Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

The Promised Land and the Chosen People

The two-State solution

By Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros

From 10 through 24 October 2010 a special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place at the Vatican with the title: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness: Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32). Participating in this Assembly, gathered around His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, were the Patriarchs and the Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches of the Middle East, cardinals and archbishops who are heads of the various offices in the Roman Curia, presidents of Catholic episcopal conferences around the world, who are concerned with the issues of the Middle East, representatives from the Orthodox Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and Jewish and Muslim guests.

In its final message the Synod developed the issue of "Communion and Witness" first through history, then in the present time within the Catholic Churches of the Middle East, and with the Orthodox and Protestant Communities in the Middle East. After that, it addressed the issue of the cooperation and dialogue with our fellow-citizens the Jews and the Muslims.

In paragraph 8 of the final message concerning the Jews, after explaining what Christianity and Judaism have in common—the Old Testament, "all that God revealed there, since he called Abraham, our common father in the faith, Father of Jews, of Christians and of Muslims"—the Synod stressed the necessity to continue "the dialogue which is taking place between the Church and the representatives of Judaism." The statement then goes on:

"We hope that this dialogue can bring us to work together to press those in authority to put an end to the political conflict which results in separating us and disrupting everyday life in our countries. It is time for us to commit ourselves together to a sincere, just and permanent peace. Both Christians and Jews are called to this task by the Word of God. Both are invited to listen to the voice of God "who speaks of peace: "Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his holy ones" (Ps 85:9)

Then adds: "Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable. On the contrary recourse to religion must lead every person to see the face of God in others and to treat them according to the attributes of God and his commandments, namely, according to God's bountiful goodness, mercy, justice and love for us."

The Promised Land

During the press conference which was held at the end of the Synod, I presented this message in my role as president of the commission that drafted the message. I was then asked by a journalist: "What do you mean by this sentence: ‘Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable'?" I answered: "Israel cannot use the Biblical concept of a promised land to justify its occupation of Palestinian territory and the expulsion of Palestinians who have been living there for centuries. We Christians cannot now speak about the Promised Land for the Jewish people. With Christ the Promised Land became the Kingdom of God": Jesus referred to this land in His Sermon on the Mount and gave it a spiritual interpretation: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land." (Mt. 5:3.5)

In my answer I was thinking in particular of Jewish settlers who claim their right to build on Palestinian territory by saying it forms part of biblical Israel, the land promised by God to the Jews according to the Old Testament. I also warned against the risk of Israel becoming an exclusively Jewish state, with a consequent threat to the 1.2 million Muslim and Christian Arabs living in Israel. The Synod is acknowledging the separation between religion and politics, in stating that recourse to the Bible cannot be used to justify political events: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." (Mt. 22:21)

As a Christian, and especially as a Middle-Eastern Christian—and this is the unanimous opinion of the Middle-Eastern Christians, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants—I see that the concept of the Promised Land cannot be used for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians. The creation of the State of Israel in 1948—after the resolution of the UN in 1947 regarding the partition of Palestine which was under the British mandate between Arab and Jews—is a political issue not a religious one. It is a fact of history like other facts: Jews who were persecuted in Europe and suffered the horrors of the shoah decided to come to Palestine and build, with the Jews who were there, a country for their own. They could have chosen another place. But they chose Palestine, some of them relying on the theme of the Promised Land, and others only because of the memory of the Jews who lived there 2000 years ago. So they came in great numbers; a war arose between them and the Arabs living there, and they won the war; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and flee to the surrounding Arabic countries: Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. If some of the Jews based their return on the Old Testament theme of the Promised Land, this does not mean that God is behind their return and their victory against the Arabs. It is a religious interpretation of an historical event.

We find this same religious interpretation of historical events in the Old Testament: A religious people believing in God wins a war, they interpret their war as God's war and their victory as God's victory. The idea of a "Warrior God" which we find in the Old Testament, a God who fights with his chosen people and condemns to death all his enemies cannot be accepted in Christianity. We have to read the Old Testament in the Spirit of Jesus Christ and in the light of His teachings. Jesus did not allow Peter to draw even a sword to fight for Him (Cf. John 18:10-11). According to Jesus' teachings, God is a God of love, peace, justice and mercy. How can we figure Him at the head of an army fighting with a particular people against other peoples? This idea may have infiltrated Christian thought during the first centuries and the Middle Ages; it can be found today in some extremist Muslims groups, who still say that the land of Palestine is a Muslim land given to Muslims by God who was fighting with them during the Arab conquests, and that they will oppose God's will if they give up a part of it to the Israelis. But, as Christians, we cannot today accept such an idea. It is against the image of God revealed to us by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

The chosen people

As for the idea of the chosen people, it is clear, according to Christian theology and especially to St. Paul, that after Christ there is no longer one particular chosen people! With Christ and in Him, all men and women of all countries are called to become children of God and unite in one body, the Body of Christ.

Being the chosen people was not a privilege, it was a mission: Israel was chosen by God in the Old Testament to live in holiness, to proclaim His name among the nations, and to prepare the coming of the Messiah. St Paul does not deny the role of the Jewish people in the history of salvation. He writes to the Romans: "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised. Amen." (Rom. 9:1-5)

But in his letter to the Ephesians, he declares that Jesus has united all the peoples in one people and one body:

"Therefore, remember that at one time you, Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcison' by those called ‘the circumcision', which is done in the flesh by human hands, remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commands and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father." (Eph 2:11-18)

In his letter to the Galatians also, Paul affirms this unity of all peoples in Christ: "So through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendant, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal 3:26-29)

And St Peter, in his first letter, applies the concept of chosen people to all who became Christians, Jews and non-Jews: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were ‘no people', but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Pet. 2:9-10)

So in the New Testament the concept of "chosen people" has been extended to all those who believe in Jesus and become through him God's people. So we ask with St. Paul: "Has God rejected his people?" and we answer also with St. Paul: "Of course not!... God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." (Rom. 11:1-2) This we can call the inclusive theology of St. Paul: the Jews are included in this people of God. They still remain the people God has chosen, but they are no more the only chosen people. This is clear when St. Paul says: "you are all children of God in Christ Jesus."

