Sermons on the Beatitudes

BriefHistory

Sermons on the Beatitudes

Protopresbyter James Thornton is the author of what is written.
SERMON ONE

INTRODUCTION

We begin this lecture of the Beatitudes of Christ, a central part of our Lord and Saviour`s sublime Sermons on the Mount, as recorded principally by Saint Matthew the Apostle in his Holy Gospel. (St. Matthew 5:3-12).
The English word “beatitude” comes from the Latin “beatus,” which word means “blessed” or “happy.” In the original Greek, from which the Latin translation comes, the words are “makarioi” or “makarios” the meaning conveyed by those words being the same as the Latin, that is, “blessed” or “happy.” Consequently, a beatitude is a pronouncement or declaration of blessedness that proceeds or flows forth from particular virtues and from the generosity of God and therefore sacred or holy, and thus set apart from the things of the mundane world. “Holiness” and “blessedness” are, in this context, synonyms. It must be said too that the word “blessedness” is synonymous with “contentment,” “joy.” “happiness,” and “comfort,” all of these to be understood in the spiritual and not the worldly or material sense.

The literary form known to us as a beatitude appears to be in many places in the Old Testament. For example, we read in the Book of Psalms: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the impious”; (Psalm 1:1) “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him”; (Psalm 2:13) and “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 32:12) One is blessed because one is faithful to God and to His law and shuns evil; one is blessed because one trusts in God; and one is blessed because one`s nation, remains close to God.

However, blessedness, which is acquired by the practice of virtue, should not be understood to imply that the one who acquires it was born specially favoured by God over and above all other men. God loves each member of the human race with a boundless love, and so desires that men become His friends. All are called by God to blessedness.

We must understand also that the blessed of God, the men and women encompassed largely in that commemorative passage from one of the mystical prayers of our Divine Liturgy, “Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, and every righteous spirit in the faith made perfect,” are not presented to us for the sake of abstract contemplation or admiration. Quite the contrary, they are exalted by the Church as examples. We are commanded to strive to duplicate their spiritual achievements, a not unreasonable or unrealizable aim.

Were we to be observers at an athletic event, for example, some of the events at the Olympic Games, we might appreciate and admire the amazing strength, agility, and stamina of a particular athlete. Yet, in doing so, we would be aware that however hare most of us might try, the physical attainments of such an athlete are beyond our capacities. To match the feats of an Olympic athlete would be possible only for the very young, and then only for a comparatively small number of the young. The same would be true were we to observe and admire, say, a world-class violinist or a great singer. One must be blessed with special and rare gifts, and one must begin to train at an early age, to achieve anything notable in these fields of endeavour.

To win a place among the blessed of God, however, is not like winning a noteworthy place among world-class athletes or violinists or opera singers. To win a place among the blessed of God does not depend upon physical or intellectual gifts, nor does it depend upon youthfulness. Rather, to be truly a friend of God, to be among the blessed, is a potentiality open to all: the young and the old, the physically strong and the physically weak, the handsome and the homely, the brilliant and the simple, and the highly educated and those less educated. It is open to all. It is open to all without respect to racial, national, or family backgrounds. Indeed, is open to every man and woman on the face of this globe. It requires merely the setting of goals consistent with God`s law and the unwavering determination to achieve those goals.

Now, how does one do this? How does one win the appellation “blessed”?

We, as Christians, are involved to fight against our sinful and fallen human natures. We are resolved to avoid evil, and not only obvious, blatant evil, such as murder, theft, gossip, fornication, and so forth, but also the subtler, inward evils, such as pride, anger, envy, and greed. We fight against such evils.

Regarding the battle against evil required of the Christian. Saint Cyprian of Carthege (c 200-258) writes:

“For as I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe that I could by possibility by delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices; and because I despaired of better things, I used to indulge my sins as if they were actually parts of me, and indigenous to me. But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart, – after that, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man; – then, in a wondrous manner, doubtful things at once began to assure themselves to me, hidden things to be revealed, dark things to be enlightened, what before had seemed difficult began tosuggest a means of accomplishment, what had been thought impossible, to be capable of being achieved; so that I was enabled to acknowledge that what previously, being born of the flesh, had been living in the practice of sins, was of the earth earthly, but had now begun to be of God, and was animated by the Spirit of holiness. (“The Epistle of Cyprian,” trans. Rev. Ernest Wallis)

Previously, says the Saint, he had been held in bondage by sin, so much so that he could not believe that he might escape. Like so many, he merely accepted sin and embraced it as intrinsic to his human nature – a fatal view, to be sure. However, at his Baptism, the Grace of God poured into his soul, and, seizing that Grace as an instrument of salvation, Saint Cyprian determined to banish his former habits of sin from his life. So does the Orthodox Christian begin the journeys to blessedness.

As we have noted many times before, fighting against and avoiding evil comprises the negative aspect of our struggle. The positive aspect of our struggle involves the acquisition of virtue, that is, the doing of good. The two, of course, are closely interwoven, and for the conscientious Christian, inextricably so. Saint John of Kronstadt writes, “What is holiness? Freedom from every sin, and the fullness of every virtue.” (Spiritual Counsels of Father Kronstadt: My Life In Christ. ed W. Jardine Grisbrooke) Yet, there are other aspects to blessedness, on which Christ Jesus most thoroughly expounds in his Sermon on the Mount. Should one succeed in the struggle to avoid sin and to do good, one acquires, in the process, a new outlook or philosophy on life, a new worldview, which places all of the things of this world and all of the things of the spiritual world in their correct context and order. Life`s genuine priorities are established, very often, and in fact nearly always, at odds with the priorities of this world.

Indeed, one must still work in some manner to support oneself and one`s family. One must still labour to acquire the necessities of life. But with the man or woman blessed in the eyes of God, spiritual realities burn most brightly in the heart and mind, and so take precedence. And one`s family, friends, and neighbours can easily detect the change from “the old man” to “the new man,” (Ephesians 4:22 – Colossians 3:9-10.) for unlike most today, who are filled with pride, who hanker after earthly glory, and who are viciously aggressive toward their fellow man, the new man is humble, meek, and patient.

The Lord Jesus Christ and His Church summon each of us to blessedness. It is not a gratuitous summons; it is not a summons to go beyond that which is necessary for the salvation of our souls; it is a summons to achieve the salvation of our souls. The summons of Christ is a summons to lead the life in Christ and to turn away from an obsession with this world, as if it were the only world that matters.

My beloved children in Christ, attend once again to the words of our own Saint John of Kronstadt:

“Look upon everything in this world as a fleeting shadow and cling with their heart to nothing of it; consider nothing in this world great, and lay your hope upon nothing earthly. Cling to the one eternal, invisible, and only wise God.” (Spiritual Counsels of Father John of Kronstadt: My Life In Christ, p. 226.)

SERMON TWO

“BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT”

This is the second in our discussions on the Beatitudes, which were taught by Christ Himself in His Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the fifth chapter of the Holy Gospel to Saint Matthew. We explored the meaning of the word “beatitude,” which is a declaration that a person or a category of persons is blessed in the eyes of God. Its significance for Orthodox Christians is that they are commanded by God to strive toward of state of blessedness or holiness, which is to say, a state pleasing to God, or, to put it in more precise theological terminology, a state consonant with God`s Nature and, consequently, a state the leads to union with God, that is, deification.

Here we contemplate the message in the first of Christ`s Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:3) What is the meaning of the words “poor in spirit” Saint John Chrysostomos writes that “poor in spirit” means simply those who are “humble and contrite in mind.” He goes on to say:

`For by “spirit” He hath here designed the soul, and the faculty of choice [the will]. This is, since many humble not willingly, but compelled by stress of circumstances: letting these pass (for this were no matter of praise), He blesses them first, who by choice humble and contract themselves.` (Ibid)

We see, then, “poor in spirit” has nothing necessarily to do with economic distress. All men, rich and poor and those in between, may become poor in spirit. A rich man who is fully committed to Christ may be poor in spirit and so prepared. If called upon by God, to surrender all of his wealth for the sake of Christ. In contrast, a poor man, in the economic sense of that term, may fail through bitterness described by Christ.

Saint Ambrose of Milan (339-397) declares, “When I am truly content in poverty, I should then seek to make my disposition mild and gentle.” In other words, a man who is economically poor, if he is not embittered, by the very nature of his situation and because he is powerless, is mild and gentle in his dealings with others, so as to obtain the necessities of life and to survive economically among the rich and powerful. The poor in spirit seek to emulate this disposition `spiritually` in order to survive and prosper spiritually. So these words of Christ do not address economic status. Rather, the words designate those men and women who are by choice, of their own free will humble and contrite.

The English word “humble” is derived from the Latin word “humilis,” which means “lowly.” “Humilis” is a derivative of the noun “humus,” meaning “ground,” that is, the surface beneath our feet. The word “contrite” means “repentant,” “filled with regret,” or “sincerely sorry.” The English word “contrite” also comes from Latin. The Latin word is “contritus,” a derivative of the verb “conterere,” the meaning of which, curiously and significantly, is “to grind down” or “to wear away.” So we may say that by our humility we regard ourselves, most particularly in relation to God, as low as the surface of the ground on which we tread. And by our contriteness, by our sincere repentance, we grind down our rebelliousness toward God and His law and we wear away our tendency to sin.

In the following passage, Saint Gregory of Sinai (ca. 1255-1345) encompasses the notions of both humility and contriteness:

“Those who seek humility should bear in mind the three following things: that they are the worst of sinners, that they are the most despicable of all creatures since their state is an unnatural one, and that they are even more pitiable than the demons, since they are slaves to the demons.” (St Gregory of Sinai).”

Focusing his attention on the word “poor,” Saint John Chrysostomos asks the question, “But why said he not, `the humble,` but rather` the poor?`” (the Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, Gos of Matt p.92) He answers by stating that Christ meant to refer to more than just outward humility: “for He means here them who are awe struck, and tremble at the commandments of God,” (Ibid) The Saint, by way of proving his point, then quotes a passage from Saint Isaiah the Prophet (ca. 765 B.C. – 701 B.C.), wherein God says, “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My Word.” (Isaiah 66:2.) And he quotes also from the Book of Psalms: “A sacrifice unto God is a contrite spirit; a contrite and humbled heart God will not put to shame.” (Psalms 50:19.)

We capture in our humble minds a bit more of Christ`s meaning when we consider that in Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ, the word for poor, “anya”, means, among other things, “bent down” or “bent over.” Obviously, the state of being “bent over” must be truly something that comes from deep inside one`s own heart, not an outward condition nurtured for the purpose of being observed by others. That was the grave mistake of the Pharisees. To be truly humble is a state that comes from within and that, at the same time, manifests itself outwardly. We see a perfect example of this in our own Saint John of San Francisco (1896-1966). To be humble also does not imply that one is yielding in the face of theological error or supine in the face of the evil. One is not “bent over” before men determined to tear Christian Tradition to tatters. One is not “bent over” before a maniac who is about to do harm to one`s family, friends, or neighbours.

What is the opposite of humility? The opposite of humility is pride. By his exaltation of the poor in spirit, Christ Jesus attacks that most harmful of man`s failings. Saint John Chrysostomos calls pride “the greatest of evils” (The homilies of St John Chrysostomos Gos St Matt p.92) and affirms that by His Own words “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” (St. Matthew 5:3) Christ.

