By night on my bed I sought the one I love – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

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“By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him but I did not find him.  ‘I will rise now,’ I said, ‘and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love.’ I sought him, but I did not find him. The watchmen who go about the city found me; I said, ‘Have you seen the one I love?’ Scarcely had I passed by them, when I found the one I love. I held him and would not let him go. “

(Song of Songs 3:1-4)

These verses indicate that even though this human soul is being slothful, sinful, and lazily wasting time in bed rather than prayers, the love of the Lord is manifest nonetheless. Despite the distance, there is love. The many shortcomings, misdeeds, and faults do not extinguish this love. Love exists. This is a surety. As St. Paul the Apostle says, “for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:8). So even though I may love the Lord from the depths of my heart, I may oftentimes commit sins because of my inherent weaknesses or addiction to certain habits, not because love is nonexistent.

O Lord  there are obstacles that prevent me from coming closer to You. But You O Lord know that I love You. It is true that I am asleep, but I love You. It is true that I err and commit sins, yet I still love You. Even though I do not do the things that reflect this love to You, yet love exists. 

Do you know to what we can liken this? It is similar to a deed that has in it all the various elements of life. However, in order for this seed to give forth fruit and blossom with life, certain conditions ought to exist. Life exists in this seed, albeit dormant. There is life but proper conditions must be present in order for life to spring forth.

I am similar to this weed. My love for you O Lord is dormant like a seed waiting for the right moment and the propitious circumstances; the fertile soul, the right nutrition, and a wise farmer for care for it. I will be able to bring forth fruit once You bestow Your grace upon me. Then I will bring forth leaves, branches, flowers, fruits and everything.

By night on my bed I sought the one I love. I sought Him in the dark of night. Zacchaeus, the tax collector, also sought God at night in bed, in sheer darkness. He did not resign his job to seek the Lord. Rather, he sought the Lord while he was still in the midst of darkness as a tax collector. The thief on the right also called Jesus at night and on his bed. St. Augustine also sought the Lord in the midst of the darkness of the night and on his bed. St. Moses the Black, St. Pellagia, St. Mary the Egyptian; all sought the Lord in the pitch dark of the night, in the midst of the darkness of sin.

These people sought the Lord and found Him. However, this virgin did not. There are those who lead a life of sin and still seek the Lord. They do not wait until they become pure and sanctified. On the contrary, they seek the Lord to become pure and sanctified. Rather than trying to become sanctified in order to seek the Lord, they seek the Lord in the condition in which they are in, in order for the Lord to help them become pure, holy, and sanctified. They do not wait until they have the spiritual zeal and are active in worship; rather they seek the Lord while they are still slothful and lazy so that the Lord may rid them of this laziness and grant them this sought-after spiritual zeal and fervour.

I am seeking the Lord while I am I’m bed, lazy and slothful. I seek You while I am lazy so that You may wake me up. I see You while I am in bed to help me get out of it. I seek You in the midst of my sins so that You may rid me of my sins; and I seek You now that I am distant and far so that You may draw me closer to You. There is a desire, a willingness, but the path is yet untrodden, novel and new. As of yet, I have not started the race. By night on my bed I sought the one I love.

Also the prodigal son sought the Lord while he was on his bed, in a far off country amongst the swine. What profound darkness! What an unfathomable pit! He said, “I will rise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18). This is the condition in which the Lord wants you to come to Him: in dirt, in filth, just the way you are.

Some people may opt to wait until they can attain a pure state and then pray. However, we urge such people to start to pray while they are still lost, lacking in understanding, lukewarm and lacking in spiritual zeal. Even when your thoughts are uncontrollable, you should pray. We urge you to pray and God will grant you the means to purity and cleanliness. Pray while you are in the night and on your bed. By night on my bed I sought the one I love.

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III of thrice blessed memory, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, “Have You Seen The One I Love”]

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A prayer for a new year – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

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[Today marks the first day of the Coptic New Year, the Nayrouz, the Feast of the Martyrs. God send you all a year like that below:] 

Lord, make it a blessed year,
A pure year to please You
A year in which Your Spirit prevails
And joins in working with us
Hold our hands and guide our thoughts from the beginning of the year till its end.

