Homilies on the Beatitudes: St John of Kronstadt
Translated in the year 2021 by Ekaterina Adamovich,
edited and published by Peter L. Scott
Copyright CCL(Creative Common License) 2021: This work may be freely given and shared,. However, it or any portion may not be used to generate any kind financial or material gain or any other type of compensation by itself or as part of something else.
СодержаниеHomily 1 Homily 2. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” Homily 3 (on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son) Homily 4 (on the Sunday of Orthodoxy). “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” Homily 5. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Homily 6. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Homily 7. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” Homily 8. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Homily 9. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.” Homily 10. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness» sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven.”
Editor’s note: I wanted a version of this work to be available to everyone for free so we did a new translation. In our translation we focused on how these homilies would sound being spoken as that’s how they were originally delivered. That is reflected in our choice of wording and the use of active voice. I hope that anyone who reads this and/or listens to the audio version will find Father John’s words, wisdom and advice helpful in their lives.
Beloved brothers, sisters and children in Christ, incline your ear – not just the external, but, more importantly, the one within, about which our Lord Jesus Christ said: “he that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8); incline, I say, your ear to listening to the commandments of our Lord to attain beatitude. In the beginning, God created the human being in and for beatitude, for the beatitude that is eternal; but the sin that appeared in the world and penetrated in all people through a single person, destroyed the beatitude of the people and subjected them to damnation, all kinds of sorrows, misfortunes, diseases and, finally, temporary and eternal death. Only the infinite love of God the Creator for his fallen creature, honored to be made in the image and likeness of God, could find a way to open a return path to the lost beatitude. This way to restoration of the fallen is the incarnation, the life among people, the divine teaching and miracles, suffering, death on the cross and the resurrection from the dead of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ; and the way back to beatitude lies through abiding to his teaching, adhering to his ordinances, and obedience to lawful pastors and teachers of the churches. There is no other way to beatitude, as Christ says: “I am the way and the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me.” “I am the door: by me if any one enter in, he shall be saved” (John 14:6, 10:9).
How much do all of us crave for beatitude! How much do we fear and avoid sorrows and sicknesses! Though, unfortunately, we crave and seek beatitude on earth, where there is none, and not in Heaven, where it abides forever. We fear and avoid sorrows and sicknesses, while they are mostly, if not necessary, useful for us, for they heal the immortal soul suffering with many different passions. And, for sure, what beatitude can be in expulsion, in exile, in prison? This is our condition, our sins have banished all of us from paradise to this world, as though to a prison. What beatitude is there for those condemned to death?
You may say: there are many innocent pleasures on earth, which God does not forbid: for example, God gave wine that delights the heart of man, and opened the art of playing the psaltery, harp, organ, cymbals and many other musical instruments. he taught us to form choirs and sing with jubilation; he surrounded us with the birds that sing, as calling us to bliss and joy; and before our eyes he spread the majestic spectacle of nature, in which we see the joy and happiness of creatures everywhere who call us to rejoice with them.
So, by the goodness of God, in this world there are some innocent consolations for us, wounded by a sting of mortality, to relieve our wanderer’s fate and sorrows. But these consolations must used with moderation, without holding on to them in any way. We must strive for the promised beatitude through the hardest way of labor, vigil, prayer, abstinence, purity and every virtue in which it is impossible to succeed without great suffering and temptation. Brothers, our true, complete and eternal beatitude is in Heaven, where the All-Blessed God lives in unapproachable light, where the forefathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, hierarchs, martyrs, monks, the righteous and all the saints dwell; where the queen of Heaven and Earth, the Most Holy Mother of God, reigns together with her Son. The beatitude we have here, the earthly, bodily, and evanescent fleets like a dream; it is often coarse and impure. Only true virtue may anticipate the Heavenly beatitude on earth.
So, where can we seek the true way to beatitude? What guidance and which commandments should we observe to achieve it? Under the guidance of the Lord's nine Beatitudes, which he recounted on the mount to his disciples and people, and which are chanted or recited to us as a daily instruction at the Liturgy, at the Little Entrance, when the royal doors are opened for the first time. They read like this: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven” (Matthew 5:3–12).
This is the way to true beatitude!
