St John the Short – Nurturing our faith

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, we remember the holy St John the Short from Egypt, today. St John the Short, pray for us!

We have a growing Thai lemon tree (more like a shrub really at this point). Now and then, we will find a caterpillar or two, gnawing at the leaves. We have quite a few different plants, but we only find caterpillars on this Thai lemon tree. Then, when the caterpillar blossoms into a butterfly, almost all of the leaves of this tiny plant would have been gone, leaving a sorry looking bare plant. And yet, the leaves would grow back again, because we continue to tend to the plant with water and nutrients.

The same is with our faith in God. We show our love to others as Christians, and yet, the more we give others, the more we become, not less. We become stronger, we become richer, because we continue to tend to our faith and nurture it. How then, can we nurture our faith towards God?

We often think of faith as a journey of repentance (St Luke 13:1-9) and prayer unto God. This it is, and so much more.

On November 4, the new Pope of the Coptic Church (the Church of Alexandria, the Holy See of Apostle St Mark) was elected, and was enthroned on November 18 in a beautiful Cathedral in Cairo. The name Tawadros is the Coptic version of the Greek name Theodoros, which means “God’s Gift”. May God bless his holiness in this challenging time, and bless his holiness many years.

Father among the saints and wonderworker of God, St John the Short, or Abba John, was born in the 4th century in the Theban area of Egypt, of humble means and of short physical stature. Even when the saint was very young, he yearned for the monastic life and by the time he became a young man, he left home and went into the desert of Natroun Valley (or Skete), to pursue Theosis. He became the disciple of Abba Pemouah, who at first did not want the young saint to pursue the monastic life, but an angel of the Lord appeared to Abba Pemouah and asked the old hermit to accept the young man.

Back in those days of Egypt, there were no monasteries, and monastics prayed in the wilderness of the desert, trusting completely in the Lord amidst the acrid and harsh terrain and climate.

Abba Pemouah instructed the young monk to plant a wooden walking stick in the ground and water the walking stick religiously every day till the stick would bear fruit. Abba John did not raise doubt or objection, but humbly and obediently abided in the instruction of his teacher, and fetched water from a river about 20 kilometers away to water the walking stick. Abba John continued to water the walking stick, traveling to the river 20 kilometers away, and fetching water back (in effect walking 40 kilometers every time). By the third year, miraculously the stick grew roots in the ground and green leaves sprouted and bore fruit as well. The old Abba Pemouah gathered the fruits and gave them to the brethren in Church, saying, “take and eat the fruit of obedience”.

This is one of the first things we tend to when nurturing our faith unto God – obedience, abiding in the Will of God in all things, however we perceive them due to our own passions and human leanings (1 Samuel 15:21-22).

Abba John of Egypt taught us, as with many holy fathers before us, that silence is golden (Lamentations 3:28-29, Psalm 62:1-5).

The world we live in, is full of noise. Gone are the days when to talk to another, we had to travel on foot or in carriage, miles and miles of greenery along the way, to meet. Today, we are inundated by what the mainstream media call “news”. Today, we are trapped by the many means in which we can talk to another, whether by mobile phone, by email, by instant messaging, and now, even social media. More and more, we see people whose gaze become transfixed onto their mobile devices, oblivious to the surroundings, and putting themselves into physical danger even.

Abba John and many holy fathers who taught us the path of holiness towards God, often avoided idle chats with others, and focused on Theosis instead. Even with conversations, Abba John would focus only on spiritual talk, and such conversations can go on a long time, because the brethren would be finding the way to God together. Abba John advised, “beloved, be silent lest evil thoughts overtake your mind and cause you to lose your soul. Especially in Church, let us be mindful so to be worthy before the presence of the Holy Mysteries”.

In recent months, the weather around the world has become unpredictable. The day can begin with a scorching sun and bright blue skies, and then the sky turn progressively gray and dark until a heavy storm pursues our steps as we head home. In other places, conflicts of drought and floods, calm and raging seas, all show us that man do not and cannot control beyond his own nose, and that all things allow us to find repentance and humility.

It is wise for us to recognize just how fragile our faith in God is. We are to hope, with optimism and cheerfulness despite all odds, because we know God has only love and mercy for us, and that all things under His care when we lean on Him, will be for our fortification against our passions and against the evil one (Psalm 34:17-19, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5). Yes, fortification.

Therefore, beloved, we must find all means, all our energies, all our available time, to nurture and nourish our fragile faith. We are not to lose hope at every bad turn, but we are to soldier on (2 Timothy 2:1-4), so that we can keep our eyes on the great prize, that of partaking in the Kingdom.

Yet, there are many things in the world that would distract us from our singularly hopeful journey towards God.

We meander about in our days and ways in the world, because our hearts find it difficult to center on a single voice within ourselves, that of repentance and prayer. We are to live fully in the world, finding our center in prayer unto God.

If God’s Will is that we are to be in the world, we are not to despise it, but to love God’s creation and to find His Truth, His Love, His Mercy, His Wonders, in this very world we live in (Isaiah 41:13-17).

Beloved, do not be distracted by the world, but embrace it out of our very hope of loving God. Remember that God is love, truth and light, and all that He is, everywhere He is, is abundant in all these. Therefore, do not manifest in ourselves, the very opposites of what God radiates, because in our darkness, in our hatred, we have turned away from God.

Despite our everyday struggles at work in the world, where we are strapped to the desk, the computer, in meetings, or traveling, call on the Holy Name of Christ, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Let us close by praying the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

Isaiah 41:13-17
Psalm 34:17-20 (LXX 33)
St Luke 13:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5