Wednesday, July 25, 2012


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.


The release from bonds 

It was seven O'clock in the evening, and silence (surrounded) everything when my father monk and I began to set our feet on the sand of the desert. We walked from time to time contemplating on matters beyond human utterance. A long time passed without our being aware until we stopped at the gate of the monastery to discuss together. 

Impressions and bonds: 

I do not mean by the 'release of the spirit from the body' what Simeon the Elder meant when he said: "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.." .. What I mean is the release of the spirit while still in the body; its release from any bonds encompassing it. Only then, one can experience complete peace and live the free life of God's children.

Do you know, dear brother, that a child, after being baptised, has his spirit free, in the original condition in which it was created..? Do you know what happens to it afterwards? The world, the customs and the environment implant in it many impressions. Many bonds bind it and hinder its movement towards God to be united with Him and abide in Him. What God's children seek is to be freed from all this.. to have their souls released from the bonds of the world and the environment and from the bonds of the senses and human wisdom...

At this point the father monk said: 'Perhaps some think of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3). that they mean, "Unless you become as young as children.." No , He wanted to say, "Unless you become as great in spirit as children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.'

The bonds of the senses:

St. Macarius the Great once met a monk who was fought with self-righteousness, he thought he had overcome adultery, love for money and anger.. St. Macarius began to ask him about his feelings on seeing a woman.. The monk replied that he would discern that she was a woman but would fly away lest he should feel lust.. St. Macarius asked him again what his feeling would be when he saw some money in the desert.. The monk said he would be able to distinguish money from stones but he would abstain from the love of money.. The saint asked him a third time how he would feel if someone insulted him.. The monk replied that he would feel that he was insulted but would not let anger remain within his heart. Here, St. Macarius told the monk that he was still frail and needed to strive more and the saint began to teach him..

The bonds of the senses, dear reader, make a person discriminate between a man and a woman, between an old woman and a young girl, and between a beautiful girl and an ugly one..

Such bonds also make one discriminate between money and stones..

What about praise and insult then?

Once a monk asked St. Macarius for advice.. St.Macarius ordered him to go and praise the dead. He did so but no one replied to him. The saint then ordered him to go and insult them, but when he did no one replied either.

Then St. Macarius said to that monk, 'You also must be like the dead since you have died to the world.. You must not be affected by anything whether this be praise or insult'..

Once a rich man brought some money to the monastery in order to be distributed among the monks.. the abbot wanted to teach that person a practical lesson, so he put the money aside and rang the bell. When the monks gathered the abbot asked them to take their need of the money as an expression of their love for the rich man. But the monks looked at the gold as if looking to stones and took nothing of it in spite of it. Their behaviour had so great effect on that person that he asked to be a monk..

The world and the flesh, dear brother, have many impressions on our senses. This makes us look upon the worldly and material things as being more beautiful and attractive than they really are and as having a deeper effect. However, when the spirit is elevated and released partly-from the bonds which hinder its way, the senses will be elevated accordingly . In other words , they will be released from the worldly feelings and you will have a new spiritual understanding of matters.

You can feel this if you were away from your family for a long time, and on you return they embraced you in excessive love and longing.. You felt overwhelmed by their love, but would you, amidst this love, feel that the person who embraced you whether your father or mother, your sister or brother was a man or a woman!

The same is the case of the person who rescues others in fires or drowning accidents. If such a person felt that whomever he was rescuing was a man or a woman, a girl or a boy, he would expose himself and that person would be in danger of death.

I think this demonstrates that the spirit is superior to the senses. There are even times when the senses are partly or completely suppressed because the spirit is engaged in things which are greater.

So in your spiritual life, you have to get rid of the bonds of the senses . Then you will have a different view of things, you will not be overcome with lust: whether the lust of the flesh, the eyes, the lust for money or women or the pride of life. You will be like the angels of God in heaven, and see everything as good as the Lord Jesus Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, "If therefore you eye is good, your whole body will be full of light".  (Matt. 6:22)

These were not the only thoughts which my father monk and I discussed, for we talked about things more profound. We discussed the attitude of the senses ‘when one tries to understand and meditate on theological matters. The senses are physical and limited and thereupon are not able to approach God Who is unlimited . The senses are also fallible and often mistake between what is wrong and what is right.

