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  • Sunday ,16 January 2011

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (26)

Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,16 January 2011

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (26)

  Many people begin with spirituality, but do not continue, or begin with fervency then cool down, lapse, leave their first love, or become lukewarm. The Lord Christ therefore in the Parable of the Sower, presents to us the various types of people in whose land the seeds fell, and of whom some failed. One type is those who, having no root, withered away (Mt 13: 6).

   The beginning of those was outwardly good.
   They immediately spring up (Mt 13: 5). They hear the word and immediately receive it with joy, but having no strong and extended roots or depths they endure only for a while, then wither or burn (Mt 13: 20). They are pneumatic, with no deep relationship with God, like those of whom St. Paul the Apostle said,
   "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ."
   "… whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things." (Phil 3: 18) They were powerful assistants of St. Paul, who had believed and served with him. They accepted the word joyfully and walked a long way, yet they turned into enemies of the cross of Christ. Demas was one of the great assistants of the apostle, who had received the word with joy, but having no root he withered and was scorched. St. Paul said about him, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." (2 Tim 4: 10)
   Some, after having begun in the Spirit, were made perfect by the flesh. Others whither, burn, or become lukewarm.
   The angel of the church of the Laodiceans was lukewarm, and the angel of the church in Ephesus left his first love, but both were given a chance for repentance (Rev 3: 16, 19; 2: 4, 5). Of a worse type was the angel of the church in Sardis to whom the Lord said, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." (Rev 3: 1) Nevertheless, in spite of the bad state of those three angels, the Lord sent them messages calling them for repentance. It is the Lord's compassionate heart, who does not want that the sinner die, but return and live! He calls upon everybody to have salvation.
   Those who have no root:
   Some trees, like the palm trees, have deep roots in the ground. Other kinds, like the camphor tree, stretch horizontally, strongly, and deeply. Only a strong root can bear the tree and protect it against the winds, storms, and sand. We benefit from this lesson for our buildings, laying for them strong and deep foundations of concrete or reinforced concrete tied together with horizontal sheets. The higher the building is, the stronger and deeper the foundations should be. A weak building with no foundations or depth but only sand, falls like the leaves of the tree.
   What are the deep roots that attach man to God?
1. Love is the first root.
   Some people may be active in virtue, in church ministry, in prayer and fasting, but they have no attachment to God with love. Therefore the Lord Christ rebuked the Jews to whom the words of the Scripture apply, "These people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me." (Isa 29: 13; Mt 15: 8) They were similar to the plants on the face of the ground (draw near with their mouths … with their lips), with no roots attaching them to the ground (removed their hearts far from Him). So many people pray and lift their hands up, but their hearts are far away. Such a prayer with no love for God or people is unacceptable to the Lord, for He said, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood." (Isa 1: 15)
   Some people may wither while in the church.
   Some people may have many activities and serve in many church branches, or in various countries and conferences, and have a famous name, but no love attaching them to God; those may gain our admiration, but when one gets in contact with them, one will find the opposite. They wither while in the church! The daughter of Jairus is an example; she died while in her father's house. The elder Lost Son is another example; he offended his father and accused him of injustice and avarice, saying, "Lo, these many years I have been serving you … and yet you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends." (Lk 15: 28- 30) 
   Many people rejoiced at the apparition of the Virgin in Zeitoun, prayed, fasted, had the Holy Communion, and some made vows, spoke much about the honor of the Virgin and the saints in general, but all for a while! If we see them now we will find that their spirituality has faded away! They received the miracle with joy and cheering, but, having no deep love for God, they withered. That is why God says:
   "My son, give me your heart." (Prov 23: 26)
Why the heart? The Lord wants to stretch the heart roots in the ground, give it branches everywhere, fix and strengthen it, so that its work may extend farther than the outward. The heart should have strength and depth, being the pump that sucks the life sap and squirts it to the stem, the branches and the leaves.
   A tree with no roots withers.   
