Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The First Commandment
Usually the poor have nothing
of their own and must ask others for help. The poor are not ashamed to admit
that they get all their substance as gifts. The poor in spirit, like the
ordinary poor, know they have nothing of their own in their souls, and that
God gives them all their spiritual wealth and talents. Concerning the poor in
spirit, the holy, righteous John of Kronstadt has written wisely:
The man poor in spirit
sincerely acknowledges himself to be a spiritual pauper, having nothing of his
own; whoever waits for everything from God's loving-kindness; whoever is
convinced that he can neither think, nor desire anything good, if God will not
give the good thought and the good desire, and that he cannot perform one
truly good deed without the grace of Jesus Christ; whoever considers himself
to be more sinful, worse, lower than everyone; whoever always reproaches
himself and judges no one else; whoever acknowledges the garment of his soul
to be defiled, dark, malodorous, worthless and does not cease to ask the Lord
Jesus Christ to lighten the garment of his soul, to clothe him in the
incorrupt clothing of righteousness; whoever unceasingly flees beneath the
shelter of God's wings, not having safety anywhere in the world besides the
Lord; whoever considers all his property to be God's gift and gives thanks for
everything to the Bestower of every good thing and readily apportions his
property to the those in need--this is he who is poor in spirit.
The First Commandment of
Blessedness is also the first condition for spiritual life. Whoever is poor in
spirit is blessed, says the Lord. This blessed poverty is called spiritual
in the Gospel according to Matthew, because it is first of all a state of
the mind and heart, pertaining to the disposition of the soul. It likewise
stands for the complete openness of a man before God, for freedom from all
pride and from faith in the power of his own spirit, his own ideas and
opinions--for freedom from the vain imaginings of his own heart
(Jeremiah 23:17, Romans 1:21), as spoke the Prophet Jeremiah in the Old
Testament and the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. The words of John of
Kronstadt again explain why the man poor in spirit is blessed:
Where there is humility,
consciousness of one's neediness, one's poverty, wretchedness, there God is,
there the cleansing of sins is, there peace, light, freedom, contentment and
blessedness are. To such poor in spirit the Lord came to preach the gospel of
the kingdom of God, as is said: he hath sent me to preach the gospel to the
poor (Luke 4:18), to the poor in spirit, but not to the rich; for their
pride alienates them from the grace of God. . . If people readily extend the
hand of help and compassion to those who are truly poor and in extreme need of
the very necessities of life, is not God even more compassionate regarding
spiritual poverty, does he not paternally condescend to it at its call and
fill it with His spiritual treasures? It is said: He hath filled the hungry
with good things (Luke 1:53).
Are not the valleys abundantly
bedewed with moisture; do not the valleys blossom, are they not fragrant? Is
it not on the mountains where snow and ice are, where lifelessness is? High
mountains are an image of the proud; valleys are an image of the humble:
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low
(Luke 3:5) (we read from the Prophet Isaiah). God resisteth the proud, but
giveth grace unto the humble (James 4:6), instructs the Apostle James.
Love humility, teaches Saint Anthony the Great, and it will cover all
thy sins. Do not envy him who is going upwards, but it is better that thou
consider all people higher than thyself, so that God Himself would be with
thee (from the Philocalia).
The holy, righteous John of
Kronstadt and Saint Anthony the Great take up the theme of humility, which is
inseparably tied to the first commandment of blessedness. These divinely
inspired men, as also all the saints, teach with one voice that only those who
are free from egotistical love for themselves are fit to receive the grace of
God to become blessed. The Mother of God, being herself a perfect poverty of
spirit, proclaims in her magnificent hymn, that God-- "Hath shown strength
with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent
empty away (Luke 1:51-54)."
Jesus Christ Himself not only
had no place where to lay his head (Matthew 8:20), but His physical
poverty was a direct result of His complete poverty of spirit. He said:
Verily, verily, I say unto
you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do. . . .
I can of my own self do nothing (John 5:19, 30).
A Christian is called to leave
everything and follow Christ in poverty of spirit, becoming free of the sinful
desires of this world. According to the world of the Apostle John the
If any man love the world,
the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust
of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the
Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof:
but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever (I John 2:15-17).
The holy Fathers of the Church
wrote very much about humility, considering that a correct spiritual life
needs this virtue more than all else. Saint Isaac the Syrian, for example,
"The truly righteous always
think within themselves that they are unworthy of God; it is known that they
are truly righteous by the fact that they consider themselves wretched and
unworthy of God's care, and they confess this secretly and openly and they
grow wiser by this through the Holy Spirit--in order to remain in labor and
straitness while they are still found in this life. Christian Life According
to the Philocalia."
Who can understand this? How
can a man standing close to God consider himself to be sinful, unworthy of
God's care, the least of men? The answer we find in the life of the holy Abba
"I remember once we had a
conversation about humility, and one of the notable citizens of the city was
amazed on hearing our words that the nearer one draws to God, the more he sees
himself to be a sinner, and he said: How can this be? And not understanding,
he wished to find out what these words mean? I said to him: O notable Citizen,
tell me, how dost thou regard thyself in thine own city? He answered: I regard
myself as great and as first in the city. I say to him: If thou shouldst go to
Caesarea, how wouldst thou regard thyself there? He answered: As the least of
the grandees there. And if, I say to him again, thou shouldst travel to
Antioch, how wouldst thou regard thyself there? There, he answered, I would
consider myself as one of the common people. And if, I say, thou shouldst go
to Constantinople and approach the Emperor, how wouldst thou begin to regard
thyself there? And he answered: Almost as nothing. Then I answered him: So it
is also with the saints: the nearer they draw to God, the more they see
themselves to be sinners."
An ancient patericon (a
collection of short stories about strugglers for piety) says: The clearer the
water, the more noticeable are the smallest specks in it. When a ray of the
sunlight falls on a room, it enables the eye to see myriad dust particles
borne in the air, which until the penetration of the ray were not noticeable.
So also with the human soul: The more purity in her, the more heavenly, divine
light falls on her, and the more does the soul notice imperfections and sinful
habits in herself.
The higher a man is in his
morally, the more humble he is, and the more clear and constant is his
consciousness of his sin.
The contemporary church writer,
Tito Colliander, in Way of the Ascetics, chapter 8, gives the same counsel on
poverty of spirit:
"Take remarks without
grumbling: be thankful when you are scorned, disregarded, ignored. But do not
create humbling situations; they are provided in the course of the day as
richly as you need. We notice the person who is for every bowing and fussily
servile, and perhaps say, How humble he is! But the truly humble person
escapes notice: the world does not know him (I John 3:1); for the world
he is a mostly zero. When Peter and Andrew, John and James left
their nets and followed him (Matthew 4:20) what did their fellow workers
say, who were left on the shore? For them the two pairs of brothers vanished;
they were gone. Do not be hesitant; do not be afraid of disappearing like
them, from this adulterous and sinful generation; what are you hoping to
win, the world or your soul (Mark 8:34-38)? Woe to you, when all men
shall speak well of you (Luke 6:26)."
God first revealed his will
that all His creatures would be poor in spirit, and they breached this
spiritual state by what is called the ancestral sin, the source of all our
misfortunes and sorrows. To be delivered from the consequences of ancestral
sin, one must become poor in spirit, like the hungry poor, who ask God for
spiritual food, and whom the Lord feeds with fruits of the Spirit. The Apostle
Paul counts these fruits: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness,
goodness, faith (Galatians 5:22). The man poor in spirit can is quoting
these other words of the Apostle Paul: poor, yet making many rich (II
The venerable Starets Siluan of
Mount Athos was poor in spirit, and he lived in our time, and enriched
us with his wisdom and prayers:
The Lord said: Learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart. Wherefore my soul wearies day and night;
and I beseech God and all the Saints in heaven, and all of you who have come
to known the humility of Christ--pray for me, pray that the lowly spirit of
Christ for which my soul weeps in longing may descend on me. I could not do
otherwise than long for this humility which my soul once knew through the Holy
Spirit, until I lost this gift, and so my soul yearns after it in tears.
Master, grant us a humble spirit, that our souls would find repose in Thee.
O most holy Mother of the Lord, obtain for us, O Merciful One, a humble
O all ye Saints, ye live in the heavens and ye see the glory of the Lord, and
your spirit rejoices, pray that we also would be with you. My soul also yearns
to see the Lord, and it longs for him in humility, as unworthy of this good.
O humility of Christ! I know thee, but I cannot attain thee. Thy fruits are
sweet, because they are not earthly.