`Begins at the root of things by uprooting pride, the root and source of all malice. Against it He sets humility, as a strong and stable foundation, which, securely laid, is a base on which other virtues may be built.` (The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. iv, p. 462.

Saint John warns, however: “But should this base collapse, whatever other blessings you may have acquired, are lost.” (Ibid)

If we are excellent Orthodox Christians, walking the way of truth and of purity in our lives and mastering all the virtues, but if, at the same time, we cultivate overweening pride in our hearts, then all for which we have struggled – all – is utterly for naught. Pride was the downfall of Lucifer, who was jealous of God, his Creator, and so rebelled, and found himself thrust into the pit of Hell. (St. Luke 10:18) Adam, misled by the Devil, fancied that he might become like God, (Genesis 3:5.) and so through pride disobeyed God and brought sin into the world. One can review the whole of mankind`s history and see numberless examples of the catastrophic caused by pride. Pride brought certain men to think that they might conquer the world. All not only failed miserably but brought ruin to their followers and themselves, and great adversity to other men. Pride, to quote Saint John Chrysostomos once again, is the source of all of the “havoc of the world.” (The Homlies of St. John Chrysostomos, Gos St Matt, p.92)

Therefore, to summarize what we have covered today, those who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, according to Christ`s Own words, will be men and women who are by choice humble, who are cognizant of their lowliness and smallness before God, and who repent fully for their sins, that is, who are broken in spirit by the very thought of their past sins, who thus turn away from a life of sin, and who struggle to lead a Christlike life.

Poverty of spirit – humility, contriteness, brokenness, lowliness – these attributes bring the fullness of Christian virtues to one`s life, bring Christ`s blessing, and most importantly, bring Christ`s guarantee of the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven. Without these attributes, we cannot even begin to access to treasury of good things that is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and so we cannot begin our journey to everlasting life.

Let us end with these words of Saint Anthony the Great (251-356)

`He therefore who has gained humility, has already become a dwelling place of the Most High God; and has attained to sublimity of soul, to the love of innocence, to peace and to charity. Come then, dispose your heart towards humility, and do not walk in the company of devils in pride of heart. …Whosoever therefore walks in the pride of his heart, is an associate of demons. …The pride of heart of men is unclean before God: but hearts that are humble and contrite the Lord wil not despise. The Mercy of God…coming to us from on high, because humble to His last breath. And because of this we glory with the psalmist, saying: `See my abjection and my labour: and forgive me all my sins.`

SERMON THREE

“BLESSED ARE THEY THAT MOURN”

We are at the third of these lessons on the Beatitudes of Christ. You will recall that we investigated the first of these, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” (St. Matthew 5:3) noting that the poor in spirit are those who are filled with humility and contrition, that is, remorse for their sins. Today we will scrutinize the Second Beatitude, in which Christ Jesus teches us, “Blessed are those that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (St. Matthew 5:4)

Losses that we suffer in this life, material losses and the loss of kinfolk, friends, and neighbours, can be terrible. The loss of employment, for example, can plunge a family toward destitution, and so in that situation one mourns the loss of what he imagined was a measure of economic security. The loss of one`s good health is a shock, since one bases many of his plans for the future on the continuation of hid physical well-being. The loss of one`s home and possessions through fire or some kind of natural disaster can be extraodinarily painful. In the past, here in California, more than two thousand homes were destroyed in bush fires, many persons losing all their possessions, and in a past winter flooding and landslides cost many ore their homes and all of their possessions. Life can be very hard indeed, and in such cases men and women mourn the loss of the things that brought them comfort, or happiness, or a sense of satisfaction.

Worse yet, much worse in the earthly scheme of things, is the loss through death of a person whom we loved, perhaps kin or perhaps a close friend, and we mourn our loss, we feel deep sorrow, since we no longer can enjoy that person`s friendship or companionship. All of these feelings, feelings of loss and of pain, are perfectly normal and proper, so long as they are not carried too far.

The Christian places his hope, and his faith, and his trust in God, knowing that this life is temporary, that material things are all temporary, and that earthly life is but a prelude to eternal life. Therefore, mourning, to a Christian, whatever its cause, is not an act of despair or despondency, wherein one abandons all hope, or loses one`s courage, or loss one`s will to live. And it certainly is not a state in which one becomes angry toward God because of one`s adversity. The Christian feels sorrow – Christ Himself wept at the death of Saint Lazarus the Four-Days-Dead (ca. 51) (St. John 11:35) – , but it is controlled, it is circumscribed, by the knowledge that God promises eternal happiness to His beloved in the life to come.

What does it mean to mourn? The English verb “mourn” is of Germanic origin, and if we trace back though history to the oldest source of that word, we find it is linked to the word “memory,” to the notion of remembering. We remember the loss of the material things to which we became attached; we remember the loss of the freedom and strength that good health once offered us; or we remember the loss of loved ones who are no longer here to share our journey through life. Such remembrance brings us suffering. The pain of remembering is at first intense, but usually fades with the passage of time, though it may never entirely disappear. The remembrance of loss, the sorrow that we feel, and the tears that we shed may, if humbly accepted, be spiritually profitable, in that such loss reminds us of the fragility of material goods, of physical health, and of earthly life itself.

So, we have examined the source, and meaning, and significance of mourning in its world connotations. It is clear, however, that Christ`s words, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted,” (St. Matthew 5:4) are aimed far less at the kinds of mourning we have just discussed – mourning for lost loved ones, for lost health, or for lost material possessions – than at spiritual losses.

Saint Theophylaktos of Ohrid (ca. 1050 – ca. 1126) writes in his Gospel commentary:

“Blessed are they that mourn” for their sins, not for things of this life. Christ said, “They that mourn,” that is, they that are mourning incessantly and not just one time; and not only for our own sins, but for those of our neighbour. (The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria.)

Thus, Christians are expected to be profoundly cognizant of sin, of the nature of sin, and therefore of the true seriousness of their own sins. We must mourn for our sins. They are not small matters but grave matters, matters that threaten our happiness not simply for a few weeks, months, or years, but threaten our happiness for all eternity.

We grasp the depth and gravity of the sort of mourning of which Christ speaks in the passage from the writings of Saint John Chrysostomos:

“Blessed are they mourn.” …And here too again He designated not simply all that mourn, but all that do so for sins….This Saint Paul [the Apostle (ca. I B. C. – ca. A. D. 67)] also clearly declared, when he said, “The sorrow of the world worketh death, but godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, not to be repented of.” (II Corinthians 7:10) These then He too Himself calls blessed, whose sorrow is of that kind; yet not simply them that sorrow did He designate, but them that sorrow intensely. Therefore He did not say, “they that sorrow,” but “they that mourn.” For this commandment again is fitted to teach us entire self-control. For if those who grieve for children, or wife, or any other relation gone from them, have no fondness for gain or pleasure during that period of their sorrow; if they aim not a glory, are not provoked by insults, nor led captive by envy, nor beset by any other passion, their grief alone wholly possessing them; much more will they who mourn for their own sins, as they ought to mourn, show forth a self-denial greater than this. (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, on the Gospel of St. Matthew p. 93.)

Saint Chrysostomos is explaining to us in the foregoing quotation that if we mourn intensely for our sins, we are rendered immune to its temptations, we are rendered impervious to the beckoning of our passions, since always in the background of our minds is that recognition of the distance that sin puts between us and God.

We mourn for the sins of those we love, since sin places them too in danger, earthly danger and spiritual danger. Christians are not isolated individuals, but form, in the Church, a Community of Love. Thus, we share in the trials and anxieties of one another and, thus, we are distressed to the point of mourning over the sins of all our brothers and sisters in Christ. (f. I Corinthians 12:25-26.) That mourning brings us to pray for one another, to pray to God that all whom we love ay be saved.

To those who, recognizing the immense impact of all sin, mourn intensely for their sins, mourn for the loss of the spiritual beauty of their former innocence, mourn for the sake of the likely fate of their souls, Christ promises, “They shall be comforted.” (St. Matthew 5:4.) How will those who mourn be comforted? They are comforted, the Holy Fathers tells us, both in this life and in the next. In this life they are comforted in the knowledge that, as a result of mourning, they are spiritually stronger than before. Recognizing the consequences of sin, they are better equipped to fend off its attacks. They are comforted, too, in the realization of God`s love for them and of His readiness to forgive them. Saint John Chrysostomos speaks of this as follows:

“Wherefore, if thou wilt be comforted, mourn: and think not this a dark saying. For when God doth comfort, though sorrows come upon thee by thousands like snow-flakes, thou wilt be above them all. Since in truth, as the returns which God gives are always far greater than our labours; so He hath wrought in this case, declaring them that mourn to be blessed, not after the value of what they do, but after His own love towards man[.] (“The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, Archbishop of Constantinople. On the Gospel of St. Matthew,” p. 93.)

And the Saint continues that for those that mourn for their sins, it is sufficient comfort to know that God has forgiven them and to know that God not only forgives them, not only relieves them of the burden and ramifications of sin, “but He makes them even blessed,” (Ibid.) that is, makes them His Own friends, by which He gives them eternal life

May we comprehend the injury that sin brings to us, which injury is equivalent spiritually to the gouging and tearing of our physical flesh. May we all mourn for our sins. And having mourned, may we happily envelop ourselves in God`s forgiveness and bondless consolation.

SERMON FOUR

“BLESSED ARE THE MEEK”

We are at the fourth of these discussions on the Beatitudes, and so now we consider Christ`s declaration, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (St. Matthew 5:5. It is clear that n examining the meaning of this Third Beatitude, we must be especially careful in our definitions. In modern English, the word “meek” often carries overtones of complete submissiveness, of spinelessness, of weakness, or of total passivity. However, this is obviously not what Christ had in mind when He gave Hiss blessing to the meek.

The original Greek word in English, (“prays”), which is translated in the best versions of English Holy Bibles by the word “meek,” carries a quite different connotation than passivity or spinelessness. Rather, the correct meaning, here, is best expressed as a blending of such notions as “mild of manner”, “gentle,” “patient,” “kind,” and “slow to anger.” The now old-fashioned ideal of the “gentleman” correctly expresses, at least n part, what Christ Jesus was conveying.

The ancient Greeks abhorred extremes of behaviour and exalted moderation. Thus, they counselled meekness – meekness correctly understood – as a virtue. To display unbridled anger and violent emotion over every imagined deficiency on the part of others was considered a sign of overweening pride and therefore of a lack of virtue. Likewise, to be incapable of proper action in the face of some evil was a sign of a lack of courage. But between these tow extremes one finds the virtue of meekness.

For example, the meek man is in full control of himself and so possesses stability in his relationships with others. And while he is not an emotional tinderbox set to explode at the least provocation, not an emotional roller coaster swinging from this extreme to that, and not in a constant state of agitation, rage, or fury, which only cloud one`s judgement, the person possessing the virtue of meekness is nevertheless capable of anger when anger is appropriate. The passive or spineless man tolerates such evils as gross injustice, or cruelty, or blasphemy. The meek man does not. The passive or spineless man will not rise to defend his family, friends, or neighbours at a time of danger. A meek man will even give his life for those in danger. He is meek, but he is never a coward.

Christ Jesus is the very quintessence of meekness, yet, nonetheless, when He observed the great Jerusalem Temple being used by the money changers for mercenary purposes, “made a scourge of small cords…[and] drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep, and the oven; and poured out the changer`s money, and overthrew the tables.” (St. John 2:15) That was a proper, righteous anger. Similarly, in old Constantinople, when Saint john Chrysostomos – ascetic, humble, and meek to his fingertips – unleashed his anger against the selfishness of the jaded and worldly among the Byzantine nobility in his sermons, that was a proper, righteous anger.

