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The 38 sayings of St. Anthony

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1. When the holy Abba Anthony was living in the desert, he was in a state of melancholy (ακηδια) and his mind was darkened by a multitude of imagined things (λογισμων), and he said to God, Lord, I want to be saved, but these thoughts will not leave me alone. What shall I do in my trouble? How will I be saved? A little later, when he went outside, Anthony saw someone like himself, sitting and working, then rising from work and praying, and again sitting and plaiting a rope, then again rising for prayer. It was an angel of the Lord, sent for the correction and insurance against stumbling of Anthony. And he heard the angel saying, Do this, and you will be
saved. And when he heard this, he had great joy and courage, and did this, and was saved.

2. When Abba Anthony meditated upon the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, saying, Lord, how is it that some perish when short-lived, and some live to extreme old age? And why are some poor, and yet others rich? And why are the unrighteous rich, and yet the righteous are poor? And he heard a voice saying to him, Anthony, keep your attention on yourself, for these things are the judgments of God, and they will not benefit you to learn them.

3. Someone asked Abba Anthony, saying, What must we keep in order to be pleasing to God?  And the elder answered, saying, Keep what I tell you. Whoever you may be, always keep God before your eyes. And whatever you do, do it from the witness of the Holy Scriptures. And in whatever place you live, do not leave quickly. Keep these three things, and you will be saved.

4. Abba Anthony said to Abba Poimen that this is the great work of man: always to reproach himself for his own faults before God, and expect temptation until the last breath.

5. The same said, No one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven untempted. He said, Remove the temptations, and no one would be saved.

6. Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, What should I do? The elder said to him, Do not put your trust in your righteousness, nor regret past actions, but control your tongue and stomach.

7. Abba Anthony said, I saw all the traps of the enemy spread over the earth, and groaning, said, What can get through these? And I heard a voice saying to me, Humility.

8. He also said that there are some who have worn out their bodies in asceticism, and because of this they do not have judgment, being far from God.

9. He also said that from a neighbor is life and death. For if we gain a brother, we gain God. And if we scandalize a brother, we have sinned against Christ.

10. He also said, Just as fish die on dry land, thus also the monks loitering outside their cells or spending time with those of the world lose the intensity of quiet (ησυχιας). And so, like the fish to the sea, so we must hurry to the cell, lest we loiter outside and we forget our inner guard.

11. He also said that one living in the desert and in quiet (ησυχαζων) is delivered from three battles: of hearing, and speaking, and seeing. He only has one: fornication.

12. Some of the brothers came to Abba Anthony to tell him the dreams they had seen, and to learn from him if they are true, or from demons. Now they had a donkey, and it died on the way.  When they finally came to the elder, he said to them first, How did the little donkey die on the way? They said to him, How did you know that, Abba? And he said to them, The demons showed me. And they said to him, That is why we came to ask you, lest we be led astray, because we have seen dreams, and many times they are true. And the elder fully convinced them by the example of the donkey, that they are from demons.

13. Once someone had been hunting wild animals on the desert, and saw Abba Anthony joking with the brothers [and was scandalized]. And the elder, wanting to fully convince him that it was sometimes necessary to relax (or “condescend” συγκαταβαινειν) with the brothers, he said to him, Put an arrow to your bow, and shoot. And he did thus. He said to him, Shoot again. And he shot. And he said again, Shoot. The hunter said to him, If I shoot without limit, the bow may break. The elder said to him, So it is with the work of God. If we shoot more than the limit of the brothers, they will promptly shatter. Therefore it is necessary for one to relax with the brothers. The hunter heard these things, was pierced by remorse, and being greatly helped by the elder, went away. And the brothers, strengthened, went away to their place.

14. Abba Anthony heard about a certain young monk who had performed a sign (or “miracle” σημειον) on the road. As this one saw some elders walking along and struggling on the road, he ordered wild donkeys to come and carry the elders, until they came to Anthony. So the elders told these things to Abba Anthony. And he said to them, It seems to me that this monk is a ship full of goods, but I do not know if he will come into the harbor. And after a time, Abba Anthony suddenly began to weep, to pull out his hair, and to mourn. His disciples said to him, Why do you weep, Abba? And the elder said, A great pillar of the Church has now fallen (for he spoke about
the young monk). He said, But go to him, and see what has happened. So the disciples went, and found the monk sitting on a mat, and weeping for the sin he had committed. Seeing the disciples of the elder, he said, Tell the elder to entreat God to give me only ten days, and I hope to have defended myself (απολογησασθαι). But after five days, he died.

15. A certain monk was praised from among the brothers before Abba Anthony. So when he came, he tested him, whether he could bear insult. And finding that he could not bear it, he said to him, You seem like a village which is beautifully adorned outside, but plundered by robbers inside.

16. A brother said to Abba Anthony, Pray for me. The elder said to him, I will have no mercy on you, nor will God, if you yourself do not make every effort and beseech God.

17. Some elders came to Abba Anthony, and Abba Joseph was among them. And the elder, wanting to test them, put forward a saying from the Scriptures, and began to ask from the youngest, What is this saying? And each spoke according to his own ability. And to each the elder said, You have not found it. Last of all, he said to Abba Joseph, How do you explain this word? He answered, I do not know. So Abba Anthony said, Most certainly, Abba Joseph has
found the way, for he said, I do not know.

