Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The untold story of a man forgotten

Scoundrel and saint, poised and charmer, romantic and affirmative, unconditional and reserved, rich and poor, loved and hated, traditional and revolutionary, familial and societal, perceptive and soft spoken, prideful and humble. A man who stands alone in a forgotten era that ushered our own. A man who spread the values and mindset of the inner-family to the furthest stretch of the world. A man whose place serves a forgotten purpose in our time.
Like any saint, he was the son of a wealthy plantation owner in upper Egypt and like any son, he rebelled against his father and insisted on a life of his own rather than the customary succession on wealth. Leaving his home town and well suited life, he traveled to Cairo to study economics. But this man wasn’t just studying trade or the development of financial systems; this man studied the economy of life and respect, relationship and dealings, and the difference between success and failure.
You see his era was unrelated to our own. It consisted of a small social community, even in a big city. It was a time when the man could live his life until he was forty before he was wed; and when he did marry, he would marry a women whose beauty would be rivaled only by the sculptures of the ancients. The world was smaller and life simpler. One’s only concern was eighty years of labor and family life in which he upheld his moral practices and did his best to pass on whatever he could to those whom he raised and supported. It transcended the age of chivalry and precluded the modern era of the stigma of wealth: it was the age of real men. A generation where the world grew from farmhouses and street corners to big buildings and international relations.
This was a man who lived the roaring twenties from his birth to his death. Born in 1918 and glorified in 2008, Shohdi Azer took his small existence and silently etched his name into his country and church’s development. Each story carries with it and underlying spirit of awe at the greatness of a man whose personality and motive stemmed from something that would be lost on our own world. He influenced church officials and sat with the first man on the moon in his home , and yet spoke not a word of himself. His birthright was stripped by his younger siblings, he was head of the stock exchange for several successive years, and he funded the building of a church and foster house in the midst of a Muslim land ,and he did it all with pride and dignity. He waited for Cyril VI to come and apologize to him, he wouldn't speak to clergy if they insisted on wearing their head covers in his presence, and he turned down the church’s highest laymen court in the land, and he did it with love and respect. He made his pilgrimage to the the Holy Land, befriended the Ethiopian monk, and attended the Coptic Seminary, and he did it all by a motivation unknown to us today.
Most men die with and leave an unfinished book with either blank pages or a series of failed introductions but when my grandfather passed, and elderly Alzheimer stricken man, he closed his own book and put in on a shelf. But this book and this shelf are not located only in the heart of his family but in the mind of anyone who studies the art of success. He accomplished everything that the great kings of the past did except his empire is yet to fall. Alexander the Great took what his father had and expanded it beyond the reach of any ruler before him, but he did it with a firm hand. My grandfather did the same to his small community but buttressed his achievements with love. He treated the world as if they were his own family. He housed the condemned, he aided those who had no helper, and he gave himself as any father would to his children. My father once said “People like that will never again be repeated.”
But who would bother to read his book today? After all, he has no place in our time. What role would this man who treated the world like his own family have in today’s vast world? Nothing really, he created it and left it for his children to rule over it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Life Lesson

A casual day of relaxation while at the shore was rudely interrupted by the nagging motivation to go bike riding. Understandably, no one shared my regrettable desire except my uncle, who had run 3 miles earlier in the day before going to liturgy, and my soon to be eight year old sister. So as we got the machinery ready I noticed that Daniella (my kindred) had training wheels on her bike that were somehow half on and at the same time half off. They were bent in a strange alignment that allowed her to balance on two wheels if she was able to ride it steadily enough or on three wheels (instead of the expected four wheel stability that training wheels usually provide) if she leaned to either her left of right. So as we started off, I noticed myself unable to focus on my own peddling and was horrified at the sight of this seemingly fragile doll that was teeter-tottering to her left and right, taking my heart along for the ride. Frustrated by my concern for her, I quickly came to the decision that I wasn't going to be able to continue so long as she taunted me with her lack of balance. Contrasting my emotional "roller-coaster," my uncle who has raised two +20 year old kids, one of who undoubted drives his unnecessarily fast car in an equally unnecessary manor, seemed all but worried as he stared the 7 year old monster in the face; he'd been here already. He confidently put his bike down and started to push her! "The faster you go the easier it will be to balance" he said in his calmest of voices. He was motivating her confidence to get her through what I couldn't even bear. I was in genuine disbelief at what was happening: my sister, who I've been waiting for to get older for particularly this reason, so I can share simple things that I've mastered that appear like giant feats to her (like coloring inside the lines and presumably bike riding), was looking for guidance, and I came up empty handed. I wasn't so much disappointing in myself as I was ashamed of how many times I'd sped off with my car or the arrogance I had in myself as I packed up and went away to live on my own in a college dorm and all the while couldn't understand: "The faster you go the easier it will be to balance."
It takes confidence to allow or even push the people you care about into harms way, even though its something you've done with all confidence in the past. Every time I was out late with my car or neglected to call home from school, all the while my parents had been riding next to me holding their tongues, not out of panic or worry for me, but somehow...out of love. Its hard to imagine that if I was put in the situation again that I would react any different then I did today. I often question my maturity level and feel that I am at the peak of my maturity yet immediately reprimand myself with a simple notion of: nobody who is mature or wise actually deems themselves mature. As many times as I've been on the opposite end of the scenarios or seen the same episode played out on tv, its not tangible or even remotely understandable until its my sister on the bike and I can lovingly match her level of courage and push her along.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fast River

