Not by the letter, but by the spirit
H.H. POPE SHENOUDA III
The Spiritual person always places before himself the words of Saint Paul: "Not of the letter but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians3 :6 ) . This principle involves all his life, because it is in all God's commandments.
He cares about the spirit of the commandment and not its literary meaning..
He is not a Pharisee or a lawyer, but he is a spiritual man. The Pharisees adhered to the literalness of the commandment, as they did with the Lord about the Sabbath, for example. Even when He opened the eyes of the man born blind, on a Sabbath, they said: "This Man is not from God because He does not keep the Sabbath" (John 19:16) . They also said to the man who was blind, "Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner" (John9 :24 ) . When the Lord healed the man who had an infirmity for thirty-eight years, at the pool of Bethesda, we read that "... the Jews persecuted jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath" (John5 :16 ) .
It is the letter that kills, because it proves the lack of understanding of the spirituality of the commandment..
We will try to contemplate on some points of spiritual life, to see how the spiritual person acts according to the spirit, and not according to the letter.
Many fast, and they think that this merely involves eating vegetarian food. They try to prepare for themselves very delicious vegetarian meals that are very nutritious, with all that they add to them of rare and expensive ingredients. They then ask about vegetarian fat, cheese, milk, and even chocolate. They forget the saying of Daniel the Prophet regarding his fasting, "...In those days, I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself' (Daniel10 :2,3).I would like here to concentrate on the phrase, "I ate no pleasant food... "
If one continues to eat pleasant food during his fasting, and give the body the food that it longs for, how then could he control its desires?.
The spiritual man knows that fasting, in its reality, is humbling for the body, and victory over the desire for food. It is also an elevation above the level of the material. Fasting then should not be considered as just eating vegetarian food. In his fasting, the spiritual person cares about the element of abstaining, that is, depriving the body of whatever it longs for, no matter how purely vegetarian it is .
Therefore many fast, but they do not benefit, because in their fasting, they acted in a literal and formal way..
They did not enter into the spirituality of fasting, the spirituality of the commandment concerning fasting, or its spiritual aim, and so they fast with the body while the spirit did not fast.
'Metania' literally means kneeling, but what is meant then by this kneeling?
The spiritual person does not see kneeling as the mere bending the body, but it is also bending the spirit with the body. Therefore, he says with the David the Psalmist, "But as , for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; in fear of You I will worship towards Your holy temple" (Psalm5 ).
The phrase "... in fear of you" implies reverence of the spirit while the body is kneeling, and the phrase "... in the multitude of Your mercy I will come into Your house" shows the feeling of unworthiness. And so, the Deacon cries out during the Holy Mass saying, `Kneel to God in awe and reverence.'
Here, the spiritual feelings accompany the movement of the body..
Sometimes you apologise to a person and prostrate (performing a metania), but it would not be accepted, if it was felt that it was merely a physical action that has no spirit. You may then ask him, `What else do you want me to do? I have knelt with my head to the ground and prostrated?' The movement of the lips could be without understanding, without spirit and without feelings, without love, without reverence or without humility.
My brother, the important thing is for your spirit to bow.. Do not stick to the literalness of prostration, but to its spirit..
As for the spiritual man, in his kneeling, he says with the Prophet David, "My soul clings to the dust" (Psalm119 :25). In this case, it is not only my head that clings to the dust in its kneeling, but the soul that clings to the dust, which is acceptable before God and people.
I read an article written by one of the monks on the feast of the Epiphany, in which he explained how the Lord Jesus Christ bowed before the Baptist, to fulfil all righteousness, although John the Baptist was, by far, `less' than the Lord, and was not worthy to carry His sandals... Then the monk concluded his article by the phrase, `Give us, O Lord, to bow before those who are `less' than us, to fulfil all righteousness.'
If you see that someone is `less' than you, what then is the meaning of bowing? Is it letter without spirit? We however, want the bowing of the spirit..
The literal meaning of praying is talking with God spiritually; it is the connection of man's soul to God. One may pray however, or think that he has prayed, while there is no connection between him and God at all.
For the above reason, God rebuked the Jews by saying, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me" (Isaiah29 : 13 and Matthew15 :8) . It was an unacceptable prayer because God wants the heart.
Do you think that you are praying just because you are moving your lips before God?
Do you only want to satisfy your conscience concerning prayer, even if it was like that; or do you want pray with your spirit and your mind, meaning every that word you say in your prayer..
Saint Isaac was right when he said about such a prayer, `Say to yourself: "I stood before God merely to count words!"'
Unfortunately, many are concerned with making prayer long without understanding, or they say many Psalms quickly and without contemplation, and they do not follow the meaning of words during their prayer.
Psalms are full of spirituality, but some people are limited to the letter.
Some also repeat the words of doxology in the Psalmody with an amazing speed, so much so that they do not follow the meaning, and the same applies to many hymns. What is important for these people is the letter and not the spirit; the feeling that one has fulfilled his duty in prayer, and his conscience is rested by that, while this prayer has not ascended to God. In such a case, there was not even any connection, and the spirit and the heart did not share in it.
As for the
spiritual man, he says with the Apostle, "I Will pray with the spirit, and I
will also pray with the understanding" ( 1Corinthians14 :15), and "I will sing
with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understunding. ".