Sometimes in our limited human thought we think when a favor was given to a special group then extended to other groups, it ceases to be a favor; in the same manner some think that when the grace of "chosen people" and "God's people" was given to the Jews, and then extended to all peoples, it ceases to be a grace to the Jews. But the grace still remains a grace, even if it is extended to all peoples. In this sense we can understand Jesus' saying: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill" (Mt. 5:17) The Old Covenant with the Jewish people, according to which they are God's chosen people, is not abolished, but it is fulfilled with the entrance of all peoples in this chosen people.

In its Message the Synod says to the Jews: "The same Scriptures unite us. The Old Testament, the Word of God is for both you and us. We believe all that God revealed there, since He called Abraham, our common father in the faith, father of Jews, of Christians and of Muslims. We believe in the promises of God and his covenant given to Abraham and to you. We believe that the Word of God is eternal." (paragraph 8)

So there is nothing offending to the Jews to say that they are no more the only "chosen people" of God and that "God's mercy" has been extended to all peoples. They must be proud, as was St. Paul, to be the people that God has chosen to be the first people God has chosen to be holy and to proclaim his name among all the nations of the earth. But at the same time they must also be humble, as St. Paul also was, to see that to be God's chosen people is a grace, and finally they must glorify God, as it pleased to St. Paul and St. Peter to do, that this grace has been extended to all peoples.

The two-State solution

After this theological issue we come now to the political issue, and these two levels must be clearly distinguished. Now in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, besides the moderates among both the Palestinians and the Jews, we are in presence of two opposed religious extremist ideologies: from one part extremist Jews who say that Palestine is the Promised Land given to them by God, and that they cannot give up any part of it to the Arabs; and from the other part extremist Muslims who say that Palestine is a Muslim land given to them by God during the Arabic conquests, and that they cannot give up a part of it to the Israelis. With these two opposed religious ideologies it is impossible to find a compromise in order to reach a lasting peace.

The message of the Synod for the Middle East takes a moderate position and clearly advocates, regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the two-State-solution:

"The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations, conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the Security Council's resolution and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arabic countries. The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security. The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their international recognized borders. The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-State-solution might become a reality and not remain a dream only." (Paragraph 11)

Then the message explicitly condemns all kinds of violence and religious extremism: "We condemn violence and terrorism from wherever it may proceed as well as all religious extremism. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia and we call upon the religions to assume their responsibility to promote dialogue between cultures and civilizations in our region and in the entire world."

By dialogue only – a dialogue which requires compromises from both sides, not by war, and especially not by a war based on religious assumptions – can the Holy Land reach a just and lasting peace.

+ Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

Eparch of Newton

 

Sunday of the Ancestors of Christ

Luke 14: 16-24

By Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros

Most people like to go to banquets. They may not like the long speeches, but all like the fellowship, the friendliness, and the food. Today's Gospel lesson tells about a man who made a great banquet and invited many people to come.

There are four banquets to which God invites us. The first banquet is the banquet of life. Every human being is created in the image of God, to share in God's life and God's love. At this banquet all men and women come, but many do not think of God: they enjoy the gift but forget the giver of the gift.

The second banquet is the banquet of the faith. When Jesus started preaching, he announced the coming of the Kingdom of God through Him: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel" (Mk. 1:15). Those who refuse to come to the banquet are those who refuse to believe in Jesus.

The third banquet is the banquet of the Divine Liturgy, in which we partake of the Word of God – that is the first part of the Liturgy - and unite ourselves with Christ Himself in the Holy Communion - that is the second part of the Liturgy. Jesus comes to dwell in us by His Word and by His Body and Blood.

The fourth banquet is the banquet of the eternal life to which all men and women are invited after their death. The human life does not end at death, but continues in another way after death. But to enjoy the fourth banquet we have to accept the gift of the first three banquets: life, faith and prayer.

Many refuse the invitation to the Lord's banquets. The excuses they give in this parable are of different kinds: 1) properties: One said "I have bought some land". 2) Business: Another said: "I have bought five yoke of oxen". 3) Human relations; A third said: "I am newly married and so I cannot come". It is a matter of priorities. Jesus said: "Remember: where your treasure is, there your heart is also" (Mt. 6:21). Where is our treasure: properties? Business? family? Jesus says to us: "Do not worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing… Seek first the Kingdom of God and his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides" (Mt. 6:25-33)

Jesus did not come to help us to have more land or a successful business. He came to build the Kingdom of God, and to gather together in this Kingdom all peoples in one family, the family of the children of God.

Last October we had, as you know, a special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. In the final Message of the Synod, in a paragraph regarding our relations with the Jews, we wrote: "Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable."

During the press conference which was held at the end of the Synod, I presented this message in my role as president of the commission that drafted the message. I was then asked by a journalist: "What do you mean by this sentence: ‘Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable'?" I answered: "Israel cannot use the Biblical concept of a Promised Land to justify its occupation of Palestinian territory and the expulsion of Palestinians who have been living there for centuries. We Christians cannot now speak of a Promised Land for the Jewish people. With Christ the Promised Land became the Kingdom of God".

These comments aroused the anger of the Jews and of the Protestants who still believe that Palestine is still the Land Promised by God to the Jews, and that they have the right to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. But if the Jews rebuild the Temple and restart offering animal sacrifices in the name of God - because the Promised Land has always been linked with the Temple - this means that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross has no value in God's eyes.

