Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Pertinent thoughts from Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

My last translation of the essay by Archimandrite Touma of the Monastery of St. Silouan in Douma, Lebanon, “Pastoral Care and the Crisis of Power” , has apparently made its way across the internet in a way that I’m not all that comfortable with. It always needs to be pointed out that these things are amateurish translations from a semi-anonymous blog by a layman not associated with the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America. But then, in that whole mess, I think this is the first time that someone bothered to listen to a Lebanese or Syrian voice... let alone a monastic voice.

[Correction-- the editors of ocanews.org were very gracious in correcting their original ambiguity in attribution. I greatly appreciate this, since I know right now is very busy for them.]

All that said, Fr. Touma’s essay for this week, published on his website on July 19, is interesting when read together with the one from last week. But, the Arabic is in a couple places frustratingly oblique to me, so if you can make suggestions for improvements to this translation please, please do! Also, please if you’re going to repost this (or anything else I put here), link back to me and to the original Arabic so people will know what the source of the text is, take it with a grain of salt, and hopefully help me to improve my translations….


Thoughts for Inner Ears

In paradise, anger was blessed. The Lord God sewed it in man to give him an instrument for violently repulsing from himself every trick of the devil that aims to separate him from the true God and to remove him from keeping faith in God. The devil tricked Adam and Eve and they did not use the incensive faculty within them to deter it. If they had done so, they would have been saved and would have been preserved from the grief that followed. When the devil’s trick appeared to them, they fell into the same thing that the devil had fallen into-- worship of the self. Man, through accepting the devil’s advice, left the sphere of God and entered into the sphere of the devil. Since then, he has been behaving, in a spontaneous way, according to the devil’s behavior. As for anger, in the state at which Adam and Eve arrived, it became an instrument of oppression and devastation, of man having power over man and of death. This is how man’s worship of himself began to be expressed. Anger became a faculty destructive to God’s creation after having been a faculty for preserving it. It was no longer and instrument for defense of truth. Instead, it became a weapon for falsehood.

The Lord Jesus’ human nature was the nature of man in paradise before the fall. For this reason his incensive faculty was centered on zeal for God. When he went up to the temple and saw people buying and selling and realized how they had turned the house of God into a merchant’s bazaar, he became fiercely angry out of zeal for the Truth. He made a whip and beat those who were there and overturned they moneychangers’ tables and the seats of the dove-sellers, saying to them: “My house shall be called a house of prayer, and you have made it into a den of thieves.” (Mark 11)

In order to return man to the worship of God in spirit and in truth through the keeping of the divine commandment, it is not permitted for those who consider themselves to be of God to resort to violence. The counsel for them is: “Be as wise as serpents and as meek as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In order for man to reach the humility which the Lord God desires, one must imitate him in this. His incensive faculties do not return their right state and they do not recover their divine role in the defense of the truth and the preservation of God’s creation. Up to that point violence remains an evil and a tool in the hand of the devil. The apex of the devil’s tricks and Satan’s deceiving man is for Satan to push man to violence and killing in the name of God. Jesus pointed to this matter when he said to his disciples, “The hour is coming when those who will kill you will think that they are making an offering to God. They will do this because they did not know the Father and they did not know Me.” (John 16:2-3)

***

The devil sometimes speaks the truth. He spoke the truth, for example, when he once called the Lord “Jesus, Son of God” (Matthew 8:29). Not everything the devil says is a lie. That said, he remains the deceiver and the father of lies (John 8:44) because he intends to deceive people at all times, whether he speaks the truth or lies. His first and final goal is not to witness to the truth but to cast man into error. He forever moves with the spirit of falsehood. Thus, when he speaks the truth it is only for the sake of falsehood. This is his art and his wickedness. If he only spoke lies then no one would believe him and everyone would leave him. For this reason he weaves truth with falsehood and falsehood with truth. It is impossible for man to know the truth of the devil from the exterior. It is only exposed through the Spirit of God.

