Wednesday, December 29, 2010

For God so Loved the World

A story that came my way a while back. Enjoy!

A pagan king had a Christian minister, and because of the minister's honesty, faithfulness, wisdom, and resourcefulness, the king often enjoyed his company, spoke with him, and sought his advice. One day during a discussion the minister said, "Christ came down from heaven to save us." The king responded, "If I wanted to do something, I would command one of my servants to get it done, without myself moving or exerting any effort. Why would God himself come, take a body from a virgin, be born in a wretched manger amidst the animals, endure pain, and be crucified when He could have saved the world with one word?"

The minister asked the king to give him three days to answer his question. The minister left and went to a talented sculptor. He asked him to make a wooden statue the same size as the king's two-year-old son, and which resembled him. Then, the minister went secretly to the royal palace and met the maid responsible for the baby prince's care, and for taking him on strolls in the palace gardens in his carriage. He told her, "Listen, take this statue and dress it in clothing identical to that of the baby prince's, and put it in the royal baby carriage. The king and I will take a stroll through the palace gardens tomorrow at 5pm. When you see me raise my left arm, flip the carriage and drop the statue in the pond, and do not fear punishment."

The next day at 5pm, the king and his Christian minister were sitting by the pond talking. The king asked his minister for the answer to the question that was previously asked. At that moment, the maid was approaching with the royal baby carriage that contained the baby prince's statue. The minister raised his left arm and the maid flipped the carriage. The statue, which looked much like the baby prince, dropped in the water.

The king was unable to contain himself. He ran towards the pond and dropped to the ground to snatch his son before drowning, but immediately realized that it was only a statue. He was surprised and asked about this angrily. The minister calmed him and said, "All this happened at my command, and as a result of my planning." Then he continued, "Your majesty, why didn't you ask me or one of the servants to save your son?" The king answered, "Fatherly love is what motivated me. How can I sit and watch while another person saves my son?!" The minister responded, "And this is my answer to your question."

The point is that God loves us more than parents love their children. That's why he came down to earth, was born in a wretched manger, endured pain, was crucified, and rose to save us Himself. No one else could've taken on the task of saving us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

St. Wannas

This is a summary of St. Wannas' biography found in a book called "Wannas the Martyr" by Hegumen Youannis Kamal. Enjoy!

St. Youannis (Wannas) was martyred when he was barely 12 years old. He was the only child born to a pious Christian couple, who brought him up in the Christian faith. Despite his young age, he was ordained a deacon by the bishop of the city because of his love for Christ and his spiritual maturity.

He stayed in church pretty much all the time and although he was young, he fought the spiritual war faithfully. During the days when there was liturgy, he ate from the holy bread (Orban), and during the days that had no liturgy, he asked the neighboring women to make him some bread (called Hanoun) to sustain him. He walked around the church and did everything that was necessary without ever being lazy or bored. His face shone, and it attracted the attention of everyone who saw him.

When the devil waged war on the church through persecution, the saint desired to shed his blood for Christ's sake. In a dream, God showed him that he will receive the crown of martyrdom. St. Wannas went and told the bishop about his dream and asked the bishop to bury his body in Om Qoraat cemetery in Luxor where his ancestors were buried.

The Roman commander came to the saint's town with his soldiers and looked for the believers. They heard about the deacon Wannas, and set out looking for him. They found him after he had encouraged the believers, and he did not flee from the commander or his soldiers when they found him. The commander was very angry with St. Wannas because of his courage, and the soldiers began to try a series of torture methods with the saint. They were creative in torturing him, having no mercy on his young age. During all this torturing, St. Wannas glorified God and called out for God to help him.

Finally, he was martyred on the 16th day of Hatour (third Coptic month), at the beginning of the fourth century. After the soldiers separated his head from his body, they threw his head far from his body. God guided some believers to his body, which they recognized because of his distinct outfit which he always wore (a white gown with a distinct cross on it), and they joyfully took the body to the bishop, who asked them to go search for the saint's head.

They went back and searched for the head until they found it under a palm tree and brought it back to the bishop, who respectfully put perfumes on the body, wrapped it in a shroud, and buried it in the cemetery St. Wannas asked to be buried in. The townspeople passed down by mouth the location of the saint's body in the cemetery.

When the late Metropolitan Marcos (previous metropolitan of Luxor, Esna, and Armant) was alive, the location of the cemetery was in the middle of the city, buildings were starting to appear in the cemetery, and the idea of removing the cemetery arose. The metropolitan wanted to find the body of St. Wannas and move it to a worthy place. He started fasting and praying liturgies, asking God to lead him to the place where the body was buried.

