Day 30/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The living word enables our resurrection – Fr. Matthew the Poor

St. John the Apostle writes:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us– that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 Jn 1:1-4)

Today is the day of the resurrection. I tell you that this fellowship to which St. John calls us, with the apostles, the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ that completed our joy, is the very same fellowship experienced by the apostles on the day that the resurrected Lord was revealed to them, and they “did not believe it because of joy and amazement” (Lk 24:36-41). This is the same resurrection and is the same as that which St. Peter calls our new birth:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:3-4).

St. Peter also offers us a transfer from the rebirth through the resurrection on a personal level to a re-birth. This takes place through the Word, “God’s living word,” because he considered it autonomous, alive with the power of eternal life, able to give life to whoever lives by it: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23).

It is amazing that both St. Peter and St. John both considered the living word to be “the seed of God.” It was the seed of eternal life if it inhabited the heart, due to its ability to offer eternal life. It offers the resurrection, in its divine nature that does not sin and cannot sin: “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin for he is born of God” (1 Jn 3:9).

For that reason, he who is born of God lives in the resurrection in that he has overcome sinand death. Paul the Apostle therefore says to those who sin after having received the life of the resurrection: “We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6). “Let no sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey your passions” (Rom 6:12).

It is as if the man who obeys sin is trying to make sin once more take hold of his body that was crucified with Christ.”

[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]

 

Day 26/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Self-denial is the very essence of Christianity (kenosis) – Fr. Matthew the Poor

For man to follow the Lord, he has to first pursue the intentional death, the denial of self, so that he is able to carry the cross that is given him.

Inner death is hard, harder than outer death. Self-denial, renouncing and putting to death the sinful nature, is more difficult than bearing the humiliations, injustices and tribulations of outer death. He who is able to deny and renounce himself is able to bear the worst humiliations and even be joyful in them. The one who loves his life and pampers it might be able to bear humiliation once or twice, but he could never bear it daily!

It is easy for the one who succeeds in embracing inner death to carry his cross every day, no matter how heavy it is. He follows the Lord not to judgement but to Golgotha and then to the Kingdom and will be where Christ is. To practice the inner death of self is in truth to practice the life of a dead man!

It is required of us that we be dead regarding ourselves and other people and be alive to Christ, and this should affect every though, every action and everything else in life: “that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15).

Practicing the outer death that is unintentional comes as we focus on and find the reality of the inner death. Have we actually died to ourselves, our bodies and the world? If the unintentional death conforms to the intentional death, then that is the greatest proof to man that he lives with Christ!

How great is our need to accept unintentional death? It is the very essence of the Christian life. It is the resurrection: “Follow me.”

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… who emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant (inner death) He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (accepting the final outer death)” (Phil 2:5-8).

[Fr Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]

Day 25/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Self-denial is essential to being able carrying the cross (kenosis) – Fr. Matthew the Poor

No one is pressed to follow Christ by force and neither is the Kingdom gained through a soft and luxurious life, neither does it come by merely praying and participating in the rituals of worship; it requires self-denial. This means we must separate our souls from all the roots of outward show and vain glory, depriving ourselves of the pleasures that make us cling to the world, to flesh and blood and to earthly dust.

When we do this it is part of the inner death; that is the intentional death, which is followed by the unintentional. After that a man is free to carry his cross daily, to bear the insults of the world around him, the injustices of his environment, the insolence of evil men, the betrayal of relatives, friends and disciples, painful diseases and diminishing faculties. It is through all these tribulations that the devil tries to master him, and, at his weakest point, hopefully cast him into doubt and denial of the faith. All of these constitute the outer death, which is the unintentional death.

Without the inner or intentional death i.e. the denial of one’s self, it is impossible for man to have the strength to carry his cross daily and follow the Lord. It will be impossible for him to bear the outer or unintentional death. The Lord wisely therefore gave us the commandment to deny ourselves before bearing the cross.

[Fr Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]

Day 24/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The world disdains those who disdain it – Fr. Matthew the Poor

The image of Christ carrying His cross, leaving Jerusalem for the place of crucifixion, escorted by some of his disciples and relatives, is one of total shame and disgrace. But Christ endured it for the sake of the joy that lay before Him (Heb 12:2). This was the most climactic hour of Christ’s life, the hour of his departure with no return. This hour had been known in advance in all of heaven and had been spoken of by the spirits of the Old Testament saints, awaiting the world’s redemption: “And behold two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:30-31).

