Friday, January 23, 2015

Changed Water in Jars Symbolize Changed Nature in Womb


You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.
Psalms 77: 14 - 16

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
John 2: 11

Ⲕⲁⲛⲁ ⲛ̀ⲧⲉ ϯⲄⲁⲗⲓⲗⲉⲁ̀


Why then did our Lord change the nature [of water] in the first of his signs? Was it not to show that the divinity, which had changed nature in the depths of the jars, was that same [divinity] that had changed nature in the womb of the Virgin? At the completion of his signs he opened the tomb to show that the greed of death had no hold over him. He sealed and confirmed these two uncertainties, that of his birth and of his death. For these waters, with regard to their nature, were transformed into the [fruit of the] vine, but without the stone jars [themselves] undergoing change in their nature inwardly. This was a symbol of his body, which was wondrously conceived in a woman, and, without a man, miraculously formed within the Virgin.

He made wine from water, therefore, in order to give proof concerning how his conception and his birth took place. He summoned "six water jars" as witness to the unique virgin who had given birth to him. The water jars conceived in a novel way, not in keeping with their custom, and gave birth to wine. But they did not continue to give birth. Similarly the Virgin conceived and gave birth to Emmanuel, and she did not give birth again. The giving birth by the jars was from smallness to greatness and from paucity to abundance; from water indeed to good wine. In her case, however, it was from greatness to weakness and from glory to ignominy. Those jars were for the purification of the Jews, but our Lord poured his teaching into them, so that he might make it known that he was coming through the path of the Law and the Prophets to transform all things by his teaching, just as he had [transformed] water into wine.

St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373) 


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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Christmas Reflection







St. Ephrem the Syrian writes, “The Lord of David and Son of David hid His glory in swaddling clothes. His swaddling clothes gave a robe of glory to human beings.” This week we celebrate this most incredible event where God becomes man and yet is still God. He came in a most humble way delivered in a stable and wrapped in simple clothing. Yet as Saint Ephrem says, this simple beginning gave to all mankind robe of glory. What is this robe of glory?

In today's world it is hard to focus on the true meaning of this mystical event with all the parties and the mad gift giving, the coming of Santa Clause and the unending football games on TV. We are distracted even more now by our cell phones, iPads and instant movies. We no longer complain about not having a television but not having one that is big enough. How do we make this event relevant this week?

When we think of this robe of glory that He gave us we must first think back to His nature and the way He was brought into the world. He came in humility and left this world in humility. His robe was not made of golden threads. His birth and subsequent life had noting to do with material well being. He lived with a pure heart, one that glorified God, one that shone for all to see.

We must begin our reflection on this day with total humility. We must admit our weaknesses, our ways that deviate from what He taught and demonstrated to us. We must acknowledge our pride and our desire to hide our dirty inner clothing with fancy outer clothing. We must admit that we do not have this robe of glory that He brought for all humankind. We must make ourselves feel His humility.

With this reflection we must also remember the unending and limitless love He has for all His children. Acknowledging His love for us we can be joyful that we are held in His loving and merciful arms. We can be joyful that we are so important to God and in our knowledge that He will do anything to guide us towards His perfection.  He holds for us a robe of glory.

Let us rejoice in this glory that awaits us. Let us recognize Jesus for Who He really is, God Incarnate. Let's lay aside all our doubts about God and His Church. Let us for a short moment try on that robe of glory. Let us experience His peace and love of all humankind.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

A Prayer of Praise to Virgin Mary





A Prayer of Praise to Virgin Mary

O pure and immaculate and likewise blessed Virgin,
who art the sinless Mother of thy Son,
the mighty Lord of the universe,
thou who art inviolate and altogether holy,
the hope of the hopeless and sinful,
we sing thy praises.

We bless thee, as full of every grace,
thou who didst bear the God-Man:
we all bow low before thee;
we invoke thee and implore thine aid.
Rescue us, O holy and inviolate Virgin,
from every necessity that presses upon us
and from all the temptations of the devil.

Be our intercessor and advocate
at the hour of death and judgement;
deliver us from the fire that is not extinguished
and from the outer darkness;
make us worthy of the glory of thy Son,
O dearest and most clement Virgin Mother.

Thou indeed art our only hope,
most sure and sacred in God's sight,
to whom be honor and glory,
majesty and dominion,
for ever and ever,
world without end.
Amen.

St Ephrem the Syrian 



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Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Truth In Words




For what profit is it to know the truth in words, 
and to pollute the flesh and perform the works of evil? 
Or what profit can purity of the flesh bring, if truth be not in the soul? 

 St. Irenaeus 



Now, since man is a living being compounded of soul and flesh, he must needs to exist by both of these: and whereas from both of them offenses come, purity of the flesh is the restraining abstinence from all shameful things and all unrighteous deeds, and purity of the soul is the keeping faith towards God entire, neither adding thereto nor diminishing therefrom.
For godliness is obscured and dulled by the soiling and the staining of the flesh, and is broken and polluted and no more entire, if falsehood enter into the soul: but it will keep itself in its beauty and its measure, when truth is constant in the soul and purity in the flesh. For what profit is it to know the truth in words, and to pollute the flesh and perform the works of evil? Or what profit can purity of the flesh bring, if truth be not in the soul? For these rejoice with one another, and are united and allied to bring man face to face with God.

