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You are here: Allan's TIME > Spirituality > Book Report > Blood Brothers and the Healing Balm of Foregiveness

BOOK REPORT:
Blood Brothers and the Healing Balm of Forgiveness

19 September 1999

Dear family and friends, 

Blood Brothers, by Elias ChacourI just finished reading a book that our dear friend, Delta Bement, loaned to us. It is a must read: "Blood Brothers" by Elias Chacour. He is Palestinian-Arab, and was raised in the little village of Biram in the upper Galilee in Israel. He was blessed with a very wise parents, and in his tender years had grown up in peace with his Jewish neighbors. He was raised with a very strong Christian heritage dating back to the first century.

His wonderful Christian upbringing was in stark contrast to the horrible treatment they received under the hands of the Israeli government Zionists as they were driven out of their village. Shortly after this, at the age of 12, he was given the opportunity to study with a Bishop in Haifa, and as his father sent him off he told him, "If you become a true man of God you will know how to reconcile enemies, how to turn hatred into peace. Only a true servant of God can do that."

To add insult to injury, the Israeli government told the people of Biram that they could go back, Christmas day 1951. As they joyfully approached the village, they saw that it "was surrounded by Zionists tanks, bulldozers and other military vehicles." Then, "tank shells shrieked into the village, exploding in fiery destruction. Houses blew apart like paper... home collapsing against home, fire spreading through the fallen timbers. Then all was silent, except for the weeping of women and the terrified screams of babies and children."

Elias grieves, "How can we ever find again the peace we used to share with our Jewish neighbors?... The Bishop's house of charity would shelter and instruct me. As with all the people of Biram, I would continue to eat the bread of the homeless and the orphaned."

At age 19, he and his dear friend, Faraj, were sent to continue their studies at Saint Sulpice in Paris, a very good school. Here they met Western culture and were taken back by what they found. Elias in conversation with Faraj said, "There is something... I don't understand. People have so much here -- nice homes, cars, clothes -- and so little faith. Both Catholic and Protestant churches are almost empty. What's happened here?"

Faraj nodded. "People in the West seem so taken with material things. It' as if they have nothing in their spirits, so they need to surround themselves with nice comforts.... The real problem is that Western theology starts with man as the center of all things and tries to force God into some scheme that we can understand.... Elias, we've grown up believing that God is the beginning and end of all things. He is central, not an afterthought. He's alive and has His own ways. Here, they want to tame God with their philosophy."

"Worse than that," Elias countered. "I'm afraid the Western philosophies have killed God. If there's no respect for Him, what value do men have? Without God there is no compassion, no humanity."

Living in Europe and traveling in Germany, Elias gained a much deeper understanding of the persecution of the Jews. While traveling and visiting some dear friends in Germany, he had a life changing event. "For the first time that twisting dark feeling inside me was matched -- if not totally overruled -- by another feeling: the ache of compassion. It was as if some calming hand was beginning to tame a wild creature within me. I hurt for the Jewish people. Why had the civilized world allowed them to be persecuted?

"Other questions were just as troubling. Why did the world allow my people to be driven into diaspora only a few years after the Holocaust? Surely the Jews knew the horror of militarism--why had they used such violence against my people? How had the minds of the nations been poisoned to think of Palestinians as an idle, worthless people capable of nothing but violence?"

He had worked hard at Saint Sulpice, had earned top grades and learned to speak eight languages. He was to be ordained at St. Joseph's church in Nazareth. When he arrived at the port in Haifa and they saw his passport, even though he was an Israeli citizen, because he was Palestinian they made him go to a search room, where they demanded he strip all of his clothes off. He refused; they countered that he would not be allowed back in his country. He took out a book and sat and read for eight hours before they finally acquiesced and let him in.

After the ordination, he left early one morning before daybreak and visited his destroyed village of Biram, where he was raised. He reflected on the many memories and his father's sage comment, "The Jews and Palestinians are blood brothers. We must never forget that."

He then felt impressed to go to the Mount of Beatitudes. Finding a place alone, he then began to reflect on what the Savior had shared with the multitude in this the greatest of all sermons, and thus with the world:

And he began to teach them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..."

Elias was touched deeply as he reflected, being "drawn in afresh by His words. Through the years they had become as part of my flesh. Perhaps their very familiarity had obscured their true meaning from me... Jesus' words seared through me for the first time with deep meaning. The phrase, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied;" struck him like lightning. Then like a thunderclap after the lightning came, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God."

"With these words," he said, "It seemed that I had finally found my way. I was oblivious that a deeper work was still needed in my heart."

