Love, Love, Love

“All you need is love.”

Thus sang the Beatles in one of their chart toppers (that incidentally also brought in a whole lot of money that they didn’t really need). “Love, love, love.” A beautiful sentiment; fill the world with love. But which love? What were they really after? Did they fill the world with love? No doubt this song had a lovely effect on millions who heard it, but there is also no doubt that everyone interprets that word, ‘love’, in their own idiosyncratic way.

For one person, love is a deep romance with the girl who sits two rows down on the train every morning (to whom, by the way, he has never yet had the courage to speak). For another, love is the suffocating, controlling, manipulating power over her only daughter so that her daughter can ‘have everything I never had’ (translation: fulfil MY needs). For a third, love is that vague and general sense of goodwill towards the human race, although “I can’t stand that annoying old hag in the canteen who insists on smiling and showing everyone her crooked yellow teeth” (Linus in Peanuts: “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand!”)

All you need is love.

I think this idea needs some qualification. Who do I love, in what way, and why? Most of us could honestly and immediately list those close to us as people we genuinely love. Parents, children, spouse, siblings (yes, even those) – perhaps we might add extended family, close friends, colleagues in study or work. If blessed with a nice neighbourhood, we might add the neighbours we often see through the week and stop to chat to. Our fellows at Church.

How real is this love? How strong? What type of love?

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

How many people would I really be willing to give my life for? Would I do it for a complete stranger? Would I do it for an enemy? Would the Beatles do it for anyone? Yet this is the astonishing, awful standard that Jesus set for His followers; “…lay down one’s life for his friends…” And He took it further by calling His enemies (sinful humanity) His friends, and then proceeding to lay down His life, horribly, for the very people who violently wrenched it from Him.
And thus He won them.

Love is very powerful, when practiced the right way. It goes against the intuition, it goes against our instincts, but there can be no doubt that genuine, unselfish, willing love is the one and only invincible power in this world. And I do not mean only power on the large scale, as in the love that conquered the world peacefully through the Christian religion. I am speaking on the day to day individual level for each human being. Everyone genuinely dedicated to divine, unselfish love and living it out unreservedly is, in the long run, victorious over all other forces. And in the short term, they have the added bonus of peace and joy that no one can take from them.

Start the day with love.
End the day with love.
Fill the day with love.

Thus read the sign at a place I worked once. It is very good advice. Instead of awaking with a growl and a grumble, and being obnoxious to everyone until morning tea time, imagine if you awoke with love in your heart. Imagine waking to the joy of a new day gifted to you by a wildly generous Creator who has decorated it with flowers and twittering birds and bright sunshine on glistening green gardens. Imagine spreading that joy with those who are close to you through a smile and a hug and words of happiness that are infectious.

Instead of collapsing in a heap into bed at the end of the day, imagine taking the time and putting forth the effort to remind those you love that you love them, to offer them, more than words, some simple act of kindness, some small gesture that shows them practically what they mean to you; perhaps to turn on their electric blanket for them unasked so that they are pleasantly surprised when they gingerly crawl into bed expecting coldness, or to complete a household task for them so that they don’t have to do it tonight.

Imagine going through today with others in your mind. Thinking about their needs and acting in kindness towards them. Imagine that thoughtful kindness one day becoming a habit, a part of you, no longer something you must consciously choose to do, but rather something that springs forth from you naturally without conscious intention.

Love, love, love.

Yeah, yeah, George. That’s all very good; but which love do you mean?

Fr Ant


The recent episode in a Sydney Art Gallery opened up a lot of wounds. Talented photographer Bill Henson had half his exhibit confiscated by police and found himself arrested and charged with producing child pornography. The offending material was a series of semi-nude photographs of a young girl, just on the verge of puberty.

“Philistines!” was the predictable outcry from the trendy arts community. “It’s Stalin and Mao all over again! Are we becoming a police state? What about freedom of expression? No one can tell us what we can and can’t do in the name of art! You cannot muzzle free expression in art!” They pointed to the subtle and beguiling beauty of Henson’s work, and there is no doubt that the censored examples of his photos shown in the general media do indeed possess great artistic merit.

Interesting that Henson shares his surname with the creator of the Muppets, Jim Henson. You remember them? They first became famous through the ubiquitous Sesame Street children’s programme, and then graduated to their own prime time variety show, lead by Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and a host of cute characters. The Muppets epitomised the guileless innocence of childhood. Much of their wholesome humour stemmed from the fact that they behaved like children wandering through an adult world, represented by their guest celebrities. Today’s Bill Henson has also addressed the innocence of youth through his images, but he has stripped it bare, he has vulgarised it. He has focused on the physical body, as if it were the core and centre of a person’s being, when in fact it should be the least important aspect of our existence.

