On Physical and Spiritual Ministry

Excerpted from The Book of Steps: The Syriac Liber Graduum Mēnra One and Three

trans. Robert A Kitchen and Martien F. G. Parmentier, Cistercian Publications, ©2004

Mēmra One

Therefore we must seek the truth, for as our Lord said, the truth will set us free. That implies, however, that we must humble ourselves and subdue our mind, for these are sacrifices to God, this is God's will, and to such people he manifests his truth. But there are people who lower themselves to a certain degree onl; they do not do it in front of everybody, and they do not subdue their mind. For this reason, they do not not what the truth is. There are others who subdue their mind, but who do not lower themselves in front of everybody on earth. For this reason, they too are ignorant of the truth.

Indeed, pride is an obstacle preventing knowledge of the truth, and sluggishness is an obstacle to perceiving what lowliness really is. None can know the will of God from ink, but only when he partakes of Him in the Spirit, that is to say, unless he is the gentlest and humblest of all people ...

However, all of us labor for the physical ministry and not for the spiritual ministry. Not one of us hates himself and takes up his cross while lowering himself (which implies that on earth he will not have a support for his head).

Mēmra Three

When two children eat the same vegetables and drink the same milk, one can still grow taller than another. In the same way, although the commandments have been given to one person still grows more than another: whoever lowers himself most grows best through the spiritual ministry, which consists in keeping the major and gentle commandments. Then there is also the physical ministry that is practiced by the person who simply gives to the needy in the manner of Abraham, without inquiring who deserves it and who does not, but who receives everyone as righteous people and as prophets, though they may well be neither of the two. Our Lord gave his word that 'truly this person shall not lose his reward.'

This also applies to him who makes his love shine on the good and the evil, as the Father's 'sun shines on all the good and evil,' but especially on those who build up and manifest the truth, who belong to the 'household of faith.' Scripture says, 'Do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.' So if you give to the evil ones, you should give all the more to the good ones. If you are required to receive and refresh those who do not have possessions and a profession, when you are staying or traveling in a country that is foreign to them, you should do that all the more to those who apply themselves have wholly to the teaching of our Lord, since 'no soldier on service, who gets entangled in civilian pursuits, can satisfy him who has enlisted him.' For the slave of our Lord is continually in his presence, in accordance with what he said: 'Where I am, there shall my servant be also with me and in my presence.'

...The Upright are those who have various shortcomings, because they have not arrived at keeping all the commandments of our Lord. They do not do the whole of the 'great, acceptable and perfect will of God,' because they have not emptied themselves nor sought sanctification.

It was to these Upright ones that our Lord said, "If you are not pursuing Perfection, then satisfy the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, give relief to the oppressed, visit those in prison and supply their needs, welcome strangers, and whatever you do to those, thus our Lord says to these 'you do to me.' 'Because of this,' he also said, 'Come, inherit the kingdom.' Is this then a way for those who stand in the care and trouble of this world to become Perfect? No....

...if someone acts justly in earthly matters in doing many good works and in not wronging anyone, he will thereby become an Upright one. Even people who occasionally commit transgressions or act in the wrong way, providing their good works are more numerous than their evil works, will still find mercy....


... the perfect giver is whoever has renounced all his wealth and attends to those who are free for the knowledge of the Lord and to the salvation and perfection of all people. He is constant in prayer and supplication and in administering God's word on behalf of all people and of himself. Thus he is a benefactor to all people and to himself also, in prayer and in counseling concerning the new life.

Whoever takes up the Cross and teaches the Word can neither receive from one and give to another, not buy and sell, nor take care of himself, unless the matter is very urgent. For our Lord said, 'Do not be anxious for your body, what you shall put on, nor about your own person, how to cover yourself.' ... For he who takes up the Cross with regard to visible things received the burden of having to pray for all people, and humbly to give counsel and to teach them all. He does this hoping that they will listen to him, but whether they do listen to him or not, he is bound to continue humbly to teach all people...


So no one receives the Paraclete as long as his ministry is physically orientated, if he engages in taking and giving, and his mind is tethered to the earth. No, he must shut his eyes to the evils of the earth and all its charm, which are opposite of Perfection. ..

Those, however, who are in the Spirit are required by our Lord to be bound to him continually in thought in the sacrifice of the mind, in thanksgiving, in prayer, and in lowliness, and once they have thus been polished while being set apart, to teach all the people. The Spirit teaches them to instruct the people... whoever can serve in the spirit must be a spiritual minister.