Bkerke, Saturday of the Light, April 4, 2015
“He is Risen, and He is not here” (Matthew 28:5)
The Angel of the Lord, who rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb of Jesus and sat on it and dressed in robe as white as snow, proclaimed the good news to the women who came Sunday at dawn with perfumes to anoint the Body of Jesus, said: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He has Risen and He is not here” (Matthew 28:5). He delivered this good news and asked them to go and tell the disciples. Across two thousand years the good news is still proclaimed to include all the people of the world. And here we affirm this good news and we commit ourselves to share this good news everywhere : Christ is Risen! Truly Risen!
We exchange it with you, my brothers, your Excellencies the Bishops in attendance, along with the Superiors General and Mothers Superior, the Priests, Monks and Nuns, and all the faithful. We pass this good news to the sons and daughters of our churches, the clergy and laity, in Lebanon, in the Middle Eastern Countries and in the Countries of Expansion. Yes! Christ is Risen! Truly Risen!
Because He died, so He has risen. If He had not died, He would not have risen. His death was a historical event, and His rising a historical event. He died so He could rise, just as a “grain of wheat falls into the earth, dies and yields a rich harvest” (Refer to John 24:12). He died for the sins of humanity, to cleanse with His blood, the blood of forgiveness, the sins of all people, and He rose to give us new life through the Holy Spirit, and He breathed this life into us on the eleventh evening of His resurrection, when He stood in their midst and breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). He breathed it again on the fiftieth day, Pentecost, and made them the Church of the new era.
The historical Jesus died, and the mystical Messiah, who is the church, the new humanity, rose. It is from this mystery that we understand the words of our Lord Jesus: “whoever loses his life will save it” (Refer to Luke 9:24). This is the mystery of our personal lives in the family and in the church, in society and in the nation: death and resurrection. If it was not for the “deaths” of parents, there would not be a family. If it was not for the “deaths” of founders, there would not be institutions of parishes, religious orders and society .
“The angel came, rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb,” not to help the Lord rise and come out from inside, as Lazarus had done, but for the sake faith. Pilate had ordered the stone sealed, based on the desires of those who did not believe in Jesus or in His resurrection. He placed guards at the tomb so that His disciples wouldn’t steal it, as the Jews claimed (Refer to Matthew 27:63-66). It is because of this lack of faith that the angel rolled the stone, so that all may believe, and that all may gain eternal life through this belief (Refer to John 20:31).
Let us pray so that Christ may roll away all cruelty from our hearts, and from the hearts of all people, and that he may open our senses to the noblest values, our minds to the liberating truth, and our hearts to love and its uplifting feelings.
Paul the Apostle affirmed at the Areopagus in Athens: “God raised Jesus from the dead and made him an assurance to us all” (Acts 17:31). Yes! His resurrection is an assurance of our own resurrection in all its aspects: I am referring to spiritual resurrection from the state of sin through repentance, moral resurrection through adherence to values, and social resurrection from conflicts by building fraternity, from poverty and deprivation through solidarity and cohesion, and national resurrection from deadlock and instability, war and terrorism, destruction and displacement, by Christ sending to us responsible people who live according to His heart, dedicated to the general good and the good of all peoples and nations. They are resurrections through the power of Christ resurrected from the dead.
After the journey of Great Lent and after the H oly W eek, which paves the way for Easter, the celebration of His “passing” from our world to the Father, dying for our sins, raised for our justification, it is now time for us to “pass” through His words and His grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit, to a new life, for the sake of a new world, in the family and in society, in the church and in the country.
Passing to a better state is “Resurrection” in broad terms; a truth that accompanies the person who refuses death and clings to life and immortality. For when one experiences failure in life, one feels that these are signs to seek constantly to rise and to resurrect oneself. Man lives through hope, despite everything. The resurrection of Christ from the dead came as a victory over death, and a strong hope for us, an affirmation of our goal. Paul the Apostle, therefore, said: “If Christ has not been raised, we are of all people most to be pitied” (Corinthians 15:19). We are, then, the sons and daughters of the resurrection, and thus, the sons and daughters of hope.
Today, in Lebanon, we are experiencing, in a special way, a sort of political death that controls our fate as a nation, and the fate of the country, and signals at times that there shall be no resurrection for this nation and no hope for the coming generations. This is the result of a vacancy in the post of the President, a situation that has been ongoing for the last ten months. It has paralyzed the head of the state through the suspension of the President’s authority, in government by blocking its activities and in Parliament by its inability to practice its legislative authority, which it has lost and continues to lose as long as a president has not been elected as Article 75 of the Constitution mandates. This article, along with Article 74, makes it mandatory that the Parliament must always be in session to elect a President of the Republic. There is no constitutional justification, neither for boycotting parliamentary voting sessions through absence, with the aim of not achieving quorum and, therefore, preventing the election of a president, nor for procrastinating and not taking practical steps to come out of this state of a presidential vacuum. It is as though everybody is waiting for a password from the outside.
