory of His image (Gen. 1.27). You, on your part, must see and test that which we say. If we have views different from those of the Apostles and of the holy God-inspired Fathers, if we speak contrary to what they said, if we fail to repeat what the Holy Gospels say about God, then let me be anathema from the Lord God Jesus Christ. Let it fall on me if we do not enkindle in everyone that life-giving energy and gift which is in these writings—yet lamentably extinguished, as far as men are able, by foolish reasonings—and fail to point to the light that already is shining, as we establish and assert all things from the Holy Scriptures themselves and clearly demonstrate them. We would be guilty of teaching other than what God’s apostles taught and proclaimed as good news (cf. Gal. 1.8). You on your part should not only stop your ears to prevent them from hearing it, but even stone me and kill me as an ungodly man and an atheist! Instead, however, we restore the teachings of the Master and the Apostles that some have perverted. From the very divine Scriptures themselves we collect that which strengthens and corrects their thinking and that of their followers. We urge them not merely to look forward to the resurrection, to incorruption, to life eternal and the kingdom of heaven and to all the eternal blessings with hope, but we teach that they are present and revealed, apparent and visible, and already given as pledges to those who are elect and will be saved. If we are anxious to prove and establish the very things that others postpone till after death and the resurrection, ought we not rather be acceptable and greatly beloved by them and by all as those who perform a work of perfect love?

—St Symeon the New Theologian, Catechetical Discourses

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