Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fr. Pandeleimon (Farah) on Reading the Bible

This is a sermon that was given by Fr. Pandeleimon, abbot of the Monastery of Hamatoura, on Sunday, October 4, 2009. The 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.

Sometimes I feel like I’m repeating myself, but the subject is very important for our lives as Christians. We notice that people neglect reading in general, and more specifically spiritual reading. In this way they lose every connection with Christ and their behavior changes. They do not know the true way that the Lord Jesus wants, what He taught, how we must behave. This is because they do not read the Holy Scriptures and so they do not know the words of the Lord Jesus, even though they are holier than the holy things, because He spoke them himself from His holy mouth when He was on the earth. So we need to grab them and hold on to them as tightly as possible and try to apply them in our life with seriousness and exactitude so that we can behave like Christ and be worthy of being Christians. It is not because of a name or because of society that we are Christians.

There is a great problem in the whole world where people confuse nationality, race, ethnicity, and religion. If you’re Greek, this means that you’re Orthodox, but not all Greeks behave in the same way, with the same love and the same faith! If you’re Lebanese, you must be Maronite. Christ does not know boundaries and gives no weight to tribe or ethnicity. When we go to the countries of the diaspora, if you say that you are an Arab, this means that you are Muslim. They do not understand that you could be from any country and from any race and that you have a different idea because you base your teaching, your life, your behavior on the Gospel, on the Letters of the Saints and on their lives and teachings. People claim that they are Christians, especially in our country, where the basis for everything is lies, deceit, and procrastination. Everything. They say to the priest “your honor” but they do not honor him and they do not love him and they do not value him as he is worth. Not only with regard to his personality as a human, but with regard to his work. In his priestly service he is distinguished in that he brings us into the presence of God and brings down upon us the grace and mercy of the Lord during the Divine Liturgy and in all the circumstances of his life. This is because we do not know Christ’s actions as we should and we do not study it. We need to go back and read them over and over until we have them memorized and absorbed and until we know how to behave. There are brothers who do not love each other and who do not talk to each other or help each other out and so instead they act as enemies with knives at each others' throats, all while being called Christians! How does this happen?! They go to church and take communion while they act as enemies! They behave randomly like pagans in their morality and their life, and then they go church and take communion like they are worthy Christians! This lack is on account of not reading! Reading stimulates the mind makes a person know and grasp things. One who knows bears more responsibility than one who does not know and who is ignorant of how to behave in life. Likewise with regard to spiritual matters, knowledge alone does not suffice but it presses you when you read the Holy Bible to take a blessed attitude as is fitting.

Saint Paul says, “You are a temple of the Living God. ‘I shall dwell in you,’ says the Lord, ‘and shall walk among you and I will be your God and you will be My people.’” You are not a tribe. You are the people of Christ, because you accept the Christ’s dwelling among you and you behave like one for whom this name is fitting. “And so I will bring you out from among them.” Come out from amongst the nations who do not know the Christian life. This exit does not mean isolating oneself far from people. But, while you are in the midst of the city you can life as one believing in and knowing the Lord Jesus, different from others through your actions. So don’t annoy people when you want to listen to the radio or watch television, don’t annoy others like they annoy you. Give your child a peaceful and orderly wedding, without throwing raucous parties. People go into debt in order to throw wedding parties. What foolishness! What great accomplishments! Even more than that, they are negligent and make noise all night and annoy other people, spending their money for no use, without doing anything good with it even for themselves. So instead of waiting for people to give you presents and alms, give to yourself so you can make a fitting household where you will be at rest with your wife without the pride and grandiosity that is an expression of emptiness. How can you start your life when you’re in debt? How can you spend what you don’t have? Christ asks you to be simple, loving, helping. How can you be an enemy to others when the Lord asks you to pray for them, to love them, that means to treat them well. Love is not an abstract feeling, it is a motion from within you from your self towards the other. “Be my sons and daughters,” says the mighty Lord, “and I will accept you and be your Father, because you have not accepted to become unclean but rather you desire to live according to the will of the Lord.” Within this alienation from society which tries to pollute you, to distort the image of Christ within you, to make your efforts to be in vain, you persevere so that you will be worthy to become sons and daughters-- “and I will dwell among you and I will be your Father.” “I will be your Father” means you will be completely under my care and you will not fear the difficulties and hardships and persecution that will come to you. Indeed, they will confirm that you are children of God! Those who want to live in piety will be persecuted, as the Apostle Paul teaches. The devil does not let us rest, he always presses us to return to sin and die. He rejoices when he finds everyone separated from Christ and alienated from him. For this reason the Apostle says in the end: “since we have these promises to be sons” that is, that we will be under His protection, in His mercy, the heirs of His good things, “so let us purify ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit and let us perfect holiness in the fear of God.” So let us live this life fulfilling God’s commandments as is fitting and distancing ourselves from every impurity in thought and in the body, purified from everything the world throws at us.

Every day the Evil One comes to present himself to us, to present his thoughts to us. And every day we must remember the promise we made on the day of our baptism when we said: I accept Christ. I reject the Devil and all his works. Every moment you must pause in the face of temptation and say: I reject you, Satan and I spit upon you and I make you my enemy because I want to be of Christ. This is how we possess the fear of God in our hearts because we feel His presence, we feel His being there with us. Let us distance ourselves from all things that separate us from Him and from everything that defiles our souls and our bodies. What is your virtue if you love those who love you? Or if you help those who help you? Each thing is symmetrical to the other. You did nothing. But the one who is kind and generous is in a state of imbalance since no one can return his generosity and for that reason he is kind and generous and has a pure soul. So lend, that is give, without seeking anything in return. God is the one who provides for you before you give and he will provide for you after you give and He will abundantly increase your harvest. You will not lack anything because you are the sons and daughters of the Most High. You will be in this love and you will keep away every stench, every bit of selfishness and all its delights. In them there is sin because when we care for ourselves and our desires we distance ourselves from Christ. But when we ignore them and we work for the service of others and for the love of them, we love Christ and we put into His hands all our abilities and all our possibilities and He blesses us, increasing them and returning them to us in their proper order.

May the Holy Lord enlighten us, while we are on the threshold of the Nativity Fast, with His great humility. May we try to emulate Him and participate with Him every day by closely reading the Holy Scriptures, from the beginning to the end. Let us not grow tired or impatient with them but rather let us continue until they are preserved upon our hearts. This is not in order for us to petrify it in words that we repeat, but so that we know how to respond to every situation that we encounter in our life and so that we bear the thought of Christ and not our own selfish thought. Mothers and fathers need to read from the Holy Scriptures in front of their children every day, even if it’s just in summary, in order to show them through this motion that they should read too and so that they will learn how to absorb the Christ’s thought and His will and His noble sayings. The priest carries God’s Holy Bible in the church and lifts it above the holy altar before all the people and says: This is the wisdom of God. Let us stand up straight according to this wisdom. This is what it means when he says, “Wisdom, let us stand aright.” It is the book of God’s wisdom. It is Jesus Christ, who is the Wisdom of God, written in this book. Let us stand up straight in accordance with what the Lord says in the Gospel. May the Holy Lord allow us to read and to understand and to act in accordance with this reading, learning to love the Lord more than anything, amen.

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