You have been serving the house of the Lord for a long time.
But have you been serving the Lord of the house?
Christianity is a faith characterised by preaching, but you can say it was spread more through role-models than sermons and teachings. Growing up in the church, we were always told that you cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not serve – if you do not have some sort of service. We read in 1 Corinthians 8:1 “love edifies” so we know that service is not only limited to formal roles and teaching; it is strongly connected to love and therefore all of us are invited to this life of serving.
Friedrich Nietzsche, a famous philosopher, once stated “If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then you’ve got to look a lot more redeemed.” How you might ask? Fr. Bishoy Kamel once said, “People don’t need to hear about Christ any more, they have heard enough. They rather need to see Christ in us.” If we love someone, the best way to honour them is to use their example. Many people love Pope Kyrillos VI yet very few follow his example, his life of discipline and self-denial. We are called to be servants in the example of the true Servant Christ as St. John of Kronstadt says, “the Lord has become everything for you, and so you must become everything for the Lord.”
Many of us have heard or experienced the huge blessings that come from serving. Yet can service itself be a hindrance to the spiritual life? One of the spiritual fathers said, “You spent your whole life serving the Lord’s house, when will you serve the Lord of the house?” What does this mean? Do we sometimes miss the aim? In Hebrews 3:3 we read the verse “He who built the house has more honour than the house.” Notice that both of the above references do not condemn the service pertaining to the Lord, yet they point to the true purpose of the service – the Lord of the house. This reminds us of Mary and Martha and the war of busyness which fought Martha, with Christ eventually telling her “You are worried and troubled about many things; but one thing is needed.” – Luke 10:41, and this still exists to this present time where we do the same thing. We are sometimes like the Shulamite woman who used to say, “my beloved is mine and I am his.” (Songs 2:16). Yet when she matured in her spirituality she reversed the role, she said, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Songs 6:3). We belong to the Lord of the House – the House of the Lord does not belong to us.
So what does God really want? One of the fathers says that everything we do, should be “in Him, through Him, with Him and for Him – the aim is Christ” Fr. Daoud Lamei in one of his sermons jokingly suggested that the Samaritan woman could easily have been a Coptic woman, she asked Him silly questions – ‘Should we worship on this mountain or over there?’ The same with us, “Are these biscuits fasting or not? If I can’t fast until 2pm can I fast until 12pm.” These questions miss that the aim of everything we do is to attain the one-on-one relationship with Him as the Lord responds to her; “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” The Lord also in Isaiah 66 hints to us what He is really seeking from serving Him when He says, “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” It’s as if the Lord is telling us that ‘there is nothing you can do that I cannot do, everything is Mine – I just want you and your heart.” The Lord also says to one of the kings of Judah “because your heart was tender…” (2 Kings 22:18). How cool is that, the criteria with God is simply a tender heart.
Well you might ask, what is wrong if I serve the House of the Lord? Especially if I serve it ‘heartily to the Lord and not to man.’ Is that not a good thing? Well the answer is yes, it is a very good thing. Even the Lord Himself served the House, when He overturned the tables of the money changers it was said, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” Also in Acts 6 we find men who ‘were full of the Holy Spirit” serving tables. I think the difference is that this service came as a result of knowing Him, it came after being filled with Him. I remember when one of the priests here at St Mark’s church was being ordained, he said one piece of advice he received was that his time should be split 2 to 1 – every hour of service should be accompanied with two hours of prayer/personal spiritual time. So it is knowing Him, not necessarily knowing about Him. It is a scary thought that the disciples who spent 3 years with Him did not know Him. On the night of His betrayal they all fled and left Him knowing not that He could bring “legions of angels” to protect Him. When the soldiers came to Him with a crowd having soldiers and clubs, He said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” Let this question be for all of us when we serve, ‘whom are you seeking?’ I was fortunate to have spent some few years studying interstate with a big group of youth. During this time, I can really say that I knew them very well, yet with the Lord how is it that we spend all this time in His house and still do not know Him? The Lord says this verse to His disciples but I feel like He is also speaking to us; “Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? (Mark 8:17).
I love the ministry of John the Baptist and how he was commissioned by the Lord. When the people said to him ‘who are you?’ he knew who he was! He quoted to them an Old Testament verse about himself! “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness…” (Isaiah 40:3). He was chosen by the Lord of the house for a specific role, he did not serve on his own accord. How about us? Do we serve on our own accord? Look at Pope Kyrillos VI who ran away from everything who said “I would have loved to live as a stranger on the earth”, the motto of his life which he used to hang on his door; “forsake worldly pleasures, and God will love you. Renounce what people possess in their hands, and people will love you.” So we see that even letting go of ‘self-appointed’ service which we may be doing to fill a void of boredom or to feel good about our self, we see that when we give it up then the Lord really chases us with His will, with true service. The desert fathers used to advise their children saying, “Refuse any virtue which the devil offers with the intention of destroying another virtue which you have, and say to them,
‘This virtue is good, but for the sake of God I do not want it.’“
One time I asked one of the well-known servants in the Church to help MC a certain church event. He declined, and his response was very touching; “I have had enough taking credit for services I am not involved in.”
St. Seraphim of Sarov says, “the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life.” One of the common phrases that the prophets used to say was, “as the Lord lives, before whom I stand.” They knew whom they served. It should be the same with us. Let us not count it as a day lived or as service if there was no encounter with the Lord. Let us remember that the Lord can say to us, “I do not know you.” (Luke 13:27). Also the devil can mock us by saying, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” (Acts 19:15).
The question is, how do we know if we serve the Lord of the House? The answer is if we have a desire to spend time with Him alone. Pope Shenouda III says, “It is amazing how many people prefer service more than prayer. And reading more than prayer. And contemplation more than prayer. And attending religious gatherings more than prayer. That is why they fail in their relationship with God. They therefore pray, read, have a service and attend their meetings, but are separated from God. There is no relationship.” So our prayer life should be our service to Him. A servant once answered someone who asked him; “How long have you been preparing for this sermon?” And he answered “40 years”, i.e. all his personal experiences during the past 40 years of his life. So we see that what we do in our rooms in private affects the thousands around us, this is how we serve the Lord of the House. On the contrary if we, like Jonah the prophet and the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, become upset when others come back to God or when they find favour in the eyes of God, then how can we say that we truly serve Him? We need to pray with King David, “Enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32) & with Sir Francis Drake; “Disturb us O Lord when we are so comfortable with ourselves.”
In conclusion it is good to mention that this topic needs wisdom and discretion along with our confession father. Yet it is safe to say that the best way to serve the Lord of the House is to know Him and to be fixed with Him. When we know Him we know love (because God is love), we know wisdom, we know everything. Let us remember that the most powerful people living in the world today are the ones who can move the hand of God in prayer, when they pray, God listens to them. It is interesting to note that St. Augustine mentions that a priest lying on his sick bed, may be more effective in his service than with all his preaching. With this in mind, let us pray and aspire to be like this and let us say with Pope Kyrillos VI, “Let us disappear so that God can become manifested in His glory.”
Glory be to God
Source: St. Mark Coptic Church