“Shine the radiance of your Divinity in the depth of my soul, O Sun of Righteousness, that I may speak of your wonderous birth.” – Bishop Būlus al-Būšī (ca. 1170-1250)
Bishop Būlus al-Būšī (الأنبا بولس البوشي) was one of the notable Coptic theologians of the 13th century who wrote in Arabic. His remarkable works reflect the spirit of the early church fathers, particularly St Athanasius the Great.
Attributed to him are seven homilies for each major feast of the Church, an apologetical work titled Treatise on the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Truth of Christianity, and a small work Treatise on [the predetermination of] lifespan and sustenance. The passage translated here comes from his Homily on the Feast of the Nativity. Bishop Būlus spends much of this work gathering and expounding on the prophecies of the Nativity from the psalms and the prophets as well as collating the Gospel accounts to piece together justifications for the birth of the Saviour. He takes the title “Sun of Righteousness” mentioned in Malachi 4:2 and the enlightenment theology of the Gospel of St John the Divine to link together God’s entering into the world as a man to “illuminate the world.” Although the work itself is an in-depth theological reflection, he does not shy away from giving his listeners (and now readers) practical lessons from this feast. Simply, that God would grace us by enjoining Himself to our lowly flesh is the greatest honour and dignity bestowed on humanity. For this reason, the fortunes that blesses our lives, we offer to those less fortunate around us. The words “Christmas is a time of giving” is really the practical lesson of the early church on the Nativity and the concluding remarks of this homily. Not only the giving of gifts, but of peace and reconciliation – gifts for the soul. Here is a passage in Bishop Bulus’ own words:
For this reason, we must guard ourselves according to our strength, for He is holy and the lover of purity. It is written, “Be pure, for I am pure, says the Lord.” (Lev 11:44); “…[wisdom] conveys herself to holy souls.” (Wis 27:7); and as He testified, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23); and on the humble person who fears Him, He looks upon with compassion, as is spoken by the mouth of the prophet saying, “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isa 66:2); “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7) Thus, let us guard our bodies in purity for the sake of the Lord who was born from the holy Virgin. Let us guard our souls in chastity from evil thoughts, for the sake of the dignity which was united with our bodies that we may come nearer to the glory of the eternal and unperceivable divinity. Let us guard our senses with care from that which is vulgar [by protecting] our vision, hearing, speaking, smelling, and touch for the sake of the honour which purified humanity physically, spiritually, and intellectually by uniting to it. On behalf of His infinite humility, He did not refuse to call us his brothers, as it is written, “I will declare your name, My brothers.” (Ps. 22:22; Heb 2:12)
Therefore, it is important to us that we know the honour which has been bestowed upon us, and not to become negligent of it, since it would be better than various weaknesses; “For to everyone who has, more will be given” (Matthew 25:29).
Now is not the time that our feast is accompanied with amusement and worldly pomp, rather the things that are worthy of purity. More than ever since we have observed the fast which precedes this honourable feast, we should, therefore, complete [this season] with piety and the fear of the Lord by extending our hands to comfort the weak according to our ability, attend to those in prisons, and provide to those in poverty. We must reconcile and make peace with our siblings for the sake of the Lord who came and made peace between the heavenly and the earthly, that He who was born in the flesh should bring us closer to Him and makes us children of the Heavenly Father in spirit.
Published in the Diocese of Melbourne Newsletter, Epsajee (801) 10 Jan 2021