Next Sunday we will talk about why these Beatitudes are sung or recited at the Little Entrance and by the open royal doors. We will discover the meaning of the Little Entrance, the altar and the royal doors, for this will make the commandments on beatitude clearer. And now I ask you to remember by heart the truth that we were created by God for eternal life and eternal beatitude, which we lost through sin and were banished from Heaven, subjected to God’s damnation, and doomed to labor, sorrow, sickness and death, condemned to wandering in exile, seeking this home and beatitude. It may only be returned to us by the Heavenly Father through the intercession and merit of his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, if we have faith in Him and follow his commandments. Amen.
Homily 2. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
Last Sunday, with God's help, we began to speak about the ways to beatitude indicated by the Lord. We found that the way was in the famous nine beatitudes, which the Savior recounted on the Mount, and promised to talk about the reason why these divine sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ were recited or sung at the beginning of the Liturgy, at the Little Entrance by the open royal doors, and why the verse “Remember us, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom” is sung before the Beatitudes; and about the meaning of the Little Entrance, the altar and the royal doors.
Why are the beatitudes sung or read at the Little Entrance, at the beginning of each Liturgy? Here is the reason: the Liturgy is a recollection of the earthly life of Jesus Christ from his swaddling clothes to the grave, from his resurrection to his ascension into Heaven. The altar means the kingdom of Heaven, or paradise; the royal doors stand for the doors of Heaven; opening and closing the doors during the Liturgy means opening and closing the kingdom of Heaven. The beginning of the liturgy signifies the beginning of the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ to humankind, and the Little Entrance with the Gospel stands for his procession to recount the Gospel and the first Sermon on the Mount, in which he blessed those who fulfilled his commandments and promised rewards in Heaven to those who strive in this world for his sake. As we look at the open royal doors as the gates of the kingdom of Heaven, and as we gaze with the eyes of our heart at the Lord appearing mysteriously in the Little Entrance before us, earthly strangers, outcasts from the Heaven, it feels natural, as the prudent thief, to pray to the Lord, saying: “Remember us, o Lord, when you come into your kingdom.”
The Beatitudes of Christ are recited or sung at this time to remind us of the appearance of Jesus Christ to preach to the world and his first Sermon on the Mount, and of the virtues each of us needs to be allowed to enter paradise, into Heaven opened by the Lord’s cross. Through this sacred rite, the Church says to us: you were banished from paradise for your sins in Adam, you lost the beatitude you had been created for; for you paradise was closed for many thousands of years, but it was opened to you again by the Son of God; compel yourself to enter it, for “the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12). To enter the kingdom of Heaven opened by the Lord’s cross, here are the qualities and virtues you need to possess: poverty of spirit, lamenting over sins, meekness, hunger and thirst after righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, etc. Acquire them and you will find your way to paradise. This is the meaning of the Little Entrance with the Gospel and singing the Beatitudes of the Gospel during it!
Now let us look at the first commandment on beatitude. “Blessed,” says the Lord, “are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”. Let us imagine ourselves standing on the Mount of the Beatitudes, where the Lord preached to the people. His disciples and simple people are there standing before Him, longing for his word. There they stand, because along with his disciples, they relentlessly follow the divine teacher, waiting for his word. Because they also feel their spiritual poverty and destitution, and regret; and with the generosity of heart and mind of Christ they hope to make up for the deficiency of their hearts and minds; from the richness of his mercy they hope to have their sins forgiven and achieve peace in their souls; and they long to enlighten their souls with his light; and from his ever-flowing source they seek to draw the life-giving streams of his grace. These are the poor in spirit whom he, who knows all hearts, beatifies, it is they whom he opens the kingdom of Heaven for; these are the humble ones to whom the Lord reveals his grace!
But why are there no scribes and the Pharisees, scholars and teachers of the Jewish people among them; why are there no priests, elders, or princes? Because they refuse to realize their spiritual poverty, their sinfulness, blindness and spiritual nakedness. They consider themselves righteous, who don't need to learn the word of truth from the gentle and humble teacher of Nazareth; they believe they have pleased God with their false righteousness and dream of taking the first places in the Messiah’s kingdom. Brothers, these are the proud ones who are far away from the true beatitude and the kingdom of Heaven; pitiable people, they don't understand that their righteousness is not pure before God and it is not worth the name of truth, for it is imbued with pride and vanity; for they are “the generation of vipers” (Matthew 3:7), children of God's wrath.
