Words of Spiritual Benefit | 41-50

41. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF ZEAL?

Zeal is kindling the heart and the will, as if with fire, to do what one believes to be good... One might become enthusiastic and taken over by zeal, for something wrong, like St Paul when he said about his past, "concerning zeal, persecuting the Church." (Phil. 3:6)

While there is a holy zeal, as the Psalmist talked about, "Because zeal for your house has eaten me up" (Ps. 69:9), there is also a sinful zeal as in Gal 5:20. And "Jealousy as cruel as the grave" (Songs 8:6).  Therefore the Apostle said, "But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always." (Gal. 4:18)

There is a zeal that is not good, like what the Apostle talked about to the Romans, "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." (Rom.. 10:2)

=> One might ignorantly become zealous, enthusiastic to fight something without knowledge or investigation, without accuracy, just for what is heard, as Jesus said, "Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service." (John 16:2). This zeal is not associated with knowledge, like the zeal of Saul of Tarsus, about which he said, "... but I obtained, mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1: 13)

Therefore, do not become zealous hastily, but mix your zeal with knowledge...

Do not believe everything said to you about others' faults or requirements of reform...

Think, study and investigate everything, adhere to the good attributes.

=> Jealousy could be wrong in its means and way of expression...

For example, Peter's zeal for the Lord, which made him raise his sword and cut off the ear of the slave.  John and James who, when one of the Samaritan cities rejected the Lord, said to Him, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" (Luke 9:54)

One could be filled with zeal which makes one fall in abusing and defaming or hurting and bashing or rebelling and ruining. Such a person changes into a tool of destruction, ruining whatever stands in his way in a non-spiritual manner.

This is also a kind of jealousy which is not according to knowledge because the person does not know the right spiritual way to express his zeal.

It happened that forty Jewish persons vowed not to eat and drink, till they had killed Paul...

=> There is a wrong zeal which is mixed with selfishness and bias...

An example of this is Joshua's zeal for the sake of Moses, when he saw two persons prophesying, "Are you zealous for my sake?  Oh, that all the Lord's people were prophets..." (Num. 11:29)


42.  VIOLENCE

Nobody likes violence.

People hate it, flee from it and from those who are violent.

At the same time, they love gentleness, kindness and tenderness.

If an objective is reached through violence, its achievement is temporary.  Once the violence goes away, such an attainment disappears.

Therefore, many violent persons continue in this manner all their life.  They fear failure if they leave their violence.  At the same time, they fear others' revenge and anger...

Violence has been the weapon of dictators in all ages.  It is also the weapon of terrorists and the rebellious and the cruel...

They deal with the will of the people, not with their hearts...

They force others to do things, by controlling their will... although their hearts might not be satisfied and their minds not convinced.  Therefore, if reformation takes place it will be just on the outside.  Real reformation originates from inside the heart...

This also applies to morals...

Violence does not build manners, it is a false appearance.

Violence could result from being subject to a regime or respecting the law, but it never establishes a pure heart that loves goodness...

In this case, by submission to violence, one could change into two persons: an outer person with the appearance of piety while the inner person is a lover of sin.  He could change to form the picture that Jesus described, "For you are like white washed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Matt. 23:27)

God himself said, "My son, give me your heart." (Prov. 23:26)

God wants the heart, not the outside appearance.

Therefore, one's goodness is measured by the extent of one's love and conviction of what is good.

If a person loves what is good, he will do it without any pressure of outside violence, without fear and without seeking a reward or praise or payment of any kind... Jesus came calling for goodness without violence.  He never forced people to do what is good, but to love doing it. It becomes a desire that dwells inside their hearts and feelings, without being compelled to do it.  The Lord did not want slaves who walk in fear...

How insignificant is the good that is done through violence.


43. THE SPIRITUAL PATH

A life of repentance is the beginning of the spiritual way.  It is a transition from being hostile and resisting God, to following His way.

It is however a long way where one aims at a life of holiness, “without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14).  And the Lord said. "... you shall be holy for I am holy." (Lev.11 :44).

There are levels of holiness, where one grows, taking the Lord Himself as an example, to come closer to His image and likeness...

That is how the faithful develop from just a life of holiness, to aiming at perfection, as God expects from them.

God commanded this perfection in us by saying, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) St Paul, the apostle, was raised to the third heaven and saw unutterable things.  God granted him many gifts and knowledge and chose him to carry His name among the gentiles, and he suffered more than all the other apostles. 

This same Paul says about the spiritual heights that he reached:

"Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of... But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,  I press towards the goal..." He concludes his advice by saying, "Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this in mind..." (Phil. 3:12-15)

What is this "ahead" that Paul was trying to reach?

He says to the Ephesians, "... you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:18,19)

What an amazing phrase, " to be filled with all the fullness of God... "

Perfection in the spiritual path has no limits...

Whenever you pass one stage, you feel that you have not progressed, so you increase in contrition.

You become like one chasing the horizon.  Every time you reach the point where you think heaven and earth meet, you find it spreading ahead of you... to no end.

If the matter is as such, let us then proceed forward...

