H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon

Sunday March 03, 2019
“Be Faithful Until Death” – Revelation 2:10
.H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon
Wednesday February 27, 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 to eternity. Amen.

I will read a portion from the Book of Revelation Chapter 2, beginning with verse 8:

8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”’
(Rev 2:8-11)
The grace of God the Father be with us all. Amen.
I congratulate you for the upcoming Great Holy Fast which begins this coming Monday, a beautiful period of time and days we await from year to year.
And one of the questions that may often concern us is: When the people who have lived on this earth – in the past, in the present, and who will live here in the future – when they stand before God the Judge, how will they be measured and judged? I want to talk to you about this matter because it is related to the upcoming Fast. 
How will people be judged before God and how will He judge them? For all will stand before God and offer an account, an account of their entire life and the years of their life, and this applies to every person who has lived since Adam, and to the end of the ages. 
What is the standard of judgment? God’s standard for judgement is summarized in one word: faithfulness. Faithfulness, a person’s faithfulness. And this word causes attraction – this person is faithful, you feel attracted to him and that he is wonderful, but a person who is not faithful, is unacceptable.
And faithfulness doesn’t apply to just one arena of life but to several, and since you are approaching the period of the Great Holy Fast, God is sending you a message, which is the verse I just read: 
“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
The first thing I want you to know is that the first half of this Scripture is here on earth and its second half is in heaven, and that this verse gets its power from the One who spoke it, the Lord Christ. “Be faithful until death” – what He is saying is, be faithful here on earth, from the days of your youth, to your adolescence, to your years of maturity, and to the end of your life. This is the first half of the verse. 
In the second half He says, “And I will give you the crown of life” – this is the reward. This is not just any reward but it is the most precious blessing a person can attain, and He will give it to you. Just imagine us standing before Christ and Christ, with His own hand, is giving you the crown of life. 
“Be faithful until death” – and when He spoke this verse He did not specify to whom it was for. Is it aimed for you? For me? For this brother or that sister, for a young person or for an old adult? It is aimed at all of us: “Be.”
And the word “Be” involves a sense of command (so it’s not a matter of whether you feel like being faithful or not) - He says, “Be!” It also gives a sense of personalization, guidance, the power of the One who spoke it, as well as a sense of continuity - to the end of time, be faithful. 
And because my beloved ones this is a very vast subject, I will speak to you about three specific areas from the many arenas of faithfulness: personal faithfulness, familial faithfulness, and social faithfulness. And so let me explain each of these areas to you because they are all of importance to each one of us.
Faithfulness in your personal life
The personal arena involves your responsibilities toward yourself, it is comparatively the most limited arena because faithfulness toward family will be a wider ring, and social faithfulness will be the widest ring. 
As an individual, being faithful to yourself here on earth involves repentance, your repentance, the purification of your heart. I suppose you may have had this question before in passing: “Why is it that our Church has so many fasts? Why do we fast two days out of every week, have long fasts, shorter fasts, why does it seem like we’re continuously fasting? Why?” And these are just the general fasts that we do as a collective, which may be in addition to fasts our Fathers of confession give us personally for our personal spiritual practice. 
A fast is a period of time for a call to repentance, for a person to repent. It is a call, an annual call. And this Fast is often called “the time of the spiritual life” or “the spring of spiritual life,” because it always comes during spring time.
The purity of your heart is your personal responsibility, and so you should know that being faithful in your personal life means that you keep and possess a repentant heart. And each one of us prays every day with David saying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 51:10); we repeat this verse every day, and more than once a day! And notice that it is stated in the personal tense, not, “Create in us …,” no, this is your responsibility, you!
“Create in me a clean heart” – help me have a pure heart Lord, “And renew a steadfast spirit within me” – living an upright life. And so this is what it means to be faithful in your personal life, spiritually. 
Also included in the area of your faithfulness in your spiritual life (alongside your repentance and your prayers) is your continuous reading of the Bible. We have all heard the beautiful verse in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” so this concerns the area of the flesh. We all eat materialistic food, but I wonder, are you faithful in taking in and depositing in your heart every Word that comes from the mouth of God? Or is your heart empty? Or does your heart contain a combination of things, foreign things? Because this (the Word of God) is a trust we are entrusted with, a trust we will be judged for.