Wherefore the Holy Spirit says by David: Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly: that is, the counsel of the nations which know not God: for those are ungodly who worship not the God that truly is. And therefore the Word says to Moses: I am He that is; but they that worship not the God that is, these are the ungodly. And hath not stood in the way of sinners: but sinners are those who have the knowledge of God and keep not His commandments; that is, disdainful scorners. And hath not sat in the seat of the pestilential: now the pestilential are those who by wicked and perverse doctrines corrupt not themselves only, but others also. For the seat is a symbol of teaching.

Such then are all heretics: they sit in the seats of the pestilential, and those are corrupted who receive the venom of their doctrine. Now, that we may not suffer ought of this kind, we must need to hold the rule of the faith without deviation, and do the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him as Lord and loving Him as Father. 


St. Irenaeus    



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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Martyrdom of Saint Mercurius





Great-martyr Mercurius (224 – 250) was a Christian saint and martyr. Born Philopateer in the city of Rome, his original name means "lover of the Father". Saint Mercurius is also known by the name Abu-Seifein, which in Arabic means, "the holder of two swords", referring to a second sword given to him by Archangel Michael.

Family

Philopateer was the son of a Scythian officer in the Roman army. One day his father, Yares, was hunting in the forest with his grandfather, where they were attacked by a wild beast. The animal jumped on the grandfather, causing Yares to faint. While Yares was unconscious, he had a vision. He saw a brilliant light and heard a voice saying: "Yares, I am your God Who loves you. I know that you have a good heart and that you hate the pagan idols. I want to inform you that your son, Philopateer, will become like a tree bearing good fruits, and because of him, I will bless you and your wife. Philopateer will be My witness and will defy all prejudice in My Name." 

Shortly after, Yares, his wife, and his son were baptized, and they were given new names. Yares became Noah, his wife became Saphina, and Philopateer became Mercurius. The news of their baptism spread quickly in the city and the prince ordered them to be arrested and thrown to the wild animals. However, the animals did not harm them, and the prince decided to release Noah and his family. 

When the Berbers attacked Eskentos, Noah went to fight them. He was taken prisoner and was brought to their country, where he was kept for seventeen months. When the war finally ended, he went back to his city and joined his family, but died shortly after. St. Philopateer Mercurius is also said to be the cousin of St. George the Cappadocian.

Military career of Saint Mercurius

After the death of Noah, the pagan Roman Emperor Decius chose Mercurius to replace his father. Described as very strong and highly courageous, he managed to earn the respect of his fellow soldiers. When the Berbers attacked Rome, Decius went out to fight them, but when he saw how many they were, he became afraid. Mercurius then came to him and told him, "Do not be afraid, because God will destroy our enemies and will bring us victory."

After several days of fighting, the Archangel Michael appeared to Mercurius holding a shining sword. He said:

"Mercurius, servant of Jesus Christ, don't be afraid. Take this sword from my hand and fight the Berbers with it. Don't forget your God when you come back victoriously. I am Michael the Archangel, whom God sent to inform you that you should suffer for the Lord's name. I shall be with you and support you until you complete your testimony. The name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in you".

The saint took the sword from the archangel, hence the name Abu-Seifein - "the holder of two swords", a military sword and a divine sword. He conquered the Berbers, feeling the assurance of divine strength. When Decius heard the news about the triumphant victory, he appointed Mercurius prince.

Martyrdom of Saint Mercurius

Nonetheless, in 249, Decius began his persecution of Christians, compelling everyone to offer sacrifices to his pagan gods. The Archangel Michael appeared to Mercurius and told him to remember God and not be fearful of the persecution. The saint was encouraged and spent the whole night praying fervently, and confessing his weakness to God.

The next morning, the Emperor sent some messengers to summon Mercurius to the palace, but he excused himself, saying that he was tired. The day after, the Emperor sent for Mercurius again. He told him: "Dear Mercurius, let us go offer incense to the gods who helped us attain victory in the war." Mercurius did not say anything, but as they were leaving he slipped through the crowd and went away. However, one of the guards reported his absence, and the Emperor called Mercurius and asked him, "Is it true that you refused to worship the idols who helped us during the war?"

Mercurius answered with courage:

"Your Majesty, the victory was not due to dumb idols made by human hands. It was accomplished by the grace of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who sent His archangel to give me a sword and strengthened me. I cannot deny my God and worship statues."

The Emperor was infuriated, and tried to persuade him to no avail. Mercurius' faith was unshaken. He stripped him of his ranks and ordered him to be thrown in jail.

That did not stop the saint from praying and singing hymns in prison. During the night, Michael the Archangel appeared to him and told him: "Do not be afraid of the tortures. Confess your faith in Jesus publicly because He is the only One able to save you".

The next morning, Decius' soldiers hung the saint between two poles so that they could hit him with sharp nails. They tried also to cut his body with sharp blades and burn it, but Mercurius endured all these tortures in silence. Back in jail, the archangel appeared and touched Mercurius' body. He was instantly healed. When the king saw that the saint was in perfect health, he attributed it to witchcraft. Mercurius told him that it was Jesus who is the true healer of the soul and the body.

Fearing a revolt because the people loved him, the emperor had him bound in iron fetters, and sent him to Caesarea.

After Decius tried many different tortures without success, he decided to have him beheaded. Mercurius lifted up his arms and prayed fervently, asking the Lord to accept him in paradise. Then, suddenly, he saw Jesus Christ in a glorified vision, surrounded by many angels, saying:

"My chosen son, Mercurius, come to your eternal rest with the saints. Your prayers have risen up to Me like the aroma of good-smelling incense. Miracles will be performed in any church bearing your name. And I will save those who ask Me through your intercession. Whoever writes or reads the story of your life will have their names written in the Book of Life".

