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Gazing Towards Heaven – H.H. Pope Tawadros II

The Papal Encyclical for the Glorious Feast of Nativity 2017

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God Amen.

May His grace and blessings be bestowed upon us, from now and forever, Amen.

May you remain healthy this year of 2017 and every year, and during the Glorious feast of the Nativity on January 7th, according to the eastern calendar, which is Kiahk 29th, according to the Coptic calendar.

In fact, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, we continue to remember our sons and daughters the martyrs who recently offered their lives in the events of St. Peter’s Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ has granted them to celebrate this feast and this year with Him in heaven.We remember them with all goodness. We pray for our wounded and injured ones that Christ may complete their healing and restore their health so that they may join us soon.

In the feast of the Nativity, there are many contemplations. God created man and crowned him over the kingdom of the world, represented by Adam and Eve. Man lived on earth and the number of human beings multiplied, and man lived by the virtues which appeared and flourished. Virtues of cooperation, love and loyalty have appeared; but also some human weaknesses have surfaced. Throughout human existence on earth, and the extension of sin penetration in our life, and with the images of sin, weaknesses, conflicts and violence, man has forgotten one of the most important virtues in life which is the virtue of looking up to heaven. It is amazing that all people can see the sky everywhere and there is no human being that has not seen the sky, but what is more amazing are the differing reactions from one person to another. Some do not care for heaven, some find refuge in it, and others take shelter there. There are many people who ignore heaven and others that gaze up to heaven constantly.

In the story of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, we find this virtue manifested in the lives of many people. In the life of our mother the Virgin St. Mary, when she was offered in the temple, she was constantly looking up to heaven; she lived a life of praises and prayers. When the angel appeared to her with the good news, she concluded her dialogue with him declaring: “I am the maid servant of the Lord. Let it be according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38). This virtue appears in her obedience, which was intertwined with humility. Also the simple shepherds, who were watching over their flocks, would gaze up to heaven in the midst of the night. They saw the angel who carried the great glad tidings to them and to all people. They went on their way to see the Baby who was wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manager. Also the magi, whose job was to observe the sky, were constantly watching the stars, trying to identify the superior star which they knew according to their books and teachings.

When they saw this star, they realized that the Lord of truth had come to the world. They looked up to heaven, to this star. They travelled a long journey from the far east country to Bethlehem. The star guided them, stayed with them and revealed to them the location of the newborn King of the Jews. The same with the elder Simeon, who was more than 300 years old. Our mother the Virgin St. Mary and St. Joseph came to do for Jesus according to the custom of the law. Simeon carried baby Jesus in his arms. He was one of those who translated the Old Testament of the Holy Bible from Hebrew to Greek. He said this famous verse: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation.” (Luke 2: 30). There is also another example, Anna the prophetess. She was a widow, and had lived with her husband for seven years, and was a widow of about eighty-four years. She stayed in the temple praying and praising night and day while her eyes were fixed on heaven.

These are samples and examples from the story of the Nativity. They all gazed up to heaven. Perhaps there is a question now: What is the importance of looking up to heaven? There is no doubt that looking up to heaven has a great benefit in the life of man.

  1. The person who looks up to heaven looks up to the Almighty Creator, Who created the universe and all its creatures. He looks up to his source, which is heaven. He looks up also to his destination, which is also heaven.
  2. He who gazes up to heaven; he gazes up to the light. I do not mean the materialistic light such as the sun or stars. He looks up to the inner or spiritual light, that is the light of the heart. When man has an illuminated heart, and lives in the light, he can live successfully every day.
  3. Looking up to heaven is looking up to a continuous life of peace. It is written: “Blessed be the peace makers as they are called the sons of God”. Whoever looks up to heaven, grasps peace from the King of peace. This peace dwells in his heart. If man did this, he would be gifted this character. He would become a peacemaker everywhere. The one who looks constantly down to earth pursues violence, war, conflicts, and terrors.
  4. Also, whoever looks up to heaven, looks up to the continuous joy. Heavenly joy is glorious, continuous, and everlasting. It is not associated with bitterness. Earthly joy appears exhilarating, but is brief and temporary. The earthly joy is often associated with bitterness. That is why it is easily forgotten. Whoever receives his joy from heaven and looks up to heaven continuously, lives in such joy.
  5. Perhaps one of the most important benefits a man gains when he looks up to heaven is an attachment to the saints. Heaven is the abode of the saints, the righteous, and the blameless, who lived in holiness. We are yearning for those who have lived in holiness, and remember all the saints in heaven who intercede on our behalf. This intercession stimulates and motivates us to increase our longing and yearning for heaven.

Looking up to heaven is a live virtue that can constantly change our lives. One of the beautiful things as we start the new year of 2017 is the shape of the number 7 in Arabic, which appears like open arms toward heaven, as if one is raising his arms towards heaven, seeking it. If heaven is present in man’s life, he will become successful. We always pray daily several times and say: “Let it be on earth as it is in heaven.”

I congratulate you all. I congratulate all the fathers the metropolitans, the bishops, the priests, the deacons, and all the clergy, all the congregations, church boards, and committees. I congratulate all servants. I congratulate all youth and all families everywhere in our churches who celebrate this feast in this time. I congratulate all children and young people. I pray that God grants us grace and sustenance this year. I convey to you greetings and love from the land of Egypt, the land of St. Mark the Apostle and Evangelist, who preached the faith of Christ to all of our country.