O merciful Lord, by the Holy Spirit teach us Thy humility
Blessed are they that mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
The Second Commandment of
In this commandment, Lord Jesus
Christ speaks about the contrition and sorrow that come from knowing one's
separation and remoteness from God. Christ lists this spiritual mourning next
after those poor in spirit, counting them blessed who tearfully sorrow
over their unworthiness, as King David cried out in repentant sorrow: Every
night I will wash my bed, with tears will I water my couch (Psalm 6:7). So
too did sorrow the Apostle Peter, who denied Christ: And Peter remembered
the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny
me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). The Apostle
Peter wept continually. It is said that during his life, each time whenever he
heard the cock crow, he would recall his denial, and, with a feeling of the
most profound repentance until the end of his days, he would shed bitter
Whoever thinks he can go along
the way after Christ without mourning is naive, writes Archimandrite
Sophronius (Sakharov) in his book To Know God as He Is. Take up a dry nut,
place it under a heavy press and you will see how oil will begin to flow from
it. Something similar takes place in our heart when the invisible fire of
God's word burns it from all sides. Our heart has become stony in its brute
egoism, and, what is worse, in its spasm of pride. But truly there is such
a Fire (Luke 12:49), which is able to melt even the strongest metals
The First Beatitude--Poverty of
Spirit--gives rise to the Second--Blessed Mourning. The man who is poor in
spirit, who is free from spiritual and physical desires, cannot but sorrow
over himself and in general over the fallen state of all humanity, and over
the horrors of our godless world, held captive by its own vain inventions, a
world which considers itself rich and prosperous, in need of nothing, but
which is in reality, according to the word of the Apocalypse, wretched, and
miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). Knowing all
that God gives us, and all who actually abides with God, one can only sorrow
and weep--As the prophets did over the sinners of Israel, as the Lord did over
the corpse of Lazarus, or over the city of Jerusalem, and last in the garden
of Gethsemane, before the cup of His Own passion. Any absence of mourning,
according to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, shows that our prayer
has not yet ascended past its first degree towards God.
Who has not wept in life? We
know sorrow from the loss of relatives and near ones. This is natural sorrow.
Tears are a sign of suffering. But can suffering give happiness and
blessedness to man? Not always. If a man suffers because of visible good
things, because of pride, passions and self-love, then these sufferings only
torture the soul and do not bring any benefit. But if a man accepts suffering
as a trial sent by God, then grief and tears cleanse and wash his soul, and he
finds joy and comfort even in grief itself.
The Fathers of the Church teach
us to distinguish the sources of tears. Thus, the Venerable Ephraim the Syrian
"With people there are three
different kinds of tears. There are tears for visible things--and they are
very bitter and vain. There are tears of repentance, when the soul desires
eternal good things, and they are very sweet and beneficial. And there are
tears of remorse there, where (according to the Savior's word) there is
weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12), and these tears are bitter
and useless, because they are altogether fruitless when there is no longer any
time for repentance."
For the Venerable Ephraim the
Syrian, the second kind of tears is that blessed sorrow over sin necessary in
spiritual life. Such mourning is considered blessed because the tears have no
darkness or hopelessness, but, on the contrary, Christ's victory fills this
sorrow with hope, light, and joy.
Now I rejoice, not that ye were
made sorry, writes the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Corinth, but
that you sorrowed to repentance: for you were made sorry after a godly manner,
that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh
repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world
worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly
sort, what carefulness it wrought in you (II Corinthians 7:9-11).
The Venerable John of the
Ladder, following after the Apostle Paul, says in the Seventh Steps of The
Ladder of Divine Ascent:
"Mourning according to God is
sadness of soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly
seeks that for which it thirsts . . . Mourning is a golden spur in a soul
which is stripped of all attachment and of all ties . . . Keep a firm hold of
the blessed gladdening sorrow of holy compunction, and do not stop working at
it until it raises you high above the things of this world, and presents you
pure to Christ . . . The fruit of spurious compunction is self-esteem, and the
fruit of praiseworthy compunction is consolation . . . When I consider the
actual nature of compunction, I am amazed at how that which is called mourning
and grief should contain joy and gladness interwoven within it, like honey in
Another great Christian
ascetic, the Venerable Nilus of Sinai, speaks on this theme. In his work On
Prayer; we read:
"Do not turn into a passion the
means (provided) against the passions, lest thou stir to greater wrath Him Who
gave thee this grace (that is, tears). While shedding tears over (their) sins,
many have forgotten the purpose of tears and, having become frenzied, they
have fallen away from the right path."
The saints, through the
contemplation of nature and its phenomena, themselves learned spiritual
mourning, faith, and piety. So, for example, did the Venerable Ephraim the
"One day", he writes,
"after rising very early, I went out with two brethren from the blessed city
of Edessa; lifting up my eyes to heaven, which, like a pure mirror, gloriously
shown upon the earth with stars, in wonder I said: If the stars shine with
such glory, then will not the righteous and holy, who did the will of the Holy
God, shine with the ineffable light of the Savior at that hour when the Lord
But no sooner did I remember
about the terrible advent of the Lord than my bones began to shake. My soul
and body trembled; I began to weep with heartfelt pain and said, sighing: What
will I, a sinner, prove to be at that terrible hour? How shall I stand before
the throne of the Terrible Judge? How shall I, the dissipated, have a place
with the perfect? How shall I, the fruitless, appear among the number of those
who have brought forth fruits of righteousness?
Who will recognize me? The
righteous will be in the bride chamber; the impious, in fire; the martyrs will
show their wounds; the ascetics, their virtues; and what shall I show, besides
my indolence and negligence?"
The Holy Fathers of the Church
teach us to ask of the Lord the gift of tears, because without tears there can
be no real repentance and cleansing of the soul. Penitential tears are a kind
of second baptism that washes away every sin from a man=s soul. For much as
after a violent burst of rain, says Saint John Chrysostom, there is a
clear open sky; so likewise when tears are pouring down, a calm arises, and
serenity, and the darkness that ensues on our sins quite disappears
(Homily 6 on the Gospel according to Matthew). Mourning over sins,
writes Saint Demetrius of Rostov, washes the soul, whitens every darkening,
cleanses the conscience, enlightens the mind, loosens sinful bonds, and
expiates the handwriting of iniquities.
Those who sorrow over their
fallen condition and the sinful world will rejoice in the future age,
according to the Savior's word: Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye
shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful,
but your sorrow shall be turned into joy (John 16:20). Those who mourn
in this life will rejoice in eternal life, for genuine, blessed
joy--consolation is given only in the eternal abodes in God's Kingdom, for
there, as it is said in the Revelation of John the Theologian, God
shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death,,
neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the
former things are passed away (Revelation 21:4).
Blessed are the meek, for they
shall inherit the earth.
The Third Commandment of
Meekness is necessary in a
spiritual person; the power of meekness erases anger, malice, enmity, and
condemnation from the heart and adorns the soul with a gentleness.
Christ Himself was meek.
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you
rest, said Christ. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and
lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
The Apostles of Christ also
preached meekness. The Epistle of the Apostle James tells us--
Who is a wise man and
endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his
works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in
your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth
not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and
strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from
above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of
mercy and good fruits. . . . (James 3:13;17).
Let your moderation be known
unto all men (Philippians 4:5), exhorts
the Apostle Paul. He does not mean for us to be meek for show, but rather that
we strive so that meekness becomes a widely recognized quality for Christians.
The Apostle numbers meekness among the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:23).
Meekness means gentleness and
kindness, freedom from selfishness and celebrity, and refusal to coerce and
force matters. Meekness is to have a firm and quiet conviction that good is
more powerful than evil, and that it can reach victory sooner or later. The
words of Saint John Climacus tell us--
"Meekness is an unchangeable
state of mind, which remains the same in honor and dishonor. Meekness consists
in praying calmly and sincerely for a neighbor when he causes many turmoils.
Meekness is a rock overlooking the sea of anger, which breaks all the waves
that dash against it, yet remains completely unmoved. Meekness is the
buttress of patience, the door, or rather, the mother of love, and the
foundation of discernment, for it is said: The Lord will teach the meek His
ways (Psalm 24:9). Meekness prepares us for the forgiveness of sins; it is
boldness in prayer; an abode of the Holy Spirit. But to whom shall I look?
Even to him that is meek and quiet. (Isaiah 66:2). In the hearts of
the meek the lord finds rest, but a turbulent soul is a seat of the devil."
He, who is completely incapable
of becoming angry, is not meek, but rather he who feels the movement of anger
and restrains it, overcoming his sinful self-centeredness. The meek man never
repays evil for evil, offense for offense; he does not become angry, does not
raise his voice in anger against sinners and offenders . . . he shall not
strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the street
(Matthew 12:19), according to the word of the Evangelist.
