Words of Spiritual Benefit | 31-40

31. SPIRITUAL FASTING

Lent is one of the oldest and most holy fasts of the year, where we remember the forty days fast of the Lord, to which we add the Passion Week, which is a treasure for the whole year.

It is important to experience this fast as a spiritual period. Therefore, we have to contemplate together the spirituality of the fast and train ourselves to practise it.

Fasting is not just abstaining from food, this is just a means to control the body in order to elevate the spirit.

During fasting, do you completely control your body?  Do you take interest in positive actions that help you grow spiritually?

As you deprive your body from food, do you give your spirit its food?...

Therefore fasting has always been connected with prayer, contemplation and other spiritual activities, such as reading, singing hymns, spiritual gatherings, spiritual exercises and judging oneself.

As fasting is accompanied by prayer, it is also accompanied by repentance.  Nineveh is such an example, with all the humility it involved.  There is also the fasting described by the prophet Joel (2:12-17).  God is pleased with fasting in which sin is abandoned more than mortifying the body.  We read about the fasting of the people of Nineveh, "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it." (Jon 3: 10)

Fasting has also to be accompanied by acts of mercy.  We act mercifully towards people so that God may have mercy upon us.  We experience people's pain when we feel the hunger, so we have pity on those who are hungry and feed them...

One of the best sayings of the Fathers about fasting is, "... if you do not have what to offer these saints then fast and offer them your food." This has been explained by the Prophet Isaiah (Chapter 58).

Fasting is a period of forsaking material matters and whatever relates to them.

Forsaking means having no concern about food, its types, cooking and arrangement, which would make the fast lose its spirituality and become a formality... The prophet Daniel said this beautiful saying during his fast, "I ate no pleasant food." (Dan. 10:3)

Forsaking food by abstaining from it and from its cravings is, in general, an evidence of asceticism because of the preoccupation of the heart with whatever is spiritual and beneficial for the eternal life...


32. EXERCISES DURING LENT

To have a powerful effect on your spiritual life during lent , you need to follow certain exercises, which, when you put into a life situation, would help you benefit from your fast:

[1] To exercise giving up a specific sin, from the sins that prevail upon you, and which is repeated in many of your confessions.

[2] To exercise learning some Psalms from the Agbia.  You may choose one or two Psalms from each of the seven prayers, especially the Psalms that leave an effect on you.

[3] To exercise learning the Bible readings of the different hours, divide them into parts, analyse them knowing that for each prayer there are three or six parts.

[4] To exercise the mental prayer of what you have learned. You may pray during work, on the road, while with people or at any time.

[5] Use these prayers, Psalms and Bible readings as a sphere for contemplation, to enable yourself to pray them with depth and understanding.

[6] To exercise spiritual readings: either by plentiful reading from the Bible regularly, with understanding and meditation... or reading the lives of the Saints or some spiritual books, so that you gain a profitable yield of deep readings.

[7] During lent, you may exercise learning the hymns of lent and the Passion Week, and repeating them until you are full of their spirit...

[8] You may exercise a certain level of fasting, under the supervision of your spiritual father.

[9] There are many spiritual exercises in the field of dealing with people... such as gentleness, patience, enduring others' weaknesses, controlling anger, using words of praise and encouragement, serving and helping others, kindness and meekness.

[10] Other exercises in purity of the heart:

Such as modesty, inner peace, love of God, being satisfied without grumbling, quietness with no disturbance, internal joy in the spirit, faith and hope...


33. TROUBLES OF INTELLIGENCE

Intelligence has many advantages in one's life and the life of others.

But intelligence causes some troubles.  How does that happen?

If the intelligent, or very intelligent person expects people to deal with him on the same level of intelligence, which they are not up to, then he will clash with them, troubling them and they will trouble him...

He will expect from them more than what they are capable of.

He will be sad in heart because they acted in such a manner.

This is the first fault; being annoyed with people's behaviour.

How did they fail to understand him?!  How did they act as such?!

Why do they cause such harm?  Don't they understand?

