Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on the Commandments


 Arabic original here.



What are the Commandments?

The young man asked, "What are the commandments?" Commandments, in principle, are everything that the Lord God asks of us. Here, the Lord repeats to him some of the commandments. Jesus said, "Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and your mother. Love your neighbor as yourself." The Lord chose these commandments because someone who follows them truly cannot but arrive at the commandment of all commandments, the great commandment, "Love the Lord your God..."

First, a person must not kill. Killing does not ever only mean depriving others of their life. Killing primarily means for a person to eliminate others. If, for example, you eliminate someone near you from your life, you have killed him within yourself. Killing means eliminating others. So, "Do not kill!" That is, do not eliminate anyone! You must give each person his due, because he is in the image and likeness of God.

Second, "Do not commit adultery." This means, do not leave the range of love in your relationship with your spouse. You know that, in those days, adultery meant for a man to betray his wife or for a woman to betray her husband. When the Lord says, "Do not commit adultery," this means that one must be perfectly faithful in marriage. That means that a husband must love his wife and a wife must love her husband. Adultery is the opposite of marital love. Where there is adultery, there is no marital love. And where there is marital love, there will be no more adultery! Do not ever think that marital infidelity means having an affair with someone that is not one's spouse-- it is not just this! One who lusts in his heart for someone other than his wife is also committing adultery because the commandment says, "He who looks at a woman in order to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart." And so, in a profound sense, adultery means when a person surrenders to his thoughts, to his desires. These desires can remain on the inside and not necessarily ever come out. Saint Basil the Great says, "I have not known a woman but despite this I am not chaste." This means that he looks within, he looks at his thoughts, he looks at his desires! If a person looks inappropriately and with lust, this is adultery because if one accepts to look at a woman with adulterous lust, this means that adultery has come to exist within him. After that, it's a question of circumstances. If circumstances present themselves and he has accepted adultery in his heart, then he will very easily accept it in the body. The issue, then, is purifying one's heart from the spirit of adultery first.

The third commandment that the Lord chose to talk about was "Do not steal." What does this mean? We can say that the meaning of this is, "Do not go and steal people's possessions. Do not steal what is not yours." But the intended meaning here is deeper than that. The commandment, "Do not steal," means that you must be completely faithful with what belongs to others. What does that mean? For example, if there is an employee working in a company and he treats his work as though it is not his own, or if he wastes time at work, or if he allows himself to use the telephone for private calls, or if he allows himself to read the newspaper during work, or if he starts silly and inappropriate conversations at work... then this employee is stealing. In other words, someone who is not completely faithful with what belongs to others is stealing. One must always treat things that belongs to others faithfully just like one treats one's own things. One must be perfectly faithful with things belonging to others. At that point, we move out of the framework of theft and are no longer stealing. The Lord is not speaking hear about appearances! No! The Lord touches things at their root, in the depths of one's heart, whether in regard to killing, adultery, or theft.

After that we come to the fourth commandment that the Lord Jesus cited, "Do not bear false witness." Perhaps a large proportion of us have never entered a court in their life and perhaps never will. However, by this commandment they are required to, "not bear false witness." Bearing false witness means not bearing witness in truth. What is truth?!  Truth is loving others with perfect love. This is truth for God! When a person loves others with perfect love, he is in truth and so when he speaks about others he bears witness in truth and does not bear false witness. For example, if I spoke about a person and perhaps I say something good about him but mention in passing some bad things, the Lord God looks at my internal motivations. Very often, I speak about others with a spirit of jealousy! My motivations are not pure and so my witness about them is not true, so I bear false witness about others. Whenever I speak about someone that I do not love with perfect love, my words are like a false witness against him! Everything that wounds the love of others is not in truth and so it is false. Thus, "Do not bear false witness!" this is the root of false witness.


