The merciful person gives whatever he has

“The merciful person is he who gives to others what he has himself received from God, whether it be money, or food, or strength, a helpful word, a prayer, or anything else that he has through which he can express his compassion for those in need.”
–St. Peter of Damascus

When I first read this quote on the Project Mexico & St. Innocent Orphanage newsletter, it struck me. The act of compassion is not limited or confined to material support, but can encompass a good word, a heartfelt prayer, even the steadfast support of one’s mere presence–whatever one happens to be able to give, whatever one has on hand.

This is a comfort to those would like to show love and kindness in accordance with the Gospel commandment, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” but do not know what to do or where to begin, when confronted by many needy neighbors.

There is no need for extravagance, no room for the worrying that only leads to stagnant inaction. God sends brothers and sisters in need to us every day, and we, who want to be merciful, give them something of our love–a warm greeting, a kind word, a prayer, money, food.

Spiritual support is every bit as important as material support. Bread is necessary for the body’s survival, but without truth, the soul will die. So we should offer both. And if we have no money or bread, as Orthodox Christians, we at least have the Word of Truth.

Many have died through lack of corruptible bread, and we pray for and pitty them. But there are also many who, refusing to abandon the Living Bread which came down from Heaven, gave their bodies over to cruel deaths, torments, and deprivations of material things. These we honor and entreat for their prayers.

They are the Saints of God who teach us the meaning of discernment, for they sacrificed passing pleasures for eternal good things, while we who love sin are all too eager endulge in our passing desires–food, drink, companionship, material comfort, doing our own will, and other miscellaneous passions.

It is our lot in life, carrying our cross on the narrow road to the Kingdom of Heaven, to do a little work on ourselves–a little self denial, following again the advice of St. Peter of Damascus, who, in speaking of the Saints, said, “It was through victories in small things that the fathers won their great battles.”

It is a small thing to say “no” to yourself once, a small thing to give something of what is yours out of compassion for a brother or sister in need once. But many small, individual instances of combining our small, imperfect, feeble but sincere effort with the great grace of God are what purify the soul and make it God-like.

A prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos

by St Peter of Damascus

Blessed Queen of the universe,
thou knowest that we sinners have no intimacy with God whom thou hast borne.
But, putting our trust in thee,
through thy mediation we thy servants prostrate ourselves before the Lord:
for thou canst freely approach Him since He is thy son and our God.
Thus I, too, unworthy believer that I am, entreat thee, holy Queen,
that I may be allowed to perceive the gifts of grace bestowed on thee
and on the other saints,
and to understand how thou dost display so many virtues.
Simply thy giving birth to the Son of God shows that thou excellest all other beings.
For He Who, as creator of all,
knows all things before they come into existence,
found thy womb worthy of His indwelling.

From St. Peter of Damascus (Book 1 : A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 edited by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware; Faber and Faber pgs. 129-130), from the Web site: http://www.orthodox.net/trebnic/to-theotokos-by-peter-of-damascus.html

A life of one St. Peter of Damascus (October 4)

Our holy father among the Saints, Peter of Damascus (of Capitolias), was Bishop of Damascus (or Bostra), Syria, at the time of the Islamic conquest of the region. He was seized by the Mohammedans for preaching against Mohammed and condemned to death. His captors tortured, blinded, crucified, and finally beheaded him. He gave his life for the love of Jesus Christ in the year of Our Lord 750. Through his steadfast intercessions, may Christ our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Editor’s note: The various Synaxaria and Martyrologies don’t appear to be very clear on who St. Peter of Damascus was and when he lived. There is evidently some confusion between 4 Saints named Peter, at least two of them bishops, and at least one a martyr–two of Damascus, one of Maiouma and one of Capitolias, both in the region of Damascus, whom the Eastern Church commemorates on Feb. 9 and Oct. 4. The St. Peter of Damascus who wrote the above statements and prayer from the Philokalia was probably a hesychast monk of the 12th century. Through the prayers of all four Saints Peter of Damascus, may the Lord God forgive us our sins and grant us, in His mercy, the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

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4 Responses to “The merciful person gives whatever he has”


  1. 1 blackincense October 12, 2008 at 9:34 am

    What a beautiful way to explain to people like me. You make it so easy to understand this deep and profound thing.

    I love this and it immediately reminded me of our chat about Elder Isidore…truly he did understand all of this and lived it.

    So often, people give, wanting something ulterior in return. To give,
    without expectation of a reward, is truly our ideal.

    Much love to you most excellent RdrJohn!!!
    Suzanne

  2. 2 Nicodemus October 13, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Very inspirational post, John.

  3. 3 Mary December 14, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    I really love the Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos by St Peter of Damascus, thanks!

  4. 4 source May 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    This website has got lots of extremely helpful stuff on it. Thank you for informing me.


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