Saturday February 9, 2019
The Pope in Ismailiyah (20)
A Spiritual Prescription Suitable For Every Person
H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon
Wednesday February 6, 2019
Saturday February 9, 2019
The Pope in Ismailiyah (20)
A Spiritual Prescription Suitable For Every Person
H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon
Wednesday February 6, 2019
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, amen. May His grace and blessing rest upon us, from now and unto eternity. Amen.
By the grace of Christ, I will read a portion from our teacher St. Paul the Apostle’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians. This is from the last chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
“13 Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave (quit you like men – KJV), be strong.
14 Let all that you do be done with love.”
The grace of God the Father be with us all. Amen.
I want to speak with you today about a spiritual contemplation that can be of benefit to each and every one of us. St. Paul the Apostle, blessed be his memory, sent two letters to Corinth, one of the Roman Empire’s largest cities. And Corinth was a city that greatly resembled the city of Alexandria – situated along a seaside, multicultural, multiethnic, and it began to learn of Christ through this saint.
And despite the fact that St. Paul the Apostle was a great scholar of Divinity, an evangelical giant, and was the author of 14 Letters in the New Testament (the Pauline Epistles), yet this saint, Paul the Apostle, after writing such long letters, would summarize them in very few words – a few short words. And this was as if he were writing a clear and definitive spiritual prescription, so that it may be of benefit to all of us in our spiritual lives.
And so what I will present in tonight’s contemplation is a spiritual prescription suitable for each one of us – old or young, close to the Church or a bit far from it, one whose circumstances allow him to serve in the Church or one who is not able to, that’s not important, but what’s important is that this spiritual prescription is very clear.
And something very nice about this prescription is that he made it in five points. The number five is significant for several reasons:
1. We can count five on our fingers – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, easy!
2. But what is more important, is that the word ‘five’ means strength! And so it as if the purpose of this spiritual prescription is to give you strength in your spiritual life, that you may truly be a person of God.
Let me tell you these five points, taking just a few minutes to talk about each one.
The first thing he tells us is, “Watch,” and of course this does not refer to materialistic watching, that I stay up until 11 or 12 or 1 A.M., and so on, but rather, what is meant by “watching,” is that a person have a watchful nature.
According to the Bible, watchfulness is connected to prayer, and so watchfulness here means that you have a prayer room, a place where you meet with the Lord, in your home, and that after each long day’s work and effort spent at your job and in your service, that at a minimum you take time to meet with your Christ.
And so the word “watch” means that you have a prayer room, and that this be a place and time where you can meet with your Christ and have a spiritual relationship, so that you may say as the bride says in Song of Solomon, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine” (SOS 6:3). Nothing preoccupying you, nothing getting in the way of the intimacy between you and your Christ – he expresses this in one word: “watch.”
And “watch” does not only mean prayer and that you are always meeting Christ in continual prayer, but “watch” here also means that you understand the value of time. Because just between you and I, no matter what responsibilities we may have, the Lord gives each of us the same amount of time.
You, dear sir, receive 24 hours each day, and you, dear ma’am, receive the exact same amount, and this brother and that brother and that sister – we are all given the same amount of time. But how do you spend the time? How do you utilize that time?
Another thing about time, is that it is a blessing from the Lord that cannot be retrieved. Once a day has passed, you will never get the same day again, and once a stage passes in your life – may the Lord give you long life – that stage will never again return.
You were once a baby, then a child, then a young adult, and with each stage, your responsibilities increased, and each stage only comes by once and is never repeated, that is why he tells us to “watch.” Pay attention to time, to how you use your time, make sure that your time is filled with intimate times with Christ.
And so the word “watch” relates to prayer and it relates to time, but it also means “prepare.” I suppose you all remember the five who awaited the bridegroom, Christ. The five who were prepared, we call them “the wise ones,” but the five who wasted the time and were careless with the opportunity, unfortunately, we call them “the foolish ones.” I wonder, which group do you belong to?
Do you remember the foolish virgins? They went to the bridegroom after the door had been shut, and they knocked on the door, “Lord, Lord, open to us,” but He said to them, “I do not know you” (Mt 25:11-12). And because the Church tries to revive this spiritual knowledge within us, it places this story in the Gospel Reading for the Midnight Hour, and in the First Watch of it, lest the time passes you by and you are not paying attention.
And so my beloved brethren, the first piece of advice St. Paul offers us in this spiritual prescription is to “watch:” pay attention to your prayers and your intimate times with Christ, pay attention to your time and its value, and make sure that you are always prepared; that you are a person who is always prepared for heaven. This is the first point.
