Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

"You are the Light of the World"

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost

(Mt 5: 14-19)

We celebrate this Sunday the memory of the Fathers of the Church who convened in the six first Ecumenical Councils in the first Millennium and defined the Christian faith. These six Ecumenical Councils are common to the Catholics and the Orthodox. And the reconciliation between Catholics and orthodox will be implemented according to these Councils. These Fathers were "the light of the world" by their teaching of the truth and by their deeds: they were "Orthodox" in their faith, which means that they proclaimed the "right doctrine"; and they were "holy" in their life. That is why we call them "the holy Fathers".

The Gospel we read today is about the recommendation of Jesus to all who believe in Him to be "the light of the world". In the Gospel of St. John we hear Jesus say: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (8:12). And in this passage of this Gospel of St. Matthew we hear Jesus say: "You are the light of the world". A Christian is not only someone who believes that Jesus is the light of the world, but also someone who is called to become himself like Jesus the light of the world.

The baptism is called in the Christian tradition "illumination" or "enlightenment". By baptism we are united to Jesus Christ who is the light of the world, and we pass from darkness to the light. Darkness is the symbol of the ignorance and of the sin: ignorance of the mind, and sin of the deeds. By baptism our mind is enlightened, we see the truth about God and about human beings; and we are empowered to act in holiness according to this divine truth.

The cause of all the sins of the world, of all the fighting between individuals and all the wars between nations is that, according to the Gospel of St. John, "the light has come to into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God" (3: 19-21).

We read in the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians: "Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true, and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it is said: Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light" (5: 8-14).

And we read in the first letter of St. Peter: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people but now you are the People of God; once you were outside the mercy but now you have been given mercy" (2:9-10). Then he adds accordingly: "Always behave honorably among pagans so that, in case they speak against you as wrong doers, they may see your good works and glorify God on the day of reckoning" (2: 12). We have here the same idea as in Matthew: "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16).

What does mean "to glorify God", or "to give glory to your Father who is in heaven"? To glorify God means to be the living proof in this world of the existence of God. God is not someone, some "big brother", who lives outside the world. He is present in this world; He is the Holy transcendent dimension of this world. That is the profound meaning of the Incarnation. "The Holy, the Son of God" (Luke 1:35), "the Word of God, who ‘was in the beginning with God", He "through whom all things were made", He in whom "was life, and the life was the light of he world" (John 1: 1-4), came "to dwell among us" (John 1:14) to "make his home with us" (John 14: 23).

By our holy deeds we manifest his presence. There is a difference between "the existence" and "the presence". To the atheists who don't believe in God, we cannot prove the "existence" of God somewhere in the sky, but we can manifest his "presence" in us by our holy deeds. We are called to be the continuation of the Incarnation. In Him Who is the Son of God we also become sons of God, in Him who is the light of the world we become the light of the world. We are responsible of manifesting the presence of God in this world. There is a permanent battle between atheism and faith, between darkness and light. And in this battle, the destiny of the world depends on us. God has overcome darkness when He created the world, as we read in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a might wind swept over the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light', and there was light" (1:1-3)."

With the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ there is a new beginning, as we read in the first chapter of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and the life was the light of men". Then he adds: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (1:5).

We believe that Jesus Christ is the divine and eternal light of the world; we believe that, in spite of all the evils in the world, darkness cannot overcome this divine and eternal light. And we say with St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians: "For it is the God who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (4:6).

We conclude with the following recommendation of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans "It is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (13: 11-14).

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ I confess that I have sinned against you, against God, against the Truth, against the Light. I have lived in darkness; I have done the deeds of darkness. Now I repent of my sins, I want to start a new life with you, a life of holiness, and a life of light. Be my strength and my help. For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we shall see the eternal light in this life and in the life to come. Amen
 

"Do you believe that I am able to do this?"

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

"Do you believe that I am able to do this?"

Homily for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost

(Mt 9: 27-35)

I read a story about a father who lost his only son in a tragic accident. His whole world collapsed. He said later: "Three ways were open to me: despair, drink, or Christ. I chose Christ, and that's where the power came from".

Another story: a woman told that she had gone through the hell of alcoholism. Several times she had tried suicide. Finally, she was referred to a psychiatrist. As she stumbled from his office, she found herself pronouncing a word she had never said before except in profanity. "I don't need a psychiatrist. What I need is God". That evening she fell to the floor by her bed and prayed, "Oh, God! If you are anywhere about, I hope you'll help me, for I sure need it." "In twenty minutes", she said, "it was all over'. Christ's power came into her life and she has been a new person since then.

The Gospel of today is about the healing power of Jesus. Jesus asked the blind men: "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said: "Yes, Lord". Then he touched their eyes, saying: "According to your faith be it done to you." And their eyes were opened.

