Sunday, June 18, 2017

Met Saba Esber: To the Bishop of Hama

Arabic original here.

To the Bishop of Hama

Offered to His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas Baalbeki

You mastered medicine, in particular surgery, and the path was open before you to get ahead in this world. Your qualities, baptized in the spirit of the Gospel, offered you wider possibilities for success and advancement in the world of bodily healing which you chose at first. But the Physician of souls and bodies, who captivated you from your youth, prepared a different path for you and called you to follow in His footsteps. Perhaps your contact with people's bodily suffering and your knowledge of treating it in soul and spirit led you to immediately accept His call. You chose the more profound path of healing and headed for treating the soul, knocking on the door of the priesthood.

Saint Luke the Physician before you followed these steps. During the era of Russian communism, you would find someone who was a bishop and a surgeon at the same time, practicing his episcopal service and continuing his medical practice with unusual competence. We all know, my brother, that you only very recently ceased practicing surgery.

This well-known intellectual capability of yours, along with your spiritual humility and the purity of your hand and tongue and the warmth of your pastoral care, caused the Holy Synod of Antioch to choose you with almost total unanimity as bishop of this diocese that is great in the piety of its people and their attachment to their Orthodoxy. In turn, it expects a great deal from you after the Holy Spirit delegated you to serve it. Many will push you to work in stone, administration and bookkeeping, which are not trivial fields, but indeed, are necessary for Christ's diocese because its affairs must be conducted "in a fitting and orderly manner." But for us, the stronger hope lies in that even more will push you to reform and heal souls and refine them with the morals of the Gospel.

Building up people ensures the stone and gives it meaning, while by itself the stone is incapable of bearing the good news of the Lord of the Church and so is unable to bear witness. Indeed, it distorts it, particularly when it is in the hands of those who have lost the fear of God. Did not the great Apostle Paul say, "Man is the temple of the Holy Spirit"? Human affairs are strange, my brother! Although their Gospel is very clear, they are for the most part pleased with limiting themselves to tickling their temporary feelings and emotions and not entering into the profundity of the inner man who is called to come to be in the likeness of God.

But what we know about you,  your personal attentiveness to the people of God, your tireless pastoral care from them in any place, and your compassion that has led you more than once to bring some of them to hospitals, makes us confident in your ability to nourish them with the divine, life-giving word and to feed them their daily bread.

How will your diocese transform into what you dream of it being? I leave that to your Lord. When I received my diocese, there was no worldly good in it apart from the absolute minimum. But a handful of the people of God continued to be present in it and for their sake God has poured blessings upon the diocese.

At the enthronement, an elderly woman from the diocese said to an acquaintance of mine, "We are a thirsty land. I hope the new bishop will be a constant rain cloud." I said to myself, what can I offer to the cracked and desert soil when I have no means apart from extending my hands filled with my sins and limitations before God?!

He filled them and they poured out upon the diocese in a way that until now still amazes me. I can find no answer to this apart from continuing to lift them up to Him empty so that He Himself may educate His people using me as a mere instrument. Is He not His people? Amidst the work and the accumulation of tasks, we clergy are tempted to forget this truth, so we take the role of master of the Church, heedless.

Do not worry about the many obstacles that Satan will place in front of you. There is no spiritual revival without various and sundry trials. The demons' darts are aimed at the bishop first, so long as he resists them in his bearing the Gospel. The more the warfare against him increases, the greater the power and the more abundant the success that God grants him.

Nevertheless, we bishops, due to our human frailty, often seek consolation from people other than Him because we need tangible consolations and we need the life of living Christian communion. You will that, because of His overwhelming love, He often consoles us through brothers that He places before us at the appropriate time and place. He often speaks to us through them and shows us what we are looking for by means of them.

Our great consolation remains in the Lord's table. We have no better consolation than the divine liturgy. The Lord's cup is the source of strength and of spiritual and theological understanding. Your lively prayer-- and you are a man of prayer-- will be a strong support for you in your new service. Your focusing on your Lord in frequent retreats will fill you with His presence and you will dauntlessly face hardships with a peace not from this world.

Our people in all the dioceses are the same. They seek from the bishop everything of which he himself is incapable. With the current crises and trials, their feeling of needing a father is increasing. They want him to be a compassionate father, a leader and a protector at the same time. You know, just as I do, that sometimes they ask for what we have no capability of doing, but they do this because they have no other support but us.

Our service is no less than to become another Christ. How does this happen? The answer is mysterious and God alone has it. He is the one who knows, as no one else knows, how He pours His consolations in the heart of the suffering bishop, upon His people and for their sake. You have treated body and soul for many long years and your sense of pain for God's people is more intense because you realize more than others the magnitude of human suffering. This is what causes you to accept God's graces and mercies in abundance. The deeper the love becomes, the more the lover's suffering increases and alongside it the Lord's gifts multiply.

It is right for this people to expect much from you because your Lord has granted you much. Proceed in this hope which does not fail and the Lord will inundate the broad plains of the diocese with a flood of wheat and clusters of grapes so that your diocese will offer it to Him, kneaded in love and leavened with purity and forever become, through your care, His living body pulsing with hot, life-giving blood.

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