As I read these words of Elias, I was deeply touched as I recognized he was beginning to receive his true rebirth unto God. As Jesus told Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." We will not have the spiritual eyes necessary to see the hand of God as He works with us unless we choose to give our will to His. Here is where the change of heart can commence. He will not force it. This is a critical recognition that we all need to come to that so that we may receive that change so elegantly described in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, and which Elias was beginning to receive at this point in his career as a minister of God.

Elias was given the assignment to be the pastor at Ibillin in Galilee. He had never heard of it. It was a little village situated a top a hill. The people were divided among the several religious groups in the country. The church was decrepit; the front door hanging on one hinge.

As he arrived, the person responsible for the church grounds, etc. ran out to him menacingly, and shouted, "Get out of here!" Some two years before, the last pastor had stolen about everything he could steal, including bed and latrine from the parish house. This obviously left very bitter feelings with the "Responsible" as well as with the parishioners. Elias pulled some church benches into the parish for a bed, and began his life's work in the face of enormous obstacles -- neither the community nor the "Responsible" wanting a pastor.

He was successful in getting three Catholic sisters (nuns) to help with the work. They visited house to house, set up primary school instruction and provided an enormous amount of compassionate service for the mothers and their little ones in the community. With time Elias and the sisters won the hearts of more and more of the people.

At the same time the "Responsible" was busy lining up as many as he could against Elias. The policeman in town was part of this opposing group, and this policeman also had a hate relationship with his brothers, threatening to kill them if they came to his door.

Elias records, "My year-and-a-half of home visits and the sisters' months of ministrations had made a dent--a small dent in reuniting the believers of Ibillin. Few attended the church regularly and walls of hostile silence remained firm. However, most of them would not think of missing services during the Christmas and Easter seasons, coming to be comforted by familiar customs, not out of desire for true spiritual renewal. True to the pattern, attendance increased markedly on the first Sunday of Lent, growing each week as Easter approached.

"On Palm Sunday, every bench was packed. Nearly the entire congregation had come, plus a few other villagers whom I had invited. The weather that morning was balmy, with a warm, light wind straying through the streets, so I left the doors wide open, hoping that passers- by might be attracted by our singing. When I stood up, raising my hands to signal the start of the service, I was jolted by stark, staring faces.

"Looks of open hostility greeted me. The Responsible's faction was clustered on one side of the church, almost challenging me with their icy glares. Indifferently, those whom the Responsible had ostracized sat on the opposite side. I was amazed to see Abu Mouhib, the policeman, perched in the very front row with his wife and children. In each of the other three quadrants of the church, as distant from one another as possible, were his three brothers. The sisters, I could tell, felt the tension, too, for their faces were blanched. I rose and began the first hymn, certain that no one would be attracted by our pathetically dismal singing. I thought, with sadness, of the battle lines that were drawn across the aisles of that sanctuary. And nervously, I hoped that no one would notice the odd lump in the pocket beneath my vestment.

"What followed was undoubtedly the stiffest service, the most unimpassioned sermon of my life. The congregation endured me indifferently, fulfilling their holiday obligation to warm the benches. But then, they did not suspect what was coming. At the close of the liturgy, everyone rose for the benediction. I lifted my hand, my stomach fluttering, and paused. It was now or never.

"Swiftly, I dropped my hand and strode toward the open doors at the back of the church. Every eye followed me with curiosity. I drew shut the huge double doors which workmen had rehung for me. From my pocket I pulled a thick chain, laced it through the handles and fastened it firmly with a padlock.

"Returning to the front, I could almost feel the temperature rising. Or was it just me? Turning to face the congregation, I took a deep breath. 'Sitting in this building does not make you a Christian,' I began awkwardly. My voice seemed to echo too loudly in the shocked silence. The sisters' eyes were shut, their lips moving furiously in prayer.

"'You are a people divided. You argue and hate each other--gossip and spread malicious lies. What do the Moslems and the unbelievers think when they see you? Surely that your religion is false. If you can't love your brother that you see, how can you say you love God who is invisible? You have allowed the body of Christ to be disgraced.'

"Now the shock had turned to anger. The Responsible trembled and seemed as through he was about to choke. Abu Mouhib tapped his foot angrily and turned red around the collar. In his eyes, though, I thought I detected something besides anger.

"Plunging ahead, my voice rose. 'For many months, I've tried to unite you. I've failed, because I'm only a man. But there is someone else who can bring you together in true unity. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives you power to forgive. So now I will be quiet and allow Him to give you that power. If you will not forgive, we will stay locked in here. You can kill each other and I'll provide your funerals gratis.'

"Silence hung. Tight-lipped, fists clenched, everyone glared at me as if carved from stone. I waited. With agonizing slowness, the minutes passed. Three minutes... five... then... I could hear, outside, a boy coaxing his donkey up the street and the slow clop-clop of its hooves. Still no one flinched. My breathing had become shallow and I swallowed hard. Surely I've finished everything, I chastised myself, undone all these months of hard work with my--Then a sudden movement caught my eye.

