Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Prayer

“Prayer is to open the heart to God, so that the faithful talks to Him, lovingly and openly. It is laying the individual before God. Prayer is a tie, a relationship between man and God. Therefore, it is not just talk, it is a heart connected to a heart. Prayer is a feeling of being in the presence of God. It is a partnership with the Holy Spirit and unity with God... Prayer is the food of the angels and the spirituals by which they are nourished and taste the Lord, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good." (Ps. 34:8)

Prayer quenches a soul's thirst for God , "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul to you, 0 God" (Ps. 42: 1),

"I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness." (Ps. 63:5) Prayer is the submission of life to God to conduct it Himself, "Your will be done. " Prayer is an admission of our lack of strength. and insufficiency of intelligence. Therefore, we resort to a greater power where we find our care...

Prayer is abolishing our independence from God “It is meeting with God: either we lift ourselves up to Him or He comes down to us...

It is turning oneself to Heaven and to the throne of God... Prayer is not an obligation or an order. It is not just a commandment or piety and devotion... It is a desire and longing... otherwise, it would be a burden which we, unwillingly practise, just for obedience sake!!

Prayer is not just a request. One might pray without asking for anything... but contemplate on the beauty of God and His life giving qualities... Therefore, a prayer of praise and glorification... is more sublime than that of a request... Whoever seeks something else besides God alone, will never be able to enjoy prayer as he ought to.

Prayer means dying completely to all the world, an utter forgetfulness to pleasures, where God alone remains in one's thought...

Prayer is the ladder which connects heaven and earth. It is a bridge that we cross to reach the heavenly places where there is no world...

It is a key to Heaven ...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Earnestness

“Perhaps our relationship with some people could be described as earnest. But would our relationship with God have the same seriousness?

Are our promises to God earnest? Are our personal decisions about our spiritual life serious decisions? Or do we promise and never keep our promise; decide and never take action, as if we are not committed to anything?

Are our vows to God firm and serious? Or do we take important pledges with God at critical moments of our life and when the crisis is over, we cancel these pledges or try to change them?

When we proceed to receive the Holy Communion, “with wholehearted intentions to lead a holy life with God, do we keep this feeling or do we forget the undertakings of our hearts and seriously neglect the life of repentance?!... Do we have a clear cut line that we firmly follow, or are we like a feather that the wind shifts without seriousness?

Is this seriousness, in our spiritual life, bound to certain principles of purity without going astray, no slackness in the means of grace and serving without being slothful?”

“The saints who repented, like St. Moses the Black, St. Augustine and St. Mary the Egyptian, were serious about their repentance. They never turned back to their old lifestyle, which they deserted with no return...

Those who formed friendship and companionship with God never betrayed this friendship. They seriously remained loyal to Him, feeling an emotional and practical commitment towards His love...”

“Those who are serious in their spiritual life are never moved by tribulations or temptations. They never forget that they are the temples of God and His Spirit dwells in them. They never forget that they are the children of God and they must keep His image and example...

Those who are serious in their spiritual life show this seriousness in each aspect of their life: in their talk, their behaviour, their service, their worship, their relationship with others and their firm stand towards the thoughts and feelings that fight the heart.

They have principles and they are committed to these principles. Let us all then live in earnestness... It is one of the qualities of God's children. It is an evidence of steadfastness...”

Excerpt From: H.H. Pope Shenouda III. “Words of Spiritual Benefit Vol. 1.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fasting and Spirituality

“Fasting is not just a bodily virtue... It is not just abstaining from food for a period of time then not eating food with animal fat. There is a spiritual element in it...

The first spiritual element is controlling the will. With the same will that regulated food, one can command one's talking by not using unsuitable expressions, as well as controlling thoughts and feelings. Mar Isaac said: "Abstinence of the tongue is better than abstinence of the mouth; and abstinence of the heart is better than both."

The second element in the spiritual fast is repentance: In the fasting of Nineveh, we notice that the people did not only abstain from eating but, "everyone turned from his evil way and from the violence that was in his hands." God looked to the repentance more “than the fasting, "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it." (Jon. 3:8-10).

So fasting has to be accompanied by humility and contrition in front of God as it was clear in the fasting of the people of Nineveh. They also covered themselves with sackcloth and sat in ashes. It is also clear in Joel, "Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly... Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, let them say, spare Your people, 0 Lord... ' " (Joel 2:15-17).”

“Fasting does not mean just depriving the body of its food, but there must be a positive side, which is the feeding of the spirit. Therefore, fasting is connected with prayer as in the Church's prayers and as it happened in all the well known fasts in the Bible such as that of Nehemiah, Ezra, Daniel and the people of Nineveh.