It is a sign of the times. We live in an age where children are no longer allowed to be children, and where that sweet stage of innocence is snatched from them far too early. Even children’s cartoons contain sexual innuendos. The Australian answer to Sesame Street, the venerable Play School, had its own controversy not long ago when they decided to replace the traditional male and female hosts with two females for a few episodes. “Families are changing,” the producers explained, “and we must cater for all forms of family, including same sex couples.” Play School is a show for pre-schoolers: has the world gone mad???

More interesting still was the breaking of a story shortly after the Bill Henson incident that involved international arrests of men involved in child pornography. As of today, 90 men have been arrested in Australia, and more are expected to follow. They were tracked through their downloading of horrible pictures of child abuse from a European website. Those arrested included a policeman and chillingly, a number of teachers. The timing could hardly have been more significant. No one complained about those arrests. The arts community did not come out in support. There were no cries of “Philistines!” or “Freedom of expression!”

What’s the difference? Henson supporters would point out that his pictures were taken with the consent of the girl and her parents. They tell us that nudity doesn’t have to be sexual, and that these photos were not intended to be sexual, whereas the child porn definitely is. But they miss the point. In today’s world, with the media’s obsession with sex, nudity has become sexual. Pornography that is done very artistically is still pornography. Perhaps I’m wrong, but that is the only difference I see between Henson’s work and the web porn – one is very artistic and subtle, the other is coarse and crass, but they both mean the same thing: the exploitation of children, the feeding of the culture of obsession with sex and the children being robbed of their innocence.

Are we descending into an age of decadence? There are strong parallels between our times and those of the decline of the civilisations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome. The ancient Greeks were pioneers of art, their works much admired by all some two and a half millennia later. Poetry and theatre, mythology and paintings and sculpture. And yet, the ancient Greeks are also known for having adopted the practice of “boy love”, not in the innocent sense, but in the sense of an adult man engaging in sexual relations with young boys. And the Romans became famous for their decadence, indulging in orgies that dulled their consciences and destroyed their values until they had little strength or will to repel the invading Barbarians.

Consider the trends of the past 50 or so years. First divorce and de facto relationships became more accepted. Then it was the sexual revolution caused by the contraceptive pill, and the number of sexual partners people had sky rocketed. Sexual references, once restricted to late night TV shows, have gradually crept earlier and earlier on our evening televisions until now the can be seen by children around the dinner table. Then there is the emergence of homosexuality out of the closet and into our laws, workplaces and culture.

Is paedophilia the next corruption of God’s beautiful creation to become accepted in our society? I fear that work like Henson’s is just one more little step in that direction, a step to develop tolerance in the community to child nakedness.

May God have mercy on our world, and on the children of the future …

Fr Ant

The Dragon Who Changed

“He just drives me crazy! When is he going to wake up to himself?!”

Unfortunately, priests hear words like these on an all too regular basis. There is a lovely little story His Holiness Pope Shenouda tells of a man who came to him to confess (before he was Pope). The man launches in to a lecture about So-and-so and all the horrible things he has done, how he is a very bad person, and how frustrated and angry he has made him. HH listens patiently, and at the end, the confessor asks HH to pray the absolution for him. “Sorry,” HH replies, “I can’t do that. You haven’t confessed any of your sins for me to absolve. But if you would like to bring So-and-so, I will happily pray the absolution for him, since you have confessed all his sins for him!”

I always wonder how it is that people maintain such an optimistic hope that they will be able to change other people. Why else would you waste your time or your breath complaining? Wives believe, day after day, that if only they continue to complain about the messy sink, one day, their husbands will suddenly stop in their tracks and say, “Gosh, you’re right! How thoughtless of me! I’ll just turn this dial here in my side to the NEAT setting, and from now on I will always immediately wash up after myself.” And the wife will reply, “Thank you dear. I knew that nagging for thirty-five years would do the job.”

It just doesn’t work that way.

Here’s the deal: there is only one person that can change an annoying, frustrating, difficult person for the better: Himself or herself.

I can’t say it with 100% certainty, but I am pretty sure on this point. I have seen hundreds of people try to change their loved ones, with a pretty solid failure rate. Just think about it from the other side of the equation – has anyone managed to change you simply by complaining about you? What’s your first reaction when someone points out your failings? Is it “Oh gee, I am so glad you pointed that out to me! What a silly duffer I’ve been.”? Or is it more like, “Oh yeah, well what about you, hey? You do this that and the other. How dare you criticise me?!”

