The Creed Of the Coptic Orthodox Church
(From the Ecumenical Council of Nicea 325 AD, the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople 381 AD and the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus 431 AD)
Truly we believe in one God; God the Father the Almighty; creator of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible.And in one Lord; Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of light, true God of true God, Begotten not created. Who, for us humans and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnated of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary, and became man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, and on the third day, He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Life Giver, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And in One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Church Sacraments or Mysteries are sacred actions by which the believers receive invisible graces, through material or visible signs. The Coptic Church observes seven sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Repentance and Confession, the Eucharist, Matrimony, Priesthood and the Unction of the Sick. Three of the sacraments give permanent seals and thus are not to be repeated, namely, Baptism, Chrismation and Priesthood. The minister of the sacraments, whether a bishop or priest, administers them in the name of Christ.
Baptism is the holy sacrament in which the person is reborn by emersion in water three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism has been given various names by the Early Fathers of the Church, including the `new birth’, `sanctification’, `washing’, `seal’ and `illumination’. Baptism is a sacrament established by our Lord Himself (Matthew 28:18,19), and is essential for salvation (John 3:5). The Coptic Church continues the Apostolic Tradition of infant baptism (Paedobaptism), which is implied from the Scriptures through the rite of circumcision, which was a type of Baptism. Infant Baptism was also mentioned by many of the early Church Fathers. The graces received in Baptism include new spiritual creation (John 3:3-8), forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), adoption as God’s sons (Galatians 3:26-29) and inheritance of eternal life (Titus3:5-7).
In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the faithful receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This sacrament was established by Christ (John 7:37-39) and is administered directly after Baptism (Acts 8:14-17). It was described as anointment by the Holy Bible (1 John 2:20) and also by the Church Fathers. The graces received in Chrismation include spiritual power (Romans 8:13) and the consecration of the soul to God.
The Eucharist is the sacrament of all sacraments in which the faithful receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The Coptic Orthodox Church believes that the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Christ by the descent of the Holy Spirit through the prayers of the Divine Liturgy. The Church continues to teach the biblical and Apostolic Tradition of the actual presence of Christ in this sacrament (John 6:5). Saint Justine, a martyr of the second century, writes, “We have been taught that the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic Prayer set down by Him, and which through its change nourishes our flesh and blood, is both the Flesh and Blood of the Incarnate Christ”. Saint John Chrysostom says, “How many now say, `I wish to see His form, His clothes, His feet’? Lo! You see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him… He gives Himself to you not only to see, but also to touch and eat and receive within you… He mixed Himself with us, not by faith only, but also indeed makes us His body… That which the angels tremble when they behold, and dare not so much as look up at without awe on account of the brightness that comes thence, with this we are fed, with this we are commingled, and we are made one body and one flesh with Christ” (Homilies on Saint Matthew). Besides being a sacrament, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. It is the same Sacrifice of the Cross, present continually on the altar of the Church, as an intercession for all the living and the departed, and for all creation (lCorinthians 10:18-21). The Eucharist was described as a Sacrifice by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, and by many Church Fathers. The Coptic Liturgy says, “Today, on this table is present with us Emmanuel our God, the Lamb of God Who carries the sins of the whole world”. The Coptic Church has never departed from the tradition of administering both the Body and Blood of our Lord to all the faithful (John 6:53). Children of all ages share in the Eucharist. The Coptic Church also uses ordinary (that is, leavened) bread, for the offering. The Coptic Church has always taught, what most scholars now acknowledge, that the Last Supper took place one day before the Passover, and thus Christ used leavened bread in it.
Repentance and Confession
A Christian whose sins have separated him from the life in Christ is reconciled with Him in the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession. By the forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation with God, this sacrament renews the baptismal graces of adoption, salvation and having the hope of eternal life. The Church Fathers have also called it reconciliation, absolution, and second baptism. Penance consists of a feeling of sorrow for sin, with a will to repent; it also needs faith in Christ, verbal confession to a priest, and the priest’s absolution. Verbal confession has been practiced since the time of the Apostles (Acts 19:18). Priests have received from Christ the power to absolve sins (Matthew 18:18). The priest may ask the repentant to observe certain disciplines, such as fasting, prayer, or delay of communion. These are remedies for the soul and aid in its struggle for the spiritual life, they are in no way considered punishments or atonement for sins. Christ is the propitiation for all sins (1 John 2:2).