This is evident in the saying, "call a sacred assembly... " It is a spiritual opportunity to mortify the body in order to elevate the spirit:

Mortifying the body is just a means, but the aim is to elevate the spirit through prayers, meditation, readings and all the means of grace, far from bodily hindrances...

We have to remember here that God rejects the fasting which is not spiritual: as the hypocrites' fasting (Matt. 6:16), and the “Pharisee (Luke 18:11-12) and the wrong way of fasting, described by Isaiah. (Is. 58:3-7)”

Excerpt From: H.H. Pope Shenouda III. “Words of Spiritual Benefit Vol. 1.” iBooks. 
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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What Does It Mean to Love God?

By Father Stanley Harakas 

Yes, indeed, what does it mean to love God? We understand to love to mean many things. It is, in truth, as the poet says, "a many splendored thing." 

The question is very real for Christians because the leader of our Faith, Jesus Christ, commanded us to love God. He said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37). 

Yet, we hear so often that people "fall in love," suggesting that love for God is not something that can be commanded. It should just "happen," they think. 

Nevertheless, the Church speaks to believers in God and tells them that they are commanded to love God. St. John of Damascus, the great 8th century Church Father, gives us an insight into this in his famous book, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. He says, "We believe in one God . . . being Himself the fountain of being to all that is, of life to the living, of reason to those who have reason; to all the cause of every good." 

For the believing Christian, God is the source of everything he or she is -God is "the fountain of being to all that is," including the life we have, the intelligence we exercise, and every good thing we experience. 

This points us to the calling all human beings have, to become the image and the likeness of God. Well, what does it mean to be "like God?" Is it surprising to learn that "God is love?" (1 John). God is love because in the first place, the three Persons of the Holy Trinity -the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit- abide in a loving communion with each other. If we are going to be "like God", we need to be in loving communion with God. 

But God's love also reaches out to the creation for its benefit. He especially loves us human beings for whose salvation He sent His Son into the world. To be like God is also to love others. 

You see, we can't really fulfill our humanity as the image and likeness of God if we don't will and act in ways that unite our own lives with the loving communion of the Holy Trinity, or if we don't reach out to others with love for them. 

This is how St. John describes the kind of relationship with God that allows for us to become "like God": "So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16). He also says, "He who does not love does not know God; for God is love (1 John 4:8). 

To love God is to choose to be in communion with God completely and to follow His example of outreaching love. Then, and only then can we fulfill our humanity.

~The Sounding, "What Does It Mean to Love God?", Orthodox Christian Network (OCN), http://myocn.net/mean-love-god/. The Rev. Stanley S. Harakas is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is Archbishop lakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Emeritus in the field of Orthodox Christian Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Fr. Harakas is the author of five pamphlets and fifteen books, both scholarly and popular, and over one hundred thirty published scholarly articles and book contributions. For twenty-one years (1980-2000), he was a weekly columnist in the national Greek-American newspaper, The Hellenic Chronicle. He is a beloved teacher to generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in America, thanks to his many years as a professor and his prolific writings. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Problem of Excuses

“Many try to find excuses to cover up some of their sins, in order not to be blamed or to justify their failure in doing good deeds... It is an ancient fault that goes back to Adam and Eve! Eve's excuse was that the serpent tempted her. She did not have to obey the serpent; so it is an unacceptable excuse. Exactly like Adam's excuse that the woman gave him the fruit, again he could have refused it!

How true is the saying: the road to hell is full of excuses! Even the servant who hid his talent in the ground gave an excuse worst than his bad deed. He told his master that he was a hard man, reaping where he had not sown!!

Many find an excuse for not praying by saying that they have no time, while they have enough time for various amusements and visits. In fact, they do not have the desire to pray. Most of those “who do not offer the tithes to God say that they do not have enough, while the widow who gave the two mites from her needs did not think of an excuse. The same with the widow of Zarephath in Sidon, who offered her flour and oil to the prophet Elijah during the famine, while she badly needed them.

David, the young boy, had many excuses to avoid fighting Goliath!... He was not a soldier and nobody expected him to volunteer. He was young and even the old feared Goliath who was a giant and hard to defeat... etc, but David's fiery zeal would not allow excuses...

The robber on the right had excuses against belief but he never used them! How would he believe in a God whom he saw crucified and who seemed unable to save himself. The robber heard the people's mockery and challenges echoing in his ears but he would not take it as an excuse not to believe... Fear was not an excuse for Daniel when he was taken to the lion's den or an excuse for the three youths when taken to the furnace...

The love of the only son could have been used as an excuse for Abraham when God asked him to offer his son, the child of promise, who was born after tens of years!!