His exit from Jerusalem corresponded to His departure from the present world. The cross was the instrument of crossing over from this world to the eternal world. Departing from ths world is not fulfilled in a natural way by those who have hated the world and denied it, because the world inevitably takes revenge against those who have scorned it and shamed it: “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:18-20).

Jesus said these words before He went to the cross, before the judgement, before the revealing of the plan to arrest Him and fabricate accusations against Him, before calling in false witnesses, before the desertion of His disciple (which illustrates how the world uses those who are closest to us to torture saints’ souls). Christ knew well what the hatred and the envy of this world had prepared for Him; the plan to torture Him and get rid of Him: “Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him… “(Lk 18:31-33); “Then Jesus knowing all that was to befall Him, came forward” (Jn 18:4).

It is important for us to know that Christ was not surprised by the world’s behaviour towards Him. He Himself taught His disciples that the world will conflict with everything that does not belong to it. The world inevitably disdains those who disdain it, and mocks everyone who mocks it. This is the inevitable consequence of departure from this world.

[Fr Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]

Day 13/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Faith in Resurrection is faith in God’s love for the world [Part 2] – Fr. Matthew the Poor

Now I go back to the first verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). When we contemplate this verse, the beginning and the origin, for a moment we are stopped in our tracks before the question: why has God loved the world, or in the English words “so loved” it, and to such a great degree? The Divine love existed before the Son’s sacrifice on the cross. It was in fact the reason for that sacrifice. Why? How? What is its meaning? These questions contain the mystery of the creation of the world and mankind, and even before that.

St. Paul reveals it in unique and promising verses that encompass the whole Gospel. St Paul in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians says:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having pre-destinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded to ward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being pre-destinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (Eph 1:3-12 KJV).

From this golden sequence of verses we clearly see the following:

1. God blessed us with a spiritual blessing in the heavens before founding the world in Christ.

2. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.

3. God preceded and adopted us through Christ for Himself in accordance to the pleasure of His will.

4. God planned the salvation of mankind through the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins in accordance to the bounty of His grace.

5. God made known to us the mystery of His will that He had intended in accordance to His pleasure.

6. God had planned that the fulfillment of time on earth will finally end by everything, in the heavens and on earth, being gathering together in Christ.

7. Our inheritance from God, with Christ, had been established beforehand in accordance to His will.

8. Through the prophecies, God had previously established and made manifest all our hopes through Christ.

I will now go over these steps to give a summary of their meaning and interpretation in one, or a few, lines. Though they need a whole book, that would require the reader’s patience and time:

1. Christ is the blessed Son, the Word of the Father, living in Him and with Him as one whole. God created the world and mankind through the Word, i.e. in Christ and through Christ, and He found them good, very good. They therefore inevitably became blessed through Christ.

2. With Christ being the chosen Son before the creation of the world, it follows that having been created in Christ, we became chosen through Christ before the creation of the world.

3. With Christ being chosen as the only beloved Son of God before the foundation of the world, our creation inevitably gained for us the right to adoption by the Father. This without a doubt was in complete accordance to the pleasure of the Father’s will. We are the Father’s sons through adoption: first, by the inevitability of our creation in Christ i.e. our existence in Him and for Him, and second, by the pleasure of the Father’s will. Because it is impossible to gain the Father’s adoption except according to the complete pleasure of the Father’s will.

4. The result of 1+2+3 means that the timing of the Father plan for the redemption and forgiveness of sins was immediately following Adam’s first fall. His fall was considered a step made by creation, crossing from earthly materialism to heavenly spiritualism. This plan sprung from the bounty of the Father’s grace. It transported old mankind from dust, from below zero, to a state above the highest heavens and spirit, the new mankind.

5. Among the most amazing attributes of God is that he joyfully proclaimed the whole mystery of His will, that which He intended especially for Himself according to the verse: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

6. Working together, the times of salvation are within God’s plan, so that at the end everything will become united in Christ. As St Paul says in his Epistle to the Colossians: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:15-20 NKJV). The human race will thus end with mankind perfect and complete, fulfilled in Christ: “Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13 NKJV).

7) Our inheritance from God with Christ is a precedent that proves the truth of the authenticity of God’s testament of adoption. As St. Paul says, “And if children then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17 NKJV). For this is the birthright of sons. The Spirit’s expressions and proclamations of God’s works and counsels are so precise! We have Christ’s blessing, then are chosen in Christ, adopted in Christ and given the inheritance with Christ and in Christ. This is the profoundly amazing sequence of paternal love that was completed with the resurrection from the dead!

