THE SAINTS AND THE BOND OF LOVE
The Saints are dear brothers who have struggled like us and have departed to Paradise. They are not dead, but are sleeping, as our Lord said (John 11: 11), and as St. Paul called them (I Thess. 4:13).
Our early fathers spoke clearly and in detail about our relationship with Saints. The Saints in Paradise are the triumphant members of the same one church in which we are militant members. We, the triumphant and militants, are members of the Church, which is the one Body of Jesus Christ. The triumphant become invisible members because of the death of their bodies, and then militants ire the visible ones. This is man’s point of view, but in God’s sight, we are all a visible holy family.
They departed from earth, but did not leave the church; their love toward their brothers did not cease by their departure and dwelling in Paradise. The death of their bodies does not sever the bond of mutual love between them and us-, on the contrary it increases in depth and strength. Their prayers for the salvation of all the world never cease. They pray for us, and we venerate them as they are our holy and dear friends.
ICONS OF SAINTS
We venerate the icons of saints and put them on the iconstasis (icon-stand). Church walls and doors are hung with icons, also our homes etc., as a sign of our communion with them in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Coptic Icons have their own characteristics as we have mentioned in the book : “Church, House of God.”
THE INTERCESSIONS OF SAINTS (THEIR PRAYERS FOR US)
We all – the triumphant and militants – as one Body, have love that never fails (I Cor. 13:8), for our interaction is unceasing. Those who preceded us pray for us, and we through love – pray for those who departed, and God in His Fatherhood appreciates this mutual love.
Our belief in intercession is biblical, as it appears from the following points:
1 . Saints who departed are still alive, for it is said, “When he called the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob for He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all are alive in Him” Luke 20:37,38; Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:26. Moses and Elijah appeared on Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-33), and many bodies of the saints were raised on Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 27:52,53).
2. God disclosed many secrets which concern the future of His men in both the Old and the New Testaments (Acts 20:22, 23, 29, 30; 2 Pet. 1: 14), no wonder that He reveals our conditions to the saints who are in Paradise. Their knowledge about us is a gift from God to them. Therefore Abraham knew that Moses and other prophets had come (Luke 16; 29-3 1), and those who are in heaven rejoice for the repentance of a sinner (Luke 15:7-10).
3. The believers who departed have a kind of privilege before God, therefore the Lord blessed Isaac for the sake of Abraham his father (Gen. 26:5), and He was gracious to Israel and had compassion on them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (2 kings 13:23). He did not tear down the kingdom in the days of Solomon for the sake of his father David (I kings 11: 11- 13). God raised a dead man when his corpse touched the bones of Elisha the prophet, revealing the great position of this prophet in God’s sight (2 Kings 13:20,21).
4. We, the militants ask for the intercessions of the saints, as Jacob did when he asked for the intercessions of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac (Gen. 32:9). Moses asked for the intercession of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exod. 32:13)… For God honors those who honor Him (1 Sam. 2:30). He attributes Himself to them (Gen. 26:24; 28:13), and hears their supplications… Therefore the rich man appealed to Abraham (Luke 16:27,28).
Origen says: “It is not against truth, that we ask saints and seek for their intercessions… but that they might help us.” St. Athanasius says: “0 lady and queen, the mother of God (Theotokos) intercede for us.”
The Sacremental Life
SACRAMENTS AND CHURCH LIFE
I am delighted to write here about church sacraments, for in fact practicing church sacraments gives us enjoyment through the exceeding love of God and the free divine grace. Such are the practical gospels in the actual church life, that through them believers discover the mystery of the Gospel.
In brief I can say that the sacraments grant us the following blessings:
1. Practical divine grace: If teaching the divine grace is the heart and center of the Gospel, we attain this grace through the sacraments, as it is written in the Holy Bible:
In the sacrament of Baptism, we attain the rebirth, not of our own merit nor by a human hand but by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-5; Tit. 3:5). We also receive God’s adoption (Gal. 3:26, 27), attain the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and sanctification (Eph. 5:25-26).
Through “Chrism” (Mayroun) we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who teaches us, guides us and sanctifies us, so that we may attain the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Acts 8:17; 19:5,6).
Through penance and confession, the Holy Spirit grants us the remission of sins (Matt. 16:19).
In the Eucharist, the church is lifted up as if to heaven so that she meets her heavenly Savior, participates with the heavenly host in their hymns, and partakes of the Body and the Blood of the Lord to be united with Him, established in Him and to live forever with Him
(John 2:3 5,55; Matt. 26:27,28; 1 Cor. 10: 17).
Through the Sacrament of holy unction, the sick who accepts to be united with Christ in His sufferings attains the remission of sins (by repentance). and the healing of his body (James 4:14; Mark 6:13).
Through the Sacrament of marriage, the couple are united together, and the Holy spirit sets their home as the holy church of God…
Through the Sacrament of priesthood, Jesus Christ, the Unique Chief-Priest acts in those whom the Holy Spirit grants the grace of priesthood (Matt. 28:19-20; Eph. 4:11; Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1: 16).
These exceeding divine acts are the free grace of God offered to believers through His Church.
2. The free divine actions for human sanctification: These actions are called “Sacraments,” for they are divine and they surpass the human mind. The believer acknowledges the Holy Trinity acting to his advantage, so that he may become son of God sanctified by the precious Blood. He participates with the heavenly creatures in their supreme life, and enjoy God’s action in his conjugal life, and the divine providence in his sickness etc. These sacraments have an evangelic spirit, I mean they do not ignore the human side.
