Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fr. Pandeleimon (Farah) on Icons

This sermon was given by Archimandrite Pandeleimon (Farah), abbot of the Monastery of Hamatoura on October 11, 2009. The Gospel was Luke 8:5-10. The Arabic original can be found here.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen.

St. Luke focuses on the fact that those who bear fruit, bear fruit with patience. They do not grumble, but rather stay firm in their struggle and offer the best that they can for the love of Christ. So they bear fruit with patience and do not bear fruit hurriedly. As for those who want great results quickly, they act recklessly because the spiritual life does not come so randomly and hurriedly. It comes slowly and conscientiously, through the harmony of the work that God gives and the effort that man offers. In the second passage which we read, we hear him say: those who bear fruit also, they bear fruit exactly because of that cooperation between the grace of God and their effort. They live in accordance with that word and are made holy in it. They can only see in the Lord’s light what the Lord wants and what exactly His will is in their life, and how they should behave.

In this life we sometimes go through hard times where we are asked to do things we are not yet prepared to do, but which are nevertheless asked of us. What is the attitude that we must take? When we read the Gospel, our minds are illumined and we are lifted up to heaven and we try to apply these saying that we hear and learn. When we apply them, the affairs of our life and the people around us oppose us, but God has the power at that moment to illumine our minds if they are truly directed towards Him and to teach us what is the good way and the helpful words that should be said at that moment. Let us not fear, rather let us stand firm in our struggle and in our works and most of all in our patience, until we bring forth good fruit. “The one who does good and teaches it, he is called great in the kingdom of God.” But the one who grumbles is speaking from his mid while his heart does not yearn for God and so his actions do not correspond to his words, or one can say that he teaches what he doesn’t do himself. So he enters into matters of which he has no experience and consequentially does not bear good fruit because he does not pour out his heart, he does not offer his efforts, but rather he reads in books and says what he read or what he heard from other people. But his personal experience is completely foreign to all this, and so he does not bear fruit. He is hasty because he gives solutions and offers analysis that does not come out of his experience and which he did not learn from being in harmony with God’s will and teaching, and so he sins. His words are in vain because he is not accurate, he is not beneficial, and he does not build. Even if he uses holy words, his words are in vain because they do not help him, they do not build himself and others up.

And so we must be patient. Patience does not mean that we stay idle. It means that we continue in our work and do not consider it to be a routine that strangles and kills us, but rather as a field for our daily self-examination. Every day, we ask ourselves, do we know the Lord’s will? Do we love the Lord’s will? Do we do it with yearning and love? For example, the monk who first comes to the monastery, no matter what he read about monasticism or self-sacrifice and the spiritual life and service, he read it from a distance. So very quickly he is surprised once he is in the monastery that he is not able to be obedient, for example, that he cannot sacrifice. If he is hasty, he does not stand firm and does not bear fruit and he leaves himself to boredom and despair, and departs. The one who knows himself perfectly, that he cannot be obedient, that he cannot be humble, that he does not possess true virtues, in his patience and his harmony with monastery’s order and discipline, becomes holy because he acquires these virtues with patience and he bears good fruit. Then, when he talks to you about discipline, you can understand something. If he talks to you before having gained experience, before having reached this point of brokenness, sacrifice, and obedience in all humility, he cannot talk to you because all you hear out of his mouth is gibberish and incomprehensible words, since they do not spring from experience. For this reason it says: they bear fruit with patience, that is that they persist in this every day. Virtue does not come so quickly and we do not quickly become great saints, because it’s not magic and it’s not just a button that we push. It takes the whole life and sacrifice until death in order to bear good fruit.

And so, my beloved, on our celebration today of the Holy Fathers who gathered at the Seventh Ecumenical Council and affirmed the correct belief that we should venerate icons, they teach us that they are signs which draw us in to the presence of Christ and the saints. They are not Christ Himself nor are they the saints, but they are signs that show us the presence of the saints and the presence of the Lord Jesus. Likewise, the sign of the Holy Cross is not magic, but it raises our minds up to the event of the Lord’s death upon the Cross and the salvation that comes from this death and the Resurrection. At the same time, we do not bow down to them because they are a god, but because we express our respect through this humility because we are certain that the grace of God and the Holy Spirit is present in this icon, because grace is found in this person whom the icon represents. We honor it because it bears grace and is not simply a decorated wooden board. It bears the grace which God gives this saint in his life and struggles and toils and which is present in all his goals, in everything he undertakes, and in everything he gives attention to. This divine grace is also present in icons, because through them we are made aware of God’s presence and the presence of the saints with us. We keep icons in our homes, but not in just any place, but in a fitting place where we give them honor and respect, because through this we express our love for Christ and for His saints. We express our respect for our Lord and for His saints through whose presence he gives blessings and among whom His name is magnified. When we find ourselves surrounded by those saints, we feel rest in our toil and our daily struggles and we are filled with blessings and joy because we participate with them. We become a community with them, as though we are one with them. They come down to us and we raise our minds up to them. We come to be on the same level when we are aware that we struggle for the sake of the love of Christ. And so we bear fruit and His name shines within us.

Let your light shine before the people, so that you do not just venerate icons but so that you yourselves will become icons which will show the presence of Christ and will make all creation draw near to Him. When they see you, they love the God Whom you represent and Whom you bring to them and so you make yourselves and all creation holy. May the Holy Lord bless your life on this blessed morning and may He make every one of you a shining light which will show the life of Christ and His salvation and may it bear good fruit through holy effort, with firm patience, through which it may be established in the Paradise of the Lord, amen.