8) God had previously established hope as a pledge, proclaimed by all the prophets. It resembles the steps of a heavbely staircase for man to climb, looking towards what is coming, so as to hold on to the eternal life he was invited to while on earth: “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim 6:12).

[Fr Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]

Day 12/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Faith in Resurrection is faith in God’s love for the world [Part 1] – Fr. Matthew the Poor

Christ has Risen, Truly he has Risen.
This is the greeting of the resurrection. Together we will consider the power of the resurrection and its effect.

To rouse our spiritual awakening, the first question we ask is: What is the essence of the power of the resurrection?

Rather, what is the essence of the power of Christ’s death on the cross? Without hesitation, we answer according to the verse at the beginning of St John’s Gospel that it is God’s love to the world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). God’s love to the world is what made Him give His only Son to the cross.

Consequently and inevitably faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, the essence of the creed of faith and redemption, is faith in God’s love for the world.

This results in a pragmatic simplification. God’s love is equal to the power of the sacrifice of death together with the power of the action of the resurrection.

Now I am addressing those who have knowledge of the principles of theology. The power of the act of death on the cross is the forgiveness of sins, and the power of the action of the resurrection from death is reconciliation with the Father and the gaining of righteousness with eternal life. The immediate result of God’s love for us is the mystery of the forgiveness of our sins, the offer of righteousness and eternal life. This is the essential truth on which we put all our focus today to declare that it is impossible for our sins to be forgiven without our realizing, evaluating and accepting God’s love for us and reciprocating this love with love! It is also impossible to make peace with God the Father and gain His righteousness and eternal life without growing into, coming to know and acquiring God’s love for us. Because, as we know, it is in God’s love that is manifest the mystery of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life!

How can we realize, evaluate, and accept God’s love for us? Christ revealed the means clearly in the Gospel. It is the primary relationship God required from man in order to bind together God and man. “And he (Jesus) said to him: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mt 22:37-39).

In his First Epistle St John explains the basic relationship between God’s love for us and our love for God as follows: “We love Him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19 NKJV). St John also presented the negative: “He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). St John then proves all that has been previously said: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him (herein lies a hint of the resurrection). In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (herein lies a hint to the death of the cross)” (1 Jn 4:9, 10).

St John thus proved what we said about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that exist and act in us through God’s love for us. For that reason Christ placed God’s command of love in the first and greatest place and that it must be with all the heart, soul and mind. Christ gives the reason with this equation: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him” (Jn 14:21). The only way to gain the power of God’s love is to love God in which the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of our eternal life exist!

Now, dear friend don’t you find that it is impossible for us to claim we have faith in Christ’s death and resurrection, the core of Christian faith, unless our love for Christ is a true, sincere and effective love?

It is therefore the power of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that is today manifest and effectual in those who truly love Jesus Christ with all their hearts, souls and minds! These are the hearts, souls and minds that are considered to have actually risen with Christ and live with eyes looking upwards. How? Is there an explanation?

[Fr Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]

To be continued tomorrow!

Day 11/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The very cross you hate most is the one you must carry – Fr. Matthew the Poor

The shame that the cross symbolized, and which Christ bore as he departed the world, was the inevitable cost of the stand he had made. As a consequence the shame of crucifixion, to die in public, stripped of every dignity, with the addition of mockery and revenge through scourgings, beatings and being spat on, has become the symbol of the treatment that can be expected by anyone who has denied the world and sought only faithfulness to Christ.

Christ made this a general rule to be the primary consideration of anyone who intends leaving the world and follow Him: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27). “Follow me” (Mk 10:21). “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mk 8:34) “And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

It is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote: “Therefore let us go forth to him outside… and bear the abuse he endured” (Heb 13:13). Christ’s shame was the supreme example of scorn and humiliation. Each person will have his own particular cross. This means that every person will have his own shame that the world will fashion for him out of the very type of humiliation he hates the most.

Those who desire to follow the Lord do not shirk their cross but increase it and embellish it with other kinds of deprivations, mortifications of the flesh and with fasting, which submits the ego: “I afflicted myself with fasting” (Ps 35:13). We know from the Apostle’s words, from the lives of the saints, and from experience that inasmuch as a man experiences humiliation and dies both unintentionally and intentionally together, he will experience eternal life deep within him and live it day by day.

[Fr Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]