You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.  Luke 10:27

Take him, look after him well and do him no harm, but dal with him as he tells you.  Jeremiah 39:12


Good morning Prayer Team!

The word pathos in Greek is the word we use to describe the sufferings of Christ.  This is where we get the term “The Passion of Christ,” from.  So, empathy means entering the sufferings of others.  That’s what Christ did for us.  He suffered a death like ours.  He entered into our human sufferings, experiencing the ultimate human suffering.

Most people confuse the terms “sympathy” and “empathy.”  Sympathy is when we feel bad for someone.  For instance, when one of our friends has a death in the family, we say to them “You have my sympathy,” in other words, “I feel bad for you.”  Sympathy is a feeling.

Empathy, on the other hand, is an action.  If I have empathy, I place myself in the shoes of another and either walk with them in reality, or I make my actions mirror their feelings.  Let me give an example of both.  First, let’s imagine you needed to move a few years ago for a job relocation.  When you got to your new house, you didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood.  And it was a long, frustrating time unpacking, painting, and fixing up the house and no one helped you.  Now, two years later, you see a new neighbor has moved in next door.  They don’t know anyone and you can see that they are struggling to unpack and fix up their house.  You know exactly what they are going through, so you go and help them out. That is empathy.

The second kind of empathy is action when you can’t put yourself exactly in someone else’s shoes but you still feel a call to action.  Your spouse has been working long hours and comes home tired every day.  You don’t know what it is like to be doing his or her job, with its particular challenges.  But what you do know is that you love your spouse very much and so you go out of your way to do what you can to make his or her life easier during this difficult time at work.  You may not know the intricacies of their job, but you know what it is like to be tired and wish for a break, so you offer your spouse a break from housework or parenting.  This is also empathy.

Can one have empathy with God?  This is an interesting question.  We certainly can’t walk in the shoes of God, and God is not suffering so there is no need for us to suffer with Him.  We know how the Lord deals with us—He blesses us, He forgives us, He receives us back in repentance, He sees the best in us, He is patient with us.  So, if we wanted to be “God-like”, trying to walk in the shoes of God, then we should extend these things to each other.  We should offer God-like empathy to those around us.

The world really needs a lot more empathy.  We see a lot of argument, a lot of protest, a lot of defending personal rights to the exclusion of the rights of others.  Empathy is when we put the sufferings of others even before our own thoughts, trying to walk in their shoes rather than always staying in our own.

Empathy (from a spiritual perspective)—On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rank yourself on the following questions:  Do I try to show a Christ-like love, patience, and forgiveness to those around me?  Do I love others as Christ loves them?  Do I expect love from Christ that I am unwilling to give to others?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

“What would Jesus do?” was a buzz-phrase many years ago but it still has meaning today.  Ask yourself what would Jesus do, how would He react in the situations you find yourself today.

Empathy (from a relationship perspective)—Do I get in and help others or only feel bad for them?  Do I try to put myself in the shoes of others and try to see things from their perspective?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

Think of one friend who is going through a hard time.  Rather than feel bad for them, think of something concrete you can do to help ease their burden.

Lord, thank You for showing us the ultimate empathy when You came and died for us.  Thank You for offering us love, patience and forgiveness so easily.  Help me to love and care for others as You love and care for me.  Help me to show empathy towards others, putting myself in their shoes and helping them in ways that benefit them.  Amen. 

The Golden Rule is the “golden standard” when it comes to empathy.  Treat others as you wish to be treated.  Treat others as the Lord treats us.


+Fr. Stavros 

Photo Credit: Advantage4Parents

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About author

Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”