The Dilemma of Divorce

In a comment to a previous post, ‘sm’ raises the question of whether divorce is better for children than having to live in a home where the parents are constantly fighting. This is a very complex issue, and I am always wary of anyone who claims to have a simple answer (even if it’s Dr Phil, sm). You must factor in the needs of the parents, their ability and willingness to forget their own troubles and focus on giving their children their needs, their tolerance level for unhappiness and so on. Yes, if a parent is so desperately unhappy that they are contemplating a murder suicide of the whole family, there is definitely a strong case for separation! The same goes for a very abusive parent (either to the children or the spouse) who is putting his/her family members’ lives, physical health or emotional health at serious risk. But these are rare and extreme cases. What about the ‘average’ unhappy couple?

The common wisdom in recent decades has been that it is better for a child to grow up with one parent in a peaceful home than with two parents in a home full of conflict. You can see the logic in that. It seems to make the best of a bad situation for all parties involved. Except for one thing: it is not true.

Objective studies, properly designed and carefully carried out among large numbers of participants are showing over and over that divorce is worse for children than non-divorce, regardless of the problems between the parents. Here’s an example:

“Based on the findings of this study, therefore, except in the minority of high-conflict marriages it is better for the children if their parents stay together and work out their problems than if they divorce.” (

For a child, the family unit is by far and away THE most important factor in their sense of security. It is the fixed point in the world of a child that gives them the steadiness to be able to deal with life. A sense of security is a critical ingredient in the healthy growth and development of a child’s emotions, personality and character. Divorce shatters that security. If the two people who have loved you and protected you and solved all your problems cannot solve their own problems, your childlike world is shattered. If one of those pillars of your young world is removed from your home, how can that not leave a huge and gaping hole in your life?

Interestingly, the children of divorce have a higher rate of divorce themselves in later life. It would seem that the example set by the parents plays the crucial role here. There is no marriage without problems, but the child learns from the parents how to deal with problems. If the parents gave up and divorced, the child will feel it is OK to do so in turn. But if a child sees the parents doggedly working to solve the problems and save the marriage, then they too in turn will feel the responsibility to do the same.

One widely reported major study followed families where the parents were experiencing major problems with the relationship over a period of time. After five years, the ones who stuck to their marriage were on average happier than those who divorced. In fact, the majority of those who stayed together were found to have made significant progress in resolving their issues, or at least to be significantly happier with their relationship. The message is clear: if you stick it out, things get better.

An article in the Washington Post demolishes the myth of “Happy Divorce”, something that has been a staple of the movie and TV industry for some years now.

It would seem that there is no such thing as a happy divorce for the children. As the Washington Post article points out, even a divorce with minimal anger and tension is severely damaging for the children. At least, when the parents have been constantly fighting, the children can sort of understand why they might be leaving each other. But when the divorce comes almost out of the blue, the children lose their sense of security. Things seemed to be going so well – how could I know so little about my parents? What other disasters might be lurking unguessed, just around the corner?

The only people who think divorce is a better option tend to be the adults, who see it as being good for themselves, and then find all sorts of reasons as to why it must be better for the children. An example of this may be found at:

But sadly, reality will not be so easily pushed aside. The evidence continues to mount that divorce, in general, is worse for children than staying in a home with an unhappy marriage.

Kids need both their parents.

When a parent is lost to illness or accident, we consider it a tragic event, and feel great sympathy for the poor parent who is left alone to take care of the children. But the parents have no choice in the matter, and must accept the situation and make the most of it. When parents choose by their own free will to create that situation for their children, isn’t it that much more tragic for being avoidable?

Fr Ant

How Not To See.

The ability of the human being to see reality in a biased way never ceases to amaze me.

An extreme modern example of this is the outspoken evangelist of atheism, Professor Richard Dawkins. In his recent book, “The God Delusion”, he not only attributes all forms of religion to mental illness, but he also describes that tender special process of parents passing on their cherished faith to their children as ‘child abuse’. Not content with that, he goes so far as to criticise the God of Christianity for exhibiting ‘sadomasochism’ in the Crucifixion of Christ, thus reducing the most precious and intimate act of love in the history of world to the level of an unnatural human fetish.

The easy reaction to such words would be anger and indignation. If he doesn’t believe, at least he should respect the beliefs of others! That may be the easy response, but I don’t think it is the right one. After all, we too (Christians I mean) have our own history of seeing things in quite a biased way. We are human too.

The Dawkins example I gave above illustrates bias combined with belligerence, but there are also nice ways of being biased. One example of this ‘nice’ bias that springs to mind is that of the late Fr Bishoy Kamel, the Coptic priest who served in Alexandria and Los Angeles in the 1960’s and 70’s. If my reading of the limited English translations of his many writings is accurate, Fr Bishoy was every bit as biased as Dawkins, but in quite a different way. Rather than reading evil into the good of others, he was most adept at reading good into the evil of others.

Among his favourite books of the Bible was the Song of Solomon, a relatively explicit love poem that many modern preachers keep away from, so stark is its language of love. But Fr Bishoy saw in the love between a man and a woman a holy icon of the love between Christ and the human soul. Of course, this was not an original discovery by Fr Bishoy. St Paul wrote of this living metaphor two thousand years ago in his letter to the Ephesians. But what makes Fr Bishoy’s approach stand out is that he lived it.

