Vol: 2 Issue: 12
Kiahk 1725 / Dec 2008
The benefits of spiritual reading By: H.G. Bishop Youanis Reading, in general, gathers the mind from its wandering and leads it to concentrate on the subject of the reading. When the topic of reading changes, the kind of thoughts will change also. St. Mar Isaac said, "Remembering virtuous people renews in us the desire of virtue. Therefore, spiritual reading does not gather the mind from wandering in material and carnal things, but it lifts it up to the world of the spirit and opens before it the door of divinities to taste how good the Lord is. Therefore, spiritual reading has two benefits: one is passive and the other is active. The Passive Aspect: is to avoid evil or vain thoughts, hence spiritual reading is used as a sword for chastity to attack evil thoughts, and thoughts of anger and to calm the soul. The Active Aspects: is to lift the thoughts to the divine matters. This aspect has many gradual steps which may allow the person to have his thoughts to be continuously in unity with God.
To receive this Newsletter Monthly by email, send your request to the above email
Spiritual reading is a door through which the person may enter to be fervent in the soul. The soul which became very cold spiritually due to its concern with materialism, or its influence with bad company, may remember God and the saints and its pure nature and may desire to return to that state. Spiritual reading may inflame God's love in the hearts and may instill the desire to imitate the saints and to apply the virtues mentioned in the Bible or the lives of the saints. Moreover, spiritual reading kills monotony and laziness and facilitates the virtues in the eyes of the reader and puts in his heart readiness to start working. Hence, the person feels as if fire is pushing him to obtain all the virtues, and all carnal desires become trifles in his eyes. He despises them and does not remember them any more. Spiritual reading which creates the desire to imitate the righteous
people becomes the material for spiritual readings. Whenever a person reads about a certain virtue in the lives of the saints and he wants to imitate it, he starts training himself in it. Hence, virtue is transferred, through reading, from the book to the notebook of spiritual exercises and becomes part of his life. It is said that the door of virtues is opened to whoever starts spiritual reading. Whoever reads about God's commandments and the virtues finds in them a true mirror where he can see himself, or finds a scale where he can evaluate his actions and personality. Therefore, reading becomes a means of examining one's self and that it may lead him to repentance. Whenever a person reads the biographies of the saints and apostles and looks at the high level of spirituality which they have attained after hard labor, patience and struggle, whenever he puts all these virtues on one side of the scale and puts himself on the other side, he feels how trifle he is and that he is still a beginner. Hence, reading leads him to true humility, which is built on true knowledge of one's self. The more he reads, the more he becomes humble, for he remembers God's saying, "He who knows more, more is required of him." Spiritual reading is also a subject matter for prayer. The kind of prayer varies according to the kind of reading. One kind of reading may let the person feel the burden of his sins and weaknesses. Then he bows down in sorrow and with contrite heart, confessing his sins to God, asking His mercy and forgiveness. Another kind of reading may stir in a person the love of virtues so he prays with persistence asking God for grace and help so that he may follow the road of our Fathers. Another kind of reading may stir in the reader the love of others so he lifts up his hands praying for them. Another kind of reading may reveal God's beautiful qualities and unlimited greatness so he kneels down glorifying God for these qualities, feeling his unworthiness to talk with such a Great God, then one starts praising God with expressions of gratitude. Reading is an incentive to prayer. Moreover, it is a subject for prayer. St. Mar Isaac said, " One's soul is enlightened in prayer from reading." He explained this by saying, "When one approaches prayer, the memory of what he has read will guide him to what to say." As reading is a subject for prayer, it is also a subject for meditation. You may read a verse from a chapter from the Bible and meditate on it, or you may read a story of the Church Fathers and meditate on the greatness of the grace which God has granted this father, or you may meditate on how much that father has loved the Lord. Also, you may reflect on the ladder of virtues which that saint has climbed step by step toward God. You may read a chapter from the Bible and store it in your mind for future contemplation. As evil proceeds from an evil heart in an evil person, remembering all what he has read from dirty topics or magazines or stories, also the righteous person reads spiritual topics and stores them in his mind. The memory of these readings will nourish his spirit. He finds a subject for meditation in his prayers and quiet time. As a result of these readings, his thoughts will overflow like a good spring of spiritualities. Page 2