If we haven't yet reached repentance, that is the beginning of the way!... would we say that we are out of God's way?!...


44. THE MEANS

Often, the problem for people is the means, not the aims.

Everyone definitely aims at his happiness, and most probably the happiness of others too.  But his first problem is the means used to achieve his aims.

Some turn to means that are not spiritual... .  Some turn to a human hand to rely upon...

Others turn to the easiest and most handy means, not the most successful, guaranteed and pure means.

Another person takes the advice of those who are close to him without examining or discussing this advice... Or he might follow the steps of others, once more without examining them...

Very often, these means lead to the opposite of what is aimed at...

In spite of that, one might continue in the same way without learning!

One continues, either due to stubbornness or helplessness, or just for being confident in others, depending on time, hoping to achieve something...

The reasonable and wise person is the one who chooses the way and the method...

He chooses the right way that enables him to reach his aim.

He chooses the correct method that has no fault.

He chooses the wise advice, without depending on one opinion.

God gave man two ears, to hear the first opinion with one, and to listen to the opposite opinion with the other.  The mind is in between, to weigh each opinion and choose the best...

The wise person changes his means if it proves to be wrong or does not lead to any good...

But the one who continues in a blind alley that has many holes and pits, many defects and dangers, no doubt has a fault either in his heart or in his way of thinking...

Many times one refuses to correct one's way due to pride... He worries about his dignity or his reputation and what people might say if he does change.  It is like admitting that this way was wrong!... But many are the saints who changed their way of life without letting pride become an obstacle.

Many did not change, and God interfered to change their way... For example, Lot, Saul of Tarsus, the prophet Jonah, Moses and others.


45. GOD'S HUMILITY IN GLORIFYING HIS CHILDREN

God did not want to be alone, so He created the universe as a gift to other creatures which became existent according to His will.  It was through His humility that He created man in glory, "... in His own image; according to His likeness." (Gen. 1:26)

God's image was man's first glory...

Sonship to God was another glory given to man...

The Bible says, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Rom. 8:29,30). "Because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Rom. 8:21)

We also read in the Bible about the crown of glory and about the forthcoming glory which shall be revealed in us "... if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together." (Rom. 8:17)

The glories are many, waiting for man in eternity, beside the glories that God grants man in this world... "Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him, I will set him on high, because he has knows my name, He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him." (Ps. 91:14,15)

God rejoices in giving glory to His children...

But people's glory is something and God's glory alone is something else... It is the glory of His divinity.

This glory of His divinity is not given to others.  It is the glory of God in the highest.  It is the unlimited and unutterable glory about which we say, "Thine is the glory and honour and worship..."

Whatever the glory that man receives, it will never affect the glory of God.  You might light millions of candles from a fire without it losing anything...

Blessed is God who glorified His children in various ways: such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, performing miracles, having power over devils and all the forces of the enemy.  God made His children temples of His Holy Spirit, "... to whom pertain the adoption and the glory..." (Rom. 9:4)


46. WISDOM

Any virtue void of wisdom, is not a virtue.

For example, love must be with wisdom, otherwise it will turn to pampering or to a harmful affection.

Wisdom must be incorporated into talking and preaching in order to know what to say, when and how...

Wisdom is a virtue to be fulfilled in all servants, not only in the superiors like the bishops, but even in the deacons.  The Apostles said, "... seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." (Act 6:3)

Wisdom gives its possessors a spiritual perception, an enlightened understanding, which leads to selection and distinction.

When St Anthony was asked about the best of virtues he answered, "Discretion..."  as virtue without discretion might destroy its possessors.

There is "wisdom that is from above" (James 3:17) and as one of the "spiritual gifts" (1 Cor. 12), and he who lacks wisdom, let him ask of the Father of Light, from the elders, and the spiritual instructors who are gifted with wisdom and understanding.

A person could acquire wisdom through experience, and benefit from his own and others' mistakes.  He could attain such wisdom by the continued useful reading, or associating with the wise, learning their ways of talk and action.

Solomon did not ask God to give him wealth or authority, but, sought wisdom to manage his people.  God blessed him and granted him wisdom.  One of his best sayings is, "The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness." (Ecc. 2:14)

Wisdom necessitates meditation and thinking, looking at the matter from all angles, reviewing all its consequences before doing it.  Do not act in excitement or rage.

Wisdom needs intelligence and broad-mindedness...

It does not agree with stubbornness, conceit and stiffness of opinion.


47. YOUR ETERNITY

Most people think only of their lives on earth, all their wishes are concentrated on this earthly life.  All their efforts and struggle are for its sake, but as for their eternity, perhaps they never think of it...

Your whole life on earth is not worth a twinkle of an eye, if compared with the endless eternity...

Your life on earth is just the preparation for such an eternity, the immortal life...

Maybe adhering to a worldly honour makes you lose all the respect that the saints receive in the everlasting glory...

Nevertheless, you still adhere to this worldly honour and sacrifice your eternity, as if you do not care!!

Perhaps your adherence to some of the temporary or passing worldly pleasures deprives you of eternal happiness...