18. Brothers were coming to Abba Anthony from Sketis, and got into a boat to come to him, finding there an elder also wanting to come to him. And the brothers did not know him. And they sat in the boat, speaking the words of the Fathers, and from the Scriptures, and also about the work of their hands. And the elder was silent. When they came to the dock, they found the elder also going on toward Abba Anthony. When they came to him, he said to them, You found a good
fellow-traveller, this elder. And he said to the elder, You found good brothers with you, Abba. The elder said, Good they may be, but their courtyard has no door, and whoever wants to enter the stable may let loose the donkey. And he said this, because they were saying the first things that came to their mouths.

19. Brothers came to Abba Anthony, and said to him, Speak a word for us. How may we be saved? The elder said to them, You have heard the Scriptures. You have the means well enough. But they said, But we want to hear from you, Father. And the elder said to them, The Gospel says, If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, also turn to him the other. They said to him, We are not able to do this. The elder said to them, If you are not able also to turn the other cheek, then permit just one to be struck. They said to him, We cannot do this. The elder said, If you are not able to do this, do not give as you have received. And they said, We cannot do this. So the elder said to his disciple, Make them a little soup, for they are weak. If you cannot do this, and will not do that, what can I do for you? You need prayers.

20. A brother renounced the world and gave his possessions to the poor, keeping a little back for his own reason, and went to see Abba Anthony. And learning this, the elder said to him, If you want to be a monk, go into the village, and buy meat, and place it around your bare body, and come back here thus. And the brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore his body. And when he came back to the elder, he wanted to learn if he had done as he had advised. When that
one showed his torn up body, the holy Anthony said, Those who renounce the world, and want to hold onto possessions are thus torn by demons battling them.

21. Temptation once happened to a brother in the monastery of Abba Elias. And, cast out, he came to the mountain, to Abba Anthony. And the brother remained near him for a time, then he
sent him to the monastery he had been expelled from. When they saw him, they expelled him again, and he returned to Abba Anthony, saying, They did not want to receive me, Father. So the elder sent to them, saying, A ship was wrecked in the sea, and lost its cargo, and with difficulty came safely upon the shore. And you want to cast back upon the sea what has made it safely to the shore. When they heard that Abba Anthony sent him, they quickly received him.

22. Abba Anthony said, I think that the body has a natural motion entangled with it. But it cannot act without the soul being willing. And it only signifies in the body a passionless motion. And there is also another motion, from nurturing and caring for the body with eating and drinking. By these the heat of the blood arouses the body toward action. So the Apostle also said, Do not be drunk on wine, in which is debauchery. And further the Lord in the Gospel commands His disciples, saying, Watch, lest your hearts are weighed down in indulgence and drunkenness. And there is another motion of those who struggle (or “compete” αγωνιζομενοις), coming from the
plotting and envy of demons. You must understand that there are three bodily motions: one is natural, and another from negligence of intake, and the third from demons.

23. Further, he said that God does not send the same wars upon this generation as upon the ancients. For he knows that they are weak and cannot bear them.

24. It was revealed to Abba Anthony in the desert that in the city was someone like him, a physician by profession, who gave his surplus to those having need of it, and who all day sang
the Trisagion with the angels.

25. Abba Anthony said that the time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will rise up against him, saying that you are mad, because you are not like them.

26. Brothers came to Abba Anthony and said to him a saying from Leviticus. So the elder went out into the desert, and Abba Ammonas followed him secretly, knowing his usual practice. The elder went very far, standing for prayer, and cried out in a loud voice, O God, send Moses, and he will teach me this saying. And a voice came to him, speaking with him. So Abba Ammonas said that though he heard the voice speaking with him, he could not learn the word from it.

27. Three of the Fathers had a custom to visit the blessed Anthony annually. And two of them would ask about distracting thoughts (λογισμων) and the salvation of souls. But the one was always silent, never asking. Now after a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, Behold, so long a time have you been coming thus, and you don’t ask me anything. And he answered, saying to him, It is enough for me only to see you, Father.

28. They say that one of the elders asked God to see the Fathers, and he saw them except Abba Anthony. So he said to the one showing these things to him, Where is Abba Anthony? And he
said to him that in the place where God is, there he is.

29. A brother in a monastery was falsely accused of fornication, and he got up and went to Abba Anthony. And the brothers came from the monastery to heal him and take him back, and they started to charge that he did so. But he defended himself that he did no such thing. Now Abba Paphnutius happened to be there, and he said this parable: I have seen a man on the bank of the river stuck in the mud up to his knees, and some men came to give him a hand, plunging him in up to his neck. And Abba Anthony said this to them about Abba Paphnutius, Behold a genuine man, able to heal and save souls. So they were pierced by remorse at the word of the elders, and they offered repentance to the brother. And, encouraged by the elders, they took the brother to the monastery.

30. Some say about Abba Anthony that he was a Spiritbearer (Πνευματοφορος), but he would not speak about it with men. For he revealed things happening in the world, and things yet to come to happen.

31. Once Abba Anthony received a letter from Emperor Constantine, in order to come to Constantinople, and he considered whether to do it. So he said to Abba Paul, his disciple, Ought I to go? And he said to him, If you go, you may say [your name is] Anthony, but if you do not go, [it remains] Abba Anthony.

32. Abba Anthony said, I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.

33. He said, Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember Him who gives death and who gives life. Hate the world and all the things that are in it. Hate all fleshly recreation. Renounce this life, so you may live for God. Remember what you have  promised to God, for it will be required of you in the Day of Judgment. Suffer hunger, suffer thirst, suffer nakedness, keep vigil, mourn, weep, lament in your heart. Test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God. Disdain the flesh, so that you may save your souls.