In fact, Jesus never spoke of a territorial Promised Land to the Jews. He referred to this land in His Sermon on the Mount and gave it a spiritual interpretation: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land." (Mt. 5:3.5) In this meaning, the creation of the State of Israel cannot be considered as the fulfillment of God's promises to His chosen People. It is not a religious issue, it is a political issue. And all the prophecies we read in Ezekiel and Jeremiah have been fulfilled by the return of the Jews from the exile of Babylon. They have nothing to do with the creation of the Sate of Israel in 1948.

So after the coming of Jesus, the Promised Land became the kingdom of God. And there are also no more one special chosen people. God has chosen the Jewish people to prepare the coming of the Messiah. With the coming of Jesus, all the peoples of the earth are called to become the chosen people by believing in Jesus. St Peter, in his first letter, applies the concept of chosen people to all who became Christians, Jews and non-Jews: "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own…Once you were ‘no people', but now you are God's people" (1 Pet. 2:9-10)

Sometimes in our limited human thought we think when a favor was given to a special group, and then extended to other groups, it ceases to be a favor; in the same manner some think that when the grace of "chosen people" and "God's people" was given to the Jews, and then extended to all peoples, it ceases to be a grace to the Jews. But the grace still remains a grace, even if it is extended to all peoples. In this sense we can understand Jesus' saying: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill" (Mt. 5:17) The Old Covenant with the Jewish people, according to which they are God's chosen people, is not abolished, but it is fulfilled with the entrance of all peoples in this chosen people.

Jesus says in the Book of Revelation: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me" (3:19).

Blessed are those who are invited to God's banquets, now and in the eternal life. Amen!

+ Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

Eparch of Newton

 
Icon of Pentecost

". . . God will do the Rest"

Homily for the Sunday of the Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Sunday of the Pentecost

A bishop in Canada told this story: He had celebrated a liturgy of confirmation (we call it in the Byzantine tradition "Chrismation") to children. After the ceremony he saw a child outside the church and asked him: "were you happy with this sacrament of confirmation?" He said: "yes. I was very happy. "What does it mean to you to be confirmed? The bishop asked. The child answered: "to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit to help me to live like Jesus, who was filled with the Holy Spirit." "Excellent, said the bishop, but suppose you have died before being confirmed, could you be confirmed in heaven?" - "No!" – "Why?" – "Because there are no bishops in heaven!"

Of course I hope that there will be bishops in heaven, but there will be neither confirmation nor any other sacrament, since in heaven we will see God face to face.

The sacrament of Confirmation is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit, as we say when we confirm in our byzantine tradition: "Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" What does the Holy Spirit mean? In the Creed we start by proclaiming our faith in God the Father: "I believe in one God creator of heaven and earth…" Then in one Lord, Jesus Christ, then in the Holy Spirit giver of life…; So God the Father is the creator, the source of all life, Jesus is the Son of God and the Word of God, which means the expression of God's mind, and the revealer of God's will. The Holy Spirit is the power of God which enables us to do God's will.

In the Old Testament people knew God's will through the Law, but they had no power to fulfill the Law. The prophets promised that with the coming of the Messiah this power will be given. Jesus had the fullness of the Holy Spirit: He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit; He taught and did his miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. And he rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And in his last speech to his disciples during the Mystical Supper, He promised them that he will send them the Holy Spirit: "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."

With the Holy Spirit in us we are enabled to do God's will. This life St. Paul calls it: The life in the Spirit. What does he mean by that? As human beings, we have to choose between 2 ways of life: a life according to the flesh and a life according to the Spirit, a self-centered life, or a God-centered life. Christianity is not a mere belief in ideas; it is a way of life; and it is a way of life, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. It is a way of life in which we fulfill our true being, the image of God in which we were created.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, explains the difference between these 2 ways of life: the life according to the flesh and the life according to the Spirit. He says: "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Then he enumerates the acts of the flesh: "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like".

Then he goes to the acts of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." These are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. And he concludes: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit." (Gal. 5:16—25)

If the world today is in bad shape: wars, murders, divorces, immorality, it is because people live, not according to the Spirit, but according to the flesh. We reap what we sow. Do you want to have peace, love, joy, live according to the Spirit of God, follow the way of the prince of peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is "the way, the truth and the life. Be filled with the Spirit of Christ. Let the Holy Spirit be the principle of your life. As the sound tree produces good fruits, so the Holy Spirit who fills our heart produces in it good fruits. By dwelling in us, the Holy Spirit becomes the principle of our actions, God's will becomes our own will, and God's desire our own desire. We become, as Paul says, a "new creature," (1 Cor 2:15).

This will not happen without suffering and death. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus, says Paul, have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:16-24). This is not easy; it is the work of our whole life. But let us remember that Jesus Christ saved us by shedding his blood on the cross, and told us that if we want to follow hi, we have o take up our cross every day and follow him. With the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we can grow in love, in faith and in hope. "And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).

They told that one day the devil put his tools on auction. But he said: "there is one tool I will never sell: It is the discouragement!" Never give up; never lose your trust in God's grace, which is the Holy Spirit himself.

There is a story about a man who passed away and went to heaven. He was met at the gate by St. Peter, who said, "It will take one thousand points for you to be admitted. The good works you did during your lifetime will determine your points." The man said: "Unless I was sick, I attended church every Sunday, and I sang in the choir." "That will be 50 points", Peter said. "And I gave to the church liberally", the man added. "That is worth 25 more points", said Peter. The man, realizing that he had only 75 points, started getting desperate. "I taught a Sunday school class", he said, "that is a great work for God!" - "Yes", said Peter, "that's worth 25 points." The man was frantic. "You know", he said, "at this rate the only way I am going to get into heaven is by the grace of God." Peter smiled: "That's 900 points. Come on in!"

Never give up, never be discouraged, it is enough for us to do our best, with full trust in God's grace, and God will do the rest.

 

Homily for the New Year 2010

"And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age

and grace before God and man" (Luke 2:51)

By Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros

Today we start a new year. We advance one year in age. Do we advance in wisdom and grace? St. Luke said that "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and man" (Luke 2:51).

