Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fr. Touma Bitar on the Feast of All Saints

The Arabic original can be found here. My apologies for the roughness of the translations at some points. Also, today is a good day to remember all the saints of the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem who have been forgotten. Fr. Touma, if you remember, has written a book about the Forgotten Saints in the Antiochian Heritage.

All Saints Sunday

Today is All Saints Sunday. Holiness is the fruit of Pentecost. The Spirit of the Lord brought forth the new creation from the old creation. Through sin created life turned to death and through grace death turns into eternal, uncreated life!

On this Sunday, there is a place for all the saints, those we know and those we do not know. Those that are unknown to us are known to God. All of them are active among us because they are from among us and in holiness they love us, in God’s love for us that is beyond what we know to love and beyond what we imagine. They are all found together with us in Christ the Lord. Waves upon waves of saints invite us and encourage us on to sanctity!

Why did creation happen? Precisely for sanctity! Love by its very nature is outflowing and so it begat us. Holiness is the scope of God, and so it attracts us to Him!

What is holiness? If we express it according to the senses, it is God’s aroma, His taste, His feel, His voice, and His very light. It is thought and feeling of Him. It is His Spirit! All this is His flame. No one can abide in His fire because He is fire, but one can abide in His warmth and in His dew, if the Lord draws him near to Himself. This is His scope and His presence extended to us. “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” I will make you spiritual, I will strengthen you, I will abide with you. My love spreads within you. I will give you my Spirit!

But alas, where is holiness and where are we? Adam languishes outside and his existence is a sea of suffering and tears! But tears cry out in longing for holiness, needing mercy! Adam’s tears were more faithful than him. He turned his back to his Lord because his Lord was a given for him, while his tears cried out from the heart, “Come to my aid O Lord, hasten to my relief!” because Adam’s paradise was ruined and destined to become hell.

The time came and love listened—there is nothing dearer to love than to listen! And love only listens in order to respond! Here I am! And the Lord God responded! If we had to summarize the history of humanity in a few words, we would say that man is a light that came out of the darkness of nothing by the light of God. Then it went astray through treachery and delusion, going out into the darkness to search for a semblance of the light that is within his breast to the point of anguish, without finding it. All the while, God’s light follows him in his wandering from nearby, like his shadow, until the time came to visit him. His burden was complete and He manifested Himself to him and delivered him. God delivers you. He gives you the opportunity to repent to Him. He was as close to him as his shadow, nearer to him than his jugular vein. He remains his close companion until he repents, in order to bring back the light, in order for the light to bring him up to God’s heart.

I am the way… You do not come to Me by just any way. You come to Me through Me. And so the way is: “They will be done.” Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory! His will does not come as though from a stranger or as from one lofty or as a decree. The One who is near is the echo of your soul, the breath of your nose, the self that you lost when you exited the Beloved’s paradise. He does not come to you as one lofty because He does not desire to suppress you or to conquer you or to force Himself upon you. God is spirit, so there is nothing lighter! A butterfly who remains hovering over a garden whose flowers are lost and been replaced by thorns. Your Lord comes to you as a slave, as a servant. He washes your feet and wipes away the sweat from your brow. He puts ointment on your wounds and remains your companion until sorrow has no power over you. He remains weeping over you, hoping that you will not wound your soul and more! For Him you are more precious and more beloved than everything He created because you are the like pupil of His eye. “One who touches you touches the iris of his eye,” He said! He does not force the matter upon you because He is behind your heart, with the subtlest shyness and with transparency followed by close companionship. “Oh my son, give me your heart!” And a heart is not taken by force!

The Lord God gives you His will and He also gives you the grace to realize it. He is a pearl trader and He knows that there is none poorer and more helpless than you, so he gives you the money to buy. You only have to want it! “Let it be to me according to your word.” And all the rest is given to you freely! “Do you desire to be healed?” “Arise, take up your bed and go to your home!” I am your home! Are you poor? “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich” (Revelation 3:18). Are you all black with the shame of sin? I counsel you to buy from Me “a white robe for you to wear so that the shame of your nakedness does not show.” Only let not your face be hidden from Me!

But how does a person turn from the desire for sin to the desire for sanctity? “Come and see!” In holiness, words are of use, but only a little bit. Holiness speaks from itself! It spouts forth profound peace, calm joy, radiant purity, and friendly kindness. Presence is more eloquent than words! It is there in silence. The kingdom streams forth from the saint. You see it for real at once or you do not see it and you do not know holiness, despite whatever irrefutable proofs or strong arguments. But where do you find the saints? Show me where they are so I can go to them! The crisis of holiness is the crisis of saints. But we know that they are here and there, hidden! We deduce this from the fact that the world has not ceased to exist. It would not remain if there were not saints in it. At times of overt oppression, the Lord’s Christ is lost and various Christianities dominate, each according to the image of its adherents. The Christianity of Christ is the Lord’s Christ, and holiness is a saint. If you have not tasted it, how can you desire it? If you have not beheld it, how can you recognize it? At times when there is a paucity of saints, desire for sin remains oppressive in a flood of catchwords of holiness. What can you do in this case except to carry the banner of truth and cry out to the Lord for help? Draw me near to you! Pull me to your breast! Put me, O Lord, on the path of one of your holy ones! And he will send you a person who has been made holy or a holy angel in the form of a person. Ask, and it shall be given to you! Books and words show the way, but only your existential cry will bring you what you read about, as a gift from your God! When a holy one of the Holy One is with you, his presence satisfies you and his existence takes you out of your hesitation. At that point, your entire existence is overturned. It changes, opening up to something that had never occurred to you before—that he exists.

The holy things are for the holy. But they are also from the holy, so they do not remain at the level of an idea or a picture and so they approach the reality of the incarnate Christ!

On the Sunday of the Saints, you are given the blessing of a taste of eternal life, and if your heart is touched, follow after what has come to you. Seek after it with burning because it only comes like a flash of lightening, but with gentleness and mildness. Something touches you with a word, with a brief glimpse, with a light, subtle sensation, with a sudden sweetness! Cling to what has come to you, if only at first in mind, let your heart cry out and the One who touched your heart will come as a heavenly melody. Here I am! At that moment He will make it sweet for you to be with Him!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan—Douma

June 19, 2011

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