The fifth commandment that the Lord cited is, "Honor your father and your mother." This  commandment does not just mean that you give them a hundred dollars a month and not just that you honor them when you see them. Honoring your father and and your mother means that you obey them in Christ! Today, the great problem in our society is that we do not honor our fathers and our mothers! We are no longer obedient. Each one of us does what he wants! If he does a good deed for his other or his father, he thinks he has done something great, an act of charity! For a person to honor his father and his mother means that he obeys them in Christ, that he loves them because he came into the world through them and they are the ones through whom Christ came into his life. Then, this does not just mean fathers and mothers in the flesh, but also fathers and mothers in the spirit. Each one of us has a father and a mother who begat him in the flesh. However, we have many people who beget us in the spirit. We must duly honor them. This particularly means honoring our fathers in the Church of Christ. Let us duly honor the fathers of the Church who have reposed and who are still alive! For this reason do not disdain someone who approaches a priest, makes a prostration, and says, "Father, bless" because in this simple action God's blessing passes through the spiritual father or mother to the spiritual son or daughter. If we do not learn to break ourselves before everything related to those who bring us into life and those who bring us into the kingdom of heaven, we do not honor anyone and consequently we cannot honor God! He who cannot honor people cannot honor God! When a person is immersed in his personal honor, which places himself above every consideration, he does not honor anyone and so he does not honor God. We must learn to be humble. We must learn to be obedient. We must learn to be broken before others, great and small! In reality, honor is due to all because each person in this world builds me up with a word, and so has become like a parent to me. Each one of us is granted to be a child to others and to be a parent to them in Christ, in the sense that he learns from others and obeys God in others and at the same time adopts others and considers them to be his own in Christ, considering himself responsible for them. We, as humans, have been granted to beget each other in Christ and for each one of us to be a father and mother to others. Thus, the issue goes beyond being an issue of fatherhood and motherhood in the flesh.

All of these lead to the sixth commandment that the Lord Jesus cited, and it is the stream into which all the other commandments flow, with regard to our relationship with each other. Thus the Lord said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." If one knows to not kill, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness-- in the sense that I expressed-- and if he honors his father and his mother, then at that point he will be able to love his neighbor as himself. This is on the human level. This is how things begin. We can never undertake direct contact with the Lord except through others. For this reason the commandment was first, "Love your neighbor as yourself." When we have learned to love our neighbor as ourselves, then at that point we can soar in the heights and love God with all our heart, soul and strength. This is why the second question that the young man asked is, "I have kept all these from my childhood, so what am I still lacking?" Here, when one learns to love his neighbor as himself, he arrives at the threshold of perfection: "If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me!" This is something terrifying! First: "If you want to be perfect"-- this means that a person can be perfect! This is exactly what the Lord Jesus said, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect!" Second: "Go, sell everything you have." That is, you must not have any attachment whatsoever to anything in this world. "And give it to the poor," meaning that you will open your inner depths to the poor and wretched, in keeping with the Psalm, "He has freely given to the poor. His righteousness endures forever." When one opens his inner depths to God's wretched ones without reservation, then he has loved his neighbor as himself. And when he has loved his neighbor as himself in this sense, then he will have treasure in heaven. Then he will become a perfect disciple of the Lord Jesus: "Come and follow Me." This is the simplest expression of faith in the Lord Jesus. Faith in the Lord Jesus means for one to be an ascetic completely, in everything connected to this existence. He does not want anything: "Your face, O Lord, I seek! [And I do not want anything else at all]." When one's heart is no longer attached to anything, when one is freed from attachment to the things of this world and slavery to it, when one opens himself completely to others-- to God's poor, and all of us are poor for God-- then he will have reached faith. That is, he will have given himself over to God completely, just as the Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself over completely into His Father's hands when He was nailed to the cross and was about to take His last breath. At that moment He said, "Into Your hands I commend My spirit!"

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan- Douma
November 24, 2013

2 comments:

Owen White said...

"For example, if there is an employee working in a company and he treats his work as though it is not his own, or if he wastes time at work, or if he allows himself to use the telephone for private calls, or if he allows himself to read the newspaper during work, or if he starts silly and inappropriate conversations at work... then this employee is stealing. In other words, someone who is not completely faithful with what belongs to others is stealing. One must always treat things that belongs to others faithfully just like one treats one's own things. One must be perfectly faithful with things belonging to others."

The capitalists just love this sermon.

Samn! said...

Yes, I'm happy for them to take that part if they also take Fr Touma's understanding of who rightfully owns what...