Life of humbleness & meekness (26)

31-12-2011 12:12 PM

By Pope Shenouda III

The first respect we owe is to the fathers and mothers. Fatherhood includes God as our Father, our natural and spiritual fathers, and seniors.

   The first respect we owe is to the fathers and mothers. Fatherhood includes God as our Father, our natural and spiritual fathers, and seniors.
   We address God, blessed be His name, in all our daily prayers, as “our Father in heaven” (Mt 6). In the Old Testament, Isaiah the Prophet said to Him, “O Lord, You are our Father.” (Isa 64: 8) Actually our respect to God is a type of awe before His divine power. To us it is not a kind of humbleness, but comes under worship. Humbleness is on the part of God who accepts our prayers, and who gave us the honor to be called His children (1Jn 3: 1)!
   Respect to God calls us to obey the commandments of the Scripture and to live in the awe of God, before whom the angels and archangels stand in awe and respect.
   In awe of His holy sanctuary we put off our shoes before entering, according to God##s command to Moses (Ex 3: 5). We worship before His sanctuary and kiss the holy altar with all respect and awe. We pray God with awe, not doing as some may do while sitting!
   Our respect to God calls us to revere His Holy Scripture.
   Before reading it in the church the father priest says to the Lord, [Let us be worthy to hear and work according to Your Holy Scriptures by the supplication of Your saints.] Then the deacon cries out, [Stand in fear of God to listen to the Holy Gospel.]
   Our respect for the Holy Scriptures calls us to believe in and comply with all that is contained in it, and not do like those who accept only some parts and reject the others.
   Some others also set themselves as observers over the Scripture, and refuse any part of it that does not conform to their whims! They do not receive the words of the apostles with the proper respect due to people on whose mouths the Spirit speaks!
   I once discussed with the head of one of the churches during a visit to me in the monastery concerning the acceptability of women##s priesthood. I reminded him of some verses from St. Paul##s epistles, but he said, ##This is what Paul says!## So I asked him whether what St. Paul said was inspired from God or not, and after a while of silence he said, ##Yes, inspired!## I then said to him, ##Why then do we not accept it, since all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and profitable for instruction (2 Tim 3: 16)?##
   Respect for the Holy Scripture means not to give distorted translation for its texts, or interpret it according to certain views against the divine truth.         
   This is what Jehova Witnesses do to support their beliefs which the Christian majority refuses! In such cases neither the Scripture nor the inspiration appears, but only the human ego!
   Revering natural fatherhood and motherhood is in compliance with the Lord##s commandment “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex 20: 12), and with the requirement to submit to the teaching and chastening of the fathers (Heb 12: 7, 8).   
   See how our father Isaac was obedient to his father when the latter laid him on the altar upon the wood to offer him as a burnt offering to the Lord (Gen 22)! The same applies to all the relatives who are considered as fathers, like the uncles and the grandfathers and the elders in general, for the Scripture says, “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man.” (Lev 19: 32)
   Spiritual fatherhood likewise extends to the clergymen and spiritual guides to whom respect is due.
   We revere priests, bishops and metropolitans as fathers of the church, and because they are ranks of the Holy Orders, stewards of God (Tit 1:7), and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor 4: 1). Their high position is witnessed to in the Scriptures, for we read that the priest is the messenger of the Lord of hosts, and from his mouth people should seek the law (Mal 2: 7). We revere them because they administer the Divine Sacraments and are entrusted by God to teach the word and doctrine. Therefore the Scripture commands us, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.” (Heb 13: 17)
   Revering the clergy implies revering the Lord Himself for they are His men, His messengers and stewards, about whom He said that whoever honors them has honored Him. On the other hand, the overbearing attitude towards clergy of any rank is a sign of pride of heart, and who criticizes them is thinking of himself more highly than he ought to think (Rom 12: 3). It actually happens that some young man or minister who may have read one or two books, and who knows if he understood them or not, criticizes some priests or bishops, as if he understands better than them, and may even reveal this publicly!
   Revering clergy also appears among themselves, towards each other. 