Then, after he was blessed, Mercurius was so happy that he ran to his executioners, begging them to carry out the king's orders immediately. Then he knelt down and said, "Lord, do not count this sin against them." Mercurius was beheaded on 4 December 250 (by Coptic calender 25 Hator). He was only 25 years old.

Other Traditions

After the end of the first persecution, the place of the saint's burial was revealed. Mercurius appeared to a poor man in the city, and told him that he was Mercurius, the Martyr of the Lord. "My body is buried in Cappadocia Gardens, under the old house on the way to the royal palace. My body looks as white as snow, because Jesus was present at the time of my martyrdom," said the saint.

The next morning, the man went to dig under the old house. He began to smell the scent of perfume, seeing the body of the saint. The news spread quickly and many people came to take a look at the blessed body. They moved it to the local church until they built a new church bearing his name, and Mercurius' body was buried there with respect and devotion.

A few years later, the Catholicos of Armenia, the Chief bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church, visited Egypt and met with the Patriarch of Alexandria, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The latter asked him if Egypt could have part of the relics of Saint Mercurius to be placed in the church that bears his name in Cairo:

On the 9th of Baona (June 16) part of the blessed body was offered to Egypt.

According to one tradition, Saint Basil was imprisoned in 363 by his old school-mate, the Emperor Julian the Apostate, upon the beginning of Julian's Sassanid campaign. Basil prayed to Saint Mercurius to help him, and the saint appeared in vision to Basil, claiming to have speared Julian to death.



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Monday, November 17, 2014

Church Peace Prayer






The most repeated prayer in our Liturgy is the litany for the Church's peace, in which we say, 'Remember, O Lord, the peace of Your One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church. Preserve Her in peace.' It is a prayer that we pray from the depths of our hearts. Not just as part of the liturgy, but as living and burning feelings.

H.H. Pope Shenouda III




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Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Martyrdom of Saint Luke the Evangelist


On this day, St. Luke the Evangelist and physician, was martyred. He was one of the 70 disciples mentioned in the tenth chapter of his gospel. He accompanied the Apostles Peter and Paul and wrote their account.

After the martyrdom of these two Apostles, he went through Rome preaching. Those who worshipped idols and the Jews in Rome agreed among themselves and went to Nero the Emperor accusing St. Luke of attracting many men to his teaching with his sorcery. Nero commanded that St. Luke be brought before him. When St. Luke knew that, he gave all the books he had to a fisherman and told him, "Take these and keep them for they will be useful to you and will show you God's way."

When St. Luke came before Nero the Emperor, the Emperor asked him, "How long will you lead the people astray?" St. Luke replied, "I am not a magician, but I am an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God." The Emperor commanded his men to cut off his right hand saying, "Cut off this hand which wrote the books." The saint replied to him, "We do not fear death, nor the departure from this world, and to realize the power of my Master." He took up his severed hand and made it reattach to its proper place, then he separated it. Those who were present marvelled and the head of the Emperor's cabinet and his wife believed as well as many others and it was said that they numbered 276. The Emperor wrote their decree and ordered that their heads be cut off together with that of the Apostle St. Luke; thus their martyrdom was completed.

They placed the body of the saint in a hair sack and cast it in the sea. By God's will, the waves of the sea brought it to an island. A believer found it, took it and buried it with great honor. This saint wrote the Gospel bearing his name and the "Acts of the Apostles" addressing his words to his disciple Theophilus who was a gentile.

His blessings be upon us and Glory be to our God, forever. Amen.

Coptic Orthodox Synaxarium


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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

17 - BE RELEASED OF THE FEELING OF POSSESSION - By H.H. Pope Shenouda III







17 -  BE RELEASED OF THE FEELING OF POSSESSION          
By H.H. Pope Shenouda III

The following is a collection of articles entitled, "The Release of the Spirit" written by HH Pope Shenouda III for the Sunday School Magazine from the year 1951 before starting his monastic life.  

These articles were published in the form of a book in the year 1957 including some of his poems which were published in the magazine as well.. 

It was his first published book and it gained the approval of many and was reprinted many times. 


17 -  BE RELEASED Of THE FEELING OF POSSESSION      

Many people think themselves rich and think they possess many worldly things.. ..But as for you, my beloved brother, you were relieved of this feeling of possession since the time you realized that possession restricted your spirit.

Certainly, you have come to the world poor like me, possessing nothing in it.. You have come naked out of your mother's womb, not even possessing the swaddling clothes which you were wrapped in or the cradle in which you were lain...

Anything you had afterwards is only a gift given by God to you.. This was not a possession but a charge entrusted to your hand for a limited time ie. your lifetime.. When you pass away from earth, you will be as poor as you entered it.. naked as you were born.. As for the things which you thought you have possessed in this world and which you were forced to leave behind, someone else will claim a right to possess them and when he also passes away a third will claim the same right and so on...

Then you ought to know that you own nothing, not even yourself.. because you had no existence before. Before you existed you were nothing, then God created you.. When you fell, this self became possessed by death... But God purchased this self and redeemed it with His blood, so it became His own...

So, as you see you own nothing, not even yourself. Thus, a person who sins against himself is in fact committing sin against God Himself That is because he is corrupting a soul which is the ownership of God and corrupting a body which God-after taking possession of found pleasure in making it a temple for His Holy Spirit..

The same may be said of the person who sins against others.. It is a sin against God Himself whether directly or indirectly... David sinned against Uriah the Hittite and his wife Bathsheba but he addressed God saying "Against You, You only, have I sinned" (Ps. 51:4). He said so not only because he transgressed against God but also because he sinned against two persons belonging to God..