1. To advance in wisdom is to become more and more mature. St. Paul, in is Letter to the Ephesians, sees that the goal of every Christian is to "attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ." (4:13). How can we describe the spiritually mature Christian?

St. Augustine said: "I want to know only two things: God and the human soul." The mature Christian is someone who knows who God is and who human being is.

a) First the mature Christian is, according to St. Paul, someone who has the knowledge of the Son of God. To know the Son of God is to believe in the depth of one's heart that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life." (John 3:16). If God so loves us, there is no longer any reason for fear, worry or anxiety.

b) Second the mature Christian knows who he is. The mature Christian has a dynamic sense of personal uniqueness. Each one of us can truly say that he or she has no replica, and that God has given to each of us a special mission to be fulfilled, a life's work that no other can accomplish. If I am a husband, a father, a mother, a businessman, no other man or woman can fulfill these roles in exactly the way that I can. In their outside appearance, people are different but inside they are all children of God, and are called to incarnate God in their lives..

I read a nice story I want to share with you:

A little boy was watching a man selling balloons at a Country Fair. This man allowed a red balloon to break loose and soar up into the air. Next, he released a blue balloon, then a yellow one, and finally a white one. They all went soaring up into the sky until they disappeared.

The little boy stood looking at a black balloon for a long time and then asked, "Sir, if you sent this one up, would it go as high as the others?"

The man gave the boy an understanding smile. He snapped the string that held the black balloon in place. As it soared upward, he said, "Son, it is not the color! It's what's inside that makes it rise."

Don't judge human beings by their outside appearance. It is what inside them that gives them their value and their dignity, and make them rise to God. We read in the Book of Genesis that when God created Man, he formed him from the dust of the ground, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. This breath of life is a divine breath common to all human beings. Inside every human being there is a breath from God. All human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God. The image is in their nature, the likeness is in their actions. When they sin they lose God's likeness, but God's image remains in them. Jesus came to restore in us God's likeness, to give us divine grace. To advance in wisdom is therefore to know who God is and who human being is.

2. To advance in grace is a healthy self-acceptance. If God loves each and every one of us as his children, we should love and accept ourselves with all our limitations, and accept life with all its difficulties and limitations. The mature Christian is characterized by a fundamental peace that the many vicissitudes and sufferings in life cannot destroy.

We know that our actions do not deserve us God's favor. Everything we have is a grace from God. St Paul had some sickness and he asked God to deliver him from it. God told him: "My grace is enough."

Karl Barth, the great theologian, was preaching to prisoners on New Year's Eve. He said, "Some of you have heard that over the last forty years I have written many books, many of them very fat ones. Yet there are four words which say it better than all the books I have written. These four words are ‘my grace is enough.' When my books are forgotten, these words will shine in all their eternal richness."

"My grace is enough"

The "grace of God" is one of the most beautiful expressions in our Christian vocabulary. Grace is God's loving activity in the world. It represents the unlimited pouring out of God's mercy. Grace is God's unconditional forgiveness offered to the unworthy. It is God's enabling power given to overcome the challenges of life. Grace is the quality in God which moves Him to do good to us even though we do not deserve it. Grace is God giving Himself to man. It is divine life itself: God coming to make His home in us. We don't do good in order to deserve God's grace. We receive God's grace without any merit from our part. And we do good as answer to God's grace.

There is a story about a man who went to heaven. He was met at the gate by St. Peter, who said, "It will take 1.000 points for you to be admitted. The good works you did during your lifetime will determine your points."

The man said, "Unless I was sick, I attended church every Sunday, and I sang in the choir".

"That will be 50 points", Peter said.

"And I gave to the church liberally," the man added.

"That is worth 25 more points", said Peter.

The man, realizing that he had only 75 points, started getting desperate. "I taught a Sunday school class," he said, 'that's a great work for God".

"Yes," said Peter; "that's worth 25 points".

The man was frantic. "You know", he said, "At this rate the only way I am going to get into heaven is by the grace of God."

Peter smiled, "That's 900 points! Come on in".

In this New Year, let us always remember that God's grace accompanies us in every moment of our life. And every moment of our life should be a loving answer to the grace of God.

Happy New Year!

 
15th Sunday after the Cross

The conversion of Zacchaeus

Luke 19:1-10

Encounter of Two Searches

By Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros

"The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost"

With this Sunday we start our journey to Lent as preparation to the Great feast of Pascha. Lent is the time of repentance and conversion. Our journey begins by the story of the conversion of a tax collector Zacchaeus, which is also the story of our conversion. Every encounter we read in the Gospel between Jesus and a man is a model of the encounter between Jesus and each and every one of us.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector, at the service of the Romans who were occupying Israel. At that time, the kings rented entire districts to anyone who was able to bring ready cash, leaving to his discretion the collection of taxes on goods that the people brought to the town or to the city to sell. Since no one controlled these tax collectors, they tried to make as much money as possible and imposed unbearable taxes on people. Zacchaeus was a troubled man. As a tax collector, he was hated by the Jews because he was collaborating with the occupants of Israel; and as a Jew, he was also hated by the Romans, because he belonged to the nation they despised.

Zacchaeus was rich but he was not happy. He had in the bottom of his heart the desire to salvation. He sought to see Jesus no matter what. To fulfill his desire he invented a way to see Jesus: he climbed on a tree, exposing himself to the ridicule of the crowd. He was seeking to see Jesus, but at the same time Jesus was seeking to see him. He had a desire to see Jesus; and at the same time Jesus had a desire to see him. Sometimes we think that God is too far from us and does not care of us. On the contrary, "The Son of Man, said Jesus, came to seek out and save the lost".

In this story we have two desires, the desire of man to see God, and the desire of God to see man; two searches: the search of man after God, and the search of God after man; and two looks: the look of man to God, and the look of God to man. Man is not alone. He is created in the image of God. Even though he is separated from God by his sin, the image of God in him drives him incessantly to God, in order to find the fulfillment of his being in the union with God.

