Saturday, November 15, 2014

Life Eternal

                                            (From the weekly series "Dots on Letters")

     The subject of eternal life presupposes hard questions! What is the meaning of eternal life? What does it mean to have eternal life? Why is eternal life the greatest gift? Is it because death cuts off life on earth, that eternal life acquires meaning? Is eternity a matter of time? If death is life cut off, and death comes, often, after trials, so of what value is life extended, if, practically, it means trials continued?! For to him who suffers, physically or psychologically, death appears as mercy! In man’s experience, life is desirable if it is full of delights, but when it is soaked with bitterness, he would rather desire death. So if eternal life is a matter of time, it has, in itself, no value, whatsoever!

     Therefore, the desirable eternal life must have another meaning! Is it possible that it has to do with endless time as well as with a certain paradisiacal state of being? What could be the nature of such a paradisiacal state? Is it a sort of blessedness? What does this mean? If I were to speak from a human point of view, I would not be able to bear any earthly bliss lasting for ever! No matter how happy the state we are in, it is bound to become, after a while, boring, heavy or meaningless! The state of sin imposes change, and I do not know here, on earth, any other state! Life’s desires taste good, not in themselves but after the soul has experienced uneasiness and suffering and bitterness! Light is felt shining bright, after a person has experienced dark heavy clouds! This means that nothing here, on earth, has absolute value! All that is under the sun is vain!

     What then, is eternal life all about? Why do we seek it? Why do we pursue it? What is eternal life?

     Eternal life is a kind of life totally new, in comparison to human life. Christianity, at depth, is not a new religion! Christianity is New Life! All religions, on earth, are about a god, or gods, on the one hand, and different groups of people, on the other! Between the two poles, there is space, that cannot be nullified, though there may be a relationship, or relationships between the two poles that aim at serving man, or keep him or protect him, or correct him, or improve his life or prune or control him. The relationship between God (the gods) and man is from afar!  God or the gods is (are) known from what comes out of Him (them)! That is why, God remains, in Himself, unknown, a stranger who addresses man from a different world, to which man has no access; gods, as strangers, may not be more than a creation of man’s passions! Such creations are idols! As long as there is a possibility of some revelation being revealed to man, there must be some sort of interpretation, on the part of man! That is why human beings could, simply, be deluded, and their dealing with the beyond may be more illusory than real! The god or the gods, if so, would be in the image of those who believe in him, or in them! Even paradise would be no more than expressions of longings and desires that a human being needs at depth, so that he would not be overcome by stress, and fall into despair, and be able to go on living! What is right and what is wrong? How do we distinguish between them? As long as the human being is the receiver, he has no fixed criterion, in himself, as to what is true, and no reassurance!

     Christianity, from this perspective, does not spring from religion, as indicated above by the meaning of religion, nor is itself a religion! Christianity does not spring from Christ, that is from God incarnate, but is God Himself! In Christianity we do not deal with rules and regulations, as such! We deal with Christ Himself! Of course we have a commandment, but, there is no distance, in our approach, between Christ and that commandment! In other words, we deal with Christ in His commandment; we do not deal with it as if it brings us to Christ considering existentially, that Christ is somewhere and His commandment is somewhere else! We have been baptized in water and the Spirit! This is how we start! Our immersion into the baptismal font gives us the Spirit of the Lord, and makes us one with Christ! You who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ! Through Baptism we enter into the mystery of God! We are born to a new life! And this new life is Christ Himself! He is Life and the Giver of Life at the same time! “I am the Life”, said He! And He made us alive by His Self! “Take eat, this is my Body”, said He! The Body, in Hebrew, is the person himself! That is why there is no difference between them: He gave us His Body, and He gave us His Spirit, and He gave us His Life, and He gave us Himself!

     As stated above: Through Baptism, we enter into the mystery of God! The mysterious is not what is hidden as opposed to what is visible! Mystery, on the one hand, is what goes beyond man’s conception; and on the other, is God, the invisible, the inconceivable, transfigured into what is visible and what is conceivable! His Body extended and given as Bread, His Blood as wine and water! Water is also extended as a vehicle of the Spirit, and so is oil! Whenever we pray, and what ever we pray on, we extend the presence of the invisible Christ in what is visible! We find ourselves on the land of sacramentals! That is why we pray, to enter into fellowship with God, and to render everything God’s Tabernacle, except sin, for sin is to annul God, since the blessing of God does not reside in sin!

