Monday, May 6, 2024

Fr Touma (Bitar): Holy Week in a Word

Arabic original here.

Holy Week in a Word

Homily given on Holy Monday, April 29, 2024

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Before the Fall, creation was for the glory of God, and for human happiness. Everything was for joy. Everything was for giving praise to God.

The fig tree that the Lord God cursed, He cursed outside the season for figs. In human terms, this is unacceptable, for people. So why does the Lord God curse the fig tree outside of its season? Perhaps we might think that there is an allegory in the fig tree, as though the Lord wanted to tell man that there is no special season for God's work. Any time is time for bearing fruit, with regard to God's work. We might say that. That that is not necessarily inappropriate or untrue. But in paradise the Lord God granted man that the trees and plants would bear fruit constantly. There was no season there, in paradise, when the earth would not give forth its fruit. The Lord God is coming from there and pointing to what is there, to what is to come. And naturally, He points to what is beyond that, because we are no longer at the level of the things of paradise. We have come to be at the level of the things of the Kingdom.

After the Fall, the Lord God wanted to save us through that which produced the Fall. Within the framework of the Fall, creation is no longer for the glory of God or, consequently, for human happiness. Following the Fall, creation in human eyes came to be for the glory of man and, consequently, no longer for the delight of humankind, since humankind has sunk into something new, when it occurred to humans that it is possible to enjoy creation according to their whims. This new new that humankind invented in its fall into sin is envy. Envy took away everything that could lead to human happiness. Perhaps man might have pleasure and enjoyment. But he does not know joy, does not know happiness. He lost these in the darkness of his sin. And what resulted from envy? All humankind suffers. The rich are not satisfied and the poor die hungry.

Therefore, the Lord God only wanted to give us a cross, so that we might be saved by it. He put all His power in the cross. The cross became God's force for salvation. The cross became pride. It became happiness. It became dignity. It became salvation. It became the kingdom. The cross became the new creation. Therefore, through the cross God wanted joy to come into the whole world. Your Lord has nothing left to give humankind besides the cross. "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him take up his cross, every day, and follow Me." After the fall, all people either thrived in wealth or desired wealth. Everything they did, they did for the sake of wealth. After the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, all those who want to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be characterized by following His Spirit, must receive-- with the very same force that fallen man received wealth-- something entirely new and completely irrational, which completely challenges man and completely demolishes everything connected to the Fall in man: the spirit of poverty. Man cannot acquire what the Lord Jesus achieved unless he seeks from the depths the spirit of poverty. In the state in which man revels, it is impossible for him to escape this state except through death. Therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ's invitation to all those who believe in Him is an invitation to death, every day. He who is not prepared to die-- not only to the world, not only to material wealth, and not only to possessions-- he who is not prepared to die every day to himself is not in a position to bear a cross that is an extension of the Lord Jesus' cross, and it alone is what can grant man to have a share in the great salvation.

Salvation is not from anything from the situation in which man found himself. Salvation is in something new, represented by the incarnation of the Son of God, because the Lord God, in receiving man, in His incarnation, wished to unite Himself to him, in great love. This is an invitation for man to enter into intimacy with God, in the very same love in which the Son of God became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and thus from humankind. The psalm speaks of deep calling unto deep. God is a bottomless depth because His love is beyond imagining, and He calls unto man, his depth, his heart, his being, his spirit. He Himself, in the depths of his depths, calls unto man. What He calls with is the sole opportunity for humankind's salvation. But when man is pleased to address his Lord in the way his Lord addressed him, he not only enters into intimacy with God and not only escapes the Fall, but just as God became human, man becomes divine. The cross is the sign of salvation. The cross casts its shadow over everything related to man, so that it may be the cross that the Lord Jesus experienced. We must receive the spirit of the cross in every matter, in every action, in every thought, in every word. This is what the spirit of poverty represents. This is what man's participation in the Lord's death represents, so that he may have the opportunity to participate in His resurrection. This is what this Holy Week gives us. This alone leads us to Him. The rest is details. The important thing, in the end, is not that we eat at Easter, but that we abide, in Spirit and in truth, in God's heart.

 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite

Douma, Lebanon

May 5, 2024