[Pope##s Article of 11 October, 2009] (475) by Dr. Wedad Abbas]
Strict examining of oneself, Recalling the Lord##s words “I know your works” (Rev 2, 3), Repentance and humbleness, lead to the fear of God
A person who is not aware of the seriousness of his own sins, will lose the fear of God, but who is meticulous in examining himself will be aware of his own sins and their seriousness, and the fear of God will never quit his heart. We can attain the fear of God if we examine ourselves with respect to every act, every word, every thought, and every sense, with all accuracy, not giving ourselves excuses. Fear leads to strictness, and strictness to fear, and each of them gives strength to the other. Strange enough that we judge the others strictly for their faults against us, but do not judge ourselves with the same strictness, or rather we do not judge ourselves at all! If you really want to attain the fear of God which is the beginning of the spiritual way, for “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9: 10), you have to examine yourself every day, what you have done or said or thought of. This is what St. Arsanius the Great did every day. You ought not to examine yourself only with respect to the passive actions you did, but also for the positive things you neglected to do. You will find yourself light on the scales (Ps 62: 9). As a spiritual person you ought to judge yourself even for not growing, for a person is required to lead a life of holiness, as the Lord says, “And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy.” (Lev 20: 26) A spiritual person is also required to lead a life of perfection, for the Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) So when a person finds a long distance between him and holiness or perfection, he will rebuke himself and the fear of God will enter into his heart. A beginner fears to sin, but a righteous person fears not to have yet fulfilled all that is required for righteousness, recalling the words of the Scripture: “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (Jas 4: 17) In such a way he blames himself not only for a sin he did, but for a righteous act he has not done, and he asks himself continually whether he is able to do more or not; whether he is able to struggle more to press toward the goal as St. Paul used to do (Phil 3: 13). Whoever has the fear of God will not only fear sinning, but will struggle to grow in God##s love without limits. He will not be strict only in examining himself but will also be strict in his confessions. A person may lose the fear of God if he does not say everything in his confessions, or if he justifies himself, blames the others, or thinks himself standing before the father priest only not before God. Actually a person while confessing his sins is confessing to the priest, but receiving absolution from the Holy Spirit on the mouth of the priest. However, some people feel ashamed before the father confessors, while they ought to be ashamed before God, for we say in the Psalm, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” (Ps 51) Justifying oneself at the time of confession or at any time is an evidence of the lack of the fear of God in the heart. Do not then try to justify yourself or make little of matters, or give another name to sin making light its awfulness, or give yourself excuses. Remember the words of the Father of Nataria Mount, the Holy Pope Theophilus: ##To attain the fear of God nothing is better than blaming oneself for everything and putting before oneself continually the words of the Lord in the Revelation, “I know your works.” (Rev 2, 3)## These words are repeated seven times in the Revelation when the Lord said them to each of the angels of the seven churches. Would that every one puts these words before him, and be aware that he will hear them from God when he stands before Him, not only on the Day of Judgment but all the time from that moment! This will bring fear of God into the heart. We should be aware that all the sins which we hid from people to keep our dignity are well known to God. We should recall the words of St. Macarius the Great to a sinner whose sins the saint had covered, ##Judge yourself, brother, before they judge you.## Examine yourself and judge yourself, for nothing hidden but will be revealed. Since God knows your works, confess to Him and ask Him power to repent. Whoever fears God, will fear any sinful thought, every filthy emotion, and every evil intention. All such things may not be noticed by people but are seen and known by God. Whoever fears God will fear to be exposed before Him and be ashamed before the holy angels and the spirits of the saints. Whoever fears God, will fear the guarding angel and even the pictures of the saints on the walls of his room, as if each of them says the Lord##s words, “I know your works”. He will say to himself: ##Certainly all of them see me doing such and such a thing!!## Everything will be revealed. There are recorders for everything by picture and voice, even the thoughts; a camera taking photos for every sinful scene and recording every voice and thought and intent!! I imaging God saying, ##Michael, bring me the file of so and so. Open it and read its contents before everybody.## Then the Lord says to each one, “I know your works”. Ought this not lead us to the fear of God?! The fear of God may also be attained by the humbleness of heart. A person who trusts his own righteousness and his power may think himself not subject to falling and to sin, but the humble puts before his eyes always the words of the apostle: “Do not be haughty, but fear” (Rom 11: 20); “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10: 12) Therefore such a person is meticulous concerning every little thing and does not cast himself in the way of stumbling blocks, thinking himself far from sin, but remembers that sin has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men (Prov 7: 26). In this way fear will make him strict and purifies his heart. He will fear any thought that may occur to his mind and grow dangerous, fear the little foxes that spoil the vines (Song 2: 15), and fear the stumbling blocks, and not think himself more powerful and able to overcome, but says to himself: ##I am not more powerful than those saints who fell; I am not more powerful than David (2 Sam 11), nor wiser than Solomon (1 Kgs 11). Fear never quits a humble person, even though he grows in age, in spirituality, or is found in a holy environment. Adam fell while in the garden (Paradise), in an innocent nature higher than the present nature, in a simple state not knowing or experiencing any sin! And David fell although he was the anointed of the Lord, the man of prayer and harp, and the spirit of the Lord on him (1 Sam 16: 13), and whenever he played the harp, the distressing spirit departed from Saul (1 Sam 16: 23). And Solomon fell although he was the wisest on the whole earth with a gift of wisdom from God not human wisdom (1 Kgs 3: 12). Since Satan chases even the greatest saints and never despairs, we should therefore keep the fear of God in our hearts. Peter the Apostle did not have the fear of God in his heart, but said, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” “I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” (Mt 26: 33, 35; Lk 22: 33) Would that Peter kept the fear of God in his heart and said, ##I am weaker than the trial and the sifting of Satan. Do help me, O Lord that I may be saved!## Be with me at the time of trial lest I get lost. A humble person who has the fear of God in his heart always seeks help through prayer. When examining himself he is aware of the seriousness of his sins, gets afraid and prays asking for forgiveness. And feeling his weakness he fears and prays that God may fight for him lest the adversary prevails over him. In this fear he seeks repentance. Life of repentance leads to the fear of God, and the fear of God leads to repentance. Both work together, and each is a cause and a result of the other. A repenting person puts his sin before his eyes continually reminding himself of his weakness, his falling back and submission to the enemy. This makes him cry over his sins, for a repenting person is a weeping person like David who drenched his couch with his tears (Ps 6). A repenting person has not yet attained the familiarity that decreases his fear of God. He continues to say, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk 15: 19) A repenting person is always cautious, fearing to relapse and fall again. He lives always in the fear of God. Seeing that he could hardly reconcile with Him, and with greater effort he continue reconciled with Him, he keeps the fear of God within him. Would that you continue in the life of repentance that encourages you to be cautious and afraid! And when God grants you the life of divine love, let the fear of God continue with you as a kind of awe and respect for His commandments and holies.