It is possible to say, that the
meek become like Christ, Who, as the Apostle Peter writes in his First
Epistle, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he
threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (I Peter
2:23). A good illustration of these words we find in the Prologue (12th of
A certain elder monk, Cyrus by
name, being of low origin and very meek, was not liked by the brethren of the
monastery where he was saving himself. It often happens because of humility or
because of some other good quality, that someone will, in the end, become
liked who previously was not liked; but the lot of the Venerable Cyrus was not
such! In time, the hatred of the brethren increased: not only the elder
brethren, but also the youths who were novices, insulted him and not
infrequently even drove him away from the table. This continued for fifteen
The Venerable John of the
Ladder happened to be in this monastery, we read further on in the Prologue.
Seeing that the meek Cyrus, on being driving away from the table, frequently
went to sleep hungry, he asked him: Tell me, what do these offences against
thee mean? Believe me, beloved guest in Christ, answered the humble elder, the
brethren do not act this way out of malice; they are only testing me to see
whether I am worthy to wear the angelic habit. On entering this monastery, I
heard that an anchorite must be tested for thirty years, and I have only lived
here half that time.
This incident from the life of
the Venerable Cyrus is an extreme example of Christian meekness, of which only
a few are capable. The ascetic did not wish to take revenge on his
persecutors, but even derived benefit for himself from their insults and
accepted as the highest good fortune that which others would consider for
themselves as misfortune and dishonor.
In general, all the saints were
good teachers of meekness. One may further name the disciple of the Venerable
Anthony the Great (251-356), the Venerable Paul the Most Simple (4/17 October)
who by his life gave an example of blessed simplicity. The Venerable Sergius
of Radonezh (25 September/8 October), by his gentle and meek words and
persuasive speech, as the Church sings in one of the hymns in his honor. He
reconciled the princes who were at enmity with one another. And here is a
clear example of meekness from the life of the Venerable Theodosius of the
Caves, the abbot of the illustrious Monastery of the Caves in Kiev:
Once, the Venerable Theodosius
was conversing with the Great Prince Iziaslav until late in the evening. The
Great Prince did not wish to let the Venerable One go to the Monastery by
foot, and ordered one of his servants to take Saint Theodosius to the
Monastery. But this servant, seeing the wretched clothing of the Venerable
Theodosius, took him for a simple alms' collector, and said:
Monk, it is high time for me to
rest in thy place. The Venerable Theodosius good-heartedly gave up his place
to him, and himself began to drive the horses, and the servant fell asleep. In
the morning, upon waking up, the servant saw that all the grandees coming to
the Great Prince were bowing to the venerable Theodosius. His terror increased
when, upon driving up to the Monastery, he saw that all the brethren came out
to meet their abbot and with reverence received a blessing from him.
Not only the saints who lived
in antiquity showed an example of evangelical meekness and simplicity. In our
days too, the righteous also teach us holy meekness by the example of their
life. In this connection, let us mention the Russian New-martyr, Metropolitan
Benjamin (Kazanski) of Petrograd. At his trial in 1922, Metropolitan Benjamin
in his final word said: I know not what you will announce in your
sentence--life or death. Whichever it is, with reverence I turn my gaze on
high, place upon myself the sign of the Cross and say: Glory to Thee, O Lord
God, for everything. Shaved, in rags and with prayer on his lips,
Metropolitan Benjamin went calmly to the place of execution. He
uncomplainingly accepted a martyric death, remembering the words of Jesus:
Whosoever doth not bear his cross , and come after me, cannot be my disciple
The lot of martyrdom is not
appointed for everyone, but we have the ability to be meek cross-bearers,
according to the spirit of Christ's teaching, if, as the Apostle Paul says,
we crucify our flesh with the passions
and lusts (Galatians 5:24), if we preserve meekness and good-heartedness in
the face of offences and insults, if we refrain from envy, anger, evil
speaking and revenge.
How can we act otherwise, how
can we get irritated, grow angry, take revenge? asks the holy righteous
John of Kronstadt; and he says further: God, our common Father, before
Whom we commit sins without number, always deals with us according to His
meekness, does not destroy us, is longsuffering with us, ceaselessly benefits
us. And with our brethren, we must be meek, condescending and longsuffering.
For (according to the word of Christ) if ye forgive men their trespasses, your
heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if you forgive not men their
trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew
Furthermore, continues the
righteous one of Kronstadt, all we, as Christians, are members of one
body, and members take care of one another; besides, we are called sheep of
the rational flock of Christ; why is this so? Because sheep are meek, free of
malice, patient; such must we also be. Only those of us who are meek and free
of malice, like lambs, belong to Christ's flock; but they who do not have
Christ's spirit, His meekness and lack of malice ; they are not His. Complete
Collection, vol. 1, pp. 173-174.
The only reliable path to
salvation is to imitate the Lord Jesus Christ's meekness: His judgment by
Caiaphas and Pilate, the painful minutes being nailed to the Cross, and the
hours being crucified and blasphemed. These images show heavenly meekness to
And the high priest arose, and
said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against
thee? But Jesus held his peace (Matthew 26:62-63)
We read in the Gospel according
to Matthew, and in the Gospel according to Luke--
And when they were come to
the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the
malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said
Jesus, Father forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke
We cannot bear the Cross of the
Savior because His Cross is too heavy for us. But we must take up and bear our
own cross in life, meekly enduring life's adversities for Christ's sake.
The holy Apostle Peter says--
For this is thank worthy,
if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For
what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it
patiently? but if, when you do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently,
this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ
also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was
reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed
himself to him that judgeth righteously (I Peter 2:19;23).
Christ's third Commandment of
Blessedness promises the meek that they will inherit the earth. This is true
although difficult for contemporary man to comprehend in the context of stormy
recent politics. States, parties and people continue fight for land and
riches. Throughout history, people have fought over land and resources, making
war and other violence, destroying so many human families as well other
resources. The violence may well go on. Millions suffer in torment, and cannot
see or take delight in the real beauty of our splendid earth, created by God.
Nevertheless, there are people
who, as it is said in the Scriptures, have nothing, but posses everything
(II Corinthians 6:10). These Christians ascetics live in the bosom of nature
in deserts and mountains. Some of them were wanderers, who in Holy Russia went
about the country on foot, from monastery to monastery, from one holy place to
another. They delighted in the beauty of the land and were nourished by its
excellent fruits. They breathed the pure air and drank spring water. They
prayed to God beneath the open sky. They worked with their own hands, and they
never took away land from anyone. And the land really belonged to them. And
they, in their meekness, possessed it.
By the commandment of meekness,
Christ foresaw not only such a possession of the earth. The time will come,
when the earth in reality will belong to the meek. According to the word of
the Apostle Peter, we, according to his promise, look for a new heaven and
a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (II Peter 3:13). By God's
Judgement, the meek will become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, which the
Psalmist calls the land of the living. I believe that I shall see
the good things of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 26:15).
Meekness is freedom from this
sinful world, but a loving attitude towards it . The world needs healing by
meekness. And meekness is readiness to endure suffering patiently and with
joy. Only in this kind of meekness, can one win Christian victor: not by
self-denial but by sacrificial love. This Christian victory is directly
opposite to any worldly victory that suppresses enemies or rivals with
vindication of one's purpose and pretension. Christ's victory is to attract to
Himself the hearts of men. His victory challenges all worldly wisdom about man
and man's futile aspiration. Christ's victory is goodness, self-renunciation,
All earthy experience adds up
to a loss in the face of what the Gospel calls treasure in the heavens.
The believing mind knows that all things earthly evaporate and lose their
power to attract. It believing mind wants heavenly treasure to nourish it
fully without fear of loss f any kind.
The commandment the meek
shall inherit the earth expresses the existential truth that unselfish
love irresistibly attracts the human heart. It is an invincible power. We know
that a mysterious law operates. True victors may look like people suffering
defeat. The contemporary French writer Albert Camus expresses this truth in
these words: I cannot but believe those witnesses who gave themselves up to
Let us complete our sketch with
the prayerful instruction of the contemporary teacher of meekness, the
Venerable Siluan of Athos:
The soul of the humble is
like the sea; toss a stone into the sea and for a minute it slightly disturbs
the surface, and then falls into its depths. So do afflictions drown in the
heart of the humble man, because the Lord's power is with him.
Where dwellest thou, O humble soul; and who liveth in thee; to what shall I
Thou burnest brightly, like the sun, and burnest not out; but with thy warmth
thou warmest all.
To thee belongeth the land of the meek, according to the word of the Lord.
Thou art like unto a flowering garden, in the heart of which there is a
splendid home, where the Lord doth love to abide.
Thee do heaven and earth love.
Thee do the holy Apostles, Prophets, Hierarchs and Venerable love.
Thee do the Angels, Seraphim and Cherubim love.
Thee, the humble, doth the Most Pure Mother of the Lord love.
Thee doth the Lord love and rejoice over.
Blessed are they that hunger
and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
The Fourth Commandment of
We hardly think about the daily
bread that we eat to keep up our strength. But the hungry man thinks about
bread constantly; he seeks it everywhere. A man fainting from thirst feels
himself ready to trade anything for a cold glass of water, to pay any price.