How can I stop a flowing river whose current pushes me along? How can I use my strength to stop the water from going over the falls and wreaking havoc beneath the surface? And how can I, without first strengthening myself and taking root beneath the transient silt into the deep rock bed? And even still, I am in need of a branch, one of infinite strength, one I can trust to not break when the rains begin to fall and the water pushes harder against my frail limbs. And yet still, how can I try and stop the river. I cant; all I can do is try and stop those caught in its flow. And together we grab hold of one another digging deeper into what we know to be safe grabbing onto whomever we can however we can. Unless of course, they're just going along for the ride.
"We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— perplexed, but not in despair; " (2 Cor4:8-9)
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor4:17)

Monday, April 26, 2010


I briefly stepped out of my comfort zone this past week and asked someone who I don't have a close relationship with, to grab coffee with me. I was so over whelmed with the frequency and over exposure of the people around me that I was almost forced to seek a different sort of expression or personality. I knew one of the youth from a near by church (and from a different school) was on campus visiting some of the girls, who were currently in class, and as I was heading towards the exit of the school she caught my eye. Now I'm not one for spending time with girls who I don't know extremely well but at the moment, I needed to break out of my routine social atmosphere and felt that there may be potential for a more than superficial conversation with this person. As we drove to the corner Starbucks, to her surprise, I wasn't the person that she had perceived me to be and the the twenty minutes discussion far exceeded either one of our expectations of the other's ability to think and speak. Later in the week, we were again gathered together, but this time in a group of people who couldn't seem to move past surface level conversation. Recognizing the futility of the atmosphere, she singled me out by saying: "lets continue our conversation of the other day." Let me emphasize something very important: we never actually sat for coffee; she only accompanied me as I drove and picked up the coffee, so there is no essence of romance from either side.
We both sat and tried returning to what we had previously discussed and came to the conclusion that the interest in the previous discussion was not in the topic of the discussion, but rather in the "difficulty" of the discussion. It was evident that the momentary connection that we had taken notice of a few days prior was not a connection over a single topic but rather a connection over a desire for more. At that point, we both took a step back and realized that the value of our words amounted to more than the whole group's conversation: our talk took thinking, exposure, and had some essence of risk. It was by all means "demanding." By this point I had already spent the weekend with family and had snapped out of my strange self pity that I carried with me when we had previously talked and was more aware of the exchange that was taking place. To her credit, she had noticed the higher level of conversation before I had.
Why do we gather in uselessness? Why do we speak in that which has no value. Why is the voice not silenced in exchange for the ear's heightened sense of focus. Why are words used to mask rather than to expose. Why do real words feel more like judgment than edification, regardless of who they come from? Why do we waste words on each other rather than uplifting each other with love. Love is not in word but in action. Had Christ's crucifixion only been spoken about and the death never enacted then Christ would be the biggest hoax in history. Had St. Paul only said "Imitate me as I imitate Christ" without imitation then 14 out of the 27 new testament books would be falsified.
I like to talk and have always enjoyed exchanging ideas with people. In conversations that have no set focus I find myself lost in all the commotion and desiring to find one person who's eyes hold a deeper concern for the people around them than just if we should be going to Duncin'Donuts or Starbucks. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 St. Paul's wisdom, and what I like to pin as a character trait, is displayed when he writes: "Therefore comfort each other and edify one another." Useless discussion between friends paints no picture except one of deception and indifference. I wonder how different this world would be if we could break down our own superficial walls and speak and act in love and edification.
But then I turn and ask my generation, how can we edify each other if we ourselves have nothing to offer?

