PONDERING FROM CAIRO

by Metropolitan George (Khodr) of Mount Lebanon

 

I did not enjoy Cairo, in the manner I desired to!

My friend (and tourist guide) was absent, and nothing was added to my acquaintance of the ancient Egyptian culture, which in every visit, initiates in me a great agitation in the soul: something closer to a spiritual vision, more than to an aesthetic feel.

… My work was limited to two lectures … One I gave for the Copts and the second for the rite of the Roum (1) in Cairo, and a Bible Study at the monastery of Anba Maquar (in the Natroun valley) in the desert — and of which I will not talk now — in the limits of this article.

I felt that the Egyptians do not require intellectual foundations in order to believe, or that their mind does not question their faith and that they are comfortable to what they choose, or to what was chosen for them, to follow.

I found myself laughing at the way I was presenting my arguments, or by describing the intellectual way that I followed to prove whatever theme I reached in my lecture.

I understand very well, that the majority of people may not need to seek any evidences in the nature, in the history, or in the brain — in order to find God — and I am abundantly, blessed by these people. But, I do also understand that some other people seek a unity in their being — between what they carry from brain, beauty, body and heart — and between the light that descended upon their hearts and enlightened them. Maybe, each of these groups has its own allegations. Moreover, I am sure that God doesn't want us to destroy what he created, even if He wanted us to realise the limits of everything.

The brain has its limits; it may have some domains, but not all the domains. There is a world of mystery, a world of vision, and devotions, which we care for, or which we are cared for through them. But the greatest in you — I mean the vision — must take heed in the smallest (the brain), in order that the greatest may become rational.

I understand that the majority of the souls attain God with easiness (those people like to call themselves 'simple'). Some personalities are neither amalgamated nor complex: I envy them, because they do not suffer a lot. I do not envy them because of their poor hierarchical intellectualism.

I am worn out by the 'popular religion' because it is man-centred. The main concern, in this popular-religion, is to delight the heart with mere sentiments: In this context, you see the 'simple' believer, centred on his own health and the well being of his kids. That's why he [the simple believer] is always thirsty for a miracle, and thirsty to 'prove' sanctity through miracles, which means that he seeks a new divine discourse. I do never deny any of the 'rational' miracles, which appear in the book of the lives of the saints [Synaxarion], and do acknowledge that the power of God can be mirrored in His chosen ones, in the same manner, which was revealed in Christ. But I am ascertained that the Lord wanted us to believe in Him through His teaching, otherwise: "though you do not believe Me, believe the works." [John 10:38]. Subsequently, in the Gospel teaching, the miracle comes after the word — a consolation for the weak — who failed to admire the splendour of the Word in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, we notice in the Gospel according to Saint John that the miracles of the Lord, which are seven (a symbolic number), are always followed by a teaching — as to say — that the miracles are an introduction or a prologue to this teaching. This teaching is the real meeting point between the Master and His follower.

The Son of God descended once to this world, in order that His descent may fully satisfy you. He will not re-incarnate. After this, you ascend. That is why I don't like the popular definition that 'the Church is the Incarnation of Christ.' The Word was incarnated only once. The Church is not the re-incarnation of the Incarnate. The Church is His Ascension. The Word, which dwells in the Church, always attracts us up. The saints are dwelling on high. The Icon is a glimpse from heaven attracting the earth. The Holy Gifts connects you to the Body of Christ sitting up on the Throne. What really thrills me in asceticism — in the origin and the exemplar — is that it [asceticism] sets you in a minimal level of material needs, to inspire you that you are in a perpetual movement of departing in the direction of the coming Christ. This is why the great ascetics, feared upon the monastery from the riches. They feared a question like "how do we manage all this?" or "What shall we do with all this land?" they feared that looking after the monastery may transform it to an institution — monks do not have time to stand — especially those who have "acquired wings."