"Although the matter is obvious!" (to him of course, but not to

them)!

He might change from sadness and annoyance to fury and anger!

The treatment might get worse with more rebuke and reprimand...

Therefore, those who work under the management of an intelligent person might have many troubles!  In spite of their admiration of his understanding and of many of his deeds, they find him sometimes short-tempered, giving many orders and expecting from them more than what they can cope with!  He might get annoyed for no reason, (in their opinion of course)...

The intelligent person, more than anybody else, falls in judging others.

Perhaps without intention his brain thinks fast. He discovers faults quickly maybe spontaneously

An intelligent person might feel lonely... or tend to be lonely...

Maybe because he does not benefit much from people... or because he does not like the way they act... or does not find a match to his friendship!

The philosopher Diogenes is a clear example: he was seen carrying a lamp during the daytime, and when asked the reason, he said, "I am searching for a person!"

Thus an intelligent person could fall in pride too...

Either due to his continual success, or by people's talk about his brilliant deeds, or by feeling superior when compared to others... Generally, the virtue of humility on the part of those who are intelligent - needs a greater effort...

Here, someone might ask this intelligent question: Why doesn't the intelligent person discover these faults, through his intelligence, and avoid them?

The answer is that he might discover his faults, but to avoid them is another point.  There is a difference between the intellectual and spiritual, between the mind and the soul.


34. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE?

Marriage, according to the Christian concept, is that a spiritual person, or a temple of the Holy Spirit, weds another spiritual person, who is also a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Both are spiritually joined together through the sacrament of marriage, to become one...

Therefore, both must be of the same faith, the perfect faith, because the Holy Spirit should not join contradictory beliefs together.

That is how marriage succeeds, and the Holy Spirit harmoniously and spiritually works in both.

To join together two who are not repentant, who are far from the Holy Spirit and its works, is not a spiritual action.

For this reason, the Church accepts the confession of the engaged couple, and they receive the Holy Communion before their marriage, so both would start a perfect spiritual life together, in cooperation.

Such a marriage would not be subject to the differences that usually happen when the spiritual life of the married couple is not perfect...

We are trying to set up rules for the personal statute.

Some think of extending the reasons for divorce, when life becomes impossible for the married couple!... Why does it become impossible?  Because they do not live in the spirit, according to the understanding of a Christian marriage...

Those people want a non-Christian marriage (non-spiritual) not ruled by the Law of Christ which does not permit divorce, except for a cause...

If the Christian married couple lived a spiritual life, the cause of divorce could be abolished completely from the personal statute.  There would be no need for it, as the great love that joins the married couple together would never allow divorce. On the contrary, instead of separation, the relationship between them will deepen day after day...

The most beautiful analogy of the Christian marriage, and the relationship between the married couple, is the relationship between Christ and the Church.  As the Apostle said, "This is a great mystery." (Eph. 5:32)

Is there a deeper similarity than that?  Or a greater love than that? "Nevertheless, let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself." (Eph. 5:33)

Christian marriage is not just a passing relationship that eventually ends!  It is a life-time relationship.  The woman to the man is, "... bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." (Gen. 2:23) She is his body and he is her head.  Both are one body. For her sake, he leaves his father and mother... What an amazing relationship!


35. FEAR

There is a childish fear, such as fear of darkness or of loneliness.

This fear might stay with a person in his old age.  A person could have fear for no reason.  It is weakness of oneself.

Another type of fear is caused by sin...

Adam began to experience fear after he sinned, "and I was afraid..." (Gen. 3: 10).  And each person who sins could fear that his sin might be discovered, so he fears having a bad reputation or punishment or the bad consequences expected from his sin...

There is another fear which is caused by the lack of self- confidence.

The fear of failure or of the unknown future, or the fear of meeting a superior or facing a specific situation.