To read this celibate’s description of how he cries out to Jesus as he goes to sleep in his bed, to come and embrace him, to place His gentle hand behind his head and hold him close; only a man who has risen above the earthliness of physical intimacy could write so freely and honestly of spiritual intimacy. In this married celibate’s words I find a better description of the purity of celibacy than one can find from most monks and nuns! He did not fear intimacy and flee from it, he sanctified it! For Fr Bishoy, the spirit purifies the body completely; good triumphs over evil – it is as simple as that, and there is just no question about it. That’s pretty opinionated!

And yet, I believe that this is indeed the true spirit of Christianity, indeed, of Christ Himself. Was it not He who sought out the outcasts of society and broke so many taboos in the name of divine love? Was it not His positive attitude towards sinners, seeing the potential good in them rather than their evil past, that saved so many from destruction? Which makes me wonder: what would happen if an opinionated and biased atheist like Professor Dawkins were to one day meet Jesus? The following is of course a fiction, and I hesitate to guess what Jesus would say (I have no special insight) or what Dawkins would say, but it is interesting to contemplate…

* * * * *

Professor Richard Dawkins was turning in for the night. It had been a long and hard day. Three media engagements, a book signing and then that debate at the university. But it has been a satisfying day. His opponent in the debate had been a little underprepared which had allowed him to take him apart, much to the pleasure of a largely sympathetic audience of noisy university students. Ahh… this had been a good day.
Suddenly, the bedroom filled with light. Wondering if a car had pulled up and shone its high beam at his window, he walked over to draw the curtains and perhaps see who this was who so impertinently and thoughtlessly had disturbed his repose. Could someone be visiting him at this time of night? But there was no car outside; in fact it was quite dark. A gentle rustle behind him made him twirl around suddenly and shout in fright, “Who the devil are you? And how in blazes did you get into my house?”

