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The Fear of God (11)

Pope Shenouda III | 31 October 2009

The Fear of God to be attained through Awe & Respect for the Holies When you stand for prayer, remember Him before whom you stand: the King of kings and the Lord of lords.    He is the awesome God, before whom the angels stand in fear, the Cherubim and the Seraphim with two wings cover their faces and with two they cover their legs, and the twenty-four elders fall before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created." (Rev 4: 10, 11)     What about you? Do you have the fear of God in your heart while praying? Would that you stand before Him with the same awe with which you stand before your boss!!    Mar Ishak, speaking about the fear of God during prayer, says, 'Stand before God as if you stand before a flame of fire. Remember how our father Abraham when standing before God said, "Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord." (Gen 18: 27)     If you speak in your prayer to the "Father", are you aware that He is not an ordinary father, but He is, as the Lord teaches us, "Our Father in heaven", that heaven which is God's throne.     Mar Ishak further speaks about the proper way of prayer where all the senses and thoughts are gathered together, and the person stands with awe knowing before whom he is standing.    Do not let your senses be occupied with something else, or your prayer be interrupted in any way, or your mind be distracted away. Show your respect to God by bowing, kneeling or prostration with the whole mind concentrating on the talk with God.     Some people ask why their thoughts go far away during prayer! My answer is that their prayer is actually void of the fear of God. If the fear of God is firm in the heart the mind will not be distracted. Do not depend on your being God's child and neglect His awe. And if your mind is distracted bring it back quickly and train it to be steadfast in the Lord.     Also whoever prays without understanding, or is indifferent, or forgets what he says, such a person has not the fear of God in his heart. It is not proper to speak with God without awe, understanding, or concentration, or in a hurry as if one has got bored and want to conclude the talk with God, or has something more important to do, or the worse has no time to talk with God! Such things reveal lack of fear of God.     The fear of God gives a person the feeling of reverence to God in prayer, and the awe in prayer leads to the fear of God.    Signs of awe are the words of humbleness, words of glorification and praise to God, accompanied with words like: Who am I the dust and ashes to speak to You, I who am sinner and unclean?!' Even the mention of the Lord's name should be with reverence, not like those who address Him by the word "Jesus". Rather be like the Seraphim who say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door shake by their voices (Isa 6: 3, 4).     God's fear does not appear only in your relationship with the Holy Bible, but also with God's house and whatever relates to Him. Before going into the church, say,   "But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; in fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple." (Ps 5: 7) And in the church you ought to be aware that you are in God's house, the house of the angels and of worship, and remember the words of the Psalm: "Holiness adorns Your house, O Lord, forever." (Ps 93: 5) This will give you awe for the church, the sanctuary, the prayers, and the Holy Sacraments. Do not talk during prayer, for this means lack of respect for the church and the prayers and means that you do not take part in the prayer and have no fear of God. Remember the words of our father Jacob who said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Gen 28: 17) He saw that place awesome in spite of God's love which was revealed to him there through the ladder and the angels! Indeed, the place where the Lord appears and the Holy Spirit works is an awesome place! That is why when Moses got near the place where the Lord was going to speak to him, the Lord said to him, "Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." And He said the same words to Joshua the Prophet (Ex 3: 5; Josh 5: 15). The taking off of the shoes is a symbol of removing away all material and earthly matters while in God's house, and also of respect to such holy places.     A person should stand with awe for God, and sit where sitting is due, not speak or comment on what is around, nor enter the church with a magazine or a cigarette box in hand!!     If one does not respect God's house, one will not respect God Himself, but who respects God will respect His house.    We wonder at some church ministers who speak with authority in the church and walk with haughtiness, giving commands and raising their voices as if they were in their own houses not in God's house!     On the other hand who reveres the church reveres the sanctuary the more. Therefore in our Coptic Church we put off our shoes before going into the sanctuary, unlike some churches of the west. Moreover no one is allowed to enter the sanctuary except the ministers who serve the altar. We kneel down before the sanctuary, and the father priest offers incense around the altar.     Those who do not have awe for the sanctuary or the altar will not have awe for the Holy Sacraments as well!!    Awe should also extend to the Holy Scripture. Therefore on reading the Gospel the deacon cries out: 'Stand with awe of God to listen to the Holy Gospel.' Then the whole congregation stands up with respect and the high priest takes away his crown in awe before the word of God. There is also a certain prayer said before reading the Gospel, where the priest offers incense and says, 'Make us worthy to hear and act according to Your Holy Gospel, by the prayers of Your saints.'        Do we deal with the Holy Bible with the same respect at home?!    Some people put the Holy Bible at any place at home, maybe amidst other books, whereas a spiritual person should be careful to put nothing over it, except the cross or another Holy Bible. We should read it with awe and respect to it and to the commandments it contains, that the fear of God may come to our hearts.     We must be aware that there is a difference between reading an ordinary book and reading the Holy Scripture. You cannot read the Scripture while lying in bed or relaxing or drinking your tea. Such things remove away the fear of God from your heart.    The best thing is to start reading the Bible with a prayer as when the priest says, "Make us worthy, O Lord to listen and act according to Your Holy Scriptures." This shows that mere listening to the Scripture needs prayer and worthiness and offering of incense in the church.     The fear of God decreases when we listen to a broadcast Mass or a Mass on a cassette or video tape while busy with something else at home or in the car sitting and concentrating on the traffic! It is better in such times to replace the Mass with some hymns, songs or a sermon.     You ought to come to the church early and not go out except after hearing the blessing and the dismissing besides all the songs chanted during the holy communion to encourage a person to get prepared by repentance, reconciliation and fasting, prayer, and body cleanness, and avoiding pushing each other,.     Who reveres the church, the sanctuary, and the communion, will certainly acquire the fear of God in his heart.    Likewise who reveres God's people whether angels or human beings will revere the guarding angel and feel ashamed to sin before him, and will revere the angels of the altar and the Offering, the angels of the church, and the spirits of the departed fearing lest they see him in sin or in hypocrisy, and will revere the clergymen and the spiritual fathers and guides knowing that they are the stewards of God (Tit 1: 7); the stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor 4: 1).     No doubt those who fear God's angels, God's people and saints, will have the fear of God in their hearts.    So many people revere even the icons of the saints, and the priest offers incense before the consecrated icons of the saints and chant hymns glorifying angels and saints; how much rather their Creator ought to be glorified!     As we revere the men of God we should revere the Lord's Day.    Who fears to break the sanctity of the Lord's Day will certainly have the fear of God in his heart. Likewise who fears to break the commandment of fasting for any reason whatsoever will have the fear of God established in his heart.     The fear of God may be easily attained by those who keep God's promises and fulfill his vows without bargaining concerning them, changing or postponing them. One should put in mind that the vow is an agreement between him and God which ought to be fulfilled as the Scripture says, "Better not to vow than to vow and not pay." (Eccl 5: 5)        Fulfilling vows and promises leads to the fear of God, while breaking the vow removes away the fear of God from the heart     Next time – God willing- I shall speak about other means leading to the fear of God

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