Let us understand: the devil has only one goal in his dealings with people and that is to distance them from God. In order to reach that goal, he works to make people think as he does. He does not want to dominate us from the outside so much as he wants to dominate us from the inside, by putting his thought inside us. He makes us think that what he wants for us is exactly what we want ourselves. His motto for us is this: “Realize yourself and do what you yourself want.” He spreads his thought in people and disappears from sight. In this way he makes us like him and turns us into his workers. He succeeds when a person makes his own way of thinking and says, “This is my thought. This is how I think” or when a person reaches a degree of blindness of heart that he thinks that his thought, which comes from the devil, is from God.

This is the logic of the worship of the self and secondly it is the logic of the most wicked power among people. The further man gets away from God, the deeper he is mired in worldly power. Jesus warned us about assuming power, in general, on this earth, because it is impossible for us to take it on without being subject to the thought we talked about above. It is impossible for a person to assume power according to the world without the thought of the devil arising. Power is the first step of the devil’s work and the ideal field for the realization of his thoughts and plans. After man fell, the acquisition of power according to the world became automatically the thing that his soul most desires. Man is born strongly inclined towards this-- every man. Thus, for those who believe in Jesus there is another saying and another commandment and another logic. This is how Jesus spoke: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10)

The great temptation for every person, whether he believes in Jesus or not, and so especially for those who are considered servants of Christ -- and we do not have church leaders in the exact sense of the word but rather servants-- I say that the great temptation for all people is the temptation of power. For the servants of Christ, this is even more so, considering their position, being exposed to power not only according to this world but to wielding power in the name of God. That is, to give power, which is from the Holy Sprit, a divine dimension as well. For that reason the servants of Christ, if they are not so in truth, then they are among the children of Satan and his workers par excellence, whether they know it or not, because they steal what is God’s, by ill will or by stupidity, and they sign it over to the devil. In this context, their problem and what causes them to fall into Satan’s trap is not that they do not preach the Gospel but that they “speak but do not act (Matthew 23:3).” By their extended pretense of ignoring practice, they lose their sense for divine things. Their exterior says that they are men of God, but their interior is firmly rooted in the service of Satan. This is the typical state for the devil’s work. Thus they claim service and they insist that they are servants of God, all the while wielding power through the spirit of the world. They call for Christian love but they do not love. They always have their excuses. They call for tending the flock of Christ but they only tend their own notions and their own passions. They call for mutual forgiveness but they hate and take revenge. They call for guarding the lost sheep but they drive away people. They call for the worship of God but in the depths of their souls they only seek veneration and honor and flattering words. With words, they show zeal for the Gospel but in their inner hearts they only have zeal for what is their’s. Their honor is above Christ’s honor! They go against the smallest ordinance of the Church for a tiny gain and they consider it pastoral care and economy! They hold services but they only worship themselves and what is their’s: their appearance and their voice and their clothes and their sermon. Their concern is for people to hold fast to them and not to God and for the people to speak well of them. When they speak the truth, they sign their truth over to the falsehood which is in them because their hearts are not for God. Truly they are not!

This sort of satanic temptation, and this poisoned internal environment which reigns in an almost generalized and automatic way over most of the people in our church, especially the pastors, cannot be opposed with theoretical knowledge, but rather with the Spirit of the Lord and the exercise in practice of keeping the divine commandment and walking in holiness. The ignorant is led to God by one who knows Him- that is, one who loves Him. When one blind leads one blind like himself, they both fall into the devil’s pit. For this reason the Church has historically taken great care with the selection of her pastors from among the saints and those who know God and practice the principles of the spiritual life. You cannot give what you don’t have in Christ’s Church. Only one who fears God is able to lead Christ’s flock to the fear of God. Only one who is repentant can lead Christ’s flock to repentance. Only one who loves God can lead God’s flock to the love of God. Only the servant of Christ can lead for Christ’s service. One who keeps fasting and prayer and vigil [can lead people] to fasting and prayer and vigil. One who walks in holiness [can lead people to] holiness. Only one who has the Spirit of the Lord can lead Christ’s flock to the Spirit of the Lord. This is true practical knowledge for us and divine philosophy. Theories and knowledge have no value in themselves in this matter except as preparatory education, but they do not make saints. Experience shows that one who does not know puts value on the formulation of theories and the collection of information, but one who knows does not value theories and only has need for a little theoretical information. Most of his knowledge is practical, so what he learns, he learns from above. One who walks in holiness is the knowledgeable one for us, even if he doesn’t have an elementary education, and one who does not walk in holiness remains ignorant even if he memorized all the books in the world!

