The 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.
If anyone does not believe that Holy Mary is the Mother of God, he is severed from the Godhead. If anyone should assert that He passed through the Virgin as through a channel, and was not at once divinely and humanly formed in her (divinely, because without the intervention of a man; humanly, because in accordance with the laws of gestation), he is in like manner godless. If any assert that the Manhood was formed and afterward was clothed with the Godhead, he too is to be condemned. For this were not a generation of God, but a shirking of generation. If any introduce the notion of Two Sons, one of God the Father, the other of the Mother, and discredits the unity and identity, may he lose his part in the adoption promised to those who believe aright. For God and man are two natures, as also soul and body are; but there are not two Sons or two Gods. For neither in this life are there two manhoods; though Paul speaks in some such language of the inner and outer man. And (if I am to speak concisely) the Savior is made of elements which are distinct from one another (for the invisible is not the same with the visible, nor the timeless with that which is subject to time), yet He is not two Persons. God forbid! For both natures are one by the combination, the Deity being made Man, and the Manhood deified or however one should express it. And I say different elements, because it is the reverse of what is the case in the Trinity; for There we acknowledge different Persons so as not to confound the persons; but not different Elements, for the Three are One and the same in Godhead….
If anyone has put his trust in Him as a Man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Savior only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity. For if His Manhood is without soul, even the Arians admit this, that they may attribute His Passion to the Godhead, as that which gives motion to the body is also that which suffers. But if He has a soul, and yet is without a mind, how is He man, for man is not a mindless animal? And this would necessarily involve that while His form and tabernacle was human, His soul should be that of a horse or an ox, or some other of the brute creation. This, then, would be what He saves; and I have been deceived by the Truth, and led to boast of an honor which had been bestowed upon another. But if His Manhood is intellectual and nor without mind, let them cease to be thus really mindless. But, says such a one, the Godhead took the place of the human intellect. How does this touch me? For Godhead joined to flesh alone is not man, nor to soul alone, nor to both apart from intellect, which is the most essential part of man. Keep then the whole man, and mingle Godhead therewith, that you may benefit me in my completeness. But, he asserts, He could not contain two perfect natures. Not if you only look at Him in a bodily fashion. For a bushel measure will not hold two bushels, nor will the space of one body hold two or more bodies. But if you will look at what is mental and incorporeal, remember that I in my one personality can contain soul and reason and mind and the Holy Spirit; and before me this world, by which I mean the system of things visible and invisible, contained Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For such is the nature of intellectual existences, that they can mingle with one another and with bodies, incorporeally and invisibly.
There are two ways, the one of life and the one of death; the difference between the ways is great. Now the way of life is this. First you shall love the God who made you, secondly your neighbor as yourself, and whatever you would not wish done to you, do not do to anyone else.
The instruction of these maxims is this: Bless those who curse you and pray for your enemies, fast on behalf of those who persecute you. For what is the merit of loving those who love you? Do not even the gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall have no enemy.
Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If anyone gives you a blow to your right cheek, turn the other to him also, and you will be perfect. If anyone obliges you to go a mile, go with him two; if anyone takes away your cloak, give him your coat also. If anyone takes what is yours from you, do not ask for it back, for you are unable.
Give to everyone who ask from you, and do not ask it back;for the Father wishes to give to all from his own graces. Whoever gives in accordance with the commandment is blessed, for he is free of guilt; but woe to anyone who receives. For anyone in need who receives is free of guilt; but anyone who receives when not in need shall stand trial as to why he received and for what purpose; and when in prison shall be examined concerning the things that he has done, and shall not depart thence until he has paid back the last cent. But on this it was also said; “Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom you are giving”
The second commandment of the instruction: you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not despoil a child, you shall not fornicate, you shall not steal, you shall not practice sorcery, you shall not make potions, you shall not murder a child through abortion nor kill it once born, you shall not covet what is your neighbor’s, you shall not swear falsely, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not speak evil, you shall not store up wrongs, you shall not be doubleminded or double-tongued. For being double-tongued is a snare of death. Your words shall not be false, nor empty, but shall be matched by action. You shall not be grasping, nor rapacious, nor hypocritical, nor malicious, nor arrogant. You shall not plot evil against your neighbor. You shall not hate any person, but some you shall rebuke, for some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.
My child, shun every evil person and all who are like them. Do not be quick-tempered, for anger leads to murder, nor jealous nor quarrelsome, nor aggressive. For murder is begotten from these. My child, do not be given over to passion, for lusts leads to fornication, nor a speaker of base words, nor immodestly curious. For from all these adulteries are begotten….
Be generous, since the generous shall inherit the earth (Ps 36.11). Be patient, merciful, guileless and peaceable, good and fearing always the words which you heard. You shall not make yourself haughty, nor give your life over to presumption. Do not spend your life with the exalted but associate with the righteous and lowly. Whatever befall you, accept these experiences as good, knowing that nothing occurs without God.