Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me."

In English followed by text in Arabic

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the New Year 2008

(Luke 4:14-19)

The first speech of Jesus was in the synagogue. It is an explanation of a passage from the Prophet Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed be free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Jesus explained this text by simply saying: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Today we start a new year. What do we expect from it? We ripped off all the pages of the 2007 calendar, and we have in face of us a new calendar; and its fresh pages, each with its day or week, are innocent and beautiful. We move through time by sullying each page, tearing and discarding it. What does mean time for us Christians?

Is it only a movement of days, weeks, months and years according to a calendar with pages to be torn and tossed? If it is only that, it gives us a feeling of disconnectedness, as if the events of our life cohere no more than one page does to another.

In speaking of time, the Greeks distinguished between chronos and kairos. The chronos is the chronological time, which spans the surface of life, with its events, good and bad, sometimes meaningful some other times meaningless. The kairos is the contemplative time which goes down into the depths of wisdom and true knowledge.

The kairos is the contemplative time. The word contemplation has a Latin root, suggesting "time with". The Kairos is the time of the Kingdom of God. As Christians we believe that time is a time with God, because it is the time of God with us. When Jesus came, he was called "Emmanuel", that means "God with us". With the coming of Jesus, "God with us", the chronos became kairos, the time became filled with the presence of God. That is why when St Paul spoke of the coming of Jesus Christ, he spoke of the fullness of time. He said: "When the fullness of time has come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir through God" (Gal. 4:4-7)"

So contemplative time is time in which connectedness is perceived as essential. There is no fully human knowledge unless it is knowing "with"; And "knowing with" is the meaning of "conscience", from the Latin "con" (=with) and "scientia", means "to know".

To be a Christian and to live one's time as Christian is to move more and more every day, every week, every month, every year, from mere chronology to contemplation, to move from events following each other as if randomly to events filled with conscious choices. Our choices are the seat of connectedness; they are conscious choices we make in connection "with" God our Father, with Jesus our brother and Savior, and with the Holy Spirit who inspires us. In this way the Christian time becomes the realm of morality, as well as of meaning. In choosing, we choose with God and at the same time with freedom and responsibility.

When we live our time in a contemplative way with God, there will be no more room for fear. When Jesus came the angels proclaimed glory to God and peace to men. And Jesus, before leaving his disciples, told them: "I will give you my peace". It is the inner peace. When we live our time in a contemplative way with God our Father, with Jesus our brother and Savior, and with the Holy Spirit who inspires us, we will live it without fear but with inner peace. And inner peace will always be compromised until we recognize and affirm that we cannot be ruled by our fears but only by our faith, our hope and our love.

Inner peace comes from the faith that God loves us and sent us his Son Jesus Christ as savior. Inner peace does not come from stoic endurance or even heroic resistance, but from being "with God" who is "God with us", and from doing with hope and love what God wants us to do, in spite of the various difficulties we will encounter in our daily life.

We read in the Book of Job "God does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number." (5:9). In Jesus we believe that he did marvelous things and, based on this faith, we hope that he will keep on doing marvelous things in our life and, through us, in the life of the world. He will keep on bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed be free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor."

Happy New Year, Blessed with contemplative time with the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen


الزمن الجديد

في الزمن الجديد كل شيء حاضر. ليس ماض. أمور الأمس لا تموت، لا تتوارى، لا تُنتَسى. الزمن الجديد حاضر دائم. لا ماض له ولا مستقبل. لذلك لا أحلام ولا تصوّرات لأنّ الإنسان لا ينتظر شيئاً من الخارج. الكل معطى له داخلياً. ينمو. لا شك أنّه ينمو في النعمة والقامة. يسير من مجد إلى المجد. في حركة. في جدّة. لذلك يكون في دهش. يختبر الزمن وقد توقّف ومع ذلك يسير في حركة كيانية لم يعرفها في إنسانه العتيق في الملء. الحركة من ملء إلى ملء أكبر. حضور لنعمة الله فيه ومع ذلك يكون في حركة فيها، أي في النعمة، إليها.

الزمن القديم زمن يختلس منكَ الحياة كل يوم قليلاً. في الزمن الجديد أنت تَعُبّ من الحياة إلى الأبد. في العتاقة الحياة وعد يكتنفه الموت. في الجدّة الحياة واقع ثابت ممتدّ إلى الملء. في الزمن القديم السير إلى الأمام تقدّم إلى نهاية المسير. في الزمن الجديد السير إلى الأمام تقدّم إلى بدايات لا تتوقّف. دائماً ثمّة ما تنفتح عليه الحياة. تعرفه ولا تعرفه. يأتيك من عمق إحساسك لكنّه يأتيك جديداً، مدهشاً أبداً.

إذا ما كان الزمن العتيق ليُقاس بما بين حدثٍ وحدث، ما كنتَ عليه وما تؤول إليه، فالزمن الجديد لا قياس له لأنّه ليس رباطاً بين أحداث، بل هو حالة تنمو وتنفتح على الآتي بتواتر. والآتي نور وأنوار تتكشّف من أعماق الله ومحبّته الفيّاضة. أمواج تلو أمواج من حضرة الله. "ما لم ترَ عين ولم تسمع به أذن ما أعدّه الله للذين يحبّونه".

