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]

Tell me, O whom I love, Where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda III

Tell me, O you whom I love, Where you feed your flock, Where you make it rest at noon. (Song of Songs 1:7)

Many people who ask the Lord, Tell me, O whom I love, Where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon, are unaware that the Lord is with them, amongst them and in their midst. They simply do not experience His presence. This also brings to mind what Jesus said to St. Philip, Have I been with you so long, and yet you have no known Me, Philip, (John 14:9).

The man born blind also provides us with another example. When Jesus found him again, He said to him, Do you believe in the Son of God? The man answered and said, Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him? To which Jesus responded, you have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you, (John 9:35-37). You are with Him, but you do not see Him. Tell me, O whom I love, Where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon. This is a call for the Lord, an earnest appeal to see the Lord and a sincere, solemn request to know Him and enjoy His companionship. It is a reflection of an overwhelming desire to join the few followers of the Shepherd in the wilderness. Where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon.

At a time in which the heat is most severe and spiritual warfare is most intense, a time in which everyone is seeking shelter from the oppressive heat and trying to find comfort for their hearts and their souls, my sole concern and my one desire is to find shelter underneath Your shade. I am seeking you at noon, a time of labour and hard work, toiling under the scorching sun that has beleaguered and stressed me with its excessive heat. Exhausted and worn out I see You, Tell me, O whom I love, Where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon.

What a worthy request! What a beautiful call. A great number of people seek the Lord and reverberate the same request. Saul of Tarsus asked the Lord, Lord, what do You want me to do? (Acts 9:6). He expresses his desire to do whatever the Lord pleases, whatever is requested of him. The rich young man also asks Jesus, Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? (Mark 19:16).

Tell me, O whom I love, Where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon. I love you, O Lord, from the depths of my heart and with all my being. I long to do whatever is pleasing for You. Sometimes, however, I do not know what to do. I would like to live with You and enjoy Your fellowship, but I do not know how. There are many different paths that lie ahead of me, so which one shall I choose? I would like to know Your holy blessed will and plan for my life. Tell me, O Lord, about Your Divine plan for my life. Tell me, O whom I love, Where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon. Let me know what You want me to do.

People oftentimes ask the Lord to make known His plan for their lives. They ask what kind of life the Lord wants them to lead. Is it a life of service or one of seclusion? Is it in matrimony or in celibacy? Is it a life of meditation or one of work? Where do You want me, Lord? Is it in speech or in silence? In utter devotion and consecration or is it something else? Tell me, O whom I love, Where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon.

This is an example of a human soul that is confronted with many paths. It asks the Lord for help in finding His way among the many paths that lie ahead. The Lord assures you that whatever path you choose, He will walk alongside with you. The important thing for God is your adoring, loving heart. The Lord is not concerned with the “path” you choose. Rather, His main concern is the “way” you choose to lead your life. What kind of life you opt to lead is the important thing for the Lord.

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Have You Seen the One I Love]

By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him. (Song of Songs 3:1)

The story recounted in the Song of Songs is the spiritual life story of the human soul that has experienced life with God, one in which it has tasted the sweet and sour and undergone the good and the bad. This human soul has witnessed Gethsemane. Yet, it has also experienced the Mount of Transfiguration. It has tasted the bitterness of being alienated from God, but it has also experienced the sweetness of His companionship and His nearness. It has undergone many different states and feelings.

This human soul has experienced kindness and thoughtfulness. It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, ‘Open for me, my love, my dove, my perfect one,’ (Song 5:2). It has also encountered rejection and denial, I sought him, but I did not find him, (Song 3:1). It has experienced, I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine, (Song 6:3), and, His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me, (Song 2:6). However, it has also encountered deprivation and abandonment and has been much afflicted by the guards. It has been depicted as black, yet, it has also been portrayed as beautiful, (Song 1:5). It has been subjected to humiliation and disgrace from her mother’s sons who called her keeper of vineyards, (Song 1:6). On the other hand, she has also been exalted and praised by her bridegroom, Behold you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove’s eyes, (Song 4:1).

Such is the condition of the human soul as it experiences living with the Lord, as it savours things that may be sweet or sour, and as it goes through difficulties and happiness. It is a long road in which man marches with the Lord. There are failures, difficulties and hardships along the road, but there are also triumphs and successes.

I have told you many times before and I still maintain that one of the most telling verses that reflects spiritual life is the last verse in chapter right of the book of Genesis. After the Flood, we read, While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease (Gen 8:22). In your lives, my beloved, there is day and night, cold and heat, summer and winter. No man leads an exclusively happy, easy and comfortable life. Every man is bound to encounter periods of darkness and difficulties, if only temporarily. Even the righteous children of light  are occasionally subjected to phases of darkness and difficulty.

This virgin reminisces and recounts those phases of abandonment, deprivation, and the many attempts made to seek the Lord. Throughout it all, she has always felt the love that has so tightly united her with the Lord. In the midst of those stages of abandonment when she sought but could not find him, she would be searching and enquiring, Have you seen the one I love? (Song 3:3). She would make an effort to find him, I will rise now…and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love, (Song 3:2). Even though the relationship with the Lord has been severed, she has not lost that love.

Love is forever in her heart. Love for the Lord is the foundation of this relationship. It is not founded on formalities, false pretences, mere rituals, commandments or fear. Rather it is based on love; it is based on strong foundations and profound feelings.

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Have You Seen the One I Love]

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]