This is a guest post from Bishoy Sharobim, from the Coptic Orthodox church of St. Mary and St. Mina in Sydney, Australia. In today’s post, Bishoy discusses a spiritual practice that has long been part of our Orthodox heritage, but unfortunately has become less appealing to our modern world. You can find more of Bishoy’s work on his Facebook page, The Art of Orthodoxy. If you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
When I say “the lives of the saints”, I’m not talking only about the church’s synaxarium, which is filled primarily with accounts in the first millennium. I’m talking about accounts of saints’ lives that are high quality translations written in excellent English and that are about modern-day saints who reposed in the last few decades. Such examples of recent saints and holy souls are Fr. Faltaous El Sorianni (-2010), Fr. Fanous El Anba Paul (-2012), Pope Shenouda III (-2012) and many more others.
Why is reading the lives of the saints important or I’d even say extremely beneficial for our salvation? Pope Kyrillos VI - a recently canonized saint in the church - once wrote: “Whoever reads the books of the saints, seeking to know the way of righteousness, the way of righteousness will be opened to them.”
To properly understand this concept, I present to you a testimony of a wonderful experience a self-admitted lukewarm youth in America had upon reading the 1st book of the highly saintly nun Tamav Erini who reposed in 2006.
“My life has totally changed after having read the valuable life story of Tamav Erene. Before hand, I was only interested in whatever was worldly. However, from the moment I read this book, Tamav’s life touched mine. I cried bitterly and told her, ‘Please be my mother and attract me to heaven and to whatever is holy.’ When I came to Egypt, I decided to come to the convent and to visit Tamav’s shrine to ask her to help me change my life and to come closer to God.
Truly, my life has changed in such a way that surprised me personally. I started to pray and fast, so I felt a power that helped me to achieve what seemed difficult. I asked God with the prayer of Tamav Erene to help me give up all my bad habits. I started with songs which I was crazy about and many of which I knew by heart. While I was in Tamav’s shrine, I told her, ‘Please divert my attention from these things.’
Indeed overnight, and with God’s help, I started to listen to the holy Mass and religious hymns instead. I also used to enjoy gossiping and judging people. I asked Tamav to handle this habit so that I would renounce it totally. I did. Moreover, one of my acquaintances was really upsetting me. I was so angry that I imagined that I would never be able to talk to her again. However, I found myself calling her and telling her that I would be visiting her at her home. I did, and the whole issue was resolved.
Today, 11/8/2007, I came to ask Tamav to help me for the salvation of my soul. I have to admit that I feel her support every step of the way to my repentance. Now joy fills my heart and my whole being and the light of God and His saints has become the torch that guides my life.” (Taken from "Tamav Irene: book 2")
Indeed I repeat the words of our holy and saintly patriarch, “Whoever reads the books of the saints, seeking to know the way of righteousness, the way of righteousness will be opened to them.” But off course we must read such works with tremendous discretion, wisdom and common sense, growing with the utmost gradualness and struggling according to our current spiritual levels and our current life circumstances.
What impact might reading the lives of the saints have on spiritual life? Maybe it’s worth a shot to find out…