في الزمن المائت أنت في خشية من الآتي. لك ألف سبب وسبب أن تكون في مخافة وقلق. واقعك خسران ما لديك ولو ربحت العالم كله. لذلك الزمن العتيق واقع مشبع بالأحزان تُسلي نفسك عنها بالوعود والتصوّرات والتخيّلات. الزمن الجديد ليس كذلك. أنت إليه في فرح ورجاء. كل شيء يأتيك فيه ليزيدك أنعاماً وبركات. لا ما تخسره في الزمن الجديد لأنّك رائحة المسيح.

هذا الزمن الجديد تذوقه منذ الآن. تدخل فيه بالنعمة. لذا تختبر الأبدية وأنت في الموات، وأنت فيه عالم بأنّك آتٍ إليه في ملءٍ كلما نَقُصْتَ في هذا الدهر. لأنّك فيه وفي الزمن العتيق في آن تأتيك الحياة في الموت وعبره. يأتيك الفرح في الحزن ومن خلاله. لذا يصير الموت لديك محيياً والحزن بهياً. تختبر أنّ ثمّة ما يشدّك دائماً إلى الموت. إنها حركة الطبيعة الساقطة فيك. لكنّك تختبر أنّك وأنت في انحدار، في تناقص، في توارٍ، ثمّة فيكَ ما ينمو ويكبر إلى نور جديد، إلى حياة جديدة، إلى نعمة تزداد. لذا الحركة الداخلية للموت فيك يتغيّر اتجاهها. يصير الكل للفرح، لحياة تتجدّد. يخضع الموت لناموس الحياة الجديدة بنعمة الله بعدما كانت الحياة قد استُعبِدَت لثقل الموت.

الذين لا يعرفون المسيح لا يعرفون الزمن الجديد لا هنا ولا هناك لأن الزمن الجديد قياسُنا بالمسيح إلى المسيح. فالذين لم يأتوا إلى المسيح يثبتون في عتاقتهم. يسيرون أبداً إلى موت. وبعد الموت يكونون من موت إلى موت إلى الموت الأبدي. لا جديد عندهم. كل شيء يتفتّح لديهم على خسران، على تناقص. لا مَعين عندهم لحياة جديدة. الموت يصير لديهم حالة كيانية يكون فيها يسوع إليهم خارجاً لأنّهم أوصدوا أنفسهم دونه بعدما أفعموها ميولاً عنه إلى اجترار أنفسهم وما لهم. أهواؤهم ملأتهم. لذا تكون أهواؤهم عالمَهم. فراغ يلقيهم في فراغ. لم يعرفوا الخروج إلى النور. كانوا دائماً منشغلين بأنفسهم، لذا تكتنفهم الظلمات الداخلية.

لا يمنع يسوع نفسه عن أحد، لكنّه واقف بالباب يدقّ فمَن يفتح له يدخل إليه ويتعشّى معه. أما الذين لا يفتحون له فيَقبل أن يبقى خارجاً عنهم. لكنّهم بإعراضهم عنه يحكمون على أنفسهم. لا يحكم هو عليهم. يستحيل حضور يسوع خارجاً إلى وبال عليهم. يلقون بأنفسهم في الجحيم. هذا، بالضبط، هو الجحيم أن نُبقي يسوع خارج حياتنا. أن نوصد أبواب نفوسنا دونه. لا نور، إذ ذاك، يدخل إلى حياتنا. نقيم في خطايانا. خطايانا تكون جحيمنا لأن فيها طعم العدم طالما رائحة الموت منبعثة منها أبداً. يسوع محبّة حتى للذين لا يحبّونه. فقط لأنّهم لا يمتدّون إليه لا تفعل فيهم محبّته. يسوع نور وعذاب. نور للذين يقبلونه، وعذاب للذين يُعرضون عنه. هي هي محبّته الواحدة تنعكس على هذا النحو في هؤلاء وأولئك.

ليس الزمن العتيق من خلق الله ولا ناتج خلق الله. العتاقة آتية من الخطيئة، من الموت. ليست من طبيعة الإنسان. الزمن العتيق واقع غير طبيعي. وليد أهواء الإنسان. لذا كان الزمن العتيق مظلماً لا يأتي بجديد. واقعه أنّه يسير بالإنسان إلى العدم أبدياً. فالشكر ليسوع الذي انتَشل من العتاقة كل الذين آمنوا به وأحبّوه.

في السنة الجديدة، رجاؤنا أن يملأنا ربُّنا ومخلِّصنا من حضوره في حياتنا كل يوم. أن يصير كل قول وعمل وفكر فينا إلى يسوع عسانا به نقتني تلك الحركة إليه، إلى حياة جديدة إلى فرح لا يعتريه فساد، إلى رجاء لا يخبو. يا فرحي! الأشياء العتيقة تمضي، هوذا كل شيء يصير جديداً. جديدنا القدّيسون وأفراح الأعياد التي تُحضر يسوع لدينا وتحضرنا أمام يسوع، بلا همّ. الكل معطى لنا لنتخطّى الموت وروائح الموت. حتى الموت صار في المسيح إطلالة على فرح جديد وحياة جديدة وزمن جديد!

الأرشمندريت توما (بيطار)

رئيس دير القدّيس سلوان الآثوسي – دوما

 

"The Wedding Banquet and the Kingdom of God"

A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

The Wedding Banquet and the Kingdom of God
(14th Sunday after the Pentecost - Mt. 22:1-14)

When Jesus started preaching, he said just three short sentences, which are the central point of his mission. He said: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand! Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mc. 1:15).