God is always ready to answer the search of man. "Ask, said Jesus, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Mt. 7:7). A simple step towards God, and we find that God is waiting for us. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. He did a little step: he climbed on a tree. Jesus saw him and gave him more than he expected. He not only could see Jesus, but he could also receive him in his own house. "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today". Not only can you see me, but we can spend a good time together. Don't fool yourself: if you really want to encounter Jesus, you will not be the same as before; the encounter with Jesus will change you. That's what happened to Zacchaeus: He "stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possession, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." A new life begun for Zacchaeus! No more stealing, no more cheating, no more selfishness; but a life of conversion to justice, to love, to generosity. A radical change, because of an encounter with the Lord!

Jesus, hearing what Zacchaeus said, answered him: "Today salvation has come to this house." What does salvation mean? "Very truly I tell you, said Jesus, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). Salvation is first to be free from sin, second to live as a son in the household of God. These are the two aspects of salvation: salvation from sin, and from all that sin represents: selfishness, hatred, greed, pride; and salvation to a life of freedom and friendship with God and to all that life with God represents, summarized in the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

We have a strong desire to see Jesus and to stay with him. He more than us has this strong desire to come to us and stay with us. We read in the Book of Revelation: "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (3:20). That is the symbol of a life of friendship with Jesus: we like to eat with our friends; Jesus likes to eat with us; and to eat with Jesus means to share the same values of love, good and truth, and to enjoy the same life. That is conversion: to change our sinful way to the holy way of Jesus.

The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus "was happy to welcome Jesus". The encounter with Jesus is always a source of happiness for us. Let us open our heart to Jesus, let us be happy to welcome him in the house of our heart: to welcome his holy Word, and to welcome his holy Body and his precious Blood in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. And let him change us, let him restore the pure image of God in us; let him divinize us. Only the infinite can satisfy the desire of the human heart. With Jesus, who is the incarnation of the infinite Word of God, we can reach the fulfillment of this desire; with Jesus we can reach peace and happiness.

 

"It is I; do not be afraid"

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Jesus in our Boat

Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

(Matthew 14:22-34)

This episode of the Gospel is about the relationship between the disciples and Jesus in a difficult moment of their life with Jesus, and consequently between us, Christians, and Jesus in the hard situations of our Christian life. It is a story, a sort of drama, in 4 acts.

Act 1: Jesus prays and the disciples are in trouble

In the first part of this episode we have 2 scenes: from one side Jesus praying: "After he (Jesus) dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray". From the other side the disciples in the boat. "But by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them". Imagine Jesus going up the mountain to pray, and leaving his disciples to struggle the whole night in the lake against a gusty wind in a boat battered by the waves. This situation of Jesus' disciples is often our situation: we live in a violent world, "far from the land" where Jesus is praying, and the boat of our life battered by all kinds of waves: spiritual difficulties, material sorrows, financial worries, social clashes and disagreements.

Act 2: Jesus appears to the disciples: Do not be afraid

"Early in the morning Jesus came toward them walking on the sea". The sea, cause of the dread of the disciples, and place of death, is trampled by Jesus. This reminds us of Jesus trampling the death by his Resurrection, and appearing to the faithful women early in the morning of the first day of the week. After a whole night of fear and dread, the disciples saw Jesus coming toward them. "They were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost'. And they cried out in fear". That's a natural reaction: Imagine yourself in a small boat battered by the waves with a gusty wind, and on top of all that a ghost coming toward you. You certainly will be terrified and cry out of fear. "But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." "Immediately": Jesus did not let his disciples too long in trouble. He immediately spoke to them the word of salvation which allays their fear: "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid". 3 short sentences: "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid". "it is I (in Greek: ego eimi). This sentence reminds us what God said to Moses, when Moses asked him about his name. He said "I am who I am". Jesus is the incarnation of God. He is the "I am" of God, He is the presence of God till the end of the age.

"Do not be afraid." We hear this sentence often in the Gospel, especially in moments of trouble, and in heavenly apparitions. To Mary at the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel said: "do not be afraid, Mary" (Luke 1: 30). When at the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem , an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, "they were terrified. But the angel said to them" ‘Do not be afraid'". An angel also appeared to the women at the tomb of Jesus and said to them: "do not be alarmed" (Mark 16:6), and proclaimed to them the Good News of Jesus' Resurrection. And when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his Resurrection, St. Luke tells us that "they were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost" (Luke 24:37). No, Jesus is not a ghost, God is not an illusion. When it comes to the crunch Jesus does not let us down. He is always with us. These are his last words and promise to his disciples in the Gospel of St. Matthew: "Remember, I am with you always till the end of the age" (28:20). Here also we hear the same word: "I am" (in Greek: ego eimi).

Act 3: Jesus confirms Peter's faith and saves him from drowning

The third part of this episode tells how Peter, the head of the disciples, passed from doubt to faith. He first asked a question full of doubt: "If it is you, command me to come to you on water". Jesus said to him: "come". "So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus". Peter came toward Jesus, and as long as he was looking at Jesus he walked on the water without fear. The text continues: "But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and began to sink". When he turned his eyes away from Jesus to look at the wind, he began to sink. Then "he cried out: ‘Lord, save me!'". "Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?'." Here also we find the same word: "immediately": "Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him". Jesus' hand is a saving hand. It is the incarnation of God's hand, on which all our names are written, as we read in the book of Isaiah: "See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands" (49:16). Faith is to believe that Jesus is always with us and that he is capable of saving us.

Act 4: Jesus in the boat and the profession of faith of the disciples

The conclusion of the story is very concise; it comprises 2 sentences. The first concerns the new situation with Jesus in the boat: "When they got into the boat (that means Jesus and Peter), the wind ceased". No more storm, no more waves, no more wind, no more trouble, no more fear: Jesus is in the boat of Peter. And this boat of Peter is the Church. The presence of Jesus with us in our heart is a guarantee of security, stability and peace for our heart. The presence of Jesus with us in our marriage and our family is a guarantee of security, stability and peace for our marriage and our family. The presence of Jesus in our parish is a guarantee of security, stability and peace for our parish and for our Church.