The shining man with the beard smiled at the professor and the glow that seemed to emanate from His face slowly faded away until He was left standing on the carpet like any other man, except perhaps for His long flowing robes and the wounds in His hands and feet.
“No, actually, I am not the devil. Quite the opposite.” A small smile played on His lips. “Never mind how I come to be in your house. I have come to ask you a question. Why do you hate me?”
“Who are you? Where did you come from? I don’t know you, and if you don’t leave immediately I shall call the police!”
“I think you know who I am, Richard. Do you not recognise Me?”
“Oh tosh, man! Do you think you are Christ? Come now, which mental hospital have you escaped from?”
“Ah, so you do recognise Me. But My question remains unanswered: Why do you hate Me?”
“Firstly, I do not for one moment accept that you are Jesus Christ: let’s get that clear. But for the sake of argument, I will answer your question. I don’t hate you; I simply don’t believe in you.”
“Why is that Richard?”
“Where have you been living for the past thirty years? My arguments are all over the media and they fill the bookshops. Someone who knows where I live must surely have at least read some of my books.”
“Why do you not believe in me, Richard?”
“OK, I’ll humour you. One: because all religion simply evolved to meet natural needs for human survival. Two: because sacred texts are full of contradictions and inaccuracies. Three: because modern science has eliminated the need for a “God of the gaps” to explain things that we couldn’t understand. Is that enough for you?”
“What do you say to the millions of devout and highly intelligent and educated Christians who see things differently?”
“Huh, that’s easy. WAKE UP! Open your eyes! Stop being deluded! The evidence is there and it’s black and white, so stop fooling yourself and come into the twenty first century for God’s sake!” The little smile played upon the lips of the Bearded Man once more.
“You cannot imagine seeing in that same evidence any other interpretation than yours, then?”
“Oh, there may be many different interpretations of the evidence, but there’s only one CORRECT interpretation, and it just happens to be mine.”
“And what would it take to convince you otherwise? What would it take to convince you that God exists, that I am real?”
“Well, if God is really there, why doesn’t He just show Himself to everyone? Why doesn’t He just appear and say, ‘Here I am everyone. You can stop doubting Me now’.”
“Well, Richard, here I am. You can stop doubting Me now.”
The professor paused for a moment as though considering the proposal put to him by this strange man. He certainly had an honest face, something in it told him intuitively that whatever this man might be, he was not a liar. He must be a manic depressive who really believed he was Christ. And yet, he seemed so calm, so in control, so sane.
“Well if you want to make a claim like that, I’m afraid you’re going to have to back it up. Prove to me that you are the real Christ. Go on then.”
“Was the light that filled the room and my sudden appearance out of nowhere not convincing for you?”
“You probably have a torch hidden up that big sleeve of yours. Well, you can do anything with electronics these days. And I didn’t see you come in. You could have come in through the door.”
“Did you hear your door squeak as it always does?” How the blazes did he know that my bedroom door squeaks, thought the professor to himself. But of course: he just walked through it a few minutes ago.
“I was distracted by the light. A common conjuror’s trick: distract your audience’s attention with one thing so you can get away with the illusion. I can show you some articles on it if you like.”
“Then what would it take to convince you Richard?”
“You’d have to do something genuinely supernatural, here in the open where I can see it, where I can measure it and observe it scientifically.”
“Alright then, if that’s what you’d like. You see that cup of water over there? You filled it up yourself from the tap just a few moments ago, didn’t you?” The professor nodded. “Would you like to pick it up and taste it?” The professor did so. “It is tap water, is it not?” Another nod. “Then kindly taste it again for Me.” The professor held his nerve well. He needed to, for when he looked at the glass, its contents were no longer clear but a rich burgundy hue. He smelled it and gingerly tasted it. A rich red wine. He turned back to the Bearded Man.
“Oh very clever young man, very clever. Turning water into wine, hey? OK, you’ve read your gospels, and I’ll admit that was a very clever trick. How did you do it? Slip a tablet in when I wasn’t looking? Sorry, but that’s no proof. I’ve seen better illusionists than you.”
“But isn’t that what you asked for?”
“Sorry, but you’ll have to do better than that, my friend.” This he said in a tone that suggested anything but friendliness.
“Then what would you have Me do to convince you, Richard?”
“Look, if God exists and wants us to believe in Him, He can appear as a towering giant floating above London and blocking out the sunlight. He can rain thunderbolts on anyone who doesn’t accept him as an example to others. If He really wanted to, He could put the matter beyond all doubt. So why doesn’t He? I’ll tell you why, my friend. Because He doesn’t exist, that’s why. He’s just a figment of people’s imagination that was perpetuated by corrupt clergymen for their own personal benefit. And eventually, people came to believe the lie. That’s all there is to it.”
“And if I were to remove all doubt, would you love Me?”
“Oh, yes: prove yourself to me and I’ll believe in you. I am a scientist, you know. I do have an open mind.” Again, the little smile.
“But I did not ask if you would believe in Me. I asked if you would love Me. I love you, you know.”
“Oh, tosh! Not this ‘love’ thing again. Look, there is no such thing really as love. All there is just hormones and chemical messages in the brain. Love is nothing more than an electrochemical phenomenon.”
“Again, you have evaded My question. Again, I ask it. Would you love Me?”
“Oh, look: if God were to prove beyond all doubt that He really does exist, then, yes, I suppose I would do what He says. I’m not stupid, you know. But see, that’s why religion is such a fake. It’s all about guilt and making atonement and hoping to please this big Judge in the Sky so He doesn’t cast you into everlasting fires of damnation. No, sorry: God just can’t be real. I won’t accept that.”
“You don’t think you may have misunderstood what God is really all about?”
“No, I haven’t. It’s all there to read in black and white, you know. It’s all in the Bible, the fire and brimstone and the everlasting flames of hell.”
“Perhaps you are reading only what you want to read and ignoring the rest if it does not fit in to your preferred interpretation?”
“I told you before, man. I am a scientist. Scientists are objective. They gather evidence and draw theories out of that evidence. Then they test them and thus prove or discard them. Why don’t you listen?”
“So from what you say, it seems that I cannot win. If I show you My power, you will attribute it to illusion or epilepsy or aliens. If I prove Myself to you beyond doubt, you still will not love Me, but only seek to gain personal advantage from the situation. It would seem that whatever I do, you have already made up your mind. You have made your choice and nothing will change it.”
“Absolute rubbish! I have an open mind. Go on then, prove to me that you are really God, or Christ, or whichever deity you wish to masquerade as this week. Go on then, I’m all ears.” The Bearded Man gently shook His head and muttered, “There are none so blind as them that will not see.” Aloud, He said:
“I will leave you now Richard. I know there is good inside you still. But you have become so encrusted in the shell of your own confidence and pride that you have lost the very thing you first set out to achieve: Truth. I will visit you again, for I do not lose hope that one day you may be healed. But I will not visit you again like this. You have closed that door to Me and locked it. Goodbye.” And with that, He was gone. He did not leave by the door or jump through the window. He did not ascend through the ceiling; He was just … gone.
For a moment, the professor stood like a statue, gaping at the spot where the Bearded Man had stood just seconds ago. Then he shook his head and turned around to go and brush his teeth. “Damn magician of a mental patient! I really must speak to the Minister of Health about the lax security these days. One of these days, someone is going to get hurt!”

Fr Ant

A License to Marry?

So many broken homes … so many broken lives.

I don’t know if my impression is valid or not, but it seems to me that over the last two decades, the proportion of marriages collapsing and failing has increased. Certainly, the Coptic population in Sydney has increased over that time period, so it would be normal to expect that the mere number of broken marriages would have increased. But it also feels like the percentage is increasing.

Marriage break ups can never be pleasant. They are so painful that I wonder how anyone can bear to go through the experience. Certainly, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would purposely choose for that to happen. When a marriage beaks up, everybody loses.

The couple themselves lose a relationship that they had hoped would sustain and nurture them for the rest of their lives. Often there are feelings of betrayal and of isolation. There is the whole issue of how to break the news to the extended family. There is the financial insecurity and the social stigma. And of course, there is the unavoidable uncomfortable feeling that one has failed in some way (although some people handle this feeling by laying all the blame on their partner and none on themselves).