As he seeks bread and water here and now for the body, so the Christian must
seek the bread and living water of heaven for his spiritual hunger and thirst.
Seeking righteousness throughout his life will bring him righteousness. At His
baptism by John the Forerunner, Lord Jesus Christ called righteousness the
fulfilling of God's Law. And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be
so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered
him (Matthew 3:15).
Christ's Fourth Commandment of
Blessedness promises blessing to him who suffers with every unrighteousness
and who waits ardently for the triumph of truth. Who his own self bore our
sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live
unto righteousness (I Peter 2:24).
Therefore take no thought,
saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we
be clothed?-- the Savior exhorts his followers--For after all these
things do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have
need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his
righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew
The saints followed this
teaching of Christ. First they sought the kingdom of God, and then sought his
righteousness. When they found them both, they were filled with happiness and
joyous knowledge of God's world, and they became righteous themselves.
Contentment and rest come from God, and they in turn bring a new hunger and
thirst, but not in contradiction to the words of Christ: He that cometh to
me shall never hunger; and he that believeth in me shall never thirst
(John 6:35). The new hunger and thirst confirm the fact that the unrest
of the human heart, according to the words of Blessed Augustine, is
directed toward God, and that the rest, found in Him, according to the
words of the Venerable Maximus the Confessor, is a profoundly dynamic rest;
always increasing and developing into an even greater unity with the
inexhaustible wealth and fullness of the Divine Existence.
In the fourth century, the holy
hierarch Gregory of Nyssa, wrote an essay that explains the yearning:
The human mind constantly runs
about, distracted by whatever pleases the senses . . . it does not have enough
strength to reach the true good . . . . But for him whom the Creator gave a
nature constantly in motion, he cannot ever stop; but if he sets up a barrier
to his movement toward vanities, he cannot then strive toward anything but the
truth. . . . Consequently, the spiritual man does not pass directly from
iniquity to righteousness. Instead, he passes gradually, and will develop
eternally in God in ever greater righteousness and perfection.
Brethren, writes the Apostle
Paul in the Epistle to the Philippians, I count not myself to have
apprehended: but this one thing I do [count]: forgetting those things which
are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let
us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded . . . (Philippians
The Christian achieves
righteousness through knowledge of God. The more a man comes to know God, the
closer he fulfils the aims of life: first righteousness and then holiness. But
it is hard to understand the holiness of the saints. Our contemporaries
usually understand the saints to be infinitely remote from us so-called
ordinary man. Their saint has subordinates his whole life to
other people=s welfare and to fine ideas. Certainly fine, high ideas belong to
the nonordinary Christian understanding of holiness, for sanctity cannot abide
with the ordinary readiness or desire to be like everyone else.
Biblical holiness is still more
profound. The Gospel calls each man to holiness, recognizing that each man
starts his life already holy as a creature of God and bearer of His image. The
Gospel teaches that a man's life gathers further meaning only as he overcomes
whatever makes him not holy and apart from the perfect holiness of God. Gospel
holiness is not for a few only, for baptism into the Church is being chosen
for a new life in spirit and in truth (John 4:23), and a forgetting the
way of life of the ungodly who live by only the values of the world. According
to Christ's word, that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which
is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). A saint thirsts after God's
righteousness with all his strength and strives to know God. The saint's
struggle sanctifies him and the world around him. The saints lead the rest of
us toward knowledge of God.
God is invisible, but the
saints can see him, who have become like Him. Christ is the most perfect
self-revelation of God. Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son,
and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him, we read in the Gospel
according to Matthew (11:27). Christ, according to the word of the Apostle
Paul, is the perfect image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).
Christ asks that in Him the Father be loved. The Holy Spirit is the
Continuer and Completer of the redemptive work of Christ, who testifies about
Christ (John 15:26) and glorifies Him (John 16:14). Christians honor the
Three-Person God in Christ. Our salvation is inseparably bound with the
knowledge of the Son of God, accepted by the whole heart and mind. Revelation
was given for the knowledge of God. But the Son does not reveal Himself
directly, but through the Spirit of Truth, Who teaches everything and guides
unto every truth (John 14:26; 16:13). The higher realm of knowledge or
spiritual, divine vision is revealed exclusively by the Holy Spirit. The
knowledge of God without keeping the commandments is a lie, teaches John
the Theologian (I John 2:3-;4).
The venerable elder Siluan of
Athos advanced the original idea that only he who has known God and then lost
Him can seek Him again. The venerable Siluan thought that every search for God
somehow follows an experience of God. God uses no force against man, but
patiently stands by the human heart and humbly waits until the heart opens to
Him. God Himself seeks a man before that man begins to seek Him. At a suitable
moment, the Lord reveals Himself to a man, the man comes to know God only
then, according to the measure given him, and he then begins to seek God, Who
steals away from his heart. The elder Siluan says: How can you seek that
which you had not lost? How can you seek that which you completely had not
known? But the soul knows the Lord, and therefore seeks Him (pages 43-44).
Maximus the Confessor considers
knowledge of God to be beginning and end of salvation. His wisdom begins as
fear and ends as love. In one voice, the Fathers of the Church tell of the
necessary knowledge of God and the final living, blessed, and radiant
spiritual vision. The God of the Fathers cannot be an object of their thought
because thought presupposes division, because thought is interaction between
the one who thinks and the object of the thought. Whoever delves
deeply within himself, renouncing anything external, can rise to sublimity.
Such diversion is contact with God. The soul feels no movement nor activity,
nor any thought at all. To know God, to contemplate God, a man must give up
thought. The Venerable Isaac the Syrian said that the Kingdom of Heaven is not
acquired by learning; it can be instilled only by Divine Favor (Word 49). No
one gains spiritual knowledge by external, mental means. No one is able to
have this spiritual vision, continues the Venerable Isaac, unless he is
converted and become as a child, that is, unless he fixes himself in an
infant's manner of thought.
According to another Church
Father, the Venerable Simeon the New Theologian--
"A Christian is called a
believer because mysteries are entrusted to him by God, which even the Angels
did not have knowledge of before us (vol. 1, p. 330) . . . By the Holy
Spirit, Christians are taught all understanding and perception, continues
the Venerable Simeon, and every word of wisdom and of the most mystical
knowledge. That which the unbelievers do not know, we who have been vouchsafed
to be made believers can know, think and talk about, being taught and
enlightened by the grace of the Most Holy Spirit. Indeed, the key to
understanding is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given for the sake of
faith. The grace of the Holy Spirit, writes the Venerable Simeon, opens
our closed and darkened mind and communicates to it the true knowledge and
perception of divine enlightenment (vol. 2, page 59). God can be known
by us just as much as someone is able to see a boundless sea, standing at its
edge at night with a small lit candle in his hand. Do you think that you will
see much of that whole boundless sea? Of course, a certain little bit, or
almost nothing. Nevertheless, he sees the water well and knows that the sea is
before him, that the sea is boundless, and that he cannot encompass it in his
gaze. So it is in relationship to our knowledge of God. Neither vigil, nor
solitude, nor fasting, nor possessing nothing, nor bodily labor, nor any other
virtue can without the Holy Spirit procure for us a word, or knowledge, or
reason; because all this is the path leading to the light, but not the light
itself. Without the Spirit no one can himself be taught or teach others. For
how can He Who is higher than every mind and thought be known by our mind
which was created by Him, unless it be enlightened by Him and united with Him
(vol. 2, Words 61 and 87)."
The Venerable Simeon also wrote
that the unrepentant cannot know or understand the mysteries of the Christian
faith. Unbelievers or those of little faith do not and cannot see. Therefore,
according the Venerable Simeon, let no one ever delude you with vain and
deceptive words, saying that it is possible to know the divine mysteries of
our faith without being taught and enlightened by the Holy Spirit (vol. 2,
p. 343). The great Christian philosopher, Isaac the Syrian, from his spiritual
experience depicted the mystical procession and ascent of the soul seeking
That which happens with a fish
out of water happens with the mind that has stepped away from remembering God
and stews in remembering the world. Insofar as a man is removed from
conversing with people, so far then is he deemed worthy of the boldness of
conversing with God through his mind, and to the extent that he cuts off from
himself the consolation of this world, to such an extent is he deemed worthy
of God's joy in the Holy Spirit . . . . And as fish perish from lack of water,
so the movements of the mind, which spring up from God, vanish in the
negligent heart (Word 8).
Such is the saints' knowledge
of God, which leads them to spiritual insight and which affects all those
around the saints. The righteous Archbishop John Maximovich, a man of our
time, expressed this insight in a sermon on holiness:
Holiness is more than
righteousness, for which the righteous are worthy to enjoy the Kingdom of God.
Holiness is such a height that people so filled with the grace of God that
flows from them onto those they meet. Great is their blessedness from
beholding the glory of God. Filled with love of God, the saints respond to
peoples' needs and entreaties as mediators and intercessors for them before
God (San Francisco, 1971).