Saint Ambrose of Milan writes that in striving toward meekness, as the Lord commands, you must

“Lay aside what things are base, be destitute of vices according to virtuous poverty, tame your disposition, so that ye are not angered, or, indeed, if angry, that ye sin not, according as it is written, `Be angry, and sin not.` (Psalm 4:5.) For it is honourable to temper emotion with counsel, nor is it reckoned a lesser virtue to restrain anger and suppress indignation than not to be angry at all, although very often the former is adjudged the milder and the latter the more violent. (Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, with fragments on the Prophecy of Esais).

In other words, as we have already noted, the Christian is capable of anger, but that anger is restrained by mildness and by careful forethought.

With regard to spiritual life, the Christian who has cultivated meekness is accepting of the will of God. He is not defiant toward his Maker, but receptive to all that God bestows – both the agreeable and the difficult. In the face of adversity, such as illness, poverty, or the loss of a loved one, he places God`s will before his own, bears life with fortitude and grumble over his fate. He sees the hand of God in life`s problems and trials and is content to use these to direct his life and to strengthen himself spiritually.

So, we have defined the precise meaning of the word “meek,” with its essential nuances, which allow us to grasp Christ`s words correctly. Christ promises that “the meek…shall inherit the earth.” (St. Matthew 5:5.) What does this mean? Saint John Chrysostomos writes that the earth spoken of by Christ includes things of this life and things of the next. He says:

“And this He saith, not as limiting the rewards to things present, but as joining with these the other sorts of gifts also. For neither in speaking of any spiritual thing doth He exclude such as are in the present life; nor again in promising such as are in life, doth He limit this promise to that kind. For He saith, `seek ye the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.` (St. Matthew 6:33.) And again: “Whosoever hath left houses or brethren, shall receive an hundred fold in this world, and in the future shall inherit everlasting life.” (St. Matthew 19:29.)

Now, in a world dominated by greed, selfishness, mania for power, and a willingness to crush adversaries underfoot, how do the meek inherit the earth? As Saint Chrysostomos explains, we must understood Christ`s words in both an earthly and a spiritual manner. The man who is meek, that is gentle, kind, forgiving, and patient in his dealings with his fellow men, who is serene and untroubled in his daily life and yet courageous and forthright in the face of misfortune or in overcoming evil, will inherit the earth. He will inherit the earth in the sense that he will become, through his recognition of God`s love for mankind, of God`s ultimate plan for himself and all others, and of God`s omnipotence, the sovereign of his own life under the supreme sovereignty of God. His passage through this life will not be an endless cavalcade of anger, fear, hysteria, disappointment, and hardship, but, on the contrary, will be a peaceful and steady movement in the direction of God. In the Book of Psalms we read, “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 36:11) God will protect the meek of this earth. Moreover, the meek shall inherit the earth in the spiritual sense. The meek, in the life to come, will inherit the Kingdom of God, the “new earth” (Isaiah 65:17) spoken of in Holy Scripture, wherein all of God`s creation will be renewed. And that new earth the meek will enjoy for all eternity.

God particularly loves the meek. “The Lord lifteth up the meek, but casteth sinners down to the ground,” (Psalm 146:6.) relates a passage in Psalms. God loves the meek since they imitate the virtues of Christ Himself, Who said, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (St. Matthew 11:29.) Note the linkage in these passages between meekness and a state of peace and rest. Saint Paul the Apostle, writing to the Romans, admonishes them, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18.)

Thus far, in our talks, we have spoken of blessedness, of contrition, of humility, of mourning for sins, and, now, of meekness. It is of the highest significance that these qualities are scorned by the world, while their opposites – most especially pride – are applauded by the world, a world more and more determined to try to demonstrate that Christian virtue is an illusion and that lasting happiness can be found in the things of this world.

The world is wrong, my children in Christ, it is wrong. Both in this life, and for the sake of the next, we must struggle toward that blessedness, that contrition, that humility, that mourning, and that meekness. It is a formidable task, since everything around us bids us to follow a different road. Yet we must struggle to win what Christ requires of us. And if we have failed to achieve all that Christ demands, we do not surrender, but continue the struggle.

Saint Gregory the Dialogist (ca. 540-604) tell us:

“Our imperfection will not be entirely harmful to us if we are set on our journey toward God, if we do not look back at the things that are finished with, if we hasten to accomplish what lies ahead. An imperfect person who worthily enkindles his desire may become strong enough to become perfect, through our Lord Jesus Christ…. ( [St.] Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies.)

SERMON FIVE

“BLESSED ARE THEY WHICH DO HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS”

The fourth of the Beatitudes of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ reads: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (St. Matthew 5:6.) Hunger and thirst are feelings, internal impulses, built within our bodies to assure that we take in the food and drink necessary to maintain the proper functioning of our bodies. If, for instance, we deprive ourselves of sufficient food, our bodies signal us in various ways – discomfort in the form of hunger pangs, an internal sensation of emptiness, and a grumbling in our stomachs, accompanied often by feelings of weakness – , telling us that we must eat. That is called “hunger.” Likewise, f we fail to drink sufficient fluids, the parched sensation n our throats and mouths tell us that we must drink. That is called “thirst.” Should we choose to ignore these signals for a long period of tie, our good health is eventually endangered, and even death becomes a possibility as a result.

So, hunger and thirst are natural sensations, involuntary sensations, placed within us to protect our bodies from neglect. Were they not part of our physiologies, great numbers of men and women would likely perish from sheer forgetfulness or laziness. Moreover, when lack of nourishment and drink continue for a very long time, the fulfilment of our nutritional needs becomes a matter of immediate urgency, to sustain life. Hunger and thirst then become sufficiently strong that many will go to extraordinary lengths to save themselves, even to the abandonment of all the trappings of civilized behaviour and the maintenance of dignity. And so, these are the most basic and the most powerful of human feelings.

Christ Jesus employs these most powerful of physical impulses of hunger and thirst as metaphors in this Beatitudes in order to demonstrate that the desire for spiritual good health should be as developed as the physical need to eat and drink. In the Book of Psalms we read: “As the hart panteth after the springs of water, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsted God, the mighty, the living.” (Psalm 41:2-3.) A hart is a stag, specifically, an adult male red deer. The hart, says this Psalm, desires before all else the cool waters of the flowing brook, and to the same degree, the pious soul desires above all else the things of God.

The desires for spiritual sustenance and spiritual good health, of course, are largely voluntary. Our Creator plants certain inclinations toward goodness in the heart of every man. That is man`s conscience. But these inclinations are relatively weak and easily overridden, since man as a fallen creature – hence the ubiquity of sin. So, the desire for what we may call “spiritual food and drink” requires the action of the will to be developed and made strong, as strong as the need for physical food and drink. And although voluntary initially, the need for spiritual nourishment and good health on the part of the Christian should be so developed, so fixed, that it becomes automatic and practically involuntary, like the automatic signals of the body. Place one of the Saints of God in a position wherein he must choose between that which is spiritually unhealthy, and his reaction will be instantaneous and virtually automatic. His reply to temptation is signalled by his highly-developed love of God and of the things of God.

Now, what does Christ tell us we must hunger and thirst after? Righteousness. What is the precise meaning of that word? The noun “righteousness” and the adjective “righteous” are derived from the word “right.” This word, in turn, comes ultimately from a word that means “straight,” as opposed to crooked. The righteous man or woman does that which is morally right. He or she follows the “strait…and narrow” (St. Matthew 7:14.) path to God, not the crooked, circuitous deceitful path to destruction.

Saint John Chrysostomos tells us that righteousness is “the whole of virtue.” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew p. 94.) The righteous man is straightforward, honest and simple in his relationship to God; he is innocent before God; he is morally upstanding in all things; he is just in his dealings with others; he is virtuous and pious; and he is determined to do what with others; he is virtuous and pious; and he is determined to do what is right in the eyes of God, come what may! So, if we hunger and thirst after righteousness, the irresistible impulse within our hearts and souls will be to follow the will of God and to suppress the evil instincts of fallen, and therefore unnatural, human nature.

In his “Fifteenth Homily on the Gospel of Saint Matthew,” which deals with Christ`s Sermon on the Mount and therefore with the Beatitudes, Saint John Chrysostomos, when he explains the meaning of righteousness and on the virtue of freeing ourselves from this vice. Just as hunger and thirst are overwhelmingly powerful physical impulses, so too is the base urge towards covetousness, which combines both greed and envy. This vice is so compelling that the Saint calls this compulsion a “most peculiar of covetousness.” (Ibid.) He declares, “…[W]e are not so enamored of meat and drink, as of gaining, and compassing ourselves with more and more. [Christ therefore]…bade us to transfer this desire to a new object, freedom from covetousness.” (Ibid.) Covetousness is an obsession to accumulate more and more unnecessary material objects. In our materialistic contemporary world, where the acquisitive passion is shamelessly extolled, it is imagined that the accumulation of earthly goods brings security and peace of mind.

Remember Christ`s parable of the rich fool, recorded in the Gospel of Saint Luke, wherein a rich man possessed so much that he planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to store his increasing accumulation of goods. And the rich fool then says:

“And I will to my soul. `Soul, thou has much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.`” But God said unto him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (St. Luke 12:19-21.)

The rich fool gloried in his great wealth and imagined that he had reached a state of near perfect security and comfort; his security however, was pure delusion.

Finally, in the Fourth Beatitude, Christ promises that those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness…shall be filled.” (St. Matthew 5:6.) With what shall they be filled? They are to be filled with all of the good things of God. To borrow from Saint John Chrysostomos`s homily once again:

“Wherefore, so long as thou doest righteously, fear not poverty, nor tremble at hunger. For the extortioners, they are the very persons who lose all, even as he certainly who is in love with righteousness, possess himself the goods of all men in safety. (“The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew,” p. 94.)

Thus, according the Saint, we are not to be unduly fearful for earthly trials, fearful to the extent that we forgo spiritual needs in order to gain what we fancy is earthly security, like the rich fool. And even if we suffer earthly trails, we nevertheless cling to our love of righteousness. So long as we do that, then whatever transitory fame and fortune are won by the worldly-minded in this life, in the life to come all that is not bound by time, all that is eternal, will be ours.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria (378-444) teaches us that

“a man`s life is not from his possessions, by reason of his having an overabundance: but very blessed and of glorious hope is he who is rich toward God. …Such a one shall find the usury of his virtue and the recompense of his upright and blameless life; Christ shall bless him. (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke.)

May all of us, here, struggle for righteousness, may we hunger and thirst for it unremittingly, as Christ bids us. Then shall all of the treasure and abundance of everlasting life be ours.

SERMON SIX

“BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL”

The Beatitude we review today is the fifth, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (St. Matthew 5:7.)You will remember from past discussions that what we refer to as the process of salvation is a process of transforming ourselves. We transform our inward natures – fallen, sinful, unclean, self-centred, and rebellious – so that those natures conform to God`s Nature. That is the only way that God can receive us into His Heavenly Kingdom, because, although His love is unconditional and therefore unwavering in any case, only men and women who have struggled to become Christlike in their natures can abide with God forever, God cannot receive that which is wholly alien to Himself. And therefore, the life in Christ is the path along which we battle against our sinfulness and strive to acquire certain of the attributes of our Maker – selfless love, most of all, and an offspring of selfless love, mercy.

