The following was the lecture given by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 in response to the incidents in Alexandria.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)
In my mind so many words to say,
And in my heart even more.
But I prefer to remain silent.
I desire silence so the Lord may speak.
And trust that our silence may be more expressive
God hears this silence.
God hears this silence.
He realizes all its meanings,
And all what we suffer.
+ Pope Shenouda III
The verse that consoles us tonight is the saying of the Master and the Lord: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This means, come to Me all you who are under the difficulty of hardship that has become greater than what you can bear. The world is full of hardships either those facing individuals, groups, cities or the whole world. But people rarely resort to God.
The Holy Bible taught us, in the Lord’s Prayer, to say on every time and every day "And lead us not into temptation." God is the One who rescues. Unfortunately, we repeat this prayer many times but not from the heart, out of faith or out of having enough internal confidence. In all what we are surrounded with of hardships, we put the problem before God and leave it in His hands and say, "Your will be done, if You want to solve this problem and Your will be done, if You want us to get the blessing of a cross to carry." We put our problems before God.
But the question is, why before God? Because God is the Pantocrator. He sees everything, hears, knows and writes before Him a book of remembrance, because God knows the apparent and the hidden. He knows what is happening and what will happen in the future. In His knowledge He is a just, merciful and good Shepherd. Ezekiel the Prophet says: "I will feed My flock" and the Lord God says also "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment." (Ez. 34:15). He also says in the book of Isaiah the Prophet: "the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Is 61:1).
Our previous experiences with Him shows us how God intervenes and how God’s hand works in power and clarity when things get complicated. Thus, the Holy Bible says: "casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7). It also says that He "will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape" (1 Cor. 10:13). God always comforts; and He comforts from the outside and within. He comforts from the outside from the side of external matters that tires man. He also comforts from within through relieving man’s pain and suffering.
God’s powerful hand extended and comforted Jonah’s and saved him in the fish’s belly, as God’s powerful hand extended and comforted Daniel and saved him even when he was in the den of lions, also His merciful powerful hand extended to Joseph the virtuous while he was in prison…! God wants and is capable. He wants to do good to us and he is capable of doing this good. The examples of God’s working hand for us are clear in the holy bible and in history. He says: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest".
But how do you "Come to Me"? You "come to Me" through prayer, psalms, fasting, liturgies, vows, mercy actions and by taking hold of the horns of the altar. At a time, the hardship became tough and thus Esther came to God with the fasting of all the people and God spoke in the heart of King Ahasuerus and that brought all good. And on a time, Nehemiah came to God with prayer and tears when he saw Jerusalem wrecked down and al its doors burnt and God spoke in the heart of the Persian King and God did a work. You come to Me with the intercession of angels and saints.
In the days of our fathers the apostles, the apostles were in hardship and the church was praying for them. David used to hear this verse "Come to Me, all you who labor…" before it is said in the Bible and thus he said: "LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, "There is no help for him in God."" (Ps. 3:1-2). But he heard in his heart the comfort of the Lord and thus he says afterwards: "But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head…" (Ps 3:3). We, as clergymen and religious men, collect the people’s sorrows, pains and troubles and place them before God and so was the work of: Angels on Jacob’s ladder, were going up with the request and going down with the answer and God’s interference.
The twenty four priests (elders) who are standing before God’s throne taking people’s needs and putting them in their golden bowls that are full of incense and raise them to God. Moses the Prophet, in his work as a mediator between the people and God. Prophet Samuel as well. We do not claim that we solve problems but we present them to God and leave them in His hand.
When God says: "Come to Me, all you who labor…" He teaches us also the danger and failure in going to someone else other than Him. In his troubles, a person may rely on himself, his intelligence or his skills which do not help. He may also rely on people to find human solutions which also is not useful.
I remember than in year 1950, before my monasticism, I wrote a poem: "Close the door and argue with Jesus", in which I said:
You, the confused, who is lost in deep thinking
Did people take away troublesome and sadness you had
People do not have a fixed, healing, proper opinion
So, solutions to a team against others to another
But I have a remedy that we have all tried
Close the door and argue with Jesus in the depth of the night
Fill the night with prayer, wrestling and tears.
Therefore, we go to God and not to people.
People are of different types: some do not care, some offer theoretical solutions, and some give feelings without solutions. But God works and steps in even without us asking. God works and intervenes without us asking. At a time, the people of Israel were in a hardship and they did not ask for anything, but God said to Moses: "I have looked on the affliction of my people" and He came down to save them. God interfered in the offering of Isaac as a burnt without any request. God spoke in the heart of King Constantine without people asking for it and the result was the decree of Milan in 313 that allowed religious freedom. God also interfered when St. Peter was imprisoned, without St. Peter asking to be rescued. God did not ignore Abel’s blood but said to his murderer "The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground." God did not forsake the blood of Naboth the Jezreelite. God is so tenderhearted, and it is so fearful to fall in the hands of the Living God.
So the question remains: when does God interfere? And how? All what we say is that we have faith that He definitely will interfere and without doubt will work, and as it was, so it will be. And our experiences with God fill our memories well and say in the psalm: "If it had not been the LORD who was on our side," Let Israel now say– "If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, When men rose up against us, Then they would have swallowed us alive" (Ps 124:1-3).
Our belief in God’s interference gives us comfort, peace in our hearts and feeling of security. It is sufficient that God takes the problem. But as for the way it is solved and the time at which it is, we leave it to His good will and his wisdom and we are feeling safe. We feel safe and listen to the bible’s saying: "Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you;" (Ps 55:22). And the saying of the Lord Christ: "My Fr. has been working until now, and I have been working." (Jn 5:17).
The Lord is Blessed in all what He does for us and all what He does for our sake