Friday, January 11, 2019

Fr Touma (Bitar): Fire in the Water

Arabic original here.

Fire in the Water

When the Lord Jesus went down into the water at His baptism, this was a prelude to His going down to hell. And when He rose from baptism, His rising was a sign of the newness of life that the Lord Jesus was to amply bestow upon humanity by the Holy Spirit. Water, as we have begun to discover today, has a memory. Everything that has happened in history is stored up, in one way or another, in water's memory. For the sake of paradox, water on earth does not increase or decrease. Everything that has happened in history, starting with the creation of Adam, is preserved in water. Man himself, his own body is made up of no less than seventy percent water and the water in our makeup reaches ninety percent.

So all God's blessings that He generously bestowed upon humanity were in the water, in a sense. But also all of humanity's sins were stored up in the water. In the water there is what is alive and belongs to God and in the water there is what is dead and belongs to man's sin. So if the Lord Jesus Christ went down into the water, in the fullness of time, this means that He went down into the death that man had sowed in himself and in God's creation since the dawn of history. Jesus did not go down to die as man. He went down to die as God in the flesh! What does that mean exactly? We don't know! This is God's mystery. He died and did not die at the same time. But we know that death died in the life of God incarnate. The rest is your Lord's business.

Jesus went down to man, in the pit of death, because humanity had transformed God's creation into a pit of death. Therefore all the signs of the descent into hell-- and what is meant by "hell" is what is known in Hebrew as "Sheol", the habitation of the dead-- was first at the Annunciation. The angel of the Lord came to Mary, bringing her the good news of the Savior's being born from her. But Jesus was named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. How does He save His people from their sins? How does He save His people from their death? By taking on everything that had been caused by sin, since the dawn of history. But it was not possible for Jesus to take on sin, because sin is tied to the will and the Lord Jesus' will cannot accept sin. Therefore, the Lord Jesus accepted everything that resulted from man's sin, everything that resulted from the corruption of man's will.

Since the Annunciation, salvation means that  the One who is to come is coming to willingly take on man's mortality, to take one all the corruption that man sowed deep down. This is the good news for those walking in darkness and the shadow of death! He didn't take on death and the events of death, so as to participate in all of its details and then eliminate it. The Lord Jesus didn't take on death in itself, but rather He took on the body; He became man. And as a man, He entered into contact with humanity. In this contact, God loved man completely. With the love that is in Him as God, He emptied Himself existentially. He made Himself a servant to humanity! He serves it in what sense? He serves it by His perfect love for it. There is no value to service if it is not a service of love!

The love in God is boundless. Therefore, when the Son of God emptied Himself, took the form of a servant and became in the likeness of man, He entered into a connection with people, the fullness of which is the service of divine love: total sacrifice for them. This put Him in connection with each person. Love knows no limitation. Love, God's love, in Jesus Christ, God incarnate, touches every one of His creatures. It touches each human of His humanity. It touches every capillary of every member. It touches every tissue of every fiber of every human being. So love is penetrating. It has penetrated into humanity completely. It has penetrated into creation completely. Death is nothing, for the Lord God to take up, to eliminate. But His love, which has put Him in perfect union with every human being, swallowed death. Love is more powerful than death! It swallowed up all the events of death, everything that has a connection to what sin sowed, the sin of man. Love swallowed all of this.

Have you not read how Elijah, when he wanted to offer a sacrifice to God-- and in every sacrifice, in reality, there is an offering of all creation-- when Elijah wanted to offer a sacrifice to God, he prayed-- and prayer is love-- and poured water on the sacrifice to make it impossible for it to catch on fire, according to the standards of people. What happened, what Elijah made happen was by God's power and the fire that came down and consumed the sacrifice and devoured the water, this fire was in reality the fire of God's love. God doesn't have fire like people have fire. With people, fire burns, while for God, first purifies, cleanses, sanctifies, sweeps away uncleanliness and gives life. Therefore, for God, first is water's twin. Water is life and fire, too, for God is life because His love is life!

God, then, in His only-begotten Son, swallowed death by the fire of His great love and devoured the moisture of man's life, which equals his sin. By His going down into the waters of the Jordan, the Lord God, who is a fire of love, cleaned it and returned it two its previous state, by His presence within it, and He made baptism from then on a new birth for all who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus Theophany, today, is a revelation of God's exceeding love which, as I said, appeared at the Annunciation, appeared in the cave, and today appears in a more general form, in the Lord's going down into the waters of the Jordan as a symbol of His going down to the depths of humanity's death, to cleanse it and devour every stain in it and thus to make it glorious once more. Therefore it is said: in baptism we experience death with Christ, so that from then on we may walk in newness of life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
January 6, 2019

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