Bishop Theophanes the Recluse
writes that nothing can compare with the sweetness of divine meditation and
glorification. The Prayer of the Third Antiphon in the Liturgy of John
Chrysostom entreats God--Fulfill even
now the petitions of Thy servants as is expedient for them, granting us in the
present age the knowledge of (Thee and) Thy truth, and in that to come, life
Man shall not live by bread
alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God
(Matthew 4:4). The feeling of spiritual fullness merges with consciousness of
fulfilling one's duty before God.
Seek after God, and your soul
shall live--cries the David the
Psalmist (Psalm 68:37). Seek God as a treasure buried in the earth--not for
cold knowledge about Him, but as a living, dynamic union with Him, to feel His
love. This blessedness Christ promises to all who fulfil His Fourth
Commandment of Blessedness.
Blessed are the merciful, for
they shall obtain mercy
The Fifth Commandment of
Mercy is an attribute of Divine
love and one of man's noblest sentiments. To show mercy means to be Godlike,
for He, according to the testimony of the 102d psalm, is compassionate and
merciful . . . long-suffering and plenteous in mercy. Jesus Christ speaks
of mercy in His Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the 6th chapter of the
Gospel according to Luke:
Love ye your enemies, and do
good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and
ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful
and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful
To show this mercy neither
justifies falsehood and sin, nor tolerates foolishness, nor ignores specific
injustice. To show this mercy means to have compassion upon people gone astray
as captives of sin. It means to forgive those so unrighteous that they hurt
themselves as well as others. All people are sinners before God and each
another, and they deserve every blame. But the Lord, according to His infinite
mercy, forgives and has mercy on repentant sinners, just as the Parable of the
Prodigal Son teaches us. If we show mercy to one another, we too shall get
mercy from God. Justly the merciful can say the prayer Our Father . . .
forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12).
Holy righteous Father John of
Kronstadt has written--
"For thy mercy to the brethren,
thou shalt receive mercy from God; for temporal mercy--eternal mercy; for a
little mercy--infinitely great mercy. Thou shalt be worthy not only of pardon
because of sins from eternal condemnation at God's judgment, but thou shalt
also gain eternal blessedness." (Complete Works, vol. 1, p. 189).
Sacred Scripture abounds with
sayings about the mercy necessary in man's spiritual life. For he shall
have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth
against judgment, we read in [the Epistle of] the Apostle James (2:13). In
his First Epistle, John the Theologian, the Apostle of Love, teaches us--
But whoso hath this world's
good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of
compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children,
let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (I
And the Apostle Paul exhorts us
thus: But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such
sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:16).
The Old Testament often
mentions the importance of mercy: Blessed is the man that hath
understanding for the poor man and the pauper, in an evil day the Lord will
deliver him (Psalm 40:1), exclaims the Psalmist.
We learn from the wise Sirach
that alms make atonement for sin (Ecclesiasticus 3:30), and they
deliver from death (Tobit 12:9).
Perhaps Jesus Christ's words on
the Dread Judgment are his most striking Sacred Scripture about mercy. Christ
makes it clear that this Judgment will take no account of our worldly success,
because the question for each of us will be How did we serve our neighbor?
Christ counts six forms of help to render to neighbors. Identifying
Himself--in his love, condescension and mercy--with everyone poor and needing
help, the Savior says: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was
thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked and
ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came
unto me (Matthew 25:35-36).
Mercy to the suffering is
greater than fasting. The Church reads Christ's words on the Dread Judgment on
the Eve of Great Lent, so that the faithful will know that the main Lenten
struggle is to have mercy on the unfortunate. For I will have mercy rather
than sacrifice (Hosea 6:7).
The February 19 readings of
Lives of the Saints illustrates this truth:
The venerable Dositheus, as he
was dying, was bid farewell by the Superior with these kind words: "Child, go
in peace to the Lord, and pray for us before His throne!" The brethren of the
monastery in which Dositheus struggled were disturbed by these farewell words
of the superior, for they knew that Dositheus was not notable either for
fasting or for prayer vigils, that he would often be late in coming to the
all-night vigils, and sometimes he would not come at all. The Superior learned
of this disturbance, and once, during a general assembly of the brethren, he
put the following questions to them: "When the ringing of the bell calls me to
God's church, and there is a suffering brother in my care, what should I do
then? Leave the ailing and hasten to church, or remain in his cell and comfort
the brother?" They answered: "In such a case the Lord accepts the help given
to a suffering brother as true divine service." "But when my strength becomes
weak from fasting, and I am unable to serve the suffering as I ought, should I
gain strength from food in order to wakefully look after the sick, or continue
the fast, even though through this the sick would suffer?" "Excessive fasting
in such a case would not be as pleasing to God as would the solicitous care
for the needs of the sick brother," answered the monks. "You have reasoned
correctly," the Superior said to them. "Why then did you condemn Dositheus,
who, because of the responsibility laid on him to tend the sick, did not
always come to the divine service in church and did not always fast as others
did? Meanwhile, you yourselves witnessed with what diligence, with what
wakefulness he waited on the sick, with what love he fulfilled their demands,
which were often capricious! And who among you will say that he ever heard a
murmur from him regarding the labors and the fatigue!" Such was Dositheus'
divine service; and the Lord accepted him as His faithful and diligent
worshiper: for in the person of the suffering brethren he served the Lord
The more a man practices mercy
and loves people, the nearer he draws to God; and the more a man experiences
the personal Divinity with his heart, the more he loves people. The venerable
Abba Dorotheus explains this thus: "Imagine a circle and its middle point, its
center; and from the center there extend radii or rays. The further these
radii go from the center, the more they diverge and move away from one
another; on the contrary, the closer they come to the center, the more they
themselves converge. Assume now that the circle is the world. The very middle
point of the circle is God, and the direct lines (the radii) going from the
center to the circumference or from the circumference to the center are the
paths of people's lives. And it is the same here--as the saints progress
within the circle toward its middle point, desiring to draw near to God, so
they become closer to God and to one another according to the extent of their
progression. . . . in the same manner they can move away from one another; and
as they move away from one another, so do they move away from God." Such then
is the nature of love. Christian Life According to the Philokalia, page 24).
Christ calls His Church to
serve the needy and unfortunate rather than the self-satisfied and well-off.
Eastern Christian consciousness places the image of the abused and rejected
Christ above all else. The Church sees royal dignity through the poverty that
He voluntarily took upon Himself. The early Church Fathers repeated the demand
to feed the hungry, and to help the sick and the homeless. According to Saint
Basil the Great, one can fulfill God's will only by minding one=s fate with
the fate of others. For Saint Basil the Great, indifference and individualism
were depraved and self-destructive. Even more than Basil the Great, his
younger contemporary Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, preached
the theme of mercy. Let us turn to his works:
"Almsgiving is the heart of
virtue . . . it is the queen of the virtues, which quickly leads people to the
very height of heaven; it is the best of advocates . . . Virginity, fasting,
and lying on the bare ground are important only for the one who gives himself
up to them, and they save no other person; almsgiving extends to all and
embraces the members of Christ (6th Homily on Titus, 2). To do alms is a work
greater than miracles. . . . To feed the hungry Christ is a work greater than
raising the dead in Christ's name. In the first instance thou art the
benefactor of Christ; in the second He is thy benefactor . . . When thou
workest miracles, thou art God's debtor; when thou doest alms, God is thy
Saint John Chrysostom believed
that social evils start in man's thirst for wealth and they worsen in man's
desire to use his wealth selfishly. Saint John Chrysostom says that the only
lawful Owner of earthly goods and treasures is God Omnipotent. People must
serve the true Owner and manage His property according to His will. According
to Saint John Chrysostom, worldly goods are for the needy, the sick, and the
orphans. In those who endure pain and who await help, Christ Himself suffers;
their torments are His lasting agony. Cries of those suffering from need,
Chrysostom tells us, are voices of the crucified Savior Himself. The moral
fervor of Chrysostom and his passionate appeal depend on the Church as the
living Body of Christ Himself.
Ancient [Kievan] Rus' to some,
extent lived according to this ideal. It was called Holy Russia. The
holy Prince Vladimir, the Equal of the Apostles, under whom Rus' was
enlightened with the light of the Christian faith, was a model of mercy in
ancient Rus'. Having given a tithe for the upkeep of the church, at the same
time he published an edict to care for cripples, the needy, and wanderers at
the churches, and to set up poorhouses and hospitals. In his own home on feast
days, he arranged dinners for the clergy, nobles, and poor; on especially
solemn days, as, for instance, during the consecration of churches, the Prince
distributed much money to the poor. The needy and the wretched could freely
come to the Prince's palace and take food and drink for themselves. Moreover,
for the infirm and the sick who could not come to his palace, Prince Vladimir
commanded that special wagons be loaded with bread, meat and other provisions,
and he bestowed these things on those unable to come to the Prince's palace.