The second point he makes is: “stand fast in the faith.” And to stand fast is a beautiful thing. An unfastened tree, a small bit of wind will blow it away, a person who faith is not secure, a few words will cause him to drift off and get lost. But there is a person who is fastened, secure in their faith!
And because faith is of great importance in our lives, the Church Fathers made a Creed out of it. What does a creed mean? It means that it is of well-defined terms, of well-defined statements, is not open for interpretation or discussion, but it is composed of very clear statements - and we call it, The Creed of Faith.
And the nice thing is that when we say this Creed, we say it while standing. That which we say while standing, we call that “prayer,” and that which we listen to while seated, we call that “teaching.” And this is why The Creed of Faith is itself a form of prayer, and so just imagine, we have turned faith into a prayer! And we say it during our private prayers, during our Church prayers, and when administering the Sacraments.
Your faith. I wonder, your faith, do you understand it aright? Your faith, are you living it out aright? Your faith, are you experiencing it aright? Or are you a Christian just because your documents say so, or because your name is a Christian name?
Do you have the depositary of faith that we received from the days of St. Mark and was handed to us, from generation to generation? Or are you living by your own head, by your own thinking, by the strength of your own muscles, and that’s it? That’s not faith.
The Bible tells us, “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jam 5:16), meaning that a person who prays with faith, that prayer is effective - it has ability to accomplish. The faith you received at your baptism through your God-parent – your mother or father? The faith that was affixed in you through the Sacrament of the Holy Myron, when your entire body became ordained, ordained and consecrated for Christ? And when you were a small baby and Abouna ordained you with the signs of the cross, he began from the top of your head – your thinking, and crossed every part of your body.
Your faith, which you practice in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Your faith, which you practice every time you sit with the Bible and read the Scriptures. And the Scriptures of the Bible are given in a practical way. Our fathers who recorded the Books of the Bible, recorded it on the basis of spiritual experience - they first experienced it, personally, then they recorded it. They experienced spirituality, and this faith we find; it continues.
When you sit in your home, together as a family, do you repeat the beautiful Commandment David the Prophet said, “I will declare Your name to My brethren” (Ps 22:22) – do you speak of the Lord’s good deeds toward you? Because there are some families who sit and gossip about this one, that one, and the other one, and this person over here and that person over there, but there is another family who sits and speaks about the works of God. And take notice, God is at work in your life every day – no, not every day, every hour!
But, do you notice the works of God? Or do you consider the works of God with you, with your family, with your sons, with your daughters, with your loved ones, with your friends – or the many good works God does in our communities, in our nation – do you consider them as merely normal, everyday matter-of-fact? And so, do live by this faith?
I’m sure you also remember the 21 young men who went to seek a living in Libya. They were simple young men from simple villages, and they went looking for income, possessing nothing except their faithfulness.
But was their faithfulness only where work was concerned? Oh no, before anything, they were faithful toward their faith. “But you are in a foreign country and your education is limited,” but they would say, “Never mind all that, our faith is much more important!” Be steadfast in faith.
Do you, at home, teach your sons and daughters how to read the Bible, from which we receive faith, how to read it every single day? Or are you just allowing them to get lost in front of social media and in front of television and with friends? Our brother, our sister, your responsibility is great. Be steadfast in faith.
And we thank the Lord that the faith we carry is 2,000 years old, and that our Church that is well-founded. And in the midst of these 2,000 years, so around the year 1,000 A.D., there occurred a minor problem. A Jewish man wanted to create problems for the Christians of Egypt, so he went to the Egyptian Ruler at the time and told him that the Bible says, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move” (Mt 17:20), so challenge the Christians, let them show us if they can really move a mountain! A test.
But because the entire Church was steadfast in faith, the outcome was the miracle of the moving of the Mokattam Mountain - a miracle we all know about, and is recorded in the historical annals, and for which we commemorate annually with a 3-day fast that precedes the Fast of the Nativity. Be steadfast in faith; this is the second piece of advice St. Paul the Apostle offers us.
The third piece of advice is a bit strange, because although he is speaking to the people of Corinth, which include both men and women, and young and old, he tells them, “Be brave … like men!” The word ‘man’ in the Bible symbolizes maturity, similar to how when a young boy is crying, we pat him on the back and say, “You shouldn’t cry anymore, you’re a man now.”