No, for most of the human race, we do not react well to criticism. What is needed is insight, liberally sprinkled with good old fashioned humilityand topped with a hearty dose of grace.

The insight is the ability to honestly recognise when we have been a pain to others. Some people are over sensitive in this area. They will read even the slightest little facial expression as implying displeasure and respond with copious apologies and offers to make it up again. But then there are others who have hides like a rhinocerus – they don’t get it even if you shout it in their faces.

Having recognised and understood the problem, one finds it extremely difficult to actually do something about it. We behave the way we do often because that is how we are comfortable. To change one’s behaviour, to alter a habit, is no easy task. It requires oodles of humility just to admit that change is needed, and to put the needs of others before one’s own needs. Yes, my family’s need to live in their own home without wearing gas masks should come before my own need not to walk three meters to the washing basket to dispose of my smelly socks. It takes humility to think that way.

And having decided to make the change, one sometimes meets with an impenetrable barrier of inertia. It is so hard to change!

I feel like giving up.
I’ve tried everything without success.
His standards are just too high.
Why can’t she accept me the way I am?
I feel there is no hope.
I am getting so tired of this.

Sound familiar? These are the words of one who tries to change all on their own. It usually fails. This is where the grace of God comes in. He is able to do that which we cannot…

“My grace is sufficient for you,
For My strength is made perfect in weakness” – 2Corinthians 12:9

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” – Phillipians 4:13

“Do not rejoice over me, my enemy,
For when I fall, I shall surely rise,
When I sit in darkness,
The Lord shall be a light to me.” Micah 7:8

Change is never easy. In CS Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he has the detestable Edmund transform into a dragon because of his selfishness and greed. Eventually, the Christ figure, Aslan the Lion, meets him by a pool and asks him if he would like to be a human again. Of course, by this stage, Edmund is so lonely and miserable that he has finally understood what a monster he’d been to his friends, so he agrees. All he has to do, he is told, is to take off his dragon skin. Happily, he peels it off, much like a snake shedding an old skin, only to find another dragon skin underneath. This too he sheds, and another, and another of the seemingly endless layers of dragon that enfold him. Finally, Aslan asks if he would like some help, which he accepts. But much to his consternation, the Lion digs His claws deep, deep into Edmund’s flesh and rips… In agony, Edmund cries out, but it is soon over, and he looks down upon himself to find himself wonderfully human once more.

God is more than willing to help me with the difficult changes in myself that I need to carry out. But first, I have to recognise and humbly acknowledge the trouble I cause to others. It is only then, when I come before Him in genuine humility, seeking His grace, and willing to accept the consequences, that I can truly change.

The choice is mine … no one else’s.

Fr Ant

Looking Forward to Going Back to the Future

I can’t believe it! It has finally happened. A dream has come true: the ancient and venerable Coptic Orthodox Tradition has at last met another of my loves, Science Fiction! I’m talking of course, about the brilliantly produced and exquisitely acted Back to The Future: Coptic Version currently showing on Youtube and produced by our own band of merry men.

I loved the remote controlled Church. No more straining to reach those wall-clingers with the Holy Water at the end of the liturgy! But I did miss the interactive screen embedded in the mangaleya – we’re endlessly searching for missing Katameros Books (Readings for the liturgy) and Synaxarium Books.

But seriously, what IS likely to face our Church in the decades to come? There is an old saying that to be forewarned is to be forearmed, or in other words, if we can guess what we’re in for, we can prepare for it. Well, here are three of what I see as the major challenges we as a Church in Sydney are likely to face between now and 2038 AD…


The trend towards atheism is nothing new in Western society; it has been slowly growing ever since the rebellious days of the Renaissance when everything was called into question. What is new is that atheism has now reached a stage where it is set to become the majority view in Western society. Already, in many universities and TAFEs Christians are marginalised and made fun of because of their faith. But authors such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Sam Harris (The End of Faith) have brought their ‘gospel’ right into the mainstream media.
What I fear is that the God-free mindset is becoming more and more embedded in popular culture. It is becoming the ‘default’ foundation upon which to build the stories that influence our lives in movies, TV, books and so on. For example, I recently heard a Professor of Philosophy discussing the philosophy behind the hit TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He pointed out that the creator of the series is an avowed atheist. Not surprisingly, it is human beings who defeat the powers of darkness by their own efforts, while any religious characters in the plot are portrayed as weak and irrelevant. In fact, contrary to the long tradition of vampire stories, the vampires in this series do not care about crucifixes or holy water! These are subtle points, but they are all the more dangerous for their subtlety.


