Do not let sin prevent repentance – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

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“The sinner thinks that sin prevents him from seeking God, whereas it is for this that Christ has descended to ask for man! Is it not that God has come to the flesh of man to cure its illness and redeem him from the sin that has ruled over him, and to raise him from the curse of death? Sin is no longer able to sever the sinner from God after he has sent his Son and paid the price—the whole price—on the cross. ”

[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Repentance]

In prayer, God offers us Himself – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

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Although prayer is a spiritual sense implanted in man’s soul, in the very core of its self-consciousness, many people never pray. Prayer thus remains dormant for a whole lifetime. A man may die without ever having been aware of the self or of its affinity to God. St. Jude the Apostle described such souls as “wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever” (Jude 1.13).

This is a very serious matter. Prayer is not merely a sense to be used to organise our lives in this age alone. It is implanted in our nature that, through it, we may ascend to God and achieve union with him. We may thus pass from this fleeting perishable life to an eternal life with God.

It seems as if we were created for prayer. Prayer is the only bond that links us to God. It stands before our hearts as the eternal life, which is our hope. Prayer is the condition in which we discover our own divine image, on which the stamp of the Holy Trinity is impressed. When we lose prayer, we actually lose the glory of our image, and we no longer resemble God in any way. God draws us to himself through prayer, and through prayer we mysteriously travel toward him in a manner too deep to understand. In fact, through prayer we draw God to ourselves, and he comes to us and makes his home with us.

To God, love is not an emotion but a self-offering. In prayer, God offers us himself. God offered himself when he created us in his own image. Through prayer, he offers us union with himself so that he may become totally ours, and we may become totally his.

Prayer opens up our lives towards God: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them” (Is 63.9). Prayer also opens up God’s life to us: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us [during prayer] with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8.26).

[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life]

By prayer, the effect of Christ’s nature becomes manifest in us – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

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The transcendent gifts of the Christian life are manifold. Some are general, like the second birth, redemption for the forgiveness of sins, justification by grace, sanctification by the blood of Christ. Others are personal, like the gift of love, humility, piety, the glowing of spirit in constant intimacy with the Lord, and so forth. The strength and efficacy of all these gifts, however, can never be manifested except through prayer.

By prayer, the effect of Christ’s nature becomes manifest in us. By prayer, the power of his death and life appears in our works and behaviour. By prayer, the sweet savour of Christ is scented in our words and thoughts. It is even scented in our quietude and silence as well.

The work of Christ to redeem from sin, to save from sin, and to bring victory over evil can never appear except through a life of prayer. Neither can the living testimony of the new birth be brought about without such life. Without a life of prayer, all attempts to declare these divine actions in man’s nature become false, theoretical, and a product of the ego or self-will. In such a case, the old Adam remains as he is with his inclinations, passions and earthly nature.

We should then accept these facts about prayer and set our hearts to them. We should resolve firmly to apply them with all our strength, which will cost us much effort and sacrifice. But whatever the sacrifice or effort, we will surely attain to all the transcendent mysteries of Christ – such mysteries as were previously only a matter of hearing.

This can be realised only when prayer becomes our supreme concern, our main preoccupation, which outweighs all other cares; our duty, which challenges all other duties; our pleasure, which surpasses every other pleasure. We would then pray at all times, in all circumstances, in all places, in all conditions. We would pray in an insatiable hunger for constant contact with Christ. In all this we would be urged by his words, deeds, actions, and character – as he said, “Learn from me” (Mt 11.29).

[Fr. Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life]

“Am I truly heading for God? But where is he?” – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

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“But while waiting in patience for progress, we must also avoid another misconception about growth in the contemplative life. It is conceived by some that the way of worship, contemplation, and solitude is strewn with flowers and roses – by no means. For the way is an arid wilderness. It has no comeliness that we might desire it in itself. Let is suffice to know that Christ described it as a narrow gate, and a tough, rugged path. You will then ask, “Am I truly heading for God? But where is he?” This is only the beginning of the ordeal that your soul will undergo on the way. It will find itself destitute of any help from any human being. It will feel devoid of any spiritual comfort or sign whatsoever – even of one word of promise of encouragement. Common sense will become your adversary. Thus, your faith will be tested and vision will be denied you.

At the onset of this spiritual dryness, many can no longer bear the sight of the rugged path ahead. They turn back. They speak with the perplexity of Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1.46). As for those who carry on in faith in such conditions, they are truly blessed. “If you would believe you would see the glory of God” (Jn 11.40).

However, if you intend to follow this path, you must also be forewarned that even faith will not sustain you with the same strength throughout the whole journey. It will fail you from time to time, for on the way you will seek your former pleasures. Your heart shall crave once more for Egypt with its leeks and onions. Your self will come out and blame you: Why have you led me to the wilderness, to kill me? Both your soul and mine are poverty stricken and well nigh incorrigible. We shall hanker after meat in the wilderness. We shall ask for a sign on the way but none shall be given us.

Many are those who have stood bewildered, asking: Where are we? What is the purpose behind our journey? What were we doing coming this way in the first place? But these are questions of doubt, a cry of retreat. Many have turned back before the end because they preferred to live by sight.