If you become aware of this, my beloved brother, you will recognize how dangerous is sins.. You do not possess your self so that you may dispose of it as an owner..

Regarding property, we have explained that we own nothing, but all we have is a gift from God.. You are just a person entrusted such property to manage it with honesty as a good steward. You will be asked about it when God says to you, "Give an account of your stewardship." (Luke 16:2) 

Therefore we find a very rich king like David realizes the real state of matters and says, "I am poor and needy" (Ps. 70:4).. According to the wrong human measure David the King was not poor.. but in fact, according to a spiritual eye, he owned nothing..

Therefore also, the holy fathers vowed to live in voluntary poverty and considered this one of the main bases on which their monastic life depended.

This gives you the true meaning of doing charitable deeds.. You do not give out of your own property but you do give God's creation out of God's property.. If you know this, you will find no cause to feel self-righteousness or pride.. You will find no cause also to avoid the praise of others by praising yourself in a concealed way as by giving some money under the name of "a good doer".. Once I found a donor who wrote in place of his name "an evil doer who asks your prayers for him" I admired such a person..

The only One who can give of His own money to people is God..

So, I do not like to consider a charitable deed a virtue because it is not a favor done by the giver.. He is just a means to carry God's grace to others..

What is said about charity applies also to other good deeds which cannot be considered as a favor offered by anyone. 

Another point attached to the charitable deeds is receiving thanks for them.. Let me ask you, my brother; 'how can you agree to let people thank you for something you have not given out of your own money. It is God's property, how can you receive thanks for it? How can you accept thanks? Give glory to God and hide yourself that God may appear who did all the work.

The feeling of possession restricts your spirit and makes you feel what you do not really have.. So, to escape from this feeling does not mean that you deny yourself but it means that you recognize the truth about yourself.. I pray that God may be with you...


 The Release of The Spirit
 By H.H. Pope Shenouda III 




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Friday, October 3, 2014

A Monk's Virtues





The brethren once asked Abba Arsenius, "What is the meaning of the words which one of the elders spoke, saying, 'He who dwells with men, because of the commotion of worldly affairs is unable to see his sins; but if he dwell in the silent repose of the desert he will be able to see God in a pure manner?'"



Abba Arsenius said, ‘The virtues which are cultivated in the world, and to which our Lord refers to in the Gospel , are, loving kindness, peace-making and other similar commandments, and it is quite possible for such virtues to be cultivated in the world by certain strenuous persons. But the purity of heart which sees God, and to which our Lord ascribed blessing, saying, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,' cannot be acquired without dwelling in the desert and solitary and silent contemplation. The monk must acquire it in the following way.

First of all a man must go forth from the world, and dwell in a monastery, and after his training in a monastery and having gone into his cell, he must die through contemplation in silence, and through the other labors of his body, and through striving against the passions, and through conflict with devils.

Then through the tranquility of mind (which he will acquire) in silent contemplation, he will remember his sins, and when he learns to hate his passions, and has petitioned for the remission of his sins, and has suppressed his thoughts, and has become constant in pure prayer, and has cleansed his heart from abhorrent thoughts, then shall he be worthy to see in his heart, even as in a polished mirror, the light of the revelation of our Lord (shining) upon it, even as the Fathers say.

"Well, then, did that holy man say to those brethren, 'Visit the sick, reconcile the men of wrath,' for he who cultivates spiritual excellence in the world cannot, by reason of the commotion of the affairs thereof, see his sins; but if he continues in silent contemplation and prayer he shall see God."

From: The Paradise of The Holy Fathers, Vol. II


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Monday, September 1, 2014

Persecution




“If you are suffering for your faith in Christ, the Lives of the Saints will console you and encourage you and make you bold and give you wings, and your torments will be changed into joy. If you are in any sort of temptation, the Lives of the Saints will help you overcome it both now and forever. If you are in danger from the invisible enemies of salvation, the Lives of the Saints will arm you with the ‘whole armor of God,’ and you will crush them all now and forever and throughout your whole life.

If you are in the midst of visible enemies and persecutors of the Church of Christ, the Lives of the Saints will give you the courage and strength of a confessor, and you will fearlessly confess the one true God and Lord in all world─Jesus Christ─and you will boldly stand up for the holy truth of His Gospel unto Death, unto every death, and you will feel stronger than all deaths, and much more so than all visible enemies of Christ; and being tortured for Christ you will shout for joy, feeling with all your being that your life is in heaven, hidden with Christ in God, wholly above all deaths.“

 St. Justin Popovich


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Friday, August 22, 2014

The Assumption of The Holy Virgin




O You who did not desire that the body of the Virgin, 
the Mother of Salvation, who became a holy ark in whom You dwelt in flesh, 
remain on earth but You raised it up to heaven after her death, 
upon the hands of the holy angels and archangels.


Fraction Prayer of St. Mary's Feast:

O God, who dwells in the highest and looks upon the hearts of His humble servants, who willed to visit us with mercy and come to us incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the holy Virgin Mary.

O You who promised our father Adam with salvation and confirmed His holy promise to all the fathers by His virginal Birth in the fullness of time from a pure and chaste, first-born Virgin.

He sanctified her, purified her, filled her with grace, and preferred her above all women of the world. She is the ever-virgin, Mary, the new Eve, the pride of our race and the second bodily heaven.