The first generation of Copts to come to Australia were highly motivated and fiercly driven to succeed. If they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t have had the initiative to leave their homeland for a new and strange country.
The second generation of Copts in Australia have grown up guided by this strong motivation from their parents to work hard and do well in life, whether spiritual or material. They have seen how hard their parents had to struggle to carve out a life for themselves, but they have had it a lot easier than their parents. They have grown up with English as their first language. have gone to school in Australia, and have had the benefit of a wider social network to help them through life.
We are beginning only now to see the third generation of Australian Copts as they grow up and approach maturity. Of the three generations, perhaps they will have life easiest of all. They will have the benefit of parents who are already reasonably comfortable in life, who will provide them with many comforts they will take for granted. What effect will this have on their personalities? How will it affect their spirituality? Will they be willing to put in the effort to stand for a two hour liturgy to enter into the depths of the presence of God, or will they demand an abbreviated 15 minute version because that’s all their media-shrunken attention spans can cope with?
It is well known that material wealth makes it harder to be spiritually strong. Our Lord Jesus Himself warned us that it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to enter through the eye of the needle. How will this privileged generation fare? And what can we do to build their personalities strong so that they do not miss out spiritually?


Western society has been through the sexual revolution of the sixties, when the pill separated sexual activity from having children. Over the ensuing decades, a new morality seems to have become accepted, one in which pre-marital sex, adultery, pornography and divorce are all pretty standard and acceptable. So far, active members of Christian Churches have been fairly insulated from these changes, but many of them are now cracking and giving in. Not long ago, an Anglican bishop was heavily criticised for daring to suggest that couples should not live together before getting married.
Fortunately, the Coptic Church will not be alone on this one, as the other Orthodox denominations and the Catholic Church are still holding on to their Bible principles pretty strongly too. But what will happen as society becomes less and less Christian, and we find our congregation becoming increasingly isolated in their morality? How can we keep our future generations strongly devoted to living true Biblical Christianity, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks?

What do you think? You may or may not agree with my guesses. Perhaps you see something else as being a major issue? Please share your thoughts (write a comment, below) so we can all get thinking about it, praying about it and prepared!

By the way, if you would like a glimpse into the future of our Church, take a peek at:

Part 1 –

Part 2 –

Judging by these fine examples of Coptic youth, our Church is in good hands … I think …

Fr Ant

The Challenge of Change

Change dominates our lives. I wonder sometimes if it was always so, or whether we happen to live in an age in which change has particularly accelerated? More likely, the latter.

As a child, water was never in your thoughts – it was something to be used when needed, and wasted happily – how could we ever run out of water??? There was no need to worry about switching off unused lights. It was cheap, and it didn’t do anyone any harm. Big cars were all the rage, never mind the amount of petrol you burned up, or the tons of fumes you spouted out – the earth was big enough to deal with them. No need to lock your doors or close your windows when you went out. Toys and bicycles left on the front lawn for days would still be there when you needed them. And you could pick up a hitch hiker by the road without fear for your life. Kids roamed the suburban streets alone, played in public parks and went to public toilets on their own.

It sounds like another planet.

Today, out lives are taken up far more with technology, which makes wonder too. Technology is a good thing to have, but when you have something, do you really have to use it? Just because it’s there? Someone was joking recently about being addicted to their navigator. Sure, it’s a novelty at first, and then the convenience of it makes it quite useful, but at what price? What price do we pay for our technology addictions?

1. The brain loses skills. Why work out a sum in your head when a calculator can do it for you?
2. The body loses health. Why walk when you can hop in a car to get there?
3. The spirit loses life. Why think of the unseen world when there is so much to interest you in the seen one?

That is certainly a change I have noticed over the years, not least in myself. It can take quite a degree of will power to say, “Stop! I know the technology can do it faster / cheaper / easier, but it isn’t just a matter of getting it done. It’s also a matter of doing. And it is in the doing that I as a human being grow and develop, whether in mind, body or spirit.

I recall HH Pope Shenouda III commenting once on the criticism that today’s Coptic monks live a life of luxury compared to the days of the ancient desert Fathers. Today, they have a nice bed in their cells, a sink with running water (hot and cold). glass windows, and so on.

His response was, yes, that’s true, for this is the way of life from which they have come. But that doesn’t stop the individual monk from choosing to live an ascetic life. He can fill up one jug of water in the morning and make that his ration for the whole day, just as an ancient Father would fill up his jug from the spring in the morning and have to make do with it for the whole day. He can desert his bed and sleep on the floor. He can leave his windows open.