What does Jesus mean by "the time of fulfillment?" It is the time of the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament, that one day God himself will reign over his people. And how are these promises fulfilled? The answer is given by the second sentence: "The Kingdom of heaven is at hand". By the coming of Jesus the Son of God, the Kingdom of God has come and the times are fulfilled. What must be the attitude of the people who are seeing Jesus and listening to his words? This attitude is spelled out in the third sentence: "Repent and believe in the Gospel". And to explain this teaching Jesus gives a parable, a kind of story, about a marriage feast.

In fact we have here two parables joined together by St. Matthew: a first parable about the invitation to the banquet, and another parable about what kind of garment we need to enter the Kingdom of God.

What is the teaching of the first parable?

  1. The king who made a marriage banquet for his son represents God the Father.
  2. The King's son is Jesus Christ; he is the eternal Word and Son of God, who became man for our salvation. His coming is compared to a wedding banquet, which is the symbol of the union between earth and heaven, between men and God.
  3. The king's servants are the Apostles who were sent by Jesus to invite people to listen to Jesus' message.
  4. The invited Guests who refused to come are the indifferent Jews who refused to believe in Jesus: "They paid no attention and went off - one to his field and one to his business".
  5. When the invited refused, that means the Jews, the King said to his servants: "the wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find". This is the invitation to the non Jews and to the pagans.

This invitation is not for something boring but for a banquet, for a festivity, for a celebration. Why did people refuse this invitation? They refused, because they were not interested in this invitation, because it does not concern their business.

But God is not the God of business, of possessions, of what we have. He is the God of what we are, of our being. We must make a clear distinction between what we have and what we are: we can be very poor in having, in material possessions, and at the same time very rich in being: in love, in generosity, in sharing and in caring. And Jesus did not come to enrich our possessions but to enrich our being.

That is the spiritual meaning of the second parable, the parable of the man who was not dressed correctly for the wedding feast. So the king asked him: "Friend, how did you get in here without wedding garment?" What kind of garment do we need to enter the Kingdom of God?

  1. First of all by our baptism we put on as garment Jesus Christ himself, as we sing with St. Paul: "All of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ". Through our faith in Christ and our baptism we "put on Christ", we clothed ourselves with Him; we identified ourselves with Him. Jesus placed on us the robe of righteousness, the robe of His Divinity.
  2. Then this garment also includes our sorrow for the sins of life, and our reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.
  3. Finally the wedding garment also contains the jewels of good deeds. Our Christian acts of kindness and mercy shine like diamonds. It is through our virtues that others see the light of Christ. "Not everyone who prays Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of God", Jesus said, "but who does the will of my Father". The will of the Father means living like and being united with His Son Our Lord Jesus Christ.

So it is that day by day, week by week, and year by year, as we go through life, we are weaving the garment that we shall wear on Judgment Day.

Every Sunday we are invited to a banquet, the banquet of the Kingdom of God, the Eucharistic meal, in which we are united in a sacramental way to the risen Christ, for our personal sanctification and the building of the Church. That is why we start our Liturgy by saying: "blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". And at the great entrance with the gifts, the priest says: "May God remember you all in his Kingdom". And during the Holy Communion we chant: "remember me, O Lord, in your Kingdom."

We can find many excuses not to come to this banquet. But if we really love the Bride, and if we really love one another, all these excuses become nonsense. When the priest invites the people to the Communion, he says: "Approach with fear of God, with faith and with love". We come to the Eucharistic banquet full of reverence, faith and love. So that, after the Holy Communion, we can sing with joy and thankfulness: "Let our mouth be filled with your praise, O Lord, for you have counted us worthy to share your holy immortal and spotless mysteries. Keep us in sanctification that we may sing your glory meditating on your holiness all the day. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia!"

Amen.

 

"The Two Greatest Commandments"

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

The Two Greatest Commandments in the Law
(15thSunday after Pentecost – Mt. 22:34-36)

The greatest commandment

"Which is the greatest commandment in the law?" This question was very important for the Jews, because they had so many commandments in the law, more than five hundred. And they had to follow them all. Now we consider ourselves very pious if we keep the Ten Commandments. And many Christians even do not know the Ten Commandments. And who remembers the Commandments of the Church? How many are they? Who remembers them? Only eight!

The answer of Jesus was clear: the first and greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind". Notice the three "alls": all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. If you really love, your love cannot be half your heart, half your soul and half your mind. To love is to give oneself totally to the beloved one. We read in the book of the prophet Isaiah: "The Lord said: this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, but their hearts are far from me" (29:13).

The second commandment, says Jesus, is like the first: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In his first Epistle, S. John explains that to prove to ourselves that we keep the first and greatest commandment, to know that our Love for God is real and sincere, the only way is to ask ourselves if we keep the second commandment, if we really and sincerely love our neighbor. If not we are liars. He writes:

"Anyone who says, ‘I love God', and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God whom he has never seen. So this is the commandment that he has given us, that anyone who loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21)

If we love God we prove our love by keeping his commandments.

It is sometimes difficult to follow the commandments of God. We do not live the Gospel of Christ, that is all there is to it. We say: Oh, Christ doesn't mean this or that!" But Christ does mean that and this and all the things we don't want to take in. All the things we want to discard are frightening. I was just reading the other day that 75 per cent of the people disagree with the Church's teaching on abortion, sex and some other issues. That is an awful lot of people who disagree. And all along Christ is watching this happen. Sometimes I think we make Christ cry, I really do; because he is human, he can cry. And I think we make Christ cry because we don't live by His way and His commandments.

