Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): The Forgotten Axiom

Arabic original here.

The Forgotten Axiom: Life Has Become Incarnational!

In the divine incarnation, everything in creation has changed! It has come to swim in God's light (as St Gregory Palamas says). On the surface, to eyes that do not see with faith in the Son of God, creation is still as it was, as though the Son of God did not become human. Corrupt nature, dying in sin and the Fall, has been colonized by God's grace. It has been renewed from above! Man no longer belongs to the earth's crust, as in the beginning-- "you are from dust and to dust you return"-- but rather the earth's crust has, through the Spirit of God, come to belong to Adam, the new man. As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. The healing of the earth has been activated through faith in the Son of God, through love, so rejoice or make an excuse of man's gratitude and wither and die in sin. Not only man has become a temple of the Spirit of the Lord, but also by extension the earth because it is His garment. God's sacramentality has enveloped it. On Tabor, Jesus' garments became white like light. The sacrament is God's invisible presence in visible and tangible things. Creation has become an extension of the body of Christ the Lord. It was enough for the woman with an issue of blood to touch the edge of the Lord's garment in order to be healed. Christ has put on all creation as a garment! Everything in it has become an icon of Him. Thus humanity must deal with creation in all its details apart from sin, or else creation will rebel against the old man and eliminate him as an earnest to the new man. He comes to his senses and repents or his futility brings him annihilation.

Before the incarnation, we ate and drank-- and bread is a symbol of creation-- in order to meet the needs of the flesh. This, in light of the above, is no longer the case. It is still the case for those who do not know. But for those who are numbered among those who know, if they were to place the scope of fleshly things outside the scope of divine things, they would find themselves in heresy! Anyone who treats the historical Jesus separates--even in theory-- from the Son of God falls into 'moral Nestorianism' and has thus effectively denied-- not necessarily in words-- the fact of the incarnation, that God united with man once and for all and heaven is on earth, that Mary became the Mother of God, and that God became man so that man may become god! In the language of bread, this means that before the incarnation, as we said, we ate to met the needs of the body, but after the incarnation it is now to meet the needs of the soul for the Spirit in the body. Whether we eat or not and how much we eat is taken for granted and is not the topic under examination, nor even is the question of what we eat. The object under examination is: why do we eat? And how do we eat? Man's life is not from food. Man, as man, does not increase if he eats more and does not diminish if he eats less. Of course, hunger destroys man's life, but so does gluttony! Total health, including the health of the body, does not come from an obsession for balanced food, as modern nutritional science imagines. Rather, it is from the presence and activity of the Spirit of God in one's heart! Someone who is preoccupied with the health of the body is someone who is ailing, no matter how calculated his diet. The health of the body fundamentally depends on the well-being of the entire entity and not the other way around, taking into account the limits of extremism, of course. Contrary to what we imagine, asceticism in moderation is the best regime for both the soul and the body. But asceticism, generally speaking, is not defined according to rigid rules, but rather according to a firm intention to keep God's commandments and to proceed under the supervision of those who are experienced.

We say, after the incarnation, that "the flesh is of no use. The Spirit is what gives life."  It is not that the flesh has no value. The flesh, as flesh, is for sanctification! But focusing on what belongs to the flesh-- or, one could say "fleshly things"-- is of no use. The new rule in dealing with what pertains to the body is exemplified in the divine commandment: "Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:31, 33). Of old, a person had to labor in the body in order to eat his bread. After the incarnation, he has to labor in his entirety for the sake of the kingdom-- that is, to keep the commandment-- in order to eat his bread. It is not that idleness has become acceptable. Hard work remains, including hard work of the body. But we now toil to receive the Spirit! We now reach for what is more sublime that fleshly things: heavenly things. "Give blood and receive spirit!" In this framework, obtaining bread is no longer a concern, nor is it a goal in itself. The new man now toils first of all to eat heavenly manna. What's more, bread on the earthly table has become a vehicle to bread on the heavenly table. Your Lord, in your bread, takes care of you. His motto is: I want you to be without care. This, within the framework of your effort to keep the divine commandment. "The eyes of all place their hope in You and You give them their food in its time." The least faith, in keeping the commandment, is for you to toil to obtain your bread and the bread of those who are unable to obtain it for themselves. The greatest is for you to empty yourself in order to obtain the heavenly manna. At that point, your Lord will take care of you directly, even in that which pertains to your bread, without any toil in it, since He sends it to you from His heavenly storehouses.

