28 luglio 2014

The Archangels in the Divine Liturgy - Orthodox Christian icon




At the dawn of the new millennium, we wish to propose once more the message of hope which comes from the stable of Bethlehem: God loves all men and women on earth and gives them the hope of a new era, an era of peace. His love, fully revealed in the Incarnate Son, is the foundation of universal peace. When welcomed in the depths of the human heart, this love reconciles people with God and with themselves, renews human relationships, and stirs that desire for brotherhood capable of banishing the temptation of violence and war. . . .
To everyone I affirm that peace is possible. It needs to be implored from God as his gift, but it also needs to be built day by day with his help, through works of justice and love.
To be sure, the problems which make the path to peace difficult and often discouraging are many and complex, but peace is a need deeply rooted in the heart of every man and woman. The will to seek peace must not therefore be allowed to weaken. This seeking must be based on the awareness that humanity, however much marred by sin, hatred, and violence, is called by God to be a single family. This divine plan needs to be recognized and carried out through the search for harmonious relationships between individuals and peoples, in a culture where openness to the Transcendent, the promotion of the human person, and respect for the world of nature are shared by all.
In the century we are leaving behind, humanity has been sorely tried by an endless and horrifying sequence of wars, conflicts, genocides, and "ethnic cleansings" which have caused unspeakable suffering: millions and millions of victims, families, and countries destroyed, an ocean of refugees, misery, hunger, disease, underdevelopment, and the loss of immense resources. At the root of so much suffering there lies a logic of supremacy fueled by the desire to dominate and exploit others, by ideologies of power or totalitarian utopias, by crazed nationalisms or ancient tribal hatreds. At times brutal and systematic violence, aimed at the very extermination or enslavement of entire peoples and regions, has had to be countered by armed resistance.
The twentieth century bequeaths to us above all else a warning: wars are often the cause of further wars because they fuel deep hatreds, create situations of injustice, and trample upon people's dignity and rights. 
Wars generally do not resolve the problems for which they are fought and therefore, in addition to causing horrendous damage, they prove ultimately futile. War is a defeat for humanity. Only in peace and through peace can respect for human dignity and its inalienable rights be guaranteed. . . .
"Peace on earth to those whom God loves!" The Gospel greeting prompts a heartfelt question: will the new century be one of peace and a renewed sense of brotherhood between individuals and peoples? We cannot of course foresee the future. But we can set forth one certain principle: there will be peace only to the extent that humanity as a whole rediscovers its fundamental calling to be one family, a family in which the dignity and rights of individuals-whatever their status, race, or religion-are accepted as prior and superior to any kind of difference or distinction.
This recognition can give the world as it is today-marked by the process of globalization-a soul, a meaning, and a direction. Globalization, for all its risks, also offers exceptional and promising opportunities, precisely with a view to enabling humanity to become a single family, built on the values of justice, equity, and solidarity.
For this to happen, a complete change of perspective will be needed: it is no longer the well-being of any one political, racial, or cultural community that must prevail, but rather the good of humanity as a whole. The pursuit of the common good of a single political community cannot be in conflict with the common good of humanity, expressed in the recognition of and respect for human rights sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It is necessary, then, to abandon ideas and practices-often determined by powerful economic interests-the political, cultural, and institutional divisions and distinctions by which humanity is ordered and organized are legitimate insofar as they are compatible with membership in the one human family, and with the ethical and legal requirements which stem from this.
This principle has an immensely important consequence: an offense against human rights is an offense against the conscience of humanity as such, an offense against humanity itself. The duty of protecting these rights therefore extends beyond the geographical and political borders within which they are violated. Crimes against humanity cannot be considered an internal affair of a nation. Here an important step forward was taken with the establishment of an International Criminal Court to try such crimes, regardless of the place or circumstances in which they are committed. We must thank God that in the conscience of peoples and nations there is a growing conviction that human rights have no borders, because they are universal and indivisible.
From the problem of war, our gaze naturally turns to another closely related issue: the question of solidarity. The lofty and demanding task of peace, deeply rooted in humanity's vocation to be one family and to recognize itself as such, has one of its foundations in the principle of the universal destination of the earth's resources. This principle does not delegitimize private property; instead it broadens the understanding and management of private property to embrace its indispensable social function, to the advantage of the common good and in particular the good of society's weakest members. Unfortunately, this basic principle is widely disregarded, as shown by the persistent and growing gulf in the world between a North filled with abundant commodities and resources and increasingly made up of older people, and a South where the great majority of younger people now live, still deprived of credible prospects for social, cultural, and economic development.
No one should be deceived into thinking that the simple absence of war, as desirable as it is, is equivalent to lasting peace. There is no true peace without fairness, truth, justice, and solidarity. Failure awaits every plan which would separate two indivisible and interdependent rights: the right to peace and the right to an integral development born of solidarity. "Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war."
At the beginning of a new century, the one issue which most challenges our human and Christian consciences is the poverty of countless millions of men and women. This situation becomes all the more tragic when we realize that the major economic problems of our time do not depend on a lack of resources but on the fact that present economic, social, and cultural structures are ill-equipped to meet the demands of genuine development.
Rightly then the poor, both in developing countries and in the prosperous and wealthy countries, "ask for the right to share in enjoying material goods and to make good use of their capacity to work, thus creating a world that is more just and prosperous for all. The advancement of the poor constitutes a great opportunity for the moral, cultural and even economic growth of all humanity." Let us look at the poor not as a problem, but as people who can become the principal builders of a new and more human future for everyone.
In this context we also need to examine the growing concern felt by many economists and financial professionals when, in considering new issues involving poverty, peace, ecology, and the future of the younger generation, they reflect on the role of the market, on the pervasive influence of monetary and financial interests, on the widening gap between the economy and society, and on other similar issues related to economic activity.
Perhaps the time has come for a new and deeper reflection on the nature of the economy and its purposes. What seems to be urgently needed is a reconsideration of the concept of "prosperity" itself, to prevent it from being enclosed in a narrow utilitarian perspective which leaves very little space for values such as solidarity and altruism.
Here I would like to invite economists and financial professionals, as well as political leaders, to recognize the urgency of the need to ensure that economic practices and related political policies have as their aim the good of every person and of the whole person. This is not only a demand of ethics but also of a sound economy. Experience seems to confirm that economic success is increasingly dependent on a more genuine appreciation of individuals and their abilities, on their fuller participation, on their increased and improved knowledge and information, on a stronger solidarity.
These are values which, far from being foreign to economics and business, help to make them a fully "human" science and activity. An economy which takes no account of the ethical dimension and does not seek to serve the good of the person-of every person and the whole person-cannot really call itself an "economy," understood in the sense of a rational and constructive use of material wealth.
The very fact that humanity, called to form a single family, is still tragically split in two by poverty-at the beginning of the twenty-first century, more than 1.4 billion people are living in a situation of dire poverty-means that there is urgent need to reconsider the models which inspire development policies.
In this regard, the legitimate requirements of economic efficiency must be better aligned with the requirements of political participation and social justice, without falling back into the ideological mistakes made during the twentieth century. In practice, this means making solidarity an integral part of the network of economic, political, and social interdependence which the current process of globalization is tending to consolidate.
These processes call for rethinking international cooperation in terms of a new culture of solidarity. When seen as a sowing of peace, cooperation cannot be reduced to aid or assistance, especially if given with an eye to the benefits to be received in return for the resources made available. Rather, it must express a concrete and tangible commitment to solidarity which makes the poor the agents of their own development and enables the greatest number of people, in their specific economic and political circumstances, to exercise the creativity which is characteristic of the human person and on which the wealth of nations too is dependent.
In particular it is necessary to find definitive solutions to the long-standing problem of the international debt of poor countries, while at the same time making available the financial resources necessary for the fight against hunger, malnutrition, disease, illiteracy, and the destruction of the environment.
Today more than in the past there is an urgent need to foster a consciousness of universal moral values in order to face the problems of the present, all of which are assuming an increasingly global dimension. The promotion of peace and human rights, the settling of armed conflicts both within states and across borders, the protection of ethnic minorities and immigrants, the safeguarding of the environment, the battle against terrible diseases, the fight against drug and arms traffickers, and against political and economic corruption: these are issues which nowadays no nation is in a position to face alone. They concern the entire human community, and thus they must be faced and resolved through common efforts.
A way must be found to discuss the problems posed by the future of humanity in a comprehensible and common language. The basis of such a dialogue is the universal moral law written upon the human heart. By following this grammar of the spirit, the human community can confront the problems of coexistence and move forward to the future with respect for God's plan.
The encounter between faith and reason, between religion and morality, can provide a decisive impulse towards dialogue and cooperation between peoples, cultures, and religions.


