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  • Sunday ,28 March 2010

The Ministry (15)

Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,28 March 2010

The Ministry (15)
Those having nobody to remember them
 In the Midnight Absolution Prayer the father priests pray a very deep and impressive prayer which says, 'Remember, O Lord, the weak and those who have nobody to care about or remember them'. Yes, Lord, remember those remembered by no one in prayers, ignored or rather forgotten by everybody.
   Undoubtedly some people have no one to feel their pains, their needs, or their loss, as if they are not members of our community or members of the body of the church! To those may apply the words of our poem "The Star":
I am lying in my loss,
No bishop cares, no one visits,
My way is deep darkness,
I lost the way to God for long,  
No one guides or takes my hand along.
 Of this type was the sick man at Bethesda who had infirmity for thirty-eight years and found no one to help him. He said to the Lord Christ, "I have no man to put me into the pool." (Jn 5: 7) It is a blessed ministry to serve such poor and weak souls who find no one to care about them.
   Districts not served:
   Some districts have churches that serve them and active spiritual father priests who visit every house and every individual and are capable of providing the necessary service to everybody, solving their problems, receiving their confessions, and providing a spiritual environment for them. On the other hand, many other districts, cities and villages do not receive any services; no one remembers them!
   Some priests prefer to be ordained for churches in large cities or districts where service is already available and refuse to serve in villages or districts that need their ministry! Let us see: was this the way of the Lord Christ who left the ninety-nine and sought the one lost sheep that needed His service? Indeed, for He is the Good Shepherd who, "went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." (Mt 9: 35) He is the Good Master who said to His disciples, "Let us go into the next towns that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth." (Mk 1: 38) A person who prefers the luxury of the cities to the need of the villages is actually thinking only of himself in a worldly manner and ignoring the need of the others for ministry. This applies to various types of ministry:
   Serving the street children:
   In the forties of the past century, while still a minister, I said to my colleagues in the ministry: 'We serve school children who have clean clothes, but I wish to serve the poor children.' So I formed a new class of the street children, sellers of lemon, shoe cleaning children and others who take the tram from the wrong side, and those who throw stones on the Sunday School house. I took care of them spiritually and loved them very much. I remember that I moved to another district and one day while walking near the old place in Hekr Ezzat Area a young boy came running towards me from a shoe cleaning shop, greeted me with love and said, 'I am your pupil.' Whenever I remember this story I feel very impressed.
   How needy are those for the crumbs falling from your ministry, while others are over-filled with concentrated ministry! Those who live in large streets may find many to serve them, but those who live in alleys or lanes find nobody to remember them. It is therefore very good that some have devoted themselves to serve the garbage collectors districts and other slum areas in Cairo. Others bring together the street children, poor children, street sweepers, or the unemployed and bring to them the word of God the same as to the children of the rich people. How beautiful are the words of the Didascalia concerning the clergy that he should take care of everybody to save him. I was very pleased to hear a father priest saying that he was going to celebrate a special holy Mass every Monday for the hairdressers and others whose weekend is on Monday or whose free day is only Monday!
   Serving the deviating youths:
   Regrettably we only care about the youths who come to the church meetings, church education classes or other activities or services, but hardly care about the youths who spend their time on the streets, in the entertainment places, or coffee shops, who are far away from the church. Such youths have nobody to remember them, or rather more some scorn or refuse to talk to them! How could they be saved?! Are they not likewise in need of care?!
   A bishop is ordained for a whole diocese, not only for the godly people there who go to church. His mission, like his Master, is "to seek and save that which was lost." (Lk 19: 10) The words "that which was lost" apply to many of those who have nobody to remember them, like the pupils who are struck off from the lists of the Sunday Schools for their frequent absence; whole families disregarded by the clergy for their conduct; many deviating persons who the ministers prefer to avoid in fear or in despair! How serious it is that a person be disregarded, forgotten, scorned, or removed away by the church in despair, or be counted as a worldly person!
   Those forgotten and not visited:
   There may be various families in Alexandria or in Cairo which no clergy have visited for various years. When the church does not take care of those, the devil will take care of them and visit them. The church will only care when divorce is requested or apostasy happens! Though such families are in the Capital City, not in a distant or a poor village, they were forgotten! We sometimes do not care about a case until it reaches the worst. If we remember the case that needs care, we will not grieve at the end. Even the American Indians or those in unknown regions in Africa are in need of pastoral care, how much rather those in the capital near the church?! 
   Specialization is necessary for the service of the lost. 
   Undoubtedly the Samaritan woman was among those not remembered by anybody, the same like Zacchaeus, Matthew the tax collectors and others. The Lord said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." Some ministers should specialize in this particular ministry. 
   Hard cases:
   Some ministers used to be ministers of the hard cases. Those go to the complicated cases that reached the worst condition without losing hope in them, like those who are not willing to receive ministers at their houses, or even drive them away without accepting their words in persistence and obstinacy. Some churches ignore such cases, whereas the ministers specialized in such cases visit them, however bad their case may be, with a feeling of pain for them. Such a ministry has a big reward from God, for a minister who serves such cases labors hard for them and God never forgets the labor of love.
   Calling Joseph of Aramathea to serve the Lord would be easy, but to call Zacchaeus for instance would be difficult. To call someone like John the Beloved to a meeting would be easy, but it would be difficult to call Saul of Tarsus! 
   Likewise it is easy to visit godly families, but difficult to visit or solve he problems or controversies of languid families. The big reward is not for him who plants a good land, but to him who reclaims a fallow or a salty land to turn it into a cultivable land! It needs hard work and long time.
   Serving the prisoners:
   Prisoners need special care to restore their dignity and spirit and restore them to God and to pure life with Him while in prison or after being set free. Many ministers consider prisoners among the hard cases they do not like to serve. I remember a certain young man thirty years ago who had been sentenced to death, but reverend father hegumen Michael Ibrahim visited him at prison and led him to repentance, confession and readiness to death. He spent the period before his death in good relationship with God and with people. He had wonderful inner peace and was loved by everybody in the prison. He faced death with joy, and on his way to the gallows he greeted everybody. The prison officer and employees cried over him. That youth found a heart that stayed beside him until he met God in peace with a smile on his mouth.
   A prisoner who you cannot save from the gallows, you may be able to save his soul from Hades.
   Let us consider what spiritual ministry we can provide to those prisoners, or what social service we can provide them after their being set free! Another ministry we should consider is the service we have to offer to the prisoner's family, for in some cases they may face financial and moral destruction. Is there a regular service for such families to protect them from loss and social or moral destruction and to provide for their financial needs? I fear they join those who have nobody to remember them!
   The poor and the unemployed:
   There may be many who provide them financially, but how many do serve them spiritually?! There are social service offices in the Patriarchate, archbishoprics, and in churches, but these offices provide financial and in kind assistance, and help those to find jobs. This is very good, and we hope it achieves its goal perfectly, but the problem is with the spiritual aspect. Many may come to these offices by deceit and lying and receive financial help, but they remain spiritually lost! They have nobody to care about their spirituality. 
   Some churches hold spiritual meetings for such cases, but the poor consider such meetings as a step towards providing them with the financial help, and would not benefit from the meetings for their lives to lead them to repentance and leaving lying and deceit. These social service offices have to know that "Man shall not live by bread alone." (Mt 4: 4)
   They have to examine the spirituality of those who receive the charity to lead them to a better life. They should not be satisfied only with those who receive regular monthly charity, but should also reach the irregular cases who may come once and the church knows nothing about.
   Orphanages and disabled (handicapped) houses:
   The same happens at these places: they provide such cases with social and financial aid, but psychologically and spiritually nobody remembers them. Usually we provide them with academic or professional and work experience and find them jobs, however, we do not care about their spirituality. They need much work to be rid of their complex and grow up in a proper spiritual way by which they can find love, kindness, good relations, and attachment to God. Furthermore, the families of those handicapped likewise need care. An orphanage or a handicap house receives the child and forget about the family, how they live, what about their spirituality, and what help may be provided them!
   The sick:
   Most of our focus usually is on their physical condition, but spiritually they have nobody to remember them! A person who is seriously sick, with a few steps towards death, may find nobody to care about his eternal life, to prepare him for it. More dangerous if those around him lie and hide from him his actual disease lest he be depressed, and may even provide him with worldly means of entertainment! The relatives and friends of the sick person may spend a long time beside him talking and trying to amuse him without giving him a chance to pray and repent. There should be spiritual ministers who specialize in serving the sick and talking to them spiritually to prepare them for their eternal life so that their souls may be saved on that Day.
   The rich and the high dignitaries:
   Ministers or priests may find difficulty in speaking to such people about repentance and leaving their sins. The church may only ask for their donations or mediation in matters that concern the church, but nobody cares about their spirituality, their hearts and their eternity! Even those need a word to lead them to God that they may repent if they need to. The Scripture puts it as a precondition for bishops not to pay courtesy to such great and rich people for their donations at the expense of their spirituality. However, we do not mean that the church use harsh words in reprimanding them as the Baptist did to Herod. At least the church can guide them spiritually and mix guidance with respect and love, as Abigail did towards King David when he wanted to avenge for himself and kill Nabal of Carmel (1 Sam 25), or as Nathan the Prophet spoke to David (2 Sam 12) with wisdom.