34. Abba Anthony once travelled to Abba Amoun, to Mount Nitria, and after meeting one another, Abba Amoun said to him, Because of your prayers, now the brothers are more numerous, and some of them want to build cells further away in order to have quiet. How much do you suggest is a far enough distance for the cells to be built from here? And he said, Let us eat at the ninth hour, and we will go out and we will investigate the desert, and look at the place. And so they traveled the desert until the sun came to set, and Abba Anthony said to him, We will make prayers and erect the cross here, so that those wanting to build will build here. So also those there, whenever they will visit these, having eaten their little bit of bread at the ninth hour, they may visit thus. And those leaving here, doing the same, may remain unworried when visiting one another. And the distance is twelve [mile] signs.

35. Abba Anthony said, Whoever strikes a lump of iron, first considers the thought of what he intends to make, a scythe, a sword, an axe. So also we ought to consider what kind of excellence we should pursue, so that we do not toil in vain.

36. Further, he said that submission with self-control subdues beasts.

37. Further, he said, I know monks that have fallen after many toils, and came to an ecstasy of pride, because they put their hope in their works, and were deceived about the commandment which says, Ask your father, and he will tell you.

38. Further, he said, If he is able, a monk ought to be confident in telling the elders how many steps he takes, or how many drops of drink in his cell, so that he will not stumble in them.

The Answer to Our Tribulations ‎

Generally, in our everyday lives, we worry.  We have stress.  We have fears.  We think that we are going to fail that test.  We are going to lose our jobs.  We can’t make enough money. Etc.
These are the aspects of our lives that haunt us everyday.  But, do we come to realize that this worrying is sinful to our God?  Probably not.  The act has become so familiar to us that the thought has never occurred.  It is a force of habit.  An addiction.  An enslavement.  A fixation.  Worrying, stress, and fear are all feelings that demonstrate a lack of faith.  In other words, when we engage in these acts of sin, we are telling God that he is not going to help us.  He is not there for us.  He won’t catch us when we fall.  But, in reality, He is there.  We just have to feel His presence within us.  Right now, you might be asking how we can feel His presence.  Well, that’s easy.  All we need to do is read the bible, go to church, fast, pray, and repent.  By doing these things, we are telling God that we need His help and His presence.  Once we touch God, there is no going back.  He makes us feel like we can do anything because He is there to guide us in this journey called life.  For instance, the scriptures tell us this in Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).   God is the ultimate source of peace and gratitude in our lives and to prove it, I will give you some examples.

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With God, we can overcome our sinful ways and overcome our depression.  For instance, a former competitor on Dancing With the Stars, Carlos PenaVega defeated his depression by simply going to church and getting a taste of the holy scriptures.  During his interview on Dancing With the Stars, he admitted to being depressed as a result of being away from his band mates after
their summer tour.  Carlos explained that this tour contained a lot of exciting moments, partying, and more.  He was always happy and had a smile on his face throughout the way.  He told the viewers that he was sad to see it all come to an end.  He admitted to locking himself in his house and smoking marijuana in order to forget the pain that he was feeling inside.  Luckily, Carlos foretold that his friend took him to church and this trip made him forget his depression and turn back into the happy man that he once was.  He exchanged his sinful use of drugs for God.  As of today, he remains content living with his wife as well as being engaged in other projects.  This proves that God can help us overcome our daily problems , big or small.  We just have to let Him in.

There are also stories of individuals who have overcome their worldly tribulations in the bible. For example, in the book of Job, the bible explains that Job’s friends accuse him of sin and his wife told him to curse God and die.  In this biblical story, Job loses his children, his money, his health, his crops, his livestock and his relationship with his wife and best friends.  In other words, he basically lost everything that gave meaning to his life.  Everything, except for God.  The bible tells us that to make himself feel better inside, Job spoke to his Lord.  He complained about all the horrible things that happened to him.  As a result, God answered him and he repented for feeling as if God was not on his side.  This proves that we, as the Lord’s children, can overcome any type of problem as long as the Lord is in our hearts.  After all, Job was human just like us.  If he can overcome the struggle of losing all of his possessions, we can get through our everyday problems as well.  In addition, the bible speaks about how David, who was chosen to be king by God, struggled in life because the cruel King Saul was out to kill him.  As a result, the bible tells us that David was always running and hiding in fear that his life would be taken by this greedy so called king.  According to the bible, King David soon became frustrated and angry because of his tribulation and ended up crying out to God: “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.  I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.” (Psalm 142:1-2).  In conclusion, God is always there when we need help and need to vent.  He constantly has an open ear and is there to assist us.

In conclusion, worldly problems are nothing compared to the higher power, Jesus Christ.  He is constantly there when we need His help.  If we keep having faith and believing in Him, nothing in this world can faze us.