In his first interview since his election, Pope Benedict told Vatican radio he hoped young people would see Christianity as fresh nourishment for modern living rather than a stale spiritual meal warmed up repeatedly for the past 2,000 years. He said: "I want to show them it is beautiful to be a Christian. Many people think Christianity is a bunch of rules, prohibitions, and dogmas you have to follow, and therefore it is a heavy load".

The essence of Christianity is the encounter with God to allow Him to enter our very depths. Remember that God loved us first, and that our religion is truly a love affair between God and us, us and God; it is not merely a system of morals and dogmas.

To live the Gospel is painful

You cannot live the Gospel of Christ without pain. Christ was the greatest revolutionary on earth. He calls you to the impossible.

Are you willing to be totally poor, in spirit or otherwise? Are you able to hope when every hope is gone? Can you love when you are not loved? Can you love your enemies as did Christ on the Cross, when he said: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Can you continue to have faith when all around you faith is disappearing? Love those who hate you! Renew the faith of those who have lost it. Bring hope and love to everybody! For this you have been created. And you have to do it, because the time is so short.

Pope Benedict XVI said also: "The ways of the Lord are not comfortable. But we were not created for comfort, but for greatness, for good".

How can we see God?

Jesus calls us today to be sincere in our love for God and for our neighbor. And if we keep His commandment, we will be happy, we will reach the fullness of our being, because God will come to us and dwell in us. We read in the first Epistle of St. John: "Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him" (1 John 3:24). At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his apostles: "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). One apostle asked him: "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" Jesus answered: "If anyone loves me he will keep my commandment, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him" (John 14:23).

Sometimes we ask: can we really see God? And how? The answer of Jesus is that God is not a being to be seen outside us. He manifests Himself to us only if we keep His commandments, because God is not an immobile and motionless being. He is Love, and Love is relationship. That is what we mean when we say that God is a person, and that there are three persons in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This mystery of the Trinity means that we are related to God by a triple relationship of love: God is our Creator, and our Savior, and our Sanctifier. He has created us out of love; he has saved us out of love; and he sanctifies us out of love. By keeping the two commandments love of God and love of our neighbor, we deepen our relation to Him: we live as children of God the Father, we live as saved by our Savior Jesus Christ, and we live in the holiness sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Prayer:

O Lord, to You I come for shelter, teach me to obey Your will, for You are my God!" Help me to love you with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind, and to love all my neighbors, friends and enemies, as myself.

Amen

 

"The Idea of Salvation"

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Homily for the Epiphany 2008

Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

"The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all and training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and to live in the present age lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.

When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior."

The feast of today is called "The feast of the Theophany of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ". Theophany (from Greek, Theos = God, Phaino = appear) is the appearance and manifestation of God. God appeared to us as he is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is what we proclaim in the troparion: "At your Baptism in the Jordan River, O Christ, the worship due to the Holy Trinity was made manifest, for the voice of the Father bore you witness by calling you ‘beloved Son', and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a Dove, confirmed the immutability of this word." The feast of today is about our salvation. We are saved by the manifestation of the Holy Trinity and by our rebirth through our union with the Holy Trinity.

I want to stress today on 4 words which explain this idea of salvation: Consecration, Conscious Knowledge, Contemplation and Consolation.

  1. Consecration: This word means to be make "sacred" "with" (from the Latin "cum"). When we are saved we become sacred, holy with God, holy by the holiness of God. That is Grace. That is what St. Paul says: "The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation", and "God our Savior saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy." We are made holy through the water of rebirth. Bu Baptism we become a new being, we become children of God.

    God loves each and every one of us, because he sees in each and every one of us a bit of himself. After our Baptism he said to every one of us, "This is my beloved Son."
  2. Conscious Knowledge. To know is good. But any knowledge, any science does not give salvation, because it is limited and finite, and we are created for the infinite. Only the knowledge with God (cum, science) gives us the perfect knowledge. In his priestly prayer Jesus said: "The eternal life is to know you, Father, and the one you sent, Jesus Christ." When we know God, and we know our identity with God, we are saved, we are in the light, and we are in the truth: we know where we came from and where we are going. We know our origin: we came from the love of God; and we know our destiny: we are going to live eternally with God. And this knowledge of the truth gives us happiness.
  3. Contemplation. (From the Latin also: cum and tempus = time). We are saved by spending our time with God and according to God's will. That's what St. Paul says: "to renounce impiety and worldly passions and to live in the present age lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly." There are in

    Greek two words for ‘time', chronos and kairos. The chronos is the chronological time, which spans the surface of life, with its events, good and bad, sometimes meaningful some other times meaningless. The kairos is the contemplative time which goes down into the depths of wisdom and true knowledge, and gives our life its true meaning. It is the time of God, the time of the Kingdom of God . As saved Christians we believe that time is a time with God, because it is the time of God with us. When Jesus came, he was called "Emmanuel", that means "God with us". With the coming of Jesus, "God with us", the chronos became kairos, the time became filled with the presence of God. From all eternity we were with God. Before the foundation of the world we were in the mind and the love of God. Then in the time he decided to create us. Before the foundation of the world God had decided to send his Word to save us. Then in the fullness of time he sent him to us.
  4. Consolation. Consolation means that we are no more alone. In our solitude God is with us (cum, solo). Jesus is Emmanuel, that means God with us, and the Holy Spirit Jesus called him the consoler, because, after the departure of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is with us, so that we do not remain alone. Woe to the one who is alone, living in solitude, without any consoler.

