Vol: 5 Issue: 2
Toba 1727 / February 2011
Monks are Earthly Angels By: H.H. Pope Shenouda III I want to focus particularly on one phrase that is said often about monks which is that they are “earthly angels”. This simply means that every monk is an angel. So what does the word angel mean and why is a monk compared to an angel. The 1st thing about an angel is that he is a spiritual creation or spirit, in fact more spirit than spiritual. David the psalmist says “Who makes his angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire” (Psalm 104:4). So if we take the monk as angel he must live like a spirit, far away from the body and its carnal desires. So how does the monk live like an angel? Simply it is the refusal of all the carnal pleasures of the body and the refusal of any physical pleasure. St Macarius of Alexandria, when he visited the monasteries of St Pachomious father of community took a very strict fast upon himself to the extent that the fellow monks became troubled and went to St Pachomious telling him that St Macarius had no Body and did not live in a way that showed that he had a body. It’s documented that St Macarius would eat once a week only. My friends the angels don’t eat! The more a man abstains from food the more his spirit has a chance to flourish and grow. Fr. Abd el-massih el Habishy from memory used to look and walk in the deserts like a gazelle, he was light and fast on his feet. Further the monk is an angel in the sense that they deprive their body from sleep and don’t give it the chance to rest. The Lord says “The spirit is willing but the body is weak”. We even see that the church in its wisdom helps the monk in this by placing the midnight prayer and its three services as well as the Tasbeha as meaningful tools to stay awake. Infact one can assume that the monk who doesn’t attend these prayers is sleeping, which means he is giving the body rest which isn’t the monastic way, unless of course the monk has a spiritual plan with his confession father.
The monks that stay up all night praying are definitely symbolic of the angels, but the monk who sleeps falls under the power of the body allowing it to conquer him in food, rest, purity and chastity. This definitely is not the monastic way. The angelic monk is the one who works his body in such a way that he can do no more. The ancient fathers used to crucify their bodies as we see in the Paradise of the Fathers. We can take for example St Symeon or Luke the Stylite who used to live on a pillar and torture their body in ways that are unimaginable. The angelic monk’s body becomes a slave to him and to his spirit. This is what it means to be an angel; it means to be a spirit, living like a spirit. It is important that each one of us ask themselves whether or not they are living in a way that makes their body rise over their spirit. A great saint who really exhausted his body was St Paul of Tamouh, who from the amount of labour he used to do, he was visited by Christ himself who said, “Enough toil my beloved Paul” to which St Paul of Tamouh replied “the toil that I go through is nothing compared to the pain which you go through for me”. It would be wonderful if we could study the fathers and see how they struggled against the desires of the body. In fact St John the short was once asked, “What is Monasticism?” to which he replied “it is struggle”. However the fathers who were more compassionate used to say that it was struggling according to your capabilities. So let us ask ourselves in everything we do. If I was an angel would the angel do what I am doing? Or does my guardian angel get embarrassed and ashamed of my actions?
A Group of Coptic youth from France visiting the monastery with Fr Moussa Al anba Bishoy, in their visit to Australia. Page 2
Monasticism is .... By: Fr Anthony St Shenouda To continue my reflections of my numerous spiritual counsel with monks and Bishops during my last retreat in the Egyptian desert, a definition of monasticism was always formulated during the conversation. Each of these definition reflects each monkâ€™s long experience in the monastic life. Here are these definitions. Bishop Youstos: Monasticism came as a replacement for martyrdom. Those who could not be martyred because of Constantineâ€™s edict of religious tolerance went to live as martyrs every day, as said in the life of St Anthony. Therefore a monk should live as one who is approaching martyrdom. He has no opinion, does not get angry, does not acquire possessions, but he is waiting the moment of his death so that he will be with Christ. Bishop Mettaous: A monk is the person who lives by himself without seeing anyone, the more the monk interacts with the laity the more he suffer spiritually. A monk also should own nothing; his cell should have nothing apart from his daily needs. Bishop Serabamoun: Monasticism is the life of perseverance. Every good work and virtue can only be attained by perseverance. Just like the Desert Fathers who reached spiritual heights through perseverance in prayer and fasting. A monk should take his spiritual life seriously, especially prayer. Prayer is the primary work of a monk even if he does it unwillingly. This is the reason a monk leaves everything goes to the desert. Fr Lazarus: A monk should spend a set time daily in prayer and reading. Praying in the Agpia, and reading and contemplating the Bible. Prayers should be done in the same place in the cell daily as it gives the monk a special longing to stand & pray in that place daily. A monk should also have a monastic spiritual book that he reads daily again and again. Bishop Isaac: A monk should know the scripture very well in his heart so that any passing thought, discussion, action he is about to do, should have clear reference from the Bible. We learn this from the example of Christ Himself when He was being tempted on the mountain by the devil. Even though the devil was using scripture to convince Him, Jesus because of his purity of heart and knowledge of scripture was able to discern a wrong use of the Bible. Fr Mina El-Makarie: Monasticism is very different from any other vocation, in that a monk is someone who throws himself at the feet of Christ asking Him to live as a serPage 3
vant among the monks. I am amazed sometimes when I hear people asking God for a sign whether to become a monk or not. This practice is only suitable for priesthood, but as for monks it is their great love for Christ that drives them out to the desert to live for Christ.