After fasting for three days without eating or drinking anything, the Lord sent an angel and showed him in a vision the location of St. Wannas' tomb inside the cemetery. The next morning, Metropolitan Marcos went to the cemetery and saw the place that the angel showed him in the vision. He then took the body of the saint amidst the deacons' singing of hymns and praises, and placed it in its current location.

St. Wannas is known to be the intercessor when things are lost.

His icon shows him in a deacon's outfit, holding a cross and a Gospel like a deacon circling around the altar. This is how people who he appeared to have seen him. Behind him in the picture are Luxor's Obelisks, a sign of St. Wannas' patriotism and connection to the city of Luxor.

May his intercessions be with us always.

Friday, December 17, 2010

H.G. Bishop Suriel Speaking Against the Persecution of Christian Copts in Egypt

This is not a translation, but I couldn't not share...

In light of the rising persecution of the Christian Copts in Egypt, the Coptic Orthodox Bishops of the United States have called for an ecumenical day of prayer and solidarity on Tuesday, December 14, 2010. His Grace Bishop Suriel was one of the speakers of the day, and he spoke like a true Christian - peaceful, respectful, bold, courageous, honest, and powerful. May God bless him. Please pray for the suffering Christian Copts in Egypt.

To listen to more speakers from that day, click here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Heart to Heart with God

During my last trip to Egypt, I picked up a book called "The Seven Weekly Prayers... from the writings of the saintly fathers." It's a book compiled by the monks of St. Mary's Monastery (the Syrian), dedicating a prayer for each day of the week from the writings of the church fathers. The book isn't that big, but I quickly found it to be an invaluable addition to my library. I was especially touched by the following excerpts. Enjoy the spiritual gems...
I stand with the disciples to extend my feet in the water for Your blessed hand to take them and wash me, that I may be purified and have an inheritance with You. I stand with You in the house of the high priest to receive the insults and shame that You receive because of me. My sins and slips are the reason You stand as a defendant, You who judge all people! I go out with You to the Romans who insulted and beat You, to receive in Your place even the spit that falls on Your great, pure and shining face, for it is my face that indeed deserves this spitting, and not Your face, O Lord of heaven and earth. I bend my back to the whips to receive even a few of the bitter and painful whip lashes, for they are not a result of Your sins, my Lord. I marvel and wonder how Your angels stood confused at Your mercy, waiting for the signal to burn the whole world if You wanted, but You did not want. Instead, You poured Your mercy on those who crucified You. (Emphasis added) - The Spiritual Elder
Grant us, O Lord, as You have asked of Your Father - make us one in You as You are One in Your Father, that we may be one, with You, in the Father. One in love that we may love all people as You have loved us. One in patience that we may be patient in all of life's afflictions, just as You have endured them. One in hope that we may hope for life while we're on the cross or in the darkness of the grave. One in faith that we may believe in order to see the glory of God. - The Spiritual Elder
Oh Lord, You save me with Your mercy, not because of my deeds, for my deeds are evil, and not because of my thoughts, for my thoughts are impure. If, my Master, you plan to debate with me, I am defeated before You. I write my judgment with my own hands and I admit and confess that I deserve death. But I seek refuge in Your mercy and flee from You to You! - Other Saintly Fathers
Your mercy, O Lord, precedes our supplication and is more than what we ask for. Behold, the debtor has asked for some time to repay the debt, but out of Your mercy, You dissolved his debt. Behold, the prodigal son said, "I will return to my Father, tell Him that I have sinned, and ask Him to take me as a servant in His house for I have taken my inheritance and squandered it." But, out of Your mercy, You received him and gave him a new inheritance, more than all his brethren. Behold, the thief asked that You remember him in Your kingdom, but You took him there with You, not only to be remembered, but to live there with You! - Other Saintly Fathers
Now is the time of my repentance. O Lord, through Your love, give me acceptance before You. Yes, grant me to love You although I am not worthy of this love, hear my prayers although I'm a sinner, and answer my prayers with Your mercy for among the dead, no one remembers You, and after the grave there is no repentance or regret. - Other Saintly Fathers
Through the intercessions of the pure Virgin St. Mary and all the saints on my behalf, O Lord, write my name in the book of life. Amen. - Other Saintly Fathers

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Angel of Mercy

This is an entry from a book called "Together Every Day" by Fr. Youhanna Baqy for June 17th:
A certain youth was afflicted by illnesses in his leg and the doctors had to amputate it. He regained consciousness after the surgery, and they moved him to a room with another patient, Malak, whose leg was also recently amputated.
The youth was shocked to see that his leg has been amputated, and he began to cry and scream with great sadness. Everyone around him tried to calm him, but failed.