We, Christians, believe that God's power was present in the person and activity of Jesus Christ, and is now present in the person of the risen Lord. He is, according to St. Paul, "the power of God and the wisdom of God". We believe this, relying on the testimony of the Apostles, most of whom were simple fishermen. They didn't believe in Jesus thanks to an intellectual discovery, but to a personal experience. They lived with him, and they saw him "going about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity."

Before healing the blind men, Jesus asked them: "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" He asked for their faith, and when he healed them he told them: "According to your faith be it done to you."

Our life in Christ is a "synergy", a work of cooperation between Christ and us. Faith is our part in this work of cooperation. Christ cannot work in us without our cooperation. By faith we are turning our face toward his face. It seems that God desires this very simple action to happen so that he can face us, face to face! Yes, he wants to look at our face. He loves to see our face facing him, for so often we avoid this simple act. Even while we beg him for simple favors we somehow close not only our physical eyes but the eyes of our souls as well – strangely avoiding looking at him. Yet we know that he always looks at us, looks at us with deep love.

Faith healed so many who believed in God. There were not only these two blind men, but also the leper, the woman with the issue of blood, the servant of the Roman soldier and millions of others not recorded.

In our life we are so often surrounded by darkness. Faith allows us to enter peacefully into the dark night which faces everyone of us at one time or another. Faith is at peace, and full of light. Faith walks simply, childlike, between the darkness of human life and the hope of what is to come.

Our face is turned to God through faith, and our eyes meet, so that every day becomes more and more luminous. The veil between God and us becomes less and less until it breaks through barriers.

Faith is contagious when we show it to one another. Men and women cannot resist faith, even when they deny it and laugh at it and jeer at it and even kill the one who has faith.

The blind men came to Jesus with their blindness. He touched them, and they were healed. We, too, may come to Him today with our weaknesses, our sins, our problems, and our own blindness. Like them we may say, "Have mercy on us, Son of David". He will ask, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" If our answer be "Yes, Lord", He will fill us with an inner peace that will be beyond what we ever imagined. "Never was anything like this seen in Israel", said the crowd at the time of Jesus. And never will anything like this be experimented in our life once we receive today the infilling of his presence and power.

The last sentence Jesus said to his Apostles before been elevated to heaven was: "And know that I am with you always to the end of time". He is always with us. Let us be always with him. Amen.

 

"Be Holy, because God is Holy"

Homily for the 1st Sunday after Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

All Saints Day

(Mt. 10:32-37; 19:27-30)

"Be Holy, because God is Holy"

To live is to choose. One cannot be at the same time good and bad. There cannot be at same time in the same place light and darkness. One cannot be at the same time pro-life and pro-death. One cannot at the same time preserve one's life and kill it. We have to choose: There cannot be peace between good and evil, between light and darkness, between preserving life and killing it. That is the meaning of Jesus' saying: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but sword. For I have come to set a man against his father (that means: if his father chooses evil), and a daughter against her mother (that means: if her mother chooses evil), and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (also: if her mother-in-law chooses evil); in that case "a man's enemies will be those of his own household." The conclusion of all this, says Jesus, is that "anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me; anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me; anyone who does not take his cross and follows me is not worthy of me." We have to decide whom we would like to follow. If we follow the members of our family or our friends who have chosen the ways of the sinful world, then we have to forget about Christ. St. Augustine said: "There are only two loves: the love of God until the denial of the self, and the love of the self until the denial of God." We have to choose. And the result of our choice, according to Jesus, is that "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it." That means: He who finds his sinful life will lose his true life, and he who loses his sinful life will find his true life. In other words: if we lose our selfish self and choose God, we find in God a self enriched by all the richness God. Our human soul is created at the image and likeness of God. That is why our heart cannot be satisfied with the things of this world and cannot reach its happiness in the sins of the world.

We read in the First Letter of St. Peter: "Gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as He Who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written: ‘Be holy because I am holy'" (1: 13-16).

In the Liturgy, when the priest elevates the consecrated gifts saying: "Holy gifts for the holy", we answer: "One is holy; one is Lord, Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father. Amen". We are called to holiness, because we are children of God Who is holy, but we recognize at the same time that we are sinners. In the Creed we proclaim our belief in "One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church". The Church is holy because she is the Body of Christ who is holy. But we, as members of the Church, we remain sinners who need to repent. St. Ephrem defined the members of the Church as "the assembly of sinners who walk through repentance to holiness".

