Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More by Fr. Touma (Bitar) on Poverty

From 2006. Arabic original here.


Theoretically, the purpose of politics is to bring about equality among people in rights and responsibilities. In practice, this is not possible. There remains victor and vanquished. The reason is greed! There is no treatment for greed-- not with laws and not with power. As long as there is greed, there is tension. There are struggles and wars. There is exploitation. There are revolutions, to no avail. There is the clash between rich and poor, of the rich among themselves, and of the poor among themselves. So people seek to kill, murdering and martyring along their way, out of greed for more, for themselves and for their group, without any rest in their souls, for money, for possessions... Greed is idol-worship (Colossians 3:5) and all that binds the human will (according to St Isaac the Syrian)! A greedy person cannot be satiated, even if he eats Egypt and drinks the Nile! Equality cannot be realized unless everyone willingly demands it. The treatment-- every treatment-- is given in the divine words, "Love your neighbor as yourself!" Love! The initiative comes from you. There is no power in the world, however great, that can compel you to change your heart. The most that power can do in you is to cause to you pretend, to make you act like an imitating animal. Authority is not capable of changing people. Authority arranges people's outward behavior. However, deep down, it warps them. It turns them into instruments in accordance with the imagination of the one who holds the reins of power. It turns them into monsters. This is why the commandment was: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:25-26). As much as you twist him and as much as you exploit him, a human being is a heart. And so equality is not embodied by politicians, but by saints. Political authority is not a divine domain. It only plays with feelings and issues slogans. Its outside shines, but its profound reality is nothing at all. This is very difficult-- indeed, it is impossible-- for someone who believes in God to be a successful politician in the world. Politics, for those who have hope in it, is a mirage. Equality is not on the level of masses but on the level of individuals. It is only if people act justly and make others equal to themselves in everything they look at. "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

True equality as exemplified by the above commandment is the scope of the Church in the world. You will encounter it in a limited number of groups, here and there, which, here and there, are known as "the Church." The pattern for this is what is found in the Acts of the Apostles, that "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common... Nor was there anyone among them who lacked... they distributed to each as anyone had need" (Acts 4:32-35). When oases like this are found in the world, the Church is well and witness to God is salt that seasons the universe. When such is not found, the name of God is blasphemed on account of you among the nations (Romans 2:24). "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men" (Matthew 5:13).

The issue is one of a living faith that is active in love (Galatians 5:6). This alone takes the form of equality between people. How? By accepting voluntary poverty! Only when a person is voluntarily poor can he be a believer in the true sense of the word. In faith, there is no more or less. It is either there completely or it is not there. If "it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13), then God is the one who gives faith. Faith is one of the spiritual gifts. But only those with purity of intention and soundness of conscience can obtain it. And so, there is a totality to faith or it does not exist. The word about perfection is that "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matthew 19:21). You do this once or you do it every day by being existentially extended toward those who are in need of what you have, whether money or mercy. One who believes trusts in God, relying on Him completely. Whenever he relies on something other than God in any matter, his faith is made vain. And so, voluntary poverty is necessary. It is not like love of possessions, which denies faith in God. "You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). It is not like money, which can take the place of God in people's hearts. Then, "the love of money is the root of all evils". So this means that every passion and evil desire is connected to the love of money. So if you do not cease to rely on your possessions and you do not hand your affair completely over to God, you cannot believe in Him. Indeed, the deepest and most basic expression of belief in God is to seek poverty with the very same zeal that people of the world seek riches. This means being willingly cast aside, surrendering yourself to the living God. Only then will you experience a new reality, in which there is all newness, the reality that the Apostle expresses when he speaks of himself being, like the Apostles, "as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:10), "perplexed, but not in despair... struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

And so, the second commandment "love your neighbor as yourself" stems from the first and greatest commandment, "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength". Poverty toward God does away with the need for anything in the word. "The eyes of all," then, "hope on You and You give them food in due season." "I want you to be without worry." "Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you."

The answer to greed, then is faith. It is trust in God. It is giving oneself over to God. This alone brings peace among people. In the world you will have troubles. When you renounce everything, you gain everything. There is no longer a space for tension or for wars. The kingdom of heaven is more realistic than Plato's imaginary virtuous republic. The kingdom of heaven is within you, here and now. The saints of God are the earnest. God and God alone is capable of realizing the kingdom within us from this moment and forever, as long as there remain those who say, "let it be to me according to Your word." "This is from the Lord and it is great in our eyes."

However, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth"?!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite- Douma
September 10, 2006

1 comment:

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Of course, if we actually did all embrace voluntary poverty, the economic activity that supports current levels of taxation and public debt that, in turn, fund the State's transfer payments would cease. Millions of people would starve to death.