Anointing of the Sick
If spiritual healing is obtained through Penance, the sacrament of Anointing the Sick was established in the Church for the healing of both spiritual and physical ailments. Many of the Church Fathers mentioned it and referred to its biblical origin in the words of Saint James: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and Iet them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven ” (James 5: 14,15).
Marriage is a natural and sacred law established since the creation of man (Genesis 1:27,28 & 2:18-24). The Lord Jesus Christ attended the marriage at Cana where He performed His first miracle. Marriage is considered a mystery by Saint Paul (Ephesus 5:32). It is the sacrament in which a man and a woman are united through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and which refers to the profound union of Christ and the Church. Christian marriage is characterised by its unity (Matthew 19:4) and indissolubility except by death. Divorce, for any reason other than adultery, has been forbidden by Christ: “So, then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate… Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:6,9). The Church has followed these rules from the beginning.
The sacrament of Holy Orders is the sacred action in which ministers of the Church obtain the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the authority to act in one of the three clerical degrees, bishop, priest or deacon. This sacrament was established by our Lord when He gave the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (Matthew 28:18-20). Those called to the priesthood are ordained by the laying of hands and prayers of the bishops (Acts 6:6). By their Apostolic Succession, bishops have the power of guiding, teaching and celebrating the sacraments, the three acts of Christ which He bestowed upon the Church. With the permission of their bishops, priests can guide the Church, teach and administer all sacraments except for ordination (Acts 14:22). Deacons are consecrated to assist in the liturgy, serve the poor, and teach, but only with the permission of the bishop (Acts 6:1-8). The Holy Bible and Church canons warn against the quick ordination of Church ministers. They must be qualified in every aspect of their lives; obtain good theological training and lead a virtuous life. Most importantly, they should be chosen by the people whom they are going to serve.
Resource: St Abanoub C.O. Church USA
Feasts and Worship
Moses’ Law arranged seven major feasts (lev. 23), which had their rites and sanctity, as a living part of the common worship. These feasts are: the Sabbath or Saturday of every week, the first day of every month, the Seventh Year, the Year of Jubilee, the Passover (Pasch), the feast of the weeks (Pentecost), the feast of Tabernacles (feast of Harvest). After the Babylonian exile two feasts were added, i.e., the feast of Purim and the Feast of Dedication.
The aim of these feasts was to revive the spirit of joy and gladness in the believers’ lives and to consecrate certain days for the common worship in a holy convocation (assembly) (Exod 12:16; Lev. 23); and to remember God’s promises and actions with His people to renew the covenant with Him on both common and personal levels. The feasts were a way leading to enjoy Christ, the continuous “Feast” and the Source of eternal joy.
When the Word of God was incarnate and became man, He submitted to the Law and attended and celebrated the feasts. However, He diverted the attention from the symbol to reality, and from the outward appearances to the inner depths (John 2, 5, 6, 7, 12); to grant the joy of the feast through practicing the secret communion with God and receiving His redeeming deeds.
Almost all the days are feasts to the Coptic Church. Although she is known for bearing the cross, she is eager to have her children live, in the midst of sufferings in spiritual gladness. She is capable, by the Lord’s help, to raise them above tribulations. In other words, the Coptic Church is continuously suffering and joyful at the same time, her feasts are uninterrupted, and her hymns with a variety of melodies are unceasing.
A Church of Joy
One of the main characteristics of the Coptic Church is “joy,” even in her ascetic life. St. John Cassian described the Egyptian monks who spread from Alexandria to the southern borders of Thabied (Aswan) saying that the voice of praise came out perpetually from the monasteries and caves, as if the whole land of Egypt became a delightful paradise. He called the Egyptian monks heavenly terrestrials or terrestrial angles.
