Monday, January 6, 2020

Fr Touma (Bitar): The Light of Theophany

Arabic original here.

The Light of Theophany

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, amen.

Brothers, with the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ a light dawned in the world and the words were fulfilled that "a people sitting in darkness have seen a great light, upon those sitting in the region and the shadow of death light has dawned."

The great light that has dawned with the appearance of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ is the light of divine life. If humanity was cowering in the region and the shadow of death, then the light that has dawned upon them is the light of the life that knows no death. In other words, this is the light of God, this is His life. The sun which shines upon us will be extinguished at some point. Everything that is created is liable to be extinguished. But God's light remains forever. This is the uncreated light. God is light. This is how He appeared on Mount Tabor. This light is what each of us seeks. It is what humanity seeks. It is what humanity needs. We need God's light and not anything else.

Perhaps you know that the eyes are the place in the human body where the person is made manifest. So if we want to summarize a person, if we want to say that he is something particular, we depict an eye. When we want to look at a person, to know him, to see what comes from within him, we look at his eyes. Nothing else in the human body constitutes a window onto his being for others and for the world more than the eyes. The eyes are connected to light. Our eyes are of the nature of light, otherwise we would not see light. Likewise, the Lord gave us a heart. The heart, in biblical language, is the inner eye. The Lord gave us the heart-- that is, the inner eye-- so that we may see His light, the uncreated light. Man is not only granted to see created things, but also to see the uncreated.

Of course, discussion of light remains obscure, so that we know that this heart has one basic function-- of course, it has many functions but they center around only one, which is love. The Lord gave man the gift of love: to love. For this reason, if the heart is, at the same time, the eye of existence and that by which we love God and by which we love others, then this means that this light is of the nature of God's love. We can call it "the light of divine love." This is what has dawned. Absolutely nothing can satisfy man, can fulfill man, can actualize man apart from the light of divine love. When we read the hymn that Saint Paul sings to love in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter Thirteen, we can be drunk from divine wine. He says that three things abide: faith, hope and love. Then he says, "But the greatest of these is love." So we seek God's love. We are a vessel and this vessel seeks to be filled with God's love. This is equivalent to saying that we are darkness, we have come from darkness and we have come from nothing. But we seek this light, we seek to be filled with light. God is a luminous being and light has dawned. Since the Son of God became incarnate and since He light flowed out atop Mount Tabor, the world is bathed in uncreated light, this light that no one can see unless he believes in the Lord Jesus, unless his heart has moved toward the Lord Jesus. What is the difference between the person who loves and the person who does not love? The person who does  not love looks at the one who loves-- because he does not have this experience-- and says that he is stupid. One who does not believe in the Lord Jesus thinks that those who believe in the Lord Jesus are a group of madmen, and thank God we have chosen to be madmen for God, to be madmen for divine love, to be madmen for the divine light.

This brings us to what it says in today's Epistle, where the Apostle Paul addresses the Ephesians and says, "to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift." These are divine words. When he says, "to each one of us grace was given," he means that each one of us, we who are here, without exception, has been given grace. Absolutely no one can say that he does not possess grace from Christ. Each one of us has been given grace from above. And this grace has been given according to the measure of Christ's gift. What is meant by "according to the measure of Christ's gift" is that Christ is the one who gives each one of us a measure of grace, a certain sort of grace. This is up to him. Absolutely no one can debate the Lord and say to Him, "Why did you give someone more than someone else?" God gives to whom He wills, in the measure that He wills. But if the Lord God gives each of us a special grace, this is not for him to enjoy however he wants. In the world, if God gives us intelligence and an opportunity to learn, we get a degree, we're granted success in obtaining a good job, we come to have money, we are able to buy a house, we form a family, we put the money in the bank, we buy land... we think that the Lord has given us all this to enjoy as we will and as we please. This is not true. Here he says clearly about grace that the Lord gives each of us grace for two interrelated purposes. Of course, the Lord wants for each of us to be built up in grace and stature. There is a personal dimension to the subject, no doubt about it. But this personal aspect is tied to the collective. Without the group, I absolutely cannot grow in grace and stature. Absolutely no one is an island. No one ever grows alone. Each of us grows within the framework of his relationship to the group. What he has and what God gives him is not his. Rather, he should be regarded as a trustee over what the Lord God gives him, so that he may give what the Lord God gives him to others. Therefore, in another place in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul clearly states that there are people that the Lord has made apostles, others prophets, others evangelists... what is the purpose of this? To perfect the saints, so that the saints may reach perfection, fullness. We are called to fullness, to perfection: "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect." So, for the perfection of the saints and the work of service.

