At the end of my last post, I reflected on the way that Mary appeared in the video from El-Warraq: “May we all become as she appears here in this video, transfigured so brilliantly in the light of Christ.”
Her appearing above the church of St. Mary and St. Michael in Warraq, Cairo came at the beginning of the Coptic month dedicated to her. Today, if I’m not mistaken, that month fulfills itself in the feast of the birth of Christ according to the Old Julian Calendar and the use of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Today, I received two words that go along together so beautifully. First, a Copt, Mark Sadek, sends a beautiful quote from that master expository preacher of the 5th century and great father, St. John Chrysostom:
“And thou then, brother, though thou shouldest remain without food, though thou shouldest sleep upon the ground, though thou shouldest eat ashes and be ever wailing, and do good to no other; thou wilt do no great work. For so also those great and noble persons who were in the beginning made this their chiefest care: examine accurately their life, and thou wilt see clearly that none of them ever looked to his own things, but each one to the things of his neighbor, whence also they shone the brighter. For so Moses (to mention him first) wrought many and great wonders and signs; but nothing made him so great as that blessed voice which he uttered unto God, saying, ‘If Thou wilt forgive their sin,’ forgive: ‘but if not, blot me also out’ (Ex. 32:32).
Moses’ self-sacrificing love brings to mind Paul’s deep love for the Jews, a love that drove him to say in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (ESV) Both are images of the love of God who did not spare his only Son, and of Christ, who himself was willingly cut off, who cried in the agony of abandonment from the cross for love of you and I.
Such is the paradox of the Christian life! He who loves his life will lose it, but he who cuts it off utterly and irretrievably for love of Christ and neighbor will find only life more abundantly. The cross isn’t the path to brightness. The cross is brightness.
The second word comes from Egypt itself. The Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, Pope Shenouda, writes an encyclical letter to all Copts outside of Egypt that shows the path to transfiguration with such clarity.
I’ll quote it in its entirety here:
My beloved children in the lands of Immigration, both clergy and laity,
I send to you my sincere love to each one of you, wishing you a joyous life in the lands of immigration. May the Lord keep you without fault, loving one another with true love, that each you be careful to edify his brother, without offence.
I would like to congratulate you all with the start of the New Year, and the Glorious Feast of Nativity. May it be a blessed and happy year, carrying to you what the birth of the Lord carries from inspirations to the soul and also deep spiritual memories.
The Lord Christ came as a Savior to the world, as the angel said to the shepherds: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) And the Lord has said concerning Himself that He came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
In addition to all of this, He had an important message in teaching, and in leading the people to the knowledge of God, having said to the Father: ” And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). He also said to Him: “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
Did all of these people not know God, till Christ came to tell them about Him? Of course not, for without doubt they knew His Hebrew name: Elohim, Jehovah, Adonai, that is, the One who is and is to be, God and Lord. But this mere knowledge of the mind is not enough.
They knew that the One God is the Creator of heaven and earth and the only One who works wonders. But they did not have a relationship of the heart with Him, even in their prayers! Therefore God said concerning them: ” …these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me.” (Isaiah 29:13)
They had an outward worship only, without spirit! Prayer without a connection!! For this reason God rejected their prayer. He said to these people: “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15)
God desired the pure heart that is full of love towards God and people. Thus the Lord Christ said to God the Father: “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
The Lord Christ came teaching people about love, through His life and words; so that they will know that God is Love (1 John 4:16); and that every virtue void of love is not accepted before God… Thus He said to His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) He also said to them: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) It was said about Him that He “loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)
He taught them to love everyone, even the enemies, saying: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44) He explained this by saying: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46)
As long as God is Love, then anyone who is far from love is far from God…
With this we understand the meaning of prayer. It is not merely talking with God, or merely a duty that we perform, instead, prayer is a desire for God, as the psalmist says in the Psalm: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.” (Psalm 42:1)
The prayer that is distinguished by the love from the heart to God is a spiritual enjoyment, during which the heart enjoys the company of God. The sign of this is that when a person starts prayer, they do not want to finish it, desiring to continue in the enjoyment of talking with God. The ending of the prayer to this person is like snatching the suckling infant from his mothers’ breast…
The Lord Christ offered God to people with a lovely name of heavenly Father. He taught us to call Him saying: “Our Father Who art in heaven…” He is the Father who is full of beauty and compassion, and He is the source of all goodness…
We love God Who gives to us without us asking, and above what we ask. We love Him for He is the Good Shepherd, who makes us lie in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters (Psalm 23). He is the true Shepherd who said about Himself: “I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down … I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick…” (Ezekiel 34:15,16) With all of this the Lord Christ came as a Good Shepherd, giving Himself for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). He gives His sheep eternal life, and they will not perish forever (John 10:28).
Blessed is the Lord in His incarnation, in His love to us, in His care which is sacrificial and redeeming. We thank Him for all of this, and glorify His Name from now and forevermore, Amen.
A blessed season to you all.
Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark January 2010