Saturday, April 18, 2015

Met Elias Audi's Easter Sermon

Arabic original here.

On this blessed occasion during this season of joy, let each one of us return to himself, ask the question and respond truthfully to it. If his answer is affirmative, let him ask himself, if I truly believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God risen from the dead, am I following the path that He laid out? Am I acting according to His commandments? Am I truly wearing Christ, whom I accepted at baptism? Does His light flow forth from my words, my deeds and my life so that the world may know that I am His disciple? I pose this question now to you and to all who call themselves Christians in this country because our nation is at an impasse and the only ones who can pull it out of this impasse are people who truly believe in God and act according to His will. The Apostle Paul tells the Colossians, "Put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another... As the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another... put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which you were called..." (Colossians 3:8-15).

Do the people of this country, the Christians among them especially, behave with humility, kindness, love, meekness, peace, long-suffering and temperance, all of which are fruits of the Holy Spirit? Do they cast off their hatred, anger, jealousy, lying and self-serving, all of which prevent their encounter with the other? Do they do this for the sake of their nation, for the sake of their children and grandchildren who will inherit this nation? We need to be conscious of the dangerousness of the situation in which we're living and we need to make the interest of the nation triumph over every other interest. Flames are blazing all around us and it behooves us to ward off the danger from our Lebanon by uniting. Our standing together is a shield that will save our country from the fire. What is needed of us as believers-- and by this I mean all who believe in God, the Creator-- is to draw inspiration from our faith to be good citizens in the beautiful country that the Creator has given us and entrusted us with. It is needed of us to act not as believers in religions or sects but as citizens living in a stable state with laws that apply to everyone. Our religions and sects are the motivation for us to be good citizens who are loyal to their nation, faithful trustees of its land and its constitution, sincerely devoted to it and to its people.

True faith cannot be a cause for discord and hypocrisy. The true believer cannot live in a sectarian bubble because true faith is openness to the other (whoever this other may be) in whose face we see the face of God. Around us we are witnessing massacres and crimes against humanity in the name of religion. Civilizations are being wiped out and peoples are being threatened with extinction because of intolerance, violence, terrorism and rejection of the other. Do these barbaric acts have any connection to religions? Is the destruction of historical monuments, places of worship and the treasures of history part of religion? Is the rejection of anything pertaining to civilizations part of faith? Is it not incumbent upon people of the 21st century to preserve humanity's heritage rather than eliminate history, thought and art? Religion is not a political ideology. It is faith in God and behaving according to values, principles and morals. Religion is tolerance, open-mindedness and a loving heart. Do we not all believe that there is no compulsion in religion, that man was created free and responsible for his words and deeds? If God, the Lord of heaven and earth, created man free and left him the freedom to choose, who are you, O wretched human, to compel your brother to do something that he does not want?

Extremism, intolerance and the rejection and uprooting of the other are acts that destroy the other and the self. Therefore, I turn to my Muslim brothers and fellow citizens and ask them to stand firm in the face of extremism, takfirism and the destruction of the diverse face of this Middle East. If Christians go extinct in this region because of their being persecuted and uprooted successively from the countries of the Middle East, how will this Middle East be without them? Christianity is deeply rooted in this region. Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem, lived in Nazareth and wandered throughout Palestine and Lebanon, teaching people, healing their sick and raising their dead, until he accepted suffering, was crucified, died and rose on the third day according to the prophecies. Is a Middle East without diversity, without tolerance and without interaction between religions and cultures capable of life? Is it capable of interacting with Europe and other continents and of advancing and developing if it is not able to have interaction between its own people?

It is very good for a person to believe in God, but it is necessary for us to hold firm to freedom of religion and belief, to respect and preserve the freedom of others, and to not make religion into a vehicle for political interests and narrow affiliations. All of us are created in the image and likeness of God and He causes the sun to shine upon the wicked and the good and causes it to rain upon the righteous and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). He redeemed all with His precious blood. Here I will say to my Christian brothers in the region: do not allow hardships, however great, political and sectarian conflicts, and power struggles to frustrate you and to cause to to emigrate. Do not seek a visa for your passport that will pluck you from your countries from your land that you have watered with sweat and blood since ancient times. You are rooted in this land, the land of your fathers and grandfathers and the land of your children and grandchildren. Do not leave it, even if circumstances are difficult. Believe that our God has conquered death and that in Him we are called to triumph and to true life "because all who are born in God overcome the world" (1 John 5:4). We affirm that you are in our hearts and our thoughts and that we raise up constant prayer to the Lord God that He may preserve you by His grace, keep from you every evil, wrath danger and hardship, and bring you out of this ordeal unharmed.