The late bishop Fulton Sheen wrote: "I once gave a retreat in a maximum security prison, where there were 1,979 inmates. All of them thought, of course, that I had on a white hat and they had on black hats—that I was good and they were bad. How could I begin? Well, I began by saying: Gentleman, I want you to know that there is one great difference between you and me. You got caught. I didn't. In other words, we are all sinners". And commenting on the following verse of one of the psalms: "I thirst for the living God, when will I appear before Him?", he writes: "We have a thirst for holiness. We want to be saints. We want to be happy, to be at peace on the inside, to be one with the Father. What is sanctity? Sanctity is Christ living in me so that His mind possesses my mind and I am governed by His truth. That's sanctity. He is in my body, so that my body becomes a tabernacle. Sanctity is not only Christ in me; it's making Christ known to others. It's being loveable. It's making Christ loveable. When others see us, they see Christ".

Holiness is a long journey in which we have to struggle so that we "do not act in compliance with the desires of our former ignorance." Every day we are called to repent from our sinful conduct and to deepen our union with Christ so that He Who is holy may live in us. "I am the vine," said Jesus, "You are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Last Sunday we celebrated the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. This first Sunday after Pentecost is, in our Byzantine Tradition, the feast of all the Saints, "All Saints Day." For the holiness is the fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit in the soul. Holiness is a long journey and a difficult task. Alone we cannot achieve it. That is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to be with us, to dwell in us, and to be the source of our actions, as He said to His disciples: "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Consoler, to be with you for ever… you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you" (John 14:15-17).

The Holy Fathers compare the action of the Holy Spirit to a piece of iron put in the fire. The iron remains iron, but takes from the fire not only the color, it becomes red, but also the heat and the effect: it participates in the fire's nature: it becomes burning like the fire. In the same way, when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we become spiritualized, and we bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which, according to St. Paul, are: love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5: 22-23). The first fruit, love, is the fundament of all the others. If we have love, all the other fruits will follow. When Jesus spoke of love, he said: "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust… You, therefore, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect:" (Mt. 5:43-48). So the perfection is the perfection of love. If we love the others as God loves them, we can be sure to be on the way to perfection, to holiness.

God is not only the God of the past, Who created us. God is also the God of the future; He is our future, and the future of the whole humankind. He is also the God of the present. And if we want to give a definition to the Holy Spirit, we can say that He is the "present tense" of God. We have a God for all seasons and for all tenses.

Happy are those who are conscious of such a God, and who live with such a God. Amen.

 

"The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit"

Homily for the Sunday of the Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Sunday of the Pentecost

John (7:37-52, 8:12)

"The Outpouring for the Holy Spirit"

Today is the feast of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him "without measure" (John 3:34).

We read in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus came to Nazareth, and went to the synagogue; and there he was given to him the book of Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4: 18-19). The Holy Spirit is the power of God to do all the good works in the world.

This fullness of the Holy Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah's, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people, as we heard in the address given by Peter to the crowd referring to the Prophet Joel: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all mankind".

On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. During the Mystical Supper, he told them: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Consoler, to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you" (John 14:15-17).

And before his ascension to heaven, he told them: "John Baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit… You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8)

This promise he fulfilled on Easter Sunday, according to the Gospel of St. John, and then more strikingly on the day of the Pentecost, according to St. Luke. We read in St. John: "In the evening of that same day… Jesus came and stood among the disciples and said to them: Peace be with you… As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them: receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, for those sins you retain, they are retained" (John 20:19-23).

On Easter the disciples were baptized by their union to the risen Lord. On Pentecost, which is a Greek word that means the fiftieth day after Pascha (Easter), they were confirmed by the descent of the Holy Spirit, as we heard in the passage of the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles so that they started speaking in several languages "telling the mighty works of God" and preaching, without fear of the Jews, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This fiftieth day after the Passover was, for the Jews, the remembrance of the Sinai Covenant in which God gave the Law to Moses and to the Hebrews. After the Resurrection of Jesus we are no more under the Law: the ancient Law was replaced by the Holy Spirit. In this descent of the Holy Spirit lies the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We read in the Prologue of St. John: "The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The grace is the Holy Spirit Himself given to us through the Sacrament of Chrismation (called in the Western Church Confirmation).

What does mean, for us today, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? It means a radical change in our mind and in our deeds; it means to be a new creation, to have a new mind according to God, not according to the flesh, and to act according to God's will, not according to our sinful egoistic will. God is Love, and His Spirit is the Spirit of Love. When we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, all our deeds must be filled with love. St. Paul says to the Galatians: "Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh ... Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like." And he adds: "I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God". Then he describes the fruit of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires". And he concludes: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (Gal. 5: 16-26).

How must be our relationship with the Holy Spirit? Our vocation as new creatures is to follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to become spiritualized, divinized. Our Eastern Spirituality is a spirituality of divinization. We are not afraid to use this term. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to divinize us. There are two phrases in St. Paul which summarize our relationship to the Holy Spirit. In I Thessalonians he writes: "Do not quench the Spirit", and in another translation: "Do not restrain the Holy Spirit", or "Do not stifle inspiration" (5:19). When we hear God speaking to us, and the Holy Spirit inspiring us to do good and to shun evil, let us not close our ears. Otherwise the words of Isaiah will be applied to us; "This people's heart has groan dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed" (Mt. 13:15). That is quenching the Holy Spirit.