Undoubtedly, there is a mixing in our minds, between the state of the heart and the responsibility of evangelism: The first of which we have no knowledge of, "For by grace you have been saved" [Eph. 2:8] or "So are My ways higher than your ways" [Isa. 55:9]. But God only wanted the teaching, because He wanted the inspiration. This inspiration has a content that you need to know in order to be saved by it. God arranged for us an apparatus: a solid, well built, fully rich and which we come to call the Church — delivering to you the Word — and enabling you to live by it.

Everything that was written since two thousand years in this Church, all what was adopted of canons, all what was mined of art, all what was composed, chanted and built … All this had the sole intention that you may know (on the hope that you may understand) and savour God, and join this perpetual movement of vision, which stops by death and only ends by the resurrection. Because you will be advanced after the re-initiation, as Saint Gregory of Nicea taught, you will be advanced from one start to another start in which God will beautify for you every fraction of every second of the eternity, since He has enabled you for vision.

If God sitting up on high is beyond habitation, then your discerning heart should be beyond habitation down here. You must not be satisfied with mere 'crumbs' of miracles and rumours blinding you from the teachings of God and from the riches that the Church prepared for us, turning away from this heritage, and replacing it with an idol, that is the fruit of your imagination and your sub-religious sensation.

I only have one command in my hand: the commandment of the Word. This word is neither studied enough by those who were supposed to teach it nor by those who were supposed to learn it. The prayer and its texts are an embodiment of what God taught, and another aspect of Him. But you will never attain the aspirations of prayer if the Dear Book [Holy Bible] did not descend upon your heart. These are two flips of the same token, and no one can replace the other.

The dreadful question remains: "how many generations have studied?" And the question that accompany it: "no matter what was the depth of our study, what did we do with this divine commandment?"

Neglect gave birth to a 'popular religion', and it looks like we are surrendering to the existence of non-enlightened groups — something we may never confess — which is that the multitudes of naive peoples are good, because they save us the hassle of intellectual labour! And the bitter reality, nesting in our hearts, is that these multitudes will always remain uneducated and stupid, and that there should be an elite that is concerned with the divine matters and evangelism.

This great chasm between the Word of God and the believers, on the level of understanding — made my nights sleepless — in these last years. Of course I know that the understanding as a result of study doesn't mean that you have attained the core of the Word and that you shone with it. What terrifies me is that sometimes the Word falls down on the earth and does not return to God as Isaiah wished the hearts to be cleared and purified. Does this mean that the religious 'status' is that you only sow, and the seed falls either on a good ground or on a dry land, as described in the parable of the sower? Do I console myself with this unless I become deadly chagrined? Or shall I hope for a great blaze that sets Christianity on fire, everywhere it might be around the world, and the flame will spread through a mighty gusting wind — the wind that we know is from the Spirit?

I don't like the indolent instructors who abandon the teaching and centre everything around the purity of the soul, or around 'sanctity' as we say in Christianity, like they never read: "You are already clean because of the word, which I have spoken to you." [John 15:3] The way to sanctity is by emulating the pure. The purity of life is the target, and the greatest way leading to purity is the Divine Word, which purifies the heart, if transported by the Holy Spirit to you or if translated into your life by a great spiritual father.

The chronic pain of the Church is that the Church is not mere teaching but also guidance. Not just sowing, but also watering and continuos care to the believer whom your are guiding. Christianity is not a mere calling, but a ceaseless endeavour to initiate people in heaven before they die. " Compel them to come in." [Luke 14:23] This is the order that every believer receives to try to preserve his brethren in the Church, not only through counsel, but also by spreading the gospel and by visitation "not willing that any should perish." [2 Pet. 3:9].

Before the coming back of the last ignorant,

Before that love will set the world on fire,

You can't go to bed.

(1) Roum — literally stands for Romans or the "Imperial Church": a local nick-name, in the Middle East, used for the Orthodox Church that remained faithful to the Byzantine Emperor after the Council of Calcedon.

Published February 13, 1999 in the © An-Nahar, Lebanese news paper (http://www.annahar.com.lb/htd/pdfed2.html)—Translated from Arabic.

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