What does it mean to be merciful? The meaning, for Christians, has many facets. Saint John Chrysostomos remarks that “the way of showing mercy is manifold, and this commandment is broad.” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, p. 94.)

Firstly, we are compassionate to the suffering. We do as Christ commands in giving food to the hungry, giving drinks to the thirsty, giving clothing the naked, sheltering strangers, and so forth. (See St. Matthew 25:34-40.) That is all fundamental to Christian teaching. Some of the needy are blameless for their plight, some are not. It may be that many of those in need of food, drink, clothing, and shelter brought these sad conditions upon themselves by their folly, by their extravagance, by their neglect, by their imprudence, by their laziness, or whatever. However, since we are merciful, we ignore the various human failings that may have brought these unfortunates to their grief. Their failings are not, in most cases, our business anyway. The failings are the business of those suffering. The extension of mercy is our business as Christians. And so, we offer our mercy in the form of alms.

Secondly, but of the highest importance nonetheless, we are merciful in the spiritual sense, when we pray for others most especially: our family members, our friends, and, to be sure, our enemies. (See St. Matthew 5:44.) Saint Jerome of Bethlehem (331-420), in his work Against the Pelagians, writes:

“All that the saints say is a prayer to God; their whole prayer and supplication a strong wrestling for the pity of God, so that we, who by our own strength and zeal cannot be saved, may be preserved by His mercy.” (St. Jerome. “Against the Pelagians: Dialogue Between Atticus, a Catholic, and Critobulus, a Heritic.”)

The Saints, Saint Jerome is saying, understood the sciences of prayer, and beg the Almighty to be merciful to those crippled by some spiritual weakness, which, in fact, is most of us. Hearing these prayers, God responds, extending His mercy to the ones for whom prayer is offered. We are required to pray for all: for those who love us and for those who hate us, so that God`s mercy may touch them and save them.

We are merciful in the spiritual sense, also, when we patiently guide those in error, or those whose spiritual direction is otherwise unsound, toward truth and righteousness. Few of us do not meet people who are needful of spiritual nourishment. We assist such people by gently offering them an alternative to a life of emptiness and ugliness. I sat “gently offering” since to carp and carry on tactlessly and endlessly will usually drive persons in a direction opposite to what we intend. So, we must be wise in this quest. We best serve to guide such people by our own good example.

Thirdly, we are merciful, and we imitate Christ, when we do not seek to do harm to those who have wronged us. Instead, we show them mercy, that is, we show kindness, forgiveness, and forbearance, even though the mercy is not, strictly speaking, merited. Sometimes enemies do us grievous harm, but we have an example, in such instances, in Christ Himself. On behalf of those who scourged Him, beat Him, crowned Him with thorns, and nailed Him to a Cross to die in agony, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (St. Luke 23:34.)

Fourthly, and this is related to the foregoing, we must be merciful to those indebted to us for any reason. You doubtless recall the story from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, told by Christ, of the servant who owed his king ten thousand talents. The king was prepared to sell the servant and his family into slavery to pay the debt, but the servant begged the king`s mercy. The king, moved by compassion, forgave the debt. However, the same servant, to whom the king was so gracious, was owed a debt by a fellow servant, which debt he ruthlessly enforced. The king, upon hearing this, called the servants into his presence, chastising him for his lack of mercy:

“O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?” And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (St. Matthew 18:23-25.)

Fifthly, we are merciful when we are mild and gentle in our lives, when we always see others through the lenses of our mercy. We are so and do this because we recognise our own faults and thus are mild and gentle in contemplating the faults of others, as opposed to being harsh, disparaging, and merciless.

God is mercy itself, just as He is love. (I St. John 4:8, 16.) We exist by God`s love and mercy. Think of man`s state here on earth; think of the sin that fills this world; think, each of us, of our own sins. Were God to treat us as we deserve, He mighty justly wipe us from the face of the earth. But He does not. He is merciful. All those who gain eternal life do so by God`s mercy. To quote from the writings of Saint Jerome again:

“And yet let me tell you that baptism condones past offences, and does not preserve righteousness in the time to come; the keeping of that is dependent on toil and industry, as well as earnestness, and above all on the mercy of God.” (St. Jerome, “Against the Pelagans: Dialogue Between Atticus, a Catholic, and Critobulus, a Heretic,” P. 472.)

When, in other words, we are baptized, all the sins committed up to that time are pardoned. However, we are till responsible for sins committed after Baptism. We must struggle against sin by our “toil and industry,” (Ibid.) as Saint Jerome puts it, for the remainder of our lives. Yet that struggle, and that toil, and that industry are made possible only because of God`s Grace, which flows to us in accordance with God`s great mercy.

Christ`s promise in this Beatitude is that those who are merciful “shall obtain mercy.” (St. Matthew 5:7.) All of mankind obtains God`s mercy in a certain sense, continuously, during the course of their lives. But the mercy to which Christ refers to mercy to which Christ refers, here, is something over and above that. Here, Christ Jesus refers to mercy at His judgement seat. If we, who are sinners, can, despite our less-than-perfect lives, stand before Christ at the judgement and say, with complete honesty, “I was always merciful to my brethren n all things; please, dear Lord be merciful likewise to me”; if we can say that truthfully, then the doors of Christ`s compassion and mercy will be opened to us.

And so it is that, because of our mercy regarding all of the petty and short-lived things of this world, we are thus to be repaid a thousandfold, and a millionfold, and infinitely more by Christ God.

SERMON SEVEN

“BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART”

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (St. Matthew 5:8.) This is the Sixth Beatitude of Christ. How should we describe what it means to be pure in hearts, as Christ Jesus intends us to understand that term? Those persons who possess purity of heart, Saint John Chrysostomos asserts, are “either those who have attained unto all virtue, and are not conscious to themselves of any evil; or those who live in temperance. For there is nothing which we need so much in order to see God, as this last virtue.” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, p. 94.)

What this means is that the one who is pure in heart is completely virtuous and therefore free from all habitual sin; that is to say, the habits of sinfulness have been cleansed from his heart, and his heart is consequently pure. Additionally, such a one lives his life in temperance, which means that he has total control over his various fallen inclinations, inclinations connected to physical appetites, and therefore allows himself only that which is morally acceptable to God.

Remember please, in this regard, my beloved children in Christ, that Saints are not men and women who have freed themselves wholly from temptation. The demons are always at work to destroy souls and would especially enjoy bringing down and capturing the soul of a Holy One. Saint Paul relates: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (Romans 7:22-23.) Saint Paul tells us that he too was tempted and struggled with sin, that the spiritual, inward man had to battle the fallen, sinful man. Obviously, with Saint Paul, the spiritual, inward man won that battle. Saints are men and women who are, first of all, watchful over the state of their souls, and who simply exercise their faculty of self-control and therefore turn away from temptation. And this watchfulness and self-control bring earthly as well as heavenly rewards.

Saint Ambrose of Milan writes of this purity of heart that it is accomplished “[w]hen you have made your inward self pure from every stain of sin, so that no disorder, no strife arises from your disposition of soul….” (The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 468.) Such inward purity and peacefulness, as described by Saint Ambrose, is characteristic of the Saints, since the dictates of the passions and sin produce a maelstrom of continuing inner conflict, while the setting aside of baseness and corruption brings inner tranquillity and composure.

We gain insights into the fullness of the meaning of purity of heart in the writings of many Holy Church Fathers. Let us note here some passages written by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783), in which he contrasts an obsession with worldly things, that is, temporary things, with spiritual things, that is, eternal things. One who has cultivated purity of heart, needless to say, is one whose mind is fixed upon the eternal. First, Saint Tikhon distinguishes between our fleshly birth, into this world, and our spiritual birth, through the Holy Mysteries. He then speaks of the divergent proclivities that accompany either the worldly-minded, on the one hand, or the spiritually-minded, on the other:

“To the fleshly birth belong pride, high-mindedness, haughtiness, conceit, self-importance, and disdain for neighbour. To the spiritual birth belong humility, deprecation and negation of one`s own self. To the fleshly birth belongs unbelief, to the spiritual-faith.”

To the fleshly birth belongs recklessness, to the spiritual-fear of God. To the fleshly birth belong recalcitrance, insubordination, disobedience and opposition to God, to the spiritual-submission, subordination, and obedience. To the fleshly belongs ingratitude, to the spiritual-thankfulness to God.

To the fleshy belongs indifference to the honour and glory of God, to the spiritual – the desire and care for the glory of God. To fleshy belongs hope in one`s own self, in one`s honour, riches, in one`s own strength, in man and in every creature, to the spiritual belongs hope in God alone. To the fleshy belong anger, wrath, malice, and the desire to be avenged in word and deed, to the spiritual – meekness, innocence and long-suffering. To the fleshy belongs immoderate self-love, to the spiritual – love of God and man.

To the fleshy belongs miserliness, avarice, mercilessness, and care for one`s own self, to the spiritual – mercy, love of generosity and compassion, and helping one`s neighbour. To the fleshy belong envy and all its consequent evil, to the spiritual – love and compassion for a neighbour`s misfortunes and joy over his happiness.

To the fleshy belong guile, slyness, falsehood, cunning and hypocrisy, to the spiritual – simple-heartedness and truth. To the fleshly belong theft, robbery and every injustice, to the spiritual – justice. To the fleshly belong impurity, drunkenness, incontinence or lustful desire, to the spiritual – purity, chastity, sobriety, and continence.

“To the fleshly belong the love of this world, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life, (I St. John 2:16.) and worldly wisdom, to the spiritual – disdain of the world and its vanity, and the wisdom of heavenly and eternal good things. In a word, to the fleshly birth belongs evil habit, and to the spiritual – virtue.

And so, we see how comprehensive is the notion of purity of heart. It means purity; it means cleanliness, in all our thoughts, deeds, and words, and even in our motivations. It means that our only motivations in doing good are love of God and love of neighbour. (See St. Luke 10:27.) The practice of virtue, for example, form motives that are not pure negates the virtue, and therefore whatever good is perhaps accomplished in the practice of a particular virtue is cancelled out, insofar as our spiritual life is concerned.

Is purity of heart possible? We know that it is from the lives of countless Saints. Saint Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 330- ca. 395) asks if the Lord would

“Command something so great that it completely surpasses our nature and the limits of its power? Surely not. He does not tell those He does not provided with wings to become birds, nor does He bid creatures He has destined to sojourn on land to live in the water. The law is adapted to the capacities of those that receive it in everything else, and nothing is enforced that is beyond nature.”(Ancient Christian writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation.)

Therefore, purity of heart is most assuredly possible.

To the pure in heart Christ promises that “they shall see God.” (St. Matthew 5:8.) All men shall see God in the life to come. However, those who have refined their selfless love and practice of virtue to the highest degree, and who are therefore truly pure in heart, will actually see God in this life and in the next. It is through the eyes that one perceives the physical world. Physical sight operates through the reception of light through the lenses of the eyes. It is through the heart that one perceives the spiritual world. Spiritual sight operates through the reception of spiritual light into the heart. The heart that s clean, that is free from the distortions and filth of sin, that is crystal clear in its purity, will be granted the vision of the Light of the Uncreated Energies of God. To this the hosts of the Saints and the Holy Church Fathers testify. To this Saint Seraphim of Sarow (1759-1833) testifies, when we read that he was surrounded by the Light of God`s Uncreated Energies, a Light so powerful that it visibly illuminated the darkened landscape of the Russian winter all round him. (Little Russian Philokalia).

