Friday, September 28, 2012

Light of Truth

In the first chapter of Genesis after creating heaven and earth God creates light to overcome darkness. This was before the sun or any of the stars, so what is this light and what is its significance for us today?

Saint Paul gives us the answer in his Second Letter to the Corinthians 4:6-15
"Brethren, it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," (Gen 1:3) who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
Paul is referring to the uncreated light we first see in the Creation story. He shows us that this is a mystical light that also shines in our hearts to enlighten us about the truth of Christ. It is a light of knowledge, the greatest knowledge of all.  It is the light that illumines those who have given us the Scripture and the writings of the Prophets and Church Fathers. It is the light that overcomes darkness or our ignorance of the Creator.

St Basil the Great says, "It made darkness vanish, dispelled gloom, illuminated the world, and gave to all beings at the same a time sweet and gracious aspect." Saint John the Evangelist says, "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God... He was the true Light, which enlightened everyone coming into the world." (Jn 1:1; 1:9)
St. John Chrysostom adds, "...this visible light, produced by the command of the Lord, removed the darkness from our vision, in like manner the light coming to our minds dissipated the darkness of error, and led those in error to the truth."

Paul continues,
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you."Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke," we too believed, and so we speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God."
This light of Truth we receive in our Baptism and is nurtured through the sacrament of Holy Communion must be treasured as Paul says. We must remember to Glorify God for all we receive from Him. Through this inner light it is Christ who lives in us so we can live in Him. God has created all we know and inherent in this creation is His "light". 

Through the Orthodox way of life we are purified, prepared, so that we can know this "Light" which gives us the full truth and a faith that is unshakable.

Saint Paul says,  "Let us walk becomingly as the light of day suggests." (Rom 13:13)  
Let us not engage in actions that are proper to the dark or ignorance.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What Strengthens Faith

Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Church gives us nine points to strengthen our faith.

1. Confidence in God's qualities:
Pope Shenouda suggests that we "put in our heart that God is a doer of benevolence." He quotes St. Paul, "All things work together for good to those who love God." (Rom 8:28) We should view God as a living Father who treats all his children with tenderness and gives them good gifts. We must have confidence in God's ability to do anything. Remember that He "loves and wants benevolences for you." Abraham had such faith when he took his Son Isaac to be sacrificed. He had confidence that God was able to raise him from the dead so he did not fear for his son. God is "A father of many nations in the presence of Him whom he believed--God who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did." (Rom 4:17) We can also have confidence in His judgement and that His planning is for our good even though we may not understand it.

2. Confidence in the sincerity of God's timing:
He points out that God promised Abram (Abraham) that He would give him descendants which He did after along time. He also promised His people freedom from captivity and did free them from the Egyptians. He promised He would send the Holy Spirit to all people (Joel 2:28) and he did on the day of Pentecost. The Bible shows us many such stores of his promises and their fulfillment according to His timing.

3. Look unto God and not unto the surrounding circumstances:
Recall the story of David and Goliath. If David had looked at the mighty Goliath he might have been afraid, but through faith he instead looked to God knowing He would guide his hand. (1Sam 17) No matter the circumstances we ind ourselves, we must look to our faith and let it permeate our heart knowing that the loving God is able to do anything. We can't be controlled by the power of our enemies or circumstances but in faith seek help from God who will rescue us from them.

4. The Stories of faith and companionship with men of faith:
Read the stories in the Bible and the saints about those who lived with faith and try to absorb faith from them. Pope Shenouda says, "Whenever a person reads stories about faith, about the confidence in God and miracles happened with His Saints, his heart will be filled with faith and he will come to love this life full of faith."

5. Humility of Heart and mind:
We need humility to accept "what comes from God with satisfaction." We must admit that our minds are limited. We must be able to say before God: "Your wishes O Lord are above my understanding and Your works are above my knowledge. Who am I in front of You? All my knowledge is ignorance in front of You." We should remember what Luke recorded and ask for the faith of children and not rely on that of philosophers or other . (Luke 10:21)

6. The Experience with God
When we surrender to God we can "live with Him and test Him, try to rely on Him, and at that time you will see His miracles working in you." Associate with Him so that you know who He is as David the prophet said, "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good." (Ps 34:8)

7. See God in all things:
Some say when they learn that man can destroy the atom and use nuclear energy, "How great is the human mind." But one who believes in God will say, "Glory to you God the creator of this human mind and all the possibilities You have revealed about the power you have put into nature. Or when a sick person is cured, do not not simply give praise to the doctor, but give thanks to God for the ability of this person to heal. Search for God's work in all aspects of your daily life. When you see a beautiful flower do not simply describe or examine it like a botanist, but praise the Lord for the beauty He has created. The Prophet David tells us, "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork." (Ps 19:1)  Admire the moon and the stars in the sky and remember God who created all we know. "Do not separate God's creations from Him."

8. Take the Lord as your friend:
When you "accept His friendship and love, you will enter the real faith... you will look forward to seeing Him as a friend to tell Him your secrets, and enjoy His companionship and will take care as a friend not to hurt His feelings or make Him angry.

9. Prayer for the sake of Faith:
Pray for you faith that it may grow and increase. 
Tell Him: Give me O Lord, that I believe in You with full faith. Give me that I love and have confidence in You in everything, and to believe that You do me benevolences even if the world was dark in front of me. Let me feel that my mind is much smaller to understand Your wisdom and judgment. I know that You are a doer of benevolences, that You are loving, that You see everything and that You are capable of doing everything, and in spite of that my faith often weakens... so help my weak faith.

Reference: Life in Faith, pp 109-122

Information of the Coptic Church and its relationship to the Orthodox Church