By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him. (Song of Songs 3:1)

The story recounted in the Song of Songs is the spiritual life story of the human soul that has experienced life with God, one in which it has tasted the sweet and sour and undergone the good and the bad. This human soul has witnessed Gethsemane. Yet, it has also experienced the Mount of Transfiguration. It has tasted the bitterness of being alienated from God, but it has also experienced the sweetness of His companionship and His nearness. It has undergone many different states and feelings.

This human soul has experienced kindness and thoughtfulness. It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, ‘Open for me, my love, my dove, my perfect one,’ (Song 5:2). It has also encountered rejection and denial, I sought him, but I did not find him, (Song 3:1). It has experienced, I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine, (Song 6:3), and, His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me, (Song 2:6). However, it has also encountered deprivation and abandonment and has been much afflicted by the guards. It has been depicted as black, yet, it has also been portrayed as beautiful, (Song 1:5). It has been subjected to humiliation and disgrace from her mother’s sons who called her keeper of vineyards, (Song 1:6). On the other hand, she has also been exalted and praised by her bridegroom, Behold you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove’s eyes, (Song 4:1).

Such is the condition of the human soul as it experiences living with the Lord, as it savours things that may be sweet or sour, and as it goes through difficulties and happiness. It is a long road in which man marches with the Lord. There are failures, difficulties and hardships along the road, but there are also triumphs and successes.

I have told you many times before and I still maintain that one of the most telling verses that reflects spiritual life is the last verse in chapter right of the book of Genesis. After the Flood, we read, While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease (Gen 8:22). In your lives, my beloved, there is day and night, cold and heat, summer and winter. No man leads an exclusively happy, easy and comfortable life. Every man is bound to encounter periods of darkness and difficulties, if only temporarily. Even the righteous children of light  are occasionally subjected to phases of darkness and difficulty.

This virgin reminisces and recounts those phases of abandonment, deprivation, and the many attempts made to seek the Lord. Throughout it all, she has always felt the love that has so tightly united her with the Lord. In the midst of those stages of abandonment when she sought but could not find him, she would be searching and enquiring, Have you seen the one I love? (Song 3:3). She would make an effort to find him, I will rise now…and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love, (Song 3:2). Even though the relationship with the Lord has been severed, she has not lost that love.

Love is forever in her heart. Love for the Lord is the foundation of this relationship. It is not founded on formalities, false pretences, mere rituals, commandments or fear. Rather it is based on love; it is based on strong foundations and profound feelings.

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Have You Seen the One I Love]

Does God receive the penitent? – Apophthegmata Patrum


And old man was asked by a certain soldier if God received a penitent man.  And after heartening him with many words, he said to him at the last,  “Tell me, beloved, if your cloak were torn, would you throw it away?”  He said, “No, but I would patch it and wear it.”  The old man said to him, “If you would spare your garment, shall not God have mercy on His own image?”

[Apophthegmata Patrum]

I will not let You go unless You bless me – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

pope shenouda


Come back to God once more. Come back to him with prayer. And what is prayer? Pour out your heart before God and say to Him: 2O Lord, I want you. I want to come back to You. Please rescue me from my state and draw me back to You once again.

Without you I am nothing. When I lost you, I lost my life. I lost my happiness and delight. My life became without any meaning or interest.”

Pour yourself out before God and say, “I want to come back to you, O Lord”, but “my enemies are stronger than me ” (Ps. 38:9). “Many are they who say of me, ‘There is no help for him in God.'”. (Ps. 3:2).

Come back to God and say, “Lord, You carry me. And return me to You once more.” Tell him, “I lost my strength when I went far away from You. Give me some of Your strength. Please give me the divine assistance to help me to return to You.”

Many people say, “We want to return to God. How do we return?” Cast yourself before Him.

Cast yourself before the Lord and wrestle with Him and say to Him: ‘I shall not get up from here unless I have received Your special blessing and feel that You have taken me back and counted me among your children.

I do not just want You to forgive my sin, I want You to remove from my heart any love of sin, once and for all.”

