H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon September 25, 2019


Friday September 27, 2019
For He Has Supported Us – The Grace of God’s Help - H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon September 25, 2019

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. One God. Amen. May His grace and His mercy rest upon us, from now and forevermore. Amen.

By the grace of Christ I will read Psalm 63, one of the psalms of David which he prayed during the time he was in the wilderness of Judah. And in order that you may really feel the words of this Psalm, keep in mind that he prayed this Psalm when he was in the wilderness, in the desert.
1 O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsts for thee, my flesh longs for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
2 To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
3 Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
4 Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.
5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:
6 When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
7 Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
8 My soul clings to You: thy right hand upholds me.
9 But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
10 They shall fall by the sword: they shall be a portion for foxes.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; every one that swears by him shall glory: but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.
Psalm 63 (KJV, NIV, & NKJV)
The grace of God the Father be with us all. Amen.
I would like to first of all congratulate you for the Feast of the Cross which begins next Saturday and extends for three days, through Monday, if the Lord wills and we live. The Coptic Church begins its calendar year (the year of the Martyrs) on the 1st of the month of Tout, and we continue to celebrate the Feast of Nayrouz (the New Year) for 16 days and the Feast of the Cross is on the 17th day of Tout, and so the Feast of the Cross is the first feast of the Coptic ecclesiastical year.
We celebrate the Feast of the Cross three times a year:
The first time is at the beginning of the Coptic calendar year (in September),
The second time is on March, 19th, and
The third time is on Great Holy Friday, which is also called the Day of the Cross or Crucifixion.
And so this means that we begin the Coptic year with 19 days of joy, which is a reflection of how our Christianity completely revolves around joy.
I had begun a series of talks with you on the seven graces God gives us every day, as we say in the Prayer of Thanksgiving:
“Let us give thanks to the beneficent and merciful God, the Father of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for He has covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us to Himself, spared us, supported us, and has brought us to this hour.”
Our last talk in this series was on how God spares us, and today I would like to do a short contemplation with you on the sixth grace, God’s support.
A review of the unique characteristics of The Prayer of Thanksgiving
It is prayed in the plural form. When you say “Let us give thanks,” you are praying on behalf of everybody else and on behalf of all creation, and this is a very beautiful thing about this prayer.
We pray this prayer both liturgically and personally. The priest prays it during the Liturgy and it has a certain ritual and we also begin all our hourly prayers with it, but each of us also prays this prayer on an individual level, personally.
The seven graces are given to every single person. As God gives the great graces of air, water, and light to every human, so He also gives each of these seven graces to each one of us in our lives.
The number “7”
As you know, the number seven is one of the numbers that symbolize completion or perfection. It is a perfect number because it is composed of the numbers 3 and 4:
The number 3 symbolizes faith in the Trinity and is also a symbol of heaven
The number 4 symbolizes all four directions and is also a symbol of earth
And so the number 7 symbolizes faith in the Trinity extending throughout all four corners of the world, as well the meeting of heaven and earth, and this is why we call this number a number of perfection.
The grace of God’s Support
As you listen to me tonight and as you pray and contemplate upon this prayer several times throughout the day, I would like you to consider how the seven graces of the Prayer of Thanksgiving apply to the Cross. For example, when we say, “We thank You for You have covered us” – God has covered us with salvation through the Cross. And when we say, “We thank You Lord for You have supported us” – support represents muscles, strength, help, the hands.
Consider this experience, which I am sure all of us have had: Have you ever been on the floor and wanted to get up but found it difficult? So what did you do? You asked the person next to you, “Give me a hand,” and “Give me a hand” means, “Support me so that I can get up.”
Christ on the cross stretches out His arms in order to support us. One of the aspects of why Christ was crucified on the cross with His arms outstretched is so that every time you look upon a cross you remember that He supports you.
In the 8th verse of today’s Psalm the Prophet David says, “My soul clings to You: thy right hand upholds me,” and so it is that every form and facet of worship we practice and teach in our Church is a means by which the soul may cling to God. When you pray with the Agpeya, when you attend a Liturgy, when you practice the Sacraments, these are all different means to get closer to God and to cling to Him.