We continue to call upon the conscience of all political parties and the nation’s parliament representatives, and we reiterate our call, asking them all to come to the Parliament, to perform their constitutional duty by electing a President of the Republic. This is the very same call given by the spiritual summit, held by the heads of the Christian and Muslim communities in Bkerke last Monday. It is the call sent out in civil society, by organizations and public institutions at Riad Al-Solh square, in the name of the Lebanese people and organized by the “Civil Society Dialogue Table.” We support this society and similar societies. This call, is in addition to the calls of individuals and groups, private and public, from within and from abroad. The relevant politicians are, however, still consolidating control over the stone they have rolled onto the door of the Presidential palace, preventing the election of a president. This obstruction is rejected in absolute terms by the people and should be judged harshly by history and the national conscience.
It is the resurrection, however, that is the source and assurance of hope. It is because of the resurrection that we have steadfast hope on the national level, emanating from the Lebanese people who believe in the covenant of mutual coexistence: Christians and Muslims, equally and in cooperation, to build the state and the nation. The Lebanese people do not wish to slip down the path of sectarian war, the kind of war that is sadly and painfully taking place in the region. Our people are aware; they will not destroy what our forefathers have been building for ninety-five years, the age of Lebanon as an independent state, declared on September 1 st, 1920; a country looking forward to celebrating its first centenary in five years’ time. As a road map we have written two documents: the political National Memorandum on February 9 th, 2014; and the Economic Memorandum on March 25 th, 2015 distributed to you today.
We have a second hope from the historical experiences of Lebanese citizens, gained by the way the Lebanese have dealt with stormy weather. Just as they are building a political society, they are also building a fervent civil society, which is developing itself, improving its surrounding circumstances and refusing to be beholden to anyone. The world’s ambassadors tell us that they adore this civil society, keeper of Lebanon’s beautiful heritage, as do all official and unofficial visitors to Lebanon from Arab and Western countries. We hope that these two societies will one day be united.
From this Patriarchal See we declare our bond and solidarity with sons and daughters of our church, shepherds and people, and with all Christians in the Middle East, especially those suffering the tragedies of war, destruction, terrorism and violence in Palestine, Iraq and Syria. We also declare our bond and solidarity with all citizens of these countries and in Yemen. Let us ask of Christ, “the Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9:6), that He touch the conscience of those responsible for these wars, whether from Eastern or Western countries, and stop them from supplying fighters with funds, arms, mercenaries and political support, and that they treat people with the fear of God in their hearts. We call upon the international community to find peaceful means, political and diplomatic, to stop these wars and allow the return of all displaced people to their homes and properties with dignity and right of citizenship, and to consolidate equitable, comprehensive and long-lasting peace in these countries.
Just as we salute all those who left Lebanon and the countries of the Middle East, who left their families, communities, and homes in distress to migrate to the countries of expansion in search of work and stability, we also pray for them to receive the peace of Christ, his consolation and the strength of his resurrection. We turn to the bishops of our eparchies and parishes in the countries of expansion, to the priests of our parishes, to the monks and to the nuns with the most sincere wishes for a happy Easter. We hope that they take steps of love, solidarity and cooperation to protect the Christian presence in Lebanon and the countries of the Middle East, the base and root of world Christianity, and to strengthen the mission of Christians in these nations, who have been there since the time of Christ and the apostles, and to continue spreading the Gospel of love, fraternity, justice and peace in a world so desperately in need of it.
And to you, the young people, in Lebanon and the Middle East, I send a message of hope: “Christ is Risen! Truly Risen! Be not afraid of standing your ground in your land. Be stronger than the forces of evil, stronger than difficulties and crises. For the storm passes. The Church is with you and for you with all her capabilities, with her churches, monasteries , parishes, and religious orders, educational, healing and social institutions, and all her means. Open up to the Church and to the love of Christ.
And just as we express our great appreciation to all of society’s institutions, private and public, dedicated to our youth, we call upon our state officials to place the issue of youth at the top of their agenda. Young people are the assured future of our country. We also call for the continued development of educational institutions, improvement of public schools, and support of the Lebanese University, the public university where seventy thousand students, five thousand professors and lecturers, and three thousand staff members come together. Its gates have seen hundreds of thousands of graduates come through over its lifetime of sixty-four years, and its professors have carried out numerous scientific research. As a public institution, it must be supported and guaranteed its administrative, academic and financial independence in all its branches, and protected especially from the meddling and any political, religious or sectarian influence.
To all present with us here at this Patriarchal See, and to all viewers, listeners and readers through the media, we sincerely wish you a happy and glorious Easter, with hopes of abundant blessings of heaven from Christ, the Son of God, the Redeemer of Man and the Savior of the World.
Christ is Risen! Truly Risen! Alleluia!
(Reprinted with permission.)