Tell him, “Lord I cannot come back to You, if there is any love of sin in my heart. Take the love of sin from my heart. It’s not that I will leave sin and come back to you, its that You will come and remove the love of sin from me. If it were within my power to abandon the love of sin, I would have returned to You long ago.

But I want you to make me leave it. I want You to give me power. I want You to lead me in the procession of your victory.

Take any desire to sin from my heart and remove any domination which sin might have over my will. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” . (Ps. 51:7).

Just as you have given me the instruction to return, O Lord, give me the strength to carry it out.

Believe me my brethren, the person whose is successful at prayer is the person whose repentance succeeds.

Mar Isaac was truly right when he said, “If anyone believes there is a path to repentance except through prayer, he is deceived by demons.” Because through prayer you receive the power to return to God.

Therefore, force yourself in prayer more than in any other work. Because through prayer, you remove the separating wall between you and God, so that you may return to him once more.

It is amazing how many people prefer the service more than prayer. And reading more than prayer. And contemplation more than prayer. And attending religious gatherings more than prayer. That is why they fail in their relationship with God.

They therefore pray, read, have a service and attend their meetings, but are separated from God. There is no relationship.

Instead, come back to God.

Come back to God and take from Him.

Some people think that in prayer, you are the one giving to God. You give him words, you give him time, you give him emotions.

But in reality, prayer in its true depth is a process of taking from God. He is the Giver, not the taker.

The person who prays and feels that he has taken from God, is the one who succeeds in their prayer.

The person who prays and feels that he has received power from God, is the one who succeeds in their prayer.

The person who prays and receives blessings from God, is the one who succeeds in their prayer.

The person who prays and receives repentance from God, is the one who succeeds in their prayer.

The person who prays and receives holiness in their life from God, is the one who succeeds in their prayer.

The person who prays and receives a spiritual connection between themselves and God, is the one who succeeds in their prayer.

This is prayer.

God is telling you to come, come and pray so that I may give to you. And you stand for two minutes, and get bored, and get frustrated, and leave your prayer without taking anything from Him. And God looks at you and marvels, my son, why did you leave so quickly without taking? I was about to give to you. Why did you leave so quickly? Why did you leave before I could give to you?

You got bored and left. Thats fine, leave. But then you start looking for God, and cannot find Him.

And not only did you leave without receiving anything; you left thinking you had given God a few minutes of your time. You go to your spiritual chart for the day and check off “prayer.” This is not prayer. What did you receive from God?

You need to hold onto God and tell Him, “I am not leaving You.” 

This is why prayer needs patience. Without patience, you do not receive anything. You have to be patient in your prayers.  Tell him, “Lord I’m standing before You, and I don’t want to leave You until You’ve given me what I want. If I don’t receive, I will keep holding onto You. I will not let You go, unless you bless me. I held Him, and did not let Him go.

This is what struggle is in prayer.

People haven’t learned how to pray. They think prayer is to say a couple of words and then you’re gone. Or to pray as you walk away. No, this won’t work my beloved.

Pray to God and receive from Him. And if you don’t receive? Say to Him, “I’m not leaving You today. No matter what, I’m not leaving You. I won’t leave You. They say you’re the kind and compassionate God, and they say to ask and you shall receive – well, I’ve asked, and I won’t leave until I receive.”

Keep this contest between you and God, and this struggle in your prayers. And so, you will receive comfort from your prayers, and your heart will be filled with love, and you will become fervent in your prayers without “repeating vainly like the Gentiles.” Instead you will pour yourself out as an offering before God. 

Just as Hannah the mother of Samuel used to pray. She used to pray a prayer, and weep a weeping, and vow a vow, and she did not leave the temple until she had received a promise that she would have a son.

David the Prophet did not leave God until he had received. He used to pray saying, “Lord, why have they who afflict me multiplied?” (Psalm 3:1) And then he would say, “Turn away from me all you who do iniquity, for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has accepted my prayer.” (Psalm 6:8-9).

But didn’t you said before, “Lord do not rebuke me with your anger and do not chasten me with your wrath” (Psalm 6:1)? Not this, was at the beginning. “Why have they who afflict me multiplied” was before. But now I have received. 