O You who loved us, and out of the fullness of His love and mercy, out of signs to His righteousness and justice, and out of His wisdom and fairness, He desired to save us from the death of the original sin and rescue us from its eternal punishment, by dying on our behalf in a human flesh which He took from the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Salvation.

While the first Eve was the source of destruction, the new Eve became the gate of heaven.

O You who was incarnate of the first-born Virgin, You honored her everlasting virginity and perfect chastity through Your Birth from her, for she is an image of the original glory, on which God created our forefathers Adam and Eve when they were together in the Paradise of joy.

O You who honored the second Eve by dwelling in her womb for nine full months and was formed of her by the Holy Spirit, who dwelt upon her.

He took flesh, having a human soul, uniting with it in one hypostasis and one nature and the Logos was born of her, who was and is, the blessed God forever.

O You who came out of the womb of the Virgin, while her virginity is sealed.

You who was nursed by the milk of the Virgin, while His is the Fountain of grace to all the creation. He was nurtured in her bosom, He slept in her arms, and sat in her lap while also sitting on a cherubimic chariot and is worshiped by the holy angels and archangels.

O You who honored Egypt by Your coming to it, riding on a swift and light cloud. The idols of Egypt were shaken in Your presence and the heart of Egypt melted. Oh, what was this swift and light cloud except the Virgin Mary, in her purity, kindness and everlasting chastity?

O You who desired to honor motherhood in Mary the Virgin by always obeying her, answering her calling, accepting her intercessions and responding to her prayers.

O You who entrusted Your Mother the Virgin with Your disciple, John the Beloved, and made John her son. And through John, You granted us Your Mother as our own, and through the faith we became her children.

O You who did not desire that the body of the Virgin, the Mother of Salvation, who became a holy ark in whom You dwelt in flesh, remain on earth but You raised it up to heaven after her death, upon the hands of the holy angels and archangels.

O You who honored us and our race, as You took flesh from Mary the Virgin, and ascended with it into the heaven, performing an eternal redemption, He sat on the throne, and thus in You we are able to sit on the right hand of the Father.

O God of mercy, have mercy upon us and forgive our sins. Accept the intercession of Your Mother, the Virgin, on our behalf. Make us worthy to touch Your holy Body and precious Blood, so that, with a pure heart, an enlightened soul, an unashamed face, a faith unfeigned, a perfect love, and a firm hope, we may cry to Your holy Father who art in heaven, and pray thankfully: 


Our Father Who art in heaven; 
hallowed be Thy name. 
Thy kingdom come. 
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread.  
And forgive us our trespasses, 
as we forgive those who trespass against us. 

And lead us not into temptation, 
but deliver us from evil, 
in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

For Thine is the kingdom, 
the power and the glory, 
forever. 

Amen.



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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ




By St. Cyril of Alexandria 

Luke 9:27-36

THOSE who are skilful in the combat rejoice when the spectators clap their hands, and are roused to a glorious height of courage by the hope of the chaplets of victory: and so those whoso desire it is to be counted worthy of the divine gifts, and who thirst to be made partakers of the hope prepared for the saints, joyfully undergo combats for piety’s sake towards Christ, and lead elect lives, not setting store by a thankless indolence, nor indulging in a mean timidity, but rather manfully resisting every temptation, and setting at nought the violence of persecutions, while they count it gain to suffer in His behalf. For they remember that the blessed Paul thus writes, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy of the glory that is about to be revealed in us.”

Observe, therefore, how perfectly beautiful is the method which our Lord Jesus Christ uses here also for the benefit and edification of the holy Apostles. For He had said unto them, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross every day, and follow Me. For he that will save his life shall lose it; and he that will lose his life for My sake shall find it.” The commandment is indeed both for the salvation and honour of the saints, and the cause of the highest glory, and the means of perfect joy: for the choosing to suffer for the sake of Christ is not a thankless duty, but on the contrary makes us sharers in everlasting life, and the glory that is prepared. But as the disciples had not yet obtained power from on high, it probably occasionally happened, that they also fell into human weaknesses, and when thinking over with themselves any such saying as this, may have asked “how does a man deny himself?” or how having lost himself does he find himself again? And what reward will compensate those who thus suffer? Or of what gifts will they be made partakers? To rescue them therefore from such timid thoughts, and, so to speak, to mould them unto manliness, by begetting in them a desire of the glory about to be bestowed upon them, He says, “I say unto you, there are some of those standing here, who shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God.” Does He mean that the measure of their lives will be so greatly prolonged as even to reach to that time when He will descend from heaven at the. consummation of the world, to bestow upon the saints the kingdom prepared for them? Even this was possible for Him: for He is omnipotent: and there is nothing impossible or difficult to His all-powerful will. But by the kingdom of God He means the sight of the glory in which He will appear at His manifestation to the inhabitants of earth: for He will come in the glory of God the Father, and not in low estate like unto us. How therefore did He make those who had received the promise spectators of a thing so wonderful? He goes up into the mountain taking with Him three chosen disciples: and is transformed to so surpassing and godlike a brightness, that His garments even glittered with rays of fire, and seemed to flash like lightning. And besides, Moses and Elijah stood at Jesus’ side, and spake with one another of His departure, which He was about, it says, to accomplish at Jerusalem: by which is meant the mystery of the dispensation in the flesh; and of His precious suffering upon the cross. For it is also true that the law of Moses, and the word of the holy prophets, foreshewed the mystery of Christ: the one by types and shadows, painting it, so to speak, as in a picture; while the rest in manifold ways declared beforehand, both that in due time He would appear in our likeness, and for the salvation and life of us all, consent to suffer death upon the tree. The standing, therefore, of Moses and Elijah before Him, and their talking with one another, was a sort of representation, excellently displaying our Lord Jesus Christ, as having the law and the prophets for His body guard, as being the Lord of the law and the prophets, and as foreshown in them by those things which in mutual agreement they before proclaimed. For the words of the prophets are not at variance with the teachings of the law. And this I imagine was what Moses the most priestly and Elijah the most distinguished of the prophets were talking of with one another.