These four words explain our salvation and our identity as saved Christians.

  1. We are consecrated, that means we are made holy by the grace of God, and we commit ourselves to live in holiness with God and accordance to God's will.
  2. We are conscious of our identity; we know who we are through the knowledge of Christ who is the truth and the light.
  3. We spend our time in company with God, through contemplation, prayer and reading of the Holy Scripture. And in our secular life we live the time according to the time of the kingdom of God , in holiness and according to God's will.
  4. And in our whole life even in the most difficult times, in illness or in presence of the death of our loved ones, we believe that we are never alone. The Spirit of God is with us. And Jesus is with us until the end of the world.

This is the meaning of the feast of today, "The feast of the Theophany of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

 

But love your enemies

A Homily for the Second Sunday after the Exultation of the Holy Cross

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

But love your Enemies

(2nd Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross - Luke 6: 31-36)

What is the definition of the human being? What characterizes a human being? Usually philosophers give 3 characteristics: They say that a human being is first a living being, second a rational being, and third a social being.

  1. As living being he has been given a human life, a human body which he needs to take care of, so that he may live in health and happiness.
  2. As rational being he has been given a reason, an intelligence to know things and reach the truth. He has to develop the capacities of his reason, so that he can enjoy the happiness of knowledge.
  3. As social being he is called to live in a family and in a society, and he is called to live in peaceful and just relationship with the members of his family and the members of the society.

These are the 3 characteristics by which the philosophers define a human being. As believers we add a fourth characteristic. We say that more of that a human being is also a spiritual being, which means a being related to God. And it is this spiritual relationship to God which guarantees the perfect development of each of the 3 first characteristics. I say "the perfect development", because without God, our life is relative and destined to death, our knowledge is limited, shaky and subject to error, and our social relationships are unstable and rocky.

In today's Gospel, Jesus teaches us how to develop our social being in a spiritual way. He starts by considering the axiom, "the golden rule", that is accepted as a virtue by all people – Jews and pagans alike, believers and atheists. It goes like this: "Even as you wish men to do to you, so also do you to them". Such a rule is very simple and is accepted by everyone; it only requires equal treatment among people. So Christ's disciples have no merit if they are content with this rule. And he applies this rule to 3 actions: "to love", "to do good", and "to lend". He says:

"If you love those who love you, what merit have you? For even sinners love those who love them.

And if you do good to those who do good to you, what merit have you? For even sinners do that.

And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive in return, what merit have you? For even sinners lend to sinners, that they may get back as much in return."

This is the right human behavior between people. To do otherwise would be considered as demonic and evil.

Now Jesus describes to his disciples the divine behavior. His followers must not be content with the human behavior; they are called to imitate God's behavior: "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful".

Why must we love our enemies? From the teaching and example of Jesus, we see 3 reasons:

  1. The first reason is in order to be really sons of God. How does God behave towards the wicked and unrighteous? God, says Jesus, "is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked"; God is merciful to everyone. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says: "God causes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (5:45). Why is God merciful to the righteous and the unrighteous? Why does God love the ungrateful and the wicked? Because they are his children. God hates the sin, but he loves the sinners, because, even sinners, they remain his children, and he still loves them. So the first reason which motivates us to love our enemies is to behave as children of God, to imitate our Father in heaven.
  2. Second: God is merciful to the sinners and he shows them his mercy, in order to save them, by calling them to repentance, as we read in the Gospel of St. John: "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (3:17). According to modern psychology, what is the best way to approach aggressive behavior in children? It is not by further aggressive behavior towards them, but by showing them your love. Because aggressive behavior, when fully understood, is, in fact, nothing but love frustrated and an expression of the need for love. And this is true not only for children but for every man and woman. Violence and enmity shown by a person are usually means for taking revenge on society which has let that person down, had deserted and dehumanized him. We read in the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (12:20-21). In this sense love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
  3. A third reason for loving our enemies is that only love can break the vicious circle of hatred. Jesus on the Cross forgave his murderers. He prayed to God: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). When the Roman centurion heard Jesus dying in this way, he said: "Surely this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15: 39).

I knew a Muslim Lebanese Shiite who converted to Christianity, became a priest and founded a social institution in Beirut for poor children. His name is Fr. Afif Osseiran, and his brother was a member of the Lebanese parliament. When we asked him what caused him to become a Christian, he answered: "I started reading the Gospel, and when I arrived at this saying of Jesus: "Love your enemies", I said to myself: These words cannot be said by a man, they must be divine words; and the man who said them must be the Son of God. Only by loving our enemies we can convert them, and change the world to God.

Who are my enemies? Don't go so far. Our enemies may be very close to us. They may be members of our family: husband, wife, children. They may be our relatives. They may be members of our parish. Wherever and whenever there is hatred between people, grudge, bitterness, quarrels, antipathy or lack of understanding, there is enmity. Don't let these evil feelings overcome you. When you come to pray, get rid of them. God does not want us to live in hatred and bitterness, but in peace and love. God wants us to live in happiness. And we come to the church to ask God to forgive our sins, to change our minds, to give us the real happiness, for "every good gift and every perfect grace is from above, coming down from him the Father of lights". That is the meaning of the Beatitudes by which Jesus started his sermon on the mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit …

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …

Blessed are the meek …

Blessed are the merciful …

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

The word "blessed" in Greek is makarioi, and it means "happy". It is a real blessing, and a real happiness to be called sons of God.