Let this year be Yours, to please You
It is a New Year, spotless; let us not spoil it with our sins or impurities
Lord, be with us in every work we intend to do this year
Let us rejoice in all Your deeds, and say with John the Evangelist: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (Jn 1:3).

Let this year, 0 Lord, be a happy year
Put a smile on each face and gladden every heart
Let Your grace emerge in our trials and help those who are tempted
Grant us peace and quietness of mind
Give those who are in need, cure the sick and console the grieved.

We do not ask You, God, only for ourselves
But we ask for the all, because they are Yours
You created them to rejoice in You, then make them happy with You
We ask You for the Church, for Your mission, that Your word may reach every heart
We ask you for our country, for the world’s peace that Your Kingdom may come everywhere.

Let it be a fruitful year, full of goodness
Everyday and every hour has its own work
Do not allow a futile moment
Fill our life with activity, work, and production

Grant us the blessing of a productive and holy toil. Let the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us in all our deeds.

We thank you, God, for you have kept us till this hour and granted us this year, that we may bless You. Amen

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III of thrice blessed memory, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, Words of Spiritual Benefit]

Let us walk in humility – St. Clement of Alexandria

Let us therefore, brethren, be of humble mind, laying aside all haughtiness, and pride, and foolishness, and angry feelings; and let us act according to that which is written (for the Holy Spirit says, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, neither let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories glory in the Lord, in diligently seeking Him, and doing judgment and righteousness”), being especially mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus which He spoke teaching us meekness and long-suffering.

For thus He spoke: “Be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as you do, so shall it be done unto you; as you judge, so shall you be judged; as you are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure ye mete, with the same it shall be measured to you.” By this precept and by these rules let us establish ourselves, that we walk with all humility in obedience to His holy words. For the holy word says, O” n whom shall I look, but on him that is meek and peaceable, and that trembles at my words. ” (Isaiah 66:2)

[St. Clement of Alexandria, Letter for the Corinthians]

Christ the Light – St. Clement of Alexandria

Sweet is the Word that gives us light, precious above gold and gems; it is to be desired above honey and the honey-comb. For how can it be other than desirable, since it has filled with light the mind which had been buried in darkness, and given keenness to the light-bringing eyes of the soul? For just as, had the sun not been in existence, night would have brooded over the universe notwithstanding the other luminaries of heaven; so, had we nor known the Word, and been illuminated by Him; we should have been nowise different from fowls that are being fed, fattened in darkness, and nourished for death.

Let us then admit the light, that we may admit God; let us admit the light, and become disciples to the Lord. This, too, He has been promised to the Father: I will declare Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the Church will I praise You. Praise and declare to me Your Father God; Your utterances save; Your hymn teaches that hitherto I have wandered in error, seeking God. But since You lead me to the light, O Lord, and I find God through You, and receive the Father from You, I become Your fellow-heir, (Romans 8:17) since You were not ashamed of me as Your brother (Hebrews 2:11).

Let us put away, then, let us put away oblivion of the truth, viz., ignorance; and removing the darkness which obstructs, as dimness of sight, let us contemplate the only true God, first raising our voice in this hymn of praise: Hail, O light! For in us, buried in darkness, shut up in the shadow of death, light has shone forth from heaven, purer than the sun, sweeter than life here below. That light is eternal life; and whatever partakes of it lives.

[St. Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter XI]

Draw near to him as a child – Mar Isaac the Syrian

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When you fall down before God in prayer, become in your thought like an ant, like a creeping thing of the earth, like a leech, and like a tiny lisping child. Do not say anything before him with knowledge, but with a child’s manner of thought, draw near God and walk before him, that you may be counted worthy of that paternal providence that fathers have for their small children.

