Friday, June 28, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on the Meaning of Met Boulos' Kidnapping

Arabic original here.

On the Matter of Metropolitan Boulos (Yazigi)

The issue of the beloved metropolitan is not, at root political and it is not sectarian. The issue is not one of extremist groups seeking revenge, nor one of random, opportunistic groups. What happened did not happen by accident, despite the fact that it may or may not have a political aspect. Until now, those who know have not abandoned their silence, for one reason or another, and they might not be interested in speaking. Those who do not know have continued to inundate us with their imaginings, guesses, rumors, fears, and maneuvers!  One thing remains fixed and one goal remains certain, behind the current scenario and its means of implementation: What happened would not have happened if the Lord God had not desired it, in order to lead His beloved Boulos and us to one specific thing. It is not just for him, but for us as the Antiochian Orthodox Church also, as long as he, as a bishop, is of us, with us, and before us. Nothing happens to anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus outside God’s purpose or without His permission. In either of the two cases, there is no question of randomness or of seizing that which or those who belong to God! “No one is snatched from My Father’s hand,” said the Lord Jesus. After this, whatever happens, from God’s perspective can only be for the good of His servants! “Everything works together for the good of those who love God,” it is said. Human standards have no value here! Naturally, we are motivated as humans and our feelings and emotions are affected as people. From this angle, it is not possible—especially for those who have experienced his brotherhood closely—for their hearts to not break over his kidnapping! However, in matters pertaining to God we do not stop at the limits of human affairs. And so the Church has embraced the issue. First of all, she embraces it with prayer and fasting-- and not just with the goal of achieving his release. Naturally, this is what we hope for, if it is possible within the framework of God’s will for him and for us, because in that there is consolation and considerable reassurance for many! We fast and pray earnestly as much as possible, primarily so that the beloved Metropolitan Boulos will be or become His and so that we as the Church will be enriched through him. In any case, “God’s will is for you to be holy!” We do not know what God will cause us to go through, today or tomorrow, for our salvation. What He has in store for us remains hidden within His saving economy! Nevertheless, we know that whatever He causes us to go through, He gives us what we need from His grace, unto our salvation and not our perdition! In any case, we look to what is unseen and not to what is seen! This is our point of reference! Again and again, we trust that we are completely in His hands because He is He and He alone is the Master of All! 

In this context, even if it were possible to imagine what might have happened and might be happening to His Eminence, even without being kidnapped and experiencing slow death, not a single person has experience of it without going through it! There is a world of difference between imagining something and experiencing it in reality. However, we know that God’s grace is in the measure of the severity of the trial, so that we can bear and overcome. One does not know himself, in reality, except when he finds himself in a difficult situation and praiseworthy things might not come except under pressure! In ordinary circumstances, he might be inclined to fear or to bravery, but when he is in a situation where he is powerless, then only he and his Lord know what passes through his mind and what he feels in his gut. In any case, he will not be abandoned! He may suddenly find himself girded with an inner strength and not know where it comes from. Likewise, he may be struck with panic at first, and then by remembering God his heart calms! This happens frequently in the stories of our confessors and martyrs in Christ’s Church. One might find himself in an internal struggle between fear and longing for martyrdom, then, suddenly through dispensation from on high, God’s grace bursts through to strengthen weak limbs and lame knees. In such an atmosphere, we know on the one hand that God does not burden any of His servants with more than they can bear, just as we know on the other hand that if He leaves them or causes them to pass through a trial for a time, it is because He chooses His servant, as one of His own, to be purified through the trial, for a blessing to rest upon him as he takes shelter in God, so that he might be made holy through surrendering himself. If one cannot live for God except by His grace, then no one can die for Him except by His grace! Confessors, in any case, are the seeds of the Church!

