Saturday, October 24, 2015

Towards a Spiritual Ecumenical Movement!.

   I do not wish, in this article, to evaluate the work of the Ecumenical Council of Churches (ECC), especially during the twenty and twenty-first centuries. At least, this is not the scope of this article. However, this will not prevent me from expressing my strong belief, that a true Church unity begins with seeking union with God! True unity between believers can only be the outcome of this union, either wise it is based on common benefit. Union with God means unity in Christ!. If we limit ourselves to wordings and formalities relating to God and focus, only, on the closeness of dogmatic expression, and the oneness of administrative settings, translating these into an arrangement leading to the Common Cup, we will not gain any value for the Church but rather cause harm. Thus, in the context of the multitude of the Churches, or the distinct individual groups, and the ensuing divergence between them caused by historical circumstances, it is useless to aspire for the unity of the institutions or, that is to say, the Churches as institutions. This, on the contrary, constitutes the main obstacle in the face of acquiring the desired unity!.

   It is not correct to think that the Church is divided and needs to be reunited and reassembled! The Church is One and remains so because its Master is One!. This is why the idea of unifying the Church, one way or another, is a common mistake! You either belong to the One Church or you don’t! And this implies that you should seek union with God, the Lord Jesus Christ! “I am the vine you are the branches”. (Jn.15:5) There is no Church without Jesus! The Church is the Body of Jesus! And unity, at the level of the believers, means partaking in this Church! The pre-occupation with the concern for an institution in this context, or even clinging to the necessity of providing an institutional expression for this unity, or else there would be no unity, does not, in our conviction, only distract from the true unity but it destroys it! Therefore, we believe that there is a true need, to shift the attention and the concern, from concentrating on the pursuit of unifying the Churches, towards the serious and steadfast task, of purifying the heart and deepening the inner life of each one of us, from where we are, towards a pure personal relation which unifies us with Christ our God! Thus, we will find ourselves, in Spirit, progressively closer to one another, and this closeness, will also consequently generate concrete expressions, of this true profound spiritual unity between us! There is no need whatsoever, for us to have a unified clerical ecclesiastical organization or a unified administration of the Church or even a Common Cup, in order to express and consecrate the unity, assumed to be true unity! I say this, not because a Common Cup is not the ideal expression of the unity of all the believers in Jesus with one another, but because the Common Cup in the context mentioned above, is an expression limited to a unity at the level of texts and institutions, and does not focus on the primary deep-rooted spiritual unity with God and subsequently our unity with one another! This climate raises many questions and conceals much corruption, as well as a secular spirit, which dissolves, abolishes and absorbs, rendering the few in number liable to disappear, in the melting pot of the many, and the institution greater in strength and organization, to swallow the weaker and less organized! In this context, the issue of the experience of the truth of the Gospel is no longer under consideration! In such a climate, the spirit of the institution, or the institution as a secular foreign spirit, reigns over the unity of the Church and even destroys the spirit of the true unity!
   Today, we scarcely notice, that there exists a gap between the spirit and the way we express it! Originally, there was no distance between theology and spirituality! Theology was a lived spirituality and spirituality was a practiced theology! Nowadays, more and more, theology has become limited to intellectual textual expression on the Divine and spirituality has been reduced to individual, emotional, ritual acts! This divergence has rendered theology into an intellectual pursuit and spirituality into a psychological field, transforming the Church into an intellectual psychological institution, annihilating the truth of the Incarnation and its effects (for the salvation of mankind) and thus leading the work of the anti-Christ to its apogee, in distorting the truth of the Gospel! This is how the Church is destroyed from within, by removing from the faith of the believers, the Spirit of God and plunging it in a secular psychological intellectual realm! The more you assemble the divided parties known as the believers in general, into one institution, the more you succeed in restricting the work of the Spirit of God, in the Name of God, rendering the Church a material body, serving the unity of the peoples of the earth in the scope of their secular ambitions, at all levels! This is why, all movements and congregations working to unify the “Churches” and “religions” have a single hidden aim: practical religious atheism- by unifying the global faith in word yet ignoring it in deed!. The main aim behind these attempts, for us Christians, is the elimination of Christ from the conscience of humanity, since on final count, there is no enemy to the spirit of the world and no other Savior but Jesus Christ!.
   From this perspective, in our opinion, any genuine attempt for a true ecumenical movement in this “confusion of tongues” cannot be but spiritual! “The true worshippers”, as the Lord Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”! (Jn.4:23-24) Of course, the essential is the Word, because our God is the Word and He spoke to us! But words are one thing and expression into words is another! Dogmas are one thing and elaborating in the expression of dogmas is another! Undoubtedly, Ancient Greek philosophical thinking encouraged us to exceed in the use of the science of phraseology, and consequently judging people not on the basis of what they are, but on the basis of what they say! But who can say his experience and the expression of that experience are the same? On the contrary, the more a person exceeds in explaining linguistically to articulate his experience, the more the gap between the experience and the way it is expressed is deepened and becomes confused! Accuracy in expressing things is difficult, except perhaps only for a few professionals who can achieve it, but in any case it is impossible to translate exactly, an experience into words! This is why, elaborating in expression will undoubtedly increase the risk of drifting away into words and subsequently widening the divergence between believers! Not to mention the fact, that most people who are considered familiar with certain specific dogmas, are not even aware of their meaning, or even of their existence, placing thus theology in a field for experts in the science of dogmatic expression, no more! All of this widens, on the one hand, the gap between the experience of the believers here and there, and on the other hand, the dogmatic expressions which are independent of this experience and are repeated by many in parrot fashion!.