The community loses, for if we are truly united, then that which hurts one member hurts us all. All sorts of awkward issues arise: do you invite them both to your birthday, or only one? And if only one, will the other be offended? Generally, a divorced couple are severely limited in their ability to serve. They feel unable, for example, to stand in front of children and teach Sunday School. All too often, the result is social isolation and estrangement from the Church, just at a time when they need the support of their friends the most.

But of course the ones who suffer most are the children. How agonisingly sad it is to see innocent, angelic little souls being gradually hardened and scarred by the horrible experience of watching the two people they trust the most fighting with each other. Children look up to their parents. Children learn from their parents; not from what they say, but from what they do. If parents live their lives with anger or malice constantly in their hearts, the children grow up never knowing what it is like to live in peace and security. For them, the world is a cold, hard, scary and lonely place. Is it any wonder that such children often seek the love and acceptance they crave outside the home, often with disastrous results?

Studies have shown that when a couple are having serious marriage problems, but they stick it out and stay together, their overall happiness is much higher in the long run than if they separate. Other research has shown time and time again that the breakup of divorce leaves a worse long-term emotional scar on children than if they remain in a united but troubled home. Of course, such research cannot take into account every single individual situation, but as an overall view, it is compelling. There is every reason for a married couple to honour the commitment they made before God in Church on their wedding day and to strive to submit to one another in humility and love.

If there is hard-headedness involved, then what is required of the Christian spouse is clear: soften that hard head! If not for your own or your spouse’s sake, then at least for the sake of your innocent children! And if not for their sake, then at least for the sake of the salvation of your own soul!

One wise Father I know always says, “You can never solve a marital problem without genuine repentance.” How true his words are! Without accepting that grace of God that empowers a person to boldly say: “I was wrong”, the couple will have a lot of trouble resolving their differences. Yet if each of them seeks their own personal inner sanctity, their own personal relationship with the loving and merciful Christ, the problems that divide them would melt away.

Perhaps it is wise to be very, very careful in choosing who you marry, for it is a commitment for life. As a Church, perhaps we need to offer more guidance and counselling to young people thinking of getting married, and to couples after they are married. The problem is that when things are going well, the couple do not feel the need for guidance, and when things deteriorate, the couple are in no state to listen to any guidance!

Perhaps we also need to start with people very young, helping them to develop ‘marriageable’ personalities in the first place. If a person learns from a young age to be patient, kind, forgiving, thoughtful … they will take those traits with them into the marriage relationship and very likely make it a success. Some marriages fail because one or both of the couple are simply not fit for marriage: they lack the skills or the personality necessary for a marriage to work.

Maybe we could bring in a marriage license, something like a driver’s license? You’d have to learn the skills and then pass a test before you were allowed to marry. But then you’d be set for a life of safe and comfortable marriage. And then, perhaps we need a parenthood license…

Fr Ant

Listen, Will You?

How hard can it be to listen?

As a parish priest, I eventually learned that not everyone who comes to see me wants to hear what I have to say to them. At first I thought people were coming to gain the benefit of my experience (back when I actually had none!). But it soon dawned on me that many people who see a priest aren’t actually looking for solutions; they’re just looking for someone who will listen to them. And so I have learned to simply sit quietly and let the person pour out whatever is troubling them. It can be a remarkably effective method of counselling!

But on reflection there is something more than a little sad about this. I often get the feeling that people who come to be listened to by Abouna have no one else in their lives who will listen to them. Are we really that isolated from each other these days?

At this point I should point out that there is a difference between hearing and listening (yes, I stole that from ‘Sounds of Silence’). Most people have no problem hearing someone else speak. But they will often want to jump in and make their own comment; suggest a simple solution that the speaker was clearly too stupid to think of for themselves, or worse still, start talking about their own problems. Ask the listener what the speaker said, and all you will get is a blank stare, or one or two unimportant details. This kind of ‘hearing’ isn’t very helpful.

Listening, on the other hand, means to actually pay attention, to be genuinely interested, to forget your own world for a little while and really enter into the mind and world of the speaker. This kind of listening is surprisingly rare in our society today. And more’s the pity.

We have little trouble losing ourselves in a good novel or an exciting movie, but when it comes to a real live flesh-and-blood person sitting in front of us – well, how can they compete? Especially if that real person happens to be someone close to you, like a member of your family. How could a family member possibly be interesting? Why should I waste my time listening to his/her drivel about some boring incident that happened at the supermarket?


That’s why.

Love means to go out of yourself, to escape the dingy little prison of the ego. I am an incredibly limited being, yet my sense of my own importance in the world is always greatly exaggerated. But love tells me that other people are important too. And interesting. How can anyone not be interested in other human beings? They are such amazing creatures! Even the dullest among them has some emotion, some paradox, some wisdom, some experience, some thought, some foible that can set off a whole line of contemplation and curiosity. Sometimes you agree with others, and other times you don’t, but both situations are really quite interesting. Why did I agree or disagree? Where does the right and wrong of the matter really lie?