(Anabaptist Teology)


Both friends and dismissers of the Bible are quick to point out that the Bible does not give us an obvious and detailed blueprint for thoroughgoing pacifism. One cannot simply take up the Bible as the basis for one’s pacifism as if pacifism is the obvious perspective. Especially, one cannot simply take up the Old Testament[1] as the basis for one’s pacifism. In the limited amount of space I have in this chapter, I will not be able to engage in apologetics, arguing against non-pacifist readings. Rather, I will simply present a reading of the Old Testament that I believe does support pacifism.
The core message of the Bible tells of God’s concern to bring healing (salvation) to a broken world. Beginning with God’s initial work of creation in Genesis one and ending with the vision of a transformed creation in Revelation twenty-one and two, we read in the Bible the story of God’s healing strategy.[2]
All the pieces of the Bible are part of a whole, and we may understand the whole in terms of God’s healing strategy. In this approach, we do not let “variant” materials overly obscure the core message. We respect that pro-violence materials are part of the Old Testament picture. However, rather than assuming that we have a total contradiction with the way of Jesus we look for elements in these stories that may actually point ahead to Jesus’ manifestation of God’s healing strategy.[3]
At the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis one, we read of God as Creator. God has made what is, and it is good. Creation is abundant in what matters. The heart of things is God’s goodness and love. That is the foundation of life itself—God’s goodness and love.
Genesis one witnesses to life as peaceable at its heart. Creation is formed without conflict or opposition to God. This differs from other creation stories from the ancient Near East, which usually had conflict right at the heart.
Being created in God’s “image” has to do with human beings exercising creative power—like God does. We are bestowed with the power to be creative, the power to love, the power—in harmony with God—to mold peace out of chaos. Genesis one establishes this world we live in as founded on peace, not violence.
The harmony of Genesis one will not last. Already in 2:17 we see that human beings have boundaries. They are created in God’s image but they are not God. To be whole, they need to live within the framework God has provided.
Adam and Eve give in to the temptation to eat and numerous consequences follow. They are now afraid of God. They feel shame at their nakedness. There is established a hierarchy between the man and the woman. She will now experience pain in childbirth. A new struggle with bringing fruit from the earth ensues—battling with weeds and thistles. Then, Cain murders his brother Abel. In the following chapters there are more—the widespread sinfulness which leads to the Flood, the human arrogance contributing to the construction the of the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11, and the barren condition of Sarah, who is unable to have children. However, Adam and Eve and then Cain still receive God’s mercy even after their breaks with God. They are allowed time and space, the possibilities of a future.
The story of Noah and the Flood may be read as supporting peace. More than being a story about Noah or about sinful humanity, this story focuses on God. The place where the real action takes place is with the heart of God. The events themselves are more or less a backdrop, meant to get at the real issue—what happens inside of God? We learn God feels grief and God is concerned with how violence, sin and evil mess up God’s beloved creation. This story also tells us God isn’t bound by attributes and principles that always require predetermined actions. God is free to respond; we could even say, in this story, God is free to learn.
This story about the Flood starts out as a story of judgment, but ends up being a story of mercy. The point of the story is not the judgment with which it begins (“I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created,” 6:7), but the promise with which it ends (“The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh,” 9:15).
We must notice that the change from judgment to promise is not based on a change in human beings. At the beginning, we are told that every inclination of the thoughts of people’s hearts was only evil continually (6:5). Then, after the flood subsides, after human beings are restored to the earth, God repeats, “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” (8:21). However, instead of being a call to judgment, this description of human beings as being inclined toward evil becomes a reason for God promising not to destroy “every living creature.” God has decided to persevere, to stay with creation as it is, to seek to heal the human heart.
As a unit, Genesis 1–11 essentially gives an account of the disintegration of the human community. The end of chapter eleven gives us a picture of this movement from wholeness to powerlessness in a nutshell: “The name of Abraham’s wife was Sarah.…Now Sarah was barren; she had no child” (11:29,30). Sarah’s “barrenness” can be seen as a reflection of the general human condition.
With Genesis 12, God speaks to Abraham and Sarah in a way that creates life out of chaos. God speaks a new work with creative power, and makes a future out of barrenness. The dead end now becomes the path to life. We see a pattern that characterizes the core story of the rest of the Bible—God is a God of life, whose response to the destructive consequences of humanity seeking autonomous power is patience and creative love.

God’s strategy for healing is summarized in the words to Abraham in 12:3: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God’s strategy for healing is to call a people, to establish a community of people who will know God. God’s strategy involves another act of creation, the creation of a community. Through people of faith living together, face to face, learning to love and give and take that God will make peace for all the families of the earth.