This fear is also resultant from lack of faith, lack of faith in God's care and protection.  As for the Saints, they never feared, because of their feeling of God's presence with them, protecting them "... though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me." (Ps. 23:4). "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?" (Ps. 27:1)

Fear could also be due to a psychological complex since childhood:

Such as a son whose father was cruel to him so that fear was rooted in him; by punishment, rebuke or insult, and making him feel wrong in whatever he did.  So, he became unconfident in what he did, he feared...

In addition to all this is the fear of God... "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Ps. 111: 10).  But man develops until he reaches the love of God, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18).  But the fear of God does not mean being terrified.  It is awe and reverence; a holy fear...

The Lord Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

The fear of God leads us to keep the Commandments ...

St. Augustine said, "I sat on the summit of this world, when I felt, deep inside me that I do not desire anything or fear anything...


36. THE CROSS IN OUR LIFE PART B

Christianity without a cross would not be Christianity...

The Lord said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt. 16:24)

He even said more than that, "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matt. 10:38,39)

The cross could be from the inside or from the outside...

From the inside, as the Apostle says, "I have been crucified with Christ;. it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)

Therefore, self-denial is a cross...

Few are those who succeed in carrying this cross...

As for the outside cross, it is any affliction that the faithful endures for the sake of God, either of his own will or imposed on him.

The Lord Jesus said about this, "In the world you will have tribulation." (John 16:33) It was also said, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous." (Ps. 34:19).  And, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." (Act 14:22)

But this cross, with all its sorrow and hardships, is a source of our glory and of our joy.  As the Apostle says, "But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal. 6:14)

The Apostle also says, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecution, in distresses, for Christ's sake.  For when I am weak. then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12: 10)

Our teacher James, the Apostle, advises us by saying, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that that testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:2,3)

The Church loved the Cross that it was taken as its symbol...

The Church used to teach her children how to love suffering for the sake of God, and planted in their minds the saying of the Bible, "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed." (1 Pet. 3:14)

Christianity even considered suffering a gift from God...

The Bible said, "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." (Phil. 1:29)

In suffering and in carrying the Cross, God does not leave His children..

The Psalm says, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous." But it is followed by... "But the Lord delivers him out of them all." (Ps. 34:19).  It also says, "For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous." (Ps. 125:3).


37. WHEN DO YOU TALK?

If you talk just for the sake of talking, that is one thing.

If you want to achieve something through your talk, that is a different matter, which makes you talk objectively and effectively.

In this latter case, you need some useful advice:

=> Talk when there is an ear ready to listen to you.  If you find that the person to whom you are talking is not listening to you, stop talking.  Do not talk  to a person who is exhausted or tired, either physically or psychologically, or who is under pressure...

Do not talk to a person who is busy and has no time to listen to you, or does not have the time to understand and discuss your point of view...

As it has been wisely said, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (Prov. 25:11)

Before you talk to a person, choose the right time, when he is feeling the best, to present your opinion and he will be ready, in heart and mind, to listen and understand you, and accept your talk...

If you want your talk to be effective:

Win your listeners, then you'll win the talk and its outcome.

Many aim at winning the discussion by any means, even by losing the one to whom they are talking... which results in the loss of everything.  Logic alone is not enough without the psychological side...

1. The one who defeats his discussant and proves him wrong, especially in the presence of others, could never gain anything good from this person...

2. Whoever interrupts who speaks to him, without giving him a chance to talk, and answers back before the speech is finished and acts as an opponent, will never find in the heart of his discussant the ability to respond or be convinced, no matter how logical his opinion may be.

3. The one who mocks the ideas of another, showing how they are weak, trivial, impractical and illogical, will also achieve no result...

Therefore, respect the opinion of the other speaker, no matter how much you are against him...

Answer him politely and courteously...

Try and reach the heart of the one you speak with, before, you reach his mind.  Then surely you will win the heart as well as the mind.


38. PEACE OF THE HEART

Peace of the heart is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

When the Holy Spirit dwells in one's heart, it gives peace to this heart, as the Apostle says, "and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding..." (Phil. 4:7)

Peace was a gift from the Lord Jesus to the people, as He said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you." (John 14:27)

The one who is full of peace does not get troubled, or worried or disturbed, no matter how much pressure is on him from the outside.

