CHRIST CAME TO SPREAD SPIRITUALITY OF LIFE
H.H. POPE SHENOUDA III
Best wishes on the beginning of the New Year and on the occasion of the Glorious Nativity. We wish you a holy life, steadfast faith and abiding in the Lord. We pray God to safeguard our dear country and all the Middle East, and to give peace and prosperity here and everywhere.
On the Lord Christ's Nativity, we remember that He used to teach the people to live in the spirit, a virtuous life not subjected to material leading to sins and falls. He taught the people to aspire beyond the lusts and yearning of the flesh which contradict with the nature and way of the spirit.
We all know that man is formed of the dust of the ground, and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living being. This reminds us of some verses of poetry we wrote in the beginning of our interest in Arabic poetry. In these verses we concentrated on the creation of man from dust. The verses say:
O dust of the earth, all people's ancestor as well as mine; you are my origin, you are older than Adam; you are my last abode when I lie in grave at the end of my life.
Afterwards, having grown in spiritual knowledge and becoming aware of the sublimity of man's creation, we compiled some other verses that reflected this new vision. The verses say:
I am not dust, nay, but in dust I have dwelt. I am not dust, nay, but a spirit from God's mouth. I'll return to God, to live where I first dwelt.
This is man: body and spirit. With beginners there is conflict between both; for the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh and these are contrary to one another (Gal. 5:17). With the spiritually mature, there is no such conflict between body and spirit, but a kind of perfection; each completing the other. In the spiritual person the body submits to the spirit, and the spirit submits to God's Holy Spirit who leads the human spirit, which in turn leads the body! Thus, there is no duality, no conflict nor contradiction because man as a whole, body and spirit, takes one direction: a spiritual one.
The Lord Christ came to lead people to the spiritual way from all aspects. When the Samaritan woman asked Him whether worship should be in the Mountain of Samaria or in Jerusalem, He said to her, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth"(Jn. 4:24)
God wants us to worship Him in a spiritual way. Our prayers should be spiritual prayers, and our fasting spiritual fasting. Even our behavior, our words and our movements should have a spiritual mark. When we face problems, we should solve them in a spiritual way.
The power of the spiritual person lies within, in the heart and the spirit. No outer temptations or problems can affect such a person because the spirit lives in complete peace not shaken by any troubles, and in high sanctity not deviating by any lusts.
Many are those who do their best to avoid any worldly temptations or influences. This is good, but it is better for them to have inner power in the spirit that makes them refuse every outer influence however tempting that may be. They are not influenced by such temptations nor overcome by them as such temptations are contradicting with their nature.
Take for example Joseph the Righteous. Sin was easy for him and was pressing, but he overcame because he was powerful within. His spirit was more powerful than any external temptation. In this way walks every noble person living in the spirit. Whenever stumbling blocks press on one from outside, one's virtuous spirit resists easily, flees and continues in victory.
Would that you become like that: the truth in you be more powerful than the evil fighting you.
A person who is powerful in the spirit does not take the outer pressures as a plea for falling. If one is truly powerful, one will overcome, but the fault is in one's personal weakness.
A person who is powerful in the spirit is always victorious, because if one controls and overcomes oneself internally, one will overcome external wars.
The Lord Christ wanted our spirits to be virtuous, to seek holiness and perfection (relative perfection of course, because absolute perfection relates solely to God). Therefore the Lord commanded us, " Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."(Mt. 5:48) This is how a spiritual person should walk; not to be satisfied with the life of repentance against sin and evil fit for beginners, but to grow continually in the life of righteousness till one attains the farthest extent possible of perfection.
In seeking perfection one should focus on the depth.
In one's prayers on should not care for the length or the frequency of the prayers, but rather for the depth, zeal, faith, love and awe accompanying the prayer. It is worth noting that the word "prayer" in Arabic has deeper significance than in many other languages. In Arabic the term is " salah" which means attachment to God.
The prayer of a spiritual person is composed of love, awe and faith, and the spirit is lifted to God. The prayer starts in the heart where it is translated into feelings and words. Even if one does not speak, the throbbing of the heart is a prayer, the pulse is a prayer, and the emotion is a prayer. God tests the hearts and minds, and hears this throbbing or pulse, receives one's emotions and feelings, and accepts this silent prayer.
One might enter God's house, kneels or bows with the body, but the spirit is not bowing and the heart might be full of pride or arrogance. That is why the Lord Christ talked about "worship in spirit and truth".
It is not true worship that in which the head touches the ground whereas the soul is walking happily with conceit and arrogance.
In fasting, likewise, it is not sufficient that the body fasts, but the spirit also should fast forsaking every sinful desire.
Life in the spirit accompanies a person after death because the spirit does not die, whereas the actions of the body end at one's death. Would that we care for the work of the spirit because it alone does persist and continue.
The Lord Christ came to teach us how to live in the spirit and to make us know that faith and God's commandments are not mere formalities.
When the body weakens or gets sick, we treat it medically. The spirit, likewise, should be treated.
The spirit might get sick and need spiritual physicians, i.e. spiritual guides and teachers. It might need medicine, which includes spiritual exercises, reproach, rebuking, disciplining, blaming ......etc. To what extent, then, do we treat our spirits so that we might continue in the life of the spirit? If we do not treat the spirit, it will die, the same as the body.
The death of the body is the separation of the body from the spirit, whereas the death of the spirit is the separation of the spirit from God. This is called "spiritual death".
This spiritual death is mentioned by the Lord in His words to the angel of the church in Sardis, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead"(Rev. 3:1)
In the light of this contemplation, we should ask ourselves: Are we really alive, in the true meaning of life, the life of the spirit?
If we are really alive, let us work; for work is related to life.
Let us work for the sake of ourselves, that we might always be attached to God, and long to do what pleases Him. Let us work for our community and do whatever we can for the whole society.
May the Lord God bless our dear country EGYPT and all workers for it under the leadership of President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak who is praised by all. May the Lord God safeguard him and every person faithful to this beloved country.
Best wishes to all of you.