Saturday, September 28, 2013

Always Praying

I received an e-mail a few days ago with an attached document entitled "Always Praying". I found the document made an excellent point about our relationship with scripture and what it means to be in consistent prayer. The document was translated by Dr. George Bebawi! Dr. George is a good friend and my teacher! To a man who I look up to and have learned by sitting at his feet I hope we can all learn and become enriched from what he has to say. Dr. George is a well known Patristic scholar and has taught countless courses on Islam at Cambridge University and other Institutions throughout the world. Thank you very much for this document Dr. George and I hope we can all absorb this and make it applicable for all.


Our true freedom comes from a free vision of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord, who united our humanity with his divinity without separation. The implications of this are that Jesus came to liberate us from the need for any other mediator between us and God. He came to us out of love. Insights into that freedom in this vision reveal that of the One and Only Mediator is Jesus Christ.

Jesus did not come to subject the soul to any another form of slavery. For slavery to sin was enough. True humility of children of God is the love that moves according to Christ’s purposes.

His purpose is to unite us all in Himself and in Him to God the Father by the Holy Spirit.

The freedom of is rooted in our commitment to the fellowship of Jesus. This fellowship puts Jesus our Lord first, before even necessary things such as eating and sleeping. This is the desire of children of God, not of slaves. This desire directs us freely in the Sprit and is not a “law” for slaves. If it ever becomes a form of slavery, love is absent. If it becomes a form of self-protection, maturity in Christ is lacking.

In love’s freedom we can make more progress than when we are subject to “the law.”  The rules to live by which we choose must be according to the apostolic teaching on love (1 Cor 13:1ff). This apostolic teaching frees us from ourselves and allows love to be the royal road of love. On it we do not retreat to the way of sin where slavery is obvious to us as we see we love our life more than God.

Here are some guidelines for walking on this royal road:

The freedom of love is rooted in the Incarnation of the Son of God, anchored on the cross, where we are crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20).

Putting Jesus first does not negate our love and care for our fellow humans for they all are his brothers and sisters and if loved as we love the Lord, our freedom from lusts allows us to serve them all as we serve our Lord. (See 1 John 1:4)

For this reason the saints of old who completed their course without going astray, governed themselves by love with Jesus as the king who enthroned in their hearts and coming before any person or element in their lives. Because of his Incarnation and his death, we can live by that crucified love where “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law” (Rom 3:21).

Children of God live by love but slaves live by fear. Fear seeks to please God but ignores the fact that God loves the unworthy. Fear creates obligations and ties a person to what he created as a law. The root of freedom is the union of the divine and human in the Son of God which was not according to any Law.

The Christian keeps watch over his heart and, sensing any deviation from the life-giving commandments, hastens to repent.

Help those who want to have fellowship with the Lord in the busy world:

Watch and see the sings that remind us to pray.

When it is hot, pray for the fire of the Holy Spirit and let this outside heat be your constant reminder of it.

When it is cold, pray for more unity with the Lord and let the cold remind you of how sin can bring coldness of heart and put out the fire of love.

When it rains, pray for the free grace which is given to all of us and pray for those who have not the grace of God in their life.

At midday remember our Lord was crucified at midday.  Do not let go of this moment in which we were reconciled to God. It is time to forgive all sins and injuries that we have sustained.

When you see the clouds, pray for the Shekinah glory of God to protect you from evil.  Pray also that this Shekinah covers the church.

At evening, remember your own death and give an account of what has happened during the day.  Give thanks for what you have done and pray for the people whom you have seen and pray for a peaceful time for your sleep.

Let the trees remind you of your growth (Ps 1:3) and the roads remind you of Jesus who is your Way, who is building our eternal dwelling with the Holy Trinity.

When you enter your home, remember your eternal dwelling in God and be grateful you are secured by God’s justifying grace which cannot be compared with your doors and walls.

If you have your hope in the life to come and in the resurrection and the eternal life, pray that your bed be your grave and your covers be your shroud.  Say with the Lord, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” and sleep.

Do not let this become a ritual. 

When you sit to pray, remember you are sitting at the Right-hand of God the Father in Jesus Christ.

When you stand to pray, remember you are in the position of the resurrection of Christ our Lord.

When you kneel to pray, say the same words of our Lord in the garden and surrender daily to regain your peace, the gift of God to us.

Enjoy sleeping as someone who is waiting to be raised by the Lord.

When getting dressed, put off the old life and put on the new one (1 Corinthians 5:15).

Give thanks for everything you eat and drink, for this is not, in essence, separated from the Holy Eucharist. If Christ is the food and the nourishment of your life, then every meal is a chance to pray to receive Hi and to be nourished by Him.

May your walking be always a renewal to commit your life to the Way of the One who is our only Mediator.

Translated from the 5th dialogue by George Bebawi
Edited by Ellie Hashman 

Carmel, INDY 2009 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Woe to the Church

"Oh, how great is this trial which Christ entered into with Satan and conquered for us! The Church should never desire rule or ownership on earth. Woe to the church that possesses much! Woe to the church that has numerous investments stored away in the national and central banks, only to be eaten away by the moth. Woe to the church whose assets are large while her poor are hungry! Woe to the church which owns many ares and buildings but has no poor eating at her table! But blessed is the church which is satisfied with Christ the Word, and gives daily from her riches, that the people might claim ownership with her in heaven-possessions which cannot be buried, pass away, or perish. They are preserved for the last day. Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ, who gained for us this third victory, and granted us to be poor on the outside; but we are rich with possessions greater than all the stuff of this world".