Moreover, being faithful in your personal life, in your spiritual life, not only includes your repentance, your prayers, your relationship with heaven, and your reading of the Bible, but it also includes your relationship with the Sacraments of Grace (the Holy Sacraments). I wonder, do you participate in the Sacraments with awareness or do you just do them out of habit? Do you practice them with awareness?
A long time ago, when a person would come out of a Liturgy people would greet him as “holy-saint,” because in essence, having attended a Liturgy, one has just completed a pilgrimage. And it was from there that travelling to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Land is where people attained the title “holy-saint.” And if you notice, at the end of every Liturgy Abouna makes the beautiful statement, “The Holies for the holy,” because at the very time we are participating in the Sacrament we are transformed and are on the path of holiness. 
And so I wonder, are you faithful in these matters? Okay, well if you haven’t been faithful or if your faithfulness has been a bit weak, what do think, there’s a fast right around the corner, what do you think about starting now and taking this opportunity that you may become faithful in your personal life? 
And there is more in this area of spiritual personal responsibility, because you are to also be faithful in your relationship with heaven. Do you remember that Christ one day said, “I go and prepare a place for you” (Jn 14:3)? And He has prepared a place for each person, with their own name on it. And so there is a place in heaven for each one of us, by name, but the wise person is the one who preserves it and does so by being faithful here on earth, that he may be deserving of this place in heaven; you are to be faithful regarding [your place in] heaven. 
And there is another area in which you are to be personally faithful; your faithfulness with your body. For example, a person who eats a lot and is experiencing the diseases of obesity, this is a person who is not being faithful, not paying attention; God gave him a body and he is to take care of it body. There is also the need to be faithful so as not to expose oneself to various evil habits. There are so many evil habits, and do not think that they just come and pass easily, no. 
You are also to be faithful with your senses – your eyes, your ears, your tongue. What do your eyes see? What do your ears hear? What does your tongue say? For the Bible even tells us, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mt 12:37), and so even the words that come out of us. And in another promise He says, “If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light” - and the opposite is also true, “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Mt 6:22, 23), and so the senses are also a trust we are entrusted with. 
And in the Book of Revelation He repeats a certain statement over and over again, “He who has an ear, let him hear.” And we may wonder why the Bible repeats this statement so many times. It is because although you may have perfect physical hearing, but you may not be able to hear, you may not be able to hear. Or maybe as the saying goes, you let it come in one ear and out the other, or maybe your ears or your soul hear what they want to hear – selective hearing. 
In summary, the realm of personal faithfulness includes faithfulness with your spirit, faithfulness with your body, faithfulness with your physical senses, and faithfulness toward heaven. And so as you prepare for the Fast, place all these points before you. Make sure you don’t let the days of the fast slip by unaware, without giving careful attention. So this is the first realm of faithfulness.
Faithfulness in your familial life
The second area is faithfulness with one’s family. Most of us are either married (a husband or a wife) or are sons or daughters in a family. On the day of holy matrimony, every man receives his wife and every woman receives her husband on the basis of faithfulness; they are given one to another as a pledge, for safekeeping. And we understand this concept when someone gives us something for safekeeping and asks us to watch over it, we make sure we take good care of it and keep it safe, and we don’t change anything about it; we just keep it as it is. 
I remember a story from when I was a servant at church. The church had an offering box in which the boys and girls placed whatever few coins they had, and after the money was collected from the boxes by the church servants, it would be given to the church custodian. And so one day I asked one of the servants collecting the boxes if I could get change for a ten cent coin – oh, I just realized you may not even know what a ten cent coin is nowadays … long time ago we had this thing called “a ten cent coin,” we also had a five-cent coin, but these things are artifacts now! What is the least denomination you know of now? 
{Response from congregation: 200 pounds!}
Oh wow, rich people you are!
So I asked him if I could get change for the ten cents and he said no. The box was full of coins but he said no. I asked, “Why?” he said, “Because just as I found the offering is the exact way I will hand it over to the custodian, then the matter is up to him.” So I said, “What’s the big deal if I just get some change for ten cents?” he said, “This is exactly how God sent it, this is exactly how I will deliver it.”
Of course this is a very simple story, but do you see the degree of accuracy?
And so you, wife, and you, husband, from the day of your engagement to the day of your holy matrimony and so on, you are each a responsible steward for the other, a faithful guardian. And this stewardship involves many aspects as to how each of you will protect the other person, how to help them, how to support them, how to cooperate with them. This is a trust, a great trust that has been placed in your care. 
