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Welcome to Coptic Place blog!

Selections from the lives and the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers will be posted here every Sunday. You will also find some resources on the Coptic Heritage such as the Coptic language, history and music. We pray that these writings would be spiritually beneficial to you. More detailed articles are posted on the website www.copticplace.com

St Paul Monastery, Red Sea, Egypt

St Paul The Hermit Monastery, Red Sea, Egypt

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The Blind Man

But what shall we say, we who are not attentive at all? We are like the Pharisees. Some of us may fast and keep vigil and perform other such things, and we may often do this with partial understanding.
But we lack discrimination because we do not pay attention to ourselves and do not know what it is that is being asked of us. Nor are we willing to give persistent and patient attention to our thoughts, so as to gain experience from our many trials and battles, and thus become for others at least an experienced sailor, if not a captain.
Although we are all of us blind, we claim that we ourselves see, as the Pharisees claimed. That is why it is said. that they will be judged more severely (cf. John 9:41). For if we acknowledged our blindness, we should not be condemned; it would be enough for us to be grateful and to admit our failure and ignorance.
But, alas, we shall receive the greater condemnation, as did the pagan Greeks; for, according to Solomon, they aspired after so many things and yet failed to attain what they sought.
Should we therefore keep silence, as though there was nothing for us to do? That would be even worse. Let us rather rebuke ourselves, for it is shameful even to mention the things that we do in secret (cf. Eph. 5:12).
Hence I will say nothing about such things, but will speak about the virtues that so deserve our esteem. For the recollection of their sweetness fills my darkened heart with pleasure, and I forget my limitations and am no longer troubled about the condemnation that awaits me if I speak and do not act.

St Peter of Damaskos, Book ll, Philokalia V3.220

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What do human beings do?

38. Abba Daniel said that the holy Arsenius told the brothers the following story as if it were about someone else, although it was obvious that it was himself who had had this vision:
“One of the seniors,” he said, “suddenly heard a voice in his cell, saying, ‘Go outside and I will show you what human beings do.’ So he got up and went out. He was taken to where a black Ethiopian was cutting wood with an axe and making a big bundle of it, and then trying to lift it up but was unable to do so because of its size. But he still went back and cut some more to add to the bundle. Again he was shown another man standing by a lake, drawing water from it and putting it into a jar, but there was a hole through which the water was escaping and running back into the lake.
 

“The voice said. ‘Come with me and I will show you something else.’ And he saw two men on horseback outside a temple, each of them carrying on their shoulders a long wooden pole, and trying to go into the temple but unable to get through the door because they were carrying the pole crossways. Nor were they giving way to each other, but were both trying to get in at the same time; neither of them was humble enough to give way to the other.

“And the visions were explained to him. Those carrying the long poles are those who bear the holy yoke of monastic life, but they justify themselves proudly in their own estimation, they don’t give way to each other, and have no desire to walk humbly in the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, ‘Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest unto your souls’ (Matthew 11.29). Because of the pride in their hearts they remain outside, excluded from the kingdom of Christ the King. He who was cutting wood and making his bundle even bigger is one who is burdened with many sins but keeps on adding more of them without repenting of what he has already done, preferring to pile sin upon sin. And he who was drawing water from the lake is one who does some good works, but his evil deeds are more numerous, so that even the good that he does is wiped out and perishes. “It is absolutely necessary, therefore, as the Apostle says, to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling'” (Philippians 2.12).

De Vitis Patrum, Book III, Parag. 38

 

 

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His loving kindness

48. Yet do not think that we fall into fantasies or other passions at God’s will. God allows this to happen because of our negligence, and in His loving kindness and for our salvation, leads us to humility by means of the evil (which manifests itself in us). So learn what you are like and humble yourself, not only before God but also before men, and put all your cares in Him Who can do infinitely more than we ask for or can think of.

St. Barsanuphius and St. John, Writings from the Philokalia, parag. 48, p.358

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Be Humble

41.  The  Lord  wishes  you  to  regard  every  man  as  superior  to yourself.  Show  obedience  to  your  staretz (spiritual father) in  all  things  and  do  all that  he  tells  you,  whether  it  refers  to  food  or drink  or  some  other matter.  If  they  slander  you,  rejoice-it  is  most  useful.  If  they insult  you,  endure  it,  for  ‘he  that  endureth  to  the  end  shall  be saved’  (Matt.  x.  2  2 ).  Give  thanks  to  God  for  all  things,  because thanksgiving  is  intercession  before  God  for  our  weakness.  Judge yourself always  and  in  everything  as  a  sinner  and  as  one  seduced and  so  God  will  not  judge  you ;  be  humble  in  everything  and  you will  receive  grace.