The friends of the paralytic had many excuses, if they wanted. But the obstacles did not stop them. They uncovered the roof and let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying... The one who overcomes hardships and does not use them as an excuse, proves the truth of his inner intentions.”

“But the weak-willed, or the one with a weak determination reminds us of the saying of the Bible, "the slothful man says,  'there is a lion in the road' " (Prov. 26:13)”

Excerpt From: H.H. Pope Shenouda III. “Words of Spiritual Benefit Vol. 1.” iBooks. 
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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Joy... And Joy

“There is a trivial joy for perishable, worldly affairs and pleasures...

Like Solomon's joy with what he toiled under the sun (Eccl. 1:3) and Jonahs joy with the plant more than with the Salvation of Nineveh. The same kind of joy is that of the elder son, when he said to his father, "You never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends." (Luke 15:29) One type of the false joy is the joy of some people over their talents as the disciples were joyful in casting evil spirits, so the Lord said to them, "Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20)

The worst type of joy is being joyful over other's suffering. About this the apostles said, "Love does not rejoice in iniquity, " (1 Cor. 13:6) as those who rejoice in people's loss. Solomon says, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls." (Prov. 24:17) This wicked joy is called gloating. As for the holy joy, it eminates from the fruits of the spirit. (Gal. 5:22)

The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord, and the Magi when they saw the star, and the righteous rejoiced over the fruits of their holy toil , "Those who sow in tears, shall reap in joy." (Ps. 126:5).

The Bible has explained to us the joy of your salvation and the joy of the shepherds when the angel said to them, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy... for there is born to you this day in the city “of David a saviour..... ”. The psalmist says about the joy of salvation, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation." (Ps. 51:12). And the father said, "It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again." (Luke 15:32.) The joy of the repentance of a sinner is in heaven and earth!

When the good shepherd found the lost sheep, "He lays it on his shoulders rejoicing," (Luke 15: 5). He also says, "..there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.." (Luke 15:7). The widow also rejoiced when she found her lost coin and called all her neighbours to rejoice with her. We also rejoice over all means of grace... "I rejoiced over your testimonies", "I was glad when they said to me 'Let us go into the house of the Lord.'" (Ps. 122: 1), "There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God." (Ps. 46:4)”

“The righteous rejoice over temptations and reproach: (James, Chapter 1 ).

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials" so I rejoice over tribulations.

The greatest joy is that of the kingdom:

"Enter into the joy of your Lord." (Matt. 25:21). This is the real joy, where we rejoice in the Lord, and in His company. Although we have not reached His kingdom yet, we rejoice while waiting in hope. As the Apostle says,

"Rejoice in hope." (Rom. 12:12).”

“There is a trivial joy for perishable, worldly affairs and pleasures...”

Excerpt From: H.H. Pope Shenouda III. “Words of Spiritual Benefit Vol. 1.” iBooks.
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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Calmness

“Calmness is one of the beautiful qualities of the spiritual person. It includes calmness of the heart, nerves, thought, senses, behaviour and body. A quiet person's heart never becomes troubled for any reason. He does not lose his calm no matter how the problems are caused. As the prophet David says

"Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this I will be confident" (Ps. 27:3). It is this type of calmness that comes from faith.

If one loses ones inner peace, everything will look disturbed in ones' eyes, and what is simple will seem complicated. This complication is not from the outside but from the inside. When the heart is calm the nerves will also be calm. In this case one would not lose temper but, instead, quietly solve the problem. If the mind fails to solve a problem, the nerves interfere to help. The agitated nerves might announce the lack of a solution, and the more the nerves are troubled, the more they get agitated.. A person with a calm heart and nerves would be able to obtain quietness in thought and action. “His thoughts will be balanced, void of any disturbances. Therefore, he will act in a quiet and sound way, far from anger or anxiety.

What helps a person to gain inner peace is outer peace, a peaceful environment that. has no agitating effects. For this reason, monks live in the peace of the wilderness, far from noise, people's clamour, and any agitating news or incidents. They would have usually got used to this calmness.. The life of loneliness and isolation generally brings calmness, because all the senses are calm. As our saints say, the senses are the access to thoughts. What you see, hear and touch gives you thoughts. If your senses are at rest from gathering news, you will be relieved from thoughts.

A quiet place helps the senses to be calm, and consequently leads to the calmness of the thoughts, heart and nerves. That is why many people avoid noisy places, seeking peace of mind. Those who love calmness search for it with all their strength, but others, alas, love clamour and could not live without it. Calmness makes them bored!”


Excerpt From: H.H. Pope Shenouda III. “Words of Spiritual Benefit Vol. 1.” iBooks.
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