Therefore, you have to be convinced of the importance of eternity, put it always in front of your eyes.  Everything becomes of small value compared to it.

How good is the saying of the apostle, St Paul, to the Corinthians, "While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Cor. 4:18)

Truly, in this view, the main difference between a wise person and an ignorant person is quite clear.

The ignorant is short sighted, his look does not proceed beyond the visible things.  The wise person looks far ahead to even after death... and keeps thinking: What will become of me after I take off this body?  Where shall I go?  What shall I be?

And you, brother, with what are you busy ... ?

Where did you leave your heart?  Here or there?...

For where your heart is, there your treasures will be also...

The wise feel they are strangers on earth and do not concentrate their hopes on earth, but "... he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Heb. 11: 10)

He who gives importance to his eternity is raised above the earth and all earthly things.  Nothing in this world attracts him.

The whole world is behind him and not in front of him...


48. THREE VIRTUES

Three virtues should be in each moral goodness to make it a real virtue: love, humility and wisdom.

Any valuable quality void of love is not considered a virtue. The same applies to any virtue void of humility and wisdom.

Any action far from love is far from God.

God takes from each virtue the amount of love that is in it.  If He finds no love, He casts it away completely.

Any virtue that has no humility, is rejected by God and considered food for self-righteousness and vain glory.  Pride is most hated by God.  The Bible said, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (1 Pet. 5:5)

Therefore, each virtue should be practised in wisdom, understanding and discretion... Without wisdom and understanding, virtue is not considered a virtue...

For this reason, the saints used to practise the virtues under the supervision of wise, knowledgeable fathers, to teach them how to be discrete and explain to them how a virtue should be...

History tells us about those who acted in virtue without knowledge and how they fell and perished...

Many dealt with fasting without wisdom and were exhausted both physically and spiritually.  Many adopted silence without wisdom and fell in many problems and faults.  To them, silence was not a virtue.

Others dealt with offering without knowledge.  They gave God's money to swindlers, instead of giving it to the needy...

Therefore, St Anthony said that being discrete is one of the greatest virtues, as it controls and considers all of. them...

Pastoral care and service without discretion could complicate matters instead of settling them.  Accordingly, our fathers, the apostles made it conditional that deacons must be, "... full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom..." (Act 6:3)

Wisdom gives a virtue depth and truthfulness...

And love gives a virtue depth a virtue sentiment and feeling...

As for humility, it hides virtue from the devil's envy, and by this, gives its possessor modesty as well as affection in the hearts of people...

Let us examine ourselves: are what we have deep inside us virtues?


49. WISE LOVE AND FOOLISH LOVE

There is a wise love whose owner profits from it, even if it causes some pain, but it is useful for his soul and eternity.

There is a foolish love that destroys its owner, even if it shows features of kindness and tenderness...

You might love a person, then you support him in whatever is right or wrong.  You might even encourage his wrong doings and he loses his soul and yours too.  Your love would be then a wrong love.

Or you might love a person and have pity for his physical tiredness, struggle and asceticism.  You end up doing him harm and destroy his soul, mind and future!  It is a foolish love...

A mother who loves her child and pampers and spoils him... or loves him when he grows and wishes that he remains by her side, could stop him from consecration, monasticism or priesthood!  Her love would be selfish and harmful!!

One who loves his sick relative may hide from him the seriousness of his sickness and never gives him a chance to prepare for his eternity.  This is also a non-spiritual and unwise love.

True love is wise and spiritual and aims at the salvation of souls. It is a love that does not sacrifice what is right for the sake of being courteous.  It does not share in the faults of others ... It is pure and sincere, like God's love ...


50. THE SUITABLE TIME

The Bible said, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." (Eccl. 3: 1).  The spiritual work must be done at the right time.

When the Lord Incarnated, it was at "the fullness of the time." It was the most suitable time for the fulfilment of the prophecies and the readiness of the world to receive the Word and understand the work of salvation.

That taught us to take the suitable time into consideration. at work, when talking, while silent, in serving, in everything... It is like plants that do not grow except in a specific season, in the suitable weather, with the right temperature and wind.

As for talking, the Bible said, "There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak." (Eccl. 3:7).  It also said, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (Prov. 25:11). A wise person does not talk at a time when he should be silent and does not remain silent at the time when he should speak.

When you reproach someone, you must choose the suitable time, otherwise, the outcome could be the opposite of what you expect.  Seize the suitable time when others are prepared to listen to you, ready to accept your talk.

Do not ask anyone for something when he is busy, tired or annoyed because this is not the suitable time.

If there is a time for everything, "anytime" is suitable especially for repentance.

Do not say: when it is time for repentance, I will repent!  When I get a suitable chance, I will repent.  The Apostle says, "Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2)

Nevertheless, there are times that we consider more suitable and more effective, "Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." (Heb. 4:7)

Therefore, some take advantage of the opportunity.  The saints never let it slip from their hands when grace is working in them...

If they are touched by a word they heard, then it is the suitable time.  An example of this is St Anthony whose life changed because of a word or a specific incident, like the death of his father.  He took advantage of the situation to the fullest.  That made him forsake worldly pleasure...