Sunday, July 24, 2011

Met. Ephrem on the Feast of Saint Sisoes

This sermon was originally given at the Church of St. Sisoes (Sassine) in Afsadiq, Lebanon on July 19. The Arabic original can be found here.

On this day we celebrate this saint ,the righteous Sisoes who lived in Egypt in the fourth and fifth centuries and who is one of the great, righteous saints! In Egypt, among the Copts they call him Bishoy and here in our country we call him Sassine. He was a disciple of Saint Anthony the Great as well as of Saint Macarius the Great, who are two of the greatest monastic saints who lived in the desert. This Sisoes or Bishoy is known as the penitent of the desert, which means that he went to the wilderness, to the desert to repent to the point that at the time of his death they asked him, "father, what do you see?" His response was, "I see a group coming to take me and I hope they will give me a moment to repent before I leave this life." For this reason he is called the penitent of the desert.

You heard this reading from the Gospel-- the Church always chooses for righteous ones, that is monks who live almost without sin in repentance and so were in the desert far from life's comforts and temptations-- you heard this reading from the Gospel of Matthew, which says "Come unto me you who are heavy-laden." People today are tired, and why is that? The heavy-laden, they are the ones who feel that they are carrying a burden, and in reality they bear their sins, their weaknesses, their passions. "And I will give you rest." The one who is speaking is the Lord Jesus Christ. "Learn from me." How simple the Gospel is, but it is also very profound. "Learn from Me, I am meek and humble of heart." One who is humble is gentle, calm, not anxious, agitated, and fearful. One who is humble of heart does not take account of his condition and does not consider himself to be the center of existence. Whether or not we exist would not change very much and so we have no reason to be proud. This is the only sentence in the Gospel where the Lord Jesus speaks about himself, about his virtues and qualities, to show that they are the most important thing and that they can be the most difficult thing for people because every one of us is attached to himself, while a meek, humble person looks to the other and has the humility to accept and to love the other. "Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest within yourselves." If we heard today how our holy fathers lived-- and our saint was known for denying his own heart-- if we only learned this lesson then we would know that when we are weary, that we come to church, we confess, we pray, we cast this burden off our back and we have rest in our soul. It is only Christ's teaching that gives rest! The person who is gentle and humble is at rest and gives others rest. This is in all the simplicity and brevity of the teaching that the Lord Jesus gives us and that the saints lived so that we might learn and seek their intercession, amen.

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