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."