Most often in Orthodox spiritual teaching there is a strong sense that when it comes to the spiritual life, there is no “one-size-fits-all” mentality. This teaching is based in the very experience of God we find in the Scriptures. For in the Bible we often find more than one version of a story or lesson, and it is in the differences between the versions that we learn so much about God (for example, the two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2). In the Wisdom literature, we can find seemingly contradictory sagacious sayings, and realize one has to learn when to apply one or the other. In the New Testament there is one Gospel in four versions, with numerous differences in the various lessons offered in each.
In this same spirit, I found the following poem by St. Ephrem the Syrian to be so consistent with its recognition of divergent teachings. The theme is the garment of salvation – is it to be the sackcloth of repentance or the wedding garment of celebration? Or perhaps, more truthfully, either is appropriate, depending on the person and their relationship to God. For indeed some live faithfully to God in the world, and some repent of their failures, and others are crowned for their unique victories.
“In the midst of the Fast gather together and become merchants,
for the scriptures are a treasure house of divinity.
With that holy voice as the key
they are opened before those who listen.
Blessed is that King who opened up His treasury to His people in need.
Here are to be found garments
for those invited to the wedding feast,
here too are sackcloth and tears for all kinds of penitents,
here in their midst is One to sustain athletes too;
with every kind of riches are they filled.
Blessed is He who has prepared for everyone every kind of succor.”
(Ephrem the Syrian, Select Poems, p 107)