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The Spiritual Means, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

23- How to give account of yourself

  

Let giving account of yourself be open and serious. The devil may try to interfere by one of two ways:

Either he will say to you: Do not exaggerate in judging yourself, lest you suffer from a sense of guilt.

Or he may say to you: Beware of being cruel towards yourself, lest you suffer from depression.

The devil is not honest in his advice because he wants to keep you from convicting yourself. Remember here the saying of the great St Anthony: If we remember our sins, God will forget them, and if we forget our sins, God will remember them. Remember also the saying of the Prophet David in his Psalm of repentance: My sin is ever before me (Ps 51).

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This is because the devil may say to you: Why do you remember your sins when they have been cleansed by the Honoured Blood?!

They will remain cleansed as long as we live a repentant life, regretting what we have done with a contrite heart. David the Prophet continued to drench his couch with his tears because of his sins, even after he was forgiven and Nathan said to him: The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die (2 Sam 12:13) . So too with Saul of Tarsus, after he received Gods call and became an Apostle and laboured more abundantly than them all (1 Cor 15:10). He said with a contrite heart: For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Cor 15:9). Has not this sin been forgiven and cleansed by the Honoured Blood! But he still remembered it and convicted himself for it. He also says in his First Epistle to his disciple Timothy: Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief (1 Tim 1:13). Yet, in spite of this, he still remembered and convicted himself...

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When you examine yourself, beware also of searching for excuses and justifications...

You may give account of yourself and realize your mistakes. So far, the grace would have worked in you. Then the devil would come to make you lose the work of the grace and keep you far from regret, contrition and selfrebuke. He would offer you excuses and justifications to cover your sin, as he did with our father Adam and our mother Eve... Beware of these excuses that falsely acquit one self in order to lighten the burden of guilt...!

If you truly love the self that God has given you, do not deprive yourself of feelings of repentance, regret and contrition; this will benefit you nothing. On the contrary, you might depend on excuses for continuing to make mistakes. Remember always the saying of the Apostle: Therefore you are inexcusable, O man (Rom 2:1), and again , Blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel (Matt 23:24).

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If you found excuses for yourself because there were external obstacles that stopped you from taking the road of virtue, tell yourself I should have fought to overcome these obstacles.

Consider the righteous Noah who lived in a very corrupt generation so that God destroyed it with the flood. And in spite of that, Noah kept himself in the faith and was not affected by the environment surrounding him. And the righteous Joseph who was tempted by sin daily, yet in spite of that, he said his immortal phrase: How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Gen 39:9). And for refusing sin, he endured imprisonment and disgrace...

Daniel and the three young men were threatened to be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace or into the lions den. But such a threat did not ever make them turn from the fear of God. And this is the endurance and faith all the martyrs and confessors have had when faced with persecution and death.

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Only internal weaknesses surrender to external pressures.

Convict yourself by this phrase and say : I must be strong within in order to overcome all the wars, no matter how severe. Let the saying of St Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews convict you: You have not yet resisted to blood-shed, striving against sin (Heb 12:4). Therefore, when you give account of yourself, do not say, I was weak and sin was stronger, as we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other sections. But remember how the righteous Joseph was victorious over sin. Do not say the commandment was hard and I couldnt carry it out!! But remember how Abraham took his only son, the one he loved, to offer him as a burnt offering (Gen 22).

Remember stories from the Bible about overcoming obstacles:

Remember the friends of the paralytic who, when they could not come near Jesus because of the crowd, they did not give up. They made a hole in the roof and let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying (Mk 2:4). Remember also the temptations that were offered to David to kill King Saul who was chasing him, and how David said: The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lords anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord (1 Sam 24:6).

When giving account of yourself, consider excuses as pampering your self.

Like the Shulamite in the Song of Solomon who did not open for the Lord, whose head was covered with dew and his locks with the drops of the night. She said: I have taken off my robe, how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, how can I defile them? The Lord did not accept her excuse but turned away and was gone. When she was crushed by torment, she then said: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer (Song 5:2-6).

Do not be like the servant who was given the one talent then hid it in the ground, and to find an excuse for himself, he said evil words to his master who in turn reproached him (Mt 25:24-28).

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Many are those who sinned then gave excuses that were all unacceptable.

Like King Saul when he offered a burnt offering (1 Sam 13:11,12) and the Prophet Jonah who, because of Gods righteousness was angry, even to death (Jon 4:1-3) And like Elijah when he feared Jezebel and ran for his life (1 Kings 19:1,14).

Like those also is the one who would break his fasting and when his conscience convicts him he uses the excuse of poor health. And the one who would break the commandment of the tithes and when he gives account of himself he would use his financial situation as an excuse. The same with the one who fails to fulfill his vows... David did not find an excuse for himself when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, but he went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth (1 Sam17:34,35)... And if David excused himself from saving the lamb, we would have found his excuse acceptable!! His conscience, however, was stronger...

Many are those who sin and instead of blaming themselves, put the blame on the church to find excuses for themselves!!

They may say: the church did not miss me! My confession father does not care about me! I could not find a guide to show me the way! Where are the fathers?! Where is the work of the clergy?! And none of them would say: The mistake was obvious and my conscience convicted me, but I was disobedient...!

St Anthony the Great was alone in the wilderness, without a guide, and he persevered on the right path and did not take the lack of guidance as an excuse... And so did St. Paul the Hermit and others who are among the great saints...

When you give account of yourself, it is better to judge and convict yourself.

It is of more benefit for you than justifying yourself and putting the blame on others... How beautiful was the answer of the father of the Nitria Mount when Pope Theophilus asked him about the best virtues that they have mastered in their life of solitude. He replied: Believe me, my father, there is no better virtue than for one to blame himself in everything...

As for obstacles, they are not to be used as an excuse, but an opportunity for training oneself to resist them and pray that God may give the grace to overcome them.

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Giving account of oneself is followed by self-conviction then remedying of oneself.

Then all these weaknesses are used as an opportunity for spiritual training, spiritual struggle and prayer. They would also be mentioned in confession and when asking for wise counsel...

These weaknesses would also be a reason for self-humility and abstaining from thoughts about vain glory whenever one is tempted after doing a good deed.

And so these weaknesses become a reason for having pity on sinners instead of condemning them. As St Paul the Apostle said: Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, and those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also (Heb 13:3).

Give account of your negative actions and also of the virtues that you lack. Do likewise with any hindrance in your spiritual growth. Here, you put before you the saying of St Paul the Apostle: ... But I press on, that I may lay hold of that... Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press towards the goal (Phil 3:12-14). Consider what caused the hindrance of your growth - are they internal or external obstacles?


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