“Does the poor man cry at thy door? Arise and open for him gladly; refresh him when he is wearied; sustain his heart, for it is sad. … Have thou also a law, a comely law for thy household. Establish an order that is wise, that the abject laugh not at thee. Be careful in all thy doings,that thou not be a sport for fools; be upright and prudent and both simple and wise. Let thy body be quiet and cheerful, thy greeting seemly and simple; thy discourse without fault. … Speak not overmuch, not even words that are wise; for all things that are over man, though they be wise are wearisome. … Among they brethren esteem thyself least. … No enemy shall thou have but Satan his very self.” ~St. Ephraim the Syrian
Poor Man at the Door
St. Ephraim isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, holy person to advise us to care for our poorer brothers and sisters. They are all right in giving such advice. And by brothers and sisters, I mean all of humanity, for we are all brothers and sisters. Poor, however, is a word that has many meanings.
We generally thing of a poor person as being one who has little money or material goods. But that is only one way to be poor. We can be poor in health, in education, in manners, in relationships and so on. We need to help each other when we can no matter what kind of poverty they are currently suffering from.
Most of all, there are those who are spiritually poor. They are the poorest of the poor since they are lacking in that which is true and eternal. Very often, when spiritual masters and saints advise us to “help the poor,” they are primarily concerned with the spiritual poor. While Jesus healed the physical eyes of a few blind people, he opened the spiritual eyes of hundreds. Opening those spiritual eyes is by far the greater miracle. Sometimes feeding the poor man means feeding your own spirit and soul.
I believe that St. Ephraim is talking about laws (or rules) for family members and servants, not visitors. Although you may need some laws for visitors, you certainly don’t want to have some list posted outside the door. It should be more informal and assumed until you find someone breaking the rules. Like when Maya Angelou asked a party guest to leave her house because he was being too negative.
I don’t think St. Ephraim is concerned about rules like “wipe our feet,” or “flush the toilet after use.” We can look back to the first part of the quote to get the idea. He is talking about laws on how to treat people. He is saying that not only you, but your family and servants have to treat the poor man, as well as everyone else, with kindness and respect. He advises that we have household rules that do not make the “abject” laugh at us. It is not clear to me if he means the servants or the poor and downtrodden, but it doesn’t really matter. No one wants to be laughed at except a comedian. Although nowadays there may be fools who will laugh at very sensible rules. Such fools should be ignored. Trying to please fools will result in you doing foolish things.
Speak Not Overmuch
That is a phrase you probably wont hear in today’s business world. I remember getting gently scolded once by a manager because I had attended three weekly meetings and hadn’t said anything. He advised me to say something at every meeting, even if it was something inane or annoying like asking someone to repeat what they just said. He felt this let others know I was paying attention and participating. What it really meant is that instead of listening to what was being said, I was trying to think of something I should say. I felt it was better to listen to those who knew and learn something rather than jump in with foolish remarks.
St. Ephraim understood this as I do. If you really have nothing to say, just shut up. And when you have something to say, keep it brief or you lose your audience. The ones who ramble on for hours may make some good points, you have have mentally dozed off before they get to them.