Let us strive most of all for purity of heart. It is, as the Fathers counsel, a condition that requires constant labour throughout one`s life. It requires diligence, and, above all, as we discussed earlier, absolute watchfulness over oneself and one`s thoughts and actions. The reward for such diligence and watchfulness is the vision of God, forever.

We read in a passage from the writings of Saint Hesychios of Sina (fl. 8th cent.?). published in The Philokalia, the following.

“We should zealously cultivate watchfulness, my brethren; and when – our mind purified in Christ Jesus – we are exalted by the vision it confers, we should review our sins and our former life, so that shattered and humbled at the thought of them we may never lose the help of Jesus Christ our God n the invisible battle. If because of pride, selfesteem or self-love we are deprived of Jesus`s help, we shall lose that purity of heart through which God is known to man. For, as the Beatitudes states, purity of heart is the ground for the vision of God. (St. Hesychios the Priest, “On Watchfulness and Holiness, Written for Theodoulos, London: Faber & Faber, 1979). P. 171.

SERMON EIGHT

“BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS”

The seventh of the Beatitudes of Christ Jesus is “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (St. Matthew 5:9.) Peace is an attribute of the very nature of God, while intrinsic to the nature of fallen mankind is conflict: conflict great and conflicts small. Directly associated with the peace that is an attribute of God s God`s unity and His desire for unity of mind among men, a unity based, of course, upon truth. By way if contrast, mankind inclines toward diversity of mind in all things and, hence, to conflict, war, hatred, discord, quarrels, and dissension. “God is love,” (See I John 4:8, 16.) and so wishes to bring mankind together in His love. Men, for the most part, reject God`s wishes and strive to divide, and so alienate one from another, in a spirit of perpetual hostility and strife. Since the fall of Adam, my beloved children in Christ, that is the lot of the human race.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (St. Matthew 5:9.) – in what sense are committed Christians called to be peacemakers? They are called to that by Christ, despite the fact that Christ Himself tells us that even near the end of time, we “shall hear of wars and rumour of wars.” (St. Matthew 24:6.) Our own Saint Philaret of New York (1903-1985) pointed out these words of Christ`s and noted, “With these words, the Lord refutes all statements that war is avoidable.” (Metropolitan Philaret, On the Law of God, p. 64.) Until Christ comes again, mankind will never enjoy universal peace. Moreover, it is clear that since God in Truth, Christians may not properly be advocates of peace at any price. When, to consider a recent example, the United States was arrayed with its allies against the rapacious, anti-God, satanocratic murder machine that was Bolshevism, it became necessary to defend civilization against that barbarous world menace, which sought not only the destruction of the freedom, property, and lives of opponents, but which sought to rob men of their very souls. And there are other like examples from history, examples that warn us against peace at any price: the peace of the universal graveyard, the peace of the universal madhouse, or the peace of the universal concentration camp. Christians must not nurture naivete about such realities.

However, Christ was not addressing his words exclusively to the leaders of nations, those entrusted by God with decisions of peace and war. His words He addressed, on the occasion of His Sermon on the Mount, to simple men, and so it s clear that what Christ had primarily in mind was not political peace, but peace at the level of the individual person, of the family, of the neighbourhood, and of the community. Here it is that we are called upon to be peacemakers. We are peacemakers, first of all, in our own personal lives. Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes:

“I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind, but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.” ( St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord`s Prayer/ The Beatitudes, p. 165.)

That is to say, we achieve peace within ourselves when we follow the law of God in all things. Another Holy Father, Saint Jerome of Bethlehem, writes similarly:

“The peacemakers are called blessed who first make peace within their own heart, and then between their dissident brethren. For what does it profit you to make peace between others, while vice is at war within your own heart.” (The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 468.)

We are peacemakers when we banish hostility toward our neighbours and put our hearts, minds, and spirits at peace. Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes also:

“The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is without affinity and foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within resentment of injuries smouldering in the heart. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord`s Prayer/The Beatitudes, p. 164.)

Instead, the Saint counsels us, all of this evil is to be replaced in ourselves “by charity, joy, peace, benignity, [and] magnanimity.” (Ibid) We are blessed when we achieve peace in ourselves, the Saint tells us, since in doing so we “imitate the gifts of God” (Ibid) and we come closer in our beings to the Nature of God. And so, first on the agendum of the peacemaker is the making of peace within ourselves and then with our brethren. Yet, Christ expects more. As Saint John Chrysostomos says, “…He not only takes away altogether our own strife and hatred amongst ourselves, but He requires besides this something more, namely, that we should set at one again others, who are at strife.” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew,” p. 94.)

Following what we have just discussed, we must make peace in our own hearts and, in doing so, make peace with our fellow man. Yet, as Saint John Chrysostomos says, we must also do more by seeking peace among our neighbours, to reconcile each to the other and all to God. Saint John of Kronstadt declares:

“We must also strive to reconcile others who are warring amongst themselves, if we can; and if we cannot, then we must pray to God for their reconciliation, for what we cannot do, God, who can make even a brutal heart lamblike, can.” (St. John of Kronstadt, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, p. 82.)

Let us now encapsulate al that we have discussed thus far. Christ God directs us to bring to our own lives. We do that by bringing spiritual harmony to our lives, in our struggle against sin. As long as sin prevails, we will experience inward conflict. We must put at end to that inward conflict by submission to God. We enhance the peace that spiritual harmony confers by making peace with the other people we encounter in our lives: family members, friends, and neighbours. This is realized by eradicating feelings of hatred, revenge, envy, hypocrisy, pride, and related evils within our hearts. It is often a hard thing to make peace with others. Our pride tells us that we are right and others are wrong, and that justice requires that our adversary take the first step toward healing enmity, not us. When overweening pride holds sway, peace is expelled from our hearts and held at bay. Therefore, let us take the first step and engender the sweetness and beauty that is peace. In achieving that, we bring peace to our internal selves, and we therefore become the peacemakers that Christ Jesus blesses.

Finally, we are asked to bring peace to our family, friends, and neighbours by seeking to heal the discord among others, discord in which we may not be directly involved. If we volunteer to be peacemakers in such circumstances, we are not guaranteed success, since the outcome involves the passion and the wills of others. By sincerely trying, however, we gather our spiritual reward regardless of success or failure. Whatever the eventual outcome, we pray for peace among our brothers and sisters in Christ, in the certain knowledge that God will answer our prayers.

As we must not be foolish about peace in political questions that clearly involve the possible triumph of evil, we must not be foolish about the possibilities of peace in the realm of the things of God. In theological matters, one cannot compromise, blending truth and error, for the sake of an illusion of peace, a peace abhorrent to God. We must be peaceable to those in error, sectarians and non-believers, and treat them with graciousness and patience, never subjecting them to persecution. Yet we cannot bring about a false unity of mind between the representatives of God`s truth and those in error.

What is the reward for peacemakers? Peacemakers, Christ promises “shall be called the children of God.” (St. Matthew 5:9.) What does this title confer? Saint John of Kronstadt declares it to be

“the greatest honour before all the angels and all the people: for there is no greater honour for a mortal person that to be called a son of the immortal and blessed God and to himself become immortal and blessed and inherit the kingdom of Heaven, having become an heir of God. ( Galatians 4:7.) and the co-inheritor of Christ. (Romans 8:17.)

Do any here wish not to become the children of God, in the extraordinary sense in which God grants to them His immortality and makes them heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven? Surely none here would refuse that honour if offered. It is offered, as we have seen, by Christ in the Seventh Beatitude.

We need only make peace with ourselves, by obedience to God`s Law, and crush our prideful egos, by making peace with our neighbours, neighbours meaning all the other persons with whom we have contact – family, friends, and acquaintances. Having succeeded in these things, we must try to bring peace among our neighbours, if that is possible. May we all resolve to be peacemakers and thereby claim our eternal legacy.

SERMON NINE

“BLESSED ARE THEY WHICH ARE PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS` SAKE”

Persecution is properly the lot of Christians. This is so because Christians, if they are true to the teachings of Christ and live the Orthodox way of life, stand athwart the ways of the world, which, inevitably, are centred on the earthly, the worldly, and the fleshly. Thus, Christ promises, in the Eighth Beatitude, “Blessed are they, which are persecuted for righteousness` sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:10) Saint Theophylaktos of Ohrid writes, in his Gospel commentary:

“It is not only the martyrs who are persecuted; many others are persecuted as well, for helping those who have been wronged, and simply for every virtue which they possess. For “righteousness” means every virtue. (St. Matthew 5:10.)

Saint John of Kronstadt declares:

“By righteousness, we mean the Christian faith, of life according to Christ`s commandments. Thus, blessed are those who are persecuted for faith and piety, for good deeds, for constancy and steadfastness in the faith. (The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact, the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, p. 46.)

It is clear, then, that the persecution to which Christ Jesus refers is that which one suffer for the sake of virtue, goodness, and truth.

Persecution comes in many forms. The early Christians stepped forth into the world of the pagan Roman Empire, which, immersed in sin, corruption, and extreme, and extreme materialism, could not have been more hostile to the teachings of Christ. For their quiet resolve to stand with Christ and against the world, they were crucified, burned alive, fed to wild beasts, beheaded, and otherwise martyred in many different ways. Some were sent to forced labour, where they quickly perished from the harshness of conditions. The situation just described was repeated during the occupation of Christian lands by the Turks, beginning in the seventh century and continuing into the twentieth, and again after the triumph of Bolshevism in Russia and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century. The persecution and martyrdom of Christians in these historical epochs were of a magnitude that can only be described as gargantuan. The courage of these Martyrs, legendary and celebrated, amazes each successive generations of Christians, filling them with inspiration and zeal. That is why it has been said that “the blood of Christians is [the] seed [of the Church].” Now, let us consider more subtle forms of persecution.

During the later Soviet period, it was official government policy to deny higher education and employment to persons who were seen regularly visiting Churches, who showed interest in religion, or who, for example, requested religious instruction and Baptism. Priests were required, during that time, to report such events to the atheistic authorities, with a threat of grave consequences should they fail to follow these requirements. For all Christian believers, labour camps or psychiatric prisons were among the primary threats during the final years of Soviet rule, and huge numbers suffered.

We who live in what used to be called “the Free World” should not nurse complacency and imagine that the persecution of the righteous takes place only in foreign lands. In the contemporary United States and Western Europe, while religious freedom ostensibly prevails, the secularizing tendency of government authorities during the last sixty years and the associated decline in religious belief, along with the overwhelming domination of the mass media (periodicals, radio, television, and movies) and government schools by anti-Christian ideologues, has lead to persecutions, some affecting educational opportunities and some the ability of men and women to support themselves and their families. The future promises persecution growing out of the increasingly pagan schemata of establishment officialdom, and will likely be centred on the enforcement of “political correctness.” Government may demand compliance in changing the emphasis in religion from spiritual and moral matters to socio-political ones. It could, for example, mean demands that all churches allow same-sex marriages or end all objections to abortion, to mention only two of the aims of militant “progressives.” The darkening clouds of evil thus gather over us with ever greater menace.