They asked for a sign for themselves, thus proving their lack of faith. Their wish being rejected, they gave up the trail and flung themselves with a vengeance into the arms of the madding crowd. They plunged with all their might into the countless crazes of this world and have become obsessed with them. This they have done not because they see any real benefit to these activities, but because they want to escape the truth that confronted them. For fear seized them when they were forced to face the fact that they had to walk by faith alone and not by sight.

Had it not been for Moses, Israel would not have journeyed for a single day in the desert. Yet, Moses journeyed forty years in the hope of reaching the promised land. His only resource throughout this long struggle was faith. By means of his towering faith, he managed to lead an obstinate people forty years in a most arid wilderness. We need the leadership of Moses for ourselves so that we can walk by faith. By faith we can push ourselves to go on even though we can see nothing. However long our struggle may last, we should keep on going along the way of God, for we are certain that at the end of the trail lies the heavenly Jerusalem prepared like a bride for her bridegroom. But so long as the journey goes on, we should be satisfied with God’s faithfulness to his promises, the secret encouragements that he gives us, and his voice speaking to us out of eternity.”

[Fr. Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life]

Be patient in your progress, it does not happen all at once – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

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The blessings of the contemplative life do not burst in on our lives like a flash of lightning. They do not arrest our attention the moment we open our eyes to look for them. Rather, they permeate our lives imperceptibly. They are like the light of the rising sun. The first faint light of dawn penetrates the veil of darkness – slowly but surely. Although it is difficult to trace the inception of this light, it spreads until it pervades everything. It dispels the darkness before the sun rises into view.

In order to attain a fruitful life of prayer, we should not expect blessings to fall upon us suddenly. Rather, we should make our way through with slow but sure steps. We need a long, disciplines struggle. We need patience and constraint. It is enough to make progress however slow that progress may seem, or however pitch-black the world around us and around our faith may appear. Mere progress in the life of prayer and intimacy with God is a sure sign that we will reach our goal. It is proof positive that the light must appear, however long it may be hidden from us. Once it appears, the fruit of our laborious struggle and our faith and patience will materialise. When we constraint ourselves in our struggle, when we expend our sweat and tears, when we contend with our doubts and whispers – walking on in spite of the darkness that shrouds everything in us, our own eyes may not see in ourselves anything but weakness. The eyes of God, however, see precious and valuable signs of growth: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29); “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake.” (Heb 6:10)

[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life]

Fasting by itself is not a virtue – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

[Tomorrow, the 16th day of Hatour in the Coptic calendar marks the beginning of the Blessed Fast of the Nativity. May God grant us an acceptable and fruitful fast before Him, to aid us in the salvation of our souls, and to the Glory of His Name.]

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Fasting by itself is not a virtue. It is nothing at all. Without prayer, it becomes a bodily punishment that induces spiritual aridity and bad temper. The same is true of prayer; without fasting, it loses its power along with its fruits.

We may liken fasting to a burning coal and prayer to frankincense. Neither has value without the other, but together, the sweet savour of their incense fills the air.

Fasting calms the impulses of the flesh and quenches the fire of passion; it curbs the prattling of the tongue. Thus, it substantially prepares us for the work of prayer and the release of the spirit from slavery to the flesh. In this way, fasting allows the spirit to contemplate the truths of eternity and the age to come. 

The following constitute spiritual meanings for fasting:

– Fasting is not a deprivation from certain kinds of food, but a voluntary abstinence from them.

– It does not humiliate the flesh, but refreshes the spirit.

– Nor does it fetter or imprison the senses; it releases them from all that hinders the contemplation of God.

– Fasting does not seek to repress the appetite for food. It renounces this appetite and, in renunciation, elevates it to relish the love of God.

– Fasting does not imply confinement or restriction, but aims at joy and magnanimity of heart.

[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life, Chapter 13]

Prayer brings us into contact with Christ who is within us – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

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Prayer is an effective power that brings us into contact with the Christ who is actually present within us. He is the source of every power, blessing, and life: “Whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redempion” (1 Cor 1.30). He who does not use the power of prayer never makes contact with the Christ who is within him. He thus lives alienated from God’s wisdom. He remains deprived of his righteousness, sanctification and redemption. However hard we may try to know Christ without prayer, we would only know him as a Saviour of people, a Redeemer of others, a Sanctifier of saints, a Justifier of sinners. We would remain deprived of all these gifts and graces. We will not receive them unless we first receive Christ through prayer within our lives. We should first make him at rest in our hearts so he may live in us. He should share everything with us and manage all our affairs.

Christ will never unite with one’s thoughts, emotions, will or senses unless he first unites with one’s soul. So man should first open his whole being in prayer that Christ may rest in the recesses of his soul. God has created this soul in his own image for himself that he may own it and rule it completely. He is thus able to manage man’s life and command his thoughts, emotions, will and senses.

Christ becomes king over man’s soul through man’s frequent prayer and the outpouring of his self. He becomes the true centre of its being and movements. At that stage, man will never find rest in anything except in Christ alone, where the image would rest in its own likeness. Since the soul has been created for immortality, it will thus find in Christ, when it unites with him, its ultimate joy. Through his existence, he consummates its own existence and immortality.

[Fr. Matta El Meskeen (the Poor), Orthodox Prayer Life]