   A strong tree is bright green, but it may wither if the sap of life does not reach it from the roots. Its color gradually turns pale then yellow, then it loses its vitality and its leaves fall down.
   See then what love you have for God; for love is the pump that provides your prayers, fasting, meditations, service, and dealings with love.
   How did you start your life with God? Is it by mere hearing about Him, or by strong faith in Him? As in a spiritual plant, love is the strong root of the plant.
2. Faith: Faith is a strong root that preserves life. 
Do you have such faith, or you only have that faith of your parents with which they introduced you to the church when a child? Have you not experienced personal faith that grows in the Love of God and keeps you from withering? Whoever has such faith can say with the Psalmist, 
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me." (Ps 23)
I never fear withering, because I trust that He is present in my life. If I become weaker or even fall, I say, "A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again." (Prov 24: 16) Peter the Apostle had such great faith, but he fell, insulted and cursed saying I do not know the man, but it was out of weakness not disloyalty, for he said to the Lord after the resurrection, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." (Jn 21: 17) He also wept bitterly, for the strong root provided him with tears and repentance. Such a person, in his fall, can say:
"Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; When I fall, I will arise." (Mic 7: 8)
The contrary is a person who has no root, "When tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles." (Mt 13: 21)
Faith finds its basis in strong conviction of spirituality and virtues, for such conviction encourages a person to be active. If a person is convinced of his personal dignity for instance, he will be angry and furious when his dignity is wronged, and will take action. On the other hand, a person who is convinced of the importance of humbleness, forgiveness, and meekness, when fought with the desire to avenge for his dignity will recall his conviction of virtues and will not react violently. 
Others believe only intellectually in virtue, but it has no root in their hearts. They are sure that virtues are better than avenging, endurance is better than wrath, but they do not act this way. Actually, devils believe and tremble, but their faith is merely intellectual, not based on love for God or conviction of the necessity to practice.
   I wish your focus be not merely on outward works, but extends to inner factors related to love and faith.
    Whoever has practical and true faith in virtue, goodness, and love for God and the others, will not fall when fought, because his inner roots will not permit it. Is it not strange to hear someone say, 'So and so had love for me in the past, but now …! May God have mercy on me'! Or, 'So and so has changed, he is no more what he used to be'! Such a person fell because he had no strong root, depth, or foundation. The higher a building is, the stronger and deeper the foundation should be, as in the skyscrapers. Yet your spiritual structure is not a mere skyscraper, but it goes higher, unto the third heaven, or even unto the heavenly Jerusalem, the tabernacle of God with men (Rev 21: 3)!
3. Heart humbleness is another root that can protect you. The higher you go in position, in fame, or in value, the more you will need heart-contrition even unto dust, unto which your roots may bring you. A word I say to you: Know yourself.
You are mere dust and ashes, no matter how great you are!    
A person may have control over his tongue and nerves so as not to get angry or furious, while the heart within is full of wrath and grudge. He may be virtuous only outwardly, with no real meekness, humbleness, or love. He may control himself for a while, then bursts up! A humble person, on the contrary, always remembers his sins, and readily says, 'I actually have done wrong in many things, so I deserve what is done against me!'
   Some holy fathers spoke about giving the other cheek.
   They said when the offender strikes you on your cheek from the outside, strike yourself within by rebuking yourself and recalling your sins. This will realize harmony between the outside and the inside, whereas enduring outwardly while the heart is furious will lead to dualism and wrestling between what is, and what should be.
   Another type may be skilful in controlling the tongue, while the heart within may be full of many wrong thoughts.
   It is true that such a person is able to hold his tongue from speaking, but his heart is still sinful, while God tests the hearts and minds (Ps 7: 9). He knows what a person wants to say, without saying it!
   Seek then to have inner roots, not mere outward works.
   An example is a person who fasts without renouncing pleasure in food. He may fast the Lent and the Passion Week, but compensates lustfully in the fifty days following Easter, not depriving himself of any desire! Another person may cunningly provide himself with all arts of making fasting foods delicious! This wrong way of fasting will not benefit a person who does not renounce the pleasure of food or the lust of the body, for such a person does not care about seeking or improving spirituality.