Today, unfortunately, the standards have changed. Holiness is no longer the environment and the school and the concern for most of the flock of Christ or its pastors. In any case, holiness is no longer in the consciousness of the ordinary faithful, but of wonder-workers! We no longer insist on our pastors being saints. In any case, there are no longer many saints. The environment that we have become self-satisfied with does not lead to bringing forth saints. We are satisfied, in most cases today, with people who have ordinary, acceptable behavior. We rarely look into the internal condition of our candidates for our pastors or even into their past behavior. The matter is entirely set aside when selecting a bishop. This makes for a not insignificant possibility of an error happening and causes embarrassment for the church when it is uncovered after some time. that some who are ordained have a shameful past. Other times, some bishops lay hands on men whom they know, more or less, to not be worthy of service and they find no fault in this, even when they stumble.

The sort of pastor that we are talking about today is seen as being more fit if he is educated, with a university degree and a theology degree and is clever with words. He is admired if he is seen as a thinker and an eloquent speaker and a writer. His stock goes up if he knows foreign languages and has a beautiful voice and is enthusiastic and socially conscious and has a knowledge of organizational matters and religious education and has a likable personality. It is not required that he be a man of prayer. That’s his own concern! It’s only necessary that he perform his ritual duties well. Likewise it’s not required that he be a man of fasting! That’s also his own concern! Most people think, in any case, that fasting is excessive in the Orthodox Church and that it is not appropriate to the times or the situation! In general, people get used to living with some of the pastor’s inappropriate proclivities, if he is greedy or vainglorious or self-aggrandizing, or quarrelsome. As far as Christian virtues are concerned, they are rarely met by the people in their pastor and they have no real acquaintance with them anyway. Some take joy in them, when they abound, and some don’t pay attention to them. In any case, most of them are, in our worldly age, superfluous. What’s important is ordinary ethics-- that he not be a fornicator or a thief or a murderer… In this absence of the Church’s original upbringing, it is natural for the standards to be human and worldly!

All these things and others are part of our current situation today because holiness, as we said, is not our concern nor is the pastor as a good example our concern. Our concern is the Church as idea, as institution, as an organization, as a teaching. Our concern is the services and the choir, the social and cultural groups and the religious instruction and church-tourism and so forth. It is not that these questions aren’t sometimes important. But there is one thing needful: the purification of the heart and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. This is a deviation from the essence of the matter that keeps those who are considered believers-- most pastors and flock equally-- pagans, worshipping themselves, seeking their own glory. They are only concerned with their own power and their own reputation and their own honor. They are satisfied with only the outward form of the worship of God. What is sought in any case, in the understanding of the people, is not change of heart but rather some practices and the keeping some obligations and giving lip service. In what pertains to the exterior of the church, today, it is sometimes, but not always, gleaming by worldly standards, souls graze in their own impurities and lack of awareness. Is this not the ideal church the devil desires and lords over? A worldly church, ritualistic, like a museum, a nominal Christianity but without Christ and without holiness and without truth and without Spirit and without new life, filled with the thoughts of the world and the concerns of the world! Is this not the church that most people receive today and for which they work? The devil has succeeded in making people think that this is the true and desirable church of modernity!

