Monday, December 3, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): For Those Who Want to See

Arabic original here.

For Those Who Want to See

Today is what is known as the Sunday of the Blind Man. This is the blind man of Jericho. In ancient history, when Joshua led the Hebrew people to the Promised Land, Jericho was a symbol of sin. For this reason, it was completely destroyed, like Sodom and Gomorrah. There are cities and towns which, in the Old Testament, came to have the meaning of sin, such as Jericho, Egypt, Babylon... This blind man was sitting on the road by the entrance to Jericho, as though he were representing, historically, the spiritual reality of that city.

It is true that this man was blind with his sensory eyes, but the discussion is, deep down, about blindness of the heart, which is the blindness of sin. Of course, the Lord raised the dead, healed the sick, returned sight to the blind and cleansed the lepers. His primary intention was not, however, to be a physician of bodies. His profound intention is to be a physician of souls. He healed the sick and raised the dead in order to give proof that he is capable of healing souls. The Lord's primary work is the forgiveness of sins. Absolutely nothing else is more important. If the one who was blind in the body was suffering to this degree, then how much more are we supposed to realize that inner blindness, which is sin, is painful, very painful? Sin is the pain hidden behind all human suffering. So the Lord God came first of all to forgive sins, to wash humanity which was defiled from within. As the Prophet David says in Psalm 50, "Cleanse me from my sin." Man primarily needs to be purified from his sin, to be washed on the level of the heart. On the level of the body, if we are not washed, a stench wafts from us, little by little. If it is not possible for us to bear bodily uncleanliness, then it is supposed that all the more so we will not be able to bear defilements of the heart, which are sin. The odor of sin is like hatred. The man who hates suffers from mold in his heart. The filthy heart hates. The filthy heart fornicates. The filthy heart judges. The filthy heart lies. All of this horrible stenches waft out from the heart. Man is in dire need of being cleansed, of being purified, in the heart, more than of being purified in the body, even if he doesn't know it.

Here in the Gospel, sin is equivalent to blindness and blindness must be healed so that man may see. Man needs to have his sin erased so that he may see in the heart, so that he may see the light. If sin remains, tyrannizing us, then the inner eye does not see. Man needs to be released from his sin so that he may see God's light, and then so that he may see God's light in others. For example, someone who only sees bad things in people is, without a doubt, blind. Of course there are bad things in people. Each of us has his bad things. But there rarely exists a person devoid of good. If the Lord did not find a little bit of good in him, He would not keep him alive. It is very important to see the heart, for one to see the good in others, not just sin. We are always ready to accuse others of being behind not only our personal worries, but also of being behind the world's worries. We rarely see someone blame himself. I remember during the events of 1975, there was an enlightened priest. Once we were talking. He suddenly opened his eyes and said of the civil war, "All this that is happening is my own fault." For him, he was a participant in the suffering happening to others. Let us never imagine that we are cleansing society when we accuse such-and-such and such-and-such of being wicked and it being necessary to get rid of them, at which point society will be made right. This is empty talk! In order for society to be made right, I must learn to see my sin and, at the same time, to see the good in others. When we reach that level of dealing with things, we have really started to be purified. When someone starts to be purified from within, society starts to really be purified because what happens in society is nothing other than the result of what occurs in the heart of man. As we clean the heart, society is cleansed. And as we keep the heart filthy, we find defilement in society to increase.