The book of Genesis ends with the children of Israel in Egypt. When Exodus picks up the story, Egypt has come under the rule of a new king, “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Pharaoh subjects the Israelites to slavery, setting the stage for the main salvation story of the Old Testament.
God’s saving work in the exodus establishes several key attributes of God’s work for salvation in the story. The God of the Exodus, unlike other gods, is not a projection from the king, a way merely to reinforce the king’s power. Rather, the God of the Exodus is a God of slaves. This is a God who hears the cries of those being treated like non-persons, those being treated only as tools to increase the king’s wealth.
The liberation of the Hebrews from slavery and toward freedom was not accomplished through human military might. The Hebrews did not out-muscle Pharaoh. God used miracles in nature (the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea) to bring about liberation. The center of power in this new society lay not with the generals and the warriors, but with the people’s God. That the power rests with God means that what God values most—mercy, compassion, caring for the powerless and outcast, just distribution of resources—matter most in the society.
Following the exodus, Egypt is not simply left behind but is rejected. Egypt and Pharaoh stand for the human will-to-power and trusting in brute strength. Israel and Moses stand for God’s justice, life lived in trust in God’s mercy, and treating the powerless with respect.
Exodus 15 celebrates God’s deliverance of the people of the promise from slavery in Egypt. “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed” (Exodus 15:13). This deliverance kept the promise alive. God initiated this act of mercy simply out of God’s commitment to the promise.
At Mt. Zion, the people are told that they were to be “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). As a “priestly kingdom,” they will mediate God’s word to others—a “holy nation” meant to a conduit for the blessing God promises for all the families of the earth.
After this affirmation of Israel’s vocation as the mediator of God’s word, the next step is the revelation of the commandments that begins in Exodus 20. The Law (Torah) provided social and political structure for the delivered slaves so that the effects of that deliverance could be sustained and the Hebrews could be a channel for God’s peace to spread to the nations.
Throughout the Law codes in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy we see echoes of the contrast between life under Torah and life under Egypt’s enslavement. The Law self-consciously provides structure for social life in which the wellbeing and wholeness of all the people in the community receive the highest priority. Torah rejects the exploitation of the many for the aggrandizement of the few out of hand—and when in later times the Hebrews evolve toward such exploitation, the prophets invoke the original intention of the Law as a basis for critique.
The prophets
The story continues with the Hebrews ready to move into a homeland. The land provides the context for living out Torah as part of the gift God gave God’s people to enable them to live as a light to the nations. For this promise to be actualized, the community must exist as a concrete community in a particular location.
In terms of its role in the bigger biblical story, the account from the book of Joshua of the Hebrew people entering the promise land, settling down with the mandate to embody Torah, accountable to their liberating God, tells of a crucial beginning. Reading this account today, we find many elements of the account to be deeply disturbing. We struggle with the violence, the massive, indiscriminate slaughter of the people who happened to be in the way of the Hebrews.
While the book of Joshua itself celebrates the events that established the Hebrews in Palestine, we end up by the time the Old Testament concludes with something quite different. To the extent that the Joshua story reflects the establishing of Israel as a nation-state, a project wherein the promise must be embodied to be sustainable, the conclusion of the Old Testament tells us that the nation-state option failed. The promise will be fulfilled apart from being linked with any particular nation-state.
The promise does not rely on the founding violence of conquest nor on the sustaining violence of standing armies and centralizing economic practices that came to characterize this nation-state. In fact, when read as a whole, the story makes clear that the main effect of gaining the promised land was to make apparent that the families of the earth will ultimately only be blessed by a genuinely alternative politics centered on love not coercive violence. The story that takes us from Joshua to Jesus radically transforms the promised land motif.
The Joshua story in important ways is part of the trajectory that runs from Abraham through Moses and then later prophets on down to Jesus. This trajectory shows that God’s central concern is with right-making and life-sustaining justice for vulnerable people (slaves, widows, orphans, aliens), not with buttressing the power of the dominating human king. The basis for the victory was trust in God, not a large collection of horses, chariots, and warriors. Possession of the land from the start was understood to be contingent on continued faithfulness to God.
The Joshua story also sets the stage for the events to follow—events concluding in the Old Testament with the final failure of the Hebrew nation-state. The destruction of the Temple and the king’s palace led to the recognition in the prophets that these events did not signal God’s desertion (or death) but in fact reflected God holding the people accountable to the covenant. Out of the rubble comes an awareness that the promise continues, that the nation-state route actually is incompatible with Torah and the promise, and that the calling of God’s people is to “seek the peace of the city where they find themselves” (Jer 29:7)—that is, to spread the promise through diasporic existence as counter-cultural communities among the nations.
The integral place the Joshua story plays for Christians may be seen, symbolically, in the fact that our central figure, Jesus, takes his name from the central figure of the older story. Jesus and Joshua must be reckoned with together. But that does not mean that they must be harmonized. We should look for important points of continuity while also recognizing crucial points of contrast.
Jesus was named after Joshua. The name means “help of the Lord.” Both bring down the proud and the mighty. In the story of Joshua, the main people who are mentioned as resisting God’s will are the kings of the various nations. God’s work through Jesus is characterized thus: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:51-2).
Both Joshua and Jesus preached trust in God. Do not trust in human wisdom or in empires and their horses and chariots. Trust in God’s care and power. Jesus and Joshua both sought to establish a community characterized by faithfulness to God’s law. The basic message of the book of Joshua as a whole is that Israel will meet with success only if Israel remains faithful to God’s commands. For Jesus, the kingdom of God is at hand. God loves you and wants you to know life and to share life with others. All God asks is that you live faithfully in response to this love.
However, we also see discontinuities. For one thing, in Joshua’s conquest, the enemies were killed. The kings especially are emphasized—but as we read, “all the people they struck down with the edge of their sword, until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed” (Joshua 11:14). In contrast, Jesus insists that even enemies are to be loved.
In the story of Joshua, violence wins the victory. This violence is qualified in some ways. Many of the important victories are won by God’s miraculous involvement, not by superior human firepower. Israel was not to be a militaristic state, with a permanent army, and the generals running things. Nonetheless, Joshua’s victories are won through violence, fighting against the oppressors, the kings of Canaan. In contrast, Jesus’ victory is won through refusing to fight back.
When we accept the Joshua story as part of our bigger story, even as we focus on ways that it helps lead to the clarity of Jesus’ message of peace, we of course must come to terms with the terrible violence that remains. And we also must come to terms with the legacy of that violence for “people of the book.”
I find it helpful to recognize that the Bible simply reflects actual life—for better and worse. In life we do have a great deal of violence, but as pacifists we choose to interpret the violence in light of our convictions of the supremacy of love and compassion, seeking healing over seeking to dominate. The biblical stories are stories of life, they too may be interpreted in light of our convictions about peace.
In being honest, then, we admit that we do not read Joshua as an accurate portrayal of the true character of God—at least the parts that speak of God commanding putting every single person in various communities to the sword. These stories were told in a historical context prior to the kind of clarity about pacifism that came with Jesus. Nonetheless, the overall story points toward Jesus, not toward power politics. The Joshua story helps make clear how ultimately the nation-state option was a failure. It also helps make clear the portrayal of God by Jesus as one who loves enemies and calls believers to do the same.
In the story, the book of Joshua ends with a sense of triumph. However, right away in the book of Judges, the fragility of Joshua’s achievement becomes clear. Judges portrays the disintegration of the covenant community. Judges concludes with a time of particularly intense chaos. Then, Israel is blessed with a powerful and effective leader, Samuel, whose birth itself is portrayed as an intervention of God on behalf of the people. Things get better, but only for a while.
The beginning of 1 Samuel eight points toward a return to chaos: “When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.…His sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice” (8:1-3). It is not surprising that in the face of a fear of returning again to chaos, the Israelites (or at least their elders) ask Samuel, “appoint for us a king to govern us, like the other nations” (8:5). The response to the fear of chaos is the desire to impose order.
When Israel’s elders came to Samuel asking for a king, he responds with strong words, recounted in 1 Samuel 8:11-18: “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots.…He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and courtiers. He will take…the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. You shall be his slaves. In that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Samuel argues that the turn toward human kingship will likely lead to a transformation in Israel away from the central tenets of Torah. Kingship will tend toward a redistribution of power and wealth. Power and wealth will move upward in the social system, shifting from the broader community toward the elite. This social transformation will lead to more and more poverty and disenfranchisement among the people.
Along with the increasing concentration of power and wealth in fewer hands, and linked with this dynamic, under a human king Israel will move toward more and more militarization. With the king will come a standing army, rather than the ad hoc militias that had gained and defended the promise land. With the standing army will come the accumulation of horses and chariots, the tools of war. As well, a new class of person heretofore not known in Israel will gain prominence—career military officers as a major power bloc in the society.
The gain in human-determined security that would accompany kingship and militarization will have an inverse relationship with the people’s sense of closeness to and dependence upon Yahweh. Growth in human strength and power corresponds with a growth in a sense of autonomy over against Yahweh.
Israel’s first king is Saul. However, Saul departs from God’s wishes and loses the kingship. He is succeeded by David. David leads the armies to victory. He establishes a family. He gains favor with the people. He trusts in God and gives God credit for his success. Israel is on the way to prosperity, moving toward peace and wellbeing.
Then, however, Samuel’s fears are realized. Conflicts with Israel’s enemies continue. David remains at home while his soldiers go to fight his battles. He rests in the sun and spots a beautiful woman, Bathsheba. No matter that she is married to one of his key officers. No matter that he is also married. He must have her, and he takes her.
Bathsheba informs David that she is pregnant. In order to be with Bathsheba, David has her husband killed. David tells Joab, the person directly responsible for Uriah’s death, “Do not let this thing be evil in your eyes, for the sword devours now one and now another” (2 Samuel 11:25). Don’t let it be evil in your eyes….But, someone else sees things differently: “This thing that David had done was evil in the eyes of God” (2 Samuel 11:27). Evil in the eyes of God.
God sends Nathan the prophet to confront David. Nathan tells David that he broke three main commandments—thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not commit adultery, and thou shalt not kill. David coveted another man’s wife. David committed adultery with her. Then David killed her husband. God passes judgment on David: “Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me.” (2 Samuel 12:7-12)
David, to his great credit, responds to God. He repents. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he cries. God’s judgment relaxes a little. David stays alive. He remains king and his son Solomon succeeds him to the throne. David is never the same, and Israel is never the same. From now on, Israel will be plagued by violence and injustice. The violence begins immediately. David’s own sons fight against each other and rebel against him.
The story of Solomon, David’s son and successor, as presented in the Bible is in many ways flattering. But not so much if we read it closely. By reading closely, we see Solomon as a sophisticated, power-seeking, ruthless leader, who as much as anyone moved the ancient Israelite nation-state toward its tragic ending.
Once in power, Solomon reorganizes the social structures toward much greater centralized control. He institutes a rigorous taxation policy to expand his treasury. He begins to draft soldiers, to expand the collection of horses and chariots into a large, permanent army with career military leaders. And he also institutes a policy of forced labor to construct his palace, first, and then the temple.

These practices go against Deuteronomy 17’s report that Israel’s kings were explicitly commanded not to accumulate wealth for themselves. Samuel warned that the kings would build standing armies, take the best of the produce of the people, and make them slaves. This is precisely what Solomon does.

Solomon also cultivated ties with other countries. He had hundreds of wives—women from many nations. Again, this is precisely what Deuteronomy tells the king not to do. “He must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away” (17:17). We read later in 2 Kings 11 that indeed Solomon’s heart did turn away. His many wives influenced him to worship other gods.
The key passage from 1 Kings 9 concludes with a promise from God: “If you turn aside from following me…and do not keep my commandments…, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut Israel off from the land…; and the [Temple] I will cast out of my sight.…This [Temple] will become a heap of ruins” (9:6-8).
Solomon did turn aside from following God. “His wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4). And in time Israel is cut off from the land and the Temple does become a heap of ruins.
The books of First and Second Kings are called the books of kings. The central characters in these books actually are the prophets. The kings might have been the people who seemed to have power, but the people who keep alive awareness of who God is and what God’s will is—the people who actually express godly power are the prophets.
The prophets had one basic message, the same message they proclaimed for hundreds of years. The basic message of the prophets was two pronged, with a positive and a negative component. The negative part was to call people of faith to a stance of disbelief toward the powers-that-be in their unjust society. The world is not the way that the kings say that it is. When the kings claimed to act in God’s name, the prophets raised doubts.
The positive part of prophetic faith was to call people of faith to a stance of belief in the ways of the Lord. Their God is the God revealed in the exodus, the God who loves them. Their God gave them the law to order their lives in such a way that all people (including the marginal ones) are cared for and encouraged to meaningful living.
The prophet Amos, the first of the “writing prophets,” entered the scene expressing a harsh indictment, speaking God’s words critiquing the people: “They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned” (2:6-7).
What are the dynamics of injustice? One is depersonalization. Powerful people tend to treat other people as things. A second dynamic is exploitation. Exploitation has to do with using someone else to one’s own advantage or to satisfy one’s own desires regardless of the cost to that person. The third aspect of injustice is religiosity.
Shockingly, Amos sees depersonalization and exploitation going hand in hand with active religiosity in Israel. The powerful people not only hurt the weak in the name of increased power and wealth, they believed their power and wealth were a sign of God’s blessing.
In the face of this injustice, Amos offers a corrective. “Seek me and live,” God says, “but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile and Bethel shall come to nothing” (5:4-5). Bethel, Gilgal, and Beer-sheba were three of the main religious centers in Israel. Amos says seeking God there will only make things worse unless the peoples’ social practices change.
Amos makes the solution to Israel’s crisis clear: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24). Amos calls for justice, for righteousness. He challenges an unjust society to turn back to God. That is their only hope of finding life.
Judah’s King Hezekiah is one king portrayed as having been responsive to the prophets. The story told in both the book of Isaiah and the book of Kings tells how Hezekiah’s attentiveness to the prophet’s guidance helped Judah to survive the onslaught of the Assyrians. Hezekiah is one of only two kings to receive praise from the author of Kings—“He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kings 18:3).
However, the kings that followed moved further and further from God’s will according to 2 Kings—moving further and further from the directives of Torah. Hezekiah’s son Manasseh might have been the worst of all Judah’s kings: “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, following the abominable practices of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 21:3).
Manasseh’s son Amon succeeded him, continuing in his father’s unfaithfulness—but not for long, for assassins ended his life in the second year of his reign. Amon’s son Josiah, the “boy king,” took the throne at the age of eight. Josiah received the same praise from the author of Kings as did Hezekiah. “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:2) during his 31 years in power.
Under Josiah’s leadership, the Israelites rediscover God’s law. The Israelites seek to return to God’s ways. Josiah institutes major reforms. Josiah leads a turning of the tide away from injustice and exploitation and idolatry, and toward faithfulness and genuine worship. But this happy story does not have a happy ending. Josiah is killed. He is only 39 years old. His reforms are abandoned. In a few years, the nation is wiped out.
Josiah shows that people in power have potential to perceive the truth of Yahweh’s call for faithfulness to God’s will above political expediency. In what the story portrays as a social context shaped profoundly by generations of corrupt practices, Josiah’s commitment to returning to Torah nonetheless gained significant traction.
Even with the failure of Josiah’s reforms, God’s healing strategy continues. In the long run, the crucial aspect of this story may be seen in the recovery of Torah just as the nation-state phase of ancient Israel’s communal life neared its end. Josiah’s reforms could not cut deep enough to stem momentum toward destruction. However, this effort at reform, based on the recovered law book, gave the community an essential resource for their long-term sustenance.
The story of ancient Israel as a nation-state tells of how close the path of politics-like-the-nations came to ending this community. However, with the providential recovering its founding document, the community found the resources to continue. This story makes clear that it is in spite of horses and chariots, centralized coercive state power, and religious institutionalization that serves the power elite, that the people of the promise continue.
In the end, the ancient Israelite project of seeking to order their lives as a conventional nation-state, reliant upon the sword for security, even survival, ended in failure. Crucially, though, the story then makes clear that this failure of Israel’s existence as a nation-state did not mean the failure of the community as the conduit for the promise to Abraham of healing for all the families of the earth.
The prophet Jeremiah covers the time from the last days of the Judean monarchy and Judah as a nation-state through the Babylonian conquest and the ensuing time of exile. With Jeremiah we come to the end of the history of ancient Israel as a nation state, to the fulfillment of centuries of warnings. If you turn from God’s ways of justice and peace and trust in wealth, horses and chariots, the sword—then you will suffer the consequences. During Jeremiah’s time, the Babylonian empire conquers Judah. Judah lay in ruins.
Beyond expressing anger, Jeremiah gets down to grief: “Thus says the Lord of hosts; Consider and call for the grieving women to come; send for the skilled women to come; let them quickly raise a dirge over us, so that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids flow with water. For a sound of wailing is heard from Zion: ‘How we are ruined! We are utterly shamed, because we have left the land, because they have cast down our dwellings.’” (Jeremiah 9:17-19)
In his grief, Jeremiah represents God. Jeremiah’s God is not a distant God. God is not most centrally concerned with purity and having rules followed and just waiting to vent anger and vengeance.
We find hope in God’s grief. God’s grief is crucial because here we see the depth of God’s caring for human beings. The basis of any command or law that comes from God is because God cares for people. The commandments are for the sake of life. When these laws are violated, suffering and brokenness result, as God promised they would. But when God’s ways are rejected, God does not gain pleasure seeing rebels get their just desserts. No, God suffers too.
Jeremiah also hears from God words of hope: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke. I will put my law within them, and I will write it one their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” (31:31-34)

This renewed covenant will find expression not in a reconstituted nation-state, but in communities scattered around the world, living as witnessing communities within the various nation-states. The exilic experience will contain within it the seeds of a renewed healing strategy wherein people of the promise seek genuine peace throughout the world, presenting alternatives to power politics through their counter-cultural alternative communities.
Jeremiah expresses this hope when he speaks to the exiles: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29:7). This command points ahead, to spreading the vision of wholeness contained in the promise to Abraham and in Torah to the ends of the earth. This is a vision for wholeness not established through coercion and the sword, but through faithful witness. Such witness requires self-consciousness of the people’s distinct identity as people of the promise. Jeremiah is not envisioning simply conformity to the ways of the nations. This identity needs to be sustained through prayer, worship, study of Torah, and doing justice, not through domination and top-down political control.
In the generations after Jeremiah, the community struggled to maintain its identity without the locus of a Hebrew nation-state. During this time, for understandable reasons, the Israelites focused on their internal life, hoping to establish a clear sense of identity and to sustain their communal existence in this uncertain time following the destruction of their nation-state and Solomon’s great temple.
However, they ran the danger of becoming too insular, too concerned simply with establishing boundary lines that fostered an attitude to hostility toward those outside the community. They too easily reduced God to a tribal God limited simply to the confines of the people Israel. The little book of Jonah addresses these dangers. The message of the book of Jonah focuses on reminding the people that Yahweh is the God of the whole world who has called Israel to be a people in order to be a channel for the blessing of all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3).
Jonah did not really want God to act consistently with God being “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (4:2). He hoped that God was actually an angry God, a God who delights in punishing God’s supposed enemies. But that kind of God would have been a projection of Jonah’s own hatreds and desires. The true God is not after some kind of eye-for-an-eye equilibrium. Rather, the true God desires healing, restoration of relationships, genuine peace.
The true God has compassion on the tens of thousands of Ninevites “who cannot tell their right hand from their left” (4:11), desiring that they be freed from their bondage to sin and death. The book ends with God asking Jonah a question: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:11). That is, “Should the mercy I’ve given you not extend to your enemies?”
The last Old Testament book is likely the book of Daniel, probably written around 165 BCE. The basic message of the Daniel is a good one for a last word. Daniel teaches: be patient, trust in God’s faithfulness even when you suffer and are afraid, do not be dominated by your anxiety, let God’s will work its way. Trust that God’s will is salvation and that even in hard times, God’s love perseveres.
The interpretive key for reading the Christian Bible as supporting pacifism, of course, may be found in the life and teaching of Jesus. However, Jesus’ message of peaceableness and restorative justice stemmed directly from his Bible (our Christian “Old Testament”). Jesus provided a clarity of focus, but he essentially reiterated what he saw as the central themes of the Bible concerning God’s compassion.
From the start, the Bible presents God as willing peace for human beings—for all human beings. God means for this love for “all the families of the earth” to be channeled through a community formed through God’s election of them as a people of the promise. The story makes it clear that this election is pure mercy—God’s persevering love for God’s elect is itself an expression of God’s love for enemies. Time after time, the story makes clear, the people turn from God. Yet, as the prophet Hosea reports (chapter 11), God ultimately does not respond with violence and wrath, but with healing love.
The original calling of Abraham and Sarah and the gift to them of descendants in spite of their barrenness (and their unfaithfulness), the saving work of God to bring the Hebrew people together and to free them from slavery in Egypt (again, as the story makes clear, saving work in spite of the Hebrews’ unfaithfulness), the gift of Torah to guide their lives as the people of the promise (a priestly kingdom mediating God’s love to the entire world), and many more gifts, including the gift of new life even after the fall of the Hebrew nation state (a fall that Hebrew prophets attributed directly to the people’s unfaithfulness)—all of these gifts clearly portray God’s love as unearned, even undeseved.
The basic guidance that Jesus draws from the story of God with God’s people, the story that he understood himself to stand within, may be summarized in Jesus’ words as reported by Luke: “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).
End Notes on site

25 luglio 2014

Saint James the Greater





Wednesday, 21 June 2006


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are continuing the series of portraits of the Apostles chosen directly by Jesus during his earthly life. We have spoken of St Peter and of his brother, Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James. The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with this name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3: 17,18; Mt 10: 2-3), who are commonly distinguished with the nicknames "James the Greater" and "James the Lesser".
These titles are certainly not intended to measure their holiness, but simply to state the different importance they receive in the writings of the New Testament and, in particular, in the setting of Jesus' earthly life. Today we will focus our attention on the first of these two figures with the same name.
The name "James" is the translation of Iakobos, the Graecised form of the name of the famous Patriarch, Jacob. The Apostle of this name was the brother of John and in the above-mentioned lists, comes second, immediately after Peter, as occurs in Mark (3: 17); or in the third place, after Peter and Andrew as in the Gospels of Matthew (10: 2) and Luke (6: 14), while in the Acts he comes after Peter and John (1: 13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life. 
Since it is very hot today, I want to be brief and to mention here only two of these occasions. James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus' Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus' Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord's glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendour shining out in Jesus.
On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honour and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ's glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.
This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, "laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword" (Acts 12: 1-2).
The brevity of the news, devoid of any narrative detail, reveals on the one hand how normal it was for Christians to witness to the Lord with their own lives, and on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, partly because of the role he played during Jesus' earthly existence.
A later tradition, dating back at least to Isidore of Seville, speaks of a visit he made to Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, it was his body instead that had been taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela.
As we all know, that place became the object of great veneration and is still the destination of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe but from the whole world. This explains the iconographical representation of St James with the pilgrim's staff and the scroll of the Gospel in hand, typical features of the travelling Apostle dedicated to the proclamation of the "Good News" and characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life. 
Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord's call even when he asks us to leave the "boat" of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.
Thus James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles.
And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the journey, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the entire pilgrimage of Christian life, among the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. In following Jesus, like St James, we know that even in difficulties we are on the right path.




Bishop Ron Stephens 
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

If you go through the Gospels to look for the most important themes that Jesus talked about, you would have to acknowledge that his teachings on “the kingdom of heaven” would have to be one of the most prominent. Most of the parables  often begin with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like…”
So just what are we talking about when we say “the kingdom of heaven”. Is this the place that we are able to go to when we die? Is this the place where God the Father rules with his Son and the Spirit. Is it a place at all? 
The modern Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx says that the term used in Matthew’s Gospel refers to “a process, a course of events, whereby God begins to govern or to act as a King or Lord, an action, therefore, by which God manifests his being-God in the world of men [and women]. I think what Schillebeeckx is saying is that that first of all, the kingdom of heaven is a process that has begun and is continuing to happen. It is not a place away from us – it is where we are at any given time. It is where we live and where we live after death.
Secondly, Schillebeeckx says that is a gradual process whereby God is taking back the world and governing it, and thirdly, it is a gradual realization and growth by us towards a certain way of acting in which the world is able to reflect he God qualities. God is made manifest in the world.
I know this a heavier theology that I am giving you today, but over the next number of weeks in Ordinary Time we will be hearing a lot about the kingdom of heaven and i wanted to give you an overview of just what that teaching is all about. To get it to the simplest terms – God, through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, has taken back our world and is allowing us to God-center it and create a world that has many of the qualities of the original created world. And just what those qualities are, Jesus tries to explain to us in his many parables.
Today we hear about three of those qualities.  First is that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field that someone hides in order to get possession of the field and the treasure. We hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl merchant who at great cost buys the perfect pearl. And lastly, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that captures many fish, though only the good ones are kept.
If we are in process right now of establishing the kingdom rules by God, what are the qualities that Jesus points out to us today that need to be established and rooted.
From the first and second parable we learn that the kingdom has been a well kept secret and that when we discover that secret, we should, if necessary, do anything to make it our own. The buried treasure is whatever has helped us to discover God’s plan – the Scriptures, church tradition, liturgy – whatever in our lives has helped us realize the value of living in the kingdom. Similarly, the pearl is beautiful in itself, rare, worth whatever it takes to own it.
The last parable is a bit more extended, but basically it allows us to see the presence of the kingdom now. Even though we have not yet neared perfection, and there are good people and bad people in the world, the kingdom is a net that stretches out over everyone. We are not to judge, but to live it to God and his Angels to do so. Everyone is invited to this kingdom. But in the end, for the kingdom to be as perfect as God is perfect, the righteous will be separated from the evil ones.
Jesus’ last statement is basically telling the Apostles that their mission is to tell and bring about the kingdom on earth, and they are to do this by mixing the new and the old. tradition and modern thought, God’s original creation and the new creation, so that as Paul says today in Romans “those whom [God] justified he also glorified.” That glory is the fullness of the kingdom. We may not have the wisdom of Solomon that God granted him because of his humility and unselfishness, but the treasure is presented to us, and we simply have to recognize it and make it our own by whatever means possible.
My question for you today then is how much you value this kingdom that Christ is talking about, how much you see yourself as part of that kingdom, and what price you have had to pay to be part of it. Can we work together as a parish to establish the kingdom of God on earth? When we pray “Thy kingdom come” can we be more aware of what part we are to play in making the kingdom in process a reality and advancing it.
The kingdom of heaven will be on our minds over the summer and fall readings of Matthew. Let us take the time to think about the meaning of each of the parables and how best we can react to them to do our part in helping the kingdom come.
And this is the Good News we are all challenged with today.

24 luglio 2014

Saint Charbel





Charbel Makhloof, the Lebanese hermit monk, will be canonized on October 9, 1977. As a beacon of light shining through a storm, this humble man's life openly proclaims to our world that Christ is true King and that His Kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36).
The many miracles performed through Charbel manifest to us how pleased God is with the witness-of silence and prayer in the life of His servant. Among miracles is the incorrupt state of his body, which bled and perspired for sixty-five years after his death. These marvels manifest how the words of St. Paul are still true for our time, "It was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen--those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. " (I Cor. 1:27-28).
God performed these marvels of signs of life and healing to show us where true wisdom lies, the wisdom of the One who is the beginning and the end of the world, the Ancient of Days, the Provider who said, "Let your hearts be on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well." (Mt. 6:33) He is the One who was yesterday, is today and will be tomorrow.
I have tried in the following pages to give the reader an idea about the hermitic way of life throughout the centuries and how these men and women have a special place in Christ's Mystical Body, the Church, and in the human society upon which they call the graces of God. These "athletes of the spiritual life" witness to the thirst for God found in every human soul.
I hope this booklet will in some way prepare all of us for the forthcoming canonization of St. Charbel. A deeper understanding of the hermitic life will enable us to see it as a traditional, yet living witness to Christ in the Church.
My goals are modest. I do not expect a great number of people to migrate to the wilderness in search of God. I do hope that these pages will inspire some to spend some quiet moments alone with God, reflecting upon their relationship with Him. "Come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for awhile."(Mk. 6:31).
1. The Alienation of Modern Man
When God created man, he gave him dominion over all of creation. Man was to work in the world and to civilize it. More than simply putting the world under the control of man, God intended for man to co-operate in the process of creation. Man was to use his mind and his technology in order to bring about a more perfect world.
As we look around the world today, do we see a world that is under the dominion of man or do we see that man has now become engulfed in his own progress? No longer does man control the world. Rather, it is the world with all of its pressures of commercialism and technology that are in control of man.
This inverted relationship of man and the world manifests itself in many ways. Because our lives are so involved with technology and "things", we begin to treat other people as "things", something that can be used and disposed of. No longer are we able to form deep and lasting relationships. Consequently, we see the breakdown of marriages and family life. Old people and even the unborn are discarded because they are not wanted or no longer "useful". Our daily work no longer seems fulfilling to us. We have almost forgotten what it means to adore God and to concern ourselves with spiritual realities.
Thomas Merton, the noted Trappist monk, asserts that there is nothing wrong with technology in itself, but he also feels that it is a myth to think that technology, by itself, will solve man's problems. He declares that "technology was made for man and not man for technology". It is his opinion that "the ultimate end of all techniques, when they are used in a Christian context, is charity and union with God". (1)
It is necessary for man to again renew his relationship with himself, with nature and with God. Weary of this world, its activity and its noise, we must live lives that contain and are enriched by moments of silence and solitude. We must remember that Martha's sister, Mary, chose the better part when she sat quietly at the Lord's feet and listened to Him. (Lk. 10:42)
2. The Call to Silence and Solitude
The "call of the desert" is a call to silence and solitude. The "desert" for most of us is not the wilderness of the Sahara, but the call to be quiet and to reflect upon our own salvation: a time to be alone with God. "We all have the desert in our everyday lives. The sand and the sun and heat and lack of water and loneliness may take different forms, but we all experience them: problems, deprivations, physical inconveniences, discomforts and loneliness." (F. Le Clerc)
This call is made particularly to those who live in the midst of incessant chatter and noise. If God is to speak, man must be silent. An ancient Egyptian prayer says, "O Thoth, thou sweet well for a man thirsting in the desert. It is sealed up to him who has discovered his mouth, but it is open to the silent. When the silent comes, he finds the well." (2) In the Old Testament, Israel first met Yahweh in the desert, and the story of the desert wandering remained the type of the encounter of man with God. The Church in her wisdom has always encouraged the faithful to take time for silence and solitude, to have a "desert experience". Father Clifford Stevens writes, "There is much talk these days about a 'desert experience', a kind of religious retreat where we truly go into the 'desert', into a silence and aloneness broken only by the most necessary of outside activities... Each one of us needs our personal 'desert experience' and the Church has provided it". (3) Take, for example, retreat houses, days of recollection and various periods of meditation that are all a part of the Church's life.
Although this call to a "desert experience" is meant for every Christian, there are today those who want to seclude themselves for their entire life, dedicating themselves to work and prayer in almost absolute silence. These men and women stand in absolute opposition to the materialistic world in which we live. "Again, as in other turbulent ages, hermits are seeking God in the radical simplicity of the wilderness. They are not doing this in large numbers. The desert charism, a call to contemplative witness in solitude, was never for many. But they are doing it, whether in actual forests or in the spiritual desert of a 'poustinia'* where privacy and silence are assured." (4) In "A Desert Song of Renewal", Mariel McGlashan points out that in the western states three hermitages have taken root in recent years. (5)
In "Hermits Among Us--Segregated from All, United to All", Ph. Boitle writes, "The hermits, contrary to what some may think, do not belong to a 'species' on the way to extinction, but quite to the contrary. For thirty years now, we have been witnessing a kind of rebirth in this type of religious life in the countries of the West: the United States, Canada, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and France. Thirty years ago, we were able to claim about fifteen hermits as 'serious'. Today, even though we lack exact statistics, we estimate their number to be over two hundred. This figure has a tendency to stabilize." (6)
There is no doubt that the Canonization of Charbel, the "Wonder Worker of Our Century" will awaken a new interest in the kind of life he lived: a life of solitude, internal prayer, contemplation and meditation. The life of this great hermit is a voice crying in the desert for a return to the true fountain of life. "My people have committed a double crime, they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, only to dig cisterns for themselves, leaky cisterns that hold no water." (Jer. 2:13).
3. What Is a Hermit?
The word "Hermit" or "Anchorite" is a general term indicating a person who lives by himself for religious purposes, far from human habitation. Included in this general category are the "Recluse" (one living in a cell adjacent to the community), the "Stylite" (one living on top of a pillar), and the "Shepherd" (one who does not have a permanent place to stay, but travels as a nomad in the desert or mountains).
When the word "Hermit" or "Anchorite" is heard, many think of a strange person, a kind of extinct spiritual being in the history of the Church. Actually, at the beginning of the fourth century, the hermitic life was one of the standard ways, especially in the East. With the Peace brought by Constantine, the period of the great persecutions were over and the martyrdom of blood was, therefore, impossible. Those willing to give their lives to God began to look to the wilderness and for various ways to mortify their senses. With them, the first school of spirituality began. (7)
The Peace of Constantine also meant that the Church was to face a mortal danger that was to continue to confront her for eighteen centuries: namely, to compromise with the world. While the Christians of Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome were returning to the everyday lives of Roman citizens, certain ascetics, frightened of such a compromise or accord with the world, Red to the wilderness of the deserts. They sought to live a life of "a man who does not exist", buried in their caverns and grottoes.
These men and women tried to imitate the lives of St. John the Baptist and Elijah, the Prophet of Fire. They followed Jesus into the desert. They wept for their sins and their egos disappeared like salt dissolving in fresh water. Upon these hermits and their successors the Mystical Church of the East has built its spirituality. (8)
The lives of these hermits and their teachings had an important influence on the development of the Church's ascetical and mystical doctrine. They also played an important role in the foundation of the monastic life and the defense of the Christian dogma and truths. There is no doubt that this kind of life was and still is a very special vocation, but on the part of the hermit it represents an admirable response and correspondence to the grace of God.
The precept of the Lord, "Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me" (Mk. 10: 21), has always haunted souls as it did St. Anthony of Egypt. It is on account of that precept that an ascetical life style was established. (9)
However, money in itself is not an obstacle to perfection! Leaving the world with all of its attractions and vanities and secluding one's self in the wilderness does not protect one from temptations. The memory of the past haunts the hermit "because our enemy, the devil, Is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat" (I Pt. 5:8). The struggle of the hermit in his conflict with the devil is succinctly described by Saint Anthony, "The devils are not visible bodies, but we become their bodies when we accept from them the suggestions of darkness. Having harbored such suggestions or thoughts, we receive in us the demons themselves and make them bodily apparent and manifest". (10) It is in this light that we can appreciate the Fathers' description of the demons going around the desert among the tombs and disappearing. (11)
All of this shows that the essential aspect in the life of the hermit is not the exterior solitude, but the interior one which segregates him from attachments to the world; the exterior solitude or wilderness is a means to arrive at the interior one. The true goal, however, in crossing any desert is to reach the "Promised Land".
Speaking of solitude, Merton states that, "The habitual argument of those who protest against exterior solitude is that it is dangerous besides being totally unnecessary. Unnecessary because all that really matters is interior solitude; or so they say. And this can be obtained without physical isolation. There is, in this statement, a truth more terrible than can be imagined by those who so glibly make it, as a justification for their lives without solitude, silence and prayer". (12)
Through the centuries, the hermits have continued to enrich the Church by their lives of prayer, work in the fields, meditation, silence and penance. "They are the witnesses of another kingdom. They withdraw into the healing silence of the wilderness or of poverty, or of obscurity, to heal in themselves the wounds of the entire world. (13) Carlo Carretto writes, "Man on the way to the roots of his being towards his end, his Creator, after having been purified by the suffering dryness of human pleasure and selfishness, finds himself at the doorway of eternity. His own strength can do nothing, meditation itself becomes impossible and words, once so effortless, can only repeat some mono syllables of love and lament". (14)
The hermit attests to the primacy of the spiritual life in the message of Christ and in the Church, and continues to recall to us the presence and greatness of the Invisible One with whom they continually try to live and conform.
"The genuine hermit is driven by a passion which seeks its outlet in a steep, straight way to God. The calling is sublime but the path is not simple... He who enters the hermitage must live a different life from men of his time. The hermit is valuable to the world precisely insofar as he is not part of it. His life should be a prophetic witness and the effectiveness of that witness depends not on what he might say, but on what he is". (15)
The hermits serve and enrich the Mystical Body of Christ as well as the world, which they left, by their prayers, penance, and silence in order that the message of Christ be better heard. They renounce the world, sin and themselves m sinplicity and humility, to meditate on the Mysteries of God immanent to their being and whose transcendency they try to attain by this means. In the dark night of the spirit they live in the hope and light of that vision which will never end.
The spiritual life of the hermit has always involved to a great extent 1) a profound liturgical life; 2) meditation upon Holy Scriptures (the Word of God - The Tablets); 3) adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (The Manna); 4) devotion to the Mother of God (Ark of Covenant).
Their life of physical solitude is a life of love without consolation, a life, however, that is fruitful because it is pressed down and running over with the will of God, all that has this will in it is full of significance, even when it appears to make no sense at all. (16) However, the hermit remains in the world as a prophet to whom no one listens, as a voice crying in the desert, as a sign of contradiction. The world does not want him because he has nothing in himself that belongs to the world. But this is his mission to be rejected by the world, which in that act rejects the dreaded solitude of God Himself. Yet this solitary God has called men to another fellowship with Himself, through the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, through the solitude of Gethsemane and Calvary and the Mystery of Easter, and the solitude of the Ascension, all of which precede the great communion of Pentecost. (17)
We know very little about the Anchorites because they went to the desert to stay and in the desert the true ones buried themselves while the ones who stumbled were rejected by it. These men walked the burning land and followed the column of cloud, which hid them from sight and led them to the land of milk and honey. However, of that land there is not even a word. All that mattered for them was the crossing itself, the exile, traveling as strangers to the earth. The cavern of the hermit is a true "martyring". It is there they went "to struggle with all the deaths": the death of the body, the death of man, the: death even of their own mind, just to live with God in silence. The angel at the door of the tomb does not tire of repeating to those who pass by, "The one for whom you are looking, Anthony, Peter, Macarius, Arsenius-is not here." (18)
Only strong, experienced and deeply contemplative souls. are able to face this kind of life and persist in it. In fact they will have to face many temptations and fight many fights in order to discipline their bodies and souls, to liberate themselves and to direct all of their activity to the Invisible God.
If their mission towards man is penance and prayer, however, out of love for God, many of them have consecrated themselves for a certain period of time to diverse apostolates. They have founded religious orders, became apostles of the word, taken care of spiritual and physical sickness, participated actively in synods and councils, became counselors of kings and emperors, defended the Catholic faith by their preaching and writings, founded schools of spirituality or asceticism, became bishops or patriarchs. In trying to convince Euseblus, the hermit, to become superior of his community, Ammon wrote, "If you love God intensely, accept this, that others may love him with you." (19)
4. The Growth and Development of the Hermitic Life
The hermitic way of life finds its origins in the desert of Egypt with the famous "Fathers of the Desert". Among them are Paul, Anthony, Macarius, John, Niammon, Paphnutius (whose influence moved the Council of Nicea, 325, to leave the question of continence to the discretion of those clergy who married before ordination), Pambo, Pachomius (the founder of the Cenobites), and Onophrius.
Palladius of Helenopolis, a friend of St. John Chrysostom, wrote in his Historia Lausiaca (420), "The disciples of St. Anthony (who died in 356) were numeroust" The author mentions that there were two thousand hermits near Alexandria, five thousand in the desert of Nitria, six hundred in the Desert of the Cells and five hundred in the Desert of Scete. "These holy men, lost in the desert, without name or history, may be however, the most beautiful ones." Yet even here certain person
alities stand out: Amon, father of the hermits of Nitria; Macarius, one of the hermits near Alexandria; Evagrus at the Cells and Macarius, the Egyptian at Scete. These great figures brilliantly manifest the richness and fecundity of the life of St. Anthony of the Desert.
From Egypt, the hermitic life spread to Sinai in 307 (St Hilarion), to Palestine (St. Nilus), to Mesopotamia and Persia (Aphrahat the Wise, St. Abon, St. James of Nisibis and Julian Salva). From Mesopotamia, the hermit way of life spread to Syria and Lebanon. Among the members of this last school, we find St. Maron the Great and his disciples: namely, Abraham of Cyrus (apostle of Lebanon), Haushab and James (both from Cyrus), L'mnaeus, John, Moses, Antiochus, Antonius, Damianus, Zabena (who stood erect for extended periods of time without rest as a form of penance), Polychronius, Moses, the great St. Simeon the Stylite who inaugurated a new lifestyle by living on the top of a column, Baradat, Taleelaus, and the holy women, Marana, Kyra and Domnina.
St. Theodoret, the bishop of Cyrus and the local ordinary of these hermits, wrote that these holy men and women were the roses in the garden of his diocese; that they were like stars radiating to the ends of the world; that they are wounded, inflamed and inebriated with the desire for the Divine Beauty; that they were true "athletes of the spirit"; heroes of prayer and penance whose eyes, already accustomed to the miracles of grace and virtue, were wide open to the marvels of the Christian faith. A description of the lives of the above-mentioned disciples of St. Maron is to be found in a book by Father Peter Daou, History of the Maronites (Volume I, pp. 84-132).
In describing the hermits called "Stationaries" or "Stylites", J. Besse says, "The Eastern monks employed all their wits to find new ways of penance. It was not sufficient for them to live in the open air, summer and winter without shelter, but some obliged themselves to always remain standing. This is why they were called 'Stationaries'. This kind of penance was to be found more in
Syria than Egypt; and among the well-known are James and Abraham, both of Cyrus and the disciples of St. Maron. This penance seemed insufficient for some of them who spent their lives on the top of a column... this mode of life was inaugurated in Syria by a monk named Simeon... many followed his example." (20)
We find among these Anchorites from the East, known as the "Fathers of the Desert", men of great holiness. Their spiritual teachings (transmitted orally or by writing to their disciples) or the example of their lives are one of the purest sources of ascetism. The Moslem invasion made their kind of life much more difficult and since then their number has diminished. However, the Eastern Churches still enumerate some of them, especially in Syria and Lebanon. (21)
Despite the fact that the Maronites were forced to leave Syria because of the Moslem invasion, the hermitic life continued to grow and flourish. At the end of the last century, this development culminated with the life of the great hermit and Anchorite, Charbel Makhloof, the great mystic and wonder worker of our time.
It is from the East that the eremitic life was introduced and spread through Europe by St. Athanase (who visited France and Rome) and through the example of St. Jerome and others who went from Europe to the East. The greatest exponent of this life in the West and who eventually became a founder of a religious order was Saint Benedict. Among the later famous hermits of Europe are St. Nicholas of Flue from Switzerland who died in 1487 and Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), the hermit of the Sahara who was killed by the Tuaregs at Tamanrasset, Algeria. Foucauld's writings inspired the foundation of the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1933.
Because of the abuse (22) and in order for the Church to be able to control their lives, only the recluses, those with cells adjacent to the monastery, were able to survive. At different times, the hermits reappeared again and were reunited under the Rule of the Carthusians and the Camaldolese. The Carmelites began as hermits and were later formed as an order. However, since 1948, there has been a revival in the Carmelite hermitic life in some countries. At least one branch of the Augustinians were hermits and they still keep the name today. Among the Franciscans, the Celestines were hermits.
The Council of Chalcedon (451), the Novellae of Justinian, and the Council in Trullo (692) tried to bring some control to this kind of life and avoid certain abuses. (23) They designated that a hermit had to first be a monk. After many years of Cenobitic life and with the permission of his superiors, he was able to retire to a cell, but always dependent upon his superiors and his order. Rabboula, in his rules and prescriptions also asked for this. (24)
In the West, the Cenobitic life always tended to obscure the eremitic life to a much greater extent than in the East. However, during the times of spiritual revival within the Church, a comparatively large number of souls smitten with the desire for perfection have gone to the wilderness seeking solitude. (25) They cry out with St. Bonaventure ("O Beata Solitudo! O Sola Beatitudo! O Blessed Solitude! O Only Blessing!")

5. A Great Esteem for Hermits (on site)
6. The Hermitic Life in the Maronite Church (on site)