St. Jerome informs us about an abbot called Apollo who was always smiling. He attracted many to the ascetic life as a source of inward joy and heartfelt satisfaction in our Lord Jesus. He often used to say: “Why do we struggle with an unpleasant face?! Aren’t we the heirs of the eternal life?! Leave the unpleasant and the grieved faces to pagans, and weeping to the evil-doers. But it befits the righteous and the saints to be joyful and pleasant since they enjoy the spiritual gifts.”
This attitude is reflected upon church worship, her arts and all her aspects of life, so that it seems that the church life is a continuous unceasing feast. Pope Athanasius the Apostolic tells us in a paschal letter that “Christ” is our feast. Although there are perpetual feasts the believer discovers that his feast is in his innermost, i.e., in the dwelling of Christ the life-giving Lord in him.
The church relates and joins the feasts to the ascetic life. The believers practice fasting, sometimes for almost two months (Great Lent) in preparation for the feast, in order to realize that their joy is based on their communion with God and not on the matter of eating, drinking and new clothes.
The Coptic feasts have deep and sweet hymns, and splendid rites that inflame the spirit. Their aim is to offer the living heavenly and evangelic thought and to expose the Holy Trinity and Their redeeming work in the life of the church, in a way that is simple enough to be experienced by children, and: deep enough to quench the thirst of theologians.
The seven Major Feasts of Our Lord
- The Annunciation (Baramhat 29, c. April 7): In it we recall the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, and the attainment which the men of God had longed for across the ages, namely the coming of the Word of God incarnated in the Virgin’s womb (Matt. 13:17).
- The Nativity of Christ (Christmas) on Kayhk 29, c. January 7: It is preceded by a fast of 43 days. Its aim is to confirm the divine love, when God sent His Only – begotten Son incarnate. Thus, He restored to humanity her honor, and sanctified our daily life, offering His life as a Sacrifice on our behalf
- The Epiphany or Baptism of Christ on Tobah 11, c. January 19: It is connected with Christmas and the circumcision feasts. For on Christmas, the Word of God took what is ours (our humanity) and in the “circumcision” He subjected Himself to the Law as He became one of us, but in the Epiphany He offered us what is His own. By His incarnation He became a true man while He still being the Only-begotten Son of God, and by baptism we became children of God in Him while we are human being. In this feast, the liturgy of blessing the water is conducted, and the priest blesses the people by the water on their foreheads and hands to commemorate baptism
- Palm Sunday It is the Sunday which precedes Easter. It has its characteristic joyful hymns (the Shannon – Hosanna (Matt. 21:9), and its delightful rite. The church commemorates the entrance of our Lord Jesus into our inward Jerusalem to establish His Kingdom in us and gather all in Him. Therefore a delighful is procession or the redeemed believers, starts -God’s plan for Christ’s self-oblation. The procession moves towards the nave of the church were it stands before the icons of St. Mary, the Archangels, St. John the Baptist, the Apostles, the marthe ascetics etc… and before the church doors and the baptismal basin, praising God who embraces all together in His Son Jesus Christ. The procession ends by re-entering the sanctuary, for the of God of the Old and New testaments meet with the heavenly in heaven (sanctuary) forever. At the end of the liturgy of Eucharist, a general funeral service is held over water, which is sprinkled on behalf of anyone who may die during the Holy week, since the regular funeral prayers are not conducted during this week. By this rite, the church stresses on her pre-occupation with the passion and crucifixion of Christ only. She itrates on the marvelous events of this unique week with its glorious readings and rites which concern our salvation.
- Easter(The Christian Pasch or Passover): It is preceded by Great Lent (55 days) and is considered by the Coptic Church as the Feast.” Its delight continues for fifty days until the Pentecost. Easter is also essentially celebrated on every Sunday by participating A sacrament of the Eucharist. For the church wishes that all believers may enjoy the new risen life in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:4).
- Ascension It is celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter Is on a Thursday. In this feast we recall Him who raises and lifts us up to sit with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6).