There is yet another, more stealthy form of persecution that will not address. Protopresbyter Georges Vasilievich Florovsky (1893-1979), in his renowned essay “St. John Chrysostom: The Prophet of Charity,” writes of the period just after the legalization of Christianity in the Fourth century as follows: “Prosperity was for… [Saint John] a danger, the worst kind of persecution, worse than an open persecution. Nobody sees dangers. Prosperity breeds carelessness. Men fall asleep, and the devil kills the sleepy.” Here is a form of persecution, a silent kind of persecution, that does not readily present itself to our minds and so is almost never contemplated. It is a form of persecution about which only a small handful of Orthodox Christians are even vaguely aware: material prosperity. This is not a persecution launched directly by other men, but a clever device of the Evil One. We are accustomed to think of persecution as something that causes physical or emotional pain, or both. But the persecution to which Father Florovsky refers is one that achieves its ends through the opposite of pain, through seemingly agreeable conditions. Yet this is a pleasantness akin to that produced by certain drugs. The euphoria produced by material wealth, as with the euphoria produced by certain drugs, is accompanied by distinct dangers. In the case of drugs, the danger is that of death, whereas in the case of material prosperity, the danger of spiritual death.

Affluence, if it is allowed to dominate the life of a Christian, paralyzes the conscience, strangles spiritual life, and, as Father Florovsky says, induces sleep insofar as awareness of eternity is concerned. This last kind of persecution attacks the soul directly and so is the most dangerous, the one to which the majority of use is exposed. One prays for the peace and prosperity of one`s nation or family, and there is nothing wrong in that. However, this is both a question of degree and a question of one`s attitude of mind. Material prosperity, if it comes as the result of injustice or if it results in selfish pursuit of an opulent way of life divorced from all other considerations, such as charity, most particularly will, with utter certainty, kill the soul.

Saint John of Kronstadt asks in one of his homilies:

“But why does the world persecute the true faith, piety, and righteousness which are so salutary for people, introducing as they do unity, mutual love, god morals, peace, quiet, and order into fragmented human societies? (St. John of Kronstadt, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, p. 88.)

He answers his question in these words:

Because `the whole world lieth in wickedness,` (St. John 5:19.) people `love evil more than good,` (Psalms 51:5.) `and the prince of this tice. Evil, debauched people have always hated the righteous and persecuted them, and they will go on hating and persecuting them.` (St. John of Kronstadt, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, p. 88.)So we see, then, that persecution can take many forms and that it is an instrument of the Evil One in his war against God and against humanity, directed toward separating man from God.

How, we may ask, does the Christian react to persecution? The Christian strives, first of all, for righteousness, that is, for a life filled with virtue. Doing that, the Christian will be worthy of persecution. If one is nominally a Christian, but never experiences any sort of persecution, not even petty persecution, for the sake of righteousness, then one must ask if he is really striving for virtue, or if his Christianity is all simply a matter of empty, external observances. Next, the Christian will develop within the heart a complete trust in God and a deep love for God`s truth. He will be resolute in his faith and thus never yield to error or compromise with evil, threats notwithstanding. His hope will be focused on God, regardless of the suffering he may have to endure. Finally, he will face the future courageously, knowing that, when all is said and done, God will shield his soul and bring him to safe harbour. In the early centuries of Christianity, and during the Ottoman Yoke and the Communist Yoke, all ages and classes of people, including “both young men and maidens; old men, and children,” (Psalms 148:12.) faced unspeakable horrors without flinching, with the calm bravery of the best combat soldiers. We must be prepared to do precisely the same, whatever, form the persecution inflicted upon us might take.

Let us end with the words of one of the great Holy Church Fathers, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, from his homily on the Eighth Beatitude. The Saint tells us that persecution steadfastly borne, whether it be torture, threat of death, deprivation of livelihood, separation from loved ones, or whatever, purifies our souls, turning them to God. Hence the promises that those persecuted for the sake of righteousness will possess “the Kingdom of Heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:10.) Saint Gregory explains:

But when the living word…penetrates into a man who has truly received the faith, it cuts through the things that have badly grown together, and disrupts the fetters of habit. Then he will throw off the worldly pleasures bound to his soul, lie a runner casts a burden from his shoulders, and will run light and nimble through the fighting ring, since he guided in his course by the president of the contest Himself. For he looks not to the things he has left behind, but to those that come hereafter, and so goes forward to the Good that lies beneath him. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord`s Prayer/The Beatitudes, p. 171.)

SERMON TEN

“BLESSED ARE YE, WHEN MEN SHALL REVILE YOU, AND PERSECUTE YOU, AND SHALL SAY ALL MANNER OF EVIL AGAINST

YOU FALSELY, FOR MY SAKE”

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:11-12.) This is the Ninth Beatitude, the ninth category of men and women whom Christ calls blessed and to whom He promises wonderous rewards in the life to come.

In his famed “Fifteenth Homily on the Gospel of Saint Matthew,” Saint John Chrysostomos remarks that many of the things enumerated by Christ as worthy of blessedness are the very things that worldly minded men seek to escape: poverty, mourning, persecution, and having evil spoken falsely against one. (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, p. 95.) These are things one is inclined to avoid, to run from. Yet these are the things that save us, that bring us closer to God`s Nature, and that make us worthy of God`s embrace.

Now, what precisely is Christ Jesus saying in His Ninth Beatitudes? He is saying that men are blessed if they are reviled, if they are persecuted, and if they are the target of slander, that is, if their names are blackened unjustly. If evil is spoken against a man that is true, then, of course, that man is not blessed. As Saint Theophylaktos of Ohrid declares, such a man “is a wretch, as he has been a cause of temptation to many.” If we say of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), for example, that he was one of the greatest mass murderers in history, probably the all-time bloodiest insofar as sheer numbers are concerned, and that he was cruel, monstrous, and an evildoer on a scale of near unimaginable immensity, speaking these truths about the Soviet dictator does not, obviously, make him blessed. So the evil spoken against someone must be false.

But Christ ends the sentence with one more qualifier, and that is, “for My sake.” (St. Matthew 5:12.) Persons suffer persecution and slander for many reasons; because of petty disagreements with neighbours, because of oddities in their deportment or character, because of their unpopular political opinions, because of their ethnic origins, or whatnot. These, however, do not meet Christ`s requirements for blessedness. The reviling, the persecuting, and the slandering must be suffered for the sake of Christ, for the sake of His Church, or for the sake of His virtuous way of life, if the suffering is spiritually tp transform the sufferer and make them blessed. How, we may ask, is this accomplished?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa points out that suffering for Christ`s sake cleanses the psyche of impurities. The fallen psyche associates sin with pleasure, while suffering tends to drive away al thoughts of seeking pleasure. As Saint Gregory writes, “…[A]s sin entered through pleasure, it is exterminated by the opposite.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The lord`s Prayer/The Beatitudes, p. 172.) He goes on to say:

“So if men persecute others for confessing the Lord and invent the most intolerable tortures, they bring, through these sufferings, a remedy for souls, for by applying pain they heal the disease caused by pleasure. Thus [Saint] Paul receives the cross, [Saint] James [the Brother of the Lord (ca, 4 B.C.-A.D. 62)] the sword; (See Acts 12:2.) [Saint] Stephen [the Protomartyr (+34)] the stones, (See Acts 7:59.) the blessed [Saint] Peter [the Apostle (+ca. 67)] is crucified head downwards. …All these and other things like them the Saints have embraced with joy as a purification from sin. And so pleasure has left no trace impressed on the heart, for the piercing sensation of pain effaced all the imprints it had stamped on the soul. Therefore, Blessed are those who suffer persecution for my sake. (St. Matthew 5:12.)

Saint Gregory speaks in the foregoing passage about persecution, primarily physical persecution and the bodily pain associated with that form of persecution. Let us look closely at those that are reviled and who have evil things – “all manner of evil,” (St. Matthew 5:11.) as Christ said – spoken against them falsely for the sake of Christ`s truth. This is actually another form of persecution, one that is in some ways even harder to endure than physical pain. As saint John Chrysostomos puts it, “For most assuredly, men`s evil reports have a sharper bite than their very deeds.” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew p. 96.)

The early Christians were so reviled and slandered by the pagans. It is said that Christians were guilty of scandalous and impure rituals during the Divine Liturgy, which in those days was celebrated privately. They were even accused of cannibalism, among many other false accusations. These were calumnies that brought harsh and painful judgements on them from their non-Christian friends and neighbours, and doubtless they suffered tremendously as a result, knowing that the gossip was all a bundle of vicious lies, but that they were powerless to silence the enemies of Christ.

A number of the Saints endured such persecution, having their names and reputations damaged or ruined by malicious gossip and falsehood. And this they experienced because their conspicuous holiness and dedication to virtue made them stand out from the more spiritually unexceptional people around them. Thus, although they were vilified and smeared by fellow Orthodox Christians, they were nonetheless reviled, persecuted, and slandered for the sake of Christ Jesus.

The last Empress of Russia, Saint Alexandra the Tsarina-Martyr (1872-1918), a convert to Orthodoxy from the Lutheranism of her native Germany, was ridiculed by the pleasure-loving nobility of Saint Petersburg for her great piety and love of Christ. She took her newfound religion very seriously, while many cradle Orthodox in the Imperial Court did not. Against her was spoken “all manner of evil,” (St. Matthew 5:11.) from the moment of her coronation until the moment of her death.

Saint John of San Francisco was repeatedly a victim of such evil. The peculiarities, the seeming oddities, of his intensely spiritual outlook and way of life were a source of irritation to those wedded to the world. And so they attempted, though failed, to murder his reputation.

The same was true for the great Saint Nektarios of Aegina (1846-1920), whose wisdom, decency, humility, and dedication to his flock as Metropolitan of Pentapolis brought down upon his head the hatred and jealousy of others. He was removed as Metropolitan because of false rumours of scandal and immorality, and so he returned from Egypt to Greece and took up the humble post of a preacher and, later, director of a school, where he taught theology.

Saint Alexandra the Tsarina-Martyr, John of San Francisco, and Nektarios of Aegina accepted revilement and slander as part of their calling as Christians and never thought in terms of retaliation. Saint John of Kronstadt, who was also reviled by his enemies, speaks of the early Martyr-Saints as follows.

…[T]hey had a kingly spirit, kingly greatness, invincible patience, and with their faith and by their patience they shamed all their tormentor-kings and governors. …See how the word and the all-powerful grace of the immortal King-Christ strengthened them, see how strikingly Christ`s power manifested itself in these weak vessels! (St. John of Kronstadt, Ten homilies on the Beatitudes, pp. 91-92.)

Yes, and precisely the same accolades are earned by those who suffered the bloodless persecution of revilement and slander as were earned by those who were tortured and killed. (Saint Alexandra receives double the accolades and rewards, since she suffered both.)

I have mentioned only three such Saints, but there are doubtless numerous others who suffered revilement, persecution, and slander form the sake of Christ. Orthodox Christians venerate the Saints for several reasons, and among these is that they offer outstanding examples to us, revealing to us an ideal against which we may measure ourselves and toward which we may strive. Should any of us be so blessed as to suffer revilement and persecution, should any of us have “all manner of evil” (St. Matthew 5:11.) spoken falsely against us for the sake of Christ, then, like the aforementioned Saints, we should accept this trial as one that has the power to purify us and to transform us. At the same time, let us be certain that we never participate in such evil.