Another expression Paul uses in his Letter to the Ephesians is also worthy to keep in mind in our relationship with the Holy Spirit. He says: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (5:30). We grieve the Holy Spirit by our sins. This reminds us of Jesus weeping on Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused! Behold, your house will be left to you desolate" (Matthew 23:37-38). Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit by our sins, let us not cause Jesus weep on our house, the house of our soul, which will be destroyed if we "do not know the time of our salvation" (Luke 19:41-44).

Before every office and at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy we pray to the Holy Spirit to come and sanctify us. Let us pray every day this prayer:

"Heavenly King, Consoler, the Spirit of truth, present in all places and filling all things, the treasury of blessings and the giver of life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from all stain and save our souls, O Good One".
 

Who will have Courage enough?

Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the 3rd Sunday after Easter: The Myrrh-Bearing Women

Mark 15:43-16:8

The feast of today recalls the memory of Joseph of Arimathea and the Myrrh-Bearers Women who took care of the burial of the body of Christ. It is the feast of the courage of the faith, and of the fidelity in commitment and service.

Let us recall the events. Jesus is dead. His limp body hangs on the cross between the bodies of the two dead thieves. Who will claim the body of the Person against Whom a whole nation had vented its rage? Who will have courage enough to appear before Pilate and ask for the body of an executed "criminal"? His disciples? Where were they to be found? They were in hiding for fear of their lives. But there was another disciple. He was a disciple of Jesus in secret, "a respected member of the council, who was also looking for the Kingdom of God". But now he declared himself openly for Jesus. "Joseph of Arimathea … took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus". It took courage – unusual courage - for a person to do that.

We see also in this event the courage of the woman. Early Sunday morning, a group of pious women went to the tomb of Jesus to continue the anointing of his body, to revive His memory and be with Him for some moments, even in His tomb. They found the tomb empty, and an angel appeared to them and told them: You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he is not here, he is risen. He is not in the realm of the dead, but He opened to us the Kingdom of heaven. He descended to death to destroy death. You came to be with him for a few moments with the dead. He is not with the dead. He is in the Kingdom of life, and wants you to be with Him in His new life. Go and preach this good news.

The courage to be Christian is based on the faith that Jesus Christ is risen, and that we are risen with him, and that He is with us always, yes to the end of time.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only a great miracle, an argument or a proof in favor of the truth of Christ. More than that, it is a new world in which one enters with faith accompanied by wonder and joy. Christ's resurrection is the "new creation." It is not just about believing that Jesus has risen; it is about knowing and experiencing "the power of the resurrection" (Philippians 3:10).

This more profound dimension of Easter is particularly felt in our Eastern tradition. For us, Christ's resurrection is everything. In Eastertide, in all the Eastern Churches, when we meet someone we greet him saying: "Christ is risen!", and he replies: "He is truly risen!"

This custom is so rooted in the people that the following anecdote is told that occurred at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution. A public debate had been organized on the resurrection of Christ. First the atheist spoke, demolishing for good, in his opinion, Christians' faith in the resurrection.

When he came down, the Orthodox priest who was to speak in defense went to the rostrum. The humble priest looked at the crowd and said simply: "Christ is risen!" Before even thinking, all answered in unison: "He is truly risen!" And the priest came down from the rostrum in silence.

We know well how the resurrection is represented in the Western tradition. Jesus comes out of the sepulcher raising the cross as a standard of victory. His face inspires extraordinary trust and security. But his victory is over his external, earthly enemies. The authorities had put seals in his sepulcher and guards to keep watch, and, lo, the seals are broken and the guards asleep. Men are present only as inert and passive witnesses; they do not really take part in the Resurrection.

In our Byzantine tradition and in the icon of the Resurrection, the scene is altogether different. It is not developed under an open sky, but underground. In the Resurrection, Jesus does not come out but descends. With extraordinary energy he takes Adam and Eve by the hand, who were waiting in the realm of the dead, and pulls them with him to life and resurrection. Behind the two parents, an innumerable multitude of men and women who awaited the redemption. Jesus tramples on the gates of hell which he himself has just dislocated and broken. Christ's victory is not so much over visible but over invisible enemies, which are the worst: death, darkness, anguish, the devil.

We are involved in this representation. Christ's resurrection is also our resurrection. Every man who looks is invited to be identified with Adam, and every woman with Eve, and to stretch out their hands to allow themselves to be gripped and pulled by Christ out of the sepulcher. This is the new universal Easter exodus. God has come "with powerful arm and outstretched hand" to liberate his people from a much harsher and universal slavery than that of Egypt: from our invisible enemies, which are the worst: death, darkness, anguish, and all kinds of demons.