A Group of Boys from St Mary’s Church
A Monk under attack When Abba Macarius dwelt in the great desert, he was the only one living as an anchorite, but lower down there was another desert where several brothers dwelt. The old man was surveying the road when he saw Satan drawing near in the likeness of a man and he passed by his dwelling. He seemed to be wearing some kind of cotton garment, full of holes, and a small flask hung at each hole. The old man said to him, ‘Where are you off to?’ He said, ‘I am going to stir up the memories of the brethren.’ The old man said, ‘And what is the purpose of these small flasks?’ He replied, ‘I am taking food for the brethren to taste.’ The old man said, ‘All those kinds?’ He replied, ‘Yes, for if a brother does not like one sort of food, I offer him another, and if he does not like the second any better, I offer him a third; and of all these varieties he will like one at least.’ With these words he departed. The old man remained watching the road until he saw him coming back again. When the old man saw him, he said to him: ‘Good health to you.’ The other replied: ‘How can I be in good health?’ The old man asked him what he meant, and he replied, ‘Because they all opposed me, and no one received me.’ The old man said, ‘Ah, you did not find any friends down there?’ He replied, ‘Yes, I have a monk who is a friend down there. He at least obeys me and when he sees me he changes like the wind. The old man asked him the name of this monk, ‘Theopemtus,’ he replied. With these words he went away. Then Abba Macarius got up and went to the desert below his own. When they heard of it the brothers took branches of palm to go meet him. Each one got ready, thinking that it was to him the old man was coming down. But he inquired which was the one on the mountain called Theopemptus, and when he had found out he went to his cell. Page 4
Theopemptus received him with joy. When he was alone with him the old man asked him, ‘How are you getting on?’ Theopemptus replied, ‘Thanks to your prayers, all goes well.’ The old man asked: ‘Do not your thoughts war against you? He replied: ‘Up to now, it is all right,’ first he was afraid to admit anything. The old man said to him, ‘See how many years I have lived as an ascetic, and am praised by all, and though I am old, the spirit of fornication troubles me.’ Theopemptus said, ‘Believe me, abba, it is the same with me.’ The old man went on admitting that other thoughts still warred against him, until he had brought him to admit them about himself. Then he said, ‘How do you fast?’ He replied, ‘Till the ninth hour.’ ‘Practice fasting a little later; meditate on the Gospel and the other Scriptures, and if an alien thought arises within you, never look at it but always look upwards, and the Lord will come at once to your help.’ When he had given the brother this rule, the old man then returned to his solitude. He was watching the road once more when he saw the devil, to whom he said, ‘Where are you going this time?’ He replied, ‘To arouse the memories of the brothers,’ and he went away. When he came back the saint asked him, ‘How are the brothers?’ He replied that it had gone badly. The old man asked him why. He replied, ‘They are all stubborn, and the worst is the one friend I had who used to obey me. I do not know what has changed him, but not only does he not obey me any more, but he has become the most stubborn of them all. So I have promised myself not to go down there again at least not for a long time from now.’ When he had said this, he went away leaving the old man, and the saint returned to his cell. (From: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)
A Group of youth from St Mark’s Church during H.G. Bishop Athanasius’s (Bani Mazar, Upper Egypt) visit to the monastery Page 5
True Virginity By St Clement of Rome You desire, then, to be a virgin? Do you know what hardship there is in true virginity that which stands constantly at all seasons before God, and does not withdraw from His service, and is anxious how it may please its Lord with a holy body, and with its spirit? Do you know what great glory pertains to virginity, and is it for this that you set yourself to practise it? Do you really know and understand what it is you are eager to do? Are you acquainted with the noble task of holy virginity? Do you know how, like a man, to enter lawfully upon this contest and strive, that, in the might of the Holy Spirit, you choose this for yourself, that you may be crowned with a crown of light, and that they may lead you about in triumph through the Jerusalem above? If so be, then, that you long for all these things, conquer the body; conquer the appetites of the flesh; conquer the world in the Spirit of God; conquer these vain things of time, which pass away and grow old, and decay, and come to an end; conquer the dragon; (Revelation 12:7) conquer the lion; (1 Peter 5:8) conquer the serpent; (2 Corinthians 11:3) conquer Satan through Jesus Christ, who does strengthen you by the hearing of His words and the divine Eucharist. Take up your cross and follow (Matthew 16:24) Him who makes you clean, Jesus Christ your Lord. Strive to run straight forward and boldly, not with fear, but with