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, "Love...love...love..." 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.