Let us conclude by the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, let me sow pardon;

where there is doubt, let me sow faith;

where there is despair, let me sow hope;

where there is darkness, let me sow light;

where there is sadness, let me sow joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek:

to be consoled as to console,

to be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Amen!

 

"You are invited to a wedding banquet"

A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

You are invited to a wedding banquet

(14th Sunday after the Pentecost - Mt. 22:1-14)

When Jesus started preaching, he said just three short sentences, which are the central point of his mission. He said: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand! Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mc. 1:15).

To speak about heaven is very difficult, because it is speaking about things we cannot experience in our daily life. So Jesus, in teaching His listeners about heaven, told them a story, a parable, about a marriage feast.

What is the meaning of this story? What did Jesus want to teach by it?

  1. The king who made a marriage banquet for his son represents God the Creator of heaven and earth, God the Father.
  2. The King's son is Jesus Christ; he is the eternal Word and Son of God, who became man for our salvation. This mystery of the Word and Son of God becoming man we call "The mystery of the Incarnation". And this mystery is itself the marriage banquet to which God sent his messengers to invite people. The relationship between God and his people was compared in the Old Testament for the relationship of bride and groom in a marriage. In the New Testament, this comparison is used to the relationship between Jesus Christ and his Church, as we read in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her with water and words, so that when he took her to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless " (5:25-26).
  3. The king's servants are the Prophets in the Old Testament, the Apostles in the New Testament, and now they are the ordained ministers in the Church.
  4. The invited Guests who refused to come are all the ungrateful people of the Old Testament who refused to listen to the Prophets, and the indifferent people of the New Testament and of the Church who are so busy with their business that they do not care about God's invitation.

This invitation is not for something boring but for a banquet, for a festivity, for a celebration. What is the meaning of this banquet? It means a new relation between human beings and God through his Son, Jesus Christ. So the people who refused the invitation were not interested in this invitation, because it does not concern their business. But God is not the God of business, of possessions, of what we have, but He is the God of what we are, of our being. We must make a clear distinction between what we have and what we are: we can be very poor in having, in material possessions, and at the same time very rich in being: in love, in generosity, in sharing and in caring. And Jesus did not come to enrich our possessions but to enrich our being. And that is the meaning of his teaching: "Do not be anxious, saying ‘what shall we eat?', or ‘what shall we drink?' or ‘what shall we wear?' For the unbelievers seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his Kingdom and his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides" (Mt. 6:31-33).

That is the spiritual meaning of the man who was not dressed correctly for the wedding feast. What kind of garment do we need to enter the Kingdom of God ?

  1. First of all by our baptism we put on as garment Jesus Christ himself, as we sing with St. Paul : "All of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ". Through our faith in Christ and our baptism we "put on Christ", we clothed ourselves with Him; we identified ourselves with Him. Jesus placed on us the robe of righteousness, the robe of His Divinity, and we became with Him and through Him children of God. That is the meaning of the two first sentences of the first preaching of Jesus: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand!" When we put on Christ, we are already in the time of fulfillment; we are in the Kingdom of God .
  2. Then this garment also includes our sorrow for the sins of life, and our reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. How difficult it is to sincerely repent for our wrongs. But they are there – bare wounds on our souls, and bare wounds in the Body of Christ. We can heal them, by pouring on them the holy blood of Christ. And that is the meaning of the third sentence of the first preaching of Jesus: "Repent and believe in the Gospel".
  3. Finally the wedding garment also contains the jewels of good deeds. Our Christian acts of kindness and mercy shine like diamonds. It is through our virtues that others see the light of Christ. "Not everyone who prays Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of God", Jesus said, "but who does the will of my Father". The will of the Father means living like and being united with His Son Our Lord Jesus Christ.

So it is that day by day, week by week, and year by year, as we go through life, we are weaving the garment that we shall wear on Judgment Day. And we must work while it is day, Jesus said, for "the night comes when nobody can work". That night is the night of death.

The Gospel story ends with the words of our Savior: "For many are called, but few are chosen". The call of Christ for faith, for repentance, for Christian living and loving, goes on and on. We are all among the called, and remember: we are invited to a marriage banquet, the banquet of the marriage of the Son of God with his Church that means with us. God grant that we might also be among the chosen.

Every Sunday we are invited to a banquet, the banquet of the Eucharistic meal, in which we are united in a sacramental way to the risen Christ, for our personal sanctification and the building of the Church. This sacrament strengthens the unity of the Church, according to the words of St. Paul : "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). We can find many excuses not to come to this banquet. But if we really love the Bride, and if we really love one another, all these excuses become nonsense. When the priest invites the people to the Communion, he says: "Approach with fear of God, with faith and with love". We come to the Eucharistic banquet full of reverence, faith and love. So that, after the Holy Communion, we can sing with joy and thankfulness:

"Let our mouth be filled with your praise, O Lord,

for you have counted us worthy to share your holy immortal and spotless mysteries.

Keep us in sanctification that we may sing your glory /

meditating on your holiness all the day.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia!"