But there is more to be gained from taking a genuine interest in others than just curiosity. There is connection. So many people today feel so isolated and alone, even though they live in the middle of a metropolis of millions. They meet thousands of people every day, on the roads, the footpaths, the shops, at work or school – and yet, they never really connect with any of them. Their dealings are superficial and efficient, but there is little warmth, little genuine interest in each other. And then, at the end of the day, they feel so lonely. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Take the time to stop and have a chat with someone today. Better still, get them talking, and then just sit there and really listen…

Fr Ant

Bush Fires of Love

The bushfires in Victoria over the past week or two have certainly shaken our country. It is hard not to be touched by these scenes of human tragedy in our own ‘backyard’.

We have seen images of charred homes on the news, weeping families and stubbornly resilient hope in people’s eyes. We have seen people’s lives destroyed and acts of heroic courage. We have seen a huge outpouring of support, in words and in donations, for the victims of the fires. We have seen acts of profound selflessness, evidence that there remain in our days people who genuinely care for others.

I received an email that contained this message:

“…a volunteer firefighter who spent three days fighting the fires, saving lives and homes, finally went to his own home for some badly-needed sleep. His house burnt down at 3.30 am while he was sleeping in it.”

I am reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus:

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Some may see this as a gross injustice. Why should a man who worked so hard to save others be treated in this shabby way by life? What had he done that he deserved to die?

But there is a bigger picture: the same words might have been said of Jesus Himself as He hung on the Cross.

When Love enters, Justice retires to the back of the room, for one far greater is present. Love is not about justice for oneself – it is about the giving of oneself. Often, to give in love means to surrender one’s rights willingly and happily.

I don’t know anything else about his firefighter, whether he was a good man or not, whether he loved God or went to Church. But I think his act of selfless giving to save others would not go unrewarded by God.

If nothing else, it is interesting to contemplate that we all must die, one day, somehow. Perhaps this way of dying gives meaning to his life, more than many other ways he might have died? And perhaps that makes his life a life worth living.

Selfless self-sacrifice has its own rewards, not just in eternity, but also here on earth. It means something to forget the self and to serve others, regardless of the cost. How many people are at this very moment stumbling through their day without a real purpose, living selfish lives without meaning?

Perhaps the fire-fighter’s sacrifice is to be celebrated; perhaps we should reserve some sadness for those who still walk on the earth but are dead inside.

Fr Ant


Life will always have its ups and downs, as I am quite sure you know by now. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the bit that comes before the famous verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. It reads:

Philippians 4:11-13
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.
Everywhere and in all things
I have learned both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

St Paul says a lot of things like that, and it always strikes me that that is the only way a human being can be truly invincible. When your treasure is in Heaven, no one can take it away from you, and no earthly troubles can take away your joy.

I find this to be one of the ways I can tell how sincere my faith in Christ is at any given time. If tribulations come along and I find myself disturbed by them and restless, it is a sure sign that there is something wrong in my relationship with God. It is a message for me to turn back to Him in abject repentance and implore Him for His mercy and forgiveness, and His aid in my weakness.

And yet, we need to distinguish between what is a purely human reaction to life and what is a spiritual state. As humans, our brains are made of cells and chemicals and electrical impulses, and sometimes these physical systems run ahead of our conscious, spiritual mind. Our reaction to pain is a case in point. A person can be totally and utterly convinced that the needle the doctor is about to poke into her skin is for her own good, and will not hurt that much, and yet, she may still flinch and sweat and feel her heart race at the sight of it.

Human brains can sometimes run off on their own into anxiety, or depression, or fear, or anger; all by themselves. So what is the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian? The Christian doesn’t suddenly become super-human and beyond human physical instincts and frailty. Even the Lord Christ Himself, when He became human, suffered this kind of reaction in the Garden of Gethsemane. That is what it means to be human.

But to be Christian means to subject the body to the spirit. In Gethsemane, after the weeping and pain came surrender and peace. For the Christian, after the internal battle with the flesh comes surrender to God’s will, and all that this surrender bestows. Love, Joy, Peace. The fruits of the Holy spirit (Galatians 5:22ff) are the gift of God to His children. These are fruits that are practical treasures – not treasures to be locked up in a safe and never seen, but treasures that transform our lives daily and bring fulfilment and contentment to us, we humans whose instincts and desires might never allow us to experience true contentment otherwise.

To follow in the path of Christ is to find this true contentment, in whatever state one is. “If you love Me,” He said, “You will keep My commandments”. Sinners and tax collectors who loved Him in humility and offered a genuine repentance found acceptance and forgiveness with Christ. Their lives were transformed and Love, Joy and Peace became their treasure. The Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees practiced a legalistic obedience to God, and yet were always willing to disobey Him in their hearts, seeking their own wills above God’s, trusting to their own wisdom rather than simply obeying the Truth of God. You will recall what Christ said to them…

True contentment is never found in one’s external situation, for that can never be perfect so long as we dwell on earth, nor should we expect it to be. Nor should we set our hopes on making our lives perfect in this world. No, true contentment comes from winning the battle of the ego within, from sincere surrender to God, unconditionally and totally. It begins inside, and works its way out to one’s external life.

It is the seed of Surrender that bears the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Ant

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

When does life begin?

Sure, it’s not one of your more pressing questions in life, but sooner or later, you’re likely to need an answer. The answer to this question will decide many other questions that for some people are crucial. Like…

Is it OK to have an abortion?
If we’re infertile, is it OK to use IVF (test tube babies)?
Should we allow stem cell research?