Here is another of Prince
Vladimir's works of mercy--During pagan times, as is well known, there were
oppressed slaves. Usually such persons were captives of war or weak or
friendless people that the powerful could subjugate and sell into slavery.
Prince Vladimir, the Equal of the Apostles, put an end to these conditioned
and himself ransomed captives and set them free. G. Fedotov pointed out the
main thing in the Christian consciousness of Old Russia, before Tsar Peter the
Probably, thanks to the
Slavonic Liturgy and the Slavonic Gospel, the image of Christ and His
commandments of love were deeply etched in the memory and in the heart of the
Russian people. Sinning and falling throughout its cruel and bloody history,
the Russian people could not ever part with this Divine image. It warmed the
people's life, by softening human relations through pity and forgiveness, by
teaching them to see in the poor and suffering not only a brother, but also
Christ Himself, and by parching their hearts with thirst for another, radiant
life, in the fullness of which the behests of brotherly love could be
The Christian in the Revolution
(Paris, 1957), page 95).
Opponents of Christianity
insist that Love for God is no selfish striving toward a personal salvation.
They may say to show any love for fellow man by improvement of the condition
of all humanity. Let us reply that out that sincere love for God and
willingness to live according to His commandments is unsuited to egoists. Love
for God and membership in God's Kingdom exclude preoccupation with personal
salvation. The Christian strives toward renewal of all creation.
Concerning this, Saint John
"Let us not be satisfied with
seeking our own salvation; that would mean losing it. During a war, in the
ranks, if a soldier thinks only about saving himself by flight, he destroys
himself and his comrades. The valiant soldier, who fights for others and
together with others, saves himself too." (45th Homily on the Gospel of
Matthew, chapter 54).
As touching social activism,
remember that justice and humanity, as well as condemnation of social
inequality, all originate in the Gospel. Christian love for man demands
personal sacrifice daily and lifelong. The Christian is always alert, for he
sees Christ in each man he meets. Each man is not an occasion for a so-called
good deed. Instead, each man is revealed, to the Christian, as the
beginning of eternal communion with God Himself, a personal communion where
the usual forms of human interaction disappear. Desire and will to love a
unlovable man only because he represents Christ helps us to recognize that
other man's hidden, genuine value. A merciful love of such a man can help even
the most depraved man to recall the image of God that may slumber in his
heart, so that he can promote his own spiritual rebirth. Otherwise he may
linger in spiritual darkness while still well-off in terms of the world.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God
The Sixth Commandment of
In this commandment, Jesus
Christ prompts us to achieve purity of heart. The heart is the guardian of our
spiritual life. It contemplates whatever the eyes cannot see and the mind
cannot grasp. Spiritual contemplation is possible only with a heart that is
pure. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said: The light of the body is
the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of
light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness
The pure heart and its vision
of God are lofty concepts. One can only describe. According to the words of
the holy, righteous John of Kronstadt, a pure heart is meek, humble,
guileless, simple, trusting, true, unsuspicious, gentle, good, not covetous,
not envious, not adulterous. My Life in Christ, p. 56. According to
Venerable John of the Ladder, Purity is the assimilation of a bodiless
nature (Step 15). That is, the life hidden from the physical eyes--the
life of the spiritual world--is revealed to the pure in heart. He who has
made his heart pure, writes Venerable Simeon the New Theologian in the
Philokalia, will not only come to know the meaning and significance of
things secondary and which exist after God, but on having passed through them
all, will also see God Himself--in which is the extremity of good. The
pure in heart are people who can clearly see God's real presence, and who can
proclaim together with the Psalmist:
The Lord is my light and my
savior; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom
then shall I be afraid? . . . . One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will
I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my
life. . . . My heart said unto Thee: I will seek the Lord. My face hath sought
after Thee; Thy face, O Lord, will I seek (Psalm 26:1, 4, 8).
A pure heart preserves the word
of God as the seed sown in Christ's Parable of the Sower:
But that on the good
ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word,
keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke
To see God is the highest
blessedness. So the pure heart constantly seeks the vision of God; it wants
His light in its depth, so strives to live in perfect purity. The Mother of
God lived this way. We call the Virgin Mary Most Pure; for her
ever-virginity, and for her spiritual wholeness. Her heart was pure, her mind
was healthy, her soul magnified the Lord, her spirit exulted in God her
Savior, and her body was a spiritual temple.
The pure Mother of God inspires
saints to preserve their purity of heart. The saints never allow thoughts
contrary to God into their the hearts. Isaac the Syrian points out purity of
heart in the Venerable Sisoes, who renounced worldly desire and thought, and
reached an elemental simplicity. He became like a child, but without
childishness. Venerable Sisoes even would ask his disciple: Have I eaten,
or have I not eaten? But as a child to the world, to God he was mature and
perfect in purity (Venerable Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, p. 142.
While reading, you should recall the words of Christ: Verily I say unto
you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter
into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Purity of heart is necessary
for mystical oneness with God. Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes of this in his
Sixth Homily, On the Beatitudes--
The joyful vision of God is
offered to the man who has purified the sight of his soul. Thus, the Word
(i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ) teaches us, when He says to us that the
kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). This teaches us that the man
who has purified his soul from all passionate impulses will reflect by his
inner beauty the likeness of the Divine image. . . By a good life, wash off
the filth that adheres to thy heart, and then shall shine forth thy divinely
The Apostle Paul wrote of this
too, in his pastoral epistles.
Unto the pure all things are
pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even
their mind and conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15).
If a man therefore purge
himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for
the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts:
but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the
Lord out of a pure heart (II Timothy 2:21-22).
Abba Pimen struggled for piety
and purity of heart. He taught us--
"As long as the pot is on the
fire, no fly nor any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold,
these creatures get inside. So it is for the monk; as long as he lives in
spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him."
Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 154.
What should we do if we do not
have a pure heart? How can we purify it of defilement? First of all, we must
pray that the Lord give us spiritual insight, that He give us the Holy Spirit,
Who penetrates everything, Who sees everything. Such a prayer is always heard,
for the Lord has promised: If ye then, being evil, know how to give good
gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the
Holy Spirit to them that ask him (Luke 11:13). A praying heart, filled
with contrition, is acceptable to God, for, as it is said in the 50th Psalm:
A heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise (verse 17).
Sincere prayer warms the heart, arouses reverent compunction, and draws to
itself the purifying and sanctifying grace of God. Thus the Church teaches us
to purify the heart by warm prayer. In the Canon of Preparation for Holy
Communion we read: Teardrops grant me, O Christ, to cleanse my defiled
heart (Third Ode).
Prayer expels evil--that
offspring of Satan, the enemy of our salvation--from the heart. We must
frequently and reverently say the name of Jesus Christ. The Savior said: In
my name shall they cast out devils (Mark 16:17). Frequent invocation of
this most sweet name with faith and reverence in the so-called mental
or Jesus Prayer can expel impurities from the heart and fill it with heavenly
joy and peace.
In Way of the Ascetics, Tito
Colliander wrote some inspired lines concerning the Jesus Prayer. His chapter
"The saintly Abbot Isaiah, the
Egyptian hermit, says of the Jesus Prayer that it is a mirror for the mind and
a lantern for the conscience. Someone has also likened it to a constantly
sounding, quiet voice in a house: all thieves that sneak in take hasty flight
when they hear that someone is awake there. The house is the heart, the
thieves, the evil impulses. Prayer is the voice of the one who keeps watch.
But the one who keeps watch is no longer I, but Christ."
Spiritual activity embodies
Christ in our soul. This involves continual remembrance of the Lord: you hide
Him within, in your soul, your heart, your consciousness. I sleep, but my
heart waketh (Song of Solomon 5:2): I myself sleep, withdraw, but the
heart stays steadfast in prayer, that is, in eternal life, in the kingdom of
Heaven, in Christ. The tree-roots of my being stand fast in their source.
The means of attaining this is
the prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Repeat
it aloud, or only in thought, slowly, lingeringly, but with attention, and
from a heart freed as much as possible from all that is inappropriate to it.
Not only worldly interests are inappropriate, but also such things as every
kind of expectation or thought of answer, or inner visions, testings, all
kinds of romantic dreams, curious questions and imaginings.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God
The Seventh Commandment of
Our Creator is the God of
Peace. The Heavenly Father sent His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to earth,
in order to reconcile man to God. The Apostle Paul speaks with encouragement
about Christ the Reconciler:
For it pleased the Father that
in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of
his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether
they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime
alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and
unreprovable in his sight (Colossians 1:19-22).
This Kingdom of God is a
kingdom of peace. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you . . .
(John 14:27), said the Lord Jesus Christ. And again: These things I
have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace (John 16:33).
