Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fr Touma (Bitar) on the Resurrection

Arabic original here.

The Path of Glory

Today, brothers, the Lord has given us the earnest of His resurrection from the dead. At one point the Lord raised the paralytic and gave proof that He is able to forgive sins. The Lord raised Lazarus and gave proof that He is able to raise humankind. Lazarus had died in every sense of the word "death". That is, no sign of life remained in his body and he was left until the fourth day. Usually, after the second day a dead person begins to stink. That is, the body begins the process of returning to dust after decomposing little by little. If Lazarus was closed up inside the tomb, it was so that the living would not smell the stench of rot and decay. Lazarus had died and his soul did not remain inside him. If the Lord Jesus raised him, it means that He brought him back to life. What  does it mean to come back to life? Returning to life means that Lazarus returned to being Lazarus, his mental faculties came back to being mental faculties, life pulsed in his limbs, his muscles, his bones... Every cell filled with life and it was as though Lazarus had never died! As though death had never happened! This was a sign of something greater. The greater thing is that the Lord Jesus tasted death-- that is, He died in every sense of the word, as a man, naturally-- and then rose from the dead.

However, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus differs from Lazarus' resurrection. Lazarus rose from the dead in the sense that he came back to life but he died after a time. Even though some early sources say that Lazarus lived a long time, he went back and died again. So the life that was returned to Lazarus was the very same life he had been in before dying, since he came back and knew people and used all his faculties as  though he had never died. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus, however, was not a return to His earlier life in the body before dying. The life with which the Lord Jesus rose was a new life, completely. This is why when Mary Magdalene tried to touch Him, He said, "Do not touch to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father" (John 20:17). This was an indication that Jesus had not risen to his previous life  and so He did not act as he  had acted previously with His disciples and people. However, He rose to eternal life! The life that was established in His body was a completely new life. Thus, after the Lord Jesus rose, He became incapable of death, contrary to Lazarus' situation. Out of condescension, the Lord Jesus was pleased for the life within Him, prior to death, to be according to the life that is in people. He was not obligated to submit to people's weaknesses, to the weaknesses of flesh and blood. Nor was he obligated to die. But He condescended, "He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). Thus, as a man, He lived with the life that people life. However, after He tasted death, the life in which He rose was completely new with new characteristics. The characteristics of the human body, which is subject to death, do not apply to it. So the Lord Jesus rose in glory. In His resurrection from the dead, he made this body that He received from Mary and so from humankind-- because He possessed a body in the form of human bodies-- He made this body a body of glory. For the first time in history, the life that dwelt in this body became eternal life-- that is, God's life. God's life has made its home in the human body! This is something unparalleled! The Lord Jesus rose the dead. In the Old Testament, Elijah rose a dead man and when Elisha was put in the tomb and a dead man was placed upon it, as soon as the body of the dead man touched Elisha's body, he rose from the dead. But all this was returning human life. All those who rose or who were risen by the Lord Jesus died again. But now, the life with which the Lord Jesus rose is His very own life as God! And this life is no longer susceptible to death nor to anything connected to death, such as sickness or sorrow...

The Lord Jesus transferred what He did to humanity because He was pleased to die for its sake and He was also pleased to rise for its sake. He transferred this new life, the life of glory in the body of glory, to all of humanity through the Holy Spirit. For this reason there was Pentecost. And so we find ourselves with the Lord Jesus in a new time and we find ourselves in a new life. Thus we are baptized and you have heard today, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Christ said of Himself that He is the resurrection and the life. So, in the mysteries of the Church, we have put on  the resurrection and the life. For this reason, we do not follow God's commandments so that the Lord God will repay us later with the resurrection and the life! This is what some non-Christians think, those who behave in accordance with their book because they are seeking a place in paradise. Their idea is that the resurrection will occur later, on the last day! We follow God's commandments because, through the mysteries of the Church, we have become partners of the Lord Jesus Christ in the resurrection and eternal life starting now. Eternal life dwells within us starting now! In baptism we are born into a new life, into eternal life, we become partners in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus! If we follow God's commandments, it is because we have become God's partners in the life of glory and in the body of glory. Our  following the commandments is an expression of the fact that we are God's children, of the fact that we have entered into eternal life! The difference between the two things is very great! We are never waiting for the Lord God to reward us, to repay us, on the last day! The Lord God does not give anyone His kingdom as recompense! The Lord God gave and gives everything freely. "by grace you have been saved... and that not of yourselves" (Ephesians 2:8). We are given this starting now! We are people of the resurrection, not in the sense of hopefulness, but in the sense that we have entered into a new reality, into a new life in the resurrection, in every sense of the word. Our following God's commandments must be, every day, an expression of the fact that we belong to Jesus, to His life and His resurrection and that the kingdom of heaven has come to settle within us. "The kingdom of heaven is within you" (Luke 17:21). The kingdom of heaven does not come later. "Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:26). Faith in the Lord Jesus makes us full of God's life. Thus the true believer has another stance towards death. He comes to the death of the body while filled with God's life! We do not die in order to receive life later! We have received eternal life through the mysteries of the Church. Thus what we seek has already been given to us. Our path, in reality, is the path of being filled with God's Spirit, the path of activating God's Spirit that has been given to us so that we may become, even while we are still on this earth, people of heaven and so that  when we depart from this earth and we depart from what is dead in this body, we encounter ourseles in light, we encounter ourselves filled with eternal life. This is our new life! There will come an hour when we even get this body back, by God's grace, and the new life that has been given to us will settle in the body of glory that is our body. This body that will be glorified as Jesus' body was glorified will be given to us in the fullness of time. Until then, however, each one of us who walks in faith in the Lord Jesus and who is faithful until the end is filled with God's life, with new life, with God's light. It is true that we will be without this body until the last day, when this body will rise to glory. However, something that the Lord God has not revealed to us is, if we  do not have the body of glory, what will we have after we die? We do not know. However, we do know that we shall be in Christ, in some manner, in some form. God knows. We do not know! God has only revealed to us that which is beneficial for us.

And so, starting now, if we walk faithfully toward God, our life will be God's life. We will be filled more and more with God's life, more and more with God's light, more and more with God's glory, until the day of the general resurrection comes, when the Lord God shall bring back  the body. But He will make us glorified. The new life that has been given to each one of us will then settle in the body of glory. We are not spirits, nor are we angels:  we are human beings. Thus this body must rise into glory. In this hope we walk in life, we walk in the commandment, we walk in the love of God. There is nothing else on this earth in which and for which people live. "For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s" (Romans 14:8). May His name be glorified unto the ages.


Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite-- Douma
April 20, 2014

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