My dear beloved children, monks and nuns of our Coptic Orthodox monasteries in the Egyptian deserts and the lands of immigration; May the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
As we celebrate the commemoration of the departure of the patron saint of our monasteries, the Great Saint Abba Anthony, the father of monasticism, whom we venerate on 22 Tobah (30 January), and also the commemoration of the Virgin Saint Mary, the Mother of God and pride of our race, which we celebrate on the preceding day (21 Tobah),
I write to you, this being my first letter after taking up the new responsibility that has been appointed by God to my weakness unworthily, to request your prayers which strengthen and support me in bearing the encumbrance of this greatly extensive ministry, which requires much grace, toil, and prayer, so that Christ our Lord may accomplish it according to His Divine purpose and will, in our Holy Church.
My children who are precious to my heart…we have selected this great historic portrait of Saint Abba Anthony – a genuine Egyptian – that we may imitate him, after beholding in him the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so here we are living in our monasteries and fulfilling our monastic calling, so that our lives may be acceptable before Him. We ourselves have chosen willingly and with complete freedom, to adhere completely to our Lord Jesus Christ, and nothing else, for He is our only desire and we yearn only to behold Him. We live this “complete adherence” every day through utter abandonment; let us recall that we who belong to the “Shroud of Monasticism”, as we were consecrated monks when the veil of the altar, the burial shroud, was placed over us and funeral prayers were recited on us, so that we may willingly and freely live a life of true abandonment and voluntary poverty, and desire nothing except His presence in our hearts.
Thus if we faithfully cling unto Him, and truly live a life of abandonment, we shall receive the gift of ‘everlasting joy’ and become the happiest people on earth, and when we depart from it realise eternal joy and delight in His heaven, with Him.
Truly our love for Christ fills us and voluntary poverty nurtures us. So my dearly beloved monk…you possess only one soul, if you lose it you have lost everything… you sought the monastery and chose to dwell in it for this reason only, to gain your soul so that you may inherit the kingdom. Also recall with me what we pray in the gospel of the first watch of midnight, for we read the parable of the virgins: “those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut” and the foolish knocked the door after it was all too late, and heard the agonizing voice saying “assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you”. Hence my dear cherished and beloved children watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming (Matt 25:13).
Grace is always ready and willing to work with those who desire to repent and those who are faithful unto death to inherit the crown of life (Rev 2:10). You are a monk seeking God’s face and abiding in his fear, therefore if the world has sanctioned wicked practices and various lax ways, we the assembly of monks and dwellers of the wilderness have accepted to forego the world willingly and not mingle with it for this destroys our purity of heart as is stated in monastic tradition that mingling causes sinning, therefore watch and keep your soul without blemish, being an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Tim 4:12).
My dear children, so long as your monasticism is steadfast in the spirit, unwavering in steadfastness, overflowing with grace; the church ministry will testify and prosper amidst this world and society, which as you know is dominated with uncertainties and ever changing factors that may lead to unexpected outcomes in the future.
We have the words of the Apostle Paul each morning; “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you = we are captives to the love of Christ, our Saviour. To lead a life worthy of = an earnest life led by teachings of the gospel. The calling with which you were called = our monastic calling and purity of heart.
May Christ our Lord preserve you as radiant pearls in our Holy Church, filled with the gifts of Love, Joy and Peace, abound in the tranquillity of the spirit and fullness of health. Be absolved in the name of Christ Jesus, the strong fortress to those who abide and shelter in Him. Abide in Christ, my love to you all.
(Translated from the Elkeraza Magazine)