“My soul clings to You: thy right hand upholds me” – Lord, I need You to support me. And in reality, God supports humans in many various ways, but today I want to contemplate with you specifically upon four groups or categories of people whom God supports.
4 groups of people in which we clearly see God’s support
The physically or psychologically weak
The socially weak
The spiritually weak
The righteous and pure of heart
1-People with physical or psychological weaknesses
There are people who have physical or psychological weaknesses, we refer to them as “the sick” or “the ill,” and physical illnesses can be temporary or chronic, short-term or long-term, major or minor, light and momentary or heavy and painful.
In Psalm 41 the psalmist makes a very beautiful statement: “Blessed is he who considers the poor ... The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive … The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness;
You will sustain him on his sickbed” (Ps 41:1-3), and to “sustain him” means to support him.
For example, we have heard of people who come before doctors and the doctors will say, “We have no solution or help for this case,” but then the Lord is glorified in this person and he begins to regain his health. Or the doctors may say, “It will take you 10 or 15 days to recover from this illness,” but then God supports you and you recover in just 7 days. He supports you. And so we see that the Lord supports those who are physically or psychologically ill.
We see an example of this in the Old Testament when we read about King Hezekiah, a king of Judea, and the Bible says of him, “For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses” (2 Kg 18:6) – he was a good king, a man who walked uprightly in the ways of the Lord. But then what happened to you Hezekiah?
The Prophet Isaiah had prophesied to King Hezekiah saying, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live’” (2 Kg 20:1), and so Hezekiah was subjected to a very serious disease, but because he was a righteous man, having done good deeds throughout his kingdom, and because his desire was to serve the Lord even more, when he discovered his serious illness he stood to pray before the Lord and said, “‘Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.’” What a loving expression of his expectancy for God to hear him and respond! It’s as though he was telling the Lord, “Lord, I’ve been walking before you my whole life, won’t You look to me and help me?” Then the verse says, “And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (2 Kg 20:3). And then he began weeping.
And so after the Prophet Isaiah had told him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live’” – basically meaning, “You are about to die” – it says, “Before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you … And I will add to your days fifteen years’” (2 Kg 20:4-6). And so God supported Hezekiah and gave him many more chances to serve.
In all of Christ’s miracles of healing people, His support to humanity was revealed. Of course you all remember the one who was “lying there” at the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. And medically speaking, at that point the muscles must have all dried up, atrophied, and become useless. And one in such condition probably could not even pick up a straw off the ground; his condition was terrible. And even for someone to give him the slight push he needed to get into the pool, even that he could not find. Wow, your condition is most terrible.
And so Christ comes to him and asks him a very beautiful question, but He does not ask him, “What is your illness?” or, “Have you tried having a surgery?” or, “How are you managing in life?” nor anything of the sort, but He asks him a beautiful question: “Do you want to be made well?” (Jn 5:6) – the will, the need for the will is necessary.
And so he responds, “But I have no one to put me in the pool” (Jn 5:7). And then notice the complete healing that came all at once and how the Lord supported him: “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (Jn 5:8) - not “rise and walk,” did you notice that? Because in and of itself, “rise and walk” is two miracles: to rise and to walk. But no, he was granted such complete health to get up and walk and to even carry the bed he had been sleeping on. The Lord supported him.
And so place before you and consider the many, many miracles that the Lord Christ performed with the different categories of ill people that we meet in the Bible, how He healed many people with all kinds of different illnesses and how He supported them.
God’s support can even come in the form of a person being supported to endure the cross of an illness. May the Lord protect you all but I want you to notice how there are times when a person is afflicted with a long-term illness, or an illness that takes a long time for healing or recovery, and who is it that will support the person throughout this time? Yes, there are medications, hospitals, and doctors, but it is the Lord’s hand that provides all the support. And what is so amazing and causes one to wonder is that when you visit such a person you find that they are filled with hope, filled with hope.
There was a time I had gone to visit a girl in the hospital in Alexandria. She had very great pains and was told that her life was coming to an end. This girl was 26 years old and was a head nurse in the army. And as I sat there talking with her, I was of course feeling sadness for her condition and so I asked her, “How are you doing?” She said, “We give thanks to the Lord” – and keep in mind that being a nurse, she understood her condition very well.
