Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fr. Touma Bitar: What Comes After Pascha

The Arabic original can be found here.

What Comes After Pascha

In order for the Pascha that we celebrated to be a true Pascha, then every day after Pascha must be a Pascha. Every day since the resurrection of Jesus Christ has become a feast! The feast is not purely celebration, like the parties and festivals that are held and then left to be anticipated for the next year. Neither is it a celebration of a memory that has past, only the meaning of which remains, nor a celebration of one who was here and then departed. It is true that the feast comes in time. Everything before it comes together toward it and everything after it transmits its sweetness, even if only for a while. However, the feast in Christ has become a new existential reality that remains, a transformational event on the level of creation in its entirety. Pascha, a passing from the old to the new, from a life that dies to a death that lives. Life has become new! Christ rose in the body after having died in the very same body. He only died in the body because out of love he wanted to unite himself to human suffering. The Cross, the cross of the Lord Jesus, is in its most precise definition is an expression of the ultimate divine love for humanity. There is no genuine, profound love that can be sought which is deeper than unity of suffering. Man’s condition was not like this at the time of creation. No, suffering is not from God. But this is how man’s state became after he ended up, in history, nailed to the cross of pain and death because he was separated from God and cut off from Him. He was no longer God’s companion, out of love. When man was nourished with the love of God, as they say “in Paradise”, there was no place for pain or death. However, after man turned his back to God and did without His love, which is what in any situation we call sin, he entered into a sphere that his own action brought about. That is, the sphere of death. This caused everything in man’s life to become a factor of death. Internal suffering, the pains of the body and the illnesses of the soul and ailments of the body, all came about because the heart became unwell and impure. Confronted with this reality, man finds himself before two possible results: either to be destroyed because he is created, or for the Lord God, the Creator, to take the initiative to return him and give him life so he does not pass out of existence. We do not believe that the soul in itself is immortal. Even if we believe that before the Lord Christ there was some remnant that persists, it would almost be without any value worth mentioning!

The solution was humanity’s renewal as mortal creation and the bringing forth of a completely new life by the grace of God and His establishment of a new creation. This only happened because God is love. All of Him is love, and love is always creative and there is no death in love. But how? How does the Lord make man new? Does He take him apart and put him back together again? This could not be a solution, because man, in the way that God created him, could once more turn his back on God like he did the first time, which would mean once more a fall into what he had already fallen into. So what is the solution? Since man did not have the will to leave sin, and through sin suffering and death, there was nothing that could help him! And so the Lord God relied on something that did not occur to the mind of man. This is the mystery—which is beyond understanding—which was concealed in eternity but has now appeared… in Jesus Christ, glory to him forever (Romans 16:25, 26, 27). The Lord changed the nature of death by accepting death! Death, prior to Jesus, was the end of man’s life on earth. But after Jesus it became a crowning of man’s life in Christ on the earth, unto eternal life. How did the Lord God achieve this? He prepared humanity, after their wandering away from him, through a very long journey along the path of promise and covenant, reward and recompense, in this age, toward the coming of the Savior. The Savior was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God or the Word of God who is God Himself in essence. Here, so that things do not become mixed up in our minds, we make a distinction between essence and person. The person of God the Father is not the person of God the Son, but the essence of one is the essence of the other. And so, because the essence is one, everything that is the Father’s is the Son’s and everything that is the Son’s is the Father’s. This means that the Savior is God the Son not God the Father despite the fact that salvation, as a divine energy realized in humanity, is from the single activity and according to the single will that is of the Father and of the Son…. In this way God desired by His love, for the Son of God to become incarnate from a woman, considered to be the flower of humanity, the Virgin Mary, through the Holy Spirit who rested upon her. This event, at a specific point in history, in a specific place, and under specific circumstances, was hidden from the eyes of the people. So Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was a human being like other humans, except in sin, since it was impossible for him to know sin because he was himself God and sin is separation from the love of God! Jesus suffered everything that humanity suffers as a result of sin, and thus suffering and death. He suffered it providentially, in order to unite himself to humanity, out of love for humanity, in order to draw humanity out of suffering. After designating the markers along the path of salvation, with the new commandment, and making it clear that “there is no salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12), and giving proofs that what he was saying is true with the sings and miracles that he worked—including healings and expulsion of unclean spirits and dominion over the elements of nature and raising the dead—I say that after Jesus designated the markers along the path of salvation, he tasted death on the cross as a righteous man. The death of the Lord Jesus was the completion of God’s purpose and the most perfect manifestation of God’s love for mankind. Since Jesus died in the body, being the incarnate God, through him death became a new reality, different from what it had been before. Death—his death—became, following his example, a composition with human and divine aspects together. Jesus experienced death as a human and through it—that is, through death—his life reached all the earth, that is its ends, but as God he made death into a Passover, a crossing into new life, into eternal life, the very life that God has!

