Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar: The Boat in the Raging Wind

 Arabic original here.

The Boat in the Raging Wind

The disciples wanted to go across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Believers are in motion. They pass through. "We have no lasting city here. Rather, we seek the city to come" (Hebrews 13:14). In their passing through the world, they have vicissitudes. At one moment they will have hardship and at another moment they will have ease. In any case, they will have no true peace here! "You will have hardship in the world"! It is enough for them to catch their breath! It is not good for them to be at rest here for very long, lest they grow lax and corrupt! It is fitting for them to always be tense. Like travelers, like wayfarers, like armies at war. Their war is invisible. They are oriented towards the Kingdom. "Your face I seek, O Lord." The Kingdom, however, is not over there. It is not a kingdom of place or time. The Kingdom is spirit. There we will be in a sphere that is not of this world. The Spirit is within us and always draws us to Himself. The motion is a motion of spirit, a motion of the heart, a motion of love! Existence within it is towards Him! This is the habit of divinity. This is why God is love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each within the other and to the other. Stability of being within its passing into being! Depth calling out to depth! This is the meaning of "Your face I seek, O Lord."

The concern is not for what we are passing through, but rather to Whom we are passing in every situation. "Neither life nor death... neither things present nor things to come... can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). Here, no matter what we do, we cannot stand in place. They sea is tossing! Calm for a moment then for a moment raging! A soft breeze for a moment then for a moment a gale! For a moment pleasant ripples then for a moment crashing waves! For a moment we are cutting through the waves easily and peacefully, and then for a moment our boat strays and almost runs ashore! People have no assurance, no matter how intense their strength. We are all a feather blowing in the wind-- great and small,  rich and poor, wise and foolish. Our contribution is always less than what we need. "If the Lord does not build the house, then the builders toil in vain. If the Lord does not guard the city, then its guardians keep watch in vain!" Dust and ashes! Lumps of clay! Without Me you can do nothing! Blessed is the one who knows his limitation and stops there!

It is as though they are abandoned yet not abandoned! Their Teacher is on the deck of the boat. They say, "He is asleep!" It is not because He is tired and needs to pause from work. Until now My Father labors and I labor! This is a planned sleep, a tactical absence, so that no one may sleep from fulfilling the work of God. "Keep watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation" (Matthew 26:41). We suffer temptation when we are inattentive, when we are heedless, when our wits are dulled. "Lead us not into temptation" is how we ask for God's help against our limitations. Our limitations does not mean our distracting ourselves from God. Rather, that we are expending our utmost effort! Despite this or, more properly, in addition to this, we need God's help because no matter how great our effort, it is not enough! If the Lord does not set a limit to our cares, he inevitably helps us to bear them, to face them, and our strength does not go out and our faith does not perish! The important thing is for our hearts to be oriented towards Him, which resurrects hope within us-- and hope in God does not fail! The Lord God does not want to work in our place, but rather with us! "Where were you?" Saint Anthony the Great asked God, after he struggled to the point of blood in the storm. The Most High replied, "I was hear, watching your struggle, and I bless you!" It is as though the Lord abandons us but does not abandon us, so we may struggle: in prayer, in patience, in attentiveness, in hope! When night is most dark, dawn is about to break! Until our hand is strengthened. Be men and take heart! "That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind..." (Ephesians 4:14). All this effort that we make in order to realize it, God is capable of giving to us in an instant, but He takes joy in our toil and our steadfastness in hope, in our weakness until He comes and completes all things by His power. Whenever one of us grows in effort and sacrifice, he grows in grace and stature!

Along this way, we often find ourselves at the edge of the abyss, on the brink of collapse, but we do not collapse! At times we almost despair, like Saint Silouan the Athonite, but we do not despair! Not even if he said in his heart: God is harsh and unjust! Until he saw the Lord, merciful and exuding sweetness, and was startled by a voice saying, "Place your mind in hell and despair not!" This was the greatest lesson he learned in his life. The burdens are heavy for those whom the Lord desires to fill with grace.  "You will win your souls through your patience!" He does not burden us with a deaf stone that weighs us down. Rather, He burdens us with a living stone, people, so that we can grow in the Spirit, through patience, love and humility!

"Living is the God before whom I stand," said the Prophet Elijah, while the fool said in his heart, "There is no salvation for him in his God"! Everything around us whispers in our ears "There is no salvation for him in his God." God's silence does not mean that He is not present! His being invisible does not ever mean that He is not active!

The winds have raged these days, within and without, so where is the surprise?! Who has risen before dying first? They left weeping, having scattered their seeds, but they will return rejoicing, bearing their abundance! we have been, are, and remain always cast into the winds of this age, until that Day, but we are not perishing. Persecuted, but not abandoned. Bewildered, but not despairing. Troubled, but not crushed. At all times bearing in the flesh the death of the Lord Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will also appear in our flesh (2 Corinthians 4)! He does not depart from us! He is more precious than the pupil of the eye for us! Do not fear! I will not leave you orphaned! A hair from your head will not fall without the permission of the heavenly Father. The One who is within you is stronger than the one who is in the world! He does not make us carry more than we can bear! In trials, He sends grace upon grace so that trials will not overthrow us! He is stronger within us than the world when it revolts against us! This requires something of a childishness of heart, soundness of spirit and purity of conscience so that it will not affect us. Only those who have departed from their Lord-- I do not say those from whom the Lord has departed-- prevent the flow of His grace within them. God does not punish and He does not return like for like. Christ the Lord extends Himself to us so that He can always benefit us. Sacrificed, He sacrifices Himself. If someone isolates himself, this is his own doing and not abandonment by the One who emptied Himself for his sake and for the sake of humankind, taking the form of a servant. They go to far-off countries, thinking that in so doing they will do themselves good, until they go down to the pigsty while their Lord waits, watching over the scent of those loved ones who departed from Him, with a tear in His eye! "'Be astonished, O heavens, at this,and be horribly afraid; be very desolate,' says the Lord. 'For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water'" (Jeremiah 2:12-13)!

This is a time of sifting and so it is a time of purification! This is a season of distress and so this is a season of grace! This is a season of loss and so it is a season of satisfaction! Whlie the sounds of war deafen with panic and the Wicked One strives to seize the little ones with noise and intimidation, rays of light slip through to them from above as grace. Veils are torn in silence, unbeknownst to those who do not know, to strengthen hands that hang down and feeble knees (Hebrews 12:12), so that the hope within them will not be dispersed!

As they stretch the body of Christ the Lord out on the cross as a morsel for their passions and they slaughter Him stretched out in His flock, the angels of the Lord spread a table for those who bore witness to the Christ until the end and who were strengthened in Him as they were cast alone among the beasts as the Comforter comforted them!

Until when? "Be instructed, O Jerusalem, lest My soul depart from you; lest I make you desolate, an uninhabited land” (Jeremiah 6:8)! Emptiness! "Come, Lord Jesus!" Our souls have grown weary! So He arose, rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Be silent!" And there was great quiet.

September 15, 2013
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite- Douma

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