   If we want to affirm, that spiritual experience is the basis for true belief, then it is enough for the believer to know as a principle, at the dogmatic level that God is One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One, not as a number but as a Oneness. God is uncountable because He is unlimited. And that the Father is distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit. And that the Son, the Son of God, became man, and He is Jesus Christ, born, in the flesh, from the Virgin Mary, who became by giving birth to Him, the Mother of God. And that Jesus since then, is both perfect man and perfect God. And will remain so forever! From a dogmatic perspective, this is what every believer should know and be committed to, in order for him to have a firm and correct relation with God, otherwise he will fall into heresy. And heresy cuts us off from God, in other words, it makes our relation with Him impossible! I wouldn’t say, that apart from the boundaries of the dogmas on the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, there is no value to any other stated dogma, because some are very important, but these two are essential for you to be on the spiritual level, able to know God, to love Him and to grow in wisdom and spiritual stature, and thus to become one with Him, because He is Love!.
   Therefore, spiritual union between the believers is based on the knowledge of dogmas, as previously stated, but also simultaneously on personal spiritual correctness, supervised and monitored closely by the parish as well as its shepherd! It is not enough to have the one basis without the other! Furthermore, partaking in the Common Cup on a purely denominational basis, as some people do only because they belong to the Orthodox Church, devalues and belittles the true in Christ union, reducing it solely into a partnership in a tribal community with common religious slogans, and this is apostasy! As to the Common Cup, which together with the believers belonging to the Orthodox Church, is partaken by people from outside the Church – and here I am talking as an Orthodox believer­ – that is, in the case of people who share in belief in the above-mentioned dogmas; for us to accept their participation, we should take into consideration these few points:
   1) All partaking in the Common Cup, should abide in the same dogmatic and spiritual standard to which abide the Orthodox believers.
   2) That there does not exist a single church to which belong those requesting participation in the Common Cup, in that region or country except an Orthodox church.
   3)  That those requesting participation in the Common Cup, should be subject to prior questioning to insure their moral soundness and their readiness to partake in the Orthodox Church, according to its own conventions, rules and ethics!
   As for allowing the participation of non-Orthodox in Holy Communion in an Orthodox church, when they have their own churches in the region, and they choose to go at times to their own churches and at others to the Orthodox churches, I say, that allowing this is not acceptable in the least, because it creates a state of spiritual confusion, together with a careless futile attitude and a duality in belonging as well as dishonesty to the spirit of community, where one is content with the superficial social emotional slogans!.
   Decency and order do not allow mixing or falsifying, and converting participating in the union in the Holy Spirit into just an assembling of people! What has been said of the participation in Holy Communion can also be said about prayers and services! These also have a community aspect as does the Common Cup. Without the spirit of community when we assemble to pray, prayer becomes superficial, individual, social, and emotional and therefore has no spiritual or ecclesiastical value!.
   In addition to this, undoubtedly we need to free ourselves from the sectarian, as well as the national and ethnic aspects of the Church, if we want to go forward towards a spiritual ecumenical movement! No matter where we are, we should work on sanctifying the ground, the country, the work and the world, but we are not limited to this age and we do not labor in its service, but we serve God and glorify Him aiming for His Kingdom! Our Saints are not confined to our sectarian, ethnic or national aspirations! Local Saints are not local because they care, exclusively, for protecting and helping the local area where they have been sanctified, rather they are witnesses to God, wherever believers seek their help and wish to follow their example! A Saint comes from a certain local area, but he becomes a servant of God for the whole world!.
   In this context, the historical Churches which are not in union with each other, but their theology, as discussed above is one, have shared in the past many of their respective saints after their schisms, on a common basis! And I consider this a correct spiritual phenomenon! I cite here as an example the “Righteous John the Dailamite” (8th century), who is mentioned in our Church at least from the thirteenth century (the Arabic Sinai manuscript 418). Even though he originated in a Nestorian environment, he has been adopted, in addition to the Orthodox Church, by the Syriac Jacobite Church, the Maronite, the Ethiopians, the Coptic Church, as well as the Eastern Syriac Church which is the Nestorian Church.
   Today, it is our right, rather it is our duty, to ask whether the twenty one martyrs, who were Copts and one of them black, who were beheaded for Christ in Libya – that is to give a contemporary example – on the 15th of February 2015, and who were canonized by the Coptic Church, I ask: Aren’t these martyrs of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, and witnesses to Christ in all the world?. When the other Apostolic Churches consider themselves not concerned with their sanctity, they show preference to their ethnical, superficial dogmatic aspect over the spiritual one, and this is very harmful to the witness of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church! These are martyrs of Jesus Christ whom we believe, together with the Copts, is both God and man regardless of the way this Divine-human Truth is expressed by both Churches! Therefore, these are martyrs of the living Church in the Holy Spirit and they participate in our sanctification and we are sanctified and blessed by them and even by the fringe of their garments!.
   The day we come out of our tribal cocoon, and textual obstinacy, and we humble ourselves, and begin to seek in depth the work of the Spirit of God in our Churches, as well as in other Churches; the day we repent a true repentance towards God, as it is said: “Return to Me, and I will return to you” (Zec.1:3), we will find ourselves in the Spirit, one individual towards the other, and one Church towards the other; on that day we will find ourselves unified in Communion with Christ; advancing towards a true fruitful ecumenical movement, springing from the one concern, that is, to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God! Where would that lead us to? No less then to one united evolving spiritual way of thinking, to one united spiritual body, and to one Divine Glory!.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Higoumen of Saint Silouan Monastery
Douma - Lebanon