And so, to be brave like men means to be mature, and to be whole-hearted, because by the way, Christ doesn’t desire half-heartedness; Christ desires the whole heart. He also likes that a person be mature, to be smart, so to be “like men” does not only mean to be mature, but it also means that one have a sense of responsibility.
In life, a person may work, serve, have their own business, a family, or he may be consecrated, or be a monk or a Church servant –responsibilities. Some people perform their responsibilities with laziness, others perform their responsibilities with perseverance and in all seriousness.
Do you remember Abigail and her husband Nabal (1 Sam 25)? And the word ‘Nabal’ means fool, that his behavior is void of wisdom. And when David was on the run, Nabal treated him unkindly. David had sent him word saying, “It seems that you had some sort of celebration and so you have probably have some good food, and I have 600 men with me and would like it if you could send some food for them.” But Nabal refused, and moreover, he expelled them. So of course, this was a bad situation.
So before he became King, David and those who were with him said, “We are going to go fight this brother,” but who heard of it? His wife, Abigail. And because of how she handled the situation, David said to her, “Blessed is your advice” (1 Sam 25:33). And so here was a woman, who behaved bravely, “like a man.” A man does not mean muscles, a man means wisdom, maturity.
Not everyone is able to understand life. There is a difference between surviving and living. To survive means that you eat, drink, breathe oxygen, and that’s it, but there is another person who understands life. Do you understand life?
As you grow older, are you growing in understanding? Because sometimes you meet an older person and find that he lacks wisdom, and sometimes you meet a young person and find that he is wise. I wonder, which one are you like? Be brave … like men.
Where is your expertise? Sometimes people say of a person that he is an expert at a certain thing. How did he become an expert? “Because he’s been doing this kind of work for 30 years,” they say, “We call upon him just to get his advice.”
And so, to “be brave … like men,” means to be mature, to have a sense of responsibility, and it also means to have forbearance the ability to endure. We hear about this in the lives of the saints and martyrs and hermits, they all lived a life of endurance, because a life of comfort and luxury loses a person many blessings.
“Be brave … like men.” Behave responsibly. In today’s day and age, there are people who will sit and read stories on the Internet, give them a “share” and distribute them to others, as if they were journalistic correspondents. And in so doing, this person spreads many lies and rumors without ever checking to see whether or not this information is correct. How can such a person be as a man, when he is not behaving responsibly?
A man, utters every word with great care, for even David the Prophet, a man who was much more righteous than any of us are, he said, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps 141:3). David? What are you saying? You are the wonderful psalmist of Israel, you are the writer of the Psalms, you are he whose words drip with sweetness, so why, David, why are you asking the Lord to set a guard over your mouth and a door over your lips? Is it to that extent that you esteem the value of words?
The words you speak, do you speak them carefully? Because your words can turn an entire family upside down, can overturn a ministry, can overturn a community! So be careful, be wise, be mature, be a person who is clear about their responsibilities, be a person who demonstrates endurance, and a person who deals carefully in all matters. This is number three.
So far we have three: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave … like men”
Number four is, “Be strong.” To be strong means to live piously, and piety is the fear of God. Pay attention, because a person can just live their life and go to their work and that’s it, but there’s another person who does their work or service with the eye of God upon him – this is the fear of God, and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). Be strong, be pious.
When a person feels he is being taken advantage of by another, he may say to the other person, “Fear the Lord,” which is to say, “Feel the Presence of God! God sees everything.” Live piously, with reverence.
Also, “Be strong” means that you not feel you are alone, but that the Spirit of God is at work within you. In your baptism, when you were born the second birth, you became a person who is supported by the Spirit of God. You were born of the water and of the Spirit, and your life attained a special strength.
This special strength is what allowed St. Paul to one day declare the beautiful verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). And by the way, the first half of the Apostle Paul’s life was lived very far from the Lord and he only came to know the Lord in the second half of his life, but we read of his work, his service, and his evangelism. Be strong.
Another source of strength for us in the Coptic Church is our saints! A common question we ask one another is, “Who is your intercessor? Who is your intercessor?” Some people have Anba Anthony as their intercessor - and we just celebrated his Departure Feast day a few days ago, another person says, “My intercessor is Anba Pola,” or Anba Bishoy, or the Virgin Mary, or Saint Marina, or any other saint you like.
