• 12:13
  • Sunday ,29 August 2010

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (7)

Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,29 August 2010

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (7)

 The Royal daughter is all glorious within (Ps 45)
The interior and the exterior:    The kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17: 21), i.e., within your mind, heart, feelings, emotions, and intentions. When God reigns within, naturally the fruit will appear in one's actions.     Mere external righteousness is hypocrisy.     The scribes and Pharisees appeared righteous, but the Lord refused them as hypocrites, and rebuked them, saying, "You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence." "You are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Mt 23: 25, 27)     Internal righteousness is what the Lord wants, "My son, give me your heart." (Prov 23: 26) He will dwell within you, in your feelings and actions, and your eyes will observe His ways, for naturally good starts within the heart and the mind. St. Paul the Apostle says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing of your mind." (Rom 12: 2) Indeed, for when the mind is renewed, one's look to everything will change.      A change in the outer appearance is the result of the inner renewal of the mind.    A person facing an external spiritual war, through love for God and for good, can be strong and able to overcome and reject all thoughts of the adversary. Actually, nobody escapes external wars; even Christ experienced them! On the Mount of Temptation Christ refused the three thoughts presented by Satan, because they were against righteousness. The righteous in every generation face wars, but they reject them, as the martyrs did when facing the various temptations preceding their martyrdom. Joseph the Righteous overcame the war that pressed on him every day, saying in amazement, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Gen 39: 9)     Inner righteousness is not mere external righteous acts; for a person may do good in hypocrisy, like the scribes and Pharisees, while love of sin is within, or for fear of criticism or punishment, not for the love of God or good, or to imitate the others, or for being ashamed to contradict them, without being convinced within.     Virtue then is not to do, but to love, good in spite of hindrances.     In the Offerings Prayer the father priest asks blessings for those who want to offer but do not have. Those receive blessing for mere intention or desire without doing. God, blessed be His name weighs the hearts and the spirits (Prov 21: 2; 16: 2) and rewards for inner righteousness, for He knows its truth.      Only external wars fight a righteous person, for the interior is strong against sin, while a weak person faces two wars.    The weak does not resist sin, but seeks and accepts it. When it comes, It finds the house empty, swept, and put in order (Mt 12: 44) fit for its rest, like a house built on the sand: when rain descends, floods come, and winds blow and beat on it, it falls. And great is its fall (Mt 7: 27).     Some weak people try to correct and change themselves, for weakness is not their nature, while others may seek the means that weakens them or increases their weakness.     On the contrary, the righteous is a fortress within.    Whatever wars may fight him will fail, for his doors are closed like the virgin in the Song, or like Zion, "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed." (Song 4: 12) "Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He has strengthened the bars of your gates." (Ps 147: 12, 13)     The strong within, who has closed the doors of his mind and heart against any sin or lust, can resist Satan and his temptations, whereas the weak within easily falls even after a while. A person may sometimes fall and sometimes overcome, as evident from the following examples:     David the Prophet:    The wicked King Saul pursued David everywhere desiring to kill him. But when God delivered Saul to David's hands when Saul was asleep, and though David's friends instigated him to kill Saul, he refused, saying, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord." (1 Sam 24: 6, 7)     Nevertheless, when David was weak within he wanted to kill Nabal of Carmel because he refused to give his men food when they were shearing the sheep. He commanded his men to gird their swords and insisted not to leave even one male of all that belonged to Nabal by morning light (1 Sam 25: 4- 22), but Abigail with her wisdom kept David from coming to bloodshed and from avenging himself with his own hand (1 Sam 25: 33)! The same David differed in weakness and in strength. In his weakness the grace saved him when Abigail rebuked him wisely, yet he fell when he lusted for Bathsheba and lay with her, and cunningly killed her husband Uriah the Hittite. So he deserved the Lord's punishment on the mouth of Nathan the Prophet (2 Sam 11, 12).     Elijah:    When Elijah was strong within, he could rebuke King Ahab for allowing the worship of Baals, and executed 450 prophets of Baal (2 Kgs 1: 10). He also was firm in saying to the leader of King Ahazia'a army, "If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men." (2 Kgs 1: 10)     Yet in his weakness, Elijah was afraid and escaped from Jezebel. When the Lord sought him, Elijah said, "The children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life." (1 Kgs 19: 14) Then the Lord commanded Elijah to anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as prophet in his place (1 Kgs 19: 16)!     Abraham:    Our father Abraham by faith put his only begotten son Isaac on the altar and lifted up the knife to offer him as a burnt offering, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called, accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead." (Heb 11: 18, 19) But, when Abraham became weak and afraid of being killed because of his wife Sarah, he said she was his sister, and asked her to say the same (Gen 20: 11, 13)