The Church is not a dead body; it is the Body of the risen Lord. The Apostles, before Jesus' Resurrection and the descent on them of the Holy Spirit were hiding in fear of the Jews. They were like dead. But after the Resurrection of the Lord, they were filled of the Holy Spirit and started to preach without fear. And when the Jewish elders and scribes warned them on no account to speak or to teach in the name of Jesus, Peter and John answered them: "You yourselves judge which is right in God's sight, to obey you or to obey God? For we cannot stop speaking of what ourselves have seen and heard".

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to express to you my profound desire to see all of you active members in the Church which the Body of Christ. You are with me, and with your pastor, responsible of the Church. And insofar as you are active, you will feel a profound happiness, according to the words that the Lord Jesus himself said: "There is more happiness in giving than in receiving" (Acts 20:35).

Christ is risen!

 

"Sir I have no one to help me . . . "

Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the 4th Sunday after Easter:

The Sunday of the Paralytic

St. John 5:1-15

" Sir, I have no one . . . . Thirty-eight years I have waited."

The events of the life of Jesus are the accomplishments of the promises of the Old Testament. let us explain some symbols of this event:

The miracle happened at the pool of Bethesda. Bethesda means in Hebrew "House of Mercy". Jesus is the Merciful.

In the Old Testament an angel was believed to come from heaven to heal the bodies. No man can save other men. The Salvation comes from God. In the Testament God sent his Son Jesus Christ as Healer of bodies and souls.

Near the pool lay "a great multitude of impotent folk of blind, halt, withered, waiting the moving of the water". That is a picture of the Jewish nation at that time. The Jews were most of them impotent; they had the Law, made their boast in it, but were unable to keep it. They were blind: blind to their desperate need, blind to the Son of God the Merciful who stood in their midst; they were "halt", that means lame, crippled. Israel had the Law but they were unable to walk in the way of God's Commandments; they were withered, that means that their hands were paralyzed and incapacitated to work for God. That was the situation of the people to whom God sent the Savior Jesus Christ.

All of them were "waiting", that means waiting for the promised Messiah, and all the time ignorant of the fact that He was there in their midst!

Jesus will manifest His Glory by healing a paralytic. This man was waiting thirty-eight years. Why thirty-eight years? Thirty-eight years was exactly the length of time that Israel spent in the wilderness after they came under the law at Sinai. There it was, in the wilderness of Sin, that Israel manifested its "impotency" – blind, halt, withered – under Law.

Before healing the paralytic, Jesus asked him: "Do you want to be healed?" Why this question? Because the impotent and all of us are impotent, must recognize his impotency, and believe that there is someone outside him who can heal him. He must ask for the Grace of God, the Mercy of God, and the Strength of God.

In our desperate situation we say: "There is no one to help me!" In faith we say: "God is my helper!", "Jesus Christ is my Healer", as we call him in our prayers: "Physician of our souls and bodies".

Jesus said to him: "rise, pick up your mat and walk". We read this Gospel in the third Sunday after the Easter, to remember that God who has raised from the dead Our Lord Jesus, will raise us also now from our sins to walk in God's ways, and after our death will raise us to the eternal Life.

Jesus Christ sent His Apostles to continue His mission on earth. So the Church is the permanent Presence of Christ. The Church is the whole Body of Christ: the bishop, the priests, all men and woman. All of us are the continuation of the presence of Our Savior Jesus Christ in the world. One of the functions of the Church is to be a loving, caring community that reaches out to the suffering and the lonely.

There are today in our societies so many people who say also: "I have no one to help me in my loneliness!" We Christians have the vocation to be the presence of Christ in the world and to manifest the mercy of Christ to all lonely people.

"God is love", and love of human beings. God is not indifferent to those whom He has created. We call Him n our prayers the "philanthopos", that is the "lover of humankind", of every human being. "God loved the world so much that he gave his only on, that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "In this God's love for us was manifest among us that God sent into the world his only Son, so that we could have life through Him" (1 John 4:8-10).

And since we are created on the image and likeness of God, we are created to be the incarnation of this divine love towards our fellow human beings. We cannot be indifferent toward God who so loved us; and at the same time we cannot be indifferent toward the men and woman who need us. "This is the commandment He has given us, that anyone who loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:21).

 

Jesus source of living waters

Homily for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the 5th Sunday after Easter: Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

St. John 4:5-42

The theme of the "living water" is a traditional theme in the Holy Scripture. In the Old Testament, God is believed to be the source of every life. In God we have an inexhaustible source of life, on which we can draw. We read in the book of the prophet Jeremiah: "Two evils have my people done: they have forsaken me, the source of living waters; they have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water" (2:13).

