On keeping God’s commandments

and the just threat against those who neglect them.[1]

Theodore the Studite: CATECHESIS 103

Brethren and fathers, God, who fashioned us and brought us out of non-existence into being,[2] has placed us in this life as in a schoolroom to learn to gospel of his kingdom. For this reason too, when he sent out his disciples to preach, he gave them this command, ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you’.[3] But what are the things he commanded? According to the old covenant, to summarise, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness’.[4] According to the new, things that are higher and more precise. For Scripture says, ‘it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder’; whoever commits murder will be liable to judgement. But I say to you, everyone who is angry with their brother without good cause will be liable to judgement’.[5] Again, ‘it was said to those of old,[6] ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart’.[7] Again, ‘it was said, ‘You shall not commit perjury’. But I say to you, you are not to swear at all’.[8] Again, ‘it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate you enemy’. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you’.[9] Do you see how great the difference is between the two covenants? The one forbids the acts themselves, while the other the impulses from which the acts come, so that sin may not put down roots from there. If then we are found to be living in accordance with neither law nor Gospel, but rather, as one might say, with paganism, what shall we suffer on that day?[10] ‘Do not be led astray’, Scripture says, ‘neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor Sodomites nor thieves nor extortioners nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God’.[11] And for this reason, as I have often declared by way of putting you on your guard and do so now, let no one live on their own, behave without discretion, amass money, acquire a slave; let no one be a horse breeder or cattle herdsman or engage in any activity[12] beyond the rule under persecution.[13] From these come greater and more serious sins. Nevertheless there are some of you who, being disobedient, disobey, and being quarrelsome, quarrel with the truth. And I, your poor Abbot,[14] ‘am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I have not shrunk from declaring to you’ God’s ordinance, nor by, keeping silent, have I failed to reveal the sword that is coming ‘upon those who disobey’.[15] ‘Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?’[16] ‘The axe is already being laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown onto the fire’.[17]

Are you frightened by this example?[18] Do you not tremble at the threat? Are you not afraid of death, which we shall all face[19] in a little while? How are we to look on the fearsome angels, as they come to take us from the body? How are we to journey on that long and unending road, if we have not obtained the necessities for the journey? How are we to take our stand at the judgement seat of Christ, to whom ‘every knee shall bow and every tongue confess’,[20] if we have a bad conscience? Will we not inevitably be sent away from there to the place ‘where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die’, [21] where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’.[22] But, brethren, so that this does not happen, ‘Come, let us worship and let us weep to our good God. Let us come into his presence with confession’ [23] supplication, compunction, tears, prayers, fasts, purity and every form of good conduct. ‘He is expiation for our sins’,[24] and he has not shut the doors against us, he has not turned away from someone who turns back, but he lets them approach like the harlot, the prodigal and the thief. Yes, brethren, I beg you, let us stand up, let us rouse ourselves and let us compete, so that, like school children, who are ready learners, when they are dismissed, go home rejoicing, we too, as genuine disciples of the Gospel, when we have been dismissed from the life here, may depart with joy for the everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom belong glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.


[1] The current Moscow edition of the Lenten Triodion gives this catechesis, in a Russian translation, for the Sunday of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee, though there is nothing to suggest this either in the text itself or in the numbering of the Greek mss., where it is numbered 116. The series for the Triodion begins with number 13 in Greek, for the Wednesday before Meat Sunday.

[2] A quotation from the Anaphora of St John Chrysostom.

[3] Mat. 18:19-20.

[4] Exodus 20:13-15.

[5] Mat. 5:21-22. The words ‘without good cause’ (one word in Greek) are not in many ancient mss. nor in some of the versions and are generally rejected by  contemporary scholars, but are part of the Church’s text. The latest edition of Liddell and Scott adds this meaning to the article in question, citing a number of passages from Demosthenes for it.

[6] Most modern editors omit ‘to those of old’ in this verse.

[7] Mat. 5:27-28.

[8] Mat. 5:33-34.

[9] Mat. 5:43-44.

[10] The day of judgement. The phrase, without further explanation, is found already in the New Testament. Cf. Mat. 7:22, 2 Timothy 1:18 and 4:8.

[11] 1 Cor. 6:9-10. The exact meaning of some of these terms is much disputed, as a glance at the many contemporary commentaries and versions of the New Testament will show. Neither St John Chrysostom nor Theodoret comment on the individual categories.

[12] This meaning is not attested in the lexica.

[13] One of a number of references by St Theodore to the problems of keeping community life and discipline when the brotherhood is in exile and dispersed.

[14] Literally, ‘And I, the humble,’ but this is most unnatural in English and I have taken the liberty of trying to convey a tone of voice rather than the ‘literal’ sense of the words.

[15] Colossians 3:6. The Greek has ‘sons of disobedience’, which is a Semitism for ‘the disobedient’, but the word ‘sons’ is particularly apposite in the context of a monastic brotherhood. The phrase in the New Testament refers to those who oppose God. Cf. also Ephesians 2:2 and 5:6.

[16] 1 Cor. 10:22.

[17] Mat. 3:10.

[18] Cf. Hebrews 4:11.

[19] The use of this verb suggests that St Theodore may be thinking of Malachy 3:2.

[20] Isaias 45:23, Rom. 14:11 and cf. Phil 2:10-11.

[21] Isa. 66:24, Mark 9:48. St Theodore reverses the two clauses.

[22] Mat. 8:12. The phrase occurs six times in Matthew and once in Luke.

[23] This is a free citation of Psalm 94 vv. 6 and 2. The actual expression ‘good God’ does not occur in Scripture, except predicatively in Psalm 72:1. The Greek word exomologesis means both ‘thanksgiving’ and ‘confession’ (sc. ‘of sins’). The latter is clearly the meaning St Theodore intends here, and this is why he has put verse 2 after verse 6, to make the beginning of his list

[24] 1 John 2:2.

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