In light of the above, looking at the affairs of this life comes to be from a comprehensive theanthropic perspective. I deal with everything, but in Christ, because "Life for me is Christ, and to die gain." "In Christ," an expression that means that my concern for something, whatever it may be, is from the perspective that everything is from Him and in Him and by Him and for Him! "From Him," because it is nothing outside God's purpose and providence. "In Him," because it is nothing in itself, but rather in Him. He is the foundation of everything. He is the health of the health of body and soul. He is the mind of the mind. He is the knowledge of knowledge. He is the Spirit and Word of everything. He is the foundation of existence! Without Him, everything is nothing. "By Him," because by Him and Him alone "we live and move and have our being." He is the driving vitality that moves everything in this direction or that. Nothing in creation moves in a brute manner. Everything proceeds by your Lord's decree, or else creatures knock each other without standing still. "For Him," because He, the Lord's Christ, is the purpose of everything! Everything is unto Him, for His sake, that which was and is and shall be, consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally. Even evil things and those who have been led astray serve His purposes without know it! Everything, no matter how distant or estranged from Him, is turned in Him and to Him. The mystery of the resurrection is in the cross. Everything, no matter what, works together for the good of those who love God. Everything is arranged by the Spirit of God. There is no detail, no matter how trivial, that does not have its meaning, value and place in God's plan for the salvation of humanity. Every crisis comes from resisting God's purpose. Every complication, all pain, all suffering. God only permits suffering in order to soften the hardness of the soul, as fire softens iron. Last is the total remedy. This is correction from the right hand of the Most High. Every correction in love is for edification and building up. There are no problems whose roots are not in the heart. So long as the heart is not corrected, intention purified, and deep purpose within a person made upright, then no problem-- not a one-- will be solved or disappear. Instead, it will become a source for countless problems! One's problems do not stop piling up, so long as one remains alien to the sphere of his God's purposes, so that they may be completely resolved.

And so, in the incarnation we deal with the Spirit of God and His Christ in everything or we deal with emptiness, nothingness, and flight... until death. The Holy Trinity, in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, has taken us on and dwelt among us. We are no longer in a creation held captive by death! We are now in a creation in which God settles as Trinity. In Him we proceed from light to light, from day to day, until the Father is in us, all in all. We no longer abide in what is created, but rather in the uncreated abiding in the created. We here are in Him! We are in the Godhead! The theologian [lahuti, derived from the Arabic word for Godhead, lahut, so literally 'a person of the Godhead'], in all simplicity, directness, and spontaneity is one who deals with the Godhead in creation, in all its details. There is no longer anything closer to us than the Godhead! The theologian is one who loves, who prays, who eats in supplication, who is occupied as for God, who accepts everything, who does not grumble about anything, who gives thanks for everything, who is satisfied with everything, who uses everything in chastity of heart and does not let anything other than his Lord rule over his heart. He receives as though nothing belongs to him and gives as though everything he has belongs to others. He is one who behaves as a poor person in what pertains to this world and is one who realizes, in the conviction of his soul, that he has everything from his Lord. This and incomparably more! He knows in his depths that the one he seeks is none other than Christ, who Himself was earnest in seeking him. Thus, in the incarnation, we now swim in the Godhead. Here and now and in every place and moment, we are "in the Holy Spirit," as Saint Seraphim of Sarov put it to Motovilov. Theology [lahut, i.e., the same word as 'divnity' or 'Godhead'], as a system of study, is not the divinity, as a spiritual approach to life. The former has no value in itself, but rather is derived from the latter for apologetic and educational purposes. In a time of rationalism, if one takes an interest in studying theology without acting according to the Godhead, this is an indicator of decadence supported by the power of study, research, and intellectual scrutiny. Where the study of theology is in isolation, separated from piety and the fear of God, it is a source of heresies and all abuses. Who was a theologian for Saint Athanasius the Great? Saint Anthony the Great! Who do you see who has surpassed Anthony in knowledge of the Godhead? The shoemaker of Alexandria! Theologians are rare in the world today, while theology courses abound. Diplomas, diplomas, diplomas of paper, while the Church only lives in the testimony [shahada, the same word as 'diploma'] of tears, of love, of prayer and of blood. Who do you think still wants to toil in keeping the commandment in order to become a theologian? It is easier to employ the mind. Most seek to become teachers of theology and very few become disciples of knowledge of the Godhead in the flesh. The reason: rarely do we find one who seeks to be changed in the Spirit! Theological knowledge, for the most part, is dealt with in the service of delusion!

But there remain witnesses to God as a "sign which will be resisted" (Luke 2:34). A little flock. But, "do not fear, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." We talk about the Lord as though He has become incarnate, and we behave towards Him as though He has not become incarnate! This is because we do not want God's grace to settle within us. Woe is me! My body has become flesh (as the Triodion says). We insist on remaining in our old ways. But the powers of rational intellect and surrender to the mastery of the machine bring us to the abyss. Neither the state of animals nor the state of beasts is the limit of humanity's course. But indeed, total spiritual inability. The language of the zeitgeist is rationalism and the sorcery of rationalism is the allure of the machine. The machine, in the name of modernity and relinquishment, has emptied man of his vital powers and he seeks nihilistic comfort. This is the trajectory of materialistic civilization: from the spirit of existence to the spirit of nothingness. Thus it represents a total relinquishment of the incarnation, in which the Son of God came to bring man from nothingness to eternal life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
June 17, 2018

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Holy Synod of Antioch on Avoiding Schism through Unanimity

Given the recent round of reactions from throughout the Orthodox world to efforts to have the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognize schismatic groups in Ukraine as an autocephalous church, the following passage from the (never-translated) communique issued by the Holy Synod of Antioch on April 30 of this year is of interest. This translation is, of course, unofficial:


The fathers of the synod examined developments occurring in the Orthodox world, where ethnic and nationalist disputes and conflicts are being inflamed and efforts are being made to change the boundaries of patriarchates and autocephalous churches, something that the Church of Antioch experienced and continues to suffer from, on account of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's violation of her canonical borders and the establishment of a so-called "diocese" for it in Qatar. In this context, she calls for a return to the principle of the unanimity of the autocephalous churches in taking critical decisions. It is a principle that has long helped the Orthodox world to avoid further fragmentation and schisms.