And this faithfulness and stewardship began the moment you met each other, agreed to one another, and the process of a family began its formation, and so this is a trust. And if you see your wife as a trust given you from the hand of the Lord, then you will honor her above all else, and if you see your husband as being a trust from the hand of Christ, from the hand of the Lord, you will honor him above all else, and so this is important. 
And in a ceremony of holy matrimony, the marriage is composed of three persons: him, her, and Christ – so it is not just two people. We call it a “triple bond,” because as it says, “Two is better than one … and a threefold cord is not easily broken” (Eccl 4:9,12) - it is like a braid, a braid is made of three sections. This is marriage and this is faithfulness, and this is what is meant by each party helping the other. 
In the first centuries, she married a man who was an idol-worshipper and she was a Christian, and every day he would create some problem and beat her. And he continued like this, day in and day out, and she continued persevering to bring him to Christ. And the Lord had blessed them with two sons and a daughter, but when the eldest son grew and noticed he was a skillful speaker and an intelligent law student, he began to stray and fall into many sins. 
As for this righteous woman Monica, mother of St. Augustine, on the day of her husband’s departure she held his hand and said, “I have completed the first perseverance” – and by the way, before he died, he asked to be a Christian. And so she succeeded, she was faithful, a woman who was a faithful steward over her husband. 
And she began her second journey of perseverance, this time for her son, but also in faithfulness. And how many years did you shed tears over him Monica? She said, “More than 18 or 20 years.” And just between you and I, we may want to ask her, “Didn’t you get fed up?” but she would say, “No, this is my son, he is entrusted to me. My son is a trust the Lord gave me.”
And so she continued after him from Northern Algeria where he was born, in a town called Hippo, to Milan, Italy. She followed him and stayed after him until one day she heard comforting words from the Bishop of Milan, St. Ambrosius, who was a great teacher. As she wept before the Bishop she said to him, “My son is going to be lost,” but as he looked at her tears he saw faithfulness in them and said to her, “Know that the son of these tears can never perish.”
And in fact, Augustine did repent, and he became a great saint and Bishop, and he also became the first person in history to record his personal experience in writing (The Confessions of St. Augustine). This is the faithfulness of family. 
Parents are to be faithful with regard to their sons and daughters, to ensure they live in the fear/reverence of the Lord. And I’m sorry to use such an expression, but what will a careless mother or father ever produce? They will produce sons and daughters who are lost. 
And as for a father or mother who want to be faithful with regard to their children, they must know that the most important thing they could give their child is time. If I leave my son or daughter to waste their time, if I don’t sit with them, if I don’t talk with them, if I don’t dialogue with them, if I don’t befriend them, then what do I expect the result to be? The result will be bitter. 
As for a smart father or a smart mother, they offer their children the most precious thing, which is time. The most precious thing is not money. The most precious thing is not money, it is time. The most precious thing is discipline and the sharing of life experience. 
I am utterly joyous when I meet a young person and they say, “My father taught me this,” or, “I learned this from my mother” – I feel absolutely joyous when I hear such things! 
Once I met a young child, maybe six years old, and in the middle of this simple conversation we were having he said, “Because his holiness Abouna told me this.” As soon as he said “his holiness Abouna,” I mean, we’re not used to hearing this from a young child, so I asked him why he said that and he said, “Because mama taught me that Abouna, we address him as ‘his holiness Abouna’ and we never just say ‘Abouna.’” Yes, a young child, a small word, but he learned it. This is faithfulness. 
When God gives us our sons and daughters, are we not responsible for them? No, we are responsible for them to the very end, and they are a trust entrusted to us and God will judge us for them. And if this faithfulness applies to physical families and their physical children, it moreover applies to the priest fathers in their care of their flock, their children, their congregation – faithfulness in spiritual nurturing. Are you passing the faith down to them rightly?
A mother once went to wake up her child to go to church, “Wake up child, will you go to church or is it too late?” And half-asleep the boy said to her, “It’s too late,” so she said, “Okay then, never mind, go back to sleep dear.” She is not paying attention, she needs to implant a habit. She must sow the habit in her son, this is important. 
It is also a matter of faithfulness to not leave my sons and daughters to live in the imaginary world for many hours of their life, and without benefit. And today’s imaginary world is the virtual world of the Internet, the Web; they sit in front of it for hours, and you find parents complaining. 