     Therefore, Christianity is Christ in us, with us, and amongst us. It is, in other words, His Life in us! This is how we know Christ, this is how we love Him, for to know Him is to love Him! This is, precisely, life eternal: “that they may  know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John17:3).

     Life eternal, thus, is God’s Life! God is Life, and this is His Life! So, if we are given life eternal, this would mean that God has given us His Life! Which means that we have entered into His fellowship. It is like a lit candle which gives light yet remains the same! This is precisely, why, the life, we are speaking about, is eternal; because it is God’s Life, not because it lasts forever! God’s life, in itself, is not subject to time! This is a different kind of life, totally new! Only God is everlasting! The everlasting is uncreated! What we are given, then, is uncreated! His Life is uncreated! This lays us before an extraordinary reality: God’s uncreated life becomes our Life, we, God’s creatures! The uncreated dwells in what is created! The created becomes one with the uncreated God! Union, here, is without mingling or confusion! Life eternal does not swallow my human life, and does not make a change in its essence whatever it may be; yet it resides in it, and becomes one with it, in the fullness of its humanness. It becomes for it, inside of it, in its depth, a new trait, as if it were from it! I remain who I am and God remains Who He is! I am not saying, here, that in spite of that, we become one, but in the depth of this Existential Truth, we become one! How? Through love! Through God! Through the Spirit of God! He is the initiator! We love Him because He loved us first! And we love Him with the love that He loved us, first! He pours it on us, and we become one in it through Him! By Him, we come to Him! We dwell in Him who is resides in us! This is how we become One with Him!

     On this basis, life eternal, is an outpouring in us of God as love! From the very beginning, humanity yearns for life eternal, for man is a heart! That is why, man’s humanness could not have been realized except in Love! The substance of eternal life is love, and love among us, is God in us; that is why, only in love, we acquire the energies of God all-filled with love! When we say God, we mean the essence of God and /or the Self/the Person of God ( Father, and/or Son, and/or Holy Spirit), and/or the energies of God! Therefore, in Love, we acquire the energies of God, that is God; with God in Person, present, dwelling in us, through love, in union with us, though, at the same time, distinguished from us! This is what renders us divinized; we become gods, through the energies of God! We become of God, of the fabric of God’s light, that is of God as Light; gods by grace, in other words, the thing that accomplishes in us God’s word: I said you are gods, and are called sons of the Most High!

     Thus, we acquire by God’s gift, a human nature which is divinized by God’s grace! This is, precisely, why the Son of God was incarnate! God did not become human just to save us from our sins! This is something that He could do without becoming incarnate! He took our body, to bring us to oneness with Him, in His Body, through love, God and man! And as He extended this cosmic inner event, through the Holy Spirit, to all humans, He established a lineage which is human-divinized, or in fact, human-divine! He became to it the New Adam! This is the reason for salvation; or salvation looses its meaning; or salvation remains an unaccomplished project!

     Thus, in life eternal given to man, the uncreated is working in what is created. We are still subject to time, and we will remain so, because time is one of the characteristics of the created being. That is why, the uncreated works in us with time, the thing which makes us grow in grace and stature for ever! From his belly run out, eternally, rivers of living water! 

     Man, in this state of being, has two eternities: one divine in which God gives Himself to man, as much as he can bear; and another eternity, which is human, in which man grows in God’s love, towards the unlimited; the thing that makes him proceed from glory to glory, from light to light, from wonder to wonder, from praise to praise, from thanksgiving to thanksgiving, from peace to peace, and from joy to joy, ever greater!

     This is life eternal! This is the Kingdom of Heaven! This is God’s indwelling! This is God’s abode in us! This is God’s Heart open wide to all humans! This is the reign of Love!

     This is what “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor.2:9). Blessed be God!

Fr. Archimandrite Thomas Bitar
Abbot of St. Silouan the Athonite Monastery
Douma, El Batroun, Lebanon.

(Translated from Arabic
at the Holy Trinity Family in Douma- Lebanon.)