So I said, “I would like to bring you something, anything. Do you read?” Up to that point she had had a nice smile on her face, but all of a sudden her facial expression changed and she said, “Is there anything else to read besides it?”
Of course I shrank in that moment because I did not know what she was referring to, so I asked and she said, “The Book of Revelation, of course! Don’t I need to prepare for my eternity and my eternal life?” And in fact, so it was that 11 days after this meeting she went to heaven, but I never forget my visit with her and how her facial expression had changed so quickly and what she said about the Book of Revelation being the only Book she read.
I later learned that she used to entertain her time by reading a paragraph in the Book of Revelation, turn the paragraph into a prayer, and then use a pencil to draw out the scene of the paragraph she had read. And after she departed they found the entire Book of Revelation drawn out in pencil, all expressing scenes of hope and how God’s right hand was supporting her hand as she wrote and drew. And so the first group of people in which we clearly see God’s support is with the ill – whether physical or psychological illness.
2- The socially weak
The second group of people God supports are those who are socially weak. What does it mean to be socially weak? In every society there are those who are marginalized, those who live on “the sidelines” of society, and those who have no voice – these are just some of the expressions this category of people are referred to as. This group includes people who don’t vote, maybe because they are “unknowns” or live in unreachable places.
But the two most critical groups in this category are the fatherless and the widows, and this is why God calls Himself “Father of the fatherless and judge of the widows” (cf. Ps 68:5). Also about these groups of people the Bible says in Psalms 146:9, “The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves (supports) the fatherless and widow.”
Of course long time ago there was nothing such as insurance nor social security income nor hospitals nor health clinics nor homes for children, none of these things existed, and yet God was there, working, and God continues to work. God supports the fatherless and the widow.
And despite the wide-ranging and far-reaching social support organizations we have all over the world today – for example, we have homes for senior citizens, social support groups for widows, many different services are being offered to orphans, whether in the area of their health or in the area of their education or in their general care - all these things are very good, very successful, and very much needed, but the fatherless and the widow are two of the weakest social groups on the level of any society and they require much care, all our care, and they also need that those who deal with them do so in the utmost honesty and faithfulness, the utmost honesty and faithfulness.
We all remember the Old Testament stories of Elijah and the ravens, and the widow of Zarephath of Sidon (1 Kings 17), and how God had supported Elijah during his period of solitude and worship first by sending him the ravens to feed him: “The ravens would bring him bread and meat in the morning and evening” (1 Kg 17:6), and then by preparing the widow of Zarephath of Sidon to support Elijah (1 Kg 17:8-16). The widow had nothing but some flour and oil and her response to the prophet was that she was going to make a little cake of bread for herself and her son, and then die
But because she was faithful with the little that she had she served the prophet of God, God supported her and the outcome was that “The jar of flour was not exhausted and the jug of oil did not run dry” (1 Kg 17:16). And so she survived the famine and God set her as an example for us as to how a widow and a fatherless person who have a strong relationship with God, how through their faithfulness God is able to serve many people.
In the New Testament we have the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17). The widow of Nain is a woman who had no provider, no income, no one to support her, and she had only one son. And she had placed her entire hope in this one son, all her hope, all her future, all her present, and so you could say that this widow and her son shared a single heart.
But God permitted for this only son of hers, this young man, to die. And this is of course is a very difficult experience, a very tough test, but God was glorified and had compassion. It says, “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said, ‘Do not weep.’ Then He went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. ‘Young man,’ He said, ‘I tell you, get up!’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak! Then Jesus gave him back to his mother” (Lk 7:13-15). He supports.
Yes it is true that this is a miracle where God raised the dead, but the truth of it that applies to any other situation is that when a person is grieving, they can neither be comforted by peoples’ words nor by empty statements. Nothing except the Word of God can support a person, and He supports a person through the Holy Bible and through its verses and its words.