I Do Not Know

As One day, some of the old men came to visit Abba Antony.  Among them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man proposed a text from Scripture and asked them, beginning with the youngest, to explain it.  Each one offered his opinion to the degree that he could.  But to each of them, the old man said: “You did not understand it.”  Lastly, he turned to Abba Joseph, saying: “How would you explain this saying?”  Abba Joseph replied: “I do not know.”  Then Abba Antony said: “Truly, Abba Joseph has found the way; for, he said: ‘I do not know.’”[1]

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Reading this story should put all of us at ease and relieves us from much pressure.  Somehow, we feel that we have to answer every question as if we are some form of a human encyclopedia.  We even feel compelled to give driving directions to someone who is lost while we are not sure how accurate these directions are.  In the story above St. Antony, commended Abba Joseph for answering with ‘I do not know’.  Although Abba Joseph is the oldest among the other men, he did not feel pressured to answer the question.  To be able to answer with ‘I do not know’
is something commendable for everyone and in every area of life.  Somehow, we feel that we have to form some kind of an opinion related to our professional careers, politics, sports, finance,
the bible, and the church.  Abba Joseph, in the story above, could have probably formulated some sort of an opinion about the text proposed by Abba Antony, but he chose ‘I do not know’,
probably out of humility.  Pressured by the desire to answer, lest we found to be ignorant about
a subject, we sometimes form uneducated and premature answers without any foundation.
This approach is in many times, very harmful especially in the spiritual matters. Faced with
a question; laymen, church board members, servants, deacons, priests, bishops and all the hierarch of the church should, before answering, consider the scriptures, the canons of the church,
the church fathers’ writing on the subject matter, and of course the overall church tradition.
No one is supposed to be omniscient; opinions without studying the subject matter carefully could cause much damage to many people, confusion and a loss of trust in the speaker.

The bible clearly warns us from being wise in our own eyes (Pro 3:7).  In the hierarch of
an organization, the higher an individual is, the more careful one ought to be with his/her own words.  When it comes to spiritual matters, we should carefully consider the opinion of the church fathers.  It is clear from the history and the life of the church that the opinion of one individual
is not the opinion of the church at large, but rather it is always the opinion of the synod or
the council that defines the faith and its practice.  This is very clear from the context of the first council of Jerusalem and its decree.  We read in the book of Acts, that after the Apostles and
the elders of the church met and discussed the issue of circumcision they came up with an official statement to express what they have collectively agreed upon and how the church will practice it.

I also believe that organization members should not expect that anyone individual should have the answer to every question.  Unanswered questions are just a room for research and study. Unanswered questions are a room for prayers.  Unanswered questions could mean that maybe God wants it to be unanswered.  We don’t claim to know God fully, and hence we shouldn’t expect that any one individual would have the answer for every question. Let us all not be quick to speak but rather let us consider all factors before jumping into answers. Let us love knowledge, the spirit of studying, let us pray before answering and let us be willing to say ‘I do not know’.

[1] A story from the Paradise of the Fathers.

Hypocrisy

In an on going conflict with the Pharisees the Lord condemned their hypocrisy.  The Pharisees had an external look of holiness, they knew the books and the prophets; they went to synagogues every Saturday, they even explained the scriptures to everyone else.  The Lord Himself instructed the believers to do as they say and not as they do (Mat 23:3), which indicates that their actions are not according to their teachings, hence they are hypocrites.  Hypocrisy has two definitions, first it’s defined by performing an action not for its true meaning, as indicated by the Lord “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.” (Mat 6:5).  That is to perform the act of prayers while you don’t desire the relationship with God but the praise of men.  Another definition of hypocrisy which also comes from the Lord, indicating that if one points out someone else’s faults while he himself struggles with the same weakness, he is a hypocrite.

God sees through our hearts clearly, He knows when we worship Him with our lips while our hearts are far away from Him.  He clearly sees through our hypocrisy.  It’s sad that some of us, who regularly go to church, attend services and even some are servants, struggle
to live the simple basic concepts of Christianity like forgiveness, giving and true humility.  The scripture speaks of those who have the form of godliness but deny the power there off,  it’s clear that the scripture indicates that they have the outwardly form of holiness
and righteousness but not the power in their own lives.  This form of godliness could be in a white “Tunia” that we put on every Sunday, a head cover that we put on once we enter the church, a verse that we recite frequently, a fasting that we do twice every week, function that we lead in church or a role that we hold in a meeting.  Being a hypocrite is more like Judas Iscariot, who approached the Lord kissing Him, while in the same very act delivering Him to the soldiers.

The scripture bring before our eyes a very terrifying image of Satan taking the form of an angel of light.  I think if we have the image of light but not the truth of light, we are being evil ourselves.  The Lord called Himself the Truth, and called Satan the father of all lies.  Whatever is true is in the Lord; whatever is a lie is not of Him.  Parents in many times tell their children “do what I say and don’t do what I do”, I think this is very dangerous and ungodly; this type of behavior creates a generation of shallow Christians who are also hypocrites.  The Lord speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, He convicted them saying that they tithe mint, anis and cumin and left the more important commandment, justice, mercy, and faith.  The Lord resembled hypocrites as whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful on the outside but if we look inside, it’s full of dead bones.  Sometimes we are blamed that we put on a show of holiness totally opposite to what the Lord taught in regards to the secrecy of your spiritual life.  God in the Old Testament rejected His people’s sacrifices, feasts, songs, and offerings when they did it not in heart of truth but with a hypocritical heart.

One must carefully and diligently test his heart, test his purposes and the goals of his actions against the desires of his heart.  One must humbly present his heart and offer his heart before the Spirit of God to be searched, willing to submit to whatever the Spirit convicts him in, willing to confess his hypocrisy, willing to offer his heart as a tomb full of bones to the Lord who can bring life and resurrection to it.  Let’s make a covenant to live with one face and that should be of Christ Himself.

