Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others. Be crucified, but do not crucify others. Be slandered, but do not slander others. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity. Suffer with the sick. Be afflicted with sinners. Exult with those who repent. Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone. Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all. Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.
[Mar Isaac, Ascetical Homilies]
“I sleep, but my heart is awake; it is the voice of my beloved! He
knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, My dove,
my perfect one; For my head is covered with dew,
My locks with the drops of the night.”
[Song of Songs 5:2]
The virgin of the Song of Songs sees herself as asleep. She remains without a spiritual outlook. There is no passion. There is no vigilance. There is no vitality. There is no activity. However, she affirms it to be acceptable. I sleep, but my heart is awake (Song 5:2), I have something encouraging since my heart is awake. Although I sleep, I am keenly sensitive to the voice of my Beloved. Indeed, I am asleep, but I still can hear the voice of my Beloved knocking and saying, Open for me, my sister, my love (Song 5:2). These are great words. Although I sleep, I can hear His voice. This is not death, only slumber. The Lord told them, the child is not dead, but sleeping (Mark 5:39). She still has the breath of life in her. It may be that the life in her is concealed and veiled, but there is still life in her. She still has life and that life will definitely bring forth fruit.
The trees do not produce fruits all year long. Yet, we do not cut it down and throw it into the fire. The tree still has life. Ploughing around it and enriching it with fertilizers may help it bring forth fruits later. I sleep, but my heart is awake.
I sleep, but my heart is awake. It is counter productive to focus on the negatives and admonish and reproach sleep. It would be wonderful, however, if the heart that is awake is beaming gleefully and vivaciously with hope. We should not lose sight of the fact that had God relinquished hope in the state of the Church when it is lukewarm, lacking in zeal and ardor, or had He given up hope in ever awakening our hearts, we would have all perished. Rather, time and again, the Lord has consoled, sustained and encouraged us that even though our bodies are asleep and the flesh is weak, our hearts are awake and the spirit is willing. It is these alert hearts that the Lord seeks and desires.
One may be asleep like wasteland: The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. However, there is something positive, nonetheless. The spirit of God (is) hovering over the face of the waters (Gen 1:2). Something beautiful is bound to come out of it.
Micah the prophet seems to reiterate the same theme. Do not rejoice over me, O sin, for even if I fall, I will rise up again (cf. Micah 7:8). This is an affirmation, an assertion, that even though one may commit a sin or make a mistake, one will not wallow in the dirt but will brace oneself and rise up again. We have that same conviction that after every Golgotha, there is a resurrection. Therefore, despite my apparent frailty and weakness while being nailed to the cross, in a short while I will resurrect in great glory.
There are positive aspects in everyone’s life. Some people, however, give up and resign themselves to despondency and despair. Some people can only see futility, uselessness and hopelessness when they confront difficulties and challenges. Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days (John 11:39).
The Lord, on the other hand, ascertains that this is not true. He sees life in Lazarus. If you would believe, you would see the glory of God, (1 John 1:40). God confirms that the person who is thought of as dead, even with a stench, and has been in that condition for a long time will rise up again. He has a heart that is awake, and the minute the Lord utters the words Lazarus, come forth he will rise, come out of the grave and see the Light.
There is hope. There is hope for everyone. No one can shut the door of hope to anyone regardless of their condition. Even if the human spirit is without form, and void; and darkness is on the face of deep, even if it has developed a stench for lying in the grave for four days, and even if she is asleep. The important thing is that the heart is awake.
[H.H. Pope Shenouda III of thrice blessed memory, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, “Have You Seen The One I Love”]
[Extract from Pimonakhos Vol. 3 Issue 4 produced by St. Shenouda’s the Archimandrite Coptic Orthodox Monastery, Sydney Australia]
In his youth Abba John the Eunuch questioned an old man, “How have you been able to carry out the work of God in peace? For we cannot do it, even with our labour.” The old man said, “We were able to do it, because we considered the work of God to be primary, and bodily needs to be subsidiary; but you hold bodily necessities to be primary and the work of God to be secondary; that is why you labour, and that is why the Saviour said to the disciples, “Seek you first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”
There are three virtues which bestow light on the intellect at all times: knowing no evil against anyone, doing good to those who wrong you, and enduring calmly the things which come your way.
These three virtues give rise to another three which are still greater: knowing no evil against anyone gives rise to love, doing good to those who wrong you produces peace, and enduring calmly the things which come your way brings meekness.
There are four virtues which purify the soul: silence, keeping the commandments, <spiritual> constraint and humility.
The intellect always needs the following four virtues: praying to God by constantly prostrating oneself before him, surrendering before God, being unconcerned with everyone in order not to judge, and being deaf to the passions which speak to it.
Four virtues fortify the soul, allowing it to breathe from the disturbance of the enemy: mercy, freedom from anger, long-suffering, and shaking off every seed coming from sin. Resisting forgetfulness protects all of these.
There are four virtues which, after God Himself, assist the beginner: constant study, resoluteness, vigil and disregard for oneself.
[Abba Isaiah of Scetis, Ascetical Discourses, Discourse 7]
A certain brother committed an offence in Scete, the camp of the monks, and when a congregation was assembled on this matter, they sent after Abba Moses, but he refused to come; then they sent the priest of the church to him, saying, “Come, for all the people are expecting you,” and he rose up and came.
He took a basket with a hole in it and filled it with sand, and carried it upon his shoulders, and those who went out to meet him said unto him, “What does this mean, O father?” And he said to them, “The sands are my sins which are running down behind me and I cannot see them, and, even, have come to this day to judge shortcomings which are not mine.” And when they heard this they set free that brother and said nothing further to him.
They used to say of Abba Aghathon that on hearing of his great discretion, some people went to him. Wanting to test him [to see] whether he would become angry they said to him, “Are you Aghathon? We hear that you are given to porneia and arrogant,” but he said, “Yes, that is so.”
They also said to him, “Are you Aghathon, the tattler and slanderer?” and he said, “I am.” Then again they said to him, “Are you Aghathon the heretic?” and he replied, “I am not a heretic,” and they begged him saying, “Tell us why you accepted when we said so many things about you, but you did not tolerate this description?”
He said to them, “I charge myself with the first [faults] because it is good for my soul; but to hear [oneself] called heretic – that is separation from God, and I do not wish to be separated from my God.” On hearing this they were amazed at his discretion, and went their way enlightened.