This source of living waters appeared to us in the fullness of time in Jesus Christ, who said to the Samaritan woman: "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4: 13-14).

We read in the Book of the Prophet Amos: "Days are coming, says the Lord God, when I will send famine upon the land: not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the Lord" (8:11).

The prayer of the psalmist echoes this thirst: "O God, you are my God whom I seek; For you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts; Like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. Thus I have gazed toward you in the sanctuary To see your power and your glory; For your kindness is a greater good than life, My lips shall glorify you" (Ps. 63:1-4) Jesus in His sermon on the mount, said: "Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied" (Mt. 5:6).

In the Old Testament the Jews used different rites of washing and purification with water. These external purifications with water made the person ritually clean, which means that they were able to participate in the official services in the Temple; they, however, did not have any effects upon the soul of the offerer.

In the New Testament, the source of divine life that is given to us by Jesus is the Holy Spirit, who not only enables us to celebrate the liturgical services with a ritual purity but cleans us from inside, as Jesus said: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me! Let the man come and drink who believes in me; as scripture says: From His breast shall flow fountains of living water. He was speaking of the Spirit which those who believed in Him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not glorified" (John 7: 37-39).

This divine water of the Holy Spirit, this fountain of life, is what we call also the "grace". We read in the prologue of the Gospel of St. John: "Indeed, from His fullness we have, all of us, received – yes grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Christ" (Jo 1:16-17).

That is the new worship of which Jesus spoke when He said to the Samaritan woman: "the hour will come – in fact it is here already – when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshiper the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship Him in spirit and truth" (Jo 4:23-24).

The new worship is first of all the action of the new nature seeking, as the sparks fly upward, to return to the Divine and heavenly source from which it came. We, by the baptism, were born from above, through water and the Spirit (Cf. Jo 3:3-5). In the second place, worship is the activity of a redeemed people. We worship the Lord who saved us. In the third place, worship proceeds from the heart, as Jesus said: "This people honors me only with their lips, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless" (Mt. 15:8-9).

To worship God in spirit and truth means to be filled with the Holy Spirit sent to us by Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit pray in us, as we read in the letter of St. Paul to the Romans: "The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray properly, but the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God" (Rom. 8: 26-27).

Jesus says to us in the Book of Revelation: "Now I am making the whole of creation new… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; I will give water from the fountain of life to anybody who is thirsty" (Rev. 21:5-6).

The Holy Spirit and the Church invite us to come to the fountain of life, as we read also in the Book of Revelation: "The Spirit and the Bride (that is the Church) say, ‘Come.' Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come.' Then let all who are thirsty come; all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free" (Rev. 22:17).

 

"I believe. Help the little faith I have"

Homily for the Sunday of St. John Climacus

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent: Sunday of St. John Climacus

Mark 9:17-31

"I believe. Help the little faith I have"

One day a father brought his sick son to Jesus with the faint hope that Jesus could cure him. He said to him: "Master, I brought my son to you, because he has an evil spirit in him and cannot talk". The father went on to say that the evil spirit possessing his son would torture him. On many occasions the boy had thrown himself into the fire and almost burned to death. At other times he had fallen into the water and nearly drowned. He was a tortured, afflicted person. The father was desperate in his search for a cure. He had sought out the best medical treatment but with no success. Finally he had brought his son to his disciples. Even they could not help. The father's complaint to Jesus is poignant.

"Bring him to me"

Jesus said to the father: "bring him to me". One of the great secrets of life is to be found in theses few words: "bring him to me". When we have a sickness or a problem, we Christians always have someone to whom we can go. Jesus said to us: "Come to me all you who tired from carrying your heavy burdens and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). How many cries for help we hear every day! If we try to help them alone, we are helpless. But if we believe in Jesus, it is our mission to bring them to the true Helper. As parents, friends, employers, fellow workers, we can be His middlemen, His helpers. All who need help will find real help only in Him. But before we can bring others to Christ, we must bring ourselves to Him. We must let Jesus strengthen our faith. We must let him break the power of sin in our lives and set us free. We must let him perform the miracle of salvation for us. Then we cannot help but bring others to Him. We chant in the great doxology: "For in you is the fountain of life". Jesus is the Son of God; He is the Word of God; that is why He is our only Savior.

"How Long Has He Had This"

Jesus dealt with the father in a beautiful and tender way. He begun with the question: "How long has he had this?" Of course Jesus knew! The question was asked only to give this father the courage to speak out the story of his long sorrow. Jesus was in effect saying to the father: "I am interested in your problem. Tell me about it." The very fact that the father found a sympathetic listener helped lift the burden. There is a great healing power in having someone to listen, who sincerely cares and understands. Here lies part of the great power of prayer. We have a God who loves us and wants us to pour out our problems to Him. The father poured out his heart to Jesus and gave vent to the bitterness that had poisoned the happiness of his home all these years.