   Samson the Valiant:
In his early years, he was strong in body and spirit, being the chosen of the Lord before his birth, and the Spirit of the Lord moved upon him (Judg 13: 7, 25). When he got weaker and fell in love with Delilah, "she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death," (Judg 16: 1, 16) so, he yielded and got the fruit of his weakness.
    Sometimes the cause of the fall comes from inside and outside, as the case with our father Jacob. The desire for blessing fought him, so he bought the birthright from Esau his brother cunningly for a meal of red stew when Esau was weary (Gen 25: 27- 34)! He even agreed to his mother's suggestion to deceive his father and said to him, "I am Esau your firstborn." (Gen 27: 19)     King Ahab:     In his weakness he desired the field of Naboth the Jezreelite, so he accepted the suggestion of his evil wife Jezebel, killed Nabal and took his field.      Judas Iscariot:    As his heart was full of the love of possession, he submitted to the temptation offered by the high priests and delivered the Lord to them.     King Herod:    Herod was fought with the love of praise, so he was pleased with the people's words of flattery, "the voice of a god and not of a man," (Acts 12: 22) and did not give glory to God. So, the angel of the Lord struck him, and he was eaten by worms and died. Paul the Apostle did the opposite when he healed the cripple in Lystra and the man leaped and walked. The people raised their voices, saying, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" Even the priest of Zeus came to sacrifice, but Paul refused and said, "We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vain things to the living God." So they stoned him and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead (Acts 14: 8- 19)     Fear:    Fear is not always due to external factors, for a strong heart and a heart that trusts God's protection never fear, as the Psalmist says, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me." "Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this I will be confident." (Ps 23: 4; 27: 3) David did not fear Goliath, because he trusted that the Lord would deliver him into his hand, for the battle is the Lord's (1 Sam 17: 46, 47).      The martyrs were not afraid of death, for their righteous hearts desired to meet with the Lord in Paradise. John the Baptist likewise rebuked King Herod without fear. Therefore, if you feel any weakness within, try to overcome it. Peter the Apostle feared while walking with the Lord on the sea because his faith weakened within, therefore the Lord rebuked him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Mt 14: 31)     A strong heart having strong faith within, is not conquered by any suspicions. St. Athanasius the Apostolic for instance was a strong defender of faith against the suspicions of the Arians and their wrong understanding of the biblical texts. It is therefore necessary that parents strengthen the faith of their children so that they may be able to stand firm against suspicions raised by some philosophers, scholars, atheists, or deviating sects like Jehovah Witnesses, Sabbatherians, and others.     The outside always presses seeking response from within, without which all attempts will fail, as in the case of Job who did not respond to the outer wars.     Job the Righteous:    As Job was righteous within, his faith never shook when trials pressed on him, taking away his possessions, his children, his health, and the compassion of his friends. He said his famous words, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1: 21) He rebuked his wife, saying, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (Job 2: 10)     Practical examples:    Fasting: It is not mere outer formal practices, but continence within the heart. Some people appear fasting, while the desire for food is within. They turn vegetarian food into delicious foods, unlike Daniel the Prophet, whose his heart was pure in fasting, as he once said, "I was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all." (Da 10: 2, 3)      Chastity:  It is not mere refraining from adultery while the spirit lusts for it, for the Lord warns against adultery in the heart (Mt 5: 28). Modesty also is not mere commands concerning clothing or adornment, but inner timidity in talking or looking. Mar Isaac says concerning proper clothing that it means modesty even in one's private room!     Forgiveness:  It is not mere words of forgiveness to the offender, or even saluting the adversary or asking the priest's prayer over both heads, while rejoicing if God avenges from the adversary! One should not only forgive, but rather forget the offence!