And now look at yourselves, my brothers. Who are you, standing before me in the holy church, humbly listening to the feeble word of an unknown preacher? Are there many among you who are wise in the ways of the world, are there many who are strong, or noble among you? Are not my listeners, for the most part, the downtrodden, weak, and lowborn? But let me comfort you, for the speech of our divine teacher, the Lord Jesus Christ, is addressed to you, just like to all the noble ones who humbly stand here: blessed are you, who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of Heaven. For you realize your spiritual ignorance, your sinfulness, your weakness and the grace of God addressed to you, you have come now and you will always come to this temple to enrich your spirit from the generous God: whether you come for the forgiveness of sins, blessing, peace and freedom of the soul, light and purity of thoughts, guidance on the further path of your life, on Christian deeds and your everyday work; whether you seek spiritual armament against the invisible enemies, for the cure of a sickness and the relief of the sorrow, or to offer your gratitude to God for his goodness, you come here. And where are the noble, the educated, the rich? There are very few of them. Why? Because many of them say to ourselves: we are rich, we have achieved this fortune and we don't need to ask for anything. We are educated, so what else shall we learn and from whom? We have many blessings of all sorts, we don’t know poverty, so what shall we ask God for; all we have we owe to ourselves, our intelligence, our labor, our position in the world, our place; so whom shall we thank and for what?
We are sinful, they say, and this is true, but who does not sin? This is the nature of man, they say, why blame him? Although this is not the nature that created him this way; this is his own will and the abuse of that will that made him become what he is. This is how the mighty of our world think, how they judge, those proud of the world are “great and rich, sleek and bloated” (Jeremiah 5:27–28). Far from them is the kingdom of God. «Woe unto them that are full!” says the Lord, “for they shall hunger; Woe unto you that are rich! For you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24–25).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” What is poverty of spirit? All of you have seen bodily poverty; so, to paint an image of spiritual poverty, let us explain in the same way. The pauper, as the word assumes, is the one who has nothing of his own, and whatever he hopes for, is from the mercy of others: he does not have his own piece of bread to satisfy his hunger, or what would be enough for him to quench his thirst. he doesn’t have shelter to lay his head unless someone gives him money to pay for one; nor does he have any clothes unless a compassionate person takes pity on him and buys him some, or, if he has some clothes, they are old, dirty, worn, and good for nothing, so you would not want to touch them. He is neglected, he is reproached; he is treated like trash, like a piece of dung, though in the eyes of God he may appear like gold refined in a furnace. An example of such is Lazarus in the Gospels.
Now let us apply these features of bodily poverty to the one poor in spirit. The pauper in spirit is the one who sincerely recognizes himself as a spiritual pauper, for his has nothing of his own. he expects everything from the mercy of God, convinced that he can neither think, nor wish anything good unless God gives him a good thought or intention, that he cannot do a single truly good deed without the blessing of Jesus Christ. He considers himself more sinful and nasty, lower than everybody else, he reproaches himself and never judges anyone; he claims his soul’s raiment to be bad and dismal, stinking and worthless, and never ceases to beg our Lord Jesus Christ to improve the raiment of his soul, to clothe him in the imperishable garment of truth. He relentlessly shelters underneath the wings of God, finding safety nowhere else except in God; he believes that he owes everything to God and earnestly thanks him for everything, at the same time eagerly sharing everything he has with those in need. This is who is poor in spirit, and such poor in spirit shall be blessed, by the word of God. For where there is humility, recognition of one’s poverty and wretchedness, there is God, and where God is, the sins are relieved, there is peace, light, freedom, contentment and beatitude. These are the poor in spirit to whom the Lord came to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of Heaven, as he said: “he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18), which means those poor in spirit, not those striving to be rich, for their pride repels the grace of God, and they remain an empty and foul-smelling shell. Don’t people willingly extend a helping hand and mercy to those who are truly poor, in a desperate need for the bare essentials, so even more, is it not God who shows mercy and fatherly answers to those who call on Him, and fills them with his spiritual treasures? “he has filled the hungry with good things” it is said (Luke 1:53).
