Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fr. Touma (Bitar) on Activism in the Church

Arabic original here.

Positive Events in the Past Week and the Hope It Brings

Finally, attention was turned from the plan for the basic [electoral] law to what is called the "General Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon"! It was not brought up at the regular session of the Holy Synod (October 2-4)! God's wisdom, in His Beautitude the Patriarch, spared us the consequences of dicussing and deciding on a harsh and ambiguous plan that was unprecedented in the history of the See of Antioch. Thanks and praise be to God and thanks to His Beautitude's insightful view for the fatherly way in which he removed the topic from the realm of discussion and put an end to the painful debate over the issue!

His Beatitude did not say much, but he affirmed three basic things, either directly or indirectly:

First. The issue of the Orthodox community's rights in Lebanon remains within the purview of the advisory committee under his leadership.

Second. The advisory committee is not empowered to prepare drafts of canons on the synodal level particular to any Orthodox body. Within this context, what was proposed with the "General Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon" was treated as ideas for discussion, not as an actual draft for a canon to be adopted.

Third. His Beatitude was careful not to enter into ecclesiological debates of a pastoral nature and related to canon law, preventing confusion within the ranks of Orthodoxy, especially at this difficult period in the history of Lebanon and of the region.

From our standpoint, we declare that acute confrontationalism over the issue, as well as triumphalism, do not befit those discussing it, lest we subject ourselves to insulting each other personally, while the goal is for us to debate the Church's cause within the scope of tradition, in the spirit of brotherly love, preserving the true faith and ensuring that we remain within it in all matters.

From another standpoint, the meeting that was called by the Orthodox Youth Movement and the Orthodox Pastoral Gathering warrants thanks to God for its success.

What happened is of great significance! The spontaneous response by many and the immediate call for meeting to face and forestall this sudden danger (whether aware or unaware) represented by the plan for the "General Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Leabnon", this call and this response is an indication that the feeling for right belief among the Orthodox Youth Movement, those who are in agreement with it, sympathize with it, and branch out from it, is deep and sensitive! As the people of God, we must admit that the Movement, despite its difficulties here and there, is the Church's only pastoral body on an Antiochian level that clearly represents the activist spirit of the Church, that spirit that has characterized the people of God in the Orthodox Church in general, generation after generation, and has made them the basic guarantor of Orthodoxy and right belief, especially when the Church was subject to torrents of heresies, strange ideas, distasteful tendencies, and alarming transgressions through her history.

As for the Church's activist spirit, this is a spiritual characteristic and a grace. Its starting-point is living consciousness of traditional Orthodoxy and its sole allegiance is to the Lord Jesus Christ, in spirit and in truth. Within this framework, a dynamic and conscious activism is indispensable. It absolutely cannot be transferred to an individual or to groups, however prominent, lest we fall into favoritism, worship of persons, and idolization of institutions! We must not concede to those whom we entrust with God's affairs, our cooperative and corrective role in running the affairs of the Church, abandoning our activism toward them in the spirit of God, lest we become from one perspective a party animated by the partisanship of this world, and lest, from another perspective, we treat them like some type of gods! We can work with those in whom we discern the spirit of God with greater clarity and complete activism, keeping them and the Church from being dominated by their passions and staving off the temptations of the Stranger (Satan) from them and from us. Within the Church we complete each other and correct each other. We do this so that the Spirit of God alone will be willing and acting within us, for God's good pleasure and so that Christ and Christ alone will remain-- with us, in us, among us-- the final decision-maker! Spiritual activism means preserving, reforming, and perfecting each other lest we stray and perish! Activism is a sign of our love for each other in truth and before all else for our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to Him be glory!

The Church's spiritual activism is the profound organizing principle for life in Christ's Church. It is the theantrhopic arrangement that calls down divine grace and directs it into the one body, to purify and nourish all members with the life that spreads within it, with the grace that is from above!

If this activism's path is to be love and not favoritism, then those who embrace it cannot cease working fervently on two levels:

-- The level of continuous, humble personal purification, lest we fall into spiritual dryness and our internal springs run dry.

-- The level of continuously trying to forget what we have achieved, like the active bee that reaches forward, and of work in silence and love, like unprofitable servants, to preserve what the Lord has entrusted us with, and to be filled with the spirit of God and to spread the spirit of the Gospel. Otherwise, we inevitably fall into flabbiness and we lose the warmth of the Spirit and God's grace departs from us. At that point, we find ourselves drowning in household cares, we become proud and distracted by externals, and the spirit of competition for authority stirrs within us. We break away from each other and thorns and briars sprout up within us and between us. We take on an attitude of reveling in past glories and none of us desires to seriously combat his personal sin any more. We become insensitive and we no longer calmly move against the real dangers in the Church. We no longer pay attention to matters of our salvation. The scale of priorities for us is reversed, and our honors, glories, and powers become the standard for the revival, in place of keeping the divine commandment, prayer, fasting, and zeal for the house of God.

I hope what happened yesterday will be a lasting return, not a transient boom, to the first love and to continuous true spiritual activism that draws on the wells of repentance and humility and puts an end to intoxicating flabbiness, hollow triumphalism, and tiresome strife. After today, we have no right to return to heedlessness! What happened is that the Church and the Holy Synod, in one way or another, expressed their need for the participation of the people of God-- all the people of God-- but in a sober, loving, and responsible manner, for safeguarding what has been entrusted, preserving tradition, and promoting the spirit of witnessing to the Lord Jesus and to true belief among us, in these lands, and in all the world. Had the Movement not stirred, something with dire consequences would have happened! Activism is a grace from above, a gift, and a commission from the Most High! Let us not take anyone's role, but let no one eliminate or seize our role! Let no one dissipate our activism, but rather let us treat it automatically to preserve ourselves and our role away from excesses and Christ's Church from being slandered, as an index of new life that grows, so that the bride will remain radiant, so that we will have lasting joy, and so salvation extends and flowers radiantly into eternal life!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan- Douma
October 7, 2012

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