Father Matthew the Poor, Words for our Time, page 120 (chapter entitled: The Temptation of our Lord).

The church is a place that stands outside of time gathering together the elect in the body of Christ. In the wisdom of Father Alexander Schmemann he spoke "Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion". Religion as we know it had ceased to exist with the incarnation of Christ. Christ has become for us the example of what it means to become gods. Christ is our example and mediator of what it means to live a life in Christ (cf. 1 Tim 2.5-6). If Christ, having become our mediator, has given up his life for the world than we to must give up our lives for the world. Entering the church, receiving the Eucharist and the life we live within the church is a sacrifice, a death on its own in the body of Christ. However, this death has become for us life. We enter the baptismal font dying in our corrupt nature and being born new in the body of Christ. This great paradox was first witnessed by Christ whom having died on the cross received new life when he had risen from the dead. We then live in the joy of the resurrection because it is in the resurrected Lord that we have hope in the life to come.

I began this blog entry by offering a quote on the church from Father's Matthew's new book. Its bold, scary yet edifying. Father Matthew was a man who spoke greatly about the preservation of the church. Sadly, what we seeing happening today, and I witness this a whole lot, the church has become a place of comfort or a social club to be more direct. The body of Christ is broken and shattered with the notion of multiple liturgies which splits up the community at large. We forget the true purpose of what it means to part of a church community. It brings me great grief during the liturgy when we offer the kiss of peace, the congregation giving the kiss of peace to each other does not even know who they are offering it to. How can we offer the kiss of peace (done out of love for the person standing next to us) if we do not know the person standing next to us. At this point the church ceases to be a church and has become nothing more than an institution or as Fr. Alexander puts it a "religion". The church then begins to cater to the people of the community and completely neglects the poor. "Woe to the church which owns many ares and buildings but has no poor eating at her table!" The church from its very establishment was meant to be a mission. The church was the mission for the life of the world. Spreading the words of the gospel to all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Can we say this is reflective of our community? Can we walk into a church today and see those great nations in our churches or do we just see one specific ethnic group whom the church caters to and forgets that aspect of mission. Do not take my words for it. I challenge all to walk into any church and see what the make up of the church is. These walls that we have created for ourselves need to be broken down in order to bring all in Christ. If Christ is not present then the church is not united in the body of Christ. How can the church continue being a mission if Christ is not present? However, Father Matthew and Father Alexander do not stop at criticizing the church for this reason but instead continue on by offering the solution to his dilemma. The solution is and always has been Christ!

What did Father Alexander mean when he said Christ has brought us new life and not a religion? Father Alexander shows us that in order to be a Christian is not shown in how you speak or write but rather in how you live. A true Christian is the one who lives in the world and is engaged by it. This is why prayer, liturgy and everything that the church teaches us is meant to become a sacrifice for the life of the world. Prayer is not an isolated concept only done in church or at the comfort at your home but rather prayer becomes a lived aspect within your entire life. If prayer is lived out in the world then the true Christian will be able to engage the world and people will see Christ in him or her. By seeing Christ in others we are then able to appreciate the beauty and goodness in others. Instead of always focusing on the negative we are able to see the good in everyone because all creation is good given to us by God for God is good. This is what it means to bring the life of the church into the world. By constantly living out the words of Christ Christianity ceases to become a religion and another institution but it becomes the life for the world. If the church is able to bring Christ to the world then it will truly have the poor eating at its tables. It will truly have servants dedicated and wanting to serve. If Christ is the starting point, if the body and blood of Christ is the starting point this life can be achieved in the world. However, if we continue to show the world that Christianity is a religion of do's and dont's then we will continue to lose our youth to Atheism and other religions which can present themselves better than Christianity. However, if we show the world the bread of life then this is when the world will truly see Christ as the offering for the life of the world.

I will conclude with a story. A friend of mine at the seminary was talking to me about Christianity in America. Knowing my background as a Copt he boldly told me that all of American would be Christian Orthodox if only the church broke down all its cultural barriers that keep Americans away from the church. To my surprise I looked at him dead in the eyes saying I agree. We need to continue to strive to bring Christ to the world in order that people can see that the true bread of life lies within the church and not within the materialistic world. The church needs to stop being a social club and start opening its doors to all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is only then when all of the world will become Christian. However, the more we cater to those who are comfortable , have the faith and continue building big churches the more these big churches will just lose its members to the world that offers only instant gratification and not Christ.    

"...blessed is the church which is satisfied with Christ the Word, and gives daily from her riches, that the people might claim ownership with her in heaven-possessions which cannot be buried, pass away, or perish. They are preserved for the last day. Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ, who gained for us this third victory, and granted us to be poor on the outside; but we are rich with possessions greater than all the stuff of this world".

As a final remark I recommend this new book by Father Matthew the Poor. Essentially it is his teachings he gave in Arabic translates by James Helmy. An excellent read and aimed at a wide audience. Father Matthew had a gift that was able to touch the hearts of many and will always be remembered as the greatest church father of the 20th century.