Monday, April 29, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on Remaining Firm in Times of Trial

Arabic original here.

ِAbduction and Being Snatched Away

On the 22nd of this month, our father Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of the diocese of Aleppo, along with the Syriac Orthodox bishop Youhanna Ibrahim, were kidnapped as they were returning to Aleppo from the Syrian-Turkish border. As of the time of writing this essay, there is nothing to confirm that they have been released. This has put us in a state of difficult suffering, amidst the prevalent tension and loss, in a storm that God only knows what it will bring us down to, where it will lead us.

Whatever the case may be, we are certain as Christians that we are in no way cast into the unknown, but rather we are in the hands of the Living God, in the most perfect sense! When a ship sails on calm waters, the role of the human seems most prominent, within the bounds of what he knows. The Lord God wants him to be at peace, even as it is the Most High and the Most High alone who in His love guides the ship in every situation. In general, the human's role, even though he does not know it, is to cooperate with God to the small degree, naturally, that he is capable of. In every case, the human only puts in a penny, while the Lord God puts in a thousand dollars! Anyone who thinks that there is no one in the arena but himself is blind and conceited in his blindness! But when the ship sails amidst dangerous waves, then the human's role with regard to the ship is diminished to practically nothing. The Lord God at that point desires to completely take the ship upon Himself, leaving the human, especially if he is a believer,  to cloak himself in repentance, to put on the armor of patience, to gird himself with humility, to arm himself with prayer, and to stand firm in hope: hope in God does not fail!

There is no doubt that these days we are passing through critical circumstances. Far be it for God to have abandoned us! We are the ones who abandon God, God does not abandon us! Sometimes it appears to our eyes that He has left us; but He remains with us, continually active in us, sometimes visibly and sometimes invisibly. Those who so desire are able to flee or to compromise or to give up on faith in God out of panic. There are those who will surrender to despair. In critical circumstances ,there is always a sifting! In them especially a person's faith and reliance on God become clear, or his lack of faith and lack of preparedness to submit totally to God. We do not have the right to condemn any person for what he does. Each according to his ability. Each is free to do what he wants. However, he must then realize that he will reap the fruit of what he has sown. In this way we know that in a time of trial, despite it painfulness, God will only allow it to be for the good. The believer increases in faith during difficulties. One who is lax in repentance awakes and offers fuller repentance. One who is lukewarm at prayer, his prayer comes alive and deepens. Reliance upon God becomes an inner burning for God's help and mercy. Submitting to God becomes an existential need, without which a believer cannot go on. Does believer experience the pain of the nails in his hands and feet, the burning wound in his side, and suffocation?! All of this is true. In every trial this is an inescapable reality! This is an extension of the cross of Christ embedded in our flesh! A person cannot grow in the Spirit unless he goes through this type of experience, in a little way or a big way, to a greater or lesser degree. To flee from the cross is to flee from salvation! One who has toil, striving, pain, and suffering in Christ firmly is given grace and blessing, growing in stature and increasing. One who passes his life searching after God in comfort, does not want to exert himself for the sake of the truth of the Gospel, but rather seeks something to numb the senses and remove the pain of staying firm in faith in God. He does not desire, or even is not able, to suffer out of love for God. The opportunities, capabilities, and gifts that have been given to him are taken away and he is left empty, wallowing in delusion, anxiety, and vanity. He has no faith in the Lord Jesus, only idleness and accusation, like a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1)!

To return to the topic of what we are going through these days, in these lands, we are not only of the soil of this land, not only part of the patchwork of peoples of this region, not only a constituent part of this country since the earliest times. First and before all else, we are Christ's apostles here. We extend His cross, His Spirit, His love, His word,and His presence! We are not here for ourselves. We are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world! Numerically, we are nothing. As a power, we are weaker than the rest. We are a little flock. The value and meaning of our existence here comes from our faith in the Lord Jesus. Otherwise, there is no value and no meaning to our existence. We remain here, not by chance, not because were are more clever than others, not because we are able, appropriately or inappropriately, to obtain our rights as a community. We remain here by the grace of God! If God rid His hands of us or, to better put it, if we relied on ourselves completely without God, then it would not be possible for us to endure here for a single day. We are here and we remain here because there are still among us those who bear witness to God and the means through which to bear witness to God. It is only as long as we preserve our faith in God and in God's Word that we remain. If God causes us to remain, then there is no power in the world that can wrench us from the soil of this land! If this is not our belief and our firm conviction, then woe to us! God planted us here to remain as long as He wills it. "No one can snatch them from My Father's hand," said the Lord Jesus (John 10: 29)! We were born here. We live here in Christ, and we will die here! We love everyone, or we must love everyone, but we love God more! Do we sometimes fear people? Naturally, we are human! But we fear God more and our fear of God is capable of plucking the fear of people out of our hearts! When the hour comes, the hour of facing death for His sake, we know in advance that it is out of our hands, but we know too that He can make us into giants! Will we die? We know that we shall die! What is important is that we die firm in our faith in Jesus to the end! It is better for us to die for the Lord Jesus' sake than it us for us to live for ourselves, out of love for the world!

Now, we pray to God that He safely return the two bishops. This comforts, strengthens, and makes firm, especially the faltering among us! But let us pray to God first of all that He strengthen the two bishops, wherever they are, to make them perfectly firm in faith and in bearing witness to Christ the Lord, and that He repel from them the snares, so that they will not grow weak. This is part of the battle that is not against flesh and blood, because "our struggle... is against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

Let the politicians work through politics to save them. This is blessed! Let each one work in his sphere, if he is able-- God's finger is in this! As for the Church, let earnest prayer come from her for their sake, just as she did for Peter when Herod seized him (Acts 12). If it is Satan's purpose to spread sorrow and despair, then it is God's purpose-- and God alone is Master of All-- is that we return to Him, that we rely on Him, and that we pray before Him!

We are on the path to the Heavenly Jerusalem. If it is God's will that we enter it through His passion, today, and not through rituals alone in the manner of "Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest," then blessed be the name of the Lord.

The important thing, O God, is for you to forgive us, even if we have sinned against you! To whom do we go, O Teacher? You have the words of eternal life!

Behold, He comes after the blackest of the night. Amen, our Lord!

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