Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fr. Touma (Bitar): Syria’s Entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

Arabic original here. Fr. Touma's prose isn't always the easiest to translate, so bear with me here... it's worth it.

Syria’s Entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

…. They said: Nariman stayed in Homs when they left. She had to take care of her invalid grandmother. A hell of violence surrounded her. They had to eat fear and drink sorrow. They had to hoard hope and squeeze out patience. Red tears welled up in their eyes and flowed down their cheeks. Words dribbled out of their mouths, they flew out like frightened sparrows. Lord have mercy! In the name of the Cross! Their days became nights, without light and without sun. The darkness of oppression shut its curtains over them.

Peace be upon you, O Syria, O Nariman, the Lord’s beloved ones! The poor of the earth, her flowers that are so easy to trample!

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked for you so that he may sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail. And when you return to me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Simon made his choice and denied Him. Fear is forceful! But he wept bitterly. He did not do what he wanted to do, but rather he did what he did not want to do. This is why he returned and was restored. The Cross is resurrection, because the Lord encompasses you with His love. You are no longer in a state of worry. You are in God’s heart. “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

“Because of the oppression of the poor, the sighs of the needy, ‘Now I shall rise’, says the Lord, ‘I shall work salvation openly and I shall set them in safety.’” (Psalm 11:5 LXX)

Violence, the violence of evil continues to beset us from all sides until the hour comes. The Lord calms this for brief moments, here and there, mercifully hearing the cry of those who implore Him! Then it returns! Violence returns! Violence that destroys love! The heart remains wicked and no security remains! Security is from faith! Where do wars and animosities come from among you? Is it not from here, from your pleasures warring in your members?” (James 4:1).

This is why the Lord chose to reside, not as a ruler in the heart of the world, but in the world of the heart as wisdom, in order to spread peace and spirit in the midst of wars and the waves of death in this age! “Give me your heart, my son” (Proverbs 23:26)! When He wanted to be here it was not as a judge or a king or a chief. He used Himself for us. He did not deal with the differences among people. He dealt with the people! People are not their differences! If you equate people with their opinions, then you have gone astray and have not known the truth. There are no true individual opinions in this age. Truth is people! It is only if you go to them, if you love them, that you will arrive at truth. This is why it is blessed violence when you forcibly go out of yourself, in order to love, to make true neighbors for yourself through mercy! Any violence other than this is impure, unclean, an abomination. It is not from truth and it is not from God!

Thus the Lord entered Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of an ass, conquering in His body the bestial ways of sin! Jerusalem is no longer land. It is no longer a city or one of the tribes of the earth. “All creation is the children of God!” Jerusalem is the face of Nariman, the Syria of the little ones hoping for a blessing! There is no peace except for those who love one another!  There is no response to any crisis except through peace of the heart, for those for whom the barrier of enmity has ceased to separate. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished enmity in His flesh” (Ephesians 2: 14-15).

Who was there to gather the Jew together with the Samaritan, and the Jew with the gentile? It was not up to a human to break the enmity between them. It was sealed with seven seals of blood, hatred, and death! But Jesus came to the Jew, the gentile, and the Samaritan equally. He shed his blood out of love for all of them and they became one for Him! They came to him with humility of heart and in His love for them He revealed to them the breathtaking glory that was upon Him in the Spirit! The chief of the Jewish council, Jarius, fell at His feet, and so Jesus went into his house and raised his daughter from death (Mark 5). He unveiled His divinity to the Samaritan woman who was 5-times married (John 4). He greatly magnified the faith of the gentile, Caananite woman (Matthew 15). Who said that there is no good in those who oppose him? Whoever gave you that idea has blinded your heart! Woe to him who does not recognize his own faults and his enemy’s blessings! If he paid attention to the wickedness within himself and to the virtues of his enemies, then he would no longer be able to have enmity for anyone! The other is a mystery of profound light! One has enmity for what is impure within oneself in order to be purified, and one opposes another’s excesses in order to contribute to improving him. Thus the one who said, “Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who do evil to you and persecute you,” did not propose something contrary to human nature, but rather that which lies at the basis of human nature! One who does not see what is in front of himself is blind, but the one who embellishes his perceptions and erring fantasies for him is the devil!

In the end, we can do nothing against the truth, only that which is for the sake of the truth. Falsehood is wicked, but it does not hesitate, however long it lasts, to be dispersed like summer clouds. “I saw the wicked man, strong and haughty like a cedar of Lebanon. Then I passed by and he was no more and he had no place” (Psalm 36:35-36 LXX). Victory, in any case, is for the sheep! Even if they tear apart the sheep and seize power, the wolves do not remain. They eat each other! “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” This is the rule of violence. However much it oppresses the sheep, it does not destroy them! Christ the Lord guarantees that they will remain and persist until the hour comes.  He arose, catching the wise in their own deceit.  Even if the sheep are destroyed, they multiply even more, because this is part of human nature. Has it not been said: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church? However much wolfishness entices people, it is alien to them. It comes from the first wolf, the devil. It is not an integral part of human beings. The sheep press their heads when the wolves arrive, and some of them are flung about like white flowers in the east wind. When the wolves pass, and they are always passing, the flowers are shown to be the fullness of the Lord’s field and they rise up and grow because their gaze is upon the light that is poured from above.

Herod killed the children of Bethlehem, but he departed and was annihilated, after he had fought and roared. But the Lord’s Christ entered into Jerusalem, into the hearts of people, in humility. The children cried out, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” In him, every person became a child! If you do not go back and become like children, then you will not enter the kingdom of heaven! He made the entire world into small children in heart, in spirit! God’s Law is that one who makes himself small in humility, in submission, in tenderness of heart, he is the one who is made great and remains forever!

This is why Nariman alone, the Syria of the little ones, remains, even if she is cast into the pit of distress and oblivion like Jeremiah, because her presence is a word of truth. She bears the word of prophecy and of love because she has no strength and no power save with God! In response to “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” there is a word that completes it: “Though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me. Thou hast prepared a table before me in the presence of them that afflict me. Your cup gladdens me like wine. Your mercy follows me all the days of my life” (Psalm 22: 4-5 LXX).

Tomorrow is a resurrection, O children of the Syrian Bethlehem! It is no longer you rising against each other. You will all rise together for the One who is coming to you! Here He comes with the dawn! Peace, my sister, until we meet face to face in Him!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite, Douma, Lebanon
April 8, 2012


Anonymous said...

Mamnounak iktîr Abouna,
May your and our prayer be heard by him,who ascended the Cross for us to show us the path of Love divine, that leads to life everlasting in his Gorious Resurrection - may we learn again by His condescendance - it is the little ones, the 'anawim' of the hebrew bible as well, that entreat the Father's mercy - Peace be upon Syria the beautifull, the cradle of xpctianity, the crown of ANtioch

Aaron Taylor said...

I just found this post, and I look forward to reading it when I have a bit more time!