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Poverty, the Daunting Problem

The Census Bureau released the 2013 annual Income and Poverty in the United States report[1]. Poverty among children under 18 fell from 21.8% in 2012 to 19.9% in 2013.  This is the first statistically significant year-to-year decline in child poverty since 2000.  For the second year in a row, there was an increase in the median income of families with children.  So let’s pat ourselves on the back, and give ourselves a round of applause on a job well done.  But when you know that globally nearly half of the world’s population (more than 3 billion people) live on less than $2.50/day, that more than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty with less than $1.25/day, that one billion children worldwide are living in poverty and that, according to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty; we start to ask ourselves, have we really done enough?  While the reduction of the poverty level among children in US by 2% is significant, we cannot ignore the fact that there is still about 20% of children living in poverty.

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We are to provide for the hungry and the thirsty as we would provide for the Lord Himself and we are to provide to the Lord through the hungry and the thirsty.  As long as there is poverty somewhere in the world, we ought to attempt to eliminate it.  We are called to go, sell all what we have, to become poor by choice, and follow Him, but we are also called to eliminate poverty for others.  In a sense, we become poor so others become satisfied, sheltered, and feed.  The scripture says, He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise (Luke 3:11).
Have we given our one extra tunic?  Definitely not.  Giving is our gate to heaven, as the scripture says, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink(Matthew 25:34). Poverty is a very perplexing subject because where poverty occurs there is Christ, but it is also where sickness, lack of education and homelessness exists.  We take poverty on our shoulder so it can be lifted up from the shoulders of others and in that sense; we are doing the work of Christ.

The scripture says, “This time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality.  As it is written,  He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. (2 Cor 8:14-15).  What St. Paul is saying is that we ought to give until we all are at the same level, which was the case during the early apostolic time, where the people sold what they had and placed it under the feet of the disciples and the needs of everyone were fulfilled.  This will be considered socialism by many, but if we are truly concerned about our salvation, eternal life and applying the scriptural commandments then we ought to give much more, and even until we sell all what we have.  So why aren’t we giving enough?  I believe that one of the reasons we do not give more is that we are not exposed to poverty, we do not see it on daily basis and we do not relate to it.  We think poverty is far away from us, while in many times it is in our own backyards. Giving is not only important for the poor but it is more important for the giver, as we step out of ourselves and give from what is not even ours.  We ought to be unfaithful stewards over the unrighteous mammon[2], which God had entrusted us with.  Many believe that all those who live in impoverished conditions are in it because they are lazy, unwilling to work, have some sort of substance abuse, or just want to live on government assistance.  This is not true at all, there are many homeless who maintain two jobs and yet they are not able to cover their expenses.  I believe that these are our responsibility to care for and to provide to them until they stand on their feet.  We distance ourselves from the poor and the needy and hence we distance ourselves from Christ.  We made it a habit to pay our tithing every month to the church or to some nonprofit organization, which in turn takes care of the needy in their community, which is great and should continue. But by doing so, we lost our personal encounter with those who are less fortunate and become less aware of their condition and therefore, unwilling to help more. We need to come back to directly connecting to those who live in poverty, we need to go to Christ at His manager, to personally draw water for Him from the well, to find Him a place to lay His head and to visit Him where He lives.

[1] This report is in a later year than the year in which it represents.

[2] This needs to be understood within the context of the parable of the unfaithful steward in Luke 16.

Humility, the Core of All Virtues

What’s humility? Am I humble? Why humility is important?  Many questions arise in our minds once we speak about humility.  Something inside us makes us desire this virtue; we look up to the Lord and His humility; we look up to the saints that humble themselves to role model themselves after the Lord.

humility

Let’s first clarify; the scripture speaks of humility which comes upon us from God, or in other words, God bringing upon us life situations that would bring us to humility, with the intention of giving us the foundation to grow spiritually.  The scripture also speaks of humbling ourselves, by choice.  On the other hand we sometimes speak of man from a very humble position, and we recite “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?” (Ps 8:4).  In other times, we speak of man from a very high position, and we recite “But you are chosen generation, a royal priesthood, His own special people” (1Pet 2:9).  I met many people who are confused about this very same issue; both sides claim to be correct, both bring in their own biblical reference.  One side claims that we are made of dust, we are nothing, we are not worthy of anything.  The other side claims, we are royal priesthood, children of Most High.  I’ll attempt to reconcile these two points of views as I am defining humility.

First, humility is defined as the exact middle point of these two points of views.  Yes, we are made of dust; yes, we are not worthy of God’s love towards us; but also it’s out of God’s love that He made us in His image and His likeness as He formed us from the dust of the earth.  We were in a lowly state but He raised us to be His children, as the scripture says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), “You were bought for a price” (1 Cor 6:20).  Humility, brothers and sisters, is the exact middle point of these two points of views.  The knowing where we came from and what God did for us is what keep us humble.  Both points of views are true and are valid; if we have this correct understanding, we will have the correct foundation for humility.  Humility is in the understanding and the feeling that God is great and powerful while we are small and weak.  Our humility is based on our faith and hope in the salvation which the Lord offered us.  Humility is in the knowing that God is so powerful and great, while we are so weak and small, it’s His love and mercy that He considered us His children.

