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  • Thursday ,14 October 2010

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (13)

Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,10 October 2010

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (13)

 Virtues alone are not enough
 Some would say they fast, pray, confess, read the Holy Scripture and spiritual books, minister, give charity, and partake of the Holy Communion, and practice many virtues, however, their spiritual life is at a standstill with no growth at all. They do not know the reason.

   Such virtues perhaps are defective, lacking an essential characteristic, related either to their nature or to their aim, or lacking other virtues that should accompany them. On this basis we shall hear analyze some virtues:
   In any fast a person may say, 'I have fasted many times before, yet my life is the same! I have not benefited from fasting, I know not why!'
   Fasting is undoubtedly a virtue that may even help casting out demons as the Lord says in (Mt 17: 21). See then of what type is your fasting: Is it fasting of the body or abstaining from food? Abstention alone is not enough, for asceticism is more important.
   What benefits you spiritually is the elevation of the heart over material things, and asceticism is the proof of this. Only by this you can experience the spirituality of fasting. Fasting of the body alone is not enough, for there should be fasting of the mind from wrong thoughts, the heart from evil emotions, and the tongue from vain talk. Yet, all these virtues do only represent the passive phase of fasting.
   However, all these types of fasting are not enough, for nourishment of the spirit should accompany.    +
   In the Holy Mass we say, "Fasting and prayer cast out demons", that is, both together. We fast to go beyond the scope of flesh and material into the scope of the spirit, and to give the spirit a chance to work during the fast. Actually fasting is not a virtue of the body but rather of the spirit.
   Prayer is another example of important virtues for which many saints devote themselves. How then do you understand prayer? Is it mere talk with God?+
   Mere talk with God is not enough, for there are certain spiritual characteristics without which prayer alone is not enough. Prayer should include love, as David the Prophet says, "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." (Ps 119: 97) "I will lift up my hands in Your name, my soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness." (Ps 63: 5) Prayer without love is unacceptable to God, for He says, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." (Mk 7: 6)
   Various emotions should therefore accompany prayer.+
   Emotions like love, awe, understanding, fervency, faith, and heart purity should accompany prayer, for "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord." (Prov 15: 8) The Lord said to the children of Israel in the days of Isaiah the Prophet, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood." (Isa 1: 15) Therefore, nobody should think that prayer is mere words, for prayer alone without purity of heart is not enough.
   Confessing sins is a virtue that has many spiritual and dogmatic benefits, yet alone it is not enough, for it is not mere mentioning of the sins in the hearing of the father priest and in prayer.
   Confession should be accompanied by the feeling of regret and ashamedness, as the tax collector did, standing off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!' (Lk 18: 13) He went away justified. Peter the Apostle, likewise, having remembered his sin, wept bitterly (Mt 26: 75), and David the Prophet wet his bed with his tears (Ps 6). How about you; do you confess with daring eyes without regret? See how Daniel the Prophet said, "O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face … to us belongs shame of face … because we have sinned against You." (Da 9: 7, 8)
   Confession also needs repentance, for the Church calls this Sacrament: "Confession and Repentance", for a person should practice it with a spirit of repentance and with true determination not to return to sin again. A person therefore exerts all effort to control himself and to avoid the causes and stumbles leading to sin.
   A person confessing his sins must attempt to correct the consequences of his sin.+
   When Zacchaeus the tax collector confessed and repented, he said, "If I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." (Lk 19: 8) It means that confession is not confined to the past, but extends to the future in practice.
   Confession will be useful if accompanied by humbleness.+
   Since a person confessing his sins is aware of his being sinful and undeserving will not feel exalted or boast in future, always remembering his past and putting his sins before himself (Ps 51). He endures because he admits his sins and is aware of his deservedness, like David the Prophet when Shemei the son of Gera cursed him in a hurting way, the great Prophet David said, "The Lord said to him, 'Curse David'" (2 Sam 16: 10)
   All this is evidence that confession alone is not enough. Pharaoh for instance said more than once that he had sinned, but it was without repentance. He even said to Moses and Aaron, "I have sinned against the Lord Your God and against you. Now therefore, please forgive my sin only this once." (Ex 10: 16) Before that he likewise said, "I have sinned this time. The Lord is righteous, and my people and I are wicked." (Ex 9: 27) Yet his heart continued cruel and he perished.
   Reading the Holy Scripture and spiritual books has a great influence on the heart. It is a useful virtue, being a means of grace. +  
   Mere reading without understanding, without spirit or applying is not enough. It is supposed that a spiritual person reads with depth and goes into the spirit of the word turning it into life, for the Lord says, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." (Jn 6:63) Therefore, in order that spiritual reading be useful it should be practiced and accompanied by spiritual exercises instead of being mere knowledge or material for preaching or for boasting or even for mere study. Rather, reading ought to be applied to oneself, to reveal one's sins and encourage a person to stop sinning.
   It is a very good virtue for which the Lord said, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was sick and you visited Me … and you clothed Me …" (Mt 25: 34, 35). Nevertheless, charity alone is not enough, for it should be with rejoicing not grumbling, because some give or pay the tithes against their will, whereas the Scripture says, "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9: 7)
   Charity also should be in secret and liberally, not only the remains or the rejected things. This appears in the case of the widow who put into the treasury all that she had, her whole livelihood (Mk 12: 44). The offering of Abel likewise was of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat (Gen 4: 4). Charity should be with a feeling that one gives Christ and therefore says to Him, "Of Your own we have given You" (1 Chr 29: 14) Without all these emotions charity will be a defective virtue.
   Some would think that faith, mere theoretical or nominal faith is enough, but such faith will not benefit them anything, for St. James the Apostle says, "Faith without works is dead" (Jas 2: 17, 20)
   St. Paul the Apostle likewise says, "Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Cor 13: 2) What would faith without fruit benefit a person, if his faith is not working through love (Gal 5: 6)? Mere believing in Christ will not save you, but rather living in Him, that is why St. Paul chants, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2: 20)
   You believe in Christ - very well, but this is not enough. You should follow Him and walk just as He walked (1 Jn 2: 6). You should have communion with Him, partake of His flesh and blood, die with Him and rise with Him. You should also have communion with the Holy Spirit, deliver to Him your life that He may act within you. When you see all his work in you, say, 'I did nothing, O Lord, by myself, but all things were made through You, and without You nothing was made that was made (Jn 1: 3).
   Worship undoubtedly is a virtue, but alone will avail nothing, especially if far from God, or not from a pure heart. The Lord, in the days of Isaiah the Prophet, rebuked His people for such vain worship, saying, "My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them." "Bring no more futile sacrifices … I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting." (Isa 1: 13, 14) Nor will worship be useful if without spirit, wisdom, or humbleness.
   So many are those who fill the world with life and activity and have many achievements and works in various fields, but although liveliness is a virtue, yet it is not enough alone. It should be accompanied by humbleness and calmness, for liveliness connected with boasting and vainglory is not a virtue, nor is any activity that prejudices the others or oppresses them.