Our life isn’t only the environment we live in, but what we make of that environment, how we use it. Yes, our environment has changed. It has become more crowded, more insecure, more complicated. But that doesn’t mean that our lives have to follow the same trend.

Think about it…


Fr Ant

The Blog in Your Own Eye

How hard can it be, really?

As a priest, I often hear people complaining about others. For a multitude of motives, people will come to complain to Abouna, perhaps because he is ‘in charge’ at Church, or perhaps because they think he will fix the person up, or perhaps (I hope not) because they think it will benefit them somehow to tarnish the reputation of their enemy in Abouna’s eyes.

Before I go further, I should probably point out that it doesn’t work, just in case you’ve ever been tempted to think it might be fun. Priests in general do not hold a ‘bad idea’ about anyone. We tend to take the view that all of us, (including the priests) are sinners grappling with their own weaknesses and all equally in need of God’s mercy and grace.

But I wonder why some people do so enjoy picking out other people’s faults? We all do it. It’s an easy trap to fall into. But why do we do it?

Does it make the critic feel superior, perhaps?

Or perhaps it makes him feel better about himself: if you can’t rise to the level of others, the next best thing is to bring them down to your own level.

Does it make him feel intelligent, something like: “Oooh, aren’t I clever for picking that up, when the person I’m criticising clearly has no idea!”

Or is it a sort of passive way to get back at someone. You know you can’t punch them in the face, so you fantasise about condemning them.

Does it distract him from the painful subject of his own faults?

I think I would be very unhappy if my self-esteem depended on putting others down. How miserable! And what a waste of time! Surely my self-value is not relative? Whether I am a good person or a bad person depends on who I am, not on how bad others are. If all around me were evil, horrible people, and I was no worse than a simple liar, that doesn’t make me a saint, simply by comparison!

The danger in finding lots of specks in other eyes, of course, is that I might never focus on the log in my own eye. This has two rather undesirable consequences:

1. I will never be able to repent from my sins, for I will never become aware they even exist.

2. When the time comes for me to be judged by the real Judge, He will apply the same degree of mercy to me that I applied to others. Uh-oh…

Now I am getting worried. I’ve been writing a lot of opinions on this Blog. Sometimes, they have been quite critical. Have I been focusing on the specks in the eyes of others, while all the time neglecting the blog in my own eye?

Fr Ant

PS A person whose vision is obstructed by a log is unlikely to have the ability to see something as small as a speck anyway. Think about it….

The Muslim Menace!

Muslims are invading our land!

Not content with persecuting Christians in their own lands, they are moving into countries like Australia and slowly taking over. Every Muslim is in on this evil plan. They have a multitude of strategies: building mosques everywhere, marrying Christian girls, training terrorists in Muslim schools, forcing Prayer Rooms to be provided in public places, insisting on praying five times a day, wearing the veil … where will it stop?

Beware of any Muslim you meet – they cannot be trusted! They are sneaky by nature. They don’t have loving families like we do – they just have children to populate the world with Muslims and to send them off to become suicide bombers.


Does the above worry you? I confess it worries me greatly. Those words are the kinds of words I hear occasionally from people, both Coptic and non-Coptic. The thing that worries me most about them is that they are not Truth. As Christians, as followers of Christ who called Himself “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, we should be concerned with the truth above all else.

Now it is undoubtedly true that there are Muslims who are fanatical in their approach to their religion. Not in a nice way, that would make them pious and ascetic and full of works of charity (yes, giving to the poor is often commanded in the Quran), but fanatical in a way that says, “We are superior to everyone else and everyone else must submit to us”. Of course they don’t say it that way to themselves. To themselves, they say, “Our religion is superior to all others, and therefore everyone in the world must submit to Allah of Islam”.

Strange that they should take the foundational name of their religion, “Islam” and twist it so. It was meant to refer to a willing and free choice of the person to submit himself to an All-Powerful God. Instead, the fanatics twist it to mean forcing people to submit to God through submitting to them, here and now, politically rather than spiritually. That’s the fanatical fringe that gives Islam a very bad name. But they are only a minority.

Yes, it is very disappointing to see that often Muslim leaders do not stand up to this fringe and set them straight. For example, when 9/11 occured, I was incredibly disappointed that for a long time, no significant Muslim leader came out and publicly stated that this was an abomination and a disgrace to any religion. Instead, we heard Muslim leaders trying to change the subject and ask, yes, but why did the terrorists do this? Solve the problems of Palestine and you wouldn’t have 9/11s. Of course, this is ridiculous. It’s like saying to someone whose father has just been murdered by an irate neighbour (as was recently in the news) “Well if your father hadn’t expressed his opinion he’d be alive now – don’t blame the murderer!”