I will never forget a time when at a spiritual retreat center I saw a mother sitting on chair and next to her on the floor was her 10 year-old daughter, crying and beating her head in the ground. So I drew close to them and asked her, “What’s the matter with this girl?” She said, “This is because she asked me for a mobile phone and I told her there would be no mobile phone until she got to junior high.” 
And so the girl kept arguing with her mother, “But what about my friends, they all have mobile phones?” but she said to her, “The Lord gave me a daughter called Maryam (that was the girl’s name) and said to me, ‘Take care of her,’ and I must do what the Lord told me to do.” And so the mother insisted and the daughter kept crying, but what the mother was committed to was to be careful with regard to anything that could cause trouble or corruption on the girl’s spiritual path. 
I plead with you, pay attention to this familial faithfulness, for there is such a thing. Sometimes as a family, a family will face problems, but if this family is satiated with love all the problems will be resolved, even if they are just eating bread and salt (ex. living on the bare minimum). But if a family is not satiated with love, then disagreements will arise between its members and we will find that our children, even after they leave us, will not have inherited love towards one another. 
Implant love within the hearts of your children. The greatest inheritance you can offer your sons and daughters is that they grow up to love each other, this is the most precious inheritance. And not only that they love one another, but that they love the entire society in which they live. The most valuable inheritance you can offer your children is love. 
And I suppose you all have memorized the beautiful verse that says, “A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb” (Prov 27:7). When the souls of your sons and daughters are satisfied and satiated with love, and when your home is full of love, then these souls and this home can stand, can stand strong in the face of trials, troubles, and difficulties. And when I raise my son or my daughter in a way so that when they grow up they become people who can bear responsibilities correctly, then I have offered society beneficial people. 
This familial faithfulness extends to include the area of consecration, for in the life of consecration or the life of monasticism we also live in families, spiritual families. For example, when there is a monastery that has 10 or 20 monks, they live as a spiritual family, and a spiritual community also requires faithfulness – spiritual faithfulness, faithfulness in the monastic life, faithfulness. But what if there is not faithfulness? Then there is no consecration and God does not at all accept this consecration, not at all. 
So be careful or else the world will distract you like an amusement park, as we pray in the Compline prayer before sleep, “The life that I spent in lust deserves condemnation,” and lusts are those things which distract a person and make a person not pay attention to himself, and a person becomes lost. And there are those who say, “Oh, they’re just a few days we live and they pass,” but no, every day has value, every day has a blessing.
Faithfulness in your social life
So far I’ve spoken to you about personal faithfulness and familial faithfulness and their various subdivisions, but for the sake of time let’s move on and talk about social faithfulness. Whether we live in a small village, a medium-sized city or a large city, or a country with a large population – and countries vary, some have 5 or 6 million, others have 50 or 60 million, others have 100 million people or more, but regardless of the size of one’s community, in any society a person lives, they are either a student or a worker (of any kind), and the society calls them “a citizen.” 
A citizen means a person carries a citizenship and has an allegiance, and when he goes to get his passport they tell him, “You are now an Egyptian citizen,” or the citizenship of whatever country he belongs to. Social responsibility has many branches. For example, for one who is a student there is faithfulness in one’s studies, because education is only for a period and it prepares us for the future. So whether you are in elementary school, junior high, high school or university, you are to be faithful, and this faithfulness demands that you be alert and attentive. For example, I was reading in the papers today that Egypt currently has a shortage in the number of doctors. Strange, how did we develop this problem? It came in an unpleasant way. 
There should be a balance between those entering to study in the fields of the sciences and those entering to study in the fields of arts. And those of you who are older may remember that the schools of science used to accept a larger number of high school graduates than the schools of the arts did because society had a need for more graduates from the sciences. But the situation is now reversed - 72% of all high school graduates now enter schools of art while 28% enter schools of science, which is almost a two-thirds to a one-third ration. But it is from schools of science that we get our doctors, and so this is why we now have a shortage of doctors, and this is a problem. 
But why did you choose to enter a school of arts? They’ll say, “It’s easier, let’s just finish and get it over with … all we’ll have to do is just memorize a few words.” But this will not build a society, it will not build a society. 
The society works hard to train you in order that you may become a doctor or an engineer or an agriculturalist or a veterinarian or a pharmacist, or, or, or these many different specializations, in order that you may serve the society, because I need the doctor, and I need the engineer, and I need the lawyer, and I need the teacher, and I need all the different specializations. Each one of us has many needs, or else what is a society? This is a trust, and a trust that requires perseverance. 