Aren’t the valleys richly watered with rain; don't the valleys bloom and are fragrant? Aren’t those the mountains, where you find snow and ice, and lifelessness? The tall mountains are the image of the proud, and the valleys are the image of the humble: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low” (Luke 3:5). “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
So, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” that is, those who consider themselves to be nothing, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. At the beginning, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Heaven, was inside people, in their hearts, as the Lord said: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). But then, after our forefathers disobeyed the will of God and listened to the devil who tempted them, it disappeared from the human heart, and sin and its perpetrator have reigned human hearts ever since, turning them earthly from being Heavenly, enslaving them to earthly vanity. Simple people became cunning, good people became evil, the humble became proud, the pure became impure; those who were strong for the holy, true and good became powerless for anything good, striving for evil instead, so that now, according to the Holy Scripture, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). Only poverty of spirit, or humility, can return the kingdom of God to the people’s hearts, which was lost due to his self-conceit and pride, and all the saints of God in their earthly life have been distinguished with profound poverty of spirit. The apostle Paul himself, who was lifted up to the third Heaven, called himself “the first among sinners” (Tim. 1:15). The holy apostle James also names himself among sinners, saying: “All of us go wrong again and again” (James 3:2). The holy apostle John writes: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8), also reckoning himself among those who sin.
But who were the apostles? The living cloisters of the Holy Trinity, the verbal organs of the Holy Spirit, friends of Christ, and, above all, the holy people. So, if they put themselves in such a humble way, what should we think of ourselves? Shouldn't we say frankly that all we are is a sinful stench, stinking shells of passions, alien to true virtue, that we are cursed, poor, blind and naked, and constantly pray to the Lord to relieve our souls and bodies from the stench of passions with the Holy Spirit, to fill them with a bliss of virtues and holiness of the Divine Spirit? For “without him we can do nothing” (John 15:5). Those who want to achieve true and deep humility, need to explore themselves often, looking deeper into themselves. They need to impartially consider with their inner eyes all of their sinful thoughts, desires, intentions, and affairs from the earliest youth to the present; then will they see that they are drowning in the abyss of sins.
The literate can be advised to read more. Besides the morning and evening prayers that present the poverty of prayers quite clearly, they should also read the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, canons and akathists to the Savior and the Holy Mother of God, the canon to the Guardian Angel and canons for every day of the week; of course, never neglect the Gospel and the Psalter, which are the finest schools of humility.
Can rich people be poor in spirit? Indeed, they can, unless they consider themselves great people just for possessing perishable wealth to pay for anything they want. How can they be poor in spirit? When they sincerely realize that their fortune, and the whole world’s fortune does not mean a thing compared with the immortal soul; that this is the gift of God not only to us, but also to our neighbors, as the material abundance is given to help the poor. Once they accept that with all their wealth they are extremely poor in spirit, they will not be high-minded, “nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy”; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, “that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1Tim. 6:17–19). This is what the rich Abraham was like, that was what Job and many others, both in the Old and New Testaments, were like. However, since wealth creates many temptations, those striving for the Christian perfection, craving deep poverty of spirit and no stumbling-blocks on the path of salvation, usually sold their property and distributed their fortune to the poor, and retired in silence to serve the God day and night without rest and entertainment. This is why the Lord said to one rich man: “If you will be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven, and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
So, the Scripture says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”: not “theirs will be the kingdom of Heaven”, but theirs is, because here, on earth, God rests and reigns in the humble hearts, and in the future life will he reign forever and glorify them with his imperishable glory.
Gather up the wealth of humility here on earth, my brothers, to enjoy the wealth of glory in Heaven. Amen.
Homily 3 (on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son)
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept” (Psalm 136)
“Blessed are they that weep, for they shall be comforted.”