But the blessed disciples sleep awhile, as Christ continued long in prayer:—-for He performed these human duties as belonging to the dispensation:—-and afterwards on awaking they became spectators of changes thus splendid and glorious: and the divine Peter, thinking perchance, that the time of the kingdom of God was even now come, proposes dwellings on the mountain, and says that it is fitting there should be three tabernacles, one for Christ, and the others for the other two, Moses and Elijah: “but he knew not,” it says, “what he was saying.” For it was not the time of the consummation of the world, nor for the saints to take possession of the hope promised to them; for as Paul says, “He will change our humble body into the likeness of His,—-that is, Christ’s—-glorious body.” As therefore the dispensation was still at its commencement, and not yet fulfilled, how would it have been fitting for Christ to have abandoned His love to the world, and have departed from His purpose of suffering in its behalf? For He redeemed all under heaven, by both undergoing death in the flesh, and by abolishing it by the resurrection from the dead. Peter therefore knew not what he said.

But besides the wonderful and ineffable sight of Christ’s glory, something else was done, useful and necessary for the confirmation of their faith in Him: and not for the disciples only, but even for us too. For a voice was given forth from the cloud above, as from God the Father, saying: “This is My beloved Son, hear Him. And when there was the voice,” it says, “Jesus was found alone.” What then will he who is disputatious and disobedient, and whose heart is incurable, say to these things? Lo! Moses is there, and does the Father command the holy apostles to hear him? Had it been His will that they should follow the commandments of Moses, He would have said, I suppose, Obey Moses; keep the law. But this was not what God the Father here said, but in the presence of Moses and the prophets, He commands them rather to hear Him. And that the truth might not be subverted by any, affirming that the Father rather bade them hear Moses, and not Christ the Saviour of us all, the Evangelist has clearly marked it, saying, “When there was the voice, Jesus was found alone.” When therefore God the Father, from the cloud overhead, commanded the holy apostles, saying, “Hear Him,” Moses was far away, and Elijah too was no longer nigh; but Christ was there alone. Him therefore He commanded them to obey.

For He also is the end of the law and the prophets: for which reason He cried aloud to the multitudes of the Jews: “If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me also: for he wrote of Me.” But as they persevered even unto the end in despising the commandment given by most wise Moses, and in rejecting the word of the holy prophets, they have justly been alienated and expelled from those blessings that were promised to their fathers. For “obedience is better than sacrifices, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” as the Scripture saith. And thus much then of the Jews: but upon us who have acknowledged the revelation, all these blessings have necessarily been bestowed, by means of and as the gift of the same Christ: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Homily  of St. Cyril of Alexandria 


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Friday, August 8, 2014

St. Mary's Surnames And Symbols - HH Pope Shenouda III



A. Surnames as regards her greatness
and her relation with God:


1. We give her the surname of The Queen who is by the right side of The King.

In this, we mention the words of the psalm "At your hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir" (Ps. 45:9). That is why, in her icon, she is portrayed at the right hand of the Christ our Lord. And we say about her in the divine mass "the Lady and the Queen of us all"......

2. Also we say about her: "Our mother the Holy Virgin".

When the Christ our Lord was on the Cross, He said about that to his disciple the beloved saint John: "Behold your mother" (John 19:27).

3. The Virgin is also compared to the ladder of Jacob"

That ladder which "was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven" (Gen. 28:12). That is the symbol of The Virgin who, by her giving birth to Christ, made the inhabitants of the earth reach to heaven.

4. She was also called "the bride"

because she is the true bride of the Lord of glory. The word of the Lord in the psalm was realized in her: "Listen, O daughter consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father's house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him" (Ps. 45:10-11). That is why she was called the friend of Solomon, who is the virgin of the Song of Songs.

It was said of her in the same psalm: "The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the king in robes of many colors" (Ps. 45:13-14).

5. We also give her the surname "the beautiful pigeon"

in remembrance of the beautiful pigeon that carried to our father Noah a branch of olive tree, as a symbol of peace, bringing to him the good news of the deliverance from the waters of the flood......... (Gen. 8:11). With this surname, the priest burns incense in front of her icon when he goes out of the sanctuary and says: "Hail to you, O Virgin Mary, the beautiful pigeon".

The Virgin is compared to the pigeon in her simplicity and her purity and the action of the Holy Spirit in her. She resembles the pigeon which brought the good news of the deliverance after the flood, because she brought the good news of the deliverance by Christ.

6. The Virgin is also compared to the cloud

because of her height on the one hand, and because the prophecy of her coming to Egypt, compared her in this manner. It was mentioned about this in the book of the prophet Isaiah:
"The burden against Egypt. Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst" (Is. 19:1). The expression "cloud" is a symbol of the Lord who will come upon the clouds.
(Matt. 16:27).

B. Her surnames and symbols
as regards her motherhood to the Christ our Lord:


7. One of the surnames by which The Virgin has been described is "Theotokos"
that is: "the mother of God". This surname has been called upon her by the sacred œcumenical council of Ephesus in 431 AD. Saint Kirillos the Great insisted on that surname in his response to Nestorius......
Saint Elizabeth addressed her with that surname "the mother of my Lord" (Luke 1:43).