His peace does not depend on the outer circumstances but on his confidence in God's protection and care and his faith in God's promises.

As long as the Lord exists, works and protects, there is no need to fear.  For this reason the prophet David said, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me;  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." (Ps. 23:4)

His source of peace is his feeling that God is with him.

The Disciples were troubled when they were in the boat and they thought that the Lord was asleep, while the sea was high. They lost their peace.  The prevailing factor was the outer circumstances and the feeling that God's work was not there. Therefore, the Lord arose and rebuked the wind and restored their peace to them.

Be firm inside, steadfast in your faith, then nothing from outside will shake you.  Be like a house built on the rock, no wind or rain will affect it, as it is firmly built.

A good ship is never harmed by strong waves that hit it. But when does a ship get affected?  When there is a hole that lets water inside it... Do you have a hole that would let water leak into yourself and drown it...

St Anthony was an example of peace of the heart.  The Apostolic St Athanasius, said about him "Anyone with a bitter soul, and disturbed thought, will have his heart filled with peace when he sees the face of St Anthony."

The one who is full of peace could flow over to others, granting them comfort...

Live then in peace, you will be comforted and live in confidence and calm, in good health, both spiritually and physically...


39. CARRY YOUR CROSS...
BE CRUCIFIED, NOT A CRUCIFIER

If you are crucified, be assured that God will be with you, restoring your right completely, if not in this world, then in Heaven.

If however you are a crucifier of others God will be against you, till He restores others' rights from you, and punish you...

If you crucify others, it means that there is an evil element of attack and violence in you.  These are all different aspects of injustice that do not agree with the righteousness expected from you or with the human idealism that laymen need...

But if you are crucified, especially for the sake of truth or faith, be confident that any pain you suffer is counted by God.  It has its crown in Heaven and its blessing on earth...

Be sure that heaven is completely on your side: God, the angels, and the saints...

All those who follow what is right, suffer for its sake.

All those who remained firm in faith, paid a price for their faith...

The history of martyrs has many stories of those whose blood was shed for the sake of their faith... our history, in particular, is full of such stories...

Anyone can be violent, but it does not prove idealism.  Injustice is easy and within the reach of anyone but there is no religion that agrees with it...

Therefore, keep your idealism and temper and carry your cross. The falsity that frightens you will never remain forever...

The Lord Jesus who tasted the bitterness of pain and endured the cross, is able to help those who suffer and are crucified at any time and in any place...

Look at the picture of Jesus, crucified, and you will be comforted.

Be confident that after Calvary, there are the glories of the Resurrection...

God saw the blood of Naboth the Jezreelite being shed and He did not remain silent.  His reaction was strong...

Therefore, "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!" (Ps. 27:14)

If you are crucified, Christ will be by your side... He will see His image in you... Be therefore an image of Christ.


40. YOUR SPIRITUALITY DURING EL-KHAMASIN [PENTECOST]

Truly, El-Khamasin (the 50 days after Easter) are days of joy, no fasting and no prostration, even on wednesdays and fridays...

But we can also be spiritual during joy...

Otherwise, how are you going to be spiritual in paradise, and the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is eternal joy?!...

What you miss of fasting and prostration could be substituted by more prayers, more spiritual readings, more meditation, more hymns and singing psalms, following the Bible's saying, "Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms..." (James 5: 13)

You could also be nourished by contemplating on God's love which created salvation... the love of God who wanted to spend forty days with His disciples, after the resurrection, "...being seen by them during forty days and speaking of things pertaining to the kingdom of God." (Act 1: 3)

During this period, exercise talking to God and be in His presence, by reading psalms, having personal prayers and thanking God for His amazing salvation... Keep away from anything that could hinder you from being in the divine presence...

Live a life of joy in the Lord.  But do not make your joy a physical one, by being extravagant in eating.

Fast breaking does not mean persevering in the desire of food.

Self-control is also needed while not fasting...