Saturday, October 19, 2013

Words for our Time-Fr. Matthew the Poor

This past summer a new book was published by Conciliar Press, Words for our Time: The Spiritual Words of Fr. Matthew the Poor. The book is based on reflection given by Fr. Matthew in Arabic to the monks of St. Maracrius Monastery focusing on specific topics such as the Cross and the Resurrection. James Helmy, the translator of these reflections from Arabic to English, along with the editors from Conciliar Press, chose specific topics to translate and publish. The book is divided into four sections, Spirituality, Christian Living, Scripture and Feats and Fasts. Each section has about 4 chapters and deals with many aspects made alive for our present time. Father Matthew had the mind of a 4th century church father present in our modern time. How he was able to relate to the cross, the resurrection and scripture in our times goes without a doubt that he truly lived out every word he spoke. Father Matthew is regarded by many as the greatest Egyptian elder since St. Anthony the Great. Father Matthew had a marvelous ability to communicate the deepest spiritual truths in the simplest and most practical language, making them accessible an actionable to laypeople as well as monastics. He speaks to the heart rather than the head, exhorting the reader to pursue a deeper and meaningful life in Christ. Essentially by reading these talks in the book is to sit at the feet of one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our age. The following are abstracts from the book. I hope everyone reading this can get a copy and to contemplate these beautiful words.


Beloved, the message of the Gospel is very, simple, and its words can be understood without any sermonizing. Some of the abbas once came and told me, "There are some people waiting for you outside; please go give them them a short sermon." O people, the Gospel doesn't need sermons! It is never my intention to sermonize, and right now I am not giving you a sermon; I am just bequeathing to you the Gospel's message. Can't you all receive the scriptures as simply as I am delivering them to you now? Have I spoken difficult words? Have I taught philosophically? Never! Christ's words are extremely simple and straightforward. He said, "An evil generation seeks after a sign." But how could they ask for a sign when Christ himself was present with them! He is the sign! He gave life to the dead! For whom was the story of Lazarus recorded? For Lazarus himself? For a past generation? It was recorded for us. Lazarus was raised for me! Pages 26-27.

Do we enjoy the presence of Christ? I don't jut mean reading the Bible, but experiencing a direct link with Christ every day. Christ is with me at home, on the road, at work, at my service, at the altar. Brethren, do we receive that mystical life of Christ by daily prayers, by tears, by entreaties, by striking the breast, by constant kneeling, by the Word, by the heavenly bread placed upon the spiritual table? Ah, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us the living water and the Blood to drink, which having drunk, we will not thirst again after sn! "Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days come when you say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" They days are certainly coming when you will say, "You speak about repentance, Abba, but how can I repent? I can't fast because of my sickness I can't kneel because of my rheumatism. My back, knees and bowels are all problematic. Abba, I have ten to twelve diseases!" That is why today I say, remember your Creator. Hold to the Cross, eat and drink spiritual things, before the time comes when your appetite is blunted! At that time you will not be able to eat, even if the food is placed right in front of you. Pages 44-45.

Here is God's World, Old and New Testaments, which I set before you; so you judge for yourselves, and may god judge my words before you. Salvation is not easy. Salvation requires a death. But if we are eventually going to die, why not just do it now by our own will? Let us choose the death that leads to eternal life. This is the real victory. And this is the invitation given to us this evening. Page 56.

I told him, "Those who have gone in the way of love and have experienced that divine mystery are no longer subject to any law. Anything you do, by love, is correct. Whether you spend the whole night in prayer, or prostrations, or singing psalms, it is all good and proper." And why? Because once you have entered into the blaze of divine love, you no longer distinguish between prayer and prostrations, between day and night, between light and dark, between good and bad tidings, between health and sickness. Once love ascends the heart's throne and reigns, life itself becomes a new heaven and a new earth...if love ever breaks down in your life, you will be imitating Abba Isaac's disconnected generator. But if your "generator of love" is working properly, all your struggles and prostrations will be converted into a very powerful and mystical energy that will enlighten wondrously; and you will be capable of doing amazing things, even in complete silence. Once love surpasses the level of mere asceticism and fills the heart, then spiritual wealth, and goodness, and blessings in abundance will follow. Pages 61-62.

Peace is an inner state of the heart and of the mind. But Christian peace is not a mere psychological condition; rather, it's a relationship. Christian peace flows from the believer's relationship with God and with other people. It's impossible for a person to have a good, peaceful relationship with God and not enjoy peace with others. So if our relationship with God or others suffers, our peace will flee from us. Every person who does not feel a full, deep, eternal peace within him will find his relationship with God distorted. There is a hard verse, which I am reluctant to quote, but here it is: "There is no peace for the wicked." Any deformation in our relationship with God, or friends, or family, or colleagues, or even with enemies, causes our peace to flee. That is why Christ focused strongly on man's relationship with his neighbor. Why else did He say, "" even to the point of loving our enemies? Because He desires peace to sink deep within us; for without this He cannot reign over our hearts. A person cannot be called a "son of the kingdom" if he has not experienced this rest and confidence of heart. Page 88.