Peace in me and my peace mean the peace acquired in accordance with
the testament, teaching, and example of Christ. These words of the Savior
speak of that very peace that the Apostle Paul lists among the fruits of
the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), which is also the peace of God, which
passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
When Christ was born in
Bethlehem of Judea, the angles sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on
earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14). Despite ongoing conflict,
Christ liberated the wills and hearts of the peacemakers when he beckoned them
into the Kingdom of God. These peacemakers suffuse peace onto all around them.
Peacemakers are called, therefore, according to Christ's words, the sons of
The word peace was a
form of greeting among ancient peoples. Even now Israelis greet one another
with peace, which is said shalom just as during the Savior's
life on earth. The ancient Hebrew word shalom is richly evocative. As a
metaphor, shalom signified the good relations between peoples,
families, and nations, between husband and wife, between man and God. The
opposite of shalom was not war but whatever violates or destroys
individual well-being or good social relations. And shalom signified a
special gift from God to Israel for the sake of His Covenant (agreement), with
rich moral, psychological, and historical associations when used in priestly
The savior used peace,
shalom, in the same way. He greeted the apostles with it, as in the
Gospel according to John: The first day of the week (after the resurrection
of Christ from the dead) . . . came Jesus and stood in the midst (of His
disciples), and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And then: . . . said Jesus
to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I
you (John 20:19, 21). This greeting is not a formality. Christ really
clothes His disciples in peace, knowing that ahead they will travel though
enmity and persecution towards martyrdom.
The epistles of Apostle Paul
tell us that this peace is not of this world. As one fruit of the Holy Spirit,
peace is from Christ, for he is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). The divine
services of the Orthodox and other Christian Churches have bishops and priests
bless the people of God with the sign of the Cross and the words: Peace be
unto all. The experienced wholeness of this peace has us sated and filled.
No one can take its power from us. Or Lord=s peace frees a man from every
anxiety and fear about what to eat and drink or what to wear. The heart filled
with peace is not subject to confusion or fear, even in terrible sufferings
and death. And only someone who abides in such peace can say, like the Apostle
Who shall separate us from the
love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or
nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed
all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all
these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am
persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor
powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any
other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in
Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
The satisfying inward peace of
Christ, however, strengthens us to continue to oppose evil in the world.
Christ indicated that to oppose evil, He would cause many disturbances and
alienations among men. In the Gospel according to Matthew, He says--
Think not that I am come to
send peace on earth: I am come not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come
to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her
mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes
shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than
me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not
worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me is not
worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his
life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:34-39).
In this way, a peacemaker is
one who testifies about Christ, who fearlessly takes up his cross, and gives
up his life for the Lord, whose life shows truth and love and the peace of
Christ. The peace of God, writes Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, is
accompanied by the clear presence of the Holy Spirit in a man; it is the
activity of the Holy Spirit (Ascetical Experiences, page 594). Venerable
Seraphim of Sarov, in his conversation on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit,
measures the power of the peacemaker on human society: Acquire the spirit
of peace and thousands around you will be saved. The soul cannot have
peace, teaches Elder Siluan of Athos, if it will not study the law of
God day and night, for this law is written by the Spirit of God, and the
Spirit of God passes from the Scriptures to the soul, and the soul feels
delight and pleasure in this.
Venerable Siluan of Athos,
The Apostle Paul instructs us
in the Epistle to the Romans--
If it be possible, as
much as lieth in you, live peaceable with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not
yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is
mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, continues the Apostle Paul,
if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing
thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but
overcome evil with good (Romans 12:18-21).
In his Homily on the
Beatitudes, the holy Hierarch Gregory of Nyssa extolls peace and concord among
Of everything that people seek
to enjoy in life, is there anything sweeter than a peaceful life? Everything
that you would call pleasant in life, is pleasant only when it is united with
peace. Let there be everything that is valued in life: wealth, health, a wife,
children, a home, relatives, friends; let there be beautiful gardens, places
for merry banquets and all contrivances for amusement . . . let all this be,
but if there not be peace, what use is it? . . . . And so, peace is not only
pleasant in itself for those who enjoy peace, but it makes all the good things
of life enjoyable. If there should occur with us, as often happens with
people, some kind of misfortune in a time of peace, it too becomes more
tolerable, because in such a case evil is pacified by good. . . Judge for
thyself: What sort of life do those who are at enmity with each another and
are suspicious of one other have? They meet sullenly and one abhors everything
in the other; their lips are mute, their glance is averted and the hearing of
one is closed to the words of the other.
Everything that is pleasing to
one of them is hateful to the other; and, on the contrary, that which is
hateful and hostile to one, is pleasing to the other. Therefore, the Lord
wants that thou wouldst multiply in thyself the grace of peace with such
abundance, so that not only wouldst thou enjoy it, but that thy life would
serve as a medicine against the illness of others . . . Whoever turns others
away from this shameful vice, such a one renders the greatest benefit and may
justly be called blessed; such a one performs a work of God's power, by
destroying evil in human nature, and by introducing in place of it fellowship
with good things. That is why the Lord also calls the peacemaker a son of God,
because he who procures such tranquility for human society becomes an imitator
of the true God. The Bestower and Lord of good things completely exterminates
and destroys all that is unnatural and alien to good. A similar activity does
He command also of thee; and thou must extinguish hatred, cut off enmity and
vengeance, destroy quarrels, expel hypocrisy, extinguish the remembrance of
wrongs which corrupts the heart, and in place of it introduce everything
contrary . . . . love, joy, peace, goodness, magnanimity, in a word the whole
assemblage of good things. And so, is not he blessed who distributes the
divine gifts, who imitates God in his gifts, whose benefactions are similar to
God's great gifts?
Homily on the Beatitudes.
Conversion is the like's work
of a Christian, working primarily on repentance. The Greek word metanoia
is usually translated as repentance, but it means literally a change
of mind. The religious change is for mind and our will to leave off an
incorrect, ruinous way, for the correct, saving way.
The Russian word pokajanie
or raskajanie (repentance) is just as richly evocative. The word
okajanstvo (wretchedness) is a derivation from the name of Cain,
the murderer in Genesis, the first Old Testament book of the Bible.
Cain transgressed God's will like his parents Adam and Eve, and fell lower,
having defiled conscience and the earth by shedding the blood of his brother,
Abel. Since he broke peace with God and his brother, Cain is the father of
enmity. The process of repentance (pokajanie) erases the image
of Cain from oneself and removes his mark from one's heart.
Repentance begins with seeing
how far our willfulness carried us from God's righteousness. To repent and to
reach true spiritual perfection next calls for forgiveness of one another's
Christ forewarns: if ye
forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but
if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your
trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).
Offence sit deeply in the human
heart and sometimes must painfully be wrenched out. As our strength increases
to cast out grudges and hurts that have and hindered peace with other people,
then the joy of forgiveness comes. Boldly we can entreat Our Heavenly Father:
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive out debtors (Matthew 6:12).
When we are unreconciled with
neighbors, neither fasting, nor services, nor prayers, nor sacrifices have any
significance as repentance. If pride hinders us, we must overcome it. Pride is
the cause of every evil. We must humble ourselves and find strength to fight
our pride. The Orthodox Church placed the merciful Rite of Forgiveness on the
Eve of Great Lent, when those entering the Lenten path ask forgiveness of each
other. We are all guilty. Any sin of ours, even the most hidden, even mental
sin and the sin we unconscious, harms all of us and the world. All mankind has
one family, and the sin of each harms everyone else.
Sometimes, for example, an evil
man enters into a room, or a man who is not evil but somewhat gloomy. His
gloom shows in his gaze or unfriendly smile. Sometimes an encounter with such
a gaze or unfriendly smile can depress other people and increase malice in
their souls. In reverse, the silent presence of a holy man or an ordinary but
good man--his gaze, smile, and voice--can comfort people with joy and peace.
Children also bring light and joy just by their presence. So we are
accountable for the bad that we did or thought or for not doing enough good.
The Apostle Peter asked of the
Lord: How many times should one forgive a debtor? until seven times? To
this Christ answered: I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until
seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). That is, one must forgive
So we must acquire a spirit
of peace to influence our neighbors, so that, according to the word of
Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, thousands around us would be saved. We
must try to find the part in the soul of each man that is receptive to
goodness. We must enter his circle of interests and to adapt ourselves to his
concepts and leanings. The Apostle Paul did so constantly, who wrote in his
First Epistle to the Corinthians: unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I
might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I
might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as
without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that
I might gain them that are without law (I Corinthians 9:20-21).
By trying to see a man's
strengths, and not his shortcomings; and by forgiving his blunders and sins,
we take part in his reform, rebirth, and reconciliation to God. As
missionaries, we draw him into Christ's Court, where the sound of those
that keep festival is unceasing and endless is the delight of those who behold
the unutterable beauty of [the Lord's] countenance. Insofar, by grace, we
become sons of God.