Let's return to the blind man of Jericho. "He was sitting in the road begging." I would like to linger a bit on the word "begging." He asks for charity. He does this because he is handicapped. He can't work. Perhaps he has a wife and children. In any case, he lives from the charity of others. One who is immersed in his sin lives from begging! In other words, there is no blessing in his life. He toils very much and receives little, like the disciples. Before the Lord Jesus came to them, the said to Him, "We have toiled the whole night and caught nothing." They were talking about fishing. Everyone's sin worries its owner and, in the end, only gives very little. It is as though he is begging, as though he is poor, while the Lord makes man the son of the king! He says, "Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and everything else will be added unto you." In other words, man's concern must be to sit at the right hand of God the Father. This is the concern. The concern is to be with the king, to be in the royal palace, in the presence of God the king. This is the concern and there is no other concern worthy of man. Everything else is given to us by the Lord from Himself and in abundance: "Everything else is added unto you." What do we need? Anything we may need, the Lord provides us with, in one way or another. Perhaps some of you remember this story: There was an ascetic monk sitting in his cell and he prayed day and night. He prayed and worked and during his work he prayed. Then he prayed and made prostrations and lifted his heart upward. He had only one job: delighting in God. That is, he constantly occupied his heart with the remembrance of God. This was his concern. This was his work. And because this was his work, he didn't work to earn money and eat from his toil. His entire concern was, as I said, delighting in God, praying to God, glorifying God, giving praise. When it was time to eat-- and monks in ancient times would only eat once, after the ninth hour, that is, after three in the afternoon, the time for vespers-- he looked out the window and found that the Lord had given him a loaf of bread. He took it, gave thanks and ate. That would happen every day! Once, he thought in himself about working and earning some money. Of course, the evil one wanted to turn him away from his prayer, so he accepted the idea and started to make baskets to sell and save up money for times of need, doubting in God's care for him. On that very day, he prayed and worked. When it was three in the afternoon, he prayed vespers and then looked out the window, but he did not find any loaf. He was surprised and disturbed and started to cry and say to the Lord, "Why have you deprived me of your grace?!" A voice came to him and said, "When you worked with Me, I sustained you. And now, you work for yourself, so eat from your toil." This is to say that God wanted us to be children of the king. We bear absolutely no concern, so that we may not beg, because we have no need for that. The Lord sends us, in ways that He knows, what we need. Whenever we complete His work as is fitting, whenever we walk in the divine commandment as is necessary, if we delight in God, if we praise, glorify, thank and put all our trust in God, then the Lord takes care of us in hidden ways we don't know. He provides what we need completely. One who works with the Lord is one hundred percent ensured. There is a monk who died in 2006. They asked him, "When you pray, does God answer?" He looked at those asking him with surprise and said, "If the Lord didn't answer, then why would I have anything to do with the Gospel? Of course the Lord answers!" If we do not reach profound conviction that God is alive and that He is in complete control, then what faith do we have? Faith is total surrender to God. If someone does not know how to hand his affairs over to the Lord God completely, let him learn. Such a person cannot truly be a believer. For someone to be a believer in his mind, convinced that there is someone who created the world, this has no value. The faith that we are talking about is surrender: total surrender, total trust in God, in the image of what the Lord Jesus said on the cross, "Into Your hands I commend My spirit." The believer commends his spirit to God every day, every moment. Of course, no one reaches this point without toil. One must toil. He must exercise. He must learn how to walk in the divine things as is proper. Do you believe that those saints are necessarily of better stuff than we are? No. We and they are of the same stuff. Many of them were wicked sinners, sometimes even more than us! But they realized at one point that sin leads them to the abyss. If man does not work to purify his heart, then he lives like an animal and dies like an animal. Those saints realized their true condition and endeavored to change. Then the Lord God saw their good intention and He started to open their hearts for them and clean them. They started to see more and seek Him more. They started to seek more and the Lord gave them more. And thus they grew until they became great saints, like Saint John Chrysostom. Don't think that a saint is someone who has no sin. Never! No one is without sin. A saint is a person who realizes that he is a sinner and is aware of his sin to the degree that he can no longer see any other sin. Indeed, his sin is so that he may say with the Apostle Paul, "Christ came to save sinners of whom I am first." If one does not feel his sin like a knife in his heart, he does not truly know his sin. Does a person know his sin with words? That is never enough. He must know it in his being, in his heart. He must feel it. If one of us gets a tiny splinter two millimeters long in his finger, he can no longer sleep at night because he feels it. We can't know our sin if we don't feel it. Those saints are a bundle of feeling. A saint is a bundle of feeling sin, and at the same time, a bundle of feeling that he is a handful of dust, no more and no less. A bundle of feeling that if the Lord did not build this house-- which is me-- then it will not be built; the builders toil in vain. His entire concern comes to be with what is above: "Help me, O Lord. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." His entire mind and heart come to be above, because he senses death every day. He feels that he is dust every day. He feels that he is nothing. Inasmuch as a person cannot bear something like this, the saint's sense of nothingness is transformed into a sense of the Lord God's greatness. Therefore he magnifies the Lord, glorifies Him, praises Him, remembers Him wherever he goes: "Lord have mercy on me a sinner! O Lord, help me! O Lord, come to my aid!" In this way one grows in grace.