This is exactly a church against Christ! And we, without our attention to holiness, are building it contentedly, persistently and continuously!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite Douma

Sunday July 19, 2009

4 comments:

Hilarius said...

Samn!

Thank you for your work in translating for the benefit of all of us. If I have time and you could point me to specific passages you find oblique, I could take a crack at them, but I suspect you are a better translator than I will ever be.

In Xp,

-Eric John

Justin said...

The lack of spiritual writings from within the Antiochian Archdiocese was a foreshadowing of crisis.

If we want spiritual writings by monastics we must look to the Russians or the Greeks. And if we want to learn about Antiochian monasteries we must look to google. So it is like cool water to a parched tongue to read words by an Antiochian monastic.

Your translations of Archimandrite Touma are greatly appreciated. Translation is not easy, so I am thankful for what you've given us. If you choose to offer more, it will be welcome.

Does anyone from the Monastery of St. Silouan in Douma ever visit the United States? If so, how can we be kept up to date?

Samn! said...

Justin,

I've not heard about Fr. Touma visiting America.. I'm actually not sure how his English is, even. Every other year, however, Fr. Ephrem Kyriakos from the monastery in Baskinta, Lebanon visits Canada (I know this past year he spent a few days each at least in Montreal and Halifax).

As far as literature goes, probably vastly less is published in Arabic than in any of the other traditional Orthodox languages, but there are a lot more Arabic spiritual books written than get translated... seeing as how so far as I can tell nothing ever gets translated. There are, for example, a fair number of good books put out by the Monastery of St. George, Deir el-Harf and by Fr. Elias Morcos of that monastery. And then, online if you have access to Arabic, Fr. Touma posts weekly essays to his website and Fr. Pandeleimon, abbot of the monastery in Hamatoura, posts a lot of his sermons. And of course, most famously, Metropolitan Georges Khodr writes a weekly column for the newspaper an-Nahar. None of these things are really accessible if you don't have Arabic, since there's apparently little interest in translating it. You're somewhat better off if you know French, as that's more often used by the older generation of Lebanese than English.....


On this blog I'm trying to do enough translations to at least hopefully generate more interest in our Church's Arabic-language heritage....

Your brother in Christ said...

FYI, Father Touma is fluent in English. He studied theology in the U.S. and is a graduate of Saint Vladimir Seminary in the 70's. You may not find articles written by him in English because he went back to Lebanon after he graduated and has been ministering to mostly Arabic speaking spiritual children since.
The problems that we have now in North America are not specific to this land. They are spiritual problems par-excellence manifesting themselves in one way or the other. They have problems in Lebanon and Syria too. I am sure that there are problems in Greece, Russia, Jerusalem, and other places. They may not have attracted that much attention on the internet but this doesn't mean that they did not exist. Any person with enough spiritual depth from any country, whether they are fluent in English or not, whether they live in the U.S. or not, would easily tell you that the problem we're going through is a spiritual problem and is inherent to any man-made organization as it relates to our fallen human nature. It was only a matter of time before the symptoms started to show up, and they will continue to take us from one crisis to the other until either the whole thing collapses, or until we recognize that we're all in need to refocus ourselves on repentance and love. The Church of Christ is where love abounds and nothing else. Money, buildings, investments, endowment funds, financial assets, publications, etc, are not what kept Orthodoxy alive for hundreds of years. If anyone just imagine how life was 50 years ago and more, and think of all the hardships that our ancestors went through from famine, disease, illiteracy, poverty, persecution, wars (with the last 2 recent ones WW I and WW II)... What kept the faith alive? Wasn't it because of the grace of God and the prayers and the sacrifices of our holy mothers and fathers who did their best for their church and for each other! That's what we need to work on! "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, for I have conquered the world"... "Do not be afraid little flock, for it pleases your Father to give you the kingdom"... "Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and all things will be added to you"...
God bless all of you!