8. One of her surnames is also: "the golden censer".

We call her "Te shury" that is the censer in Coptic; and sometimes "the censer of Aaron".......... As for the fire which it contains inside her, coal in it symbolises the human nature of Christ, and fire symbolizes His divine nature, as it has been said in the Holy Bible: "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29).

The censer symbolizes the womb of The Virgin where divinity was united with humanity. The censer being of gold, that points to the greatness and the purity of The Virgin. Regarding the purity and the sanctity of The Virgin, we call The Virgin in her hymns "the golden censer" (Te shury ennub, in Coptic).

9. The Virgin is also surnamed "the second heaven"
because as heaven is the abode of God, so The Virgin Mary was an abode of God during the sacred pregnancy.

10. The Virgin is also surnamed "the city of God":

The prophecy in the psalm is realized in her: "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God" (Ps 87:3). Or what was said of her "the city of the great King", or certain prophecies which were said about Jerusalem, are realized in her..........or Zion as it was also said in the psalm: "And of Zion it will be said, "This one and that one were born in her; and the most High Himself shall establish her" (Ps. 87:5).

11. In this quality, she was surnamed "the vine where was found the cluster of life"

that is Christ. The Church asks for her intercession with that surname in the prayer of the third hour, saying to her: "O mother of God, you are the true vine who bears the cluster of life"........

12. By this quality of motherhood, she has other surnames of which we mention:
The mother of the true light, considering that it has been said of the Christ our Lord, that He is "the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world" (John 1:9).
Likewise she was surnamed "the golden lamp" because she bears the Light. And also: "the mother of the Holy One", considering that the angel, when he announced her with the birth of Christ, said to her: "also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
"The mother of the Savior", because the Christ our Lord is the Savior of the world: "and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).

13. Among her symbols also: "the bush which the prophet Moses saw" (Exodus 3:2).
We say in the song: "The bush which the prophet Moses saw in the desert, is the symbol of the mother of Light, blessed be she. She has carried the fire of divinity in her womb, without being touched by any harm". It was said of the Lord that He is "a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29) to which the fire which is burning inside the bush, is a symbol, and the bush symbolizes The Virgin.

14. Also among her symbols: "the ark of the Testimony".
This ark was made of acacia wood that cannot be moth -eaten, and was covered with gold from inside and outside (Ex. 25:10, 22), as a symbol of the purity and the greatness of The Virgin. It also symbolized the things which were inside the ark that were a symbol of the Christ our Lord.

There was kept "the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant" (as a symbol of the incarnated Word of God).

15. The Virgin is also compared to the pot of the manna;

because the manna was a symbol of the Christ our Lord, as being the live bread who came down from heaven, everybody who eats from him lives by Him, that is also the bread of life (John 6: 32,48,49). Since the Lord Christ is compared to the manna, so it is possible to compare the Virgin to the pot of the manna, who carried this celestial bread inside her.

16. The Virgin is also compared to the rod of Aaron which germinated:
that is: she miraculously sprouted and carried the buds of life, (Num.17:6 -8); although a rod has of course no life in it that can produce blossoms and yield fruit. This symbolizes the virginity of The Virgin who could not sprout or produce posterity; but she gave birth through a miracle. This description is mentioned in the hymn of Sunday.

17. The tabernacle of meeting (the dome of Moses).

The tabernacle of meeting was the place upon which The Lord used to come, and The Virgin is she upon whom The Lord came. God manifested his love for his people in the two cases. That is what we say in the book of the hymns (Al Ipsalmodia): "You have been compared, O Virgin Mary, to the tabernacle which Moses made on the mountain of Sinaï, where God was inside".

18. The Virgin is compared to the gate in the East.
That which the prophet Ezechiel saw, and of which the Lord said: "This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut" (Ez. 44: 1 -2). The prophet saw the glory of the Lord at this gate which is in the East, and the house was filled with it (Ez. 43: 2,4,5).

That symbolizes the virginity of the Virgin who was from the countries of the East; and how this virginity remained sealed. Because she was that gate from the East, she was qualified as:

19. The gate of life, the gate of deliverance:
 
It was said about our Lady the Virgin in the book of Ezechiel: "As for the prince, because he is the prince, he may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gateway, and go out the same way" (Ez. 44:3).

Since the Lord is the Life, then she is the gate of the Life. The Lord said: "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). That is why the Virgin is the gate of the Life, that gate out of which the Lord came out, granting life to all those who believe in Him.......

It is not astonishing that we surname the Virgin "the gate", because the Church also was surnamed "the gate". Our father Jacob said about Bethel: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Gen. 28:17).

20. She was compared to the "Holiest of all"

That in which the chief priest entered once a year, to make atonement for all the people. The Lord of glory came once inside the Virgin Mary for the redemption of all the world.

By H.H. Pope Shenouda III


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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Church Attendance





Don’t be tempted to indulge yourself in not coming to church at the beginning of the service or leaving before it is over. Remember, each service is a complete unit and it can provide its full benefit only in its entirety. Just as food is tasty only when it is fully seasoned, so the service can completely satisfy the spiritual taste only when it is heard in full. Thus, he who misses the beginning or does not remain until the end is laboring, but he deprives himself of the fruit of his labor; he creates with one hand and destroys with the others.