Tolle Lege - Take up and read! By: One of the Youth The exercise of reading conjures up all kinds of different feelings and emotions for different people. For some, reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures, for others readings is an avenue for attaining and retaining desired knowledge, but for many others, the exercise of reading is so foreign that they often claim: ‘I have never read a book from cover to cover’. School students are always reminded that reading is an essential element in developing their literacy skills. What about the Orthodox Christian servant? Is reading an essential element in developing 'spiritual literacy' skills? The role of the servant, simply speaking, is to fill those whom he/she serves. The servant is required to fill them with Christ, with the Church, with love, with teaching and so on. The servant however, can only fill another to a level no higher than he/she has personally attained. To demonstrate this point, let me explain to you how petrol is stolen from cars (Please don't get any ideas). The increase in petrol prices has unfortunately driven an increase in petrol thefts. But have you ever wondered how petrol is stolen? A simple physics concept called siphoning is used. A siphon is a continuous tube that allows liquid to drain from a reservoir through an intermediate point that is lower than the reservoir, the flow being driven only by the difference in hydrostatic pressure without any need for pumping. Only one condition is necessary - that the final end of the tube be lower than the liquid surface in the reservoir. This same requirement is also necessary for the servant. How can a servant fill anyone spiritually if he/she is not on a higher spiritual level than those they are serving? How can a servant teach, if they first haven't filled themselves with knowledge? How can a servant fill anyone with love, if they are not first inflamed with the love for God and the neighbour? Reading is one effective avenue for a servant to fill themselves continually. St. Paul, realising the importance of reading for the servant, exhorts the young St. Timothy saying: “Till I come, give attention to reading…” (1 Tim 4:13). Reading has often been viewed as a means to attain knowledge, but in fact reading is not only a means to attain knowledge, but a means to be transformed in every aspect of the spiritual life. H.H. Pope Kyrillos, a holy man of prayer, suggests that reading is an essential element to an effective prayer life. He says: “Honour reading and persist in it, if possible, more than prayer. Reading is the spring of intelligent prayer” Having now established the importance of reading for the servant, how then should reading be approached? What should be our intention as we read through sacred scripture and other spiritual books? Very simply, reading should be approached as a life transforming exercise. St. Augustine used the metaphor of fire when encountering any spiritual text; "I was on fire as I read" he would say. In the Confessions he
reconstructs his first reading of a psalm as a newly converted catechumen. He said, with intense excitement and his experience like fire: "How loudly I cried out to you, my God, as I read the psalms of David...How loudly I began to cry out to you in those psalms, how I was inflamed by them with love for you and fired to recite them to the whole world, were I able...I shuddered with awe, yet all the while hope and joy surged up within me...I trembled as I heard these words...How these words moved me, my God...As I read these words outwardly and experienced their truth inwardly I shouted with joy...The next verse wrung a cry from the very depths of my heart I read on and on, all a fire." The Lord answered the prayers of St. Monica, by calling St. Augustine to read. As he was sitting in a garden, he heard some children singing: "Tolle lege, tolle lege" ("Take up and read, take up and read"). He responded to this call by opening the sacred Scriptures and reading a verse that would forever change the course of his life: "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." (Romans 13:13-14). St. Augustine would later recount this event saying: "I had no wish to read further, nor was there need. No sooner had I reached the end of the verse then the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shadows of doubt fled awayâ€?. The transformative reading experience of St. Augustine and other saints like St. Anthony who changed their direction in life from a single verse, reveals to us the potential impact reading can have on our lives. We must learn to read for life, to read for transformation. But what sort of literature should we read? you may be asking. When Fr. Tadros Malaty was in Sydney not so long ago, I was given the privilege of driving him to one of his appointments. I was very excited that I would get a whole hour of un-interrupted discussion with him and I could ask him all the questions I wanted. When we got in the car I thought long and hard about a good question to ask him. I wanted the question to be an intelligent one, worthy of the person I was asking. I remembered that he really enjoys reading and writing so I thought of the perfect question to ask (well at least I thought it was perfect at the time): "Abouna, what's your favorite book that you have read" I asked. Without a second to think, he responded "the Bible". After taking a moment to swallow my pride due to the not so intelligent question, I realised how essential it is for the Bible to be the centre and core of our reading. It is the most life-transforming text you will ever read. Page 4
Having the Holy Bible as the centre of our reading, we should also ensure that our reading is well balanced covering all areas such as Bible commentary (especially from the Church fathers), spiritual, social, theology, Church History, Saints and so on. Let us draw upon the wealth of Orthodox literature that is now readily available to us in the English language. May we respond to the same call that St. Augustine received: "Take up and read, take up and read" and may we moreover be transformed in the same way St, Augustine was transformed. By in so doing, we will also transform those whom we serve, Amen.
