“Change not thy respect for a man’s person, according to goods and possessions. Make all things as though they were not and God alone were in being. If thou shalt ask of thy neighbor and he shall not give thee according to thy wish, see that thou say not in anger a word that is full of bitterness. Oppose not thou seasons, for many are the changes. Put sorrow far from thy flesh, and sadness from thy thoughts; save only that for thy sins thou should be constant in sadness. Cease not from labor, not even though thou be rich, for the slothful man gains manifold guilt for his idleness. … Despise not the voice of the poor and give him not cause to curse thee. For if he curse whose palate is bitter, the Lord will hear his petition.” ~St. Ephraim the Syrian
With the possible exception of the most foul despots, murderers, and criminals, we should have respect for all people. Respect should not be based on how much money a person has accumulated, or how much property he owns. Respect a person simply because she is a person, and that in itself is something special. Few of us realize just how special we are. And since we rarely know another person’s circumstances in detail, or their mental processes, we have no reason to criticize. As St. Ephraim points out when he says “Make all things as if they were not,” material possessions, and all things associated with them are illusion. Only God and spirit is real and permanent. When you see people as spirits rather than as carpenters, lawyers, car salesmen, etc., you will have little choice but to respect all.
Give and Take
Some people do get angry with a neighbor if they ask a favor of him and he refuses. Even if the neighbor has what he considers to be a good reason to refuse, we may not agree with it and get angry anyway. And if we have done favors for that neighbor in the past, we may get really angry. We shouldn’t.
First, if you give to others with an expectation of something in return, it isn’t giving at all, but investing. Second, no one else is obligated to do things for you. Not even your neighbor, spouse, or child. Each of us has the ability and the right to make decisions for ourselves. We have no reason to get angry with another because they refuse to allow us to take that right away from them. Remind yourself that there have been occasions when someone has asked a favor of you and you, with good reason, refused. Even if you can’t avoid being annoyed with your neighbor for refusing your request, hold your tongue and do not speak in anger about it.
Change and Seasons
It is clear to me that St. Ephraim is speaking allegorically here. It is not only the change of seasons that we should not oppose, but change in general. It is also true, of course, that we should not embrace change for it’s own sake. We need to look at each change on its own merit and decide whether or not it is a good thing to do. We need to oppose a change when it is truly the wrong thing to do, not when it inconveniences us to do it.
Like many old farts, I still use Internet Explorer most of the time, only occasionally using Chrome or Firefox. But I don’t oppose those new browsers because of it.
Put Sorrow Away
St. Ephraim advises us to put sorrow aside. This doesn’t mean that we should never experience sorrow. It means it should be reserved for times when we truly have a reason to be sorrowful. Things like after the death of a loved one, or losing something of great value to us. Even then, we should get over it quickly and move on.
When we let everything that is wrong in the world affect us personally, we will end up constantly in depression. We might even become suicidal. This is not a good way to live. Yes, the outer world of matter is full of horrors, but we must remember they are all temporary things. And if we constantly dwell on things we cannot change, we accomplish nothing. And by letting those horrors get to us and control our behavior, we are doing just what the demons and forces of darkness want us to do. In other words, we give the horrors strength and power by constantly worrying about them.
The way to rid the world of horrible things is to dwell on the good, the positive. Work to increase the good and the positive and the darkness will be pushed aside.
Sins of the Slothful
St. Ephraim says we should not stop our labor even if we are rich. This doesn’t just apply to the wealthy. Many of us will work toward a goal, then stop our labors once the goal is achieved. Instead we should always seek new goals. If nothing else, we should be helping others achieve the same goal that we achieved.
If you think about it, everything St. Ephraim advises in the quote is about being slothful. The lazy person doesn’t want to earn respect, so he disrespects others to make himself feel superior. The lazy person is prone to asking others to do things for him, and gets upset when they don’t do it. Slothful people hate change because it makes them learn new things, it makes them labor. Curiously, they sometimes get so caught up in fighting the change that they work harder than they would if they just allowed it. Lazy folks also tend to look at all that is wrong with the world and decide there is no reason to work to make it better. They conclude, with little evidence, that it is fighting a loosing cause. Those who have pushed aside their slothful ways, however, see that there is always hope, always the possibility of making things better. We make the world better by looking beyond materialism and developing our spiritual side. And we avoid being slothful about it.