Christ promises to the victims of these forms of persecution, “Great is your reward in Heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:12.) As to the fate of those who revile, persecute, and speak all manner of evil against their brother or sister, one can only speculate. I refer, here, especially to the sin of gossip. Gossip is one of the deadliest of poisons, one of the most evil of evils, and one of the most lethal of sins. We need not concern ourselves about whether gossip is true or false – no gossip whatsoever should be spoken by Christians. About the reviler, the persecutor, the speaker of “all manner of evil,” (St. Matthew 5:11.”) the gossip, one can only say that without sincere repentance, it is difficult to imagine a good outcome at the judgement Seat of Christ.

Let us conclude with a quotation from Saint Gregory of Nyssa. “…[A]ffliction,” he states,

“is the flower that will yield the hoped-for fruits. Hence let us pick the flower for the sake of the fruit, …Let us not be sorrowful, then, if we are persecuted, but rather let us rejoice, because by being chased away from earthly honours, we are driven toward the heavenly Good. For this He has promised, that those who have been persecuted for His sake shall be blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven…. (St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Lord`s Prayer/The Beatitudes, pp. 174-175.)

SERMON ELEVEN

“THE BEATITUDES IN THE GOSPEL OF SAINT LUKE”

In then past ten discussions, we have surveyed the Beatitudes of Christ Jesus as they were recorded in the fifth chapter of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew. However, Saint Luke the Apostle also records Christ`s Beatitudes in the sixth chapter of his Holy Gospel, where they are set down in a more concise fashion.

They read:

“And He lifted up His eyes on His Disciples, and said, `Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man`s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in Heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the Prophets.` ( St. Luke 6:20-23.)

It might appear at first reading that the Beatitudes of Saint Luke`s Gospel are more earthbound and rather less spiritually aligned, since they speak, for instance, of simply the “poor,” (St. Luke 6:20.) not “the poor in spirit,” ( St. Matthew 5:3.) and those “that hunger,” (St. Luke 6:21.) not those that “which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” (St. Matthew 5:6.) Contemporary commentators of a modernist bent often take that view. But let us examine this matter more fully.

In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, there are only four Beatitudes, encompassing the poor, those that hunger, those that weep, and those that are hated for the sake of Christ. Regarding the difference, we must first be aware that the story of the life and teachings of Christ Jesus was initially, and for some decades, an oral tradition, passed with great care from person to person. And in recording Christ`s life and teachings in written form, it happens that while one Holy Evangelist placed stress on some particular aspect of that oral tradition, another focused more clearly on a somewhat different aspect. Had all the Holy Evangelists recorded precisely the same things, in more or less the same words, we would not need four Gospels, but only one. As it is, we have four and those four complement and supplement one another, comprising together a single picture, a single history, and a single body of teachings.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria explains:

“But the Evangelists speak in this manner, not as contradicting one another, but as dividing oftentimes the narrative among them; and at one time they recapitulate the same particulars, and at another that which has been omitted by one, another includes in his narrative, that nothing essential for their benefit may be hidden from those who believe on Christ. (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, p. 129.)

Saint Ambrose of Milan states, “Saint Luke presents only four of the Lord`s Beatitudes, but Saint Matthew eight. But those four are in these eight, and these eight are in those four.” (Saint Ambrose, incidentally, mentions eight rather than nine Beatitudes in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew since, as is often done in the writings of the Latin Fathers, he counts the last two Beatitudes as one.) A few pages later, Saint Ambrose continues this thought:

“Now, let us say how Saint Luke encompassed the eight blessings in the four…. And, indeed, we know that there are four cardinal virtues: temperance, justice, and fortitude. He who is poor in spirit is not greedy; he who weeps is not proud, but is meek and tranquil; he who mourns is humble; he who is just does not deny what he knows is given jointly to all for us; he who is merciful confers of his own; he who bestows his own does not seek another`s, nor does he contrive a trap for his neighbour. Then, the virtues are interwoven and interlinked, so that he who has one may be seen to have several….” (Ibid.)

In other words, the way of life prescribed by the longer series of Beatitudes by Saint Matthew in no manner differs from the way of life prescribed by the shorter version of Saint Luke. And what is that way of life? It is a virtuous way of life, a way of life that is ever cognizant of the primacy of spiritual and eternal realities over and above the supposed realities of this short life. This thought is accentuated in Saint Luke`s Gospel in the passages in which Christ declares four “woes,” immediately after the declaration of the four Beatitudes. He says:

“But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are! Full ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (St. Luke 6:24-26.)

Christ`s “woes” say, in essence, “Woe unto you who have placed all of your hopes on the pleasures and the approval of this world and who live only for the sake of yourselves.”

Certainly, these passages from Saint Luke are applicable to earthly situations. It is frequently the case that poor people, those deprived of luxuries and burdened with great hardship just to survive, those who sometimes suffer hunger, those who sometimes weep in distress over their poverty, and those who are hated and despised for their inconsequential standing in the world, are inclined by their almost hopeless circumstances to turn to God. They tend to eschew any notions of self-sufficiency, that they are wholly the masters of their own fate, which for them is a ridiculous idea. Since they have nothing, they are less reliant on the comfort of material things and so tend to look to God as their comfort. They are wont to be humble and meek in dealings with others, since their station in life is a lowly one. Because of these broad, axiomatic observation about the poor, poverty, in the Gospels and in the writings of the Holy Fathers, is a metaphor for a particular attitude of mind.

Hence, Saint Ambrose tells us, “Not all the poor are blessed, for poverty is neutral. The poor can be either good or evil….” And the Saint goes on to write:

“Blessed is the poor man who cried, and the Lord heard him, (Psalm 33:7.) the man poor in offence, the man poor in vices, the poor man in whom the prince of this world finds nothing, (See St. John 14:30.) the poor match of that Poor Man [Christ] Who, although He was rich, became poor for our sake. (See II Corinthians 8:9.)

Elsewhere, Saint Ambrose writes, “…He condemns not those who have riches, but those who know to use them.” (Ibid.) Saint Cyril comments in like fashion, enhancing our understanding:

“It seems likely…that by poor, whom He pronounces blessed, He here means such as care not for wealth, and are superior to covetousness, and despisers of base gifts, and of a disposition free from the love of money, and who set no value upon the ostentatious display of riches. (St. Cyril of Alexandria, commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, p. 129.)

So, whether one is poor, hungry, sorrowful, or despised in the earthly sense is of less importance than how one`s earthly status and situation affects one`s approach to life. We have seen this already in our ten discussions of the Beatitudes as presented by Saint Matthew. If one is deprived of earthly comforts and yet avoids pride, envy, jealously, acquisitiveness, and associated sins, places his hope and trust in God, and loves his neighbour, or, conversely, if one is comparatively comfortable and avoids those same sins, holds fast to virtue, and places his spiritual priorities first, then one may be blessed irrespective of one`s station in life.

Finally, in Saint Luke`s Gospel, Christ God sets down the following command for Christians: “But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (St. Luke 6:27-28.) Here is a sublime passage that epitomizes all of the truths brought forth in the whole of the Beatitudes, whether of Saint Matthew or Saint Luke. The selfish man, the, man who wallows in luxury and worldly pleasures, the man who gives no thought for eternity, the man who crushes and destroys opponents without a second thought, the man who ignores God, would never likely love his enemy, would never do good to anyone who hates him, would never bless them that curse him, and would certainly never pray for anyone who despitefully use him (if indeed, he would pray at all). For the man immersed totally in this world, for the man immersed totally in himself, such things are impossible. My beloved children in Christ, only men and women who have made the Beatitudes of Christ a living actuality in their lives are capable of compassion for adversaries and so capable of these blessed thoughts and deeds.

In this connection, let us end today with words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, who writes:

“Great is the glory of compassion, and so verily it is written, the man is a great thing, and the merciful man an honourable thing. For virtue restores us to the form of God, and imprints on our souls certain characters as it were of the supreme nature. (St Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, p. 137.)

SERMON TWELVE

SUMMATION

This is the twelfth and last sermon on the series concerning the Beatitudes of Christ, and therefore, here is the summation of Christ`s message and investigate its overall significance for Christians.

We have, during the past three months, spoken of many things. We began by determining that the word “beatitude” signifies someone or something that is blessed in the eyes of God and that is, consequently, pleasing to God. Those persons or things that are pleasing to God are set apart from the ordinary things of this world, which ordinary things either have no spiritual significance or are hostile to God.

In the weeks following that, we examined each of the Beatitudes. “The poor in spirit,” (St Matthew 5:3.) are those who are truly humble before God and man and who sincerely repent of their sins. That is, who have turned away from a life of sin. “They that mourn” (St. Matthew 5:4.) are those so pained by the alienation from God that is a product of sin that they literally mourn and weep for past sins. “The meek” (St. Matthew 5:5.) are men and women who are mild in their manner, and gentle, patient, kind, and slow to anger. They are, moreover, stable in their relationships with others, yet are capable of righteous anger when that is appropriate to the situation.

About those “which do hunger and thirst after righteousness,” (St. Matthew 5:6.) we said that these persons who strive for “the whole virtue,” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, on the Gospel of St. Matthew,) to use the words of Saint John Chrysostomos, and who strive for it as forcefully as a starving man seeks after food or a thirsty man seeks after water. In other words, such men love God above all else and they make their lives pleasing to Him Whom they love. “The merciful” (St Matthew 5:7.) are those who love their neighbour and who demonstrate that love by their compassion toward neighbours who lack the necessities of life or who otherwise suffer, a compassion that is actualized by generosity and hospitality. Mercy is shown too by prayer and by the extension of forgiveness and love to those who have wronged us in some way.

“The pure in heart” (St Matthew 5:8. Are men and women who have achieved notable success in the bridling of their passions, so that all that they think, say, or do is pure, and clean, and morally acceptable to God. “The peacemakers,” (St. Matthew 5:9.) knowing that peace and oneness of mind in truth are pleasing to God, actively work to achieve those ends. This they do firstly by bringing peace to their own souls, quieting the inner war between sin and goodness that rages inside all of us, allowing goodness to win; this they do secondly at the level of their own personal lives, within their family and their circle of friends and neighbours; and this they do by setting aside and conquering overweening pride, the enemy of all that is virtuous.

“They which are persecuted for righteousness` sake” (St. Matthew 5:10.) stand so steadfastly for their faith in God that they willingly, and without hesitation, suffer deprivation, imprisonment, torture, and even death rather than forsake that which is good, which is right, which is virtuous, and which is pleasing to God. Finally, those who are reviled, persecuted, and slandered for the sake of Christ are those who are prepared to remain faithful to God even when “all manner of evil” (St Matthew 5:11.) is spoken falsely against them, so that their reputation and good name are threatened with destruction.

And so here we have the nine Beatitudes, nine categories of holiness, of blessedness, of saintliness, which bring to the blessed everlasting rewards. Christ, mentioning each of the categories of blessedness, enumerates the rewards proper to each: To one He promises the Kingdom of Heaven, to another comfort, to another the inheritance of the earth, to another fullness, to another mercy, to another the sight of God, to another adoption as children of God, and to yet another a great Heavenly reward. All of these rewards, as must be evident to us, are different ways of saying the same thing: that the blessed of God, who persevere in their blessedness to the end of their days, will live in eternal and perfect happiness with God in the life to come. This is the treasure for which all men of good will struggle.