And there are many more. These may sound like matters far removed from our daily lives, but in fact, like climate change, they threaten to creep up on us slowly and change the whole nature of our existence. A bit far fetched, you say? Consider the following scenario (by the way, I have nothing at all against Bill Gates – he just springs to mind so easily as the prototypical rich person).


The year is 2030. At an isolated ranch in the desert of California, a man in a white coat unlocks a heavily armoured door. Balancing a tray stacked with basic foods, he pushes his way into the sparse room and nudges the door closed again behind him. Not that it really matters, for the six inhabitants of this room have never left it in their whole lives. They came here as soon as they were able to walk, and here they have stayed for the last 15 years. Their skin is very pale, in spite of the special lamps designed to mimic the radiation of natural sunlight. Apart from that, you wouldn’t think twice if you passed them on the street. They look perfectly normal as they sit / lie on the ground / stand around the room. But the moment they spot the man in the white coat with the tray, they spring into action. There is no aggression in their behaviour, just hunger. Like so many pigs shoving each other to the trough, they descend upon the man until the tray is empty, then they retire with satisfied grunts to their corners to enjoy thier meal. They do not talk. They do not acknowledge the man. They do not thank him, or cry out to him to save them from their prison. To them, this room is the world – all the world they have ever known. And now finally, it suddenly dawns upon you what’s really wrong with this scene. All six of these boys look exactly the same. Not just similar … exactly the same. Exactly the same, in fact, as a young Bill Gates…


It is now possible to clone human beings. In the near future, a wealthy person may be able to clone himself, produce half dozen replicas, and just keep them alive. No education, no affection, no life – just keep them alive. Why? So that when he grows old and sick, he has a sure supply of compatible donor organs and blood at his service. The sort of health insurance you can’t buy – until now.

It’s a horrific scenario, but the scary thing is that it is possible, today. Scientists have already cloned a variety of creatures, starting with the celebrity Dolly the sheep. So far the only publicly announced clones, such as those claimed by South Korean Hwang Woo-Suk, have truned out to be frauds. But the day is near when the real thing will stare us in the face.

And our lives will change. For example, would it be wrong to clone a person in order to save their life by thus producing an essential organ? What if we clone a person and let the zygote grow to only three weeks old when it is just a bundle of cells, and then we skim off some cells for research every week so that the zygote never grows beyond the three week stage? Would that be alright?

These technical advances need a response, for they are changing the way we think about what it means to be a human being. In our rationalistic society, already many see a human being as nothing more than an advanced animal, merely a complicated biological machine. The soul, they say, is an illusion, it does not exist. Our ‘personhood’ is nothing more than the result of brain cells firing in a certain pattern. With this attitude, there’s nothing wrong with the scenarios I described above. What we do to animals we have the right ot do to human animals.

It is already among us. People who are pro-abortion by and large do not consider a human foetus as being a human being. That’s why they claim the right of the mother to kill it. What can we say about a society that pulls so many of its children apart, ripping them from their mothers’ wombs in little pieces?

This is disturbing stuff, but sooner or later, we are going to have make up our minds. And we as Christians will need to be ready to speak up.

Fr Ant

Criticism of the Criticism of my Criticism of Criticism

Thanks to Romani and Tony for their thoughts (see ‘comments’ on the previous blog).

Of course you are both right in pointing out that there are situations in life where one needs to take a stand and say or do something. Examples that spring to mind might be if I were a German living in Germany in the early 1940’s, watching my Jewish neighbours disappear mysteriously one by one. Another example might be the kinds of subtle and blatant religious persecution going on in Egypt and Sudan and many other places at the moment. In cases of injustice, of the oppression of the poor, neglect of the needy … yes we should definitely not shirk our moral duty to do something.

Even in these situations, where one is morally justified in being criticial, the sins of judgement and pride are never far away. How many people have set out to right a wrong only to end up becoming a wrong themselves? I think there are certain rules one can follow that minimise the dangers of this happening. Please pardon the excessive use of cliches.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.

Or as Romani sportingly puts it – play the ball, not the player. Stick to the issue and don’t attack the person. Personal attacks have the very unfortunate side effect of forcing a comparison between the attacker and the attacked, and such comparisons are never good for anyone. They only lead to a sense of self-justification and pride and superiority complexes. If on the other we just stick to the actual issues at hand, there is a far greater chance of ending up with a good outcome. Besides this, personal attacks hardly ever work. Very few people really change anything because someone just told them to.

But for the Grace of God, there Go I…

Even if you do no share the sins you see in others, do not think that’s because you are a specially holy person! If not for God’s protection and care, that could very easily have been you making that mess. If you had lived the life that other person has lived, might you not have done even worse? What is scarier is that today you may be the judge, but tomorrow you may be the criminal yourself. History is replete with examples of normal, good people who, through circumstances, ended up doign abnormally horrible things. Can you really guarantee that will never be you? The Prize winning novel “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding is a chilling reminder that just beneath our civilised surface lies a wild animal straining to be set free to wreak its havoc. Recommended reading for those who think they are above the sins of others.

Only Poke Your Nose Into Where It Is Warranted

None of us have been appointed sole and sagacious guardians of good for all humanity. We are given responsibility for certain, proscribed areas – parents are responsible for their children; teachers are responsible for their pupils; policemen are responsible for their beats. Within that area of responsiblility, of course you must be proactive in dealing with wrongs and teaching what is right to your charges – it would a sin to neglect that responsibility. But if you notice something wrong that is not within your area of responsibility, it is often wrong and also damaging for you to take it upon yourself to fix it. Just try disciplining someone else’s child and see what I mean! The best course of action in these situations, I think, is to pass on your concerns to the person who is responsible, and leave them to deal with it. I think that’s what we would all like people to do to us, so we should accord the same respect to others. Of course there will be situations where a certain degree of ‘follow-up’ or lobbying is required, but as a general rule, overstepping one’s boundaries does no one any good.

That said, my previous blog was not really considering these kinds of situations as much as looking at the more common situation where one is tempted to be critical of others in a more general sense: things like ciriticising other drivers on the road, or the way your wife folds the washing, or the person on the news who got themselves into terrible credit card debt – that sort of thing.

Here, I think there is a very important distinction to be made between Judging on the one hand and Discernment on the other. In my definition, for the purposes of this discussion, Discernment is where you recognise the difference between right and wrong, simply and objectively, and it pretty much stops there. Judgement takes it one step further and adds a layer of subjective reaction. Generally this takes the form of classifying the person at fault (“What an idiot!”) or comparing oneself favorably aginst the offender (“I’d certainly never be that silly”).

We have to discern – otherwise, ignorantly confusing good with evil, we would fall into many sins: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20) . But we also have to avoid judging others, setting ourselves above them and seeing ourselves as superior to them: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:4) Judgement belongs to God and to God alone. We really don’t want to get into a demarcation dispute with Him!

So long as we stick to the purely objective Discernment, we will be reasonably safe, spiritually speaking. Add to Discernment a healthy dose of humility and compassion, and you’ve got a pretty good system going!

Fr Ant

Fault Finding and Fallibility

Hypothesis #1: We tend to notice most those faults in others from which we ourselves suffer.

This thought first struck me in High School, when a teacher pointed out that when you point the finger at someone else, you are simultaneously pointing your other three fingers at yourself (try it now if you don’t believe me. Just be careful who you pointing at, though). The message being, of course, that I am likely to be three times as guilty as the person I criticise, but am blissfully unaware of the fact. Oddly enough, I have found this principle to run pretty true, for myself at least. Yes, I am most frustrated by people who cut me off in the middle of a sentence. It really bugs me. Then one day I noticed that I do it all the time. Hmmm. Then I began noticing the principle in action in others. Being a priest, I get to hear people complain about lots of things. Such as, “I can’t believe how my wife goes around complaining about me to everyone!” Or this beauty: “I’m not wasting my time with Bill anymore and I’m not going to lower myself to his level. He’s impatient, and he’s a snob”. Yep. Even the best of us do it. Which brings me to another lesson I’ve learned:

Hypothesis #2: No one is infallible (with apologies to Roman Catholic readers )

I used to think otherwise. I clearly recall a sort of yearning, an innocent childhood fantasy that one day I would meet someone who was perfect. I don’t mean Miss Right, I mean someone on whom I could model my own personality, an ideal character, one who knew the right thing to say and do in every situation and always acted with sagacity and grace. Needless to say, potential candidates sooner or later disqualified themselves by revealing the selfish / cruel / stupid side of their nature. I still recall the deep and coldly bitter pain of these disappointments. Eventually of course I realised, as we all do, that no one is in fact perfect.

Then there was the period where I was going to be the first one to attain perfection. After all, I had the blueprint for perfection in my head, right? I knew how a perfect person should act. How hard could it really be? Those guys just didn’t try hard enough, or didn’t know enough. Well, I’m still trying, but I have to tell you that the older I get, the further I feel from perfection. And the more I fail, the more regard I feel for those fallen heroes of my youth who did, after all, quite a lot better than I have ended up doing, personality-wise. Maybe I was wrong to criticise them in my disappointment?

Hypothesis #3: People who are less critical of others tend to be a bit happier in life than people who are very critical of others.

Then again I sometimes wonder if I wasn’t wasting my time searching for the perfect person. Better to just do my best with what I’ve got and enjoy life. Again, experience would seem to bear this out. If you can keep your smile when all around you are angry, then you’re probably not critical. There are people who prove the adage “ignorance is bliss” daily by going about their affairs peacefully, apparently blind to the faults of others. It’s not that they can’t see those faults, mind you. More that they choose not to let them bother them.

Sometimes I have suffered from the delusion that as soon as I point out to this other person their fault, they will immediately raise a finger in the air and declare, “Why that’s it! That’s the very thing that has been making my life miserable all these years. How could I have missed it? And thank you, O thank you so much for pointing it out to me! I am eternally in your debt!” Needless to say, this has never happened to me in real life. So why waste my time, my breath and my blood pressure?