God, in both the Old and the New Testament, demanded us to live humbly.  In the book of Micah “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? “ (Mic 6:8).  And the Lord Himself, in the New Testament, said “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mat 11:29).  Washing His disciples’ feet, He said to them, “now that I am the teacher and washed your feet, blessed are you if you do the same to one another.” (John 13:15)

To bring our conversation to a daily practical level, brothers and sisters, let me present you with
few questions to bring to your attention areas where we struggle with humility.  Here is a set of questions to ask yourself: -Do I desire to be loved by others? -Do I desire to be honored and praised? -Do I desireto be preferred over others? -Do I desire to be consulted? -Do I fear being humiliated? -Do I fear being despised? -Do I fear being forgotten? -Do I fear being wronged and rebuked? -Am I opinionated? – Am I critical of others?  These simple questions will tell us a lot about our humility.  The writings of the desert fathers tell us about the importance of humility in our lives; one famous story about St. Macarius having a conversation with a devil, when the devil told him that it wasn’t his prayers, fasting or vigil that made him victorious over the devils but it was his humility. With their spiritual experience, the desert fathers gave us some guidelines to help us with our humility.  First, they encouraged us to take the last seats as the Lord Himself advised us in Luke 14:10; not to look for glory and praise from others but rather run away from it.  Second, to put our own desires away; to accept to live under someone else’s desires and wishes; to accept that we are not always right and to accept other opinions; to accept to be subject to others.  Third, they advised us to accept blame, to follow our master’s foot steps, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He didn’t open His mouth” (Is 53:7). Fourth, they encouraged us not to judge one another but rather look with eyes of mercy on everyone while focusing our attention to our own sins.  Brothers and Sisters, do not consider this a recipe to humility but a scratch of the surface to the most important virtue.

The Giant In Us

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I went to visit someone sick in the hospital, who was diagnosed with a very severe disease.  This individual is a good person, kind, pleasant, and gentle; but isn’t very much connected with the church. When I heard the news about his sickness, I became concerned about him and about his family.   I was concerned about his faith and his willingness to accept the trial from the hand of the Lord.   After being greeted by his daughter, I sat down to speak with him, only to find out that I was wrong in my assumption, I got to meet a giant in the faith, who has accepted the trial, filled with peace and received spiritual sight to recognize the hands of God supporting him and his family.  I then recognized that this power he received from above doesn’t only come to him, but almost to everyone who experience trials and tribulations.

This power, which we all receive in time of need, transforms us, regular and simple believers to be giants in the faith.  We all wonder sometimes, how is someone able to bear such a trial?  Sometimes we are more concerned about the situation than the people going through the trial themselves, or at least that’s what seems to be the case.  How does a simple person become a giant in the faith in a matter of weeks and sometimes even days?  How can a person accept the will of God and be comforted despite a difficult trial?  How can a simple person see the love of God through the difficult times and be thankful?  What is this power which we receive?  Or rather who provides this power?  The bible tells us that we will receive help in tribulations “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:4-5).   So the answer to the “who provides for us this power?” is the Holy Spirit.  This process of perseverance producing character and character producing hope, mentioned above in Romans 5, takes time; while the change I’m speaking of which takes place in a person going through the trial is almost instantaneous. Then it must be that the one who is in tribulation, by the power of the Holy Spirit recognizes the love of God and receives sight to His unending care and immediately his faith is strengthened.  The Holy Spirit “pours out” the love of God in our hearts, it pours it out as if it has never been there before, and it is the type of love which plants the first seed of perseverance (Romans 5, see above).  It is the type of love which opens our eyes to the grace and mercy of God despite our small salaries compared to our expenses, deteriorating health, failure against Satan, family problems, loss of family members, betrayal of friends, break ups in relationships, and the daily tribulations which we struggle in.

It is Him the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to recognize that the suffering of this current time is not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).  This process
of opening our eyes is either an immediate action, like the case with the person I mentioned above; or a lifelong process.  So in other words, He (the Holy Spirit) opens our eye to see beyond the immediate realities and beyond that which is tangible to ignite in us a giant in the faith.  Exactly as it was the case with David going to war against Goliath.  The Holy Spirit moved him to work for the name of the Most High, looking beyond Goliath’s height, weight, experience, and armor.  David became the giant and Goliath became an unnamed person (referred to as the “uncircumcised Philistine”) in his eyes.  David wasn’t the only one, but there are many whom the Spirit of God creates in them giants in the faith when an occasion arises so they discover what’s been rooted deep in them maybe since the day of their baptism. To discover that they have the power to overcome, to stand even against the wiles of the devil.  A great example which we all know is the transformation which took place in the 21 martyrs of Libya, this was almost instantaneous.  From simple people to martyrs recognized by the whole world.  The Spirit also helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26) to push us to enter to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16).  As if this help will be exactly timed, it will come when it is needed the most, to give all what is needed of faith to withstand and be firm.  To create in us even defenders of the faith, to speak for God despite the trials, rather than against God who allowed us to enter into the trail. To speak of His mercy and presence rather than being angry with His judgments and denying His presence. The Holy Spirit makes us giants in the faith.

Brothers and Sisters, by the power of the Holy Spirit we will all be giants if and when we are tried.

 

OPEN EYES

Yesterday I had the blessing of meeting a “Jews for Jesus” missionary, who came to know about the Coptic Orthodox church through a common friend who I then converted to Orthodoxy.
This missionary goes around in different churches, cultures and ethnic groups to speak about the Passover in the Christian understanding, shedding light on the Jewish traditions and how they are fulfilled in the Lord Christ.  He was born to a Jewish father and to a demon possessed mother, who later on was freed by the power of Christ. This missionary wasn’t converted to Christ at the same time as his mother, although the experience had kept the Lord always in his mind.  This leading him to later on surrender his life to the Lord.  In our meeting we discussed the Orthodox understanding of the Old Testament, especially the Passover, how the Coptic Church view Egypt in the Old Testament, and Pharaoh and the slavery of the Jews.  He was knowledgeable in the scriptures, especially pertaining to Israel.  He was telling me that he is very disheartened by the rejection of some churches to preach Christ to the Jews.  He felt that it’s the role of every Christian church to go preach the kingdom of God to every nation, not excluding anyone.  I was overwhelmed not by his knowledge, zealous, desire to preach and the love of the Lord, but I was overwhelmed by the Lord Himself who “has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom 11:32).  I was overwhelmed by the Lord and how He is working in every nation and kept His promise to the fathers “concerning the election they are beloved for the sake  of   the   fathers” (Rom 11:28).   It’s  the  Lord  who  is  still  working,  even  with  the  people  who  rejected  Him.