Suddenly, everyone found Malak getting out of bed and putting on his mechanical leg, which he was not yet supposed to wear. He began to dance around the room and clap. Everyone in the room stood around him and started clapping for him. Even the youth who was screaming calmed down, smiled, and even joined the rest in clapping for Malak. And in this way, joy entered his heart.

Malak returned to his bed and asked for the doctors, who rushed to him to treat his amputated leg. It was bleeding profusely because he was not supposed to wear the mechanical leg for another long while. He made this sacrifice to show his roommate that he is able to do anything although his leg is amputated.

The story was followed by this contemplation:
You must forget yourself in order to feel for those around you; and in order to forget yourself, you must be reassured about it. This is not possible unless you believe that God is able to protect you, fill you, and care for you.

Remember God's love for you and how he sacrificed His life for you on the cross. Then, you will care about those who labor and those who are upset, and will be able to answer their requests when they ask for your help. But if they are embarrassed to ask for your help, then give them even more attention than you would if they had asked. And if helping them necessitates a sacrifice that's within your ability, do not hold back from them. And if the sacrifice is big, ask for God's support. If your heart moves you to give, do not resist or worry because giving from one's necessity and offering big sacrifices are of great value before God.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Which Bible Translation is Better?

This post is not a translation. The following was written by Fr. Augustinos Hanna of St. John Coptic Orthodox Church of Covina, California for the May 2010 issue of the Saint John magazine. I couldn't not share.
Three persons were talking about some of the recent translations of the Bible. One said, "I like the New English version of the Gospels. It's easier reading than all the older versions."

The second person said, "I prefer the New King James Bible. The translators have modernized the language without sacrificing the meaning or reverence." To which the third person replied, "I know an even better translation. I like my mother's translation best. She translated the Bible into life, and it is the most convincing translation I have ever seen. She was a loving person who always took the needs of others seriously. That is what Jesus did, when He was on earth."
I'd have to agree with the third person. My dad was a living Bible too. His translation was the easiest to understand and the easiest to follow. Even the verses I found hardest to comprehend, he simplified through action.

Can those around us truly say that the word of God has touched them through our lives?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gems From the Desert

St. Anthony once asked God about the reason why children die young while those who are advanced in age live for many years, why godly people are poor while evil people are rich, why some people see while others are blind, why the righteous suffer from the pains of illness while the unrighteous are healthy.

He heard a voice from heaven answering, "Anthony, focus on yourself, for these things are within God's wisdom."

Another time, St. Anthony saw the devil's snares set-up all over the earth. He sighed and wondered, "O Lord, who can escape from all this?"

A voice answered from heaven, "The humble ones escape."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Son, Give Me Your Heart (Part II)

(This is a continuation from the last post - My Son, Give Me Your Heart (Part I).)

I continued reading, and it was when I got to the repentance section that I got my answer. I read the following passage:
"Repentance is not leaving sin, but hating sin. Yes, my beloved, hating sin. And this hatred comes from the heart. One may leave sin for fear of what people might say - he's afraid that he will be discovered or accused, he's afraid that his reputation may be ruined, etc... And another leaves sin because he hates it.

This hatred, as we said, emanates from the heart, and, therefore, this repentance is genuine because it is from the heart. For those who return to sin have not truly removed it from their hearts.

My beloved, true repentance is returning one's heart to God. The Bible says, 'Return to Me and I will return to you, but return with all your hearts.' St. James says, 'Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts.'"
It suddenly hit me - it's love! It's not action, or wanting to be extra-ordinary, or a mindset, or will power. It is LOVE! Only when I love God with ALL my heart will my heart be the productive, good, strong ground that allows for unwavering change. I realized that I falter and return to my old ways because my heart isn't exclusively God's. It actually made perfect sense that I waver between God and the world. How could I not when the world still holds a part of my heart - a part that weighs me down and holds me back every time I try to move forward in my journey with God. It's like telling God, "I love you Lord and I want to be with You, but I have this one last lust that I don't want to give up... this last fight that I don't want to pass up because of my ego..."

St. Anthony loved God with all his heart. That's why he received God's word and it changed him immediately and permanently. The world had no share in his heart and couldn't hold him back. I realized that if I love God with all my heart, I couldn't help but stay focused on Him. It wouldn't be an effort that requires strong will or a special mindset. After all, if you love someone, don't you naturally think about them all the time, don't you easily and happily do what pleases them, don't you want to listen to their voice, don't you want to talk to them, don't you want to spend all your time with them? It's not any different with God. If I love Him with all my heart, He will not have any competition; I will only be focused on Him. Any less than loving Him with all my heart and I would soon return to the other things I love.

So, the next question was: how do I love God with all my heart? The first and simplest answer that came to mind was "well the more I know God and spend time with Him, the more I will love Him." It seemed like the right answer. After all, I have to do my part to maintain my relationship with God. And it is true, we have to do our part. But under a closer inspection, it seemed that that wasn't the full answer. If it was, I wouldn't have had this whole thought process to begin with. I decided to finish the book.

