Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: The Syrian John the Baptist

Arabic original here.

The Syrian John the Baptist

The Lord Christ was an advocate of peace. He believed that each generation that man has the capability of realizing peace in the here and now, in the present world, for each generation that has passed upon the earth from His time until our present day. But all the generations have failed to spread peace to all corners of the inhabited world for every generation that passed on the earth down to our present day. But all generations have failed to spread peace to all corners of the inhabited world. The world still witnesses struggles, conflicts, civil and foreign wars and the occupations, massacres and ethnic cleansing that result from them.

But should seekers of peace be silent before injustice, repression, aggressions, occupations, and corruption? Or should they boldly speak the world of truth? Is peace surrender before the tyrants and strongmen of the world or is it arming oneself with courage and daring to repel oppression and stop the oppressors? Are not silence and turning blind eye towards abuses participation in the crime?

Saint John the Baptist realized his destiny when he proclaimed the truth in he face of Herod, who violated the law. John realized that he would die if he persisted in rebuking Herod. Nevertheless, John did not give in, remaining determined to remind Herod of the requirements of the law and the teachings of the prophets until Herod cut John's head off and offered it on a platter to adulterers and beautiful women.

According to the Gospel account, Herod ordered that John be beheaded at the request of Herodia, his brother Phillip's wife. He scolded Herod, denouncing his disgraceful moral laxity which caused him to have a relationship with Herodia and to live with her without guilt or embarrassment. Her fury raged against John's boldness and his calls to truth, so she instructed her daughter Salome, after a wild party where she danced, to ask Herod to give her John's head on a platter.

The historian Josephus, however, gives a different account, in which he attributes John's murder to Herod's fear that John's call would be taken as a pretext for a revolutionary movement that would oust him. So the matter preceded the order to behead him. The corrupt Herod was not concerned with people's moral opinion of him, but rather feared for his throne on account of John's popularity and from the transformation of his moral position regarding him to a revolutionary position that would oust him.

Syria is John's wilderness here and now. Herod is not yet sated nor will he ever be sated. How many Johns have been beheaded, while Herod has not been quenched by torrents of blood. In Syria today, there is not just one Herod, but many Herods committing massacres, murdering, chopping heads and expelling people. All the Herods of the world have come together against the Syrians like hungry vultures hovering over corpses. Syrian, Arab and foreign Herods-- or, you could say, the Draculas of this age, only thirsting for more Syrian blood.

"Those who seek the Child's life have died." With these words the angel of the Lord brought good tidings to Joseph, the betrothed of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. The angel brings good tidings of the death of Herod, grandfather of the Herod mentioned above. The death is a beautiful good tiding brought by the angel, the angel of the annunciation, to Joseph. Yes, news of Herod's death was joyful news that brought happiness to many, including Joseph and Mary. We are not committing a sin if we rejoice with them and are completely happy.

When will those who seek the child's life die? This is not just a question. It's a fervent prayer that we lift up on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist (June 24). When will they die? A question as a prayer comes from the heart that bears hope-- and we are the children of hope-- that there will be an end to the shedding of the blood of innocents. No one will prevent us from rejoicing when we hear that one Herod has died-- and how much more so when it is all of them!

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