Further, one must go to church not inattentively. For, it is always possible that one may go to church not in a way worthy of praise but rather of condemnation, i.e., by going and not receiving any spiritual benefit. Approaching the church, you must leave every care and worry about your affairs at the threshold in order to enter with a serene mind. Entering the church, you must put on reverence like a garment, remembering to Whom we are coming and to Whom we intend to address our prayers.

Having taken your place in the church (best of all, the same place each time), you should gather your thoughts and mentally stand before the face of the omnipresent God, offering Him reverent worship in body and spirit, with a contrite heart and in humble reverence. After this, you must follow, without wandering thoughts, everything that is going on — what is being sung and read in the church — all the way to the end of the service.

That is all! In this way, we won’t be bored in church, looking here and there and starting conversations, and we won’t be wishing that the service be over soon. Instead, passing from one prayerful feeling to another and from one reverent thought to the next, we will be like those in a fragrant garden, moving from one group of flowers to another.

St. Theophanes The Recluse



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Saturday, July 26, 2014

True Spiritual Warmth & Illusions





The true beginning of prayer is warmth of the heart, which scorches the passions and fills the soul with joy and gladness, strengthening the heart with an unshakable love and a firm assurance that leaves no room for doubt.

The Fathers say that whatever enters the soul, whether visible or invisible, is not from God so long as the heart is in doubt about it and so does not accept it: in such cases, it is something that comes from the enemy. 

In the same way if you see your mind attracted by some invisible force to wander outside or soar high do not trust it and do not allow the mind to be enticed by it; but immediately force you mind to continue with its proper work. Whatever is of God comes by itself, says St. Isaac, whilst you are ignorant even of the time of its coming.

Thus the enemy tries to produce an illusion of some spiritual experience within us, offering us a mirage instead of the real thing-unruly burning instead of true spiritual warmth, and instead of joy, irrational excitement and physical pleasure which in turn gives rise to pride and conceit and he even succeeds in concealing himself from the inexperienced behind such seduction, so they think his diabolic illusion is really the working of grace.
        
Yet time, experience, and feeling will reveal him to those who are not altogether ignorant of his evil wiles. ‘The palate discriminates between different foods,’ says the Scriptures. In the same way spiritual taste shows all things as they are, without any illusion.
        
St. Gregory of Sinai    


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Monday, July 14, 2014

The Apostles Feast - HH Pope Shenouda III






But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; 
and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, 
and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. 
Acts 1:8



The Church celebrates the memory of the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul on the 5th of Abib, which is the 12th of July. This feast is called in our Church by the name of "the Feast of the Apostles." Its date is unchanged in every year.
The Church venerates these two apostles very profoundly; and raises them and honors them exceedingly; especially in the prayer of the partition" or "the division" which pertains to the fast of the apostles and to the feast of the apostles, which we pray during the holy mass.

These two saints represent two distinguished kinds as regards the personality, the mission, and the style. Each one of them has distinct characteristics.

THE POINTS OF DIFFERENCE

Peter was among the first whom the Lord had chosen to work with Him.  (Matthew 10) 

And Paul was not among the twelve, and not even among the seventy apostles, but the Lord chose him lastly, after the resurrection and years after the choice of Matthias......

He did not follow Christ during His predication on earth. He rather said about that: "Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."
(1 Cor. 15: 8 -9)

And although he was the last in his call, yet he "labored more abundantly than they all." (1 Cor. 15:10)  That shows that it is not a matter of precedence, but according to the amount of weariness from exertion for God.

A person may not be the most ancient among the workers in ministry, and nevertheless he may be the strongest of all the workers.
John the Baptist was not the first prophet in the Old Testament, but he was the last of them in their chronological order. Nevertheless it was said that "among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist." (Matt. 11:11) 

The apostle Peter was a married man. It was mentioned in the Gospel that Christ healed his step-mother from fever. (Matt. 8: 14-15)  In his journeys for the predication, he wandered accompanied by his wife as a sister. (1 Cor. 9:5) 

But the apostle Paul was a virgin. (1 Cor. 7:7). He called for the preference of virginity. "But each one has his own gift from God", "as the Lord has called each one...... Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called" (1 Cor. 7: 7,17,20). That proves that the Lord calls everybody to His service, whether they are married like Peter, or virgins like Paul.

Peter began his life with the Lord Christ with love, confidence, and faith. But on the contrary:
Paul began by enmity, as a persecutor of the Church and of everyone who followed Christ, so that the Lord, when He met him on the road to Damascus, began his conversation with him by reprimanding him saying: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4) Saint Peter was a simple man, a fisherman (Matt. 4:18). He was ignorant and was not instructed into culture or science. He is one of whom "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise" (1 Cor. 27). It was said of him, of him and saint John, "that they were uneducated and untrained men." (Acts 4:13) But saint Paul was one of the learned of his age, who was educated at the University of Tarsus, and brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3)  He was well-known for his culture and for reading many books. (Acts 26:24) 

That shows us that the Lord equally employs everybody for His kingdom, the learned and the simple. The important thing for them is to be useful utensils for the work of His grace

The Church Rite: The Lakan

Lakan is a Syrian word means basin, and it is the pot of marble or stone placed in the third Khurs of the church where the priests pray on the water to make it a force for healing and Beatification ...

The Mass of Lakan has been Instituted to remember the baptism of Jesus and to exercise of the virtue of humility as bending to wash the feet of His disciples in the holy Thursday as well as to practice the meaning of service.

The mass of the Lakan is prayed three times per year: Epiphany – The Holy Thursday – The Feast of Apostles

H.H. Pope Shenouda III 

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