"Someone was standing. Abu Mouhib rose and faced the congregation, his head bowed, remorse shining in his eyes. With his first words, I could scarcely believe that this was the same hard-bitten policeman who had treated me so brusquely.

"'I am sorry,' he faltered. All eyes were on him. 'I am the worst one of all. I've hated my own brothers. Hated them so much I wanted to kill them. More than any of you I need forgiveness.'

"And the he turned to me. 'Can you forgive me, too, Abuna?'

"I was amazed! Abuna means 'our father,' a term of affection and respect. I had been called other things since arriving in Ibillin, but nothing so warm.

"'Come here,' I replied, motioning him to my side. He came, and we greeted each other with the kiss of peace. 'Of course I forgive you,' I said, 'Now go and greet your brothers.'

"Before he was halfway down the aisle, his three brothers had rushed to him. They held each other in a long embrace, each one asking forgiveness of the others.

"In an instant the church was chaos of embracing and repentance. Cousins who had not spoken to each other in years, wept together openly. Women asked forgiveness for malicious gossip. Men confessed to passing damaging lies about each other. People who had ignored the sisters and myself in the streets now begged us to come to their homes. Only the Responsible stood quietly apart, accepting only stiffly my embrace. This second church service--a liturgy of love and reconciliation went on for nearly a full hour.

"In the midst of these joyful reunions, I recalled Father's words when he had told us why we must receive the Jews from Europe into our home. And loudly, I announced: 'We're not going to wait until next week to celebrate the Resurrection. Let's celebrate it now. We were dead to each other. Now we are alive again.'

"I began to sing. This time our voices joined as one, the words binding us together in a song of triumph: 'Christ is risen from the dead. By His death He has trampled death and given life to those in the tomb.'

"Even then it did not end. The momentum carried us out of the church and into the streets where true Christianity belongs. For the rest of the day and far into the evening, I joined groups of believers as they went from house to house throughout Ibillin. At every door, someone had to ask forgiveness for a certain wrong. Never was forgiveness withheld. Now I knew that inner peace could be passed from man to man and woman to woman.

"As I watched, I recalled, too, an image that had come to me as a young boy in Haifa. Before my eyes, I was seeing a ruined church rebuilt at last--not with mortar and rock, but with living stones.

"Truly the church in Ibillin resembled a lifeless body returning from the dead. In the jubilant singing and prayers on Easter, I felt the eager breath of new life. In the streaming tears, I saw, as in the story of Lazarus, brothers and sisters rushing to each other's embrace. Gifts of food arrived daily and, amazingly, we never purchased groceries from then on, for the generosity of these humble people was to prove bottomless. Immediately after the holiday, some in the congregation decided that the church building itself needed total rejuvenation and the sanctuary was soon bustling with workmen busy at repairs...

"News about the sisters' tender concern for Moslem and Christian alike spread immediately through the hill country. Almost overnight, other villages began contacting me, asking that I send Christian women to live with them, to work and teach. I had not expected this. Moreover, I was amazed that so tiny a spark of love could shine like a beacon..."

Elias Chacour continues his work of reconciliation in the strained atmosphere of Israel, hoping to "change hearts, not simply institutions." His ventures are bold, often risky: Palestinian students visit kibbutzim; Jewish students live for short periods in Palestinian villages; Jewish and Palestinian educators face each other for head-to-head dialogue. Too, Chacour keeps a grueling schedule lecturing worldwide, always relying on the simple and urgent message of the Beatitudes.

As I have come to know the Savior, I rejoice in His love, which leads us to the source of all love, The Father. The Spirit is the testifier, the purifier, the sanctifier of our souls, to bring us to where we bask in this love and rejoice in the truth. I know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one can come unto the Father except by Him. Jesus descended below them all, and overcame all things. As we put our hand in His, He will help us overcome all things, that we may find that GRAND HARMONY OF THE UNIVERSE and BE ONE WITH GOD. This is ours as we willingly submit our will to the will of the Father as did His Son; we can and will be glorified in TRUTH, rejoicing in Him who is the author of all TRUTH.

As we are now in the end-time scenario in preparation for the great return of our Lord and Savior, I rejoice in the story of Elias Chacour and with him "hear the whispers of the Man of Galilee, saying, "Behold, I make all things new." With Him, in the midst of the greatest of tribulations, we can find peace: "My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth... These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 14:27; 16:33) These tribulations will stretch us even as Abraham, but out of all of this, as we totally trust in the Lord, He has promised, and His promise is sure, "that your joy might be full." My cup runneth over, and for this reason I felt to share the above with you. I love you.

Faithfully and eternally yours,

Dad, Grandpa, and your friend, David W. Allan

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