What applies to the region as a whole applies to Lebanon, whose children have lost a happy life under a strong, just, united state and laws that apply to everyone. This is because of the extremism of some and the intransigence of others or their hatred, their connections, the advancement of their interests, or their clinging to their acquisitions and the list goes on... We all know that the reason for where we are now is the fact that there has not been an election of a  president who would keep things under control, ensure the implementation of the constitution, and protect the nation. Therefore I will turn to our beloved members of parliament, the representatives of the people, and address their consciences, reminding them that history is not merciful and that they have the sacred duty to elect a president as soon as possible so that he can take the reins. Is electing a president so difficult that in twenty-one sessions of parliament and almost a year, it has not been possible to for the representatives of the people to elect a president, even as the people who delegated them cry out in suffering and the country gradually collapses. Are there no longer people in Lebanon capable of taking responsibility and who have the necessary votes to be elected? Do not let lust for power cause you to lose the nation. The nation is more precious than positions and benefits and the destructive ego. The nation is more precious than ambitions, desires, greed, personal interest, and dependence on anything else other than the nation.

Have we come to the point of living off of memories of a nation, the nation of the great men of the past who, because of their knowledge and culture, had high morals and and clean hands, who did not bequeath things to their sons or relatives, and who did not exploit authority for personal interest or to make a fortune, but were only loyal to Lebanon, its people and army. Have such men dissapeared? I do not believe so. Therefore, on the blessed day of the resurrection, I call upon everyone to rebel against this situation and reject it. I call for rebellion against political, financial, and intellectual feudalism, against the moth of corruption, dullness of intellects and ignorance. I call for a return to conscience and the fulfillment of the duty to overcome political decadence, moral obscenity, economic decline and social complacency. We need a peaceful revolution that will eliminate neglect, improvisation, the lack of planning, and the lack of respect for constitutional limits and national duties. I call for a cry for knowledge in the face of ignorance and faith in the face of extremism, a cry for truth in the face of falsehood, for light in the face of darkness, for honesty in the face of lies, a cry for democracy in the face of political vacuum, a cry for morals and conscience that will judge all immoral actions against humanity, nature, the environment and history. Remember the Lord's question to Cain: "Where is Abel your brother?" (Genesis 4:9). On the day of judgment, the Lord will not ask us about ourselves but about what we have done to our brothers and about what we have done with the graces that God has given us. He who buries his share will be punished and he who makes it bear fruit will be rewarded many times over.

Lebanon is a precious gift from God and it is the duty of every one of us to preserve it to the best of the ability God has granted us. The greatest responsibility of members of parliament, as our constitution stipulates, is to elect a president. So do not fail, do not make exucuses of sins and do not look beyond the borders. Are you not worthy of the responsibility and of making a decision? Lock yourself in parliament and do not leave until the task is achieved. Redeem the nation. Live up to the responsibility and to the hopes of those who elected  you, not of those whom you are eager to please. Here I must express my sorrow and regret when I here some of those who claim to be Lebanese defend the president of this or that state and the interests of this or that state, acting proudly and cursing on television those who do not agree with them. Where is their nation in all of the shouting and insults that we see? Do they not have shame, those who defend a country that is not their own, an army that is not their own, a flag that is not their own, those who do not respect their country, their president and their army? Can they honestly respect others?

On this  day of the resurrection, our prayer is that our Lord who is risen from the dead will inspire the children of this country, officials and citizens, to come together and work honestly and sincerely for the rebirth of Lebanon. We ask Him to protect our army and security forces, to strengthen the resolve of the vulnerable, to balm the hears of the sorrowful, to return all the displaced to their homes, and all those who have been kidnapped safely to their families. We likewise ask Him to return to us our brothers Metropolitans Paul and Yuhanna, to spread His peace in our region and the world and spread the light of His resurrection in the hearts of all humankind.

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