"If you can do anything"

As the father told his sad story the boy had another attack. Looking at the gentle face of he Galilean, the father pleaded: "If you can do anything, have mercy on us and help us". The most important word in the man's appeal for help was "if" – "If you can do anything". One can understand why the father had some doubt as to whether Jesus could help him. He had been disappointed so many times. His little boy had epilepsy since childhood. Like any father, he had left no stone unturned to heal reach. He had purchased every new drug on the market. He had carried him to the synagogue to be prayed for; he had even brought him to Jesus' disciples. All these had failed. Each time he met with disappointment. It was only natural for the father to have some disbelief.

"If you can believe…"

Jesus countered with another "if" – "If you can believe: all things are possible to him who believes". He suggested that the father's faith had a lot to do with the whole situation. The problem, says Jesus, is not whether I have the power to heal; the problem is whether or not you believe I have the power. For "all things are possible to him who believes." God's power is limited only by our faith.

Faith has no power by itself. It is only when it clings to Christ that it lays hold of the tremendous power of almighty God. It is our faith in Christ that determines the amount of power we shall receive from Him.

"I believe. Help the little faith I have"

Jesus performed two miracles. He not only healed the epileptic boy; He also increased the father's faith. From saying: "If you can do anything", the desperate father reached the point where he could say: "I believe". And yet it was not a change from unbelief to complete belief. His one-sentence prayer; "Help the little faith I have" showed that he did not possess complete and absolute faith. He expressed and acted on the faith he had, but he did not hide his doubt. He was honest with Christ. No person believes perfectly. But the important thing is whether we let ourselves be controlled by the faith we have or by our debts. Miracles happen not because of perfect faith, but rather because of imperfect faith in the perfect Christ.

Prayer

Lord we believe. We believe that you are the greatest miracle that ever happened on earth. We see how you healed the epileptic boy and so many others. We see how much you cared for people – how gently you treated the troubled father, how You increased his faith. Lord, we acknowledge that the size of our cup of faith is small. Increase it – we pray – that our lives be filled with your peace, power and love. Amen.

 

The Truly Great: those who serve and love

Homily for the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent: Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

Mark 10:32-45

The truly great: those who serve and love

A national magazine advertised recently for two persons to serve as servants – cook and butler – on a large estate. No one responded. The magazine concluded with this not too profound statement: "Americans don't like to be servants, and in the long run most of us will have to learn to do without them".

It is not only Americans who do not like to be servants. James and John, two Disciples of Christ, came to Him in today's Gospel lesson and said: "Grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory". It was as if they had said: "Lord, now that you're going to become king, let one of us be the secretary of state and the other the secretary of treasury"

How did Jesus handle the request of James and John that they be first in the kingdom? Jesus replied by a question: "Jesus said to them: ‘can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?" They replied: "we can". Jesus said to them: "the cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptized you shall be baptized, but as for the seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been prepared". There is a precondition to share Christ's glory: to share his cup, which means his passions, and his baptism, which means his death.

"When the other Disciples heard it, they became angry with James and John". They were angry with them for their self-seeking ambition: they were also angry with themselves for not having thought to ask for these positions first.

Then "Jesus called them to him and said to them: you know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them and their great men exercise authority. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many"

There is a radical difference between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. The world says that you are great according to the power that you exercise over others: the more authority you have to dominate, the greater you are. "This is not to happen among you", said Jesus.

The world says that you are great according to the position you hold: the greater the position, the greater the person. "This is not to happen among you", said Jesus.

The world says that you are great according to the possessions you have. Your greatness is measured by the suburb in which you live, the size of your house, the kind of car you drive, the amount of money you have. "This is not to happen among you", said Jesus.

But if greatness is not to be found in position, in power, in possessions, where then is to be found? "Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant". In a single sentence Jesus reverses the values of the world. The world has placed at the top of the list kings, military commanders, the rich, those who have positions of honor and recognition. Behind them come the great masses of humanity, followed at the very end by the servants. Jesus reverses the whole scale of values and says: "The greatest of these are those who serve".

The word servant today is an unpopular word. Few people wish to serve. Everybody expects to be served. Most people want to lord it over others. Much of the trouble we have today is caused by people who desire to be the greatest – the most honored, he most privileged, the most powerful, the most prosperous, the best paid, the best fed, the best housed.

When some of us get the idea that we are better than others around us, when we get the idea that we are just naturally superior and ordained by God to be first – then trouble really starts – as it started among the disciples: "When the other Disciples heard it, they became angry with James and John".

Why does the Lord Jesus place so much emphasis on the importance of serving? Why does He place it above position, power, possessions and all else? The answer is that if Christianity is anything, it is love, but love according to Jesus' spirit, that is to say: love militant, love in action, love going out to serve, love sacrificing itself. These are the characteristics of the love rooted in the love of Christ who "did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many".