The second sentence concerns the disciples "And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God". Those in the boat are the disciples; they represent us, the Christians of today.

Conclusion

We often ask: why God does not save us from the storm? Storms are part from our human nature and from the changing conditions of this world. Jesus did not come to change the weakness of the human nature or the physical conditions of this world, but to change the hearts of men and women. He does not always stop the storms, but he is always present with us in the storms to give us the inner strength to weather the storms.

Sometimes we hear people saying: "I never thought this could ever happen to me: this terrible disease, this dreadful accident, this death of my beloved one." All these misfortunes may afflict us, even when Jesus is present with us; but as faithful, we believe that his presence in the boat with us makes a difference in the way we face them. God could have protected Jesus from being arrested and crucified; he could have kept Paul out of jail and other tribulations; he could have protected all the martyrs from being killed. But God has never promised to keep us out of hard situations. What he has promised is to be with us through every hard situation. Listen what St. Paul says:

"We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

The first Christians used to express their faith in Jesus through the Greek word IXTHYS, which means fish and is composed of 5 letters, each letter being the first letter of the following Greek sentence: "IHSOUS XRISTOS THEOU YIOS SOTHR", which means: "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior". Do we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior, who is always with each and every one of us in the boat of our life, and is ready immediately to reach out his hand and save us, if we cry out to him like Peter: "Lord, save me!". Do we have faith in him? Do we trust him, and trust his words and his teaching? Or each and every one of us wants to forge a religion to his liking, opened to any pleasure and free from any cross? Do we invite him to be the Lord of our heart, of our mind, of our relationships with others? We read in the Book of Revelation: "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (3:20).

And with the Book of Revelation we conclude: "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen." (22:20-21)

 

"Wisdom of the Holy Fathers"

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

(Jn 17:1-13)

We celebrate today the memory of the three hundred and eighteen Bishops who attended the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), in which the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity was defined. These bishops came from East and West. That is why we call this Council an Ecumenical Council. Its doctrine is recognized by all the Christians: Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants.

Why did all the Bishops of the world gathered in this first Ecumenical Council? There was a priest from Egypt, called Arius, who taught that the Son of God is not equal to God, that he was created by God, and that the Holy Spirit is not God, but is created by the Son. So according to him, God the Father created the Son and the Son created the Holy Spirit. That was his conception of the Holy Trinity. This is not the true faith. We read in the Gospel of St. John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh (that means, a human being) and lived among us, and we have see, the glory as the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:1,14).

This Ecumenical Council defined the doctrine of Trinity in the Nicene Creed, which all the Christians recite, and which expresses the true faith concerning the Son of God. The Creed comprises 6 parts: 1) God the Father the Creator; 2) Jesus Christ the Son of God; 3) The Holy Spirit; 4) The Church; 5) The Baptism; 6) The life of the world to come.

The three first parts concern God's action in the world: 1) God as Father Creator; 2) God as Savior; 3) God as sanctifier. The second part is the result of God's action: By God's action, 1) the Church is constituted; 2) the baptism is the mystery of entering in the Church and being incorporated in the Body of Christ; 3) the eternal life is the final goal of every human being and the final step of the salvation.

In the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, when the priest says: "Let us stand well, let us stand in awe, let us be attentive to offer the holy Oblation in peace", we answer: "A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise". The first part of the Creed is "A mercy of peace": it is God's action in the world. The second part is "a sacrifice of praise": it is our action as Christian to thank God for his deeds.

The part concerning Jesus Christ is the most developed because Arius denied the divinity of Christ and at the same time denied salvation. If Christ is not the Son of God, we are not saved. If he is only a human being, we can not be saved, because no man can save other men. Since all men are slaves of the sin, a man must come who is without sin to liberate men from the slavery of sin. This man is Jesus Christ the Son of God, who "for us and for our salvation", as we say in the Creed, "came down from heaven…":

The passage of the Gospel we read today is called the priestly prayer of Jesus. In this prayer Jesus expresses his relation to God the Father, and the purpose of his mission: He has been sent by the Father to give eternal life to all men and woman. This is salvation. He said: "Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ". We know the true God through Jesus Christ: "No one has ever seen God. It is God the Only Son, ever at the Father's side, who has revealed Him" (Jn 1:18). That is why when Philip asked Jesus: "Show us the Father and we will be satisfied", Jesus replied: "after I have been with you all this time, you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14: 8-9).

The knowledge spoken of here is not speculative but practical, not theoretical but experimental, not intellectual but spiritual, not inactive but saving. Salvation consists in knowing, living on, having communion with, and enjoying endless satisfaction in God through his Son Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit. This is salvation and this is spiritual or eternal life.

The only true God is the God revealed to us through Jesus Christ. If there is a God, He cannot be but the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In that sense, Jesus is the Mediator of our knowledge and of our salvation.

Then Jesus goes on: "I have given you glory on earth, by finishing the work you gave me to do". The glory is the manifestation of the deity of God outside the Trinity. God was glorified in that sense by the miracles of Jesus, by his words, by his holy life, and finally by his death. Jesus will be glorified by His Resurrection, and his Ascension into heaven. This is the meaning of the following verse. "So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed".

Then Jesus prays for the living disciples and for their preservation from evil.

"I have made your name known to those you gave me out of the world": To make known the Father's name was to reveal Him, to manifest His character, and display His perfections. "I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me, and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from you, they have believed it was you who sent me".

"I am in the world no more, but these are in the world as I come to you. O Father most holy, protect them with your name which you have given me, that they may be one even as we are one". We are called to holiness, and this holiness consists in the unity with Christ and God. And because we are one in Christ, we can be, as the first community of Jerusalem, "one heart and one soul" (Acts 4:32).