This is the treasure of which Saint Gregory of Nyssa speaks when he says:

“Supposing an avaricious man chanced upon a document supplying information of the place of a treasure, but its position was such that it would involve much sweat and labour for anyone wanting to obtain it. Do you think such a man would be discouraged by the difficulties and slow to take his advantage? Would he think the absence of the fatigue his eagerness might bring him, more pleasant than riches? Surely not. But he would summon all his friends to aid him in this enterprise; he would collect the help of a crowd of people from wherever possible, and thus make the hidden treasure his own. This is the treasure, brethren, which the document indicates; but the wealth is hidden in obscurity. Therefore, let us, too, who desire the pure gold, use a multitude of hands, that is to say, prayers, so that the treasure may be brought to light, that all may divide it equally, and each may possess it whole. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord`s Prayer/The Beatitudes, p. 86.)

So, an indestructible and everlasting treasure is sought, and is guaranteed by Christ to those who faithfully follow Him.

It is evident, too, that these nine categories of blessedness are wholly interdependent upon one another. One cannot be a model of perfection in only one of these categories and ignore the others. One cannot stand before the Judgement Seat, for example, and offer as a defence that he has been merciful to someone at some time, but has never sought after the remaining virtues and was, apart from the one instance of showing mercy, corrupt, worldly, and faithless to Christ. Such meagreness of faith would be for naught. It naturally follows that all the virtues go together.

In this regard, Saint John Chrysostomos writes:

“And observe too, after how many commandments He hath put this: for surely He did it not without reason, but to show that it not possible for one unprovided, and unarmed with all those other virtues, to go forth unto these conflicts. Therefore, you see, in each instance, by the former percept making way for the following one, He hath woven a sort of golden chain for us. Thus, first, he that is `humble,` will surely also `mourn` for his own sins: he that so `mourns,` will be both `meek,` and `righteous,` and `merciful;` he that is `merciful,` and `righteous,` and `contrite` will of course be also `pure in heart:` and such a one will be `peacemaker` too: and he that hath attained unto all these, will be moreover arrayed against dangers, and will not be troubled when evil s spoken of him, and he is enduring grievous trials innumerable. (The Homlies of St. John Chrysostom, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, p. 96.)

My beloved children in Christ, the Beatitudes are a kind of blueprint for the building of a God-pleasing life, or, one might say, a kind of road map that leads one who follows it to Heaven. The Beatitudes are also an antidote to the disease, the spiritual disease, that is the distinctive feature of contemporary life, a mode of life that Saint John of Kronstadt called a `kind of animal faith devoid of obligation.` (St. John of Kronstadt, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, p. 95.) May we build according to that blueprint. May we follow the straight path of that road map. May we consume that antidote to spiritual disease, that `medicine of immortality.” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians: Shorter and Longer versions.)

Let us end the series of discussions of the Beatitudes of Christ with the words of our Saint John of Kronstadt:

“In the beginning the human being was created by God in Beatitude and for Beatitude, and eternal beatitude at that. But then sin came into the world through a single person and destroyed people`s beatitude, subjecting them to damnation, many various sorrows, misfortunes, sickness, and finally, both temporary and eternal death. …The way to the restoration of the fallen human being is the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. …The way back to beatitude lies in following Christ`s teaching through all of one`s life, in partaking of the sacraments, and through obeying lawful pastors and teachers. There is no other path to beatitude…. (St John of Kronstadt, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, p. 18.)

“BLESSED ARE YE, WHEN MEN SHALL REVILE YOU, AND PERSECUTE YOU, AND SHALL SAY ALL MANNER OF EVIL AGAINST

YOU FALSELY, FOR MY SAKE”

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:11-12.) This is the Ninth Beatitude, the ninth category of men and women whom Christ calls blessed and to whom He promises wonderous rewards in the life to come.

In his famed “Fifteenth Homily on the Gospel of Saint Matthew,” Saint John Chrysostomos remarks that many of the things enumerated by Christ as worthy of blessedness are the very things that worldly minded men seek to escape: poverty, mourning, persecution, and having evil spoken falsely against one. (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, p. 95.) These are things one is inclined to avoid, to run from. Yet these are the things that save us, that bring us closer to God`s Nature, and that make us worthy of God`s embrace.

Now, what precisely is Christ Jesus saying in His Ninth Beatitudes? He is saying that men are blessed if they are reviled, if they are persecuted, and if they are the target of slander, that is, if their names are blackened unjustly. If evil is spoken against a man that is true, then, of course, that man is not blessed. As Saint Theophylaktos of Ohrid declares, such a man “is a wretch, as he has been a cause of temptation to many.” If we say of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), for example, that he was one of the greatest mass murderers in history, probably the all-time bloodiest insofar as sheer numbers are concerned, and that he was cruel, monstrous, and an evildoer on a scale of near unimaginable immensity, speaking these truths about the Soviet dictator does not, obviously, make him blessed. So the evil spoken against someone must be false.

But Christ ends the sentence with one more qualifier, and that is, “for My sake.” (St. Matthew 5:12.) Persons suffer persecution and slander for many reasons; because of petty disagreements with neighbours, because of oddities in their deportment or character, because of their unpopular political opinions, because of their ethnic origins, or whatnot. These, however, do not meet Christ`s requirements for blessedness. The reviling, the persecuting, and the slandering must be suffered for the sake of Christ, for the sake of His Church, or for the sake of His virtuous way of life, if the suffering is spiritually tp transform the sufferer and make them blessed. How, we may ask, is this accomplished?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa points out that suffering for Christ`s sake cleanses the psyche of impurities. The fallen psyche associates sin with pleasure, while suffering tends to drive away al thoughts of seeking pleasure. As Saint Gregory writes, “…[A]s sin entered through pleasure, it is exterminated by the opposite.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The lord`s Prayer/The Beatitudes, p. 172.) He goes on to say:

“So if men persecute others for confessing the Lord and invent the most intolerable tortures, they bring, through these sufferings, a remedy for souls, for by applying pain they heal the disease caused by pleasure. Thus [Saint] Paul receives the cross, [Saint] James [the Brother of the Lord (ca, 4 B.C.-A.D. 62)] the sword; (See Acts 12:2.) [Saint] Stephen [the Protomartyr (+34)] the stones, (See Acts 7:59.) the blessed [Saint] Peter [the Apostle (+ca. 67)] is crucified head downwards. …All these and other things like them the Saints have embraced with joy as a purification from sin. And so pleasure has left no trace impressed on the heart, for the piercing sensation of pain effaced all the imprints it had stamped on the soul. Therefore, Blessed are those who suffer persecution for my sake. (St. Matthew 5:12.)

Saint Gregory speaks in the foregoing passage about persecution, primarily physical persecution and the bodily pain associated with that form of persecution. Let us look closely at those that are reviled and who have evil things – “all manner of evil,” (St. Matthew 5:11.) as Christ said – spoken against them falsely for the sake of Christ`s truth. This is actually another form of persecution, one that is in some ways even harder to endure than physical pain. As saint John Chrysostomos puts it, “For most assuredly, men`s evil reports have a sharper bite than their very deeds.” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew p. 96.)

The early Christians were so reviled and slandered by the pagans. It is said that Christians were guilty of scandalous and impure rituals during the Divine Liturgy, which in those days was celebrated privately. They were even accused of cannibalism, among many other false accusations. These were calumnies that brought harsh and painful judgements on them from their non-Christian friends and neighbours, and doubtless they suffered tremendously as a result, knowing that the gossip was all a bundle of vicious lies, but that they were powerless to silence the enemies of Christ.

A number of the Saints endured such persecution, having their names and reputations damaged or ruined by malicious gossip and falsehood. And this they experienced because their conspicuous holiness and dedication to virtue made them stand out from the more spiritually unexceptional people around them. Thus, although they were vilified and smeared by fellow Orthodox Christians, they were nonetheless reviled, persecuted, and slandered for the sake of Christ Jesus.

The last Empress of Russia, Saint Alexandra the Tsarina-Martyr (1872-1918), a convert to Orthodoxy from the Lutheranism of her native Germany, was ridiculed by the pleasure-loving nobility of Saint Petersburg for her great piety and love of Christ. She took her newfound religion very seriously, while many cradle Orthodox in the Imperial Court did not. Against her was spoken “all manner of evil,” (St. Matthew 5:11.) from the moment of her coronation until the moment of her death.

Saint John of San Francisco was repeatedly a victim of such evil. The peculiarities, the seeming oddities, of his intensely spiritual outlook and way of life were a source of irritation to those wedded to the world. And so they attempted, though failed, to murder his reputation.

The same was true for the great Saint Nektarios of Aegina (1846-1920), whose wisdom, decency, humility, and dedication to his flock as Metropolitan of Pentapolis brought down upon his head the hatred and jealousy of others. He was removed as Metropolitan because of false rumours of scandal and immorality, and so he returned from Egypt to Greece and took up the humble post of a preacher and, later, director of a school, where he taught theology.

Saint Alexandra the Tsarina-Martyr, John of San Francisco, and Nektarios of Aegina accepted revilement and slander as part of their calling as Christians and never thought in terms of retaliation. Saint John of Kronstadt, who was also reviled by his enemies, speaks of the early Martyr-Saints as follows.

…[T]hey had a kingly spirit, kingly greatness, invincible patience, and with their faith and by their patience they shamed all their tormentor-kings and governors. …See how the word and the all-powerful grace of the immortal King-Christ strengthened them, see how strikingly Christ`s power manifested itself in these weak vessels! (St. John of Kronstadt, Ten homilies on the Beatitudes, pp. 91-92.)

Yes, and precisely the same accolades are earned by those who suffered the bloodless persecution of revilement and slander as were earned by those who were tortured and killed. (Saint Alexandra receives double the accolades and rewards, since she suffered both.)

I have mentioned only three such Saints, but there are doubtless numerous others who suffered revilement, persecution, and slander form the sake of Christ. Orthodox Christians venerate the Saints for several reasons, and among these is that they offer outstanding examples to us, revealing to us an ideal against which we may measure ourselves and toward which we may strive. Should any of us be so blessed as to suffer revilement and persecution, should any of us have “all manner of evil” (St. Matthew 5:11.) spoken falsely against us for the sake of Christ, then, like the aforementioned Saints, we should accept this trial as one that has the power to purify us and to transform us. At the same time, let us be certain that we never participate in such evil.

Christ promises to the victims of these forms of persecution, “Great is your reward in Heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:12.) As to the fate of those who revile, persecute, and speak all manner of evil against their brother or sister, one can only speculate. I refer, here, especially to the sin of gossip. Gossip is one of the deadliest of poisons, one of the most evil of evils, and one of the most lethal of sins. We need not concern ourselves about whether gossip is true or false – no gossip whatsoever should be spoken by Christians. About the reviler, the persecutor, the speaker of “all manner of evil,” (St. Matthew 5:11.”) the gossip, one can only say that without sincere repentance, it is difficult to imagine a good outcome at the judgement Seat of Christ.

Let us conclude with a quotation from Saint Gregory of Nyssa. “…[A]ffliction,” he states,

“is the flower that will yield the hoped-for fruits. Hence let us pick the flower for the sake of the fruit, …Let us not be sorrowful, then, if we are persecuted, but rather let us rejoice, because by being chased away from earthly honours, we are driven toward the heavenly Good. For this He has promised, that those who have been persecuted for His sake shall be blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven…. (St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Lord`s Prayer/The Beatitudes, pp. 174-175.)