 

"The Fruits of God's Vineyard"

A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

The fruits of God's vineyard

(13th Sunday after Pentecost - Matthew 21:33-42)

This parable of the vineyard reminds us of other vineyard stories in the Holy Scripture. There is the famous "Vineyard Song" in the fifth chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, and this song was familiar to the Jews who were listening to Jesus:

"Let me now sing of my friend, my friend‘s song concerning his vineyard.

My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press.

Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it wielded was wild grapes.

Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard;

What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?

Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?

Now, I will let you know what I mean to do to my vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, and let it be trampled!

Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it.

The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his cherished plant;

He looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed, for justice, but hark, the outcry!" (5:1-7).

Historically, the vineyard is the symbol of the Jewish nation of the Old Covenant. God chose them as his people, and trained them in his ways, to bear fruits of justice. But instead of justice, what the vineyard produced was, "bloodshed" and "outcry". The series of messengers who were sent by the householder are the prophets who were sent by God to Israel to speak His word, and to remind them of their destiny. But the Jews "beat one, killed another, and stoned another". That reminds us of Jesus weeping on Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you refused! Behold, your house will be left to you desolate!" (Matthew 23:37-38).

The parable goes on: "Finally he sent his son to them, saying: they will respect my son. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other: this is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance. So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him". "Out of the vineyard", that is a reminder that Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem.

The difference between the "Vineyard Song" and the parable of the wicked husbandmen is in the finale: in the "Vineyard Song", the finale is total ruin: "Yes, I will make it a ruin: I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it". In the parable of Jesus, the finale is a word of hope: "He will certainly kill those evil men, and rent the vineyard out to other tenants, who will give him the fruits in their seasons".

God had chosen the people of the Old Testament to build his Kingdom. He sent them his own Son, they killed him. Then he rented his vineyard to a new people, the Christian Church of the New Testament, of whom St. Peter says in his first Epistle: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people at all; and now you are the People of God" (2:9-10).

We, Christians, are the new people of God, and God wants us to bear the fruits of justice and holiness. The judgment of God in the Old Testament was total condemnation: "I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it." In the New Testament, God sent us Jesus not to condemn us but to save us. But we have to come to Him. He told us: "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;" (John 7:37-38).

In another parable on the vine in the Gospel of St. John, Jesus reminds us that we cannot bear fruit if we are separated from the head:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bear no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more… Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (15:1-5).This is a clear reference to the Eucharist, the sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, as food and beverage for our souls.

Let us listen once more to what God said to us: "What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?" God has given us everything: He created us in his image, and when we had fallen, he sent us in the Old Testament the prophets as his messengers, and in the New Testament his Son as Savior, and in the Church his Holy Spirit as sanctifier.

When God created humanity he had a dream for all human beings. He created us in his image to be his body on earth and to continue the work of creation. Because of our dignity, He made us stewards of the creation, "to cultivate the earth, to accomplish it", to fill it with His Holy Spirit. No angel reflects God, only human being do. The angels say: "holy, holy God". We say, hugging God: Our Father thy Kingdom come (that means: through us); thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (that means: by us). This dream of God we call it in theology "the plan of salvation", or the "economy of salvation". God has no body, He is a Spirit. We are the body of God. The dream of God cannot be implemented without us. God entrusted to our care the building of his Kingdom.

Tomorrow is the "Labor day". Congratulations to all the workers. All of you are workers. Jesus, St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary were too workers. All of you work to have a decent life, to build a new house, a good family. Do we care to build the Kingdom of God as we care to build our material houses? Do we take care of God's vineyard as he took care of us? Are we growing in Christian stature? Are we more forgiving than we were in the past? Are we giving more to the Lord's work in our Churches? Do we attend services more often than in the past? Are we more concerned about other people than we used to be? Listen to what St. Paul says about the fruits of the Spirit: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:23-24). What are the fruits we are bearing in our families, in the society and in the Church? Are we spreading love or hatred? Are we peacemakers or trouble makers? Are we patient, kind, faithful, gentle with each others or always fighting each other?

Let us remember always in every thing we do that we are responsible of the creation of God. Let us live up to this responsibility.

I conclude with the traditional blessing of the bishop in our Byzantine liturgy: "Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and see. Bless this vineyard which your right hand has planted"; help them to be faithful workers in your Church to build your Kingdom. Amen.

 

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An Easter Greeting from

Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

April 24, 2011

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It gives me great joy to greet all of you, Reverend Clergy and lay faithful, on this holy and glorious Pascha of the Lord, the Feast of Feasts! I rejoice with you, echoing the clarion call of St. John Chrysostom in his beautiful Paschal homily: "Let all pious men and woman and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast…Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord!"

Our rejoicing is this world, seemingly in the thrall of death, is not simply foolish optimism. It is founded on our faith in Christ who conquers death. "If Christ has not risen, vain then is our preaching, and vain too is your faith" (1 Cor.15:14). For Christ is truly risen! Indeed, this astonishing reality of the glorious Resurrection of the Lord is the fount and foundation of our holy faith and the cause of our rejoicing. Life Itself has trampled down Death by His death and given life to all who are in their tombs! Neither our preaching, nor our rejoicing is in vain, for Christ, Who was slain for our sins, "rose again on the third day…and appeared to Cephas, and after that to the Eleven. Then, He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at one time…After that He was seen by James, and then by all the disciples" (1 Cor. 15:4-8).