No matter what you study you need to be diligent, but to hang your own weaknesses on a coat hanger and say things like, “They don’t teach well … or, this and that … or, the books are this,” or any other excuses you might tell yourself, no. You must work hard, this is a trust, something you have been entrusted with.
If you graduate to be an engineer - you must be a good engineer, a lawyer - you must be an honest lawyer, a teacher - you must be well-qualified to teach, this is faithfulness in the area of studying. And whether I am studying in the field of science, art, or Divinity, I must be faithful because I am studying to be of benefit to the community I live in. 
In addition to being faithful in the area of studies, there is being faithful in the area of work. Each one of us works at his own job, and do not dare to think that the work you do is unimportant! No matter how small it is. 
One time I was talking to a group of youth in a small town and I asked them, “What would you think if everyone in your town became doctors? Would that work out?” And one of them stood up and said to me, “If that happened, then who would collect the trash?” Yes, because I need workers to collect the trash and I need doctors – I need them both, which is why we should not demean any type of work, no matter how simple it is.
How about the man who drives a truck, moving things from place to place – food supplies, construction supplies, and other things? I need this man, I need him very much, and I need him to be a good driver. And he is not my driver, but he is society’s driver.
Also, to be faithful in your work means that you be honest in how you spend your time at work and honest in how you use your work materials, and that you ensure you are sufficiently qualified to serve in the work you do, this is all very important. 
A doctor’s faithfulness in his work, an engineer’s faithfulness, a teacher’s faithfulness, a tour-guide’s faithfulness (a person who graduated from the College of Tourism), an artist’s faithfulness – faithfulness! Do you have this faithfulness in what you do, or do you only consider yourself and live selfishly, with an attitude of, “All that matters is me and other people are not my concern?” 
There is also faithfulness in the area of having goodwill relations with people, the relations that keep us bonded as a society. There are societies that have factions and these factions compete against each other, so then how will such a society grow? And there is another society where you feel that everyone is in harmony, a single tapestry, and that although we have some differences, which is natural because no two people are alike, but we all live together as one, we complete each other. I need every person in my community. 
Also in social faithfulness is the area of faithfulness toward one’s nation, because what is a nation? A nation is not something you can buy or import, but a nation is the place where you live and have lived in over many, many years, many centuries. For example, here in Egypt we are called “the Egyptians,” and these Egyptians have certain characteristics and features and have become their own unique group; they have taken the shape of a nation called “Egypt.” 
Nationalism requires faithfulness, which is why when a person betrays – and I’m sorry to say this word because it does hurt our ears – but when a person betrays their nation it is said of them that they will be accused and tried for the crime of “grand treason,” because this person didn’t just betray the nation, for the nation is no small thing, but a nation is made up of millions. And so he did not betray just one person or a single entity, but he betrayed a large nation, an entire society. 
And so a person is to be faithful in his studies, in his work, and in his society in which he lives and serves. There is also a need for faithfulness in the area of serving in church. In the history of the Church we hear of heretics, we hear of Arius and how he began to teach wrong teaching, and we hear of Macedonius, Otashee, Nestorius and others. But why did this happen? Because such a person was not faithful, he became a traitor, and add to that many other examples. But there are those who are faithful in their service, in their consecration, in their teaching – they are faithful. 
I talked about the different areas of faithfulness in one’s personal life, familial life, and social life, and so as we draw near to the time of the beginning of the Fast, take time to sit with yourself and take stock of yourself in these areas. Nobody else is going to sit with you because this verse is directed to you, it says to you, “Be faithful until death.” 
Let this period of fasting be a powerful time for you to review and take stock of your faithfulness in these different areas of your life, and of your faithfulness with moral things and your faithfulness with material things; with faithfulness in all its aspects. And know that there will come a day when you will stand before God and you will be asked, “Give Me account of what you were entrusted with” – as if to say, give Me your faithfulness balance sheet, what does it look like? And of course before God, the Just Judge, no one can present a false account, for all things are revealed and seen by God. 
May Christ bless all of you and may He grant us that this upcoming fast be a period of spiritual fasting, and that we may prepare ourselves, reveal ourselves to ourselves, and bring our weakness and sins before God and say to Him, “Lord, I will turn a new page with You.” 
“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” To our God be all the glory and honor, from now and to eternity. Amen.