- Pentecost It represents the birthday of the Christian Church. Only-begotten Son paid the price for her salvation, He ascended heaven to prepare a place for her. He sent His Holy Spirit in her, offering her existence, guidance, sanctification and adornment as the Heavenly Bride. In this feast, the church chants hymns, being joyful with the resurrection of Christ, His ascension and the dwelling of His Holy Spirit in her, thus she connects the three feasts in one whole unity. On this day, the church conducts three sets of prayers, called “Kneeling,” during which incense and prayers are offered on behalf of the sick, the travelers, the winds, and it gives special attention to the dormant, as a sign of her enjoying the communion and unity with Christ that challenges even death.
The seven Minor Feasts of Our Lord
- The Circumcision of our Lord It is celebrated on the eighth day after Christmas (Tobah 6, c. 14 January), by which we remember that the Word of God who gave us the Law, He Himself was subjected to this Law, fulfilling it, to grant us the power to fulfill the Law in a spiritual manner. Thus we enjoy the circumcision of spirit and that of heart (Col. 2:11), instead of the literal circumcision of the flesh.
- The Entrance of our Lord into the Temple (Amshir 8, c. February 15): We remember that the Word of God became man and does not want us to be careless about our lives, but to set our goals early since childhood. Thus we have to work and fulfill our goals regardless of people related to us, in spite of our love and obedience to them (Luke 2:24).
- The Escape of the Holy family to Egypt (Bashans 24, c. June 1): The Coptic Church is distinguished among all nations with this unique divine work, by the coming of our Lord to Egypt among the Gentiles.
- The First Miracle of our Lord Jesus at Cana of Galilee (Tobah 13, c. January 12): Our Lord changed the water into wine, as His first miracle, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, confirming His eagerness for our attaining the heavenly wedding, and granting us the wine of His exceeding love.
- The Transfiguration of Christ (Musra 13; c. August 19): The unity of the two testaments was manifested in this feast, for Moses and Elijah assembled together with Peter, James and John. The glory of our Lord was revealed to satisfy every soul who rises up with Him to the mountain of Tabor to enjoy the brightness of His Glory.
- Maundy Thursday This is the Thursday of the Holy week. In it we commemorate the establishment of the Sacrament of Eucharist by our Lord Jesus, when He offered His Body and Blood as the living and effective Sacrifice, capable of sanctifying our hearts, granting us the victorious and eternal life. This is the only day of the Holy Week in which Sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered, and the rite of washing the feet is practised in commemoration of what Christ did for His disciples. On this day also an unusual procession takes place, starting from the south of the church nave, during which a hymn of rebuking Jude the betrayal is chanted as a warning to us not to fall like him.
- Thomas Sunday This is the Sunday that follows Easter; In it we bless those who believe without seeing so that all might live in faith through the internal touch of the Savior’s wounds (John 20:29).
- The 29th of every Coptic month, commemorating the Annunciation, Nativity and Resurrection.
- The 21th of every Coptic month, commemorating the dormition of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos
- The 12th of every Coptic month, commemorating the Archangel Michael
Every Sunday stands as a true Sabbath (rest), in which we find our rest in the resurrection of Christ. There is no abstention from food on Sundays after the celebration of the Eucharist, even during Great Lent.
The Feasts of the Saints
- Almost every day is a feast day of one of the saints who joined the Victorious Church.
- There are several feasts related to the Virgin Saint Mary throughout the year, and they are:
- The annunciation of her birth (Misra 7, c. August 13)
- her Nativity (Paschans 1, c. May 9)
- her Presentation into the Temple (Kyahk 3, c. December 12)
- her Dormant (Tobah 2 1, c. January 29)
- the Assumption of her body (Paoni 21, c. June 28)
- her apparition over the Church of Zeitoon (Baramhat 24, c. April 2)
- the apparition of her body to the Apostles (Mesra 16, c. August 22).
- The Apostles’ Feast, (Abib 5, c. July 12): This is the feast of martyrdom of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul. It is preceded by a fasting period which starts on the day following the Pentecost. In this feast, the liturgy of blessing the water takes place, in which the priest washes the feet of his people (men and children) commemorating what the Lord did for His disciples. Thus, the priest remembers that he is a servant who washes the feet of the people of God and not a man of authority.