He said, “I laid down and slept then I arose because the Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who arise against me.” (Psalm 3:5-6). Why? Because I’ve received power. In the beginning I said they who have afflicted me have multiplied, but now I have received power. I’ve received reassurance. I haven’t left God.

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Return to God] 

Your door is open, my Lord, and there is no one who enters – The Spiritual Elder


O Christ, whose pure blood has paid the debt which our foolish will owed, open the eyes of our minds that we may know where we are proceeding. May your light, which like the sun enlightens the legions of your Holiness, bring me unto You. May your Spirit, my Lord, place me among them even here below and in the world of light. And may your Spirit teach me their language, so as to extol with them inaudible praise of You. Create me, my Lord, as a new creature resembling your beauty and may we forget and disregard our previous nature.

Glory to the abundance of your ineffable love! Your door is open, my Lord, and there is no one who enters. Your glory is manifest and there is no one who contemplates it. Your light shines in the pupils of the eyes and we do not want to see. Your right hand is stretched out to give and there is no one who takes. You entice with compliments and we do not obey. You frighten us with terrors mixed with tenderness and we do not flee to You.

O our good God, have pity on our wretchedness! Our sweet Creator, bind up our brokenness! Our Father full of mercy, You Yourself persuade and compel us and draw us near to You; because of ourselves we are unwilling to beseech You. Lead out our soul from the prison (Ps 141:7) in which we have imprisoned ourselves to your true light, even when we are not willing. May your power, my Lord, prevail over us and draw us from the drowning for which we are headed!

Remove, my Lord, from before our sight all the veils with which the view of our soul is obscured from seeing your true light. In this light let us always stand stripped without interruption, with unveiled faces, and let us persist in the desire and in the delight of its beauty, forever and ever, Amen.

[John of Dalyatha, Letter 5]

The path to heaven is both wide and narrow – H.H. Pope St. Cyril VI


The path leading to heaven is both wide and narrow. It is wide because it can accommodate the worst sinners of this world. However, it is narrow because if you desire to walk in it you cannot bear to carry even one sin.

[H.H. Pope Cyril VI, 116th Pope of Alexandria and the See of St. Mark, Christian Behaviour]

Remember – H.H. Pope Shenouda III


Remember your weakness, so that you are more cautious and will not submit to the thoughts of pride and false glory.

Remember the loving kindness the Lord has bestowed on you, and you will always live the life of thanksgiving. Faith will grow in your heart as well as the trust in God’s love and work.

Remember other people’s love and their good history with you. Should you doubt their sincerity or discover they have wronged you, their old love will intercede for them and your anger will fade away.

Remember death, so that all worldly temptations will disappear and you feel that all is vanity and grasping for the wind (Eccl 1:14).

Remember that God is standing before you, looking at you, and you cannot sin because you see Him.

Remember God’s promises, and you will be comforted in all your troubles. But if you forget them, say with David the Prophet: Remember Your word to Your servant, in which You give me hope. This comforted me in my humiliation, for Your teaching gives me life. (Psalm 118:49-50).

Remember the Blood of Jesus which was shed for your sake and you will certainly appreciate the value of your life; it will become dear in your eyes, so that you will not waste it in prodigal living, for you were bought at a price.” (1 Cor 6:20).

Remember the vows you made to God at the Baptistery, which your parents took on your behalf: to renounce Satan and all his evil works, all his thoughts and traps and all his forces and powers.

Remember always that you are a stranger on the earth and that you will return to your heavenly home, then you will not put all of your hopes in this world.

Remember that the narrow gate leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. If you see the wide gate open before you, escape and keep away from it as all those who have gone in by it have perished.

Remember your eternity and work for it at all times.

Remember that you are a child of God and ought to have His image. Walk as is fitting for the children of God who are seen by others.

Remember that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God within you. Be always a holy temple.

Remember all that you have read on this page, and if you have already forgotten, please read it again.

