ONE Magazine

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

The Mighty Cedar of Lebanon

Reflections concerning the cedar tree of Lebanon, an enduring symbol for a tumultuous country.

We knew her as “the German lady.” The house we had lovingly admired was “the German lady’s house.” That’s all we knew, that and the fact that we wanted her house very much. Of its many beauties its crowning glory was the majestic blue spruce that dominated all it surveyed from its throne in the front garden. Neighbors used to look to it for signs of the weather. When it swayed, it was windy. When shrouded in darkness it foretold a storm. When its azure verdance glistened, the sun would reign from dawn to dusk. It seemed eternal but was all too mortal.

When years later we bought that oft-coveted house, we found that the noble spruce had languished, agonized and died, its once triumphant grandeur reduced to an entombed stump. I looked upon the shallow grave and swore that I would plant life there again, soon: not a moment to lose. Death for Christians is always supplanted by life.

A cedar for God! No other tree would do. A cedar of Lebanon! It must be so. Only the noblest tree of all could wear the royal mantle it inherited. A cedar of Lebanon which You have planted. Great are Your works, O Lord, in wisdom have You wrought them all. (Psalm 103) The divine logic was inescapable. As we found our new home we would dedicate a tree, the national symbol of Lebanon, to remind us always of the homeless.

How many countless thousands of homeless and orphaned refugees wander the face of that chosen land? A land elect among the nations of the Levant, now abandoned by all save those who cannot escape her fatal beauty and those others, nameless, faceless, who plot to ravage her the more?

Lebanon, you milky-white land of the Phoenicians and Byzantines, Crusaders and Maronites, Christian and Moslems at once, for you were those cedars planted by the hand of God. For you I will plant a cedar in Brooklyn. As I water it I will think of your tears. As I nurture it I will weep for your children cut down while still only shoots. As I watch it spread its branches, I will recall how many times over the centuries you opened your arms to the persecuted and gave them shelter. As I be-hold its heavenward stride, I will pray with the prayers of your holy monks that my own life be directed also to what is above, to Who is above. As the winter clothes it with a pearly raiment of snow, I will have a care for your naked and shelterless wanderers.

If I live to behold its towering splendor, I will recall that the Psalmist said that the righteous will grow as tall as the cedars of Lebanon. And if I am granted the Highest Good, I will experience what Solomon said of the Beloved: His countenance is as Lebanon: noble as the cedars. (Song of Songs 5:15)

Beloved Lebanon, upon you has been visited the chastisement of Isaiah:

Yes, that will be the day of the Lord of Hosts
against all pride and arrogance,
against all that is great, to bring it down,
against all the cedars of Lebanon.

   (Isaiah 2:13)

Sweet Lebanon, upon you has fallen the sentence of Jeremiah:

You were like Gilead to me,
like a peak of Lebanon.
All the same, I will reduce you to
a desert, to an uninhabited town.
I will prepare destroyers against you
each with his weapons, and they shall
cut down your choicest cedars and
cast them into the fire.

   (Jeremiah 22:7)

The mind’s ear hears the echoes of distant tenebrae (morning prayer) of Holy Week: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people. Great as the sea is my sorrow.”

In the darkness of our lamentation we refresh our souls under the sheltering wings of the cedar

with fair branches and forest shade,
land of great height,
its top among the clouds.
The waters nourished it, the deep
made it grow tall, making
its rivers flow round the place
of its planting, sending forth
its streams to all the trees of
the forest; its boughs grew large
and its branches long,
from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the air made
their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the beasts
of the field brought forth their
young; and under its shadow dwelt all
great nations. It was beautiful
in its greatness, in the length
of its branches; for its roots went
down to abundant waters.
The mightiest of trees
The cedars in the garden of God could
not rival it, nor the fir trees equal
its boughs; the plane trees were
nothing compared with its branches;
no tree in the garden of God was like
it in beauty. I made it beautiful
in the mass of its branches, and all
the trees of Eden envied it, that were
in the garden of God.

   (Ezekiel 31:3-9)

Lamentation is coaxed to joy by hope. Our hearts take comfort from the words of Hosea:

I will heal their disloyalty,
I will love them with all my heart,
for my anger has turned from them,
I will fall like dew…
He shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like Lebanon,
his shoots will spread far;
he will have the beauty of the olive
and the fragrance of Lebanon.

   (Hosea 14:4-6)

And so a stripling, growing now in Oregon, will be transplanted in New York to assauge the heart’s longing for Lebanon. Peace to you, fair land! Peace to your anxious children! Peace to those who await your salvation!

Rev. Romanos is a priest of the Melkite rite.

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