- El-Nayrouz Feast, ( st of Tout, c. September 11): The word “Nayrouz” is persian, meaning “the beginning of the year.” The Egyptian calendar goes back to 4240 B.C. Copts restored the calendar with the beginning of Diocletian’s reign in A.D 284, to commemorate the millions of Coptic martyrs. His reign is considered a golden era in which the church offered true witnesses to Christ, when the souls of martyrs departed to paradise and kept shining as living stars therein. This feast, with its joyful hymns, continues until the feast of the Cross (Tout 17, c. 27 September). Thus the church announces her joy and gladness with the martyrs through bearing the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the sufferings and martyrdom were turned into a source of joy.
Feasts Relating to the Cross
The first feast is on Tout 17, (c. September 27). It commemorates the dedication of the Church of the Holy Cross which was built by Queen Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine.
The second feast, is on Barmahat 10 (c. March 19) and commemorates the discovery of the Holy Cross on the hands of the same empress in A.D 326. During these two feasts the church conducts a procession similar to that of Palm-Sunday and uses the same tone in chanting (Shannon-Hosanna), to announce that the cause of her joy with the Cross is the openness of the hearts (the inner Jerusalem) to receive the Savior as the King who reigns within us. Resource: St Abanoub C.O. Church USA
Coptic Orthodox Church Prayers
The Coptic Orthodox prayer book of the hours, the `Agpeya’ (Coptic for `Hours’) contains seven prayers to be said at various times of the day and night:
- The First Hour (Matins) Rising
- The Third Hour (Terce) 9 am
- The Sixth Hour (Sext) 12 pm
- The Ninth Hour (None) 3 pm
- The Eleventh Hour (Vespers) 6 pm
- The Twelvth Hour (Compline) 9 pm
- Midnight Prayer
The First Hour commemorates the hour in which the Lord arose from the dead.
The Third Hour commemorates the hour in which the Holy Spirit rested upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. It is also the hour in which the Lord was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate on Good Friday.
The Sixth Hour commemorates the hour in which the Lord was nailed to the cross at Golgotha.
The Ninth Hour is the hour in which the Lord died for our redemption, and in which He accepted the Penitant Thief into Paradise.
At the Eleventh Hour, the Lord’s body was taken down from the Cross, wrapped in linen and anointed with spices.
The Twelvth Hour commemorates the laying down of the Lord’s body in the tomb.
The Midnight Prayer commemorates the three prayers of our Lord in Gethsemane during Holy Week.
Liturgies Of the Coptic Orthodox Church
There are three main Divine Liturgies used in the Coptic Church, namely:
- The Liturgy of Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesaria
- The Liturgy of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople
- The Liturgy of Saint Cyril I, the 24th Patriarch of the Coptic Church
The bulk of Saint Cyril’s liturgy is based on that used by Saint Mark in the first century. It was memorised by the bishops and priests of the Church, until it was translated into the Coptic language from the Greek. Today, these three liturgies, with some additions, are still in use, the Liturgy of Saint Basil being the most commonly used.
Egypt is considered the motherland of monasticism. The first monk in the whole world was St. Anthony, a Copt from Upper Egypt. He was born in the year 251 and departed in the year 356; he lived 105 years. During this period he established monasticism and all the leaders of monasticism in the whole world were his disciples or the disciples of his disciples.
Also, the first abbott in the world who established monasteries was St. Bakhum (Pachomius), also a Copt from Upper Egypt. He lived in the fourth century and at the end of the third century. When we say that St. Anthony was born in the year 251, that he became a monk when he was about twenty years old or less, and then spent the first thirty years in complete solitude, that means monasticism began in Egypt at the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth century – more than sixteen centuries.
Monasticism began in Egypt as a life of complete solitude, a life of solitude and contemplation. No one of our monks in the fourth century or the fifth century served the church in the world. They wanted to forget the whole world and to be forgotten by the world and to have only our Lord God in their thinking, in their emotions, to fill all their hearts and all their lives.