The greatest example of such humble service, Jesus gave to his Disciples by washing their feet. And after performing this task of slave, He said to them:

"Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am; If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other's feet; I have given you an example, so that you also should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13:12-15).

We Christians are called to build a Christian society, starting by a Christian family and a Christian parish. How should be the form of the relations between us in our family and in our parish? There is no other example to follow than Jesus' example: "I have given you an example, so that you also should do as I have done to you".

Jesus calls us to be a servant to our spouse in marriage. How many marriages have been wrecked by the desire to command and be obeyed, to be loved instead of to love, to be served instead of to serve, to be understood instead of to understand. How different our marriages would be if we strove after Christ's kind of greatness: "anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant."

What a difference being servants would make in our relations with our children! How many young people have risen in rebellion against a childhood lived in the grip of a dictator in the home? A father or a mother who just barked commands, who acted like persecuting attorneys? Who demanded obedience just because of their position in the family? But does the greatness of parents depend on their position in the family, or does it depend rather on their willingness to be servants to their children, to set them an example worthy of respect, to spend time with them, to play with hem, to pray with them, to talk with them, to listen to them, to reason with them, to understand them? "Anyone who wants to become great among you (even as a spouse or parent) must be your servant."

And in the parish we are also called to serve not to be served. We can here apply the famous "ask not" of John Kennedy: "Ask not what your parish, what your Church, can do to you; rather ask what you can do for your parish, for your Church". Amen.

 

"God's love Sign"

Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Cross

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent: Sunday of the Holy Cross

Mark 8:34-39

The third Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the adoration of the Holy Cross. During the Liturgy the Cross is carried from the altar on a tray of flowers and placed in the midst of the congregation that we may pay homage to the symbol of our salvation. When the priest bows down before the Cross today, he bows not to wood or metal but to Christ and His great love, of which the Cross is but a symbol. The beautiful flowers surrounding the Cross signify the fragrance, sweetness and beauty that it has added to life.

God's Forgiveness Sign

What meaning can the cross have in our daily lives? The first meaning is God's forgiveness. When we are burdened and cast down by an overwhelming sense of guilt, feeling that we can never be forgiven, that we can never again look God or men in the face, the Cross brings us the great plus of God's forgiveness. "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34), that was the most precious prayer ever addressed to God by a man in favor of his murderers; and it was Jesus' prayer on the Cross. And St Paul writes: "God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). And since Jesus Christ is the Word of God, his prayer was the expression of God's forgiveness to all the sinners throughout history. In this prayer we today hear Jesus Christ forgiving us. For if the most difficult person to forgive is oneself, then the fact that God has forgiven and accepted us, will help us forgive ourselves and forgive "all those who trespass against us", as we say in the Lord's prayer.

The second meaning of the Cross is the newness of life

As Christian we are signed since our Baptism by the sign of the Cross. By Baptism we became a new creature. As St. Paul put it: "If any one is in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17). He who is "in Christ' has a new center for life; and Christ himself gets a new, unique expression in the world through a life that has never been here before and will never be here again. Being in Christ equals a new life, new meaning, new goals, new values, a totally new person. Jesus wanted to draw all the human beings to himself. And He drew them by his Cross. That is what He meant when He said: "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32). Jesus came to give us a new life, and give it us abundantly. This abundance of life is the abundance of love. "A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13)

The Cross is a pledge that God will go to the uttermost for us; He who washed his disciples' feet will never wash His hands of us or leave us to perish. The Cross speaks, and says: this is how much God loves and cares. It speaks of the limitless love of God which will not cease to love even when crucified. On the Cross Jesus implemented His commandment: "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order to be sons of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike" (Mt. 5:44-45).

Erase the Cross and the heart of the universe remains cold and closed. But with the Cross we can sing with St. Paul: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:35-39).

The Cross is never seen in the Christian faith apart from the Resurrection. Because love is stronger than death, the reward of love is Resurrection, is eternal life, as St. John wrote in his first epistle: "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers" (1 Jn. 3:14). And that is our victory as St. John said in the same epistle: "Any one who was born from God has already overcome the world; this is the victory over the world: our faith" (1 Jn 5:4).

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, as we come to revere your Cross today,

we revere not wood or metal,

but the symbol of the greatest victory mankind has ever known:

your victory over sin and death,

a victory in which we all share through Baptism and faith,

a victory which has changed hatred into love and murder into forgiveness.

Be always with us to help us to be ourselves

the sign of your Cross in the world of today:

to spread light where there is darkness,

love where there is hate,

hope where there is despair,

to give a cup of cold water, where there is thirst,

and a piece of bread where there is hunger,

and above all to give to everyone the bread of life. Amen.

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