This is what the Lord Jesus achieved in the body, glory be to him. But how did he bring what he realized close to people? Through two necessary things: through faith and through the Holy Spirit. Through faith, that is, through knowledge of Jesus, through obedience. This occurs profoundly to those who love the truth, through the word of God and the grace of God. If one becomes sure of what Jesus said and acts on it, that he, that is Jesus, is in truth and submits to it and practices what he commanded, naturally this is not without faith from above, then at that point the Holy Spirit dwells within him. In reality, to be more precise, the Holy Spirit mystically dwells within him through baptism and is activated within him through keeping the commandments. This is what makes one, through the Holy Spirit, a participant in Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ’s death in the body means that death is active in the body but leads to eternal life and the resurrection means an experience of all the success and failure, hardships and breakthroughs, sorrows and joys, health and illness, anxiety and relaxation, fear and calm, that can happen to a person on earth. I say the resurrection meaning the experience of all this and the like as existential loci of God’s hidden presence and activity in one’s life toward a life of holiness through total submission and reliance on God, toward a life that is formed by death to this world in the body in the mold of the divine light and eternal life!

All of this leads us to a new reality for the feast. The feast that we have is called an entrance into new life! However, for the feast to come and go, this has no value and no meaning in itself because it does not change man’s deep reality in any way. Naturally, at the time efforts toward pursuing newness of life increase with regard to preparation for the feast and one rushes to renew the hoped-for endeavor and toward sharpening the focus on a new life. This is because each one of us, under the influence of the hardships and pleasures and experiences of worldly life are susceptible to wavering, laxity, and heedlessness. And so we put all our focus on the feast, on the lightening of penitential effort away from the path of persistence in imitating the cross of Christ, that is following his example at all times, in order to reach a resurrection that will gradually become established within us, not as an event, but as a state of being that will become established and remain. So long as the resurrection does not become a state of being within us, then we treat it, if we treat it at all, as a pagan state of being. If the heart is not converted upwards, everything that it receives externally is a pronouncement of the passions of soul and body that possess it. Indeed, God can be treated in a pagan manner, and this is the most dangerous kind of paganism because at that point one worships idols, the idols of his soul, under the name of God! But the time has come when we no longer worship God, as Jesus said, in this mountain or in Jerusalem, since true worshippers worship God in spirit and in truth because the Father sought such worshipers for Himself. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth (John 4: 21, 23, 24).

The Jews of old would celebrate feats with burnt offerings, sacrifices, riches, and music. Despite all this, the Lord God said to them though His prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your feasts… may truth flow like water and righteousness like a constant stream” (Amos 5). The feast is a feast toward a change of heart in one’s life. So how is this, if the fullness of time came and the Son of God became incarnate and gave us His Spirit and the commandment of new life? There is no longer value for a feast except within the framework of complete repentance unto the new life and the new way of life that we have gained through the Lord Jesus Christ, extending to the life of evangelical perfection in holiness!

The Pascha that we just came through is precisely the dividing line between the paganism of the feast and worship in spirit and in truth, between worldliness and otherworldliness, between the old and the new, between wretched joys and bright sadness, between a life of constant decrease until death and a life of constant growth unto eternal life, passing through death, between becoming like the devil and theosis! There is no neutrality in things divine. Either one or the other. We have either learned or we have not learned.

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