Put it another way: if Copts committed some horrible act of terrorism, what do you think Pope Shenouda and all the Coptic leaders would say? I’m pretty sure (going on past precedent) that His Holiness would immediately come out and condemn the violence, perhaps even excommunicate those who practice it or condone it. He would make it very clear that such violence has no place whatsoever in the life of a genuine Christian. I wish the Muslim leaders would do the same, and to be fair, they have moved a little in that direction in recent years, though not nearly enough, I suspect.

And yet, I fear that Christians have nothing to feel superior about here. The History of Christianity itself is strewn with horrible and vioolent acts, all perpetrated int he name of religion. Think of the Crusaders, the Byzantine army in Egypt after Chalcedon, Ireland of the 1970’s … Today we see clearly that this sort of behaviour is totally incompatible with authentic Christianity, yet the ‘Christians’ who performed those awful atrocities managed to twist their faith so much as to find support for their actions from it.

But put all that aside for a moment. What about the average Muslim ‘on the street’ so to speak. What has he / she to do with the fanatics? I believe the majority of Muslims are not in sympathy with the fanatical side of their faith. To wear the veil, to want to pray regularly every day, to fast and to go to the mosque – these are not acts of evil, these are acts of loyalty to their god, and this is not something to criticise. Considering what I wear out every day, I would be the last one to criticise a Muslim woman for taking the veil which seems so alien to Australian culture! And given the state of my facial hair, could I condemn the devout Muslim who grows his beard?

My experience with Muslims has taught me this – they are as varied a group of people as any other, and to stereotype them and pigeon-hole them is grossly unfair. We should take each individual for what s/he is as an individual. Certainly, there is a background of faith and culture that we do well to understand, but there are those who take the best of the Muslim faith and live by it, and there are those who take the worst. And many in between.

I recall that in Egypt soon after my ordination as a priest I encountered both extremes. On the one hand, is a group of little children, probably no older than 10, whose game of street soccer I walked past one day. They saw my clerical clothes and cross and stopped their game long enough to hurl abuse at me, and one even picked up half a brick and tossed it in my direction. Scary.

On the other hand, was Muhammad, the grocer in the shop near the flat were I was staying. Whenever I would enter his shop he would actually ask all the other customers to please wait while he served ‘the man of God’. He explained that it didn’t matter that I was Christian. By honouring me in this way he was honouring God Himself.

And everything in between…

We have to be very careful about stereotyping people, foir this is a form of judging others, and a very subtle and sneaky way the devil leads us to feelings of self-righteousness and superiority and pride. Yes, we should rejoice at the beuaty and purity and truth of our Orthodox Christian faith, but not at the expense of putting down others. Nor should we condemn a person, passing judgement and sentence on them without ever really understanding who they are and what they are like, simply because they belong to a particular race or a particular religion.

That is not how God looks at us. He looks at the Christian and the Muslim and everyone else and asks, “What is the best this person is capable of?” And then He strives to bring us to that ‘best’. Do not look for the evil in people, but look for the good, and strive to be the hand of Christ that leads all people to Him who is Truth and Mercy.

Fr Ant

Political Pantomime

Well, wasn’t last Tuesday night interesting!

We had the pleasure of the company of four politicians, Rev Fred Nile (Christian Democrats, State), Edmond Atalla (Labor, Local), George Bilic (Liberal, Local) and Paul Green (Christian Democrat, Federal). We expected some fireworks, but not quite what we got!

The aim of the night was actually to explore whether sincere Christianity could be compatible with being a politician. Politicians get a lot of bad press these days. They are accused of lying, breaking promises, manipulating people and situations, being vain and so on. This is unfortunate, because most politicians I have met actually do strive to do a lot of good for their constituency, and do work incredibly hard to achieve it.

I think this side of the politicians came out last Tuesday – we found out how they deal with thorny ethical situations and how they do try to use their Christian ideals as the ‘compass’ by which to steer their decisions.

Unfortunately, something else also came out last Tuesday – the bitterness between the two major parties! Yes, George baited Edmond and Edmond fought back, and we got one of those classical ‘my party’s better than your party’ arguments going. Perhpas whoever said that you shouldn’t mix religion and politics was right! A pity, for that was the very thing we were trying to get behind, trying to see if one’s genuine ideals could be more important than playing the political game.

I wonder what you thought of it all?

