Monday, November 18, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on Martyrdom and Bearing Witness

 Arabic original here.

The Lineage of Martyrs

Brethren, since Christ became incarnate and lived among people, He did not grant them to be at ease. Rather, in this world he granted them to be in hardship. He did not grant them to be strong in this world, but rather He offered them the cross! "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" and so "it is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of heaven." Those who seek comfort in this world will not be able to believe in the Lord Jesus, and likewise those who seek strength, glory, authority, money, and pleasure.

Brethren, we are a flock of sheep cast amidst a world of wolves. The logic according to which we act is the opposite of the logic according to which this world acts. And so we are considered fools with regard to this world! Our wisdom is unacceptable in this age. We have no choice but to be met with what Christ was met with, since the student is not better than his teacher. The great temptation that we face in this world is the temptation of compromise, the temptation of fabrication. The meaning of compromise is that we depart, a little or a lot, from the truth in order to conform to the evil of the world around us, seeking some concessions in this world. The meaning of fabrication is when we mix truth and falsehood, divine wisdom and human wisdom, poverty before God and wealth before the world. Compromise and fabrication are the two temptations to which the faithful are subjected as long as they are in this world. The Evil One pressures us, as too the world pressures us, our neighbors pressure us, and strangers pressure us also. Even within the Church, among those who are called believers, fabrication and compromise are considered wisdom, know-how,  diplomacy, pastoral economy! Those who completely hold firm to faith in God are considered, even by their families, to be obstinate, narrow-minded, beset with complexes, fundamentalist! This was true in every generation and it is especially true today. Today, madness strikes most of those who are considered believers, not to even speak of those who are outside the fold of the Church! People in Christ's Church for the most part retreat from faith in God in God's name. Of course, this is under the cover of modernity, thought, and good pastoral care, but deep down most people who are considered Christians no longer have a relationship with their Christ, their Lord, in Spirit and in truth! Most have a relationship with God in form, but the content is undisciplined, left to people's passions, to people's discretion, as though the Church, to a great extent, is no longer one Church, but has become as many churches as there are people. Each person develops his own church in his own way, taking a little from here and a little from there, infusing it with whatever pleases him from his own thinking and his own passions, accepting one commandment and ignoring another, accepting one practice and ignoring others... Thus it is as though each person invents his own private church. The deep reason for this fragmentation, for this perdition, for this madness, is that only very few are prepared to bear the cross of Christ and follow Him to the end. Most people come down from the cross. They replace the cross itself with its use as an ornament, its cosmetic use, using the cross as a good omen to ward off the evil eye, unclean spirits, diseases and catastrophes... but the Church is in her martyrs! There is no Church except in the martyrs. This passage from the Gospel that was read to you, it is the Gospel passage read on the feasts of the martyrs and thus these words are directed at all who are still crazy enough to bear the cross of Christ and to follow in the footsteps of the martyrs of Christ.

"Beware of people,  they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony... You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death." Whether or not they kill us in the body is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that they will kill us morally. They will do away with us. They will persecute us. They will pressure us in every way to follow in their ways and accept their wisdom! "You will be hated by all [by all, without exception!] for my name's sake." It is as though He says, in other words, that the Church is in a state of revival when the faithful within her are subject to persecution and harrassment but remain firm in faith until the end. Those who are not prepared to bear the cross of Christ are never able to bear the cross of others! They cannot be prepared  to bear the cross of love, the cross of mercy, the cross of cooperation, the cross of sacrifice! And so, without a cross, a person will inevitably enter into dishonesty in relation to people and speak empty words! Words go in one direction and deeds in another! Because most do not love the truth, the Lord God gives them to believe falsehood as though it were truth. Many today-- and I am speaking of those in Christ's Church, not of those outside her-- believe falsehood because they do not believe truth and are not prepared to sacrifice in order to preserve the truth, in order to walk in the way of truth, for the sake of faith in the truth. Thus they invent lies and pass around lies among themselves, insisting that this is the truth!

For this reason, brethren, we must be careful, lest we fall into this hole, into this abyss. Each one of us must be wary,  lest he fall into making compromises, making fabrications: lest he abandon the Cross of Christ. Of course today, perhaps more than in many times in the past, we must endure hardship. Silence, then, becomes a burden because when a person wants to hold fast to faith in God amidst those who are not ready to hear the word of truth, he finds himself obliged to keep silent! Why would he speak?! A person speaks when there are those who are ready to hear. But if there is no one who is ready to hear, then one walking in the path of faith in God keeps silent! Perhaps he will wait for a favorable time to speak. In any case, he holds firmly to prayer, practices silence, and acts humbly. Whatever they might say about him, it's not important! His first and final concern is to please God, to act according to his conscience. This is true witness. This is witness in the most difficult sense! Those who are killed in the body are killed once. But those who are persecuted because they hold fast to faith in God die every day. However, the Lord God gives them life every day. He gives them the Spirit of consolation. He makes them firm. He gives them strength! It may appear that they are weak, but the power of God dwells within them. It may appear that God has abandoned them, but God preserves them with a guardian angel day and night. Brethren, we must keep faith in God so that the line of martyrs can continue in us and in those who come after us. In the Church, there are martyrs or there is nothing. Bearing witness comes from this faith, from this cross. This is how the Church was preserved until today and this is how it will remain preserved until the final hour.


Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-Douma
November 17, 2013 (This sermon was given on November 2, 2013.)

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