Hardly could the Myrrh-bearing Women have believed this astounding news, had they not seen the Crucified One Himself—alive—with their own eyes! And so they went in haste rejoicing and proclaiming this great Good News. And all the witnesses of the Lord's Resurrection continued in haste to preach this joyous news until, in only a few short years, the entire world had heard their proclamation. For two thousand years, the Church has not ceased to bear witness to the reality of Christ's Resurrection and to proclaim to the world that, in Christ, sin and death are defeated and that God's love reigns supreme.

Still, in our modern world there remain many forces of death, both those which beset us personally and those which continue their arrogant assault into the very structure and functioning of our society. These dark forces attack goodness, truth, and beauty in every way: the plague of abortion continues to destroy the lives of countless innocents in their mothers' wombs; the rampant promotion of promiscuity and perversity, even to our children, threatens the moral compass of our nation; the efforts of homosexuals to pervert the sacred bond of marriage and claim it as a "right" threatens the very foundation of human civilization, the family; and wars and bloody conflicts throughout the world, especially in the ancient lands of our own Church, sacrifice human lives and cause untold suffering. Indeed, Satan is raging even in his efforts to silence the Church and its message of Resurrection and new life, while martyrs for the Faith are again being added to the roles of the Saints. "Hades is angered because it is frustrated…It is angered because it is now captive… Christ is risen and the demons are cast down!"

It is not foolish optimism that causes our rejoicing at holy Pascha. It is our firm belief in the sublime truth of Christ's Resurrection. For it is exactly in times such as these that we need to hear proclaimed with full voice and vigor: Christ is risen, and has trampled down Death by His death! And this proclamation must not be mere words or custom, but the catalyst for the renewal of our life of faith and our witness to the world. For, indeed, we proclaim, Christ IS risen, not Christ was risen. Christ is risen and alive now in our midst. He lives and is present in His mystical Body, the Church. He lives in the hearts of all who truly seek Him and believe in Him. The Resurrection is an ever-present reality to be grasped and experienced in the life of every believer.

The message of Christ's Resurrection not only gives us hope of everlasting life after death, but really calls us to experience this new life of the Resurrection now: resurrection from the life of sin. For we experience this new life only when we die to ourselves and rise from our sins. Jesus bore our sins to the Cross. Fulfilling the ancient Jewish rite of sin offering, He is the true lamb who was slain with our sins on his back. "Upon Him was the chastisement of us all" (Is 53:5). He offered His body and blood on the Cross to take away our sins, giving us, in return, His slain Body and Blood as the source and sustenance of our new life, risen from sin.

Jesus has already given His life for us: now, He continues to give His life to us. His Divine Body is the sustenance of our life and He purifies us of our sins in Confession. He joins together man and women in love in holy Matrimony and heals our body and soul in holy Anointing. He speaks to our hearts in the words of Sacred Scripture. As He descended into Hades, casting out the darkness by His brilliant light, and He drew forth Adam and Eve from the chains of death, so too, He desires to release us from the shackles of our sins and selfishness and pride and to draw us forth to live the new life of resurrection, a life risen from sin.

May you and your loved ones live the new life in Christ and, thus living, may you know the joy that overcomes all sadness and the tranquility that banishes all anxiety.

Christ is truly risen!

Yours in our Risen Lord,

-|- Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

Eparch of Newton

 

On the Nativity of the Lord 2010

"The Cave became Heaven"

The Eparch's Message

"Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shed the light of knowledge upon the world." St. Augustine said: "I want to know only two things: God and the human soul." With Christ's Nativity we are given full knowledge of both God and the human soul. In Jesus, born in a manger, God has appeared to us in His reality, as pure Love, and Man has appeared to us in his real dignity as Son of God. In Jesus, who is at the same time God and man, the Son of God and the Son of Man, we know who God is and who Man is.

The book of Genesis describes the image of the human being, man and woman, in the state of grace, as willed by God when he created them. True human life, in its highest form, is the life that God gave to our first parents, as they came out pure from God's hands. "Let us make Man in our image and likeness", he said (Genesis 2:7). "And he blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so Man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). All creation came to be by a word of God, Man alone is a divine breath, an authentic image.

But unfortunately this image and likeness were spoiled by sin; and if we look at the humanity today, what do we see? Atheism, materialism, relativism, and secular humanism are the most popular philosophies of today. Marriage, as the permanent union between a man and a woman as willed by God since he created them, is under attack. Divorce and cohabitation without the Sacramental Mystery of Matrimony, abortion and the extremely high numbers of births out of wedlock threaten the family at its very core. Alcohol, drugs, lack of chastity, violence and suicide are epidemic. Is this what God intended when He created Man?

Paradise described in the book of Genesis as the image of Heaven, in which Man and God were living in friendship, in which Adam and Eve used "to hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze" (Genesis 3:8), is no more a paradise; it became a lonely place, empty of God's glory, because of Man's sin. And Heaven was closed for human beings.

With Jesus' birth, Heaven was reopened; Bethlehem's cave became Heaven. In Jesus human nature was restored to its original purity.

To celebrate in a Christian way the Nativity of our Lord, we have to ask Jesus to come into the cave of our soul to transform it, by His presence, into Heaven. "If anyone is in Christ, said Paul, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new." (2 Cor. 5:17). And he said to the Romans: "Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect" (12:13)

Then we will be born again with the Divine Infant; then we will be restored to the true image of God; and then we will have on this earth some of the days of Heaven.

I wish to all of you a Blessed Nativity!

+ Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

Eparch of Newon

 

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

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