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Fasting

Definition

Fasting is a voluntary act of abandoning worldly life. It is a sign of man’s obedience to, and respect of God’s laws and his observance of God’s offices by his voluntary abstinence from food or drink for a specific period of time, by the end of which he can eat light, small and fat free meals, consisting of cereals, beans fruits and vegetable oils. A fasting person refrains from eating meat and animal products except for fish and all seafood and honey because bees are insects with no fleshly lust.

Grades

Scholar Bar Hebraeus (+1286) states: “Fasting has three degrees: General, special and exclusive. One may practice general fasting by refraining completely from eating or drinking during daytime and in the evening one eats cereals and beans or one might practice it by refraining from eating meat and animal products during the day. This type of fasting has its own laws and regulations, for so many people might refrain from eating without the intention of practicing fasting and as such they would not be considered as keeping this office.

Special fasting is that type practiced by recluses. Exclusive fasting is that practiced by the perfect ones, who couple their abstinence from having food and indulgence of senses with purification of soul and by holding themselves back from evil thoughts: The only condition requested for such a type of fasting is the eradication of every mundane thought that might exist deep down one’s heart. Although this grade of fasting is so difficult to attain, yet it can be attained so easily through training as the saying goes:
Of our desires the masters we are. With the least granted, they might be content.

Objectives

The main objectives of fasting are the weakening of the lust of the flesh, training the will to control whims and giving the spirit the precious opportunity to transcend mundane desires and be elevated above worldly desires into heavenly thoughts for attaining purification, and being cleansed and becoming able to express the spirit’s love of God, Almighty manifesting thus its preference of spiritual life to physical one, making the spirit triumphant over the flesh.

The Apostle Paul says in this context: ” This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would”. (Gal.5: 16,17).

Apostle Paul says also: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”. (Rom.8: 13).

The psalmist says: “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 35:13). Humbling the soul is the mourning mentioned by the Lord when defining fasting to the disciples of John saying:

“Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (Matt. 9:15). Humbleness and mourning are one and the same thing, which is the evident sign of true Repentance – the ultimate goal of fasting- and one of the conditions of true fasting deemed acceptable to God.

It is not only the body that fasts by abstaining from food or drink or some of it, but the soul as well, which keeps away from sin. Both flesh and soul avoid the motives leading to it.
This can be deduced from the Lord’s command in the month of Prophet Joel who says:
“Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2:12).

 

Written by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

Concentration in prayer

As prayer is an intimate discourse with God Almighty, it is imperative that we collect the mind and thought that they may meditate on their Lord and address themselves to Him without a mediator. For if Moses the great was prevented from approaching the bush until after he had taken off his sandals from his feet, how is it that you intend to address Him Who is Most High and above any sense and thought, without casting off every recklessness and improper thought?

Concentrating the mind and keeping it away from distraction is not easy. It can be
achieved only after long and hard work and persistence in spiritual worship. No one can
attain pure prayer without persistence in worshipping God with a bona fide heart, just as
one cannot learn a trade until after certain length of time.

Therefore, if we do not posses something of these let us not think of leaving prayer until after our minds have been cleansed, otherwise we would be like those who seek perfection without laboring. But let us pray, anyway, and pour our hearts and thoughts before The Merciful One.

He, The Most High, will guide us in His mercy to the haven of life and direct us as He wills. This requires that our intention be well-meaning and our desire intense in concentrating our thought as best as possible. Also, we should avoid everything that could cause us to be reckless, be it external or internal. Let us act according to Father Makarius’s advice:

“If your prayer is not spiritual, strive to attain verbal prayer. The spiritual prayer then will grow.”

Experienced people have known that even though it is difficult, initially, to achieve
concentration of mind, it becomes easier, however, after good training, especially when it
tastes the sweetness of prayer. When it reaches this stage, it withdraws from all that exist
on earth and in heaven and becomes absorbed by the love of its Lord and overwhelmed by
His Majesty. This is the situation with those who attain perfection.

Mor Isaac the Elder says: “Prayer is not a matter of knowledge and eloquent
phraseology. It is rather a Matter of clearing one’s mind from extraneous thoughts,
rendering it serene in a state of concentration attained by silence of movements and
serenity of senses”.