The Commandments of Blessedness (The Beatitudes)
VIII-IX Blessed are they which are persecuted for
Blessed are they which are
persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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 the heavens.
We are joining these two
Commandments of Blessedness together since they are like one another.
In the last two Commandments of
Blessedness it is said that everyone who lives according to righteousness will
be persecuted. By "righteousness", one must understand life according to God's
commandments. In other words, blessed are they who are persecuted for the
faith and for piety; for their good deeds, performed in the name of Christ;
for constancy and steadfastness in the faith. Such people will be rewarded in
eternal life with the blessedness of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Persecution for righteousness
takes various forms. This can be spiritual estrangement, rejection or reproval,
or opposition to the Godpleasing activity of those living according to
righteousness, calumny, constraints caused by those in authority, exile,
torture, and finally, death.
Remember the word
, said Jesus Christ, that I said unto you. The servant is not greater than
his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they
have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they
do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me
(John 15:2021). In these words, Christ calls for His followers to imitate Him
in everything, including also His selfabasement. To imitate Christ is not
some kind of outward duty and it is not the fulfillment of a coercive demand.
In other words, this is not an outward assimilation and repetition of His
deeds and actions. The imitation of Christ is the living, free ordering of
religiomoral life in Christ, by the power of love for Him, as for one's
Ideal, Redeemer and Saviour. In order to come to love Christ, we are called to
go along the inescapable path of selfrenunciation. Through selfrenunciation,
as such, we come to a reconcilement with all adversities, sorrows and every
unpleasantness. The great hierarch of Moscow, Metropolitan Philaret, loved to
say: "There is not greater glory than to share dishonor with Jesus."
True Christians will always be
persecuted for Christ's sake. They will be persecuted together with Him and
like Him, for the truth confessed by them and for the good done by them. As we
have already said, these persecutions can appear in the most diverse forms,
not only physical, but they will always be senseless, unjust, cruel and
without any reason, for, according to the word of the Apostle Paul, all
that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Timothy
3:12). However, we must beware of a false "persecution complex" and be assured
that sufferings fall to us only for righteousness, and not for our own
weaknesses and sins. The Apostolic writings clearly forewarn: For this is
thankworthy, teaches the Apostle Peter, if a man for conscience toward God
endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be
buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when you do
well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving
us an example, that ye should follow his steps (I Peter 2:1921).
If ye be reproached
for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God
resteth upon you....But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief,
or as an evil doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man
suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this
behalf (I Peter 4:1416).
Why does the world persecute
true faith, piety, righteousness, which are so beneficial for the world
itself? The word of God answers us: ...[the] world lieth in wickedness
(I John 5:19). Men, according to the word of King David, loved evil more than
goodness (Psalm 51:3), and the prince of this world, the devil, acting through
evil men, hates righteousness and persecutes it, since it serves as a
denunciation of unrighteousness. As regards this, the holy righteous John of
Kronstadt wrote: "Evil, depraved men always hated and persecuted the
righteous, and they will always hate and persecute them. Cain hated his
righteous brother, Abel, persecuted him for his piety and finally killed him;
the bestial Esau hated his meek brother, Jacob, and persecuted him,
threatening to kill him; the unrighteous children of the Patriarch Jacob hated
their brother, the righteous Joseph, and sold him secretly to Egypt so that he
would not be an annoyance to them; the impious Saul hated the meek David and
persecuted him until his death, encroaching on his life; they hated God's
prophets, who denounced their iniquitous life, and some of them they beat,
others they killed, still others they stoned, and finally they persecuted and
killed the greatest Righteous One, the Fulfillment of the law and the
prophets, the Sun of righteousness, Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Complete
Collection of the Words of Protopriest John Sergiev [in Russian], Volume I,
Persecution on the part of the
enemies of Christianity embraces the whole aggregate of external conditions
under which the ancient Church's existed. The heavy weight of the persecutions
was magnified even more by the fact that indigence and poverty constituted the
distinctive features of the first Christians. For you see your calling,
brethren, writes the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, how that not many
wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
....base things of the world and things which are despised, hath God chosen,
yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are (I
Corinthians 1:26, 28). Besides outward trials, the Christians, who were poor
materially but rich in spirit, had to endure inner trials which were no less
weighty: backbiting, revilement, ridicule, abuse, calumny and so on.
The history of the Church shows
us that Christians who were living according to righteousness suffered not
only from pagans, but were also persecuted when Christianity became the state
religion of the Roman Empire. Such luminaries of the faith as Athanasius the
Great, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, John Damascene, Sophronius of
Jerusalem and many others underwent lack of recognition, vilification, exile
and martyrdom. So it has been even until our days, when in communist countries
the power of the state was hurled forth with particular force for the
annihilation of Christianity and Christians.
Saint John Chrysostom, the
Archbishop of Constantinople, was a great zealot of righteousness. In
accordance with his sacred responsibility, he could not look indifferently on
people's vices and he denounced them, not fearing persecution. It is
understood that the vicious people on their part could not indifferently
endure the denunciations of the preacher of righteousness and social justice.
His enemies increased, but for righteousness he was prepared to endure every
persecution. The malicious enemies of John Chrysostom triumphed, and the
hierarch was condemned to incarceration. When his friends lamented and
sorrowed over him, he was completely tranquil and even cheerful. "Pray, my
brethren," he would say; "remember me in your prayers." When the tears of
those around him were the response to this: "Do not weep, my brethren, " he
would continue; "the present life is a journey, during which it is necessary
to bear both the good and bad." To John Chrysostom belong the remarkable
words, which afterwards many martyrs and righteous loved to repeat: "Glory to
God for all things, but especially for afflictions."
Christians must accept any
suffering joyfully, with mercy toward him who causes it. As Christ, while
dying on the Cross, said: Father, forgive them... (Luke 23:34); as the
Protomartyr Stephen, while being stoned, prayed: Lord, lay not this sin to
their charge (Acts 7:60). Christ said: 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. And unto him that smiteth thee
on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak
forbid not to take thy coat also.....But love ye your enemies, and do good,
and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye
shall be the children of the Highest; for he is kind unto the unthankful and
to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge
not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned:
forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto you...
(Luke 6:2729, 3538).
The final, Ninth Commandment of
Blessedness constitutes a preparation, so that we would be able to accept the
further preaching of Jesus Christ on following after Him, carrying our life's
cross; but the main thing to approach closer to the great Mystery of the
sufferings on the Cross of the Saviour Himself.
Let no one be troubled by the
apparent victory in this world of falsehood over truth, of darkness over
light. The fundamental truth of the Christian gospel consists of the fact that
Christ resurrected, that He is the Conqueror of death, and He makes us, who
believe in Him, participants and heirs of this victory. To those who believe
in Him, Christ gave the Cross the most powerful weapon against evil. On the
image of the Cross for ever lies the sanctifying reflection of the paschal
victory the victory of God's truth over the kingdom of the prince of this
Ye are they which have
continued with me in my temptations says the Lord
to His faithful followers. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father
hath appointed unto me (Luke 22:2829).
In the Apocalypse we read about
people who have fulfilled the final two Commandments of Blessedness: These
are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and
made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne
of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the
throne shall dwell among them (Revelation 7:1415).
* * *
From the very first until the
very last pages of the Gospel, the Apostles of Christ together with the Mother
of God and all the Christians continuously rejoice over the salvation ushered
in by Him.
As the Father hath
loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my
commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's
commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that
my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full
...and your heart
shall rejoice, Christ says in another place, and
your joy no man taketh from you....Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name:
ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:22, 24).
True Christian joy is not
earthly happiness, pleasure or a pleasant way of passing time, but the
joy...in believing (Romans 15:13) that cannot be compared with anything
else, the joy of knowing God's love, the joy, according to the word of the
Apostle Peter, of worthily [partaking] of Christ's sufferings (I Peter
Spiritual joy is closely tied
with spiritual suffering. It is incorrect to think that joy comes only after
suffering; joy in Christ comes together with suffering in Christ. They coexist
and depend one on the other for their strength and power. As sorrow over sin
comes together with the joy of salvation, so also suffering in this world is
consonant with and even directly evokes this ineffable joy of salvation.
Therefore, as the Apostle James says, Christians must count it all joy when
[they] fall into divers temptations, knowing that the perfect work of
their unshakeable faith is expressed by the fact that they are able to become
perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:2,4). Such also is the
firm conviction of the Apostle Paul, who wrote:
.....[we] rejoice in
hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also:
knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and
experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed
abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us
Such is the joy of Christians,
the joy of the martyrs, which more than anything else bears witness to the
truth of the Christian faith and the genuineness of Christian spiritual life.
Rejoice and be
exceeding glad, for great is your reward in the heavens