God is here, God is everywhere – Abba Bessarion

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[On this day, 25th Mesra, the Coptic Church commemorate the great ascetic father St. Bessarion, his blessings be with us.]

Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion said, ‘One day when we were walking beside the sea I was thirsty and I said to Abba Bessarion, “Father, I am very thirsty.” He said a prayer and said to me, “Drink some of the sea water.” The water proved sweet when I drank some. I even poured some into a leather bottle for fear of being thirsty later on. Seeing this, the old man asked me why I was taking some. I said to him, “Forgive me, it is for fear of being thirsty later on.” Then the old man said, “God is here, God is everywhere.” ‘

[Abba Bessarion, Apophthegmata Patrum]

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Your name is ointment poured forth; Therefore the virgins love you – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

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Your name is ointment poured forth; Therefore the virgins love you. (Song of Songs 1:3)

Therefore virgins love you. Spiritual life depends solely on love. Many people claim that faith, righteousness or godliness are the basis of a sound spiritual life. That is untrue. A sound spiritual life is based wholly on love. There is no other way, God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (1 Jn 4:16). Spiritual life resolves around this verse, Therefore the virgins love you. No matter how hard one tries to expound or illustrate the many different aspects of righteousness or sanctity as they occur in the Bible, the few words, the virgins love you, are more powerful and poignant. 

They explain these aspects better because the verse here depicts the human soul as a virgin soul, hardly concerned with the material world, neglectful of the love of matter, oblivious of the self and completely unattached to and unmindful of the desires of the flesh. The soul’s main objective and ultimate desire is the love of God. So if you love the Lord, then you are a believer and you are on the right track. If you do not, then you still do not know Him, nor have you started your journey with Him. Love is the key. Even if you try your hardest to keep the commandments, obey the Lord, and give (your) body to be (1 Cor 13:3), without love, it profits you nothing. If you pray day and night without love, it leads you nowhere.

If you fast all the fasts of the year and you do not have love, it avails you nothing. If you read the Holy Gospel and even memorise it without love, it is of no use. If you preach day and night and you do not have love, you have, become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal, (1 Cor 13:1). The pivotal point of a sound spiritual life lies in the love of virgins. Your love for the Lord indicates that you are well on your way to the Lord’s path. If, however, you do not love the Lord, then you are still outside and away, in a far country (Luke 15:13).

God seeks love; He yearns for that love that springs from the hearts of virgins. It is inconceivable to try to win the Lord’s love when you are not completely devoted to His love. It is unthinkable to mix His love with the love of the world. This simply indicates that your soul is not a virgin. You are not consecrated and dedicated to Him. Rather, you are like the Samaritan woman who was married to five husbands: the world, the devil, carnal lusts, the desires of the flesh, the ego… etc. What makes the soul a virgin is the capacity to love the Lord from all the heart.

Two questions come to mind in this respect. The first question is, Do you have that “virgin” soul? And the second is, Do you love the Lord? The two questions are closely related; they are two faces of the same coin: if you love the Lord, you will have a virgin, pure and chaste soul. Conversely, if you have a pure, chaste and virgin soul, you will naturally love the Lord.  

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III of thrice-blessed memory, Have You Seen the One I Love?]

 

Excerpt from Gospel of the Day – John 16:20-33, the 24th of Mesra – St. John Chrysostom

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Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (Jn 16: 20-22)

Verse 20: “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice;”

Because by reason of their (the disciples) not desiring His death, they quickly ran into the belief that He would not die, and then when they heard that He would die, cast about, not knowing what that “little” meant, He says, “You shall weep and lament.”

“but your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

Then having shown that after grief comes joy, and that grief brings forth joy, and that grief is short, but the pleasure endless, He passes to a common example; and what says He?

Verse 21: “A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow”

And He has used a comparison which the Prophets also use continually, likening despondencies to the exceeding pains of childbirth. But what He says is of this kind: “Labour pains shall lay hold on you, but the pang of childbirth is the cause of joy”; both confirming His words relative to the Resurrection, and showing that the departing hence is like passing from the womb into the light of day.

As though He had said, “Marvel not that I bring you to your advantage through such sorrow, since even a mother to become a mother, passes in like manner through pain.” Here also He implies something mystical, that He has loosened the labour pangs of death, and caused a new man to be born of them, And He said not, that the pain shall pass away only, but, “she does not even remember it,” so great is the joy which succeeds; so also shall it be with the Saints.

And yet the woman does not rejoice because “a man has come into the world,” but because a son has been born to her; since, had this been the case, nothing would have stopped the barren from rejoicing over another who bears a child. Why then did He say this? Because He introduced this example for this purpose only, to show that sorrow is for a season, but joy lasting: and to show that (death) is a translation unto life; and to show the great profit of their pangs.

He said not, “a child has been born,” but, “A man.” For to my mind He here allludes to His own Resurrection, and that He should be born not unto that death which bore the birth-pang, but unto the Kingdom. Therefore He said not, “a child has been born unto her,” but, “A man has been born into the world.

 [St. John Chrysostom, Homily 79 on the Gospel of St. John]

How to vanquish devils, purify the heart and make perfect love – Abba Arsenius and Abba Macarius

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The brethren said, “Abba Arsenius said unto one of the brethren, ‘Lead the ascetic life with all the strength that you have, and the hidden labour which is within, and which is performed for God’s sake, shall vanquish your external passions’; to what does he give the name of passions?”

The old man said, “In this case, Abba Arsenius call the labours of the body ‘passions,’ because they constrain those who toil, and make them feel pain, even as Abba Macarius said, “Constrain your soul with pains and labours of every kind in ascetic excellence.” And this is what Abba Arsenius said to that brother, “Labour with all your might in the work of righteousness, and toil with the labours of the mind more than with all the various kinds of work of the body. For the labours of the body only incite and gratify the passions of the body, but the labours of the mind, that is to say, the thought which is in God, and prayer without ceasing, and the suppression of the thought(s) with humility liberate a man from all the passions, and they vanquish devils, and purify the heart, and make perfect love, and make him worthy of the revelations of the spirit.'”

[Abba Arsenius and Abba Macarius, Apophthegmata Patrum]

We bring more wars upon ourselves than devils do – Abba Agathon

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Abba Abraham asked Abba Agathon, saying, “How is it that the devils make war upon me? And Abba Agathon said unto him, “Do the devils make war upon thee? But they do not make war against us so fiercely as we ourselves do with our own wishes, though they do make war against us in proportion as our wishes do. Our desires become devils, and they force us to fulfil them. Now if thou wishest to see against whom they have made war, [it is] against Moses and those who resemble him.”

[Apophthegmata Patrum]