We must employ the grace that the Lord has given us in the service of Christ, in the service of communion, in the service of Christ's Church: for the work of service, then, and the building up of Christ's body, the building up of the Church. Absolutely nothing is given to us unless it is for the building up of Christ's Church, for the work of service, for the perfection of the saints. In other words, if any one of us keeps for himself something that the Lord has given him, he does not desire to give it to anyone, he does not want to share it with anyone, this person should be considered an embezzler, a thief. We do not own anything. Everything that the Lord bestows upon us comes to have value within the framework of love, when we seek the perfection of the saints, the work of service, the building up of the body of Christ. If we do not use it within this framework, it has absolutely no value. A man spent his life saving up and he was very miserly. When he died, his inheritors went over what he had amassed and they found that everything he had amassed had rotted and was eaten by worms. It had no value! The value of a loaf of bread is in its being eaten and in a hungry person being fed by it. That being the case, if the loaf has value, it is because it is tied to love. Anything that is not tied to love remains absolutely without value. It is of absolutely no use. On the contrary, on Judgment Day we shall be asked about that with which we have been entrusted because we have been embezzlers. So what the Lord gives us becomes either judgment for us or an instrument of salvation, for the building up of the Church, the building up of the body of Christ, for the work of service. For this reason, we must deal with everything the Lord gives us within this framework. Woe to anyone on Judgment Day who does not treat God's gifts-- whether material, intellectual or spiritual gifts-- within the framework of love of God and love of brothers!

So, "to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift." The Lord has given you such-and-such so that you may serve more, so that you may love more, so that you may sacrifice yourself more. When we read what He wrote and what was written through the Apostle Paul, we feel that this person-- who was given great gifts from God-- is as though he were fifty people at work in one person, flying from place to place, from one group of faithful to another, to spread the word, to give life to give the Lord's Holy Spirit, to work for the perfection of the saints, in service and for the building up of the body of Christ. To whom much is given, much is required. The important thing, however, is that none of us should belittle others if their gift is different. Every part of this body is complementary to everything else. For this reason, God gives greater honor to the small parts and to those who have a humble gift: that which is humble in the eyes of people is very important in the eyes of God. In other words, if someone has a vessel that is two meters tall and a meter and a half in diameter, but it is not supported with a stone, it falls and breaks. We all need each other. Absolutely none of us is not in need of others. None of us is self-sufficient. It is very important, however, in our working with each other, for us to motivate others' gifts, to help them show their gift. There are people who think that they don't have any gifts, but if we treat them with kindness, with tenderness, with love, with patience... If we embrace them, if we are committed to them, if we take them in, if we pay attention to them and keep up with them, their gift becomes clear, appears, and grows. Just like seeds which, in order for them to grow, we must put them in soil and tend them until they grow completely, so too we must tend the seeds of God's grace in each one of our brothers by surrounding him with this love, with this commitment, with this care, so that his heart will open, so that he will rejoice, so that the seed of divine grace within him will grow. Then, when it has grown and born fruit, many will be given to eat from it. What is a parsley seed? Nothing! But if we tend it, it gives us not one, but many bunches of parsley. So much as we put in the earth, we reap all the more. How much do we benefit from it? According to doctors, parsley is very important. People are like this. We need to care for them so that these gifts that are dormant within them grow. Then, they rejoice and grow in grace and stature. Through them the Church also grows and flourishes and the saints are perfected, the work of service is performed, and the body of Christ is built up!

Therefore, brothers, we deal with this light among us, we deal with God's graces in this spirit. God's gifts are mine and yours for the perfection of the body of Christ and, in the end, for the glory of God! Absolutely no one owns anything. We must, every day, connect what we have to the love of God, to the love of our brothers. Then life becomes more beautiful. What does it mean for there to be a thousand dollars in my pocket when I'm not using it and a person I know is poor comes to beg because he needs diabetes medicine for his wife, what value is there to what's in my pocket? Many of us spend a little or a lot on things that have no value... How important this money becomes if you connect it to love of God and love of your brothers, to the love of this person! This is something huge! In other words, that which the Lord God has permitted to be given to me becomes an instrument of love, an instrument of connection between people, an instrument of growth in grace and stature, in our relationship with God. This is something really huge! Each one of us has something to offer. No person is devoid of gifts. Someone might give a smile, a cup of water, a question, or he might extend his hand to support someone else... the issue isn't whether someone has a little or a lot. That widow that the Lord saw, who put two worthless mites (in today's currency, they amount to fifty lira) in the offering box in the temple, the Lord said of this woman that she had put in more than everyone who put money in the offering boxes. This is because one is able to make use of a little and a lot for the love of God, for the love of others. When he possesses absolutely nothing, he can serve people much more than those who have money piled up. For example, those people who live in the desert, who are called "ascetics", they own nothing. When Peter and John, the Lord's disciples, went to the temple, they saw a person at the gate called "beautiful" who was lame. He asked them to give him something, so they said to him: we have no money, but what we do have we will give you-- in the name of the Lord Jesus, rise and walk-- and he stood up and walked!

He who owns nothing, who wants nothing, because he knows that everything "comes down" from above, from the Lord, when he asks-- because he puts his total trust in God-- the Lord God gives him what he desires. The Apostle Paul puts the discussion in a nice framework. He says: we are poor, but we make many rich! We own nothing. How is that?! Because we receive what we give from the Father of Lights, who owns the heavens and the earth! The important thing, in any case, is that we know that if the Son of God became incarnate and appeared in the Jordan and the heavenly Father bore witness to Him, saying, "this is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased," if this is what happened to the Lord Jesus, this is because the Lord Jesus wants each one of us to be a beloved son. Man becomes a beloved son if he learns to participate in God's love and to scatter everything he owns for Christ's Church, for God's beloved, for the poor and the needy: "He has scattered and given to the poor, for His righteousness endures forever." This is the way in which we appear for God, in God's eye. At that point we enter, in spirit and in truth, we enter by grace into God's light and we also become luminous.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite
Sunday, January 5, 2020

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