Then Jesus extends his prayer to all Christians throughout history:

"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are I me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have set me"

The necessity of the unity of Jesus' disciples is based on the fact that the world cannot believe in Jesus if the Christians are not one. That is why in every Liturgy we pray for the unity of the Church:

"For peace in the whole world, the well-being of the holy Churches of God and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord."

Prayer:

God our Father we thank you for having sent us Jesus Christ as Savior. Strengthen our faith, deepen our spiritual knowledge, keep all the Christians in the unity, so that we bear testimony to your love and render glory to you, eternal Father, and to your Only-Begotten Son and to your Holy and life-giving Spirit now and always and forever and ever.
 

An Easter Greeting from

Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Annunciation Cathedral

The Apostles believed in Christ's Resurrection and bore witness to it and preached it as a fundament of their faith in Jesus Christ. What are the theological dimensions and implications of this doctrine of faith? And today when we still teach that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, what do we mean in fact?

1. Christ's Resurrection is the proclamation of God's power.

When we preach that Jesus is risen from the dead, we proclaim that the God in whom we believe is the God of life. God, by raising up Jesus, does not do something opposed to nature's laws, but reveals himself as God, and manifests his loving power. Faith in Christ's Resurrection is not something added to the Christian faith in God and in his Son Jesus Christ, but is the summary and the essence of this faith. God in Christ's Resurrection reveals in a definitive way that he is the God whose power encompasses death and life, this world and the world to come.

2. Christ's Resurrection is the ratification by God of his mission

Christ's death was, in people's understanding, the proof that God has forsaken and rejected him, according to what was written: "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree" (Galatians 3:13). That is why after Jesus' death, the disciples ran away disappointed, and Jesus' prediction was fulfilled: "You will all become deserters; for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee" (Mark 14:27-28).

In Galilee Jesus called his disciples for the first time to follow him and to preach with him God's Kingdom; and in Galilee he appeared to them to tell them that God's Kingdom has come by his Resurrection. By raising up Jesus Christ, God has confirmed that he is the Son of Man, to whom has given "dominion and glory and kingship" (Daniel 7:14). That is why Jesus can order his Apostles to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).

By his Resurrection Jesus was revealed as really the Son of God. God, by raising up Jesus, has answered the questions of the people who, before the cross, were mocking him saying: "let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him" (Matthew 27:42).

By raising up Jesus from the dead, God has ratified all that Jesus has preached during his life on the Kingdom of God. For the Kingdom of God is the life of God itself which enters the world and raises in it a new life, and this new life has arisen from the tomb of Christ. The Kingdom is God's love that shines on the world and dissipates from it the obscurity of hatred and the darkness of sin, and this love has shined in Jesus' Resurrection as it shined in his life. By raising up Jesus, God has shown that all that was preached by Jesus during his life has been preached in his name, and all that was done by Jesus during his life has been done in his name, and that his death on the cross was the utmost manifestation of God's love. Therefore Jesus is himself God's Kingdom: in his life, in his death and in his Resurrection was revealed God's life and God's love and God's power.

3. Christ's Resurrection is the beginning of the new life and the guarantee of our resurrection

Christ's Resurrection unveils also the profound significance of human life. By his Resurrection Jesus entered in God's glory; and since Jesus is the new Adam and the head of the new humanity, we believe that all humanity entered by his head in God's glory. "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6).

Our faith in Christ's Resurrection and in our resurrection with Christ gives our present life a new meaning: "Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with the scripture —‘I believed, and so I spoke'— we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus… So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:14-16).

Our faith in Christ's Resurrection renews our vision of the world: "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creature: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new" (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

Our faith in Christ's Resurrection and in our resurrection with Christ drives us to a new behavior: "So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God… For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory" (Colossians 3:1-4).

He who believes in Christ's Resurrection cannot be driven to despair. He says with St. Paul: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

Our faith in Christ's Resurrection and in our resurrection with Christ gives us confidence that human life does not end with death, and that God who raised up Jesus from the dead will raise us also.

For that reason when the believer has exhausted all human possibilities and sees that all horizons of human hope are blocked in his face, and when he feels as if he is going towards death and the void, then God appears to him in the eternity of his love and the permanence of his presence. He can say with St. Paul: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8: 11). That is what we proclaim in our Byzantine Liturgy: "Christ is risen from the dead, and by his death he has trampled upon death, and has given life to those who were in the tombs."

"Christ is risen – He is truly risen".

+ Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

Eparch of Newton

 

"The Coming of the Great Light"

Homily for the Sunday after the Theophany

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

The Sunday after Theophany

(Matthew 4:12-18)

Hundreds of years before the Savior was born, the prophet Isaiah, living in a dark time of tyranny and cruelty, foretold the coming of a great light:

The people who sat in the darkness have seen a great light, And for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, Light has dawned (Is. 9:2).

1. The great light: the light of knowledge

The "great light" foretold by Isaiah centuries before was none other than our Lord Jesus. He came as light into the dark world.

That is the meaning of the Jesus' sayings: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (Jon 8:12), and later: "I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." (John 12:46)

Whoever "believes in me" and "follows me", says Jesus, does not "remain in darkness", but "already has the light of life". What is this light? The light is the symbol of the truth. That is why we sing at Christmas: "Your nativity, O Christ our God, has shed the light of knowledge upon the world". Darkness is the symbol of the ignorance and of the sin. In the darkness of ignorance and sin, in which men were living, God sent His Only-Begotten Son to enlighten all human beings. St. Paul says: "God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6). What are the content of this knowledge?

