Wednesday, 2 January 2013
A Cloud of Witnesses
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1)
Growing up as Coptic Orthodox Christians we are used to seeing the numerous beautiful icons in our church, on the iconostasis, in our liturgical and prayer books and throughout our homes. The sight of parents teaching their young ones how to venerate the holy icons by making the sign of the cross and kissing them, inspires us with such awe and reverence. This same image is reflected in the Church, our mother, that continues to teach us the importance of the saints in our lives in her liturgical life whether through the readings of the Synaxarium (the lives of the saints) along with the Dyfnar or through the familiar prayers such as the constant petition of “Through the intercessions of ... O Lord, grant us the forgiveness our sins.” It is as if when we enter the church, we hear the words of the blessed Apostle St. Paul echoing in our minds and hearts saying, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).
Indeed, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, and the Church makes sure that we have this holy awareness by the commemoration and celebration of the departure of the prophets, martyrs and saints who are constantly interceding and praying for us.Now those who are unfamiliar with the understanding of the Church towards our relationship with our holy fathers and mothers the saints may throw false accusations at us, with the common misconception that “Orthodox Christians worship and pray to the dead”. But the Church has always made it clear that worship belongs to God alone and we only venerate the saints, we respect and honour them. Let us stand boldly before such accusations and say in faith that as the Holy Bible instructs us and in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, that God is the God of the living and not of the dead.
When the Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Tabor, one of the seven minor Feasts of the Lord, we see Moses and Elijah appearing and talking to Christ, they are very much alive (Mt.17:1-3). The believers in God who have reposed in the faith do not cease in worshipping God and serving us. They are in constant work for our salvation, just as Moses was an intercessor for his people when they needed his prayers, he still intercedes for God’s people everywhere and is not limited by his death (Exodus 32:11-14). We have many examples of intercessory prayers in the Bible and in the stories of the saints, but one event in the life of the Holy Theotokos, St. Mary reveals the fruits of intercessory prayer especially of the one who bore the Lord in her womb. In the Wedding of Cana of Galilee another one of the seven minor feasts of our Lord, the Virgin’s prayers and pleading on behalf of the family who ran out of wine shows us that although as Christ has spoken that His hour has not yet come He listened to His mother whom He loves very much and performed His first miracle as recorded in the Gospel (John 2:3).