Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Fr Touma (Bitar): The Reality of the Incarnation

 Arabic original here.

The Reality of the Incarnation

Today, humanity has arrived at its desire. The Lord God created man, in the beginning, to bring him to this hour. Today, God becomes a man, all while of course remaining God. Thus, He is God incarnate, God and man together. Why did God do this? God was capable, in all simplicity, of saving man from sin and death without becoming incarnate. But He became incarnate. Thus, the issue transcends the issue of sin and death.

God became man because He loved man with perfect love. And because He is love, He wanted to cleave to man completely. Love doesn't give something from itself. Love gives itself. God gave Himself to man completely. This is man's inheritance. What do these words mean? It means that the Lord God wanted man to become god. There is absolutely no necessity for the incarnation, inasmuch as its purpose is for the Lord God to divinize man, to make him god. Therefore, He embraced him into Himself. He took on his humanity completely! He became man in every sense of the word! He made Himself the new Adam. Humanity came from the first Adam in the body. But humanity comes from the new Adam in spirit and body! By "spirit", I mean the uncreated Spirit of God. The expression that our fathers saw fit to use is that God wanted to become man in order to permit man to come to be in Him-- that is, in the Lord Jesus Christ-- god. Thus, today is the feast of feasts and the festival of festivals, because that which was in the mind of God since the beginning is realized today. When I say "today", I don't mean "today" according to the hour and I don't mean next Sunday or last Sunday, but rather I mean the fullness of time that humanity has reached, when the Lord God was pleased to be born in the Holy Spirit of a woman, the Virgin Mary, who became by this dispensation the Mother of God.

God and man, in Jesus Christ, are one. He Himself is God and man. But even if we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ as a single being, a single person, the Lord Jesus' divinity remains distinct from his humanity, not mixed with it but also not separate from it. There is no confusion between the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and His humanity. We cannot ever imagine that the Lord Jesus resembles a drop of water mixed with another drop of water. There is a unity that took place between the divinity and humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, which surpasses anything that man can imagine. There is no unity on earth analogous to or even resembling the unity of divinity and humanity in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we are before a reality that surpasses human perception. But this is precisely what happened. God became man! After God became man, everything changed in the world. Of course, it didn't change outwardly. It changed, however, at the level of a new reality that was achieved in the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot treat this reality like we treat a chair or a table or like we treat anything in our world. This reality was given to us to treat with faith, which is a great mystery.

What is faith? Faith is, in reality, a new sort of relationship between man and God. If we wanted to summarize it in a word, then at the level of man, faith is the trust that we need in order to have a relationship with the world, with people, with everything. Man needs to have trust in others. Otherwise, he cannot interact with them. Everything in our life is something we need to have trust in; otherwise, we cannot deal with it. For example, the seat that we sit on, if we do not have trust that there is nothing on it that would hurt us, then we would not sit on it. There is an implicit trust that every person has, without which he could not deal with anything at all. When someone wants to go outside to take his car and go back home, if he has the slightest feeling that there is something wrong with his car, he won't use it until he makes sure that what he thought might harm him isn't there or is something that he can fix. Otherwise, if he acts without trust, if he doesn't fall here he'll fall there. So trust, in human terms, is necessary for there to be a relationship between man and the world he is in. We come to faith in the Lord Jesus. There is no doubt that man, on his part as man, needs to have trust, as I said, in that with which he interacts or in that which interacts with him. But there is faith in the Lord Jesus, there is faith in God. If we have human trust and find ourselves in a place that makes us able to deal with the world, then we cannot, in reality, deal with God with this kind of trust. Human trust is not enough! We need a special grace that the Lord God gives us. In other words, we need faith that the Lord God gives us in order for our faith to be made perfect, and our trust in those we deal with. So we need God's grace in order to enter into a relationship with God. If one is skeptical, then God's grace is not active in him, is not given to him. But if one is prepared and wants to believe, but cannot believe in God because he is incapable, as a human, of reaching God, then God sees the desire of his heart, sees his good preparedness, sees the uprightness of his soul, sees his being open, "Lord Jesus, come", "Let it be for me according to Your word", "Help my unbelief" and then the Lord God touches him, gives him grace, and he believes in God!