I have often mused on whether our system of govrnment could be improved. Does anyone really benefit from all that time and effort and money that is invested into getting a party re/elected? Is it good for individuals to have to sacrifice some of their own personal ideals for the sake of ‘the party’? Or is it the only way to get enough people agreeing on something so that something actually gets done? If we abolished the party system, would our parliaments descend into a chaos of endless debates?

As Christians, we are meant to take an active part in the welfare of those around us. Having and effective and compassionate system of government has ahuge impact on the lives of everyone in this country. It was hoped that last tuesday might inspire some of our young people to consider entering politics in order to make a difference … if they felt that was their calling from God. I wonder now whether it might not have turned them off …

Fr Ant

A Sad Case

The bloated body of a dead child in a suitcase, floating on the calm waters of a pond.

That story must rank among the saddest we’ve seen in recent times. It turns out to have been the result of a very disfunctional family. A young mother with three children from three different fathers. The exact details of what happened have yet to be revealed, but they are not hard to guess. My guess is that her home was not a happy home, nor a secure one. I could guess that the poor woman was having trouble coping, perhaps was using drugs or alcohol, and very likely was getting herself involved in very unhealthy relationships with abusive men. It is not unlikely that her childhood was not a happy one, with abusive or uncaring parents, and she ended up seeking affection and acceptance wherever she could find it.

And thus the cycle continued to repeat. The dead little child, I am sure, was not the first sad result of this cycle. And no doubt, unless something is done, her other two children (and any more she might have in future) are more than likely to continue the same sad cycle in thier own lives, and bequeath it upon their children, and their children’s children …

I know it sounds a bit harsh, perhaps even a bit fascist, but I sometimes wonder whether being a parent should require a license, like driving a car. Imagine what would happen if anyone could just jump into any car or truck and drive where they wanted. There would be some pretty bad disasters, because many people would not take the time and trouble to be taught how to drive safely and courteously. That is exactly what is happening to our society socially. Parenthood needs certain skills that must be learnt. Most parents learn those skills by modelling themselves on their parents, or on other close relatives and friends they admire, and they learn their skills the hard way: through trial and error. I am sure that some of you out there probably wish your parents had done a course or something! Most parents muddle through, get advice from grandparents and somehow, by the grace of God, produce pretty well brought up offspring. Some parents end up witht their offspring in a bag on a pond.

In the follow up reporting by the media , some startling statistics are emerging about the size of this problem. Here are a few:

– 240,000 calls are made to the The NSW Department of Community Services each year (1). That’s 657 calls a day, or roughly one call every two minutes, around the clock.

– one in 15 NSW children is now reported to DOCS (2).

Is our society really that sick? Is it falling apart right inside, where no one can see it? Occasionally we see the outward signs that society is declining. Murders, assaults and thefts are becoming more commonplace. It is no longer possible to do some of the things I used to do when I was young, like leave your bike on the front lawn, or for a child to go to the park and play with friends without parents being there, or leave your front door unlocked or windows open when you go out, or even walk in your street after dark. Perhaps these very obvious conditions are partially the result of this breakdown in our care for each other, especially the breakdown in the family.

Nowadays, anyone who supports ‘family values’ is labelled regressive, narrow-minded – an old fashioned nerd. Get with it! This is the twenty first century mate!” Sex without responsibility, single mothers, teenage mothers, easy divorce … all these are now the quite normal and acceptable. The old Mt Druitt High School cared for its students by providing nappy changing facilities and stroller accesible classrooms for its female students who brought their children to school. And just recently, a school board in Portland, Maine USA approved that condoms be provided free to its students aged 11 to 13 (3). Very enlightened.

The net result of this enlightenment has been the breakdown of the traditional family, with its traditional roles, and with all the benefits that one traditionally got from it. Having adults who not only care for you, but care enough to give whatever time and resources you need to grow. Having parents who will sacrifice their lives for you. Learning boundaries, and feeling secure as you grow up and develop your personality. Feeling loved and accepted. I know that not all families are ideal, and that every family has its faults, but by and large, the commitment to the very concept of “family” has given society and individuals tremendous benefits. Just how tremendous those benefits are is now being revealed as the family begins to fall apart in our society and we see what life is like without it. A bloated little body in a bag on the pond …

Christianity teaches that the family is very important to our lives. A loving, life long, self-sacrificial committment by two people to each other is its beginning. That love is then lavished upon the little children who come to join the party, until they are ready to leave the nest and go on to make their own committment to someone. And underlying the whole process, the central committment of each individual to God, that takes us out of ourselves, and teaches us, by the example of Christ, that the goal of our lives is to lose ourselves and thus find life in the love of Christ.