  1. In Christ we know who God is; for he is the only Son and Word of God, that means, the only true image of God. This is light for us.
  2. In Christ we know who we are; the Word of God penetrates the depth of our hearts, illuminates the secrets of our thoughts, and lets us know who we really are. In this light of Christ, we cannot any more deceive ourselves; in this light of Christ we know that we are sinners, who need salvation. Listen what the Letter to the Hebrews says: "Indeed the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account." (4:12-13)
  3. In the light of Christ we know the way of life for which man was created, as Jesus said: "I am the way, and the truth and the life."
  4. In the light of Christ we know the answer to the riddle of death. Jesus lived and died as a human being. But after his death he was risen from the dead. From his tomb has arisen the light of the Resurrection for him and for us.

Why are they so many problems in the world? Way are there inside us fears, distresses, insecurity? Why are there between peoples wars, enmities, hatred? We find the answer in the following sentence of the Gospel of St. John: "This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." (3:19-21)

2. Our answer to the light: three candles, candles of faith, of hope and of love

In the life of Jesus three lights were manifested: 1) the light of Nativity symbolized by the star that lead the Magi from the East to worship the Savior, it is the light of faith: we believe that Jesus is the Son of God; 2) the light of the Resurrection, which is the light of hope in eternal life; 3) the light of Pentecost, which is the light of Love; for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Love.

The story of our Christian life is the story of our illumination by Jesus. Jesus comes as "a great light" to those who languish in the darkness of ignorance, despair, and hatred. 1) To those who sit in the darkness of ignorance, He lights the candle of knowledge; 2) to those who sit in the darkness of despair, He lights the candle of hope; 3) to those who sit in the darkness of hatred, He lights the candle of love. And with these three theological virtues he lights candles of joy, forgiveness, peace, and meaning in the lives of people today.

When we enter the church we light a candle. The processions of the Gospel and of the offerings are accompanied by candles. This is to remind us that we have received light form Christ and that, like Him, we too, ought to be lighting candles in the lives of people. We have the mission to spread the light of Christ in the world. He said of himself: "I am the light of the world." The same thing he said to us: "You are the light of the world." Then he added explaining what does mean to be the light of the world: "A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Mat. 5:14-16)

After the communion we chant our happiness with the light of Jesus, which is the light of the Holy Trinity, saying: "We have seen the true light, we have taken the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity Who has saved us." Amen.

 

"The Touch of Life"

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the seventh Sunday after the Cross

(Lk 8:41-66)

Religion is a way of life in which we, human beings, are related to God our creator. To be religious is to enter in relationship with God. In Christianity we believe that God took the initiative to enter in relationship with us. He sent us the prophets, and "when the time had fully come" (Galatians 4:4), he sent us his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We read in the first epistle of St. john: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:1-3).

The Word of God became man, so that we could be able through him to see God, to hear God, to touch God. Through Christ we enter in relationship with God, source of our life, to have life in abundance. Religion is not a mere belief in doctrines and dogmas, but it is a way of life, in which we enter in relationship with God, with the true and perfect life, so that our life could be transformed into the divine life.

We, like this woman of the Gospel, are sick with our weaknesses, our sins, our failures. But if we have faith in God, and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that means the real manifestation of God, we come to hear Jesus, and in hearing him we hear God himself; we come to touch him, and in touching him, we touch God himself.

We say in the Creed: "I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God… who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven". When we say: "For our salvation", we affirm our faith that no man can save other men. Only God can save us! No sinful can forgive sins! Only the one who is without sin can forgive sins. Jesus said: "I am the way, and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). No one who has lost the way to happiness, to God, to heaven, can show us the way to happiness, to God, to heaven. Only the one who said: ""I am the way" can show us the way to happiness, to God, to heaven. No one in error can teach us the truth, only the one who said: "I am the truth" can teach us the truth. No one bound to death can give us life. Only the one who said: "I am the life" can give us life, and give it in abundance, on this earth and in the world to come.

Jesus is our teacher, our master. He taught two thousand years ago. But he is still alive today; his words are written in the Gospels. We come to the church to hear his words, to ponder on them, believing that they are God's words.

Jesus is our Savior. He saved people by forgiving their sins two thousand years ago; but his saving power is ever present in the sacraments. We come to the church to touch his saving power: we are touched by him in the baptism, not only touched but immersed in his power. We are touched by him in the Eucharist, not only touched, but totally united with him by eating his holy Body and his precious Blood.

Christianity is a way of life, derived from union with Jesus Christ. Christianity transforms us to become ourselves the body of Christ, so that every one who encounters us encounters Christ, everyone who hears us hears Christ, everyone who touches us touches Christ. That is the plan of God for us; that is the dream of God for his children, that the whole humanity becomes the body of Christ. In this way the Christ who is an individual person becomes, according to the expression of the Fathers of the Church, the "Cosmic Christ", who fills the whole cosmos, the whole universe.

This is our mission as Christian: to open ourselves to the salvation of our Savior Jesus Christ, and to cooperate with him to the salvation of the world.

I took for my personal life the following resolution: "No one should come to you and leave you without being happier". No one should encounter you and leave you without being happier, with a nice smile on his face, with a ray of light in his heart. That is the purpose of the prayer. After every prayer we should be happier, smiling with the God's joy, enlightened with God's light.

Jesus lived only thirty three years. He preached only three years. During his life he manifested God's presence. We, Christians, are the continuation of his presence and the manifestation of his grace throughout the history.

That is why the Church commands us to come every Sunday to participate in the Divine Liturgy to listen to Christ, to touch him, to be united to him, to be filled with his presence, in order to be able to continue his work of salvation in our daily life.

In this passage of the Gospel we see Jesus healing a sick woman and giving life to a dead girl. Sickness and death are the destiny of every human life. But we, Christians, believe that death is not the end of our life. "Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life". By our union with him, we transform the meaning of our life on this earth; by our faith, we look beyond the limits of our earthly life towards our final destiny, which is the life everlasting with God. Amen.

Shopping Cart

Your shopping cart is empty
Visit the shop

Questions? © 1995-2016 Melkite Eparchy of Newton  ·  All Rights Reserved RSS Feed