Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Redeeming the Time

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16).

As we draw near to the end of a Coptic year and approach the coming of a new one, it is fitting for us to review and pay close attention to how we handle one of the greatest gifts that God granted and still grants to us; that is the gift of "Time". Time is usually an added consideration to specific actions to determine their success or failure. For example, a student submitting completed homework after the due date will not receive credit for it even if he did it correctly, simply because he did not finish it on time. Similarly, Martha's act of service was not praised by the Lord because it was offered at the wrong time. How we use the units of time granted to us define the life of a human being. Wasting time is losing life and killing it is an act of suicide. To be able to earn a profit with the talent of time, we have to understand the uniqueness of time, watch and discern certain times, and act responsibly with the time of those with whom we interact.

I. The Uniqueness of Time:
Time is the only resource that we cannot increase. We can replace, increase, or maintain all other talents we have except that of time. This special characteristic of time, its limitation, explains to us why the Apostle Paul instructs us to "redeem" the time as this is the only way to maximize its use. Knowing the limitation of this precious gift should direct the prudent among us to work hard to reassess priorities in each day's activities. What we value the most, what causes us to grow and be edified, and what we can do to serve those around us should all be at the top of our daily activity lists in view of the limited time that we have in our hands.

Many who spend hours on social media, even while they are not doing something that is intrinsically sinful, will be still held accountable before God if this time spent was at the expense of more edifying practices. Daily activities can be classified based on the bases of urgency and importance. Those who know how to redeem the time, pay special attention to the activities that are important and not urgent which is where all of the spiritual practices fall into. The truth of the matter is that how I set my priorities and how I spend my time serve as a mirror that reveals where my heart is. If God and my family are assumed to be at the top of our lists, then why are we not spending enough time with either of them?

Time is unique also in how it cannot go backwards, cannot be rushed, and cannot be trusted. Many times we wish that we could turn the hands of time backwards to choose better, to erase a comment that we said in haste which we now regret, or to take advantage of a lost opportunity. Knowing this about time should make us particularly careful before we choose to act or talk. It is not a call for drowning in sorrow and remorse, but rather a cry for a careful approach toward the future.

Time cannot be rushed and this fact about it leads many to wrongly doubt in God's promises and in His love to His people. It took thousands of years for the promise of the Redemption of mankind to take place through the Incarnation of the Son of God. The cry of humanity expressed by Isaiah the prophet, "Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down!" (Isaiah 64:1) was not in any way designed to hasten God's planned Salvation before the fullness of time. When we hear the cries of the oppressed and wonder why God does not interfere, we have to remind ourselves that He is working and His work will be revealed in its own due time. The hardships that we all endure sometimes are all also permitted for a certain time in order for us to receive their benefits and rewards. Trying to rush the time to flee from tribulation might lead us to lose those benefits and rewards. The fact that time cannot be rushed should also be remembered when we are at the beginning of our spiritual struggle and we wonder why fruits are not forthcoming. Bearing fruits in the spiritual life is a process that takes time and those who try to rush it simply endanger the coming of these fruits at all.

Further, even though time appears to continue to work with us as a serving friend, it cannot be trusted. This is the warning declared to us by St. James: "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that'" (James 4:13-15).

The rich fool who was mentioned by the Lord in Luke 12 was counted as such not only because he did not heap for himself treasures in heaven and focused only on his vanities, but also because he trusted time and thought it will always serve his plans.

II. Times to Watch and Discern:
It should be abundantly clear that there are certain times that are not for us to know: "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7). Yet, there are other "times" that we should be very vigilant to observe:

1) The "Time" of visitation:
God calls this opportunity the time of love: "When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you" (Ezekiel 16:8). It is the time when God's grace knocks on the door of my heart. However, the Lord will not stand at the door forever as we learn from the bride in the holy book of the Song of Solomon: "I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and was gone" (Song of Solomon 5:6). Not recognizing this time of visitation was the reason behind rejecting Israel and the eventual destruction of the temple with the worship conducted therein "...they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:44).

2) The "Time" to flee:

"A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3).

It is crucial for us to recognize the correct time to flee from immorality as Joseph the righteous did: "Flee also youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22). There is a time when sin is just at the door and we are still in control. If this time lapses, sin creeps into our hearts and a fall is much more likely. We ought also to flee foolish disputes and discern the time to avoid them before it is too late: "But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife" (2 Timothy 2:23).

3) The "Time" to repent:
Among the gifts that God gives to us to aid in our repentance is the gift of time as mentioned in the Book of Revelation "And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality" (Revelation 2:21). This time of repentance is NOW: "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11). We should be mindful of the lesson learned from the Ninevites who acted immediately and saved themselves from imminent danger. Similarly, the words of confession of Achan the Son of Carmi, "Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel" (Joshua 7:20) did not spare him punishment simply because he said them out of due season.