So there is faith from man and faith from God. This is very much in accordance with the new reality that was made manifest in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, by which I mean the reality of the incarnation. That is, divine-human coalescence. In terms of faith, our human faith coalesces with our divine faith. Then, we become capable, by God's grace and by the good will of our heart, of entering into this new reality that was achieved in the Lord Jesus Christ, the reality of the incarnation. Faith is a new language, without which we cannot approach God. If I don't know the alphabet, how can I look at a book in the language of this alphabet? So likewise I absolutely cannot read the book of God, read this divine reality made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ if I do not acquire the alphabet of divine-human faith. Faith, then, enters me into a new state of being, a new reality, a new manifestation. It enters me into a new life! Therefore, God is only pleased with faith. Not one of us has a way to approach God except by faith. Theoretical faith is empty talk. For someone to say that he believes without following the divine commandments is also empty talk, because one who believes believes in spirit and in truth. When one of us believes in spirit and in truth, then his entire life changes, he enters into a new world! If one of us travels to a country that he doesn't know, he doesn't hesitate to learn that country's language, customs, laws, and the systems prevailing there... becoming as though he were from that country. Thus, when we enter into the reality of the divine incarnation that took place in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are called to become new. We treat things according to what is demanded by this new discovery, this new world, this new reality, this incarnation. If I am not prepared to enter into the reality of the incarnation, to deal with the incarnation, to become myself incarnational, then I remain on the outside. But in order to become incarnational, in order to enter behind the veil, into God's heart, into the reality that the Lord God wants me to enter into-- if I want to enter in every sense of the word-- I must walk in everything that is new that is required by this new reality. The Lord Jesus said clearly, "He who loves Me will keep My word." He who does not love Him, does not keep His word and so does not belong to that new thing that has come to be in Him. The Lord Jesus calls us to follow in His footsteps. "He who wants to follow me must take up his cross every day and follow me." Therefore, when we enter into the reality of the incarnation, we always walk steadily, regularly, completely, in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ who said, "Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart." From him, then, we learn the fundamentals of the new citizenship, citizenship in the kingdom, citizenship in the incarnation. Therefore, absolutely no one can enter into the new reality unless he has completely become incarnational. What does this mean?

When one becomes incarnational, he must treat everyone and everything divinely and humanly at the same time. After the Lord Jesus Christ, we have come to treat everything in a divine and human manner. For example, it is time to eat and we come to the table. We don't go there only to eat. This is something purely human. We go to the table to treat the table in a divine-human way. For this reason, we pray. We stand next to the table, we remember God, we ask Him to bless what He gives us, and we bear in mind that we are not just concerned with filling our bellies with food: our fundamental concern is that this food that we see before us is blessed for the heavenly table that we desire and we work so that it will be granted to us to sit with Jesus there. The Lord Jesus said clearly that we must ask for heavenly bread at all times. "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." When man eats of the bread that is in this age, he hungers again. The important thing is to ask for heavenly bread at all times. We carry all this within ourselves when we stand before the table that we go to to eat of its good things and thank God for them. All this happens in one's mind, in one's heart. Otherwise, if we were satisfied with formalities in prayers, or even with merely blessing, if we only do what is necessary and then sit at the table to enjoy it, we miss the reality of dealing with the table-- and, in fact, everything-- in an incarnational manner. We treat everything divinely and humanly at once! At the table, in reality, we stand before God and we ask, first and last, for the Lord God to grace us with His Holy Spirit. Man is not sated with food. What sates man is heavenly manna. This is what the Lord God gave us and gives us: "Take, eat, this is My body that was broken for your sake. Drink of it all of you, this is My blood." In this way with regard to everything else.

When one enters into the reality of the incarnation, everything becomes sacramental for him. We treat the whole universe, we treat all people, sacramentally, in the sense that we deal with what is outwardly apparent and at the same time, through what is outwardly apparent, that which is not outwardly apparent. Through human things, we deal with divine things, we scrutinize divine things, we bring down divine things, we ask God to give us Himself, His grace, His blessing, His Spirit, through everything that comes from us, through everything that we treat with our hands, our body, our soul, our mind. Our concern, first and last, is to be filled with God's presence, with His love! Therefore, the incarnation overturned the criteria. Man found himself before a new world that the Lord God opened wide to man. Come, receive light from the light that does not fade, and glorify God risen from the dead! Christ, in everything, has become a sign that is marked upon everything in our world, in our souls, in our mind. Our exclusive concern must be with being filled with Jesus: "If we live, we live for the Lord and if we die, we die for the Lord." "Life for me is Christ and to die is gain." One who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, who stumbles toward this new reality, sees only Jesus in everything. Therefore, the feast today is the feast of feasts, the season of seasons, Today, we have been entered into God's heart, we have been entered into the Lord's Spirit, we have been entered into a new life, after which it is not fitting for us to treat things as though they were dust. We treat dust as having been filled with divine light, we treat dust as dust and as light at the same time: "We have this treasure in jars of clay." Therefore, let us rejoice in the fullness of time, let us rejoice at this feast for which we are preparing ourselves, then let us extend our joy with it for days. In fact, let us extend it all the days of our life, since after Jesus entered our world as God incarnate, everything has changed. The important thing is that the change which occurred be matched by a change that happens in the heart of each one of us, that Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite

Douma, Lebanon

December 18, 2022

Friday, December 16, 2022

Who is Met Saba (Esber)?

