Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Behold, All Things Have Become New (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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On the 11th of September, the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the Coptic New Year of the Martyrs. In teaching her members how to end one year and receive another, the Church, directed by the Holy Spirit, has chosen for the Gospel Readings of the first two Sundays of the last Coptic Month (Mesore) of the Coptic Year, two key teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ's, present in the parable of the Wicked Vinedressers and the New Garment.

The Wicked Vinedressers:
The Holy Gospel of St. Luke 20:9-18 narrates the parable our Lord had given concerning the vinedressers whom he entrusted with His vine that he had planted. Those wicked stewards, being unfaithful and negligent, did not take care of the vine. So, the owner sent them reminders of their responsibilities. However, they did not take heed of them. Instead, recklessly they set out and harmed the messengers, beating the first and the second and killing the third who happened to be the heir. The owner had no choice but to kill those unworthy stewards and replace them with others. This parable was meant to teach us a very important lesson. As one year of our life on earth approaches its end, our beloved Church wants to remind us that each one of us is a steward and not an owner of our life, gifts, and talents for which we will have to give an account when we stand before the throne of God in the Day of Judgment. Two qualities define a good steward: faithfulness in keeping those talents and wisdom in investing in and with them. The bad stewards did neither. As a result, when the owner of the field came to collect the fruits of the vine, he punished them.

The New Garment With an Old Patch:
Our Lord Jesus Christ compared the new life in Him to a new garment. Looking back to our old life and trying to retain some of it is exactly like trying to patch an old dress with a piece from a new garment. Such is a futile operation. No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old (Luke 5:36). The Church wants to tell us that if we want to start a new life with Jesus Christ, we have to leave the old one completely because it is not possible otherwise old things have passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Many people live their life in duality trying to blend the world with God. In the Old Testament when people tried to do so, God sent Elijah the prophet to warn them saying How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him (1 Kings 18:21). The youth who think they can spend Saturday night in night clubs and bars with bad company and then turn around and come to church on Sunday are just fooling themselves. A new life in Christ is burial of the old one. That is what the Mystery of Baptism does, bury our old man and resurrect us with Christ buried with Him in baptism (Colossians 2:12).

Obstacles on the Road to Renewal
Two main obstacles stare us in the face as we journey through the process of renewing our lives. These are:

  1. Adhering to the old A new life with Christ entails a fresh start and when we are about to start a new life in Him we should sever ourselves from all that can hinder the progress of that relationship. A prominent figure in the Holy Bible who had the courage to do that without regret nor return is St. Paul. According to worldly standards he was considered a successful prominent figure If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless (Philippians 3:4-6). However, after encountering Christ and giving his life over to His service St. Paul came to realize that But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:7-9). He knew exactly that the two can never match nor blend together. Another example is St. Mathew whom the church put as an example of relinquishing everything for the sake of Christ. A Levite, of noble, rich, influential prestigious descent who upon hearing the Lord Jesus Christs call follow me, he immediately arose and followed Him (Matthew 9:9). Adhering to the old could always be supported with fear of the unknown, uncertainty of the future and unwillingness to leave the Comfort Zone. Today Christ is calling you to leave behind your sinful life and come and follow him today, if you will hear His voice do not harden your hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8). And now with all our heart we follow you; we fear you and seek your presence. Do not put us to shame (Daniel 3:41-42, Septuagint). That was the prayer of Azariah, one of the three young men.

  2. Reliance on ones efforts Many would want to live a new life in Christ. However they do not know how. They think that they could do it themselves by increasing their efforts and promises, only soon to discover their failure and so fall into depression and lose hope. Such people need to know that no matter what they do and how they do it, change comes from God. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has expressed this spiritual reality in a beautiful poem that says:

With bitter tears I wetted my bed
And with promises You I fed
To Your love I will stick
Like to a rock I will stick
And never to sin will I return

Severe war upon me came
And indeed sinful I became
I cried from my heart
Id stop, and again Id start
And to sin I did return

Pridefully, my will I attempted to strengthen
In vain, my promises I intended to lengthen
With efforts and strivings heated
Myself I had cheated
And to sin I did return

I cried bitterly
I pleaded strongly
To no one else I will go
My weaknesses them I know
O Lord on me have mercy

No matter how much I fought
Not by my efforts as I thought
Power is from heaven above
And with Your Spirit, from above
To sin will I never return

Thus is the ultimate result of the efforts of whosoever relies on himself in building his spiritual life and renewing his promises. All the spiritual practices such as fasting, attending church, praying, reading the Word of God are all means to an end and not an end in themselves. All they do is they place us in the orbit of Gods mercy and allow it to find us and work in us. Change is impossible without Gods Grace and Mercy.

Evidence of Renewal
Just as light cannot be hidden once it exists, so is the case with renewal in a Christians life. Genuine renewal cannot be missed nor faked. It is felt by whoever comes in contact with it. Cases of genuine renewal are many in history. To mention some examples:

The Samaritan Woman: Before meeting Christ, she was a woman robed in shame and soiled history, a woman who because of her shame, could not face society and therefore had to come at odd times to fetch water. Knowing that, the Lord Jesus Christ sought her out and went to meet her at her shame in order to rid her from it. The result was, she left her fear, shame, and burden in her jar at the well and the prostitute was transformed into a preacher.

Paul of Tarsus: The most monumental biblical figure who underwent radical change is St. Paul. The new life in Christ transformed him from a persecutor into a persecuted, from an elite scholar into a pilgrim who time and time again had to undergo a lot of hardships, trials, imprisonment, lack of shelter, and finally martyrdom. St. Paul willingly underwent all of this for the sake of the One Whom he wanted to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10).

St Augustine: Notorious for a lustful, sinful life, Augustine, the scholar boasted of his sins and shameful life. The product of twenty years of a weeping praying mother, he witnessed radical change and a transformation that incurred sanctity. His famous saying You have created us for Yourself and our souls will remain restless till we find our rest in You sums it all. Augustine is now addressed no less than St. Augustine.

Life in Christ has its own flavor to whoever tastes it. He is being described by the Bride of the Song Songs as His mouth is most sweet, yes, he is altogether lovely (Song 5:16). He and only He can bring about radical change.

With the advent of this Coptic New Year, let us all renew our hearts and genuinely seek a life in and with Christ where "old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17) so that when the Owner of the vineyard shows up, He might find blameless, faithful and wise stewards working genuinely and diligently in His vine. All glory be to His name.

Bishop Youssef,
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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