Now the Church offers us, her prodigal sons, the Parable of the Prodigal Son told by the Savior. To remind us that we are all captives and pitiable slaves of sin, at Matins the Church sings the lament of the captive children of Zion: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion”. The Judeans enslaved by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, represent us, brothers, as slaves of the spiritual Nebuchadnezzar, the devil. The rivers of Babylon stand for our passions rushing to sin, or the rivers of passions flowing from the mouth of the spiritual dragon, the Satan, and pulling us into the abyss of hell. The bitter cry of the children of Israel represents the wail of true Christians, the sons of the New Israel, over their spiritual slavery to sin. The days of fasting and repentance, the Great Lent, are about to begin very soon. With the effort to guide us gradually into this feat, the Church, reminds us of our captivity and expulsion from our heavenly fatherland and about the need for these bitter tears of repentance. So, accept this reminder from the Most Holy Mother with gratitude, and begin the spiritual repentance with God’s help.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” The Israelites wept over their earthly Zion, where their temple of the true God used to stand, and the ark of the covenant with the tablets written by God, the jar of manna, and the wondrously blooming rod of Aaron that were there. We must weep over our Heavenly Zion, the city of the living God; our heavenly Jerusalem, the genuine fatherland of Christians, from which we were banished for our sins; we must weep over our negligence in fulfilling the commandments of God, over our indifference to the Heavenly manna – the Body and Blood of God and what he did for us on the Cross. And whose soul does not weep when this lament is sung? Whose soul does not wake from the sinful sleep? Whose soul does not feel that it is enslaved by the devil, spending every day by the side of this fierce enemy, tied every day with his spiritual fetters of sinful habits and passions, hurt by him, enduring all the slander, misfortune, and torment? Going through all this and feeling this, our soul sends to God its sighs of repentance for the sins and weeps with sincere and bitter tears. Oh, the rivers of Babylon! Oh, these passions that carry us away! Where are you carrying us? “On the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept.”
What shall we do, my sinner brothers? What shall we do, how shall we not cry, at the sight of our misfortune, our sinfulness and abomination, our extreme powerlessness in breaking free from sin and misfortune? A weak, stupid and reckless child, who finds himself in trouble or guilt, weeps bitterly before his parents, begging for compassion and help. So are we, the weak, foolish, prodigal children of the Heavenly Father, falling into sin through our weakness, ignorance and evil inclination, subjected to various slanders and misfortunes from the devil, must shed tears of repentance for the sins, tears of weakness, humbly asking for mercy, forgiveness and help.
Passions and temptations are like rivers, as the Savior said: “The rivers came and beat upon that house, and it fell” (Matthew 7:27), that is, they crash on the people, or, as David says: “Save me, o God, for the waters have come in unto my soul” (Psalm 68:1), and since these rivers flow within us, we must release these rivers of tears from our eyes, so that the sins don't carry us away. Along with the tears, the sins will flow out from our souls, and the rivers of living water that is, the grace of God, will flow in to cleanse, bless, enlighten, strengthen, and comfort the tearful soul. However, it is impossible to cry all the sins out in one time, since they are an abyss. We must cry long, and hard, seeking salvation not from tears alone but from the love of God, from the grace of Jesus Christ, who wept with our tears for us, and promised to relieve us from sins, and give us temporary and eternal consolation. “Blessed are those who weep, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are those who weep,” says the Savior. But what does the world say? What do some of you say in your hearts? Blessed are those who laugh, those who rejoice! Not “Woe unto those that laugh now! For you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25), as the Lord says, whom no one saw laughing, only weeping during his earthly life. But how? How can we laugh and rejoice under the wrath of God, before the desperate struggle for life and death, surrounded by misfortune, when the all-destructive and seductive sin with such impertinence and ferocity destroys the human souls, redeemed by the blood of the Son of God; when every hour this fiend of hell threatens to bring us down in the fiery Gehenna, ready to burst open? Is it the time to laugh and rejoice when temptations, vices, and falls are everywhere? Is it the time to laugh when our brothers die of sickness, starvation, different kinds of deficiencies, misfortunes, or suffer from oppression, resentment and cruelty of their fellows, while others seek pleasures, and sink into voluptuousness, wallow in luxury and various vices? So, my poor sinners! Under such gloomy spiritual and physical conditions, joy and laughter are out of place, for the time for joy and laughter has not come yet. It will only come after tears and weeping over the sins we committed in this life and after our victory over sin. “Blessed are you that weep now: for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21), says the Savior.
That is true that “blessed are you that weep.” If any of you has the gift of weeping over sins, you have experienced the beatitude of crying over your sins or the sins of others. The beatitude is inseparable from the Gospel lament, so that those who weep shall be naturally rewarded with comfort. However, there is another kind of crying, crying over the sorrow of this world: that is the powerless fury that cries, and the humiliated pride; that is the dissatisfied vanity that cries, and so does the hurt self-esteem... countless are the vain tears! As many unsatisfied passions, as many fainthearted there are – that many empty tears are shed, but these are sinful tears, useless tears, the tears that do harm to those who weep, for they cause the death of soul and body. “For the sorrow of this world works death” (2Corinthians 7:10).