Two verses brought it home for me: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me," and "My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways." So I've come a full circle with this second verse, but it really drove the answer home. God is the one who is able to create in me a pure heart that is filled with love for Him. He does not want my heart already ready; He wants my heart so HE can fill it. All I have to do is give Him my heart, and ask Him to create in me a pure heart.

Finally, I read a short story that same day and God had one last piece of the puzzle ready for me (talk about God not having anyone else in the world to answer but me). The story was about the value of intercessions, and it was followed by this contemplation:
"Ask from God with trust, and seek the intercession of His beloved saints. They are before the throne of God, asking for you, and God rejoices in your friendship with them.

Make friends of the saints that you may be like them, and through your friendship with them your heart will be attached to heaven. Then, you will love prayer and praise, and will leave every sin through repentance. Your heart will be free from attachment to carnal things, and you will feel that your place is heaven, even while you're on earth."
I am certainly glad that I didn't put this book away unread. I pray that God creates in all of us a pure heart that is filled with His love, which allows us to walk with Him without looking back.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Son, Give Me Your Heart (Part I)

A few weeks ago I started reading a book titled "My Son, Give Me Your Heart" by Hegumen Botros Botros. After the first couple of pages I wasn't really engaged and almost put it away, but I thought, "maybe this is the devil trying to keep me from getting a message that I need." I kept reading.

The book focused on the verse from Proverbs 23:26 which says, "My son, give Me your heart, and let your eyes observe My ways." It stressed how our relationship with God must come from the heart because "the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7). It also advised: "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." (Proverbs 4:23).

Fr. Botros spoke about three things that must emanate from the heart: prayer, faith, and repentance. There were so many deep contemplations on these topics, but I particularly stopped after the following passage under the faith discussion:
"My beloved, many people have found God's command hard because it has not entered their hearts. St. Anthony heard a verse that entered his heart and had a strong, active impact. He was a productive ground... a good ground... a ground that received the word of God and brought forth good fruit... strong fruit... thirty... sixty... and a hundredfold.

My son, does the word of God abide in you? St. John says, 'I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you.' St. Paul also tells his disciple, Timothy, 'from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.'

This faith is inside the heart."
I stopped reading for the day, but I was left with two questions I couldn't answer or stop from repeating in my mind: how, and why, was St. Anthony's heart different? And how can I make my heart this productive, good, strong ground for God's word? After all, St. Anthony wasn't in church that day to hear a message, and yet the one verse pierced his heart. I thought back to how many times I've heard the word of God, liked it, even meditated on it, and yet it still didn't change me like it did St. Anthony - an immediate, permanent, unwavering change.

The question rang in my ears for the next couple of days, and I still couldn't find an answer. Finally, I asked a friend what he thought the answer was. Surprisingly, he and a group of friends were recently considering the same question. He suggested that the difference was action - doing something with God's word instead of just thinking "it's nice." But I still felt that something was missing - what was behind people like St. Anthony springing into action that lasted a lifetime? We often read a spiritual book, listen to a sermon, or attend a spiritual retreat looking for a message. We even try to do something with the message we receive, but often find ourselves going back to our old ways.

We then explored the possibility that maybe the difference is people like St. Anthony are willing to be extra-ordinary and not lead an ordinary life like everyone else. But I still wasn't satisfied.
Many of us do want to be extra-ordinary, and do try to be extra-ordinary. So why St. Anthony and not me? Why was he, and many like him, consistent? Why do I falter?

Finally, my friend suggested that it was about their mindset and will power. He explained that people like Joshua and St. Moses the Black were led by the Spirit and did not look back. I still felt that there was more to it. After all, if it was just a mindset, how do we change our mindsets? And that's where we got stuck - we couldn't figure out how to get that focused mindset.

(Since the post was getting too long, I decided to break it up. Check out the next post to find out the outcome of this search.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010


St. Augustine is my favorite church father of all times when it comes to quotations. In light of the fact that several of us are going through a rough time right now, I wanted to share some of his sayings regarding tribulations:

"In the midst of their pain and persecution, the martyrs asked for the salvation of those who persecuted them."

"The soul does not return to God unless it is removed from the world, and nothing truly removes it like pain and tribulation."

"He who refuses to endure tribulation will not be saved from it by his lack of patience."

"Fire tests the clay pot and tribulation tests the righteous."

"Success is more dangerous on the soul than hardship is on the body."

"God does not lead anyone into tribulation, but only allows for those who leave Him to enter into tribulation."

"Neither the vine becomes wine, nor the olive becomes oil, unless they are crushed by the press."