After I finished my meeting, I went on to visit an elder, whom I could not remember before going,  in a senior home.  I walked in the senior home, only to be greeted and welcomed by a very nice gentleman, who quickly came to help me, spoke my native language and asked me “who am I visiting”?  He walked me to the person I’m visiting.  Although I haven’t seen the elder for few years, I was able to remember his face, which aged over the years and showed the signs of illnesses yet it was filled with peace.  We went somewhere quiet, we talked about many topics.  Then he noticed the gentleman who greeted me at the door and whispered, “This is either the owner of the facility or the manager, he is a very good man”.
We continued on our conversation but I couldn’t help but notice this gentleman and his work ethics, he was filled with joy despite the difficulty of his job; active, running around, and willing to serve with a very humble heart.  I prayed for the elder, anointed him with oil and left.  It was Christ who was working in the owner/manager, gave him a spirit of humility, joy, endurance, patience and love. It’s the Lord who was present in this place, who fills all things, whose Father works until now and He is working too (John 5:17).  It’s His goodness as He is the source of all goodness.

Then I visited few other people, held couple of meetings; then later on at night in church, I was asked by a servant to sit down and talk.  She told me that she went out on a service with a co-servant. After finishing the first task, the other servant told her, you look stressed and tired, let’s just go have lunch, relax and chat.  They went, had lunch, chatted, spoke about their sermons which they each heard this week, exchanged simple joyful moments and wrapped up the conversation and each went their way. But the servant, who asked to speak to me, was very touched by the fact that her co-servant felt her heavy weight and decided to cheer her up a little bit.  She spoke to me about Christ who was working, living and moving in the co-servant.  She said, “I was presented by Christ today”.  But in my own words, I would say she even had lunch with Christ that day.

Brothers and sisters, I ended my day feeling very useless, but in a good way, I felt that the Lord does much more than what we can think of and comprehend.  In these few incidents, I saw Him working in a Jew missionary, a senior home manager and a faithful servant.  I came to truly understand the bible verse “in Him we live, move and have our being”. I came to recognize that we need to open our eyes to recognize Him and that He still works, that I can confidently say with Peter, when he recognized the Lord after His resurrection at the sea of Tiberias, “It is the Lord”.  He asked the disciples to provide Him food, while He feeds the whole creation, asked us to work in His field while He is the Lord of the harvest, to give water while He is the source of the living water.  “It is the Lord” said Peter, it is the risen Lord. Brothers and sisters, let’s open our eyes to see the Lord.

open eyes     

 

Father give me the portion – The Core of Sin‎ (A contemplation on the parable of the prodigal son)

Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me” (Luke 15:12), in these harsh words the younger son in the famous parable approached his dad asking for his inheritance.  Let’s contemplate a little bit on these words and what they really mean.  The younger son is asking his father to give him his share that he will receive after his dad’s death; I want to live my life freely and without any restrictions; I really can’t wait until you die; I’m grown up now and I do not need you; I can’t enjoy your inheritance as long as you are living; if I wait till you die, I’ll be too old, so give me my inheritance right now.  In other words, you should give me your wealth and yet I’ll consider you dead. Words are very harsh, lacks love and maturity, lacks understanding of the true meaning of freedom and responsibility.  Brothers and Sisters, I believe we address God in this same manner even when it’s not in words that are spoken, but in actions.  We want His blessings in our lives but we want Him out of our lives.  We want the health, wealth, the peace and the grace; but reject the giver of all.  We say with the prodigal son, “Father, give me my portion of goods that falls to me”, then we quickly leave Him.  This is the core of sin, that we reject the Love of God, as He wants us staying in His dwelling and under His wings.  We reject His authority and He becomes dead to us.

Then when our beloved friend loses all his wealth, he loses everything else with it, as he becomes in his friends’ eyes as his dad in his own eyes; so they reject him and leave him and he becomes lonely, in need of food, hungry, cold and rejected.  The most troubling issue with our beloved friend is his inner emptiness, which made him in an even more miserable condition after losing everything.  But what really makes him move?  It wasn’t the warmth in his father’s house, or the availability of the food, nor the plenty of joy and peace; but it was the love of his father.  His first word was “father”, he is not returning to a strange person but to his own father.  He recognizes the true meaning of repentance, he recognizes that he had committed a sin; but also recognizes the love of his father.  Same for us, when we look at our sins without looking at the mercy of God; or when we look at our sins without hope, we would feel helpless and hopeless.  But if we focus our eyes on our beloved Father, we are filled with hope and the light of His grace shines in our hearts.