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Words of Spiritual Benefit, 104]

Open my heart, O my God, by your grace – Mar Isaac


Hold me worthy, O Lord, to behold your mercy in my soul before I depart from this world; may I be aware in myself at that hour of your comfort, along with those who have gone forth from this world in good hope. Open my heart, O my God, by your grace and purify me from any association with sin.

Tread out in my heart the path of repentance, my God and my Lord, my hope and my boast, my strong refuge, by whom may my eyes be illumined, and may I have understanding of your truth, O Lord.

Hold my worthy, Lord, to taste the joy of the gift of repentance,
by which the soul is separated from cooperating with sin and the
will of flesh and blood.  Hold my worthy, O Lord, to taste this
state, wherein lies the gift of pure prayer.

O my Saviour, may I attain to this wondrous transition at which
the soul abandons this visible world, and at which new stirrings
arise on our entering into the spiritual world and the experience
of new perceptions.

[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies]

Exposition on Psalm 12 (13) – Augustine of Hippo

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me to the end?
How long will You turn Your face from me?
How long will I take counsel in my soul,
Having grief in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Look upon me and hear me, O Lord  my God;
Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep in death,
Lest my enemy say,
“I prevailed against him”;
Those who afflict me will greatly rejoice, if  I am shaken.
But I hope in Your mercy;
My heart shall greatly rejoice in Your salvation;
I will sing to the Lord, who shows  kindness to me;
I will sing to the name of the Lord Most High.
[Psalm 12 Septuagint, (13 Vulgate)]

1. For Christ is the end of the law to every one that believes (Romans 10:4). How long, O Lord? Will You forget me unto the end? (Psalm 12:1) that is, put me off as to spiritually understanding Christ, who is the Wisdom of God, and the true end of all the aim of the soul. How long will You turn away Your face from me? As God does not forget, so neither does He turn His face away: but Scripture speaks after our manner. Now God is said to turn away His face, when He does not give to the soul, which as yet has not the pure eye of the mind, the knowledge of Himself.

2. How long shall I take counsel in my soul? (Psalm 12:2). There is no need of counsel but in adversity. Therefore How long shall I place counsel in my soul? is as if it were said, How long shall I be in adversity? Or at least it is an answer, so that the meaning is this, So long, O Lord, will You forget me to the end, and so long turn away Your face from me, until I shall place counsel in my own soul: so that except a man place counsel in his own soul to work mercy perfectly, God will not direct him to the end, nor give him that full knowledge of Himself, which is face to face. Grief in my heart daily? How long shall I have, is understood. And through the day signifies continuance, so that day is taken for time: from which as each one longs to be free, he has sorrow in his heart, making entreaty to rise to things eternal, and not endure man’s day.

3. How long will my enemy be exalted over me? either the devil, or carnal habit.

4. Look upon me and hear me, O Lord my God (Psalm 12:3). Look on me, refers to what was said, How long do You turn Your face from me. Hear, refers to what was said, How long will You forget me to the end?Enlighten my eyes, that I sleep not in death. The eyes of the heart must be understood, that they be not closed by the pleasurable eclipse of sin.

5. Lest my enemy say, “I prevailed against him” (Psalm 12:4). The devil’s mockery is to be feared. Those who afflict me greatly rejoice, if I am shaken; the devil and his angels; who exulted not over that righteous man, Job, when they troubled him; because he was not moved, that is, did not draw back from the steadfastness of his faith (Job 2:3).

6. But I hope in Your mercy (Psalm 12:5). Because this very thing, that a man be not moved, and that he abide fixed in the Lord, he should not attribute to self: lest when he glories that he has not been moved, he be moved by this very pride. My heart shall greatly rejoice in Your salvation; in Christ, in the Wisdom of God. I will sing to the Lord who shows kindness to me; spiritual good things, not belonging to man’s day. And I will sing to the name of the Lord Most High (Psalm 12:6); that is, I give thanks with joy, and in most due order employ my body, which is the song of the spiritual soul. But if any distinction is to be marked here, I will sing with the heart, I will chant with my works; to the Lord, that which He alone sees, but to the name of the Lord, that which is known among men, which is serviceable not for Him, but for us.

[Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on Psalm 12]

Blessed are you if you look on this goal and do not turn back – The Spiritual Elder


You grief-filled letter was an occasion of thanksgiving for us, and I call our misery blessed which was deemed worthy to drink the cup of the sufferings of our Saviour; as I am convinced that from the bitter draught drunk for Him, things that are glorious will spring forth in which the diligent will rejoice, making them glorious in the glory of their Glorifier.

The athlete who looks at the crown is not disheartened by the intensity of the struggles. And the crown, with which Christ crowns the one who loves Him, at the end of his strife, is the vision of the Holy Trinity.

Blessed are you, O combatant if you look on this goal and you do not turn back. If you are struck with arrows by your enemies, behold, your King observes your struggle and He Himself will heal your wounds. He will anoint you with sweet oil, the oil of joy, and he will refresh your weary limbs which have been afflicted for his sake.

Since the outer sun of your pupils has been darkened by the violence of the adversities, all at once you will receive in exchange the place whose sun is the Creator. And this sun will gladden your face with a light without shadow. The limbs which were dipped in the blood of their wounds for love of the Spouse more beautiful than all, even in this life they shine in the eternally existing glory which He gives them as a pledge.

[John of Dalyatha, Letter 11]

“Am I truly heading for God? But where is he?” – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen


“But while waiting in patience for progress, we must also avoid another misconception about growth in the contemplative life. It is conceived by some that the way of worship, contemplation, and solitude is strewn with flowers and roses – by no means. For the way is an arid wilderness. It has no comeliness that we might desire it in itself. Let is suffice to know that Christ described it as a narrow gate, and a tough, rugged path. You will then ask, “Am I truly heading for God? But where is he?” This is only the beginning of the ordeal that your soul will undergo on the way. It will find itself destitute of any help from any human being. It will feel devoid of any spiritual comfort or sign whatsoever – even of one word of promise of encouragement. Common sense will become your adversary. Thus, your faith will be tested and vision will be denied you.

At the onset of this spiritual dryness, many can no longer bear the sight of the rugged path ahead. They turn back. They speak with the perplexity of Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1.46). As for those who carry on in faith in such conditions, they are truly blessed. “If you would believe you would see the glory of God” (Jn 11.40).

However, if you intend to follow this path, you must also be forewarned that even faith will not sustain you with the same strength throughout the whole journey. It will fail you from time to time, for on the way you will seek your former pleasures. Your heart shall crave once more for Egypt with its leeks and onions. Your self will come out and blame you: Why have you led me to the wilderness, to kill me? Both your soul and mine are poverty stricken and well nigh incorrigible. We shall hanker after meat in the wilderness. We shall ask for a sign on the way but none shall be given us.

Many are those who have stood bewildered, asking: Where are we? What is the purpose behind our journey? What were we doing coming this way in the first place? But these are questions of doubt, a cry of retreat. Many have turned back before the end because they preferred to live by sight.

They asked for a sign for themselves, thus proving their lack of faith. Their wish being rejected, they gave up the trail and flung themselves with a vengeance into the arms of the madding crowd. They plunged with all their might into the countless crazes of this world and have become obsessed with them. This they have done not because they see any real benefit to these activities, but because they want to escape the truth that confronted them. For fear seized them when they were forced to face the fact that they had to walk by faith alone and not by sight.

Had it not been for Moses, Israel would not have journeyed for a single day in the desert. Yet, Moses journeyed forty years in the hope of reaching the promised land. His only resource throughout this long struggle was faith. By means of his towering faith, he managed to lead an obstinate people forty years in a most arid wilderness. We need the leadership of Moses for ourselves so that we can walk by faith. By faith we can push ourselves to go on even though we can see nothing. However long our struggle may last, we should keep on going along the way of God, for we are certain that at the end of the trail lies the heavenly Jerusalem prepared like a bride for her bridegroom. But so long as the journey goes on, we should be satisfied with God’s faithfulness to his promises, the secret encouragements that he gives us, and his voice speaking to us out of eternity.”

[Fr. Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life]