He further says: “pure prayer calls for concentration of mind, serenity
of conscience, tranquility of thoughts, reflection on the new world, hidden comfort, and
discourse with God

Father Oghris incites collecting the mind away from recklessness saying: “strive to make your mind silent when at prayer never letting it talk. Only then you will be able to pray.

Mor Yacoub says: “When you hear the sound of the bell, O wise one, hasten to church for prayer. Let your thoughts be collected, not meandering amongst trivialities. It is disgraceful to be in church yourself and let the mind tarry in the market- half of you in one place and the second half in another! Let your whole self be in the church and pray to God humbly and with a sincere intention. Ask Him for mercy and compassion, for He is compassionate, and He answers him who calls upon Him with a submissive heart.

Saint Ephraim says: “When you pray, have your mind well in control and restrain your thoughts directing them towards your heart. Let not your body be standing there and your mind off on some other occupation. Rather, make of your body a church, and of your mind a splendid temple. Make of your mouth a censer, of your lips incense, and of your tongue a deacon that you may please God.

Inciting prayer, he further says: “Will you not, O lover of profits, stand upright for prayer wholeheartedly for you will derive benefit from it in both worlds. Do not consider the time of prayer worthless. For every time you pray you store up in the Highest a treasure for yourself. Steal away an hour of your day and pray to your Lord. Your prayer will not be snatched away from you nor will you be robbed of your petition

The chosen Apostle Paul sums this all up when he says, “I will pray with the spirit; and I will pray with the mind also” (I Corinthians. 14:15).

 

From THE SPIRITUAL TREASURE ON CANONICAL PRAYER By Mor Ignatius Ephrem Barsoum
Patriarch Of Antioch And All The East

Morning prayer

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing unto Your most high name praises, and to proclaim in the morning Your grace, and Your faithfulness in the nights.

O Lord, in the morning shall You hear my voice and in the morning shall I be ready and appear to You. O Lord have mercy upon Your people.

O Lord absolve and forgive the sins of all of us. O Holy One stretch forth Your right hand towards us and heal our illness for Your holy name’s sake, have mercy upon us.

Then: “Holy are You, O God…etc”

 

By Mor Ignatius Ephrem Barsoum

 

Your language reveals you

Your talk shows and reveals your personality. It uncovers what is inside you, “For by your words, you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned!” (Matt. 12:37)

Talk is not to be taken slightly. By judging you could be judged and by the word ‘fool’, you might be in danger of hell fire. Some talk says the Lord ,defiles the person. James the apostle describes the tongue as ‘fire’ that “kindles from hell.”

The faults of the tongue are many. They made the saints favour silence:

There is blasphemy, lying, abuse mockery, scornful talk, harsh and angry words, bitterness and envy, talk of pride and boasting, exaggeration, words of hypocrisy and deceit, false witness and repudiating others, foolish disputes and prattle… etc.

There are faults that affect the person himself and faults that are stumbling blocks for others.

For example, the talk a person pours into the ears of others defiles the purity of their hearts and thoughts or spoils their faith and the soundness of their knowledge. It could also damage their relationship with others and cause friction between them. It could also make them change their minds about their friends. Many are the victims of talk!

The Bible advises us to slow down in speaking, at least to get a chance to think… St. James, the Apostle said, “.,.let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” (James 1:19).

The one who hastens or rushes in his talk, is bound to err. He might regret it, but after being recorded against him, he cannot get it back…

However, there is useful talk. The spirit-borne used to come to our fathers from the farthest ends of the world, asking for a word of benefit…

There are words of the spirit and words of grace, like the words that God puts in the mouth of people to pass on to others, “It is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father, ” who spoke through the prophets…

Therefore, the Psalmist says, “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall show forth your praise.” Is it then God who opens your lips?…

Among the gentle words: a word of blessing, a word of comfort, a word of encouragement, a word of solution, a word of guidance, a word of teaching, and also a word of rebuke, if it is said with love.

The word which is from God never returns empty. It is strong, live and effective. It penetrates the heart, bears fruit and changes souls.