[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies]

Consider the resurrection which occurs regularly – St. Clement of Rome

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Let us consider, beloved, how the Master continually calls our attention to the future resurrection, the first fruits of which He has made the Lord Jesus Christ by raising Him from the dead. Let us consider, beloved, the kind of resurrection that occurs at regular intervals. Day and night give us examples of resurrection. The night sleeps, the day rises; the day departs, the night comes on. Let us take the crops. The sowing – how and in what manner does it take place? The sower goes out and puts each of the seeds into the soil: when they fall on the soil, they are dry and bare, and decay. But once they have decayed, the Master’s wondrous Providence makes them rise, and each one increases and brings forth multiple fruit.

[St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians]

I sleep but my heart is awake – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

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“I sleep, but my heart is awake; it is the voice of my beloved! He
knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, My dove,
my perfect one; For my head is covered with dew,
My locks with the drops of the night.”
[Song of Songs 5:2]

The virgin of the Song of Songs sees herself as asleep. She remains without a spiritual outlook. There is no passion. There is no vigilance. There is no vitality. There is no activity. However, she affirms it to be acceptable. I sleep, but my heart is awake (Song 5:2), I have something encouraging since my heart is awake. Although I sleep, I am keenly sensitive to the voice of my Beloved. Indeed, I am asleep, but I still can hear the voice of my Beloved knocking and saying, Open for me, my sister, my love (Song 5:2). These are great words. Although I sleep, I can hear His voice. This is not death, only slumber. The Lord told them, the child is not dead, but sleeping (Mark 5:39). She still has the breath of life in her. It may be that the life in her is concealed and veiled, but there is still life in her. She still has life and that life will definitely bring forth fruit.

The trees do not produce fruits all year long. Yet, we do not cut it down and throw it into the fire. The tree still has life. Ploughing around it and enriching it with fertilizers may help it bring forth fruits later. I sleep, but my heart is awake.

I sleep, but my heart is awake. It is counter productive to focus on the negatives and admonish and reproach sleep. It would be wonderful, however, if the heart that is awake is beaming gleefully and vivaciously with hope. We should not lose sight of the fact that had God relinquished hope in the state of the Church when it is lukewarm, lacking in zeal and ardor, or had He given up hope in ever awakening our hearts, we would have all perished. Rather, time and again, the Lord has consoled, sustained and encouraged us that even though our bodies are asleep and the flesh is weak, our hearts are awake and the spirit is willing. It is these alert hearts that the Lord seeks and desires.

One may be asleep like wasteland: The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. However, there is something positive, nonetheless. The spirit of God (is) hovering over the face of the waters (Gen 1:2). Something beautiful is bound to come out of it.

Micah the prophet seems to reiterate the same theme. Do not rejoice over me, O sin, for even if I fall, I will rise up again (cf. Micah 7:8). This is an affirmation, an assertion, that even though one may commit a sin or make a mistake, one will not wallow in the dirt but will brace oneself and rise up again. We have that same conviction that after every Golgotha, there is a resurrection. Therefore, despite my apparent frailty and weakness while being nailed to the cross, in a short while I will resurrect in great glory.

There are positive aspects in everyone’s life. Some people, however, give up and resign themselves to despondency and despair. Some people can only see futility, uselessness and hopelessness when they confront difficulties and challenges. Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days (John 11:39).

The Lord, on the other hand, ascertains that this is not true. He sees life in Lazarus. If you would believe, you would see the glory of God, (1 John 1:40). God confirms that the person who is thought of as dead, even with a stench, and has been in that condition for a long time will rise up again. He has a heart that is awake, and the minute the Lord utters the words Lazarus, come forth he will rise, come out of the grave and see the Light.

There is hope. There is hope for everyone. No one can shut the door of hope to anyone regardless of their condition. Even if the human spirit is without form, and void; and darkness is on the face of deep, even if it has developed a stench for lying in the grave for four days, and even if she is asleep. The important thing is that the heart is awake.

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III of thrice blessed memory, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, “Have You Seen The One I Love”]

[Extract from Pimonakhos Vol. 3 Issue 4 produced by St. Shenouda’s the Archimandrite Coptic Orthodox Monastery, Sydney Australia]