May you remain healthy this year and every year. I wish you all blessings from the Baby of the manager, to grant you joy, peace, and hope always.

And all glory and honor be to God from now and forever. Amen

— Tawadros II

Types of Peace – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

Papal Message for the Feast of the Nativity 2006
H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark

Peace on the Feast of the Nativity.

We congratulate you my brethren on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, to Him be all Glory. We hope for you all on this Feast a joyous year, blessed by God, and that He may bless the whole world.

And on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, we remember among its many meanings that the angels sang saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.” (Lk 2:14) Today, we hope that our contemplation will be on peace, which God wills for Earth, especially as the world and every person needs peace.

There are three types of peace which each person needs: peace with God, peace with people, and peace of heart.

Peace with God is that a person lives a life of righteousness and stays far from all sin and evil. Therefore sin is distance from God, and enmity from God and disobedience of His commandments. If man disobeys his God, man looses his peace.

He who lives in peace with God has a pure heart. And when we speak of peace with God and of purity of heart, we do not imply that man should live in righteousness against his will, but rather, true goodness is what the heart seeks willingly, not that which is imposed on him.

He who lives in peace with God will naturally live in peace with others, as he does not struggle with others, nor do others struggle with him, he will not fear others, but love them.

We pray that peace will spread among people and that they may live far from aggression, not encroaching on or abusing others. The peaceful person does not encroach on others, and if he is abused by another, bears with patience, and pardons and forgives. The Lord Jesus commands peace and tolerance, and the Holy Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” and also “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him a drink.” (Rom. 12:20-21).

When your relationship with God is shaken, you lose your inner peace, and if lusts and desires overcome you, you also lose your inner peace. Thus to live in peace, do not worry about tomorrow.

If you place your life in your own hands, you will be troubled; and if you place your life in the hands of others, you will be troubled even more; but if you believe that it is in the hands of God, you will find rest.

Those who believe in God’s planning for their lives, are not troubled, but live continually with inner peace, which fills their hearts. The person with peace of heart, does not fear evil, for he says to the Lord as David the Prophet says, “If I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (Ps 23:4)

The faithful person lives in peace, for God exists and acts and manages all, and is the protector and the helper. However, the one who has lost peace, even imagines difficulties when they do not exist, and even though there is Divine power surrounding him, he does not recognize it, and that is his great crisis.

If you have an accepted prayer, you shall live in peace, and you will feel that since you have placed your troubles in prayer before God, and that He has received your case and surrounds it with His abundant mercies, He will lift your sufferings.

And in the beginning of this new year, we pray that God intervenes and solves the problems of individuals and nations, even if they seem complicated and unsolvable. “For that which is impossible with men, is possible with God.”

May this year be a blessed one,

Pope Shenouda III
January 7, 2006

A Nativity Sermon – St. John Chrysostom

“I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!

The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein… on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He had the powers He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today He Who Is, is born ! And He Who Is becomes what He was not! For when He was God, He became man-while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. And behold kings have come, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin…

Infants, that they may adore Him who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; Children, to the Child who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; Men, to Him who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd who was laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek;

Servants, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom (Philippians 2:7);

Fishermen, to the Fisher of humanity;

Publicans, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope!

This is my life!

This is my salvation!

This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:

“Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will!”

Joy of The Resurrection

H.H. Pope Shenouda III

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III

Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark

   -An excerpt from His Holiness’ book Contemplations on the Resurrection.

    The angels proclaimed the news of Christ’s resurrection to the women saying, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but He is risen” (Luke 24: 5-6) The news of the risen Christ brought tremendous joy to the disciples, but terrified the Jewish leaders.
As much as the day of the crucifixion was painful emotionally, it was a day of salvation. However, people did not see Christ opening the doors of paradise, they only saw the suffering, insults and nails. As much as the disciples were disturbed and sad on Friday, they were very joyful on Sunday. The promise of the Lord to them was fulfilled when He said, “But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 16:22).
Through His resurrection, they rejoiced that the resurrection is possible and realistic. He was the evidence. That is why     St. John describes Him, “whom we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands” (1Jn 1: 1). St. Peter also bears witness that “we have eaten and drank with Him after His resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 10: 41). Through the resurrection, the fear of the disciples was turned into courage and indifference to all the powers that were fighting them. All their enemies could do is threaten to kill them, but what can the threat of death do to one who believes in the resurrection and has seen it!

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Return to God | H.H. Pope Shenouda III

hhThe most dangerous thing about sin is that it means a separation from God; being cut off from Him in ones heart, in ones love, in ones will and in ones activity. It is to be cut off from the community of the saints and from God Himself. It is to be separated from Him on earth and in heaven. In Malachi 3:7, God calls us saying, “Return to Me and I will return to you,” But, how can we return back to Him? In the book “Return to God,” the late Pope Shenouda teaches us what it truly means to return to God and how to overcome the obstacles we encounter on the way.

This book is the compilation of ten lectures delivered by Pope Shenouda from 1973-1979 in Cairo. It provides us teaching on being reconciled with God through repentance and the practical steps to take in returning to God. It is divided into three major sections, “Sin as Separation from God,” “The Return to God,” and “Reconciliation with God.” Throughout these topics, Pope Shenouda takes the reader step by step, starting with sin and its consequences and ending with reconciliation and its fruits. God’s desire is to “Reconcile you to Him in order to restore you, to cleanse you, to purify you and to make you holy. His love for you is so great that He will not abandon you.”

We need only to return to Him.

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