fr elias bitar
“Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:106
We sing the verse above at the service of the Artoklasia – five loaves. It is a source of great comfort and strength. Then St. John of Damascus writes in the funeral service of the Holy Orthodox Church, “What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief?” Sometimes the grief is so overwhelming that we can hardly taste the sweetness. Our life on earth can be a constant struggle between faith and fear: faith that God conquers all evil, and fear of buckling under the tyranny of illness, with all the misery it brings. From the depth of our hearts we cry to the Lord to help us through this dark valley, to bring us to a safe port.
Our Lord prayed to the Father on His way to crucifixion that the cup of death might pass from Him, but He added, “Let it be your will.” We find ourselves on the same path when it comes to facing the pain either of enduring cancer or of watching someone we love go through it. The results of the medical exam, the blood work, the CAT scan, the MRI and the biopsy all came back positive: “You have cancer,” the doctor said. After this heavy news comes the rocky road of chemo and radiation.
I don’t know much about chemo, but I know that it’s supposed to kill the cancer cells and some good ones. We could deal with the hair loss, but we pray that we never experience loss of faith, patience or hope, because that is much worse than having cancer. “Hear my cry, O Lord, listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. You have been my refuge, a strong tower against my foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge under the shadow of your wings” (Psalms 61).
by Fr. Elias Bitar
from The Word, March 1987
Many things, throughout the history of the Church, have been said about this most holy period of the Orthodox Christian year.
We live in an age of great and continuous achievements in all aspects of our wonderful world. We are, everyday, trying to discover new dimensions to things in life.
Lent — the forty-day journey toward the Resurrection of our Lord, has suffered much because of lack of attention. There is no doubt that we know a great deal about Lent, we have enough information to satisfy our inquisitive mind, but our spirit cries out for meaningful application of our faith. How can we do this?
First, by being full of God and empty of ourselves. In doing this, we learn to trust God more than we do our own reasoning. As our Lord said to His Disciples that this kind (meaning the evil Spirit) comes out only by prayer and fasting, He meant PRAYER AND FASTING, and NOT what we want Him to mean. Lent is a period of prayer and fasting. It is a time especially set aside for us to draw closer to God.
Before we enter the Lenten period, we are reminded of the desire to come closer to Christ (Zacchaeus), because unless we want to move toward God we will always stay away from Him. Then we are asked to be humble like the Publican (“God have mercy on me a sinner”) and not “Thank God I am better than everyone else.” God abides only in the humble heart. The Prodigal Son urges us to acknowledge our sinfulness and return to God the Father. All these preparation guidelines help give us the proper attitude towards Lent. These are tools with which to enter the Lenten period.