Talk then when it is right to talk and know how to talk and when.

— Originally written by H.H Pope Shenouda III

Ambition

Man is created in God’s image and likeness. God is unlimited. Therefore, although man is limited, he has deep inside him, a longing for the unlimited. For the same reason, man longs for immortality and eternal life. It also explains man’s longing for perfection and that is why people have ambitious feelings in them…

An indolent person is not in God’s image while the one who has the godly image says, like St. Paul, “…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” (Phil. 3:13)

This is a spiritual ambition, where everyone seeks spiritual perfection. And according to his perfect idealism, whatever he reaches seems as nothing, so he forgets it and keeps on progressing…

That is how the saints’ humility originated and their toil in struggle.

That is also how the spiritual growth originated…

This type of ambition is acceptable and is needed as a virtue and nobody objects to it.

But there is the wrong ambition for material things.

For example, the rich fool who said, “I will pull down my barns and build greater.. and I will say to my soul you have many goods laid up for many years.” (Luke 12:18)

What are the faults in the materialistic ambition?

[1] The first fault is that the heart becomes attached to material things in a way that controls its feelings and time, and kills any other spiritual desire.

[2] The second fault is that a person gets involved in competitions that would cause him the loss of his love for others and tempts him to build his own personal glory on the rubble of others, clashing with people and destroying them. Like a person whose ambition is to be first or to be head, so hetries to get rid of all his rivals…

[3] The third fault is when ambition turns into greediness or avidity that is never satisfied, no matter how much this person gains or achieves.

[4] The fourth fault is when the means to reach one’s ambition is wrong or not spiritual. By this, man destroys some of his ideals and spiritualism to reach his target…

[5] Ambition could be for authority and changes the person into a dictator, destroying whoever stands in his way of influence…

[6] One might forget his eternity in all these types of ambitions and his bearings become completely worldly.

 

— Pope Shenouda III

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Gentle words

The spiritual person never uses harsh words, but gentle ones, because gentleness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Are you known by the gentleness of your words and dealings?

Look at the Lord Jesus when He was talking to the samaritan woman. Although she was very sinful, Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband’, for you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband..” (John 4:17-18) The word “husbands” is very gentle, as they were not husbands but the Lord did not use the other harsh word. His saying, “The one whom you now have is not yours” is the most gentle expression that does not include any word that could hurt her feelings…

Instead of hurting people, try to win them…

St. Paul, the apostle, when he entered Athens, became angry as he found the city full of idols. Still he addressed them gently, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious… ”

When God talked about Job, he praised him by gentle words, saying to the devil, “… that man was blame-less and upright and one who feared God and shunned evil.” As a matter of fact, nobody is blameless except God alone…

How gentle was God’s talk about Nineveh, the sinful city of the gentiles, whose people did not know their right from left. God said, “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city.” Was Nineveh really great or is it God’s gentleness?…

The names God gave to people are another example of His gentleness. He called Simon (Peter) which means rock and called Abram (Abraham) which means the father of  multitudes… They are all names that carry praise…

Among the saints who were famous for their gentle words is St. Didymus the Blind, head of the Theological School in the 4th century.

He never aimed at overcoming people but winning them. He never tried to destroy them but convince them.

God condemned harsh words by. saying, “… whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca’ shall be in danger of the Council. But whoever says, ‘You fool’, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matt. 5:22)

God does not accept harsh words as He is gentle and loving, His mouth is full of sweetness and his lips drop honey.

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The nature of diabolic wars

Spiritual wars are allowed by God for our benefit… and for the crowns gained through them as one of the saints said,

“None shall be crowned except the one who conquers, and non shall conquer except the one who fights.”

God intends these wars to test the freedom of our will, and to give us the opportunity to deserve the riches of the heavens if we conquer… As for the devil, it is his nature to resist God’s kingdom and fight those who seek it. He fights God through His children and accuses them as in the case of Job the just (Job 1,2). He envies those who lead a life of righteousness, that they may not gain the divine blessing which he himself was deprived of.

Diabolic wars fight all; no one escapes from them.

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Earnestness

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

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

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