Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fr. Elias Morcos on Revival in Antioch, 1964

This is a talk given by Archimandrite Elias Morcos in 1964. The Arabic original, from Majallat al-Nour, the magazine of the Orthodox Youth Movement, can be found here.

The Revival as a Return to God

The Church in her human reality is always something less than her perfect true reality. We must always surpass our human weakness within her in order to arrive at her prefect true reality. This is the revival: this constant effort, this continuous movement from the way we are to the way we should be.

The Church is the salt of the earth and completes the work of Christ in the world. The Church works, she is present, for the sake of the salvation of the world. We can say that she is the center of being, in her its destiny is achieved. The world corrupts and ages, but the Church is continuously renewed for the sake of the salvation of the world. But if the salt is corrupted, then how can it be salty?

The Church is the group of those who believe in the Lord Jesus and who have united around him to live the life of the Gospel, the life of God. They have no concern except to follow the Lord’s teaching and to follow in his footsteps. The group is in the world and for the world, but at the same time it is not of the world. From the beginning, from the ascension of the Lord to heaven, it is oriented toward the age to come, awaiting the return of the heavenly bridegroom and hastening him on. From now on, it lives in the last days, in the fullness of time, “it uses this world as though it doesn’t use it, and buys as though it doesn’t own.”

However, the coarseness and weakness of human nature weigh upon the Church, since she is made up of humans. Sins and failings and imperfections remain, and doubles will continue to remain as long as human beings are human. But the Lord has born all things and taken them all upon himself, and as a result there is no barrier.

The Lord Jesus has passed over our life and has cleansed us and taken us from weakness to strength and from corruption to life. In order for the Church to continue to be the Church, she must follow the Lord and cleave to a continuous Pascha, surpassing the self and constantly passing from the weight of the world and its many varied temptations to the victory of the Lord and the purity of the divine life.

Everything that exists is in a state of motion and progress. Vegetable, biological, and social life, the sciences… everything grows and is perfected. And how much more so the spiritual life. It is progress and growth, an infinite reaching toward God’s life. For that reason it is said that, “one who looks back is not suitable for the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The temptations of this world are many and varied. They take an evil appearance just as they take a good appearance. All of them are clear in their result, in that they are a stopping in the world, a stopping along the way, a stopping in the exodus, the passing over, Pascha. They are an obstruction to God’s eternal Pascha. The journey to God is a journey without end. Every stopping along it leads us to the corruption of the world.

We acquire upright faith. We build churches. We hold services and prayers. We celebrate the feasts. We have all the richness of Orthodoxy, its liturgical and spiritual and ascetic treasures… But naturally, if all this remains external it is not enough. There is no doubt that the journey towards God is at its base an inner striving of the heart, in God’s being a God to us, living, personal, inner. It is said, “If you want to kill God, then kill man’s inner life.”

No, the Church is not in the externals, it is in the heart. As the Bible says, “One who does not meditate in his heart has no knowledge and no understanding” (Isaiah 44:19). We know this, but in our habitual action we very often forget it. We know that the Church is not in the stone and not in the chants and not in the institutions and what is visible, but all its beauty is from within. If we are satisfied with the externals and we do not understand them and do not enter into their deep, living meaning, then the externals become something dead and superficial that comes between us and God rather than leading us to Him. It turns into an absolute value or an obsession or a reason to be distracted from God. Then we confuse the externals and the true, unseen glory, forgetting the words of the Bible, “On that day the glory of Jacob will grow lean” (Isaiah 17:4).

But if we transcend appearances and desire to live and inter into the essence, there is a Gospel that we must follow. There are teachings and divine commandments that we have abandoned for the sake of the commandments of men. Unfortunately, not only have we abandoned them, but often we have mocked them and we have mocked those who keep them. The logic of the world here is the logic of wealth and lust and it glorifies a lifestyle that dominates our entire life. No, the Church is not in hearing the Gospel but in applying it. If we do not maintain our chastity, our poverty, our humility, our mercy, then where is the Church? If we do not desire righteousness and purify our hearts and we do not do good works, but rather tear each other apart, then where is the Church? It is something difficult and ineffective? But have we tried? Have we experienced the Lord’s commandments to the very end in order to taste their sweetness and effectiveness? Or have we preferred the bitterness and emptiness of the pleasures of the world to the very end? The Lord put a great deal of emphasis on keeping his commandments and he strongly urged this in his final sermon since he knew that “the prince of this world” will prevail over hearts. But if we are of the Lord and not of the prince of this world, should our faith not start from this? Does our Lord not deserve that we trust in his word and try to act according to his commandments so that we will be blessed? “If one loves me, he will keep my word. If you keep my commandments, then you shall be established in my love.”