In more details, I say that God grants man special honor because of His love to him. Thus God acts by him and through him and does not ignore him. For example, no heavenly or earthy creatures has the power to grant a human being to be a child of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism, according to the merits of the Cross, but it is performed by the priest. God appreciates giving man this honor, but the Sacrament is effectively God’s work and not the priest’s. Someone may ask, why does not God grant His gifts to the believer directly and not through the priest? we reply that when God the Son became man, He honored all mankind by acting through them, calling them, sanctifying them and granting them the grace of priesthood.
When God the Son was incarnate for our salvation, He took a true Body from Virgin Mary who had a positive role… We considered this as an honor to mankind. Likewise, God asks men to have a positive role, so that He may reveal Himself through men.
3. Proclaiming the nature of the church: Someone may misuse the sacraments, as sources of authority and not for serving others. This in turn may cause anger and protest against church authority. The Coptic Church however deals with the believers in a motherly way through these sacraments. The Holy Trinity grants gifts to the believer through His Church that has the image of Christ, and carry His likeness.
For example, the believer who receives rebirth in baptism, looks to the church as his mother who begot him by the Holy Spirit as a son of God. This gift of adoption unites him spiritually with other members so that he will not feel isolation nor live in individualism. In his conjugal life, a husband meets his wife as one with him through the loving church, looking at his relation with her as an image of the relation of Christ and the Church.
Practicing the sacraments in spirit and truth without misusing authority proclaims the motherhood of the church, her unity, her spiritual existence and her message concerning the salvation of every soul, far away from the spirit of administration and human organization.
4. Proclaiming our concept to the whole creation: God the Word who surpassed all materials; became a true Man; who ate,
drank, worked and sanctified our view, not only on the body that He took, but even on our daily life and the materials we use. We find no defilement in food, or look at the creation in enmity or as an element of darkness.
I Using materials in sacraments, like water in Baptism, oil in the Holy Unction, bread and wine in the Eucharist, metal crown in baptism and marriage celebration, priests’ vestments etc. grant us an honorable view on materials, for we see God’s hand that sanctifies everything for our salvation.
OUR CONCEPT OF CHURCH SACRAMENTS
Sacraments are vital and essential to the believers; they are the means of practicing the evangelic thoughts, besides receiving the grace of God and the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church of Christ, so that all believers-might be lifted up to the bosom of the Father.
Here, I wish to explain in brief our concepts of every sacrament:
1. In the Coptic rite of Baptism there are two essential lines; denying Satan and the acceptance of God’s work. In other words, in baptism the believer is transferred from being belonged to Satan through subjection to his works, to receiving God’s adoption, and being His. He denies the kingdom of the devil to receive within himself that of Christ, turning towards the east, where the sun of Righteousness shines, instead of the west, which is a symbol of darkness.
In this rite, the church deposits the newly baptized into the hands of a godparent giving him firm commandments, to be responsible of, and do his best to present the evangelic church life to the newly baptized.
The Coptic church insists that baptism is performed by immersion, except in necessary cases such as illness; whereas the baptized person is buried with Christ and also risen with Him to enjoy the new risen life (Rom. 6:4-6).
2. In the rite of Chrism, the body is anointed with holy oil thirtysix times, as a symbol of the sanctification of the soul and body together, so that man in his wholeness, becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. All members of the body-even those which are inferior-are anointed with the holy Chrism, for there is no defiled or shameful member of the body.
Putting on new white clothes (and also a crown in ancient), refers to enjoying the pledge of the crowned, pure and heavenly life.
3. In the rite of penance and confession, the priest and the confessor feel that they are together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which convicts men of sins, and forgives sins in order to obtain a communion with the Holy Trinity.
The believer does not feel ashamed of discovering his own weakness, in the presence of his spiritual father who takes care of his salvation, and who feels as if he was partaker with his sons of their weaknesses.
4. In the Eucharist, the church is lifted up to heaven, through the One unrepeated Sacrifice, the life giving and ever present One.
In this Sacrament, the church prays for her children, for the whole world, for the salvation of mankind, and for their life on earth etc. For she appeals to God’s heart that is tender with love, and His ears that hear her petitions.
5. In the Holy Unction, the petition for spiritual blessings are correlated to the temporal ones, so that the sick person may obtain remission of sins and healing of the soul and body.
6. In the sacrament of marriage, the rite is concentrated on revealing the heavenly crown, that the hearts of all who are present
may be lifted up to the heavenly marriage, and that the couple acknowledge that their conjugal life is a shadow of the church in heaven.
7. In the sacrament of priesthood, the person obtains this grace to wash the feet of God’s people, not by himself, for he is unworthy of this ministry, but by Christ the Servant of mankind on behalf of their salvation. The priest receives “fatherhood” not by his own merit, but by the act of God’s Fatherhood in him. He says with St. John: “My children” I John 2: 1, and with Paul the Apostle, “in Christ Jesus I have begotten you” I Cor. 4:15.
Hence the sacraments, in their rites seek for man’s salvation and his receiving God’s adoption, lift him up to the heavenly life to the bread of angels, that he may obtain participation in the eternal glories. Sacraments are the fulfillment of Gospel blessings.