Friday, October 16, 2009

Fr. Touma (Bitar)'s Words to +Ephrem

The Arabic original can be found here. Part of the context of the letter is that +Elias Kurban, of blessed memory, was renowned for his efforts at building schools and charitable institutions, and there was some talk about the necessity for choosing a successor to him who would be a good manager of them.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Finally, after a long wait, following the repose of Metropolitan Elias Kurban of blessed memory, a new angel was chosen for the diocese of Tripoli, Koura, and their dependencies, on Wednesday, October 6th—the monk Archimandrite Ephrem (Michel) Kyriacos. Was this choice from above or was it the arrangement of people in this world? There is no doubt, and the conscience deeply testifies to this, that the Spirit spoke through the bishops and the Merciful One had favor in kindness on His flock in the diocese of the north and nothing is sweeter! Thus, in joy and thanksgiving we raise up our voice: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “You are great, O Lord, and wondrous in your works!” When the calls that have been lifted up here and there have gone idle, these cannot. The cries of the idle are forever just noise, but these alone are the whisperings of the Holy Spirit rending the veil and to stay in the depth of the Church and the hearts of the servants of God. “For the sake of the cries of the poor, for the sake of the shout of those in pain, I rise up, says the Lord.”

The most important thing that happened is that the Lord God gave us one whom we know. “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”

O our beloved brother and father Ephrem,

Today, they take you nailed upon the cross, that you may be bread which your Teacher will make into a sacrifice from His body, which he breaks to feed those who hunger for eternal life. You come broken, and tears are your companion, since it was written about you that we must bear in our bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:17). It is not easy for a man to go from monasticism to the episcopacy. Monasticism is, at its base, a cross and the emptying out of the self. Today, as you approach the episcopacy, you find yourself high upon the cross and in the depths of self-emptying. You have devoted yourself assiduously to the canonical monastic life for many long years, advancing deeply into the interior desert. The custom is for monks, when they have reached the spiritually strictest point, to choose their own private desert, out of a desire for the most perfect asceticism and the most complete solitude in which there is no consolation except from above. But you, today, and we know you and speak from knowledge, you are not one who chooses his own interior desert. Your Teacher has chosen it for you. As though in Him I speak to you: You have enjoyed traditional monasticism enough! You have stayed in Baskinta enough! Come, I will send you into the desert of the world! As a stranger you came to the Monastery of St. Michael, and now you have many loved ones and spiritual sons there. Lest you get to be at home there and become content, I want you to start anew, in new places, as even more of a stranger, so that I can increase grace upon grace in you, before you approach Me completely and remain in Me and unto Me.

You asked, my brother, that the Lord take this cup far away from you if he can. But your words were completed with “But let not my will be done but Thy will.” Like a lamb, today, being led to the slaughter. Are we not, in any case, the children of sacrifice? So it is not a problem for you! In accordance with your having been gone in the spiritual place which your Teacher chose for you, your angel is with you. The peace of Jesus is with you in your going out and your coming in, in your leaving and your arriving. Today the Lord deprives you of what you have accumulated in order to fill you with what he has accumulated for you.

They said, “You are a man of prayer and not an administrative man,” but they do not know that the administration of the church, in its profundity, is not a worldly science. Administration in the church is not administration in the institutions of this world. The two things that hold up the institutions of this world are organization and effectiveness. Some of this is useful in what pertains to the Church, because there is doubtlessly a human veneer over all this. But the basis, the basis is not in either of these two things and not with the two of them together. The basis is in these words of the Lord: “I send you out like sheep among wolves, so be as wise as serpents and as humble as lambs (Matthew 10:16).” Wisdom and humility! These two things are born of pure prayer! We are not involved with institutions and activities for their own sake! “The body is of no use. The spirit is that which gives life!” We bring the Word of God to the people in every organized endeavor. Our concern is to bring the people to the streams of salvation. “All things are for you, and you are for Christ, and Christ is for God.” We are not the guardians of earthly endeavors that those who preceded us undertook. We are the guardians of the poor that they be sated in Christ, after we have come to love Him and shared with Him in those things that we were given freely. We are the guardians of the wealthy, that they come to realize their poverty and need for Christ, after we provide them with love so that they may share with the poor in what they are given freely. For us, administration is for Christ to be with us and first among our concerns, for us to allow room for the Spirit of the Lord to direct us as He wills so that we may become one and move toward the One. Let us not make idols of our endowments and our institutions! They are for us, we are not for them. Our value and our honor is for us to treat all as our needed brother so that God may be glorified in us. In our poverty, not in our wealth do we enrich many. One who is wealthy and does not acknowledge his poverty before his Lord is content with worldly praise and neglects the poor on account of their poverty. The meaning of all this is that a man of prayer is an administrative expert in the Church of Christ because the Spirit teaches him and because he deals with people’s hearts first of all, not stone and money and communiqués. These all have their place, but the Spirit of the Lord within us is admistrator and administration together in every situation, He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

They said, “You are not a man who is comfortable facing politicians and especially prominent and important people. Trablus and Koura need someone who can face them.” By my life, it is not just for you to be judged in matters where you haven’t been tested yet. How are you not a man comfortable facing [such] when you have faced demons day and night, with the grace of God and your own resolve? You have faced the passions and burdens and temptations. If faced the tricks of the Enemy, how could it be harder for you to face the tricks of men? You are a teacher of the practice of facing [others] with kindness. It’s not a problem for you if they don’t understand you at first. What is important is for you to stand firm in what you were instructed from above and in the end they will understand you! In wisdom and humility you will triumph over anything the Enemy throws at you. One who knows how to face his own sin knows how to face the world!!!
For this reason, have no fear! He who helped you in the deserts that you have crossed up till now will help you in the desert that you now come to. All the while, you have remained a vessel for your Lord and have remained an instrument of prayer to him for the sake of the world. All the powers of sin, both demons and men, have been defeated before you. Rise up! Go, do not fear weakness, and do not hesitate! Don’t look back, lest you become a pillar of salt, far be it! The angels are with you and the demons, by the will of God, are under your feet! The Spirit of the Lord is stronger in you and we, your little brothers, are always there for you. God be with you!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite- Douma
October 11, 2009

1 comment:

Justin said...

thank you Samn. This is beautiful.