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 acres 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 fro 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." Page 120.

Christ gave us this image and said, "Now I want you to carry your cross." What is our cross? I will explain it simply and briefly. Our cross is to suffer pain, and to sacrifice our lies, and to deny ourselves-for the sake of others. It is not for any advantage to yourself. All the advantages that accrue to you are derived from Christ's Cross. It's by Christ's Cross that you die to the world and the world to you. All your lusts and desires, along with the flesh of the old man, are crucified, not on your cross, but on the Cross of Christ. The cross you carry on your back cannot forgive your sins or crucify you to the world. All such things-salvation, redemption, righteousness, and the death of the old man's desires-are accomplished by Christ's Cross. Then what is my cross? You cannot approach Christ, or be united with Him or take His image, without hearing your cross. "Take up your cross and follow Me" means to be always ready to abandon the self for the sake other others. Page 164.

Thus, my initial remark proves true that Christmas is not about remembrance or a past event or even Gospel history; but it's the beginning of a living relationship with Christ, an impressive and momentous relationship-a relationship that is the basis of our existence or being. Consider this sentence: Christ is born, therefore I exist. If Christ is not born, then wipe out my existence. One of the philosophers once said, "I think, therefore I am". He was one of those who wearied himself through intellectual speculation, but today I speak to you about real ad life-giving things. Page 173.

Therefore, beloved, when we approach to eat the Body of Christ, each of us approaches as an individual; but after having eaten, no longer think of yourself as an individual person! You have become a member in the Body. Once I have partaken of the Eucharist, I am united to Hi; and so no longer am I just "me". All of humanity is collected into a single person in Christ. Mankind itself began with a single person, and it will be completed in a single Person. Otherwise, the dispersing effects of sin and the fall would be permanent. But Christ came to overcome such dispersion and separation; He came to gather the separate into one. Page 192.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Faith, Charity and Other Thoughts

About two weeks ago I received an e-mail from a dear friend (Vanda) titled Faith and Charity. The e-mail exchange was sparked by a passage I read on community. What we often forget is the concept of community and faith within the life of the church. The church is the gathered community in the body of Christ. This gathering can only take place because of our faith in Christ. This shared faith and shared Eucharist is lived in the life of the world. We see many countless examples with Christ. One example that should be familiar with us with the story of the Samaritan woman. Christ, being a Jew, was not supposed to speak with her however, after a conversation not only did she receive the everlasting water but the bread of life was given to her by freeing herself from slavery which was bestowed upon her by the fear that clouded her mind. What was her reaction? She did not keep Christ to herself rather she went to everyone in her community and proclaimed the word of Christ. The community we are apart is not meant to be sheltered only for "us" but shared for the life of the world. Our faith speaks of this when Christ told his disciples to go to all nations and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 28). Faith and community lived out for others is a community made alive in the body of Christ. The following are a few passages I received in the e-mail exchange that reflect on this message. Thank you Vanda for sharing this with me!         


Taken from Pope Benedict 16th Porta Fidei (Door of Faith):

…faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support, because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25.40). These words are a warning that must not be forgotten and a perennial invitation to return the love by which he takes care of us. It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbour along the journey of life. Supported by faith, let us look with hope at our commitment in the world, as we await “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3.13; cf. Rev 21.1)…  

…the “door of faith” (Acts 14.27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism (cf. Rom 6.4), through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory (cf. Jn 17.22). To profess faith in the Trinity-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-is to believe in one God who is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4.8): the Father, who in the fullness of time sent his Son for our salvation; Jesus Christ, who in the mystery of his death and resurrection redeemed the world; the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church across the centuries as we await the Lord’s glorious return…

…we cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5.13-16). The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invited us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn4.14). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn 6.51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (Jn 6.28). We know Jesus’ reply: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6.29). Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation...

…we must not forget that in our cultural context, very many people, while not claiming to have the gift of faith, are nevertheless sincerely searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world. This search is an authentic “preamble” to the faith, because it guides people onto the path that leads to the mystery of God. Human reason, in fact, bears within itself a demand for “what is perennially valid and lasting”. This demand constitutes a permanent summons, indelibly written into the human heart, to set out to find the One whom we would not be seeking had he not already set out to meet us. To this encounter, faith invited us and it open us in fullness…      

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Great Commission

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing the in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to end end of the age."  Matthew 28.18-20.