 St. Barsanuphius and  St. John, Writings from the Philokalia, parag. 41, p.356

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Virtues

““Virtues are not far from you, but are for you and within you… And so, if we begin walking the path of righteousness earnestly, we must intensify our struggle, so that we may attain the virtues that are set before us… Because virtue is within us and arises from us, therefore willing it is all that is required from us, for it is written “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17: 21).” (Life of Anthony part 20, and Letter 4)”

““And so if the devils were to praise your asceticism and call you blessed, do not incline to them… For many a time they glorified me, and so I would admonish them by the Lord’s name” Life of Anthony, 34, 38”

from “St Anthony: A Biblical Ascetic” by Matthew the Poor

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God’s Company

This practical love of neighbour gives meaning to the characteristic monastic desire to belong entirely to God, which is constantly reaffirmed in these stories. “No human friendships,” teaches Macarius the Great: it is God’s company that must be sought. Restricted to limited and necessary contacts, the heart opens to a divine love that embraces all people.”

from “Four Desert Fathers (Popular Patristics Series Book 27)” by Palladius, John Behr, Tim Vivian

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The Power of God

But what do you say, O man? Christ became a slave for you, ‘having taken the form of a slave,’ (Phil 2:7) and was crucified and rose again. And when you ought for this reason to adore Him risen and admire His lovingkindness, because what neither father, nor friend, nor son did for you, all this the Lord wrought for you. For suppose a man, wished to make out all things by reasoning, let him try by your discourse to convince himself how we see the light … No, you cannot … Therefore, leaving this to God’s power and boundless wisdom, let us be silent. Just so with regard to the things of God; should we desire to explain them by the wisdom which is from without, great derision will ensue … from the folly of men. For the greatest things of all no language can explain …

St. John Chrysostom. Homily IV on I Corinthians I, 1,2,3,4,5. The Bible and the Holy Fathers, p. 1024-1025.

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Drawing near the boat

“So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” John 6:19

For observe that Christ does not appear to those in the boat immediately on their setting sail, nor at the commencement of their dangers, but when they are many furlongs off from the land. For not when the condition which harasses us first begins, does the grace of Him who saves visit us, but when the fear is at its height, and the danger now shews itself mighty, and we are found, so to say, in the midst of the waves of afflictions: then unlooked for does Christ appear, and puts away our fear, and will free us from all danger, by His Ineffable Power changing the dread things into joy, as it were a calm.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John.

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How to reach peace?

4· One man reaches peace in the Lord by his godly labour; another attains the same by humility. But you should strive to obtain peace in return for both the one and the other, when anger has died in your heart through the taming of irritation. Then the word of the Scriptures will be fulfilled for you: ‘Look upon mine affliction and my pain and forgive all my sins’ (Ps. xxv. 18). May the Lord preserve your soul, your body and your spirit from all evil, from all adversity inflicted by the devil and from all fantasies, inciting rebellion of thoughts .

Holy Fathers Barsanuphius and John, Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, p. 347.

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When Prayer is to be preferred to service?

We should without fail accept the necessary duties that are imposed by the Providence of God; but we should lay aside needless tasks, preferring prayer, and especially when these tasks entice us into extravagance and lust for money. For the more one can, by the strength of the Lord, restrict these preoccupations and cut off the fuel which feeds them, the more he collects his mind from anxious wanderings. The more
he collects his mind, the more he allows room for pure prayer and manifests his faith in Christ. If one cannot do this, because of a lack of faith or some weakness, at least let him be well aware of the truth, and let him try as hard as he can, reproaching himself for his inability and for the infantile condition in which he still finds himself. For it is greatly
preferable that we give account to God for our deficiencies than for error and arrogance.

Beyond what we have said, we need much discernment from God, so that we may know when and what kind of service we should prefer to prayer. This is because every one of us, occupied as he is with what pleases him, thinks that he is carrying out a necessary service, without realizing that if one is to please God, he must judge whether things are pleasing to God and not to himself. But what is much more difficult for us to discern is the following: that even those demands which are obligatory are not always put forth equally; rather, according to circumstance, it behooves us to give preference, sometimes, to one thing and, sometimes, yet to another, since different services are not carried out continuously, but at a fixed time. Whereas, by contrast, prayer has been laid  down as a spiritual service without interruption (I Thessalonians 5:17).  For precisely this reason, we should prefer prayer to occupations that are not necessary.

Abba Mark, The Evergetinos, Book 2, Hypothesis ix, p.85.

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