4) The "Time" of the open doors:
The time to teach children about God and His ways is both vital and limited. There exists a window of opportunity at the beginning of their lives when we can "wire" their minds to recognize and love the ways of the Lord, know the church and her rites and sacraments, and instill in them Christian virtues. Missing this time makes the process difficult and painful for both them and their parents. There is also a time for establishing healthy communications with those whom we care about. Practicing and nurturing healthy communication in marriage, for example, is indispensable, especially during the very early part of the relationship, so as to create a strong foundation upon which the marriage can grow and thrive. The same is true for our interactions with our children. We often want them to listen to us and heed our advice, but how often do we give them the time they need to be heard and share their hearts with us? Neglecting this results in frustration and distance in the parent-child relationship. Moreover, there is a window of opportunity when it comes to receiving a blessing. The Lord calls us to come and participate in the Divine Liturgy, but so many take this invitation for granted. We often lose sight of the fact that the choicest blessing is given to those who arrive early and make their early attendance a priority, as it is written, "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me" (KJV, Proverbs 8:17).

5) The "Time" to store:
There is a time for us to work hard in building our experience with God and storing in our hearts memories and spiritual skills that can help us later in our lives. "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). We are even asked to observe and learn from a tiny insect: "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise" (Proverbs 6:6).

6) The "Time" to witness:
The Scriptures teaches us that "...a word spoken in due season, how good it is" (Proverbs 15:23) and "...always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). Therefore, there are certain times that we are called to witness to the Lord and fulfill our duties as Ambassadors of Christ. These occasions might be the most significant times for us and for those who are supposed to hear from us. From the long life of Jonah, we only remember about him that he was the one who preached to Nineveh. This was his hallmark mission to fulfill and the Ninevities' only chance to be saved.

III. The Responsibility Towards Others' Time:
As we will be asked from God about how we managed our time, we also should expect that we will be held accountable for how we used other people's time. Among those "others" are the clergy who are entrusted with the service of the spread of the kingdom of God and the salvation of the lost souls.

The clergy are requested to handle many responsibilities that require their attention continually. Between liturgical services, visitations, receiving confessions, providing counselling, handling the church administration, travelling to provide services in remote areas, preparing lessons and sermons, planning for activities, and helping new comers to settle, along with serving his own family, a clergyman's time is very tight and the tasks set before him are crucial and urgent.

We have a role as the laity to make sure that we are helping the clergy to allocate their time for what is truly important and pertaining to the salvation of the souls whom they are serving.

Everyone should ask themselves certain questions before deciding to take "time" from the bishop or the priest:

1) Is my question relevant to the service of the clergy?
When a certain man approached the Lord asking Him to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him, the Lord answered him: "Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" (Luke 12:14). The Lord's answer here should call our attention to the fact that His ministry and that of those who are sent by Him is focused on the change of hearts of those served above everything else. If we learned to love as He taught us and judge with justice as we learned from His example, we will not need others to divide things for us. Overwhelming the clergy with questions that are not relevant to the ministry of the Spirit is a practice that we need to refrain from doing.

The priest is ordained by God to help know and walk towards God not to be entangled in secular questions and matters that he is not experienced in, familiar with, or qualified to answer.

2) Am I using the right method in communicating with my priest?
This is a lesson we learn from the centurion who asked the Lord to say a word from afar in order for his servant to be healed (Luke 7). The man did not want to trouble the Lord Jesus by bringing Him all the way to his house while He can simply accomplish the healing by a word from His mouth.

In today's world, we have many tools of communication like texting, calling, voice messages, emails, etc. Due diligence should be observed in deciding which way would be best to use when inquiring about something from my priest. A short question that can be answered by a few words, for example, could be forwarded via a text message. A longer inquiry that demands a specific and more lengthy answer can be best written in an email, while a subject that requires a discussion is better communicated in a phone call or in a private meeting.

3) What do I want from a discussion with the clergy?
An honest confession should not take more than 15 minutes if we plan it well and we adhere to the subject of the confession. Unfortunately, these supposed meetings for confession might take several minutes (and sometimes hours) with nothing being accomplished that vaguely resembles a confession or self-analysis. Not only is the person deceiving himself by thinking that he is confessing by chatting about irrelevant matters, but he also is guilty of wasting the precious time of the priest that could have been allocated instead to an important function. The same question should also be asked before calling my priest: concerning what question exactly do I want Abouna to answer me? Otherwise these calls will go on indefinitely with no real benefit for the caller or the called.

4) Am I asking for the priest's opinion or seeking a pressured approval?
When the rich young ruler who was mentioned in Matthew 19 came asking the Lord about what he should do to inherit the kingdom of God, the Lord answered him after seeing that he observed the commandments by instructing him to sell what he had and follow Him. We read afterwards that the man "went away sorrowful" (Matthew 19:22). Certainly the man did not particularly like the answer, but he did not waste the time of the Lord in going back and forth trying to convince the Lord to change His answer or tell him something else that he can do.

On many occasions, the clergy give their opinion to the one who comes with an inquiry which may not be well received by the inquirer. The person has the right to choose to follow the advice of the priest or to ignore it as the young rich ruler did. Yet it is not right to press the priest endlessly to pressure him to do or say what the inquirer desires. This involves not only a mental and emotional strain on the priest's part, but also a waste of his time and energy.

In conclusion, time should always be used wisely knowing that it is a gift and a stewardship. For this to happen effectively, significant effort should be made to understand how unique is this resource, vigilance should be observed to watch and discern the times pertaining to our salvation, and prudence should govern how we use the time of those who are called to serve our salvation.

Glory be to God forever, Amen.

Fr. Younan William
St. Mary & Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church
Houston, TX

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