But the Church herself is not commandments and ordinances so much as Love of the Lord and striving for his face. For this reason we do not understand the commandments if we see them as dry ideas, devoid of their marrow and their taste. Virtue is not in actions but in the movement of the heart within the actions. It is through actions oriented toward the Lord, cleaving to him and longing for him. How can the Church be commandments when the Lord said through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept. Line upon line, line upon line. Here a little, there a little. For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom He said, ‘This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest,’ and, ‘This is the refreshing’; yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was to them, ‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little,’ that they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught” (Isaiah 28:10-13). And to the youth who had kept the commandments from his infancy, the Lord said, “You lack one thing.” That one thing remaining is love: to long for the Lord in our heart and to desire him alone.

This is not for some people and not for others. It is a call, it is an invitation, to all. All of us are called to love the Lord with the love of life. All the life of the Church is the life of invitation: “’I have redeemed you and I have called you by your name. You are mine,’ says the Lord to his people” (Isaiah 43:1). Likewise the Apostle Paul says, “We also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). The people without a calling and love is “a people ravaged and plundered,” the Bible says. The Church does not exist without the visible Church, the Christian people. Our religion is a religion of incarnation. If we do not embody it, if we do not follow the Lord, then where is the Church? “Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power” (1 Thessalonians 1:5), says the Apostle, but out of habit and the passing of time, we often take the words without their true meanings, the shadow instead of the person and thus we mock the Lord. We might hear the call and do something. We might go for a part of the way. We might be given the grace of prayer if we ask for it, the fathers say. But if we do not do all the Lord’s will, there will come a day when we discover that we have no faith and no forgiveness. “Woe to the person whose reputation surpasses his reality,” says Fr. Silouan. But the Lord says, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:1-3).

In order for us to truly follow the Lord, we must have force and self-emptying. Jesus came to be crucified, not to talk. If talking was enough, then Jesus would not have been crucified. He said, “He who wants to follow me, let him take up his cross and follow me.” This total commitment, the commitment of the cross is doubtless painful and scandalous. But it is the only way in the Church. Pain here is a birth pang, and a birth pang is the beginning of any existence. We have no existence in the Church and the Church has no existence in us without the cross of commitment and its pains. But those who abide will be wiped out: “They slept a heavy sleep,” says the Psalmist, “and they found their hands empty” (Psalm 72:18). The issue is the issue of true commitment that we plunge ourselves into. We do not love our life to the point of death, a commitment in which we break the barriers of our freedom like breaking the sound barrier: in our freedom, we empty ourselves of our freedom in order to follow the Lord, and only then does he open before us the way into space.

This ultimate commitment is what makes the Church the Church. Everyone can contribute in this commitment to the Church of Antioch, each one in his field and surroundings and profession, fathers and sons according to the gift of the Lord. It is within the ability of fathers to offer the best and most precious gift, if the Lord wills. I would like to repeat to you what a Coptic monk, a friend of mine, wrote, “O people of Antioch, the voice of the Lord to you, as from the voice of the great prophet Samuel: offer, offer the good vessels that you have, which through all these years have become empty. Offer them so that they can be filled with God’s oil. Do not be stingy with your sons and daughters, so that they can become your vessels of salvation on your day of hardship and so that they can become oil of joy and gladness in the time of war. The Lord will be pleased with you and your times of relief will come from him. Do not say enough, enough. The world looks upon you. Yes, enlighten once more, O Lord, Antioch so that the world will be enlightened by its light as in the first days.”

As for those who have truly committed to the Lord and have gone into the great depths—and among you are many of them—they do not stop along the way. If we have done something, we are not satisfied with it, as every stopping is a fall. No one is better than another. “All the Church is a Church of penitents. All the Church is a Church of mortals,” says Ephrem the Syrian. We have not yet begun to repent. We have not struggled against sin to the point of blood. If we stop and we haven’t bled, then we have not brought it to the end and commitment, the revival, and the Church become mere expressions and empty clichés that we repeat in order to quiet our conscience. Our giving must increase in order to remain. May the spirit’s be to vigorously move forward and not stop short like Lot who remained alive while his wife looked back and died. We must renew our will like the stroke of a hammer in the soul so that it arrives at the profundities of existence. “So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; He who smooths with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying, “It is ready for the soldering”; then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter” (Isaiah 41:7). The danger of lethargy confronts us at every moment, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
Brothers, if we understand the revival on this basis, and we walk in it with faith, steadfastness, and alertness, by His grace, He, for the sake of His glory, for the sake of His love and the Love of His holy Church which is above all and for all, He will allow the revival to be. At that point the revival will be at its true extent, proceeding after the Lord risen from the dead. Then each one of us will rise from his death. In an eternal exodus we shall follow him in his Pascha, he whose life has no end, amen.

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