Above: A Trip from St Bishoyâ€™s Coptic School including grades 3-10
Left: A group of youth from Archangel Michael church participating in the anointment of the relics of St Mena the Monk and Martyr in his feast day
Why should we read the Desert Fathers? By: Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov Conversation and association with oneâ€™s neighbors very much affects a person. Conversation and acquaintance with a learned man communicates much knowledge; with a poet, many exalted thoughts and feelings; with a traveler, much information about countries, about the characters and customs of peoples. It is obvious that conversation and acquaintance with the saints communicates holiness. "With the holy man wilt thou be holy, and with the innocent man wilt thou be innocent. And with the elect man wilt thou be elect" (Psalms 17:25-26). From henceforth, during the time of this short earthly life, which Scripture has not even called "life," but rather "journeying," let us become acquainted with the saints. Do you want to belong to their society in heaven, do you want to be a partaker of their blessedness? From henceforth enter into association with them. When you go forth from the house of the body, then they will receive you to themselves as their own acquaintance, as their own friend (Luke 16:9). There is no closer acquaintance, there is no tighter bond, than the bond of oneness of thoughts, oneness of feelings, oneness of goal (1 Corinthians 1:10). Where there is oneness of thoughts, there without fail is oneness of soul, there without fail is one goal, an identical success in the attaining of oneâ€™s goal. Appropriate to yourself the thoughts and the spirit of the Holy Fathers by reading their writings. The Holy Fathers attained the goal: salvation. And you will attain this goal by the natural course of things. As one who is of one thought and one soul with the Holy Fathers, you will be saved. Heaven received into its blessed bosom the Holy Fathers. By this it has borne witness that the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the Holy Fathers are well pleasing to it. The Holy Fathers set forth their thoughts, their heart, the image of their activity in their writings. This means: what a true guidance to heaven, which is borne witness to by heaven itself, are the writings of the Fathers. The writings of the Holy Fathers are all composed by the inspiration or under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Wondrous is the agreement among them, One who is guided by them has without any doubt whatsoever the guidance of the Holy Spirit. All the waters of the earth flow together into the ocean, and it may be that the ocean serves as the beginning of all the waters of the earth. The writings of the fathers are all united in the Gospel; they all incline towards teaching us the exact fulfillment of the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ; of all of them both the source and the end is the holy Gospel. The Holy Fathers teach how to approach the Gospel, how to read it, how to understand it correctly, what helps and what hinders in comprehending it. And therefore in the beginning occupy yourself with the reading of the Fathers. When they have taught you how to read the Gospel, then read the Gospel primarily. Do not consider it sufficient for yourself to read the Gospel alone, without the reading of the Holy Fathers! This is a proud, dangerous thought. Better, let the Holy Fathers lead you to the Gospel, as their beloved child who has received his preparatory Page 6
upbringing and education by means of their writings. Many people, all who have senselessly and presumptuously rejected the Holy Fathers, who have come without any intermediary, with a blind audacity, with an impure mind and heart to the Gospel, have fallen into fatal delusion. The Gospel has rejected them; it grants access to itself only to the humble. The reading of the Fathers’ writings is the father and the king of all virtues. From the reading of the Fathers’ writings we learn the true understanding of Holy Scripture, right faith, the way of life in accord with the Gospel’s commandments, the deep esteem which one should have toward the Gospel commandments to say it in a word, one learns salvation and Christian perfection. The books of the Holy Fathers, as one of them has expressed it, are like a mirror; looking into them attentively and frequently, a soul can see all of its shortcomings. Again, these books are like a rich collection of medicinal means; in them the soul can seek for each of its illnesses a saving remedy. Let each person read the writings of the Fathers which correspond to his/her way of life. Let the hermit read the Fathers who wrote about the solitary life; let the monk who lives in the cenobitic life read the Fathers who wrote instructions for cenobitic monks; let the Christian who lives in the world read the Holy Fathers who pronounced their teachings for all Christianity in general. Let everyone, in whatsoever calling he be, draw forth abundant instruction in the writings of the Fathers. It is absolutely necessary that the reading correspond to one’s way of life. Otherwise you will be filled with thoughts which, although holy, will be unfulfillable in the actual deed and will arouse you to fruitless activity in only the imagination and desire; the work of piety which does correspond to your way of life will slip out of your hands. Not only will you become a fruitless dreamer – your thoughts, being in constant opposition to your sphere of activity, will without fail give birth to turmoil in your heart, and to uncertainty in your conduct, which are burdensome and harmful for you and for your neighbors. Amen.
Right: A group of HSC students spending a retreat in the monastery in expectation of their results
Question & Answer How do I benefit from what I read? Whoever reads much with meditation, exercises his spiritual senses for the intent that he finds an atmosphere for spiritual meditation in all subjects of his reading. He may come out with a benefit from any good book he reads, if he reads it in a spiritual manner. There are two ways to benefit from your reading. Start reading by prayer, so you do not depend on your human mind which may err but rather ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Before your spiritual reading, pray telling God how weak you are and how your understanding and human mind are limited and incapable to reach the Divine words which the prophet David said, "Open my eyes so I may behold wondrous things out of Your law." (Psalm 119: 18) Consider what you read to be a personal letter directed to you and take from it a special lesson to learn for you personally. Apply what you can with discernment in your life. Be sorry for what you cannot do and pity your weaknesses in humility. Tell God your desires and ask the intercession of the saints who excelled in the spiritual path. Keep what you have read in your memory. Probably you will need it later in appropriate circumstances.
Prayer program for the month of December Kiahk Praises: Sat Sat Sat Sat
13th Dec 2008 20th Dec 2008 27nd Dec 2008 3rd Jan 2009
Vespers: Midnight Tasbeha: First Liturgy: Second Liturgy:
5pm – 6:30pm 11pm – 3:30am 4am – 6am 10am – 12pm
New Year Eve: Wed 31st Dec 2008
Midnight Tasbeha 11pm – 3am Holy Liturgy 4am – 6am
The Feast of Nativity Tue 6th Jan 2009
Paramoun Liturgy 9am – 12pm Feast Liturgy 8pm – 12 am