And I sometimes marvel and am very happy when I see a young boy or girl of 10 or 11 years old saying, “Pray for me Abouna, I have an exam.” I ask him, “Are you anxious?” and he’ll say, “No.” So I ask him, “Why aren’t you anxious?” and he’ll say, “Because this subject, its intercessor is Pope Kyrillos.” So although he has never seen Pope Kyrillos, but he knows of his strength.
Another boy will say, “My intercessor is Mari Mina,” or a girl will say, “In this matter, my intercessor is my Mother the Virgin Mary. And so, to “be strong” is to find strength in the lives of the saints, and that’s why our great Church makes us read the Synexarium every day, and during Tasbeha Praises, we read the Defnar (the book that tells the stories of the lives of the saints) every day.
Do you sit with your children at home and read the lives of the saints, every day? Oh yes, this is a very important practice. Because we sit together and watch this, or this, or that, and we go visit people, or meet with them, or they visit us, but this practice will take you how long to do, 10 minutes?! Read a life of a saint every day, and take the name of that saint as your intercessor, and have an experience with the work of the Lord.
I’ll tell you a story I’ve told before. There were some people whose home was robbed and they were very upset. So they went around from one monastery to the other saying, “Abouna, pray for us, our apartment was robbed.”
So they went to a monastery and asked the Abouna who stood at the door, “Abouna, our apartment was robbed. Pray for us.” So he asked them, “Did you seek the saints for intercession?” They said, “Oh yes, we’ve asked for the intercessions of,” and they listed the names of several saints they had sought.
Abouna said, “None of those is going to be able to help you.” Puzzled, they asked, “Why not, Abouna?” He said, “Since your apartment was robbed, you have to ask for intercessions from a saint who used to be a thief.” And who was a saint who used to be a thief? Moses the Black. So it must be that a thief will know how to find out the thieves, is it not so! And so they sought the intercessions of Moses the Black and within 24 hours their things were returned.
So you see? Be strong. We have so many saints in this very long history of ours, take strength from them, take as much as you will. And that’s why I am puzzled when I see young people today who have just had a baby and they give it some strange name, and when I ask them what this name means, they say, “Oh, it’s a Spanish name,” or something else.
My dear, are you Spanish? You’re Egyptian! Coptic! Name your children after the names of your saints. We have so many names, and they are all beautiful names and are especially special when you discover their meanings.
And so, “be strong” means to live in the reverence and fear of God, to take strength from the Spirit that is at work within you and is working through you, and to take strength from the intercessions of the saints, which is described as “a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). In Church, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, and in the entrance to the altar, we have a wall filled with the pictures of many saints, facing us, as if speaking to us and saying, “Come on, be strong, so you can be like us and have a place in heaven.”
The because St. Paul the Apostle knows that we live amongst people, and that we are continually dealing and interacting with people, the last piece of advice he gives us is: “Let all that you do be done with love.”
How beautiful Paul! You were the one who wrote the Chapter on love - 1 Corinthians 13, and you summarized it in this single statement: “Let all that you do be done with love.” And I plead with you beloved ones, that you sense with me how the world today is lacking in love, and that the hope is in each one of you; that each one of you be a source of true love.
No matter what we’re dealing with or who we’re dealing with, our primary value should be: “Let all that you do be done with love.” The love you offer, the love you receive from Christ and pass along to others, the love you have when dealing with your neighbor, with your peers.
Never dare to think that this love is wasted, it’s not possible; “Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8). Why? Because God is love. When you build your relationships on the foundation of love, you are building them on the foundation of God. And who is it that can overpower the Lord? Can anybody ever defeat God?
And that is why our love is to be towards one another and towards everybody, no matter who that person is; we are to love every human being. And because God created humans it must mean He loves them, even those who are not behaving aright. The Lord does not love bad manners but He does love the person, the person himself.
And so, in your social relations and in society as whole, love must be abundant - “Let all that you do be done with love.” Do not dare to break the commandment of love. Do not dare to break the commandment of love. Live with love towards everyone, and you will reap the fruit of that. And this fruit can be of benefit not only to you, but to the generation that comes after you, and the third generation, and so on, that there may come a day when a person is asked, “Are you from so and so’s family? Was your grandfather so and so? Oh my! He was such a kind man. He was a man who loved everyone.” This is the most valuable inheritance you can give anyone.
And so, the five pieces of advice St. Paul the Apostle offers us tonight serve as a spiritual prescription that is able to help each one of us, he says:
2- Stand fast in the faith
3- Be brave … like men
4- Be strong
5- Let all that you do be done with love
May the Lord keep you. To our God be all the glory and honor, from now and to eternity. Amen.