And that is why we always advise anyone who is going through a difficult experience to know that nothing will be able to comfort them except the Word of God through the Holy Bible. All a person is to do during such times is to read and to receive the comfort from the words of God and from the stories he reads therein, and of course the Book of Psalms is especially helpful in this subject. And so this is the second category, the category of those who are socially weak.

3-The spiritually weak
The third category of people who receive God’s support are those who are spiritually weak, and generally, this means someone who has fallen into sin, and so this category is sometimes called “the category of the fallen ones.” And whether the sin is a major one or a minor one is not our concern today, but these are people who are spiritually weak.
When our Church teaches us to always have a strong relationship with God through the Sacraments and other spiritual channels, the goal of this is for a person to have spiritual strength and in this way he will not fall, and if he falls he is able to get back up, and when he gets back up he offers his repentance.
But yes, there are people who fall because there are people whose wills are weak, and in the Book of Psalms it tells us this very nice statement, “The Lord upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down” (Ps 145:14). And so it is just as if, if you can imagine, a person who has fallen on the floor and God merely awaits for this person to ask Him, “Lord, give me Your hand so that I can get back up. Help me Lord.” God waits for nothing except this request: “Your hand O Lord” – because to say to God, “Your hand,” means “my will wants You Lord. My will is that You save me, that You help me.”
And that “The Lord upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down,” means that this person was standing up straight but he is now bowed down and is beginning to fall, so he is still on the way down, in the process of falling, and so God supports him and raises him up.
“But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth, He does not deal with us according to our sins nor according to our iniquities” (Ps 86:15), “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:14).
And of course across history there are many who have fallen, but if we pause and talk about David, David’s fall in the Old Testament. David’s fall was a serious fall, how could such a great spiritual stature fall like this? And David confessed to the Lord, it says, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ ‘The LORD has taken away your sin,’ Nathan replied. ‘You will not die.’” (2 Sam 12:13), and this is the way of God; He supports the sinners.
And this may be the thing that leaves you with a big question mark, the movement from one extreme to another: How did David go from being in the pit of evil to being in the depths of purity? Same with Moses the Black – he went from being in the depths of wickedness and then crossed over to the depths of purity. Same with Mary of Egypt – she went from being in the depths of sin to being in the depths of purity. And so what is happening here?
What is happening here is something that we do not see with our eyes: The arms of God that are on the Cross reach toward these fallen souls and so they arise and find themselves to be in a whole new life, a life of repentance.
Similarly, we have the parable of the Prodigal Son, a parable we all love very much. First of all, the prodigal son lived in his home with an attitude of complaining, not liking anything at all, and so he asked for his portion and dealt with his father very cruelly, and he took his portion and went away with his friends and lived as he wished. And notice what it said about him, that “he began to be in want” (Lk 15:14), which means that he was beginning to fall, beginning to descend.
And so prodigal son, you descended and fell all the way to the bottom, all the way to the pigs, and there is nothing lower than that because pigs means mud, the bottom of the pit. But as he sat there the idea came to him, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!” (Lk 15:17). He needed to eat but he couldn’t. And there he was seeing pigs, whereas he had never before seen the sight of a pig in his father’s house.
So he then ran a dress rehearsal within himself – and I want you to please pay close attention to this point here. He said to himself, “No, I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’” (Lk 15:18-19) – this was the dress rehearsal.
And he could have stopped at the dress rehearsal and said, “I will do it someday, maybe tomorrow morning, or next week, or when this or that thing happens,” but because he was sincere in his repentance and in his desire and in his hope, God stretched forth His right hand and supported him.
And when you read this section of Scripture in Luke Chapter 15 you see that in the very next verse it says, “And he arose” (Lk 15:20), which means that he finished the dress rehearsal and actually got up right away to do it – no gap, no wasted time in the middle, no postponing, no laziness, no prolonging of the matter, no – “And he arose,” and straightaway went.
And when you read this portion of Scripture with your emotions, from your heart, you will see that this was not a human act. This is a person who has surrendered his will and then the Lord took it from there and completed the journey.
And when he returned home he found his father’s open embrace and his father’s kisses, and he found that a new robe, ring, and sandals awaited him, and the killing of the fatted calf (Lk 15:22-23), and he found all this joy! God supports the fallen. And of course there are many other examples which we will not go into, but this also applies to the Samaritan woman, how she had fallen spiritually but God lifted her up until she became a saint.
