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  • Sunday ,12 December 2010

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (23)

Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,12 December 2010

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (23)

    Some may have a good beginning with God, inflamed with love, but they do not continue. Love cools down. What is the reason?

   One of the main reasons is leniency towards sin and towards the self.
   That was the reason for the first man's fall. In his lenience, he allowed himself to sit to the serpent and to listen to its words contradicting the commandment. He submitted to the temptation, and in weakness fell. Eve was not firm towards the sinful thought offered by the serpent. She accepted it, discussed it, and submitted to it. The thought prevailed over her and led to many other sins, and she lost her simplicity and purity.
   Many people fell due to lenience and lack of strictness, as we see from the Book of Judges. 
   We read in that Book that the children of Israel fell in the worship of idols and the worship of the gods of the Gentiles, so God delivered them to the hands of their enemies to afflict them.
   The reason for that fall and affliction was that when they entered the land they kept some Canaanites, out of mere negligence, lenience, or desire for material benefit. Then they mixed with them, and married from them, and they furthermore worshiped their gods! All this was a result of lenience concerning mixing with the Gentiles.
   Do not think that the devil attacks people with one fatal stroke! Nay, for he may begin with a simple thing and moves gradually. As one of the fathers said, he is a rope maker, and his ropes are very long! He can plan for ten years in advance, until a person falls finally. He adopts a long-term policy, based on gradual advance and long breath in a non-perceptible way!
   Another example of gradual falling is Samson the Valiant.
   He was the man of God on whom the Spirit of the Lord descended. He dwelt in Jerusalem, but, in his lenience, he went to Gaza from time to time, where he found pleasure. He went there frequently, then dwelt there and took for himself a wife. He entered into various sinful relations until he got acquainted to Delilah. His relationship with her went farther until he disclosed to her his secret and his vow. That was his great fall, from which he only awoke when he lost his sight and his enemies afflicted him, and he asked the Lord to die with them!
   Jacob the father of fathers was lenient with a certain fault, which turned afterwards to a nature. He was lenient towards using human wisdom instead of God's will, and relying on his own intelligence and cleverness, he caused himself affliction. He used his craft and cleverness against his brother when he was hungry asking him for food; he seized the opportunity and bought his brother's birthright. He did the same when he deceived his father and received his blessing, and when he stole the sheep of his uncle Laban, and in escaping the anger of his brother Esau. It became a nature in him. The Lord therefore chastised him by causing him to taste the same cup. He permitted it that his uncle deceive him and give him Leah instead of Rachel, and his children deceive him by telling him that a beast devoured his son Joseph. Jacob did not let God act, but from the beginning he sought human means until it became a nature in him. Many people fell in the same sin, leaving the commandment aside and seeking human wisdom and intelligence to reach their goals. Spiritual falling often comes gradually and slowly, because a person may notice a sudden and strong fall and be on guard against it. See the beautiful words said in the Song: "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines." (Song 2: 15)
   A big and cunning fox may attract your sight, but it with difficulty may embark upon. The little foxes on the other hand may find an entrance to you through a small hole, of which you are not aware.
   Many fell because of late awaking.
   Such people only become aware of their state very late, after sin has taken hold of them, like Lot for instance, whose fall was great because he awoke very late. The devil's plan began with separating him from our father Abraham, the good example and man of God, and from the altar and the divine guidance. In his lenience, he agreed to dwell away, then to chose for himself the cultivable land, Sodom, in spite of its corruption. In Sodom he went farther, gradually, and soon mixed with its people, married from them, and consequently fell in captivity with them. Yet his conscience did not awake, and he continued in the city. The righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day (2 Pet 2: 8). He only awoke when two angels came to him with a warning of the destruction of the city! Only then, he went out having lost everything, even his wife. What a lesson to us! We also have an example of the strictness of the saints in the words, "Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment." (mt 12: 36)
   The saints did not understand the words "idle word" to mean evil words, like lies, insults, slander, blasphemy, and judging, but rather to mean every word of no benefit, not for edification of the listener nor of the kingdom. That is why they kept silent, and spoke only when speaking can be for spiritual edification. Actually, who is strict concerning his words and does not utter except words of benefit, cannot easily utter an evil word.
   Strictness is very important, and we can find an example of it in the Lord's commandment, "If your hand or foot caused you to sin cut it off … and if your caused you to sin, pluck it out …"
   An example of lenience concerning sin is lenience concerning thoughts. Although St. Paul the Apostle says, "… bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor 10: 5) Some people, being careless concerning thoughts, the thoughts turn into emotions, which likewise turn into a lust that tries to find an outlet to express itself in practice. If a person is lenient towards such practical things, they will take him away step by step until they uproot all his spirituality. If a person is not strict towards a certain thought, but accepts and considers it, it will dominate over him and take a firm stand within him, so he cannot get rid of it, though he could have prevailed over it in the beginning.
   Some people are very firm and never indulgent, but watch very strictly every thought, every feeling, every emotion, every behavior, and every word. However, some may begin their relationship with God with such firmness, but, after a while, they become lenient, letting many things into their hearts. Such things may grow and put an end to their spirituality.
   A spiritual person is never lenient concerning anything, even what seems slight.   
   One who is careful against slight things, will not fall in big things. The holy mother Sarah once said on asceticism, 'A mouth deprived of water will not ask for wine, and a stomach deprived of bread will not ask for meat.' A person should be very strict in every behavior, not permitting anything to enter into his heart under the pretext that it is a slight thing of no influence of him.
   The devil fears God's true children, because they are the image and likeness of God, and the temple of His Holy Spirit, also because God and His grace work in them. This is why the devil used to flee in fear from the saints. When St. Makarius was exiled in Feyala Island and the devil who was haunting the daughter of the idols priest saw him, the devil cried out, saying, 'Woe to me  because of you, Makkara! We left you the desert, and here you are on this island to drive us away from it!' So many are the stories of the devils' fear of saints! Yet he feels the pulse of an ordinary believer, to see of what type he is. If he is found soft, accepting his thoughts and opening for him the door, disloyal to the Lord for his sake, that person's awe will fall down in the sight of the devil and will be a plaything in the devil's hand. By submitting to the devil and rejecting all divine work, the guarding angels will depart away. The more he is lenient towards sin, the weaker his will becomes, the more lukewarm his love, the less cautious he will be, ending with losing his firmness.
   One usually is in full power at the beginning of the spiritual war, but the more one becomes lenient, the weaker he becomes and the less resistant, and the stronger the influence of sin upon him. If he tries to flee, he will find hindrances within and will fall in conflict. The whole atmosphere will become confused. The cause of weakness in the face of sin is dishonesty to God and to His love. By breaking the spiritual promises taken, a person waives the gifts given him, and refuses the spiritual weapon, or rather extinguishes and grieves God's Holy Spirit in him, and the breakdown happens.
   When you become lenient towards sin, your ideals will become weak, your spiritual level will fall down, and you will forget the firmness which made Joseph say, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" When you become lenient towards sin, you will lose your spiritual awe in the sight of the devils. Therefore, keep away from the first step. Be firm, and walk strictly.