So, when monasticism began it did not begin in monasteries, it began in caves scattered through the mountains, and holes in the ground, and some dwelling places. But afterwards, they began to build monasteries.
Monasteries were built in the midst of the fourth century, or perhaps some years before. The monasteries of Upper Egypt, of St. Bakhum, had many monks living in them, living together a life called in the Greek language, “kenobium,” which means “life together.” And that was a characteristic of the monasteries of Upper Egypt of St. Bakhum and St. Shenouda.
But in Wadi Natrun, the monasteries had a special characteristic. The monasteries were built in the most ancient places and had churches and the refectory. The monks used to go to the church once every week on Saturday evening to have a kind of spiritual teaching by the elders, with any question or problem being said by the monks – who were called brothers at that time – with the answers being given by the elders. They used to celebrate the Holy Communion on Sunday morning and then eat together in the refectory; then each monk would leave the monastery to live his own life of solitude until the next week. That means they used to gather together only once, one day every week, and live the rest of their lives in complete solitude. Why? They wanted to purify their minds from anything of worldly thinking, not to think of the world any longer, not to have news from the world, not to have letters from the world, not to read newspapers, even not to receive visitors.
But at last, this light of monasticism could not be hidden. Many people came from abroad to hear a word of benefit from those monks and these monks, the Coptic monks, the Egyptian monks, did not write about themselves, but the visitors who came wrote about them. One of the most famous was the Lausiac History by Palladius. It was called Lausiac History because it was written to a certain noble man named Lausius. This Lausiac History was translated into the English language with the title of “Paradise of the Fathers.” This “Paradise of the Fathers” was known in the Arabic language as “Bustan al-Ruhaban.” Another famous work was that of Rufinus about the desert fathers; another was by John Cassian who published two books, one called the “Institutes” and the other called “Conferences.” In his book, “Institutes,” he had twelve chapters, the first four about the history of Coptic monasticism, the life of monks and their way of life, and the other eight chapters about spiritual warfares which may attack monks; for example, pride, vainglory, anger, and so on.
He said the traveller who passed from Alexandria to Luxor had, on all the journey, the sound of hymns in his ears from Alexandria to Luxor. That means all along the River Nile; but he was speaking about the western desert. In the eastern desert of the Nile Valley, we have two famous monasteries, the Monastery of St. Anthony and the Monastery of St. Paul the Hermit. Those hermits were also called, in monastic life, anchorites.
Anchorites. In the Arabic language, they were called “as-Sawah.” They always used to live in caves very far from any monastery. When we read the story by St. Paphnutius who wrote for us the history or life of Abba Nofer, it was a trip of nearly thirty days in what was called the “inner wilderness.” They lived in a place quite unknown to anybody.
For example, St. Paul the hermit lived about eighty years in monasticism and did not see the face of any human being. Many other hermits — for example St. Caras — lived about 60 years in monasticism without seeing the face of any human being. They forgot all about the world, they had nothing in their memory about the world or its news. Their senses could not collect any worldly matter, they had only God and His Love in their memory, in their mind, in their hearts, and in their emotions. They could fulfill the biblical verse which was written in Deuteronomy 6, and also was said by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 21, “to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all they soul, and with all thy power.” How can a person give the whole of his mind to the Lord God? How? How to give the whole of your heart? We may love God through loving human beings, but those hermits, those anchorites, had only God in their minds. They could not think about any other matter.
Now, for example, when we speak to youth classes, we say to youth that bad thoughts are thoughts of any kind of sin; but for these monks, bad thoughts were thoughts of any matter besides God. For this reason, they were called “earthly angels,” or “angelic human beings.” They lived as angels on the earth, but as you know from biblical studies, we have two kinds of angels. (The first kind is) angels who live all their time praising God: for example, the seraphim. Those angels of the seraphim are mentioned only in Isaiah 6; they always were singing “agios, agios” or “holy, holy, holy” praising the Lord. But we have another kind of angel which was mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verse 14. They are ministering spirits sent to those who are called for salvation. We can call the pastors of the church, the ministers of the church, angels sent to the world to serve the world of salvation; for example, the pastors of the seven churches in Asia were also called angels — the angel of Ephesus, the angel of Smyrna, the angel of Pergamos, and so on. But, the angels who devoted all their time praising the Lord as the seraphim were the symbol of holy life put in front of those monks.