   Each rank honors the higher rank or the seniors in age or in ordination. An example of honoring the father Patriarch by the bishops is a story which says: In the days of Mohammed Ali the Ruler of Egypt, his daughter “Zahra” had a demon that convulsed her and she suffered severely, so some people advised him to take her to the Patriarch Botros Al Gawly (at that time) to pray and heal her. When they went to him, he humbly said. ##I do not have such a gift, but Bishop Sarabamon Abou Tarha (the veiled) of Menoufia can pray for her for he has this gift.## The holy Abba Sarabamon tried to excuse himself but could not. So he said to His Holiness the Patriarch, ##Give me Your cross, my lord, so that I may make the sign of the cross over her with it, and I will pray that she may get healed.## He meant that in case she is healed the miracle would be ascribed to the cross of the Pope rather than to his prayer! How great is such humbleness!
   Revering the clergy also implies revering the holy councils and their decisions.
   Such holy ecumenical, regional or local councils gathered together numbers of father bishops who issued laws binding the universal church. By those laws the church could organize herself internally, and furthermore lay the rules of sound faith and firm traditions by which the church still abides from one generation to another.
   Revering motherhood extends to revering the natural mother, the holy Virgin, and the church.
   We honor our natural mothers, who gave birth to us, nursed us, brought us up, and were our godmothers in baptism  
   We honor the Holy Virgin, for she is our mother and queen, who the holy Elizabeth, though older than her, received with all respect and humbleness, saying, “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1: 43) She also was a spiritual mother to the apostles, and the Lord commanded His disciple John to take care of her, saying, “Behold your mother!” (Jn 19:27) She is the one who all generations call “blessed” (Lk 1:48), and who the Church praises and describes as “higher than Cherubim and the Seraphim”
   We revere the church that gave birth to us in the baptismal font, in faith, in doctrine, in repentance, and in the Holy Sacraments.
   Without the church we would not have been Christians, but we have become by her evangelism and struggling. We revere the church and revere her creed and faith, and honor her councils and her fathers and saints and her teachings, her history and her rituals. We stand in humbleness before her traditions and defend them. We pride ourselves of belonging to her, and remember her struggling for keeping the sound faith for us, offering thousands of martyrs for this purpose.
   We humbly accept the teachings of our church fathers.
   We hold them as references for faith, for interpretation and spiritual contemplations. We do not consider their writings mere views as some would do. We revere the heroes of faith, the scholars of the church, and the martyrs who shed their blood for the sake of preserving faith. We revere the desert fathers and seek their intercession in our liturgies and prayers; we celebrate their feasts and light candles before their icons and honor their relics. It is the humbleness of the church in revering her fathers.
   In revering seniors, we remember revering the Lord##s anointed as Abigail did. 
   When David had decided to kill her husband Nabal of Carmel because of his avarice and reproaching, Abigail took a present of the foods which David and his men had need for and brought it to him. When she saw David, she dismounted from the donkey, fell on her face before him, and addressed him “my lord” and called herself “his maidservant”. Then she gave him the present, saying, “Now this present which your maidservant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord.” (1 Sam 25: 23- 27)
   Her desire to reveal to him his fault of shedding blood and avenging himself came mixed with praise and respect due to him. So she said, “My lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days … when the Lord has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. But when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.” These words impressed David very much and removed away his wrath, and he said to her, “Blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand.” (1 Sam 25: 28- 33)
   In this context we mention how a woman reveres her husband, as Sarah used to do calling Abraham her husband, “my lord” (Gen 18:12) The Scripture also commands wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church.” (Eph 5: 22, 23)
   As for revering seniors, especially the prophets:
   We mention the speech of the third captain of fifty to Elijah the Prophet after the prophet had commanded fire to come down from heaven and it consumed the first and second captains of fifty because they had spoken to the great prophet haughtily, saying “Man of God, the king has said, ‘Come down!’” So the third captain came humbly and fell on his knees before Elijah, and pleaded with him, saying, “Man of God, please let my life and the life of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight. Look, fire has come down from heaven and burned up the first two captains of fifties with their fifties. But let my life now be precious in your sight.” (2 Kgs 1: 9- 14) So the Lord commanded Elijah to come down with that captain, and he did not die because of his humbleness.
   As for honoring masters:
   We remember the words of the angel to Hagar while fleeing from her mistress, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid …Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Gen 16: 8, 9)
   Let us stop here and continue next week, God willing.
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