4-The righteous and the pure of heart
I have spoken to you about three categories or groups of weak people: those who have physical or psychological weaknesses, those who are socially weak – like the fatherless and the widows, and the spiritually weak – like those who have fallen into all types of sins. And this is all from the negative side, but God also supports the righteous and the pure-hearted, and why do You support them Lord? He would say, “Because the righteous and the pure of heart are weak,” and the word “weak” here does not mean weakness like a weak person, but it means a humble person, a person who lives a life of humility.
As our mother the Virgin Mary said, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly” (Lk 1:52), it is exactly like that and so God supports these groups. And we read about this in the biographies of many of the saints, how they were a good person but God further supported him or her, strengthened and fortified them with courage in their life or in their service.
Examples of the Lord’s support
Another example of a person in this category may be someone with almost no resources at all, like St. Mark when he came to evangelize us here in Egypt, what resources did he have? He had no resources but God supported him. And so it was that he would become the first seed to present the Christian faith throughout the entire land of Egypt. How was he able to accomplish this? As it says, “The right hand of the Lord has done mighty things, the Lord’s right hand has lifted me up” (cf. Ps 118:16).
In the Holy Bible we also read about the Prophet Moses, it says that when the Lord asked Moses to lead the people out of Egypt Moses apologized to the Lord and said, “Lord, I don’t really know how to speak very well and I won’t be able to deliver the messages very well” (Exo 4:10), but God comforted him and told him, “Go and be courageous. I am the One who created man and the One who created man’s mouth, I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exo 4:11-12). And the Lord stood by him and supported him, just as He had promised him.
And so Moses finally began to obey the Lord and he went to Pharaoh and asked for the people to be let go, and Pharaoh kept refusing, and so on, as we read in the stories of the Old Testament. But so it was that Moses – the one with the weak tongue – God began to support him, and this was because Moses confessed his weakness, and when a person confesses their weakness before God throughout their spiritual journey, God will complete that person and support him.
As long as you are with the Lord, never say, “I can’t,” no, because God is ready to help you. And always keep this image very clear before you at all times: The arms of Christ outstretched on the Cross, and His arms are still outstretched. They are outstretched to every human being, all you need to do is just ask: “Lord, give me a hand. Help me in this work or in this matter or in this issue.”
The Apostles: Another example of the Lord’s support
The apostolic fathers are another example of God’s support, because what resources did they ever have? Not much. They were fishermen, or a tax-collector like Levi. What resources do you think they had in society? Their resources were very meager, but because God was supporting them they mesmerized the world, they amazed the world with all that they accomplished. And it was through this small group of 12 apostles, 70 disciples, and St. Paul the Apostle that the Christian faith was able to reach every human.
God supported them when they taught, how else could Peter, a fisherman, stand and preach and in a single sermon thousands come to believe (Acts 2:41)? How was he able to do this? God supported him.
And although as I told you they had very little resources, the Lord also supported them to perform miracles and He supported them by giving them authority over unclean spirits. And God, who did these things in the days of old, is able to the same things in every age and in every generation.
God supported them by giving them a mouth and wisdom, as we read how when despite being in chains, when the Apostle Paul was presenting his case to the king, the king said to him, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28) – this was an idol-worshipping king, a Roman.
And of course it was not the Apostle Paul’s intention to convert the man to Christianity but as the king said, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian,” Paul immediately follows it up by saying, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).
In conclusion, “My soul clings to You: thy right hand upholds me.” As you celebrate the Feast of the Cross this Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, look to the arms of Christ that are stretched upon the beam of the Cross and remember that they are stretched out toward you, and stretched out to each and every one of us. They are outstretched so that you may know that Christ is with you and supports you.
And when you stand and pray, “We thank You O Lord because You have covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us to Himself, spared us, supported us, and has brought us to this hour” and you come to the words “supported us,” look to the Cross of Christ and lift up your heart to it.
To our God be all the glory and honor, from now and forevermore. Amen.