Yesterday, the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America announced its list of eligible candidates for the office of metropolitan, in time for the initial vote to be held at the Special Convention on January 13, which will decide on a list of three candidates to send to the Holy Synod. Alongside the list of bishops and archimandrites who are currently active in the Archdiocese, the list also includes Metropolitan Saba (Esber), who has for the past 23 years been metropolitan of Bostra and Hawran in southern Syria, where he has stood out for his remarkable management of the Patriarchate's most materially impoverished archdioceses under almost unimaginably difficult circumstances. I will reproduce below his official biography from the North American Archdiocese's website, in pdf on the site linked above, but I would also like to call readers' attention to some of his writing that has been translated on this blog previously, available here. In particular, I would suggest reading:

Maxims on the Cross

On the Issue of the Orthodox "Diaspora" (written during the preparation for the planned Council of Crete)

Some Words about Going up to Receive 

On His Vision for the Church of Antioch and the Youth Movement

Metropolitan Saba (Isper)
Curriculum Vitae

- Born in Lattakia, Syria in 1959.

- A graduate in Civil Engineering from the
University of Lattakia.

- A graduate of the Saint John of Damascus
Institute of Theology at the University of

- Ordained to the deaconate in 1984.

- Ordained to the priesthood in 1988.

- Served in the parish of Saint Michael in Lattakia
from 1990-1998.

- Elevated to Archimandrite 1994.

- Publisher and Editor of the Orthodox magazine
“Farah” for children in 1993, and the magazine
“Farah” for the family in 1994.

- Elected as an assistant bishop to Patriarch
Ignatius IV in 1998 and consecrated episcopacy
that same year.

- Appointed by the Holy Synod of Antioch as
Metropolitan for the Diocese of Bosra Hauran and
Jabal Al-Arab in 1999

- Teacher of Pastoral Care and Introduction to the Old Testament at the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology University of Balamand from 1995-2006

- Established a publishing house in the
Archdiocese, the "Al-Arabiya" magazine for
adults, and continued issuing the "Farah"
magazine for children. A special version of it was
issued in English starting in 2010.

- Author of a weekly article on his Facebook page.

-Author of many articles of various topics in "Al-
Noor", "Patriarchal" and "Al-Arabiya"

- Author of many books in different fields of
pastoral life and theology.

- Developmental projects and Charitable
endowments for the Archdiocese include:

A charitable medical clinic in the city of As-

Dormitories for university students in As-
Suwayda and Daraa (150 students)

The House of Love for retirees prepares 48

Agricultural projects throughout the

A spiritual retreat center (Bethany) in the
village of Kharaba

Bread for All, an association for the
distribution of food to the poor of the region
irregardless of religion

The Good Samaritan, a multifaceted
charitable organization for members of the
Archdiocese displaced or otherwise affected
by the recent wars.

Author of the following publications:

- "Words from the Heart"

- "For the sake of a living church"

- "Contemporary Christian reading of the Old

- "Condolences, my people"

- "Beware of idols"

- "His path to Him"

- "On the Way to Salvation" 4 Volumes

- "Orthodox spirituality"

Translator (from English into Arabic) of the

- "Saint Raphael of Brooklyn"
- "The mystery of faith" (Hilarion Elfayeve)

"Lenten Spring", "Winter Pascha" and "A Brief
History of the Church" (Thomas Hopko)

- "From Baptist to the Byzantine World" (James

- "Our Faith" (Elder Ilia Cleopa)

- "In Love" (Olivier Clement)

- "St. Tikhon of Zadonsky" (Nadezhda

- "St. Seraphim of Sarov" (Valentin Zander)

-"The year of the Lord" (five parts) (Theodore

- "Spiritual Talks, My Journey to Orthodoxy"
(Kalistos Ware)

- "I Believe in God" (Anthony Bloom)