Of course, this principle has its limits. A bit of healthy criticism might well be well placed for a thug who’s mugging a little old lady as you walk by. Perhaps, one may even be justified in giving one’s criticisms a somewhat physical expression by way of intervening. But by and large, most people’s failings really have very little effect on me or on anyone else. If anything, it is the failings-owner him/herself that suffers most from their own failings, which is no business of mine. So why bother? Why get myself tied up in knots over something I can’t change anyway?

Hypothesis #4: Those who are most critical of others tend to be those who are least accepting of criticism, and contrariwise.

I think of this as a sort of litmus test for how critical a person is. Tell a person they are too critical of others, sit back, and watch their reaction. If they start criticising you for criticising them, that sort of proves your case. If they sit back and carefully consider if you are right, you can probably jump in and apologise for saying something about them that is so obviously not the case. It’s not foolproof, but it illustrates this hypothesis. Being overly critical is a kind of self-perpetuating condition. The one who suffers from it maintains their mindset by excessively criticising anyone who criticises their excessive criticism.

Or am I being too critical?

Fr Ant

Musical Mayhem???

Our Church has a new band.

The musical variety, I mean. Complete with guitars (acoustic and electrical), drums, keyboard and a group of vocalists with angelic voices. All made up from our youth.

I got to hear them play (or ‘jam’, as they preferred to call it) last Sunday, and I was stunned. Not only did the songs sound great (they did Shout to the Lord and another one I haven’t heard before), but the teamwork and cooperation involved and the practice and effort they had clearly put in were quite impressive. “This,” I thought to myself, “is a beautiful icon of what it means to be in harmony with one’s brothers and sisters.”

The style of music they play is of course, quite western. Rather ‘rock’ in fact. I wonder how the rest of our parish community will relate to this new development? No doubt there are those with more conservative tastes in music who will find this style a bit too loud and too energetic to strike a spiritual chord with them, and that is fine. Our youth have often expressed the fact that they find middle eastern hymns too slow and too quiet to move their impatient young souls! It is nice that we can offer a varied menu in Church so that everyone can find something to suit their spiritual palate.

But I wonder if anyone will be downright offended by this new musical style. Here are some of the responses I fully expect to hear in coming weeks and months:

A. “Rock music is satanic. Any music with a beat, or worse, with a drum beat, is evil.”

B. “This is not our tradition.”

C. “This is Protestant music.”

D. “We don’t want to become Hillsong.”

E. “This will make the youth think Church is giving them permission to listen to horrible worldly music on the radio.”

F. “What is our Church coming to???”

Hmmmm. I’d better contemplate these questions, which I have no doubt will flow from some very sincere and genuine hearts, so I can be sure they don’t have a point. Mind if I share my machinations with you? Perhaps you can also give me some feedback.

A. “Rock music is satanic. Any music with a beat, or worse, with a drum beat, is evil.”

This objection is based, I suppose, on the fairly valid physiological finding that our bodies do enjoy synchronising with an external rhythm. You experience this when you hear a snazzy tune and your foot starts to tap in time with it. Or perhaps when you watch a troop marching and feel like getting up and joining in their apparently perfect regularity. Of course, dancing, modern and ancient, also depend a lot on this rhythm.

But I cannot see that rhythm is in and of itself in any way evil. In fact, music that does not possess rhythm is usually quite unacceptable to our ears. Classical music has rhythm. Middle Eastern Church hymns have rhythm. Liturgical responses have rhythm (often set by the triangle and cymbals). Tasbeha Praises are boiling over with rhythm. One of them, in fact, the First Hoas, uses rhythm to powerfully evoke a sense of marching along with the children of Israel as Moses led them through the Red Sea and out of Egypt. It is a true ‘marching song’. Does this therefore make them evil, because they have the power to draw attention to themselves and engross us, perhaps even hypnotise us with their beat? I don’t know anyone who would say that.

Surely then, it is the lyrics of the song, the intent of the composer and the intent of the singer that makes a song of good or evil effect? There are love songs on the pop charts that become the most beautiful prayers of love for God if you just replace the guy/girl the composer intended with God, and direct the words to Him. Of course there are others that a lost cause however hard you try to ‘baptise’ them.

In our African Coptic Churches every Sunday, there are drums being played along with the traditional cymbals and triangles. That is their culture, and they do not feel that a song is complete if it does not have a drum accompaniment. The worshippers sway from side to side gently as they sing the liturgical responses; try and stop them! It’s part of the expression of their joy in praising God. Like David the Prophet, they are ‘dancing to the Lord’. And why would you want to stop them? It’s quite moving to watch and inspiring to take part in.

Now we are not talking here about introducing our band into the liturgy – God forbid! Our beautiful ancient rites are of a totally different nature and serve a totally different purpose. Where there is joy in the liturgy, it is of the more solemn type, suitable for being in the direct physical presence of the Creator of worlds whose real Body and Blood rest upon the altar. But when we are outside the solemnities of the liturgy (or any other traditional Coptic rite for that matter), surely there is a degree of freedom to use whatever musical style speaks most effectively to our hearts? The one does not cancel out the other, but the same person can enjoy both, deeply and fully, in the different situations and environments.

Perhaps that’s enough deep thought for one day. I might leave the other points for future blogs. But please, do let me know if you agree or disagree with my thoughts, either by leaving a comment below, or if you prefer, by personal email to frantonios@

Fr Ant