Monday, April 5, 2010


Christ is risen...hide the EGGs!!!
Why does our country insist on secularizing everything that the church esteems? Matrimony, Nativity, and the most arrogant of all, "Easter," the Celebration of the Risen Christ. In the 6th hour our the blessed Good Friday service (in the Coptic Orthodox Church) we do a ceremonial walk around the church in a clockwise manor. Regularly these processions are done with joyful tunes, loud cymbals, and most importantly, in a counterclockwise direction around the church. When in the church we are more than symbolically considered to be in God's house or His heavenly kingdom; as we pray in the Lord's Prayer: "on earth as it is in heaven". The saving Ark of Noah is likened to the church in that while in the ark, humanity survives yet while outside the vessel, humanity parishes. The counterclockwise movement around the church is symbolic of the church's opposition to the way of the world and its pursuit of hope through Christ rather than by the means of world. James 4:4 reads "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." Going back, in the 6th hour of Good Friday we walk with the direction of the world in a clockwise manor to symbolize Judus and his betrayal of the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver. But later, in the Liturgy celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection, or more notable, "Easter", we joyously walk against the world and proclaim the living God with hymns and procession. Yet and old sunday-school lesson, with seasonal implications arises: when we're outside the church walls and yet still carrying the joy of the rinses Christ, which direction are we in fact walking?
The question I then pose, is what happens to our spiritual lives after the countless hours of church services, spiritual reading and meditation, and training in self control after the 55 day fast is over. Granted, after Liturgy, we have made it customary, although not correct, to go home and indulge in the foods that we left behind during the fast; the 8 week period of spiritual and physical progression quickly changes over to a 45 minutes session of gluttony followed by a two hour session of temporary paralysis. And for a lot of us, the loss of self does not stop there. We lose and forget all the beneficial practices that we acquired during the time of the fast and preparation; what then were we preparing ourselves for? Pope Shenouda writes in his papal address to the lands of immigration: "In the period of the fifty days, the focus is on prayer, spiritual reading, contemplation, praising and hymns, deep spiritual meetings, exercises of repentance and spiritual growth." The time of lent should be taken as a chance for each of us to find our weakness, work on it, and regardless of if we come out cleaner on the other end or not, the important aspect is that a relationship with the Helper was formed along the way. The post-lenten period is then the time where the preparation and retooling of the self should be implemented. We should be more aware of God throughout the day, more aware of Christ in our actions, and significantly more aware of our own weakness. If a solider retreats from a battle, he spends his time back at the base camp restocking the necessary supplies, and when he goes back out into battle he is well armed and ready for the enemy. If its not already too late, if we haven't yet wasted the "blessing" that "we fought with God" for, then this is our time to recover from our lapse in responsibility to ourselves and to the world. This is our brightest hour. At no other time does the Christian light shine so brightly. At no other time does the Light of the World so strongly magnify our actions. Will we still insist on walking against it?

Friday, March 5, 2010


"I was still eagerly aspiring to honors, money, and matrimony; and you mocked me. In pursuit of these ambitions I endured the most bitter hardships, in which you were being the more gracious the less you would allow anything that was not you to grow sweet to me."
[6.6.9] St.Augustine Confessions

Friday, February 12, 2010


I often wonder what use people find in pouring themselves out onto the masses and then ponder still, what remains in their cups for them to drink? Is there a certain pain that is felt when the sole thing that cannot be stolen away, is given away, yet wasted by its imperceptibility and inexchangeablity? What would posses someone to sell something (namely themselves) for lesser value?
Despite the lofty barriers to uncap what better remains sealed, this package comes with a leaky hole that grows larger and larger with the expansion of the vessel by every inputted bit of knowledge and meditation. Maybe the fear is only rooted in the emptiness of the vessel and the desire not to waste what little milk it has on the unconcerned carnivores.
I find it difficult to believe that because of my youth my ideas, views, and beliefs can be silenced by the stigma that my age carries yet I have to believe that my word still holds some value, if not to just myself. Regardless of the reason(s) for my silencing, be it that I'm misunderstood or, the more probable reason, that my ideas are simply eclipsed my my uncontrollable ego, I must pay homage to my servant Nader and for the "elderly" youth of my group who made blogging "cool." I guess we'll see where the Spirit leads.
"I hope - I hope - that I can ...for myself go pearl hunting but, heck, I might find something useful for you, too. Thanks for visiting. Come again."