What is man? If we want to define what man is in himself, then in himself he is a handful of dust! But the Lord God was pleased in His great love for His light to dwell in this dust. We are a little bit of clay and light. This is man, if we want to boil him down, and no more. All that you see, after a hundred years, will be dust. All of us will become a bit of bone that gradually disintegrates. In the end, in human terms, we are a handful of dust, but nevertheless the Lord was pleased to dwell within us! Therefore our entire concern, if our path is straight, must be to say and repeat, to pray: "Come and abide in us, cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O Good One." The Lord gives us salvation for free! The Lord granted that we become children of the king! What are we worried about? Everything that we see around us, if the Lord did not give it to us, then it would vanish. If the Lord did not give us rain, then people would die of hunger. If He gives us two hours of rain, then we live for the entire year off these two hours. All of this is to show that we live by God's grace, by God's mercy and nothing more. Someone who does not see, whose mind does not go in this orientation, has something deviant in his heart. Sin is truly the distortion of man. For this reason, we do not need to trade the simplest commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ for anything in the world. We hold to the simplest of the commandments completely so that if we die of hunger, since only the Lord can snatch us away, at a time that He knows, and fill us with His heavenly manna, from His body which He gave us, so that it may be heavenly food for us. For this reason, it is not fitting for a believer, if he is a believer in spirit and in truth, to live with worry. What do we worry about if the Lord has provided everything for us, if He has given us everything now, later and forever? He has given us eternal life! We must worry about one thing: how to stay attached to the Lord. This is the only concern and we may have no other concern. This is how one is supposed to live: staying attached to the Lord. So we say to Him, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Have mercy on me. That is, I ask Him to take me so that I may remain attached to Him. What is the deep meaning of "have mercy on me"? Does this mean that He gives me sight? No, for there is much more than that! When I say to the Lord, "have mercy on me, O Lord," I am asking for Him Himself, His Spirit. I am asking for Him! I am not asking for what belongs to God, but rather I am asking for God. When I say, "have mercy on me," I am saying to Him, "take me and place me inside you, in your bosom, in Your womb." The word "mercy" [ra7ma] comes from "womb" [ra7im], the woman's womb, where man comes together. This is his fundamental home, from which he goes out. When I say to Him, "have mercy on me," I say to Him, "Place me in Your bosom! I want to remain attached to You!" I want to be close to His heart just as John the Beloved was close to God's heart, to the heart of Jesus Christ.

So the one thing for which I must toil day and night is to remain enveloped in God's mercy. I must avoid anything that separates me from the Lord's mercy. At that point, I no longer need to worry about anything else at all. So the primary task of the believer in his life in the world is to seek God's mercy in every moment of his life. To strive for God's mercy by keeping the commandment in every moment of his life. To refuse to be separated from God's mercy at every moment of his life. One who proceeds in this manner never has a problem. Wherever he goes, the grace of the Lord precedes him. The grace of the Lord preserves him, carries him. The Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount: "Why do you worry? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Therefore, seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and everything else shall be added unto you!" This blind man, it is true that he became seeing, but more important than that is that his heart became seeing. This is expressed in the text that was read to you today because the Lord said to him first, "Your faith has saved you." He didn't just open his external eyes. The Lord God opened the eyes of his heart. That is, He cleansed him of his sin. He forgave him his sins and saved him. This is truly salvation. The result was, as the text says at the end, "Immediately, he could see." His heart was opened and he followed Him. He went after Him. He ran after Him! He no longer had anything else to follow. He no longer needed to beg. He found the precious treasure. He no longer needed to have any worry. "He followed Him." He followed Him, giving glory to God. "When they saw this, all the people praised God." God is so sweet He makes you cry. Anyone who doesn't see the beauty of the Lord lives and dies without meaning. The important thing is that we behold God in His mercy, in His love, in His light. Glory to God for all He has given us!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
Sunday, December 2, 2018

No comments: