Each week of the summer, young Orthodox Christians are among us. We are grateful for their presence. Western Christians need to be more open to the treasures of the Eastern Churches.
Last Tuesday, Orthodox Christians celebrated an important holiday—the feast of St. Elijah. That great prophet lived eight centuries before Christ. Several stories of Elijah have come down to us in the Bible. One of them speaks to us in a special way.
At a time when his life was in danger, Elijah fled. He was tormented by discouragement. He looked for a sign of God’s presence. He hid in a cave and waited. Then there was a hurricane, but God was not in the storm. And then a fire, but God was not in the fire.
Finally, a light breeze blew. And Elijah understood that, in that gentle breeze, God was visiting him. He covered his face and bowed low to the ground. That visit of God did not remove the danger from one moment to the next, but Elijah realized that God had not abandoned him.
The prophet Elijah shows us that God does not come through manifestations of force and violence. We too have to open ourselves, with great sensitivity, to the often hidden signs of God’s presence in our lives.
For us these days, one of these signs of God’s presence is that we are here together from so many different backgrounds. A young woman from a group which came from near Bethlehem said: “There are so many of us and we are so different from one another, and yet we are one family.”
What brings us together is not an idea, or an ideal or a project, but someone: the risen Christ. Brother Roger would sometimes say: If Christ were not risen, we would not be here.
I have just mentioned the group from the region of Bethlehem; they live in the Palestinian territory. Here with us too there is a group of young Arab Christians who live in Nazareth. I would like to tell them both that we are praying for them, so that people in that part of the world can live in justice and in peace.
One of these young Arab Christians told me this week: “Peace begins within ourselves.” This is so true. The first words Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection were precisely: “Peace be with you.”
Jesus’ disciples were in great need of this peace of heart. Indeed, in following him, they put all their hopes in him. But he had shown himself to be so different than what they expected. Jesus was not a messiah who had come with the power of this world. And they did not understand that the Messiah would come quite humbly, as the prophets Elijah and Isaiah had proclaimed.
The disciples could not stand it that Jesus was a poor messiah. Perhaps they hoped that he would change the social or political conditions of the time; they did not understand that he came first of all to eradicate evil at its roots.
The power of evil is to kill, to cause death. But by accepting a violent death, by giving his life on the cross, Jesus was not defeated by evil. Why? Because he loved to the end, even those who persecuted him. He brought God’s love where there was only hatred.
And God raised him up. We can and should imagine the joy of Jesus when, once risen from the dead, he showed himself to Mary Magdalene and to his disciples. At Easter, and even every Sunday, the day of resurrection, we sing that joy.
An age-old Easter song puts these words into the mouth of Jesus: “I have risen, alleluia, I am here with you again.” Yes, even if the presence of the risen Christ is invisible, it is real, in our days and our nights.
Peace and joy! Sometimes we suffer because they seem very far away from us. What can we do in those times of dryness or discouragement? These days I say to myself: can we not focus on the joy and peace of the risen Christ? He conquered death and hatred.
When we look at him, already we come closer to his joy and his peace. We can fix our eyes on them “like a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts”.
So even at the heart of tensions and difficulties, we will learn to communicate both peace and joy. They do not come from us; Christ gives them to us at every moment.