We do not know whether Metropolitan Boulos is still alive or if he has passed away. Therefore we continue to pray for him as one still alive, without completely discounting that he may have departed. Our concern, if he remains alive in the flesh, is that he not grow weak, that he be strengthened with grace, purified, sanctified, and that he bear witness to the Lord living, until death. Our concern if he has departed is for him to be numbered among the righteous and the saints! Therefore we firmly abide in prayer for him. We do not hold it against anyone or against any specific group, hoping for his release or for certain news about him. Our hope is in God! We surrender our affair to Him! We have complete trust that the prayers that we have lifted up and lift up for the intention of our beloved brother Metropolitan Boulos are not in vain. Just as the world’s hard currencies are traded from one to another according to need, so too God exchanges the prayers of the faithful in Christ’s Church for the credit of those whose intentions are raised, according to the situation they are in and their needs. Then God cannot but, in the way He knows, send us news about him so that our souls will not remain in suspense until the end. God is not unjust and He is not careless! Living is the God before whom I stand!

As for us, the Church, for a member of us, a brother among us, or a bishop to be subjected to what Metropolitan Boulos was subjected to, this is a trial for us, a signal, and a prophecy from God. All of us are concerned, without exception! We are members of each other so long as we belong to the body of Christ! If one among us is not in pain, as though he is not concerned with what happened, then his feeling in Christ is dead and he does not belong to Christ’s Church, neither in spirit nor in truth! Members that do not feel the pain of another member have been enveloped in death! In such a case, we must repent before time passes us by! Those who do not repent in order to recover their sensitivity to other members and the world die before they die. Those among us who are only concerned with a political reading of the incident and that the Christians are in danger and so flee or stir up panic in the hearts of the faithful for their own interests are strangers to God. They neither know how to read the mind of Christ nor how to meditate on God’s purposes in sowing Christians in these lands. We were sown here not so that we could be one tribe among the tribes of the earth, but so that we might be witnesses to God, the aroma of Christ, so that we might spread love, service, humility, patience, meekness, and joy in this region. We do not belong to ourselves! We are God’s! We abide as witnesses to the truth! As sheep! As a blessing! We speak of God’s glory and spread news of His works! This is why the kidnapping of Metropolitan Boulos comes as a trial, on an existential level. We will pass it through zeal for God’s house or we will fail it through heedlessness to this house!

The incident, in its deep, lived experience, indicates that the wells of divine life within us today are suffering from a drought! Dryness almost consumes us! Individualism is eating us up! If not for the pain of those among us who suffer for Christ’s sake, then we would not be concerned and would not be moved from our own interests, we would not be awakened to line up for repentance, exertion, and sacrifice in the life of the Church and there would be nothing left to bring us together!  If we are not brought together by Christ, His love, and hardships for His sake… if we are not united by suffering in Christ, then there is nothing left to unite us! We are no longer in the Church or of her! For those who do not gather together in Christ’s name in hard times, there is no value to when they gather in good times, even when it is in His name! Now is the time of sifting! Every seed not sown by the Heavenly Father will be weeded! Each sorts himself according to his heedlessness! Where are you from?! I do not know you! The time has ended for those of us who considered ourselves nominal Orthodox Christians! Events are coming faster and pressuring us. Today, the cross of Christ either brings us together or divides us forever! Words are no longer enough! Today, there is another discourse for the suffering of the Middle East. Either we relearn our forgotten language, the language of communion, or we get devoured by the tongues of Babel, perhaps irrevocably!

The kidnapping of the beloved Metropolitan Boulos, among many events these days, is a prophecy that it will no longer be possible for us to remain in Christ’s Church without exertion, sacrifice, and blood! Where the faithful do not choose to follow in the work of love, the Lord God imposes upon them, out of love, a situation of suffering, hardship, and death! All those who do not wish to sacrifice themselves for Christ will be cut off! Our hearts are hardened and we no longer hear! We only have one last chance left: to hear through pain! The Lord’s Christ wants us, for His joy, unto salvation. And so the power of the word has waned and the shriek of pain cries out! The Middle East burns and the whole world boils! Where are we going? We no longer have any place on earth where we are untouched by worry. Either we bear the cross of Christ and live or we bear the cross of the world and die! There is no more running away from facing the dues of our wallowing in our sins, our individualism, and our heedlessness!

As for our beloved Metropolitan Boulos, God has His own timing, to which no one can add or subtract!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan- Douma
June 16, 2013

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