The great commission spoken by Christ to conclude the gospel of Matthew speaks of the role the church is meant to live out. The church is first and foremost a mission to all nations. Many countless examples can be given about missions to all of the nations. The greatest example is the Apostle Paul travelling throughout the Roman Empire and preaching the good news to all nations. Another example that is closer to home is St. Innocent and St. Herman of Alaska who came from Russia carrying the good news to the natives of Alaska. The Great Commission is the expression of love in the body of Christ beginning in the chalice and being preached to all nations. However, the paradigm has been shifted with the immigration of different ethnic groups moving to America and Canada. We must critically evaluate the great commission that has been brought with the immigration of these different ethnic groups to the west. Is the church still living the words of Christ spoken to conclude the gospel of Matthew? If you were to walk into a Greek, Russian, Serbian, Egyptian, Syrian, Italian, or any church does the church represent the nation it is present in? Can we critically and truly say that all nations are represented within the church today? Or are we caught in our "ethnic ghettos" that when we see an individual that is not "of the same ethnic background" we begin to gossip and whisper in each other ears judging the individual forgetting first and foremost we are all sinners? Sadly, many times we think that the church is the source of salvation for only "me" and no one else deserves this salvation OR if they want to practice they must practice "under our own terms". Professor Schneider said a profound statement that is relateable to these questions we are considering...

"Orthodoxy has to tell the world what the world needs and what that need truly is...this is missiology, this is mission outreach, missiology doesn't say come to the Orthodox Church because we're the true Church or because we have the true Tradition and only with us will you find salvation...missiology says I can help you understand yourself in ways you never imagine...and what is what we mean when we sing 'God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us'".
Professor Richard Schneider

The great commission is build on love for the human being! What it means to become a human within the church and to mission to the world is not about throwing a Bible to someone expecting him or her to come to the faith but rather it is how we relate to each other. Christ did not come and speak to tax collectors and prostitutes but he eat with them and sat down with them to serve them! If we are called to emulate Christ in our actions because Christ has become our example of what it means to be God then we to are called not only to speak to the homeless and hungry but to sit with them and bring them into the church and give them the bread that gives life to all. The mission of the church is not to baptize the "rich" but also the poor. The church is the mission to all nations not seeing color or race but seeing Christ in all. The church is the place were we, being given life in death, become poor in order to speak to the poor, become hungry to speak to the hungry, become rich to speak to the rich, become Christ in order for others to see Christ in us. Bishop Anastasios wrote on this exact idea when he said:

The saints of the church did not simple speak for the poor, but, above all, shared their life. They voluntarily became poor out of love for Christ, in order to identify with Him, who made Himself poor."
Bishop Anastasios of Albania, Mission in the way of Christ, 11.

St. Paul echoes the same message when he said that he became a Jew in order to speak to the Jews, he became a gentile to speak to the gentiles. How does this translate today? The great commission in focused around the society and world that we live in. Many speak of the society and world as being a "evil and bad place". However, how can this be if God created everything and it was good? We must be engaged in the world and society in order to see Christ in all. In order to live out the great commission for the life of the world we must become Americans and Canadians to all in order for all to see Christ in us. We must emancipate ourselves from the cultural ghettos we can created for ourselves in order to live out the great commission. St. Paul deals with this same issue when he found out that Jews and Gentiles were sitting at different tables at the table fellowship. He was outraged, and rightly so, because the body of Christ had been fragmented by this action. This is no different today with our actions! We have fragmented the body by creating specific "mission" churches and designating other churches for specific ethnic groups. We have fragmented the body of Christ by celebrating multiple liturgies and designating them as "a youth liturgy" the "adult liturgy" the "English liturgy" and by dividing up the community in this fashion we have divided the body of Christ. The great commission, the calling to live out the body of Christ can only produce fruit in the unity of the church. The church has never known division and it will never see division. Division of the church is a man made concept that has distorted the great commission. The Ecumenical councils was meant to unite the church but it has divided the church. The great commission lies in the person of Christ as the community comes together from all nations sharing in the one body.  

In the epistle of Barnabas, a second century writing, in the sixth chapter he writes "a human being is earth that suffers". This profound statement speaks volumes to the calling to mission to all nations. What it means to mission to all nations rests in how we see each other as human beings. If we continue to box people in as "doctors" and "priests" and the list can go on we lose the true value of the human being. The human being is the creature made in the image and likeness of God. When we mission to the nations we do not see race ethnicity or culture but rather we see Christ who is in all. We need to learn to drop our "ethnic walls" we have created for ourselves because of the fear that grips our hearts! Let us become the church of Christ that missions to the nation and not the church that we keep to ourselves!