So, the loving father received him with opened arms, forgiving all his mistakes; not asking about how, where, and when he wasted his living, but only remembering his sonship.  Out of his love to his son, he killed the fatted calf and made the greatest banquet to celebrate; this is the banquet of love and joy with the return of the lost ones.  His return to his father’s house, eliminated the huge gap that separated him from his father; he dressed him, put him a ring and sandals on his feet to put him back to his first image.  All of this happens when the son recognized and remembered his “father”. So our spiritual trip is the return from the depth of sin into the house of God.  This is when we decide to live not according to the world but we make God’s way to be our way.  Looking into this parable, we come to Him in confidence, He is waiting for our return; as we approach Him in hesitation, He approaches us with His opened arms.  He will dress us with the best robe, the robe of glory which Adam lost in paradise.  He will put Christ Himself on us again, He is our protection when Satan attempts to uncover us through sin.  It’s possible for us to go back to the Father, filled with hope that He is the seal of our glory and He wants our salvation. Our Father asks us for only one thing, “My son give me your heart” (Prov 23:26), and all the rest will be added unto you.

prodigal son

This is the hope that we all have, and we ought to take one step at a time until we are faced with Him in our final day.  When we think of our judgment day, we tremble and we ought to.  Yet, thinking that the one who is judging us is our Father and Redeemer, makes the judgment simpler while the hope is great.  It’s this hope in the Father that enables us to walk one step at a time.  Our Father loves us
with His unlimited love and we are invaluable in His eyes.  When we return to Him, He receives us with love and mercy.  Beloved brothers and sisters, I wish you a blessed great lent filled with spiritual growth, focusing on our merciful God, who forgive us our sins.

My feelings, emotions, and my spiritual life

Here are some of the words which I have been hearing frequently lately, “I felt very good after I prayed”, “I felt God’s presence on that night”, “I felt that God was opening doors”, “I don’t feel God anymore in my life”, “I’m looking for Him but I can’t feel Him”, “The church here doesn’t feel like…. (fill in the blank)” etc.  On the other hand, some of the words which I haven’t been hearing recently are “I’m seeking guidance”, “I’m praying for discernment”, and “What’s the wise thing to do?”  These two sets of words are not contradicting but it’s interesting to see almost a list disappearing and another list much more used.  This shows that we have been focusing so much on our feelings in our relationship with God rather than on a holistic view of who we are.

Man is created in the image and the likeness of God, carrying in him the image of the Logos, carrying in him wisdom and mind.  Man also has a soul and a body.  A soul, through which, one feels happy, sad, broken, and uplifted.  A body, through which, this mind and soul are contained and expressed. Although in casual conversations these elements are separated but one can’t continue to look at them in dissection.  God created the whole man and redeemed him fully,
He redeemed our souls and bodies.  The focus on the feelings is coming from a desire to feel good, feel good about ourselves, relationships, and even feel good about our God.  We have come to seek
an experience not God Himself; we have come to seek a spiritual emotional high not seeking God Himself.  Sarcastically I say, after all if we can’t see Him, we have to at least feel Him and even have Him at our finger tips.  It’s very sad to say that some churches now plan their worship to create
an atmosphere to move our emotions and feelings.  Of course there is nothing wrong to worship God with our whole being, in fact we are commanded, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).  But to create an environment specifically to play on our feelings is where the problem is.  A meeting which doesn’t have waived raised hands, tears, and bodies almost at motions might be considered not spiritually edifying.  No one denies that some of us are filled with emotions and feelings more than others; we see, from
the scriptures, Anna the mother of Samuel in her cry before the Lord asking for a child and King David who was filled with feelings and emotions danced before the arch of covenant.

The issue of feeling has become very dangerous, because when one doesn’t feel God,
one believes that there is a sin in the heart, which isn’t necessarily true.  But the opposite is even more dangerous, it’s when one feels God’s presence, one believes that all is well and that the heart is pure while it could be filled with sin.  It becomes that discovering our sins and the impurities
of the hearts and senses have become driven by feelings not based on spiritual conviction of the Holy Spirit, the words of the scriptures and the life of prayers.  While sometimes “not feeling God” could mean to us a sense of abandonment, it could be a matter of testing of our faith and an opportunity of growth.  The test becomes, will you continue to obey Him, worship Him and glorify Him, despite having no sense/feeling of His presence?  If we look into the Lord’s prayer to the Father in John 17, we find it very specific and despite the difficulty of the moments, He doesn’t speak much about His feelings but rather He speaks about the union with the Father and the unity among the disciples.  Yes, He speaks of the love He shares with the Father and the Love
the disciples should have among each other, but this Love is not a feeling but a life giving
and moving in action.  Even when He taught His disciples “Our Father…” it isn’t a prayer driven by feelings but a prayer filled with the fullness of humanity, heart, souls and mind.  It’s a very heavenly prayer but yet a very realistic prayer “give us this day our daily bread”.

Some people (Christians included), make important decisions mainly driven by their feelings in lack of wisdom and experience.  Decisions of migration, relocation, marriage and relationships, carriers and pursue of business are made based on feelings, “I felt that God was opening doors”. Forsaking wisdom, other people’s experiences and even our own logic, feelings take over and
we end up in a mess. It really baffles me that we think that God is approving something contrary to the scriptures because we feel good about it.  We get ourselves in the wrong relationship and situation, breaking the commandments and because it feels good, we think it’s from God and even blessed.

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Brothers and sisters, let’s keep a balance in our relationship with God.  Let’s be guided
by the Wisdom of God Himself, and let’s be guided by His Spirit which works in the church
and let’s be guided by the wisdom of the elders, not ignoring our feelings but having them as an element of our worship and decision making process.