St. Athanasius of Alexandria was chosen to be the 20th Pope of the See of St. Mark in the year 328 or 329, while he was only a deacon. At that time St. Anthony was living and was his spiritual father. But St. Anthony was not chosen to be the pope or patriarch; instead, they chose the deacon Athanasius. Through the flourishing era of monasticism of the fourth century, the fifth century, and the first half of the sixth century, they did not choose these monks to be bishops or patriarchs because those monks preferred to have a life of solitude, a life of prayer, a life of contemplation. They preferred to live with God, not with human beings. They preferred to be remembered only by God, not by human beings. Why? Becuase sometimes if they permitted visits they could lose their life of solitude and prayer, their prayers would be interrupted, and their meditation of God would be interrupted.
A story that was mentioned in the “Paradise of the Fathers” was that a certain monk was walking in the wilderness and two angels came beside him. He did not look to the right or to the left, but said, “I do not want even angels interrupting my meditation of God,” remembering what was in the Epistle to the Romans, chapter 8 (verses 38 and 39).
At last, the Church was in need of those people and then bishops were taken from among monks of the deserts and then patriarchs and then the great need of the Church was for some of them to work as priests, as pastors.
Then the life of complete solitude became a minority in our monasteries. . . . Remember two verses in the Bible; I do not know how you comment on these verses. The verse in St. Luke’s gospel, chapter 18, verse 1 (“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”), and also another verse, “Pray without ceasing,” in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 17. Pray without ceasing, without interruption. How can we fulfill these verses?
We have to fulfill the symbol of Mary, not the symbol of Martha. The symbol of Martha is working for the service of God Himself; but for Mary, it is to be only looking at God, contemplation, prayer, to be at His own feet, listening to His words, and contemplating His words. So at least we should have a small number of these monks representing that life of the past and to be a blessing for the world and to bless the world. When our Lord God wanted to burn Sodom . . . He said even if I find only ten pure persons in the city, I will not burn the city. To have these persons only existing. He did not say if ten persons pray for this city — only that if there are only ten persons I will not burn the city. Those monks were a kind of blessing to the world representing pure life, the purest life in the whole world, resembling persons who don’t love anything in the world — even themselves — but only God to be kept in mind.
Now in Egypt we are trying to let monastic life return to many deserted monasteries. We had hundreds of monasteries in the past. We are now working in the White Monastery of St. Shenouda, in the Red Monastery in front of this white one, and in about four monasteries in the mountain of Akhmim, trying to send monks to this area to let monastic life return. . . . If you come (to visit our monasteries), you will be deeply welcomed and you will see something about the ancient monastic life and the expansion of monasticism today. I myself, in only the single monastery of Anba Bishoi, ordained about 150 monks, new monks. For this reason, we had to build many new cells in the monasteries to receive those new novices who want to prepare themselves for monasticism. Also, in every monastery now we have a retreat house for those youth who want to come to the monastery to spend some days of spiritual experience under spiritual guidance. Some of them like monastic life and become monks.
We have great work in Sunday schools. In Sunday schools we prepare the children from the very beginning of their lives to live a spiritual life, to live in the Lord, some of these children join the seminary, some become Sunday school teachers, and some of those Sunday school teachers join the seminary. And when they graduate from the univeristy and the seminary and sunday school, they go to the monsteries to become monks — some of them — and some of them become parish priests. So, through the revival of Sunday schools we prepare a great number of persons to be monks. To live a spiritual life for their own benefit is all right; if the church needs some of them to serve, that is all right.
We don’t oblige any monk to lead a certain life. For he who wants to live in the monastery as part of the congregation, that is all right. If he wants to lead a life of solitude inside the monastery, that is all right. If he wants a cell of solitude outside the monastery or on the near hills, that will be all right. He who wants to live in a cave will have the permission to live in a cave. We have all kinds of monasticism. Resource: St Abanoub C.O. Church USA