Coptic Women Priests?

I recently came across an interesting book by a pretty conservative Eastern Orthodox theologian on the topic of women in the Orthodox priesthood. You can guess that he was against the idea. What struck me about the book, though, was that some of the arguments he used were totally alien to my understanding of the priesthood.

Especially noticeable was one argument that kept pooping up, whether directly or indirectly, that I might paraphrase as follows:

Priesthood means authority. Authority means control, power, being in charge.
The woman is not fit for this role, since she is the man’s helper, not his boss.
Therefore, we can never have Orthodox women priests.

I’m not sure what you would make of this?

I don’t intend to get into the whole “a helpmate meet for him” argument in this post. It just seemed to me that this argument was weak because it was built on one big mistake: Priesthood is not first and foremost about authority; it is about service.

That this is the teaching of Christ couldn’t be any clearer. He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

HH Pope Shenouda III wrote in his spiritual classic a chapter entitled “Poor Men” (Al Masakeen, I think). In it, he describes his pity for those who are ordained to the ranks of the priesthood, pointing out that they will be judged not only for their own deeds, but for those of the people whom they serve. Imagine, he says, the poor Pope – who will be held responsible for the fates of millions of souls! Perhaps you can guess he wrote this when he was still a layman, before entering the monastery. Prophetic, though, wasn’t it!

Now that’s the understanding of priesthood (and indeed, any kind of Church position) that I can relate to. The world is all about power and control and advantage and prestige. But those ideas should never be allowed to get in and contaminate the spiritual service. If ever the priest needs to exercise some sort of ‘power’ or ‘authority’ over his flock, it should never be out of a lust to control others, or pride or selfishness. It should be because that is the only avenue left to him to achieve the will of God and the spiritual goals of the Church. It can also only be successful if the people he serves are willingly accepting that authority. Yet it is an authority that any sane man would flee from, for it is very, very dangerous.

What if he makes the wrong decision? What if those he serves suffer because of his orders? There is a great scope for doing damage here! I recently saw a documentary about the Jim Jones tragedy in South America. In short, an American pastor grew gradually more and more manipulative of his flock. Being very charismatic, his influence upon them grew to such an extent that he was able to take 900 of them to a jungle in South America to build a new country, Jonestown, where everything would be perfect. With a frightening array of tools of psychological manipulation, these people virtually became his slaves. Eventually, the whole thing ended with him making them all commit suicide with him. Scary.

No, religious leadership is about serving. It is about the genuine needs of those being served – not the needs of the servant. Because of this, it is often a very harsh, very difficult path to follow. Which means that any sensible person would run a mile to escape it. If you have ever seen a Coptic bishop being ordained, you will have noticed that he is brought in to Church with two strong bishops holding him firmly by each arm. Although this is largely ceremonial now, its original purpose was to stop the candidate from running away! Pope Shenouda himself repeatedly refused to be ordained as a bishop, until Pope Kyrollos VI virtually forced the matter by one day unexpectedly placing his hand on his head in the corridor, and saying “I ordain you, Shenouda, Bishop in the Orthodox CHurch of God …” There was no escape.

Pope Shenouda is famous for saying “Those who wish to be ordained as priests are usually unsuitable, and those who are suitable, usually do not wish to be ordained”. There is a lot of wisdom in this. Only a person who really understands the responsibility and the sacrifice of priesthood is suitable to be ordained. Yet that is the very person who would run away from it because of that huge responsiblity and sacrifice!

Which seems to me the biggest reason why it is unlikely that we will have women priests in the Coptic Orthodox Church … they are too smart for that 🙂

But seriously, I think we are very blessed to have a ‘humble’ attitude to service in the Church. We do not see it as authority, or prestige, or position or power. Priesthood is simply one important service among many others. The Church runs through teamwork, joint effort, not through the efforts of any one individual. There is simply a need for one individual to organise that teamwork, and that happens to be the priest. There is a need for one individual to be set aside for the very scary task of administering the sacraments, and that happens to be the priest. It is a frightening thing to approach an altar with the Body and Blood upon it – frightening because we are sinners, and we are approaching an unimaginably powerful Holiness. But the priest does it because someone has to, and because God has called him to be that someone. No one in their right mind would put themselves forward to do it – only those who don’t quite understand what it really means.

Sadly, in modern life, even Christian Churches have become infected with this idea of power and authority – hence the fight over who is to rule. I hope our Church never loses its innocence. It’s not about anyone ruling.

It’s all about serving.

Fr Ant