Even the apostles were mistaken when they returned to the Lord joyfully saying, "Lord even the demons are subject to us in Your name", the Lord replied to them, "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this." (Luke 10:1 7,20) 

Likewise, the murderer who kills for revenge or honour, feels content as if he has done a great deed. It is a wrong feeling certainly.

You also, my beloved brother, may have various feelings during your prayers, fasts, seclusion and meditations. Examine them well for they may be unsound human feelings . Try to free your spirit from the bonds of the senses. 

Another point which I like to draw to your attention is that when one is completely involved in meditating on theological matters, one becomes unaware of the world and of the things around them.  For example Hanna was in the temple praying in bitterness from her soul before the Lord . She was not aware of anything around her. Eli the priest thought she was drunk and reproached her saying, "How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!".  (1 Sam.13,14) 

If you are completely involved in your prayers and meditations, you will not be aware at all of anything that may take place around you. There may be some people talking near you or there may be some noise or various scenes but you will not be aware of anything because you are absorbed in spiritual matters. Your senses are partly passive and it is your spirit which acts. I think some consider that the spirit in this case is caught up! I remember an example of this - St. John the Short who used to spend long times in meditations during which people talked to him but he never heard their voice or knew what they were saying. Some tried to repeat what they said but he only exclaimed what the thing they wanted was and the more they repeated their words, the less he heard . "the reason is that his spirit at times was involved in other matters which were more important, far deeper and nearer to the hearing and the memory. Sometimes people asked him certain questions but the saint used to reply to them with theological meditations which had no relation whatever with what they asked. In fact, he did not hear what they were saying, because his spirit was released from the senses..

The release of the spirit from the human wisdom:

Now, I wish that the spirit would be released from the human wisdom as well! because, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (I Cor. 1:20), and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." (1 Cor. 3:20). The Holy Bible tells us also, ".. the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written 'He catches the wise in their craftiness'."  (1 Cor. 3:19)

The human mind-since the beginning- is defective and limited. The mind was better in the beginning when God created it, for God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. The human mind-after its creation- was subject to sin and to the world with its ideas, researches, experiences, customs, traditions, systems and formalities which had an impression on the mind . This made the mind liable to issue wrong judgements and made it unable to comprehend or approach God on its own. Those who think themselves wise and intelligent and trust in their own wisdom and intellect are the farthest from spiritual and theological matters. Therefore St. Paul the Apostle said,: "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power...", "... we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual".  (1 Cor. 2:4,13)

Have you now seen , my beloved brother, how vain human wisdom is... ! Would God then abolish wisdom in general? No, but He supports it.. Listen to what St. Paul the Apostle says in the same epistle, "However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery".  (1Cor. 2: 6,7)

So, if you want to learn God's intentions, release your spirit first from the human wisdom. Stand before God as ignorant and lacking every knowledge and understanding. Only then, you will be filled with knowledge.. that knowledge which is spiritual and perfect not human and deficient, "For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God." (1 Cor. 2:10). St. Paul certainly meant this when he said, "If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise." (1 Cor. 3:18) 

Once, a man with a withered hand came to the Lord Jesus Christ asking Him to be healed. The Lord ordered him to stretch out his hand and the man stretched it out and it was restored as whole as the other (Matt. 12:10,13). This miracle demonstrates the power of the Lord but likewise it shows how the human wisdom must vanish. If that man had given a chance to the human wisdom to interfere he would have argued 'How can I stretch out my hand though it is withered? Is it possible that a withered hand be stretched out? And if I can stretch it out, why do I need to be healed? May You heal it first so that I may be able to stretch it out?' This would have been the case, but that man made himself a fool that he might become well. He ignored human wisdom that says a withered hand cannot be stretched out. It is the same wisdom which does not believe that a mountain can be removed from its place as that a person can walk over the water or that one must not be concerned about tomorrow...

Human wisdom even made people examine God , His attributes and doctrines as if with a microscope! It also made some people accept only what conforms with their views regarding the Bible and the Church laws and refuse whatever their intellect does not approve of ...

On the other hand, God's children accept everything simply without any objections.. They say: 'O Lord, do You want us to walk through the Red Sea? Well then, we shall walk because certainly You will prepare for us a road across it so that we may not be drowned..'

There is a legend which says that the waters of the Red Sea were not divided when Moses stretched out his hand with the rod over the sea but only when the first person put his feet in the waters.. It is just a legend but it has a sublime spiritual meaning.

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


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