courage, relying on the promise of your Lord, that you shall obtain the victor-crown of your calling on high through Jesus Christ. For whosoever walks perfect in faith, and not fearing, does in very deed receive the crown of virginity, which is great in its toil and great in its reward. Do you understand and know how honourable a thing is sanctity? Do you understand how great and exalted and excellent is the glory of virginity? The womb of the holy virgin St Mary carried our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and the body which our Lord wore, and in which He carried on the conflict in this world, He put on from a holy virgin. From this, therefore, understand the greatness and dignity of virginity. Do you wish to be a Christian? Imitate Christ in everything. John, the ambassador, he who came before our Lord, he whom there was not a greater among those born of women, the holy messenger of our Lord, was a virgin. Imitate, therefore, the ambassador of our Lord, and be his follower in everything. That John, again, who reclined on the bosom of our Lord, and whom He greatly loved, he, too, was a holy person. For it was not without reason that our Lord loved him. Paul, also, and Barnabas, and Timothy, with all the others, whose names are written in the book of life, these, I say, all cherished and loved sanctity, and ran in the contest, and finished their course without blemish, as imitators of Christ, and as sons of the living God. Moreover, also, Elijah and Elisha, and many other holy men, we find to have lived a holy and spotless life. If, therefore, you desire to be like these, imitate them with all your power. For the Scripture has said: â€œThe elders who are among you, honour; and, Page 6
seeing their manner of life and conduct, imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7) And again it says, “Imitate me, my brethren, as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Those, therefore, who imitate Christ, imitate Him earnestly. For those who have put on Christ in truth, express His likeness in their thoughts, and in their whole life, and in all their behaviour: in word, and in deeds, and in patience, and in fortitude, and in knowledge, and in chastity, and in long-suffering, and in a pure heart, and in faith, and in hope, and in full and perfect love towards God. No virgin, therefore, unless they be in everything as Christ, and as those who are Christs, can be saved. For every virgin who is in God is holy in her body and in her spirit, and is constant in the service of her Lord, not turning away from it any whither, but waiting upon Him always in purity and holiness in the Spirit of God, being solicitous how she may please her Lord, by living purely and without stain, and solicitous to be pleasing before Him in everything. She who is such does not withdraw from our Lord, but in spirit is ever with her Lord: as it is written, Be holy, as I am holy, says the Lord. For, if a man be only in name called holy, he is not holy; but he must be holy in everything: in his body and in his spirit. And those who are virgins rejoice at all times in becoming like God and His Christ, and are imitators of them. For in those that are such there is not the mind of the flesh. In those who are truly believers, and in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells in them the mind of the flesh cannot be. (Translated by: B.P. Pratten. From: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8)
A group of yr 12 boys from St Mark’s church spending a retreat at the monastery
Monasticism is to stay in your cell Someone said to Abba Arsenios, My thoughts afflict me, saying, You can neither fast nor work. At least look after those who are sick, for even this is love. But the elder, knowing the seed of the demons, said to him, “Withdraw, eat, drink, sleep, and do not work. Only do not leave the cell.” For he knew that the endurance of the cell returns the monk to his routine. Page 7
Consecration of a new Altar
The monastery celebrated the consecration of a new Altar. Blessed us in this occasion H.G. Bishop Athanasius of Bani Mazar (Upper Egypt) on Thursday 20th January
Monastic Love One of the old men was ill, and unable to take any food for many a long day. His disciple encouraged him to take more nourishing food. So he went to prepare it and brought it to him to eat. Now there was a vessel hanging there containing a little honey and another containing linseed oil, with a nasty smell, used for the light. The brother made a mistake and instead of honey, he poured that oil over the poor man’s food. While he was eating, the old man did not speak, but ate in silence, and his disciple urged him to eat more, and he forced himself to do so. His disciple suggested it a third time, but he refused to eat, saying, ‘Truly, my child, I cannot eat any more.’ The other, to give him courage, said, ‘But abba, it is good; see, I am going to eat with you.’ The brother ate and realised what he had done, and he threw himself at the old man’s feet, saying, ‘Alas, I have killed you, and you have laid the guilt of it on me by saying nothing.’ The old man said, ‘Do not distress yourself, if God had wished me to eat honey, you would have poured honey on it.’ Page 8