But what exactly shall we weep over? First of all, weep over your sins through which you have defiled and being incessantly defiling the image of God in you. Just think about it: God reflected himself in you, as the sun reflects itself in a drop of water; you were made as a god on earth, as says the Scripture: “I have said, you are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalm 81:6). But every day you drag this image in the mud, you defile this image with your passions, soil it with your attachment to the world, disbelief, pride, hatred, envy, intemperance and drunkenness and other passions. Through all this, you anger your creator and exasperate his long-suffering. Weeping about it day and night is the right thing to do now. So, weep!
Secondly, weep, for you bear the name of a Christian, but you don't keep the vows and obligations of a Christians given at baptism. Weep, for you live like a pagan, stuck to the ground, never thinking of Heaven and life that has no end. Weep, for you have been a Christian for such a long time, but you don't have the spirit of Christ, you don't conform to him, you don't strive to live his life. Weep, for Christ does not dwell in you through your faith, for you have not become a new creature, you have not put on Christ, as the Scriptures say “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
Thirdly, weep, for your heart constantly endeavors to do everything that is contrary to God. Weep over its evil inclinations, impenitence, its unwillingness to improve. Our penitence, and prayers, partaking in the Holy Life-Giving Mysteries could conquer a heart of stone and make it soft as wax, but we still don't change for the better due to our negligence. O damnation! O spite! O corruption of heart! O pride! O earthly attachments! O flattery of voluptuousness and avarice!
So, weep, for although you repent and pray, you don't bring your Lord any fruit worthy of repentance, any fruit of faith and love, fruit of humbleness and gentleness, fruit of abstinence, purity and chastity, fruit of mercy and so on. Weep inside whenever you feel a flush of impure thoughts to your heart; weep whenever you are overwhelmed with pride, anger, envy, greed, stinginess; weep and pray whenever you feel hostility, not love for your enemy, for it is said: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you” (Matthew 5:44). Weep before God with the inner cry of heart, whenever the passion of drunkenness, love of money and covetousness captivates you, whenever resistance and disobedience to your parents or superiors and elders confuses and carries you away. Weep at the feeling of poverty and the damnation of our nature, at the thought of countless blessings of the Creator to us and our ingratitude to Him. May your tears be a weapon against all sin. Let the Lord see your humility, recognition of your weakness, and strong desire to keep yourself clean from all sin, stretch out a helping hand, send you a Comforting Spirit to stop the violence of sin, extinguish the fire of passions and bring down the dew of grace upon your heart.
Weep over your own sins, and for the sins of other people. Weep over the nations that still don't know the true God and Lord Jesus Christ, wandering in the darkness of paganism, worshiping creatures instead of the Creator. Weep because the Christian faith is persecuted in the infidel lands, weep over your brothers who suffer under their yoke. Weep over the lies that reign in the world, that makes all “who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus” suffer (2Tim. 3:12). Weep over the violence and oppression of the rich and the powerful, weep over the poverty and helplessness of the poor. Weep over the Christian love that dried out in the hearts of many, and over the pride, voluptuousness and carnivorousness that reigns in its place. Weep over the Christians who topple from the height of redemption and respect neither the Church nor the Sacraments, nor her teachings. You may ask: What is the use of my tears? With them, you fulfill the commandment of the Apostle “to weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and generally fulfill the commandment to love your neighbor, and love is the fulfillment of the law. The tears bring you a reward, that is the consolation from God and forgiveness of sins. This is the use of the tears you shed.
Blessed are they that weep. What else is there worth weeping? We may weep over our unpreparedness for the terrible and righteous trial at the universal judgment. Many holy saints wept throughout all of their lives, day and night, at the thought of the Last Judgment and the subsequent eternal the torment of sinners, while we are indifferent to this final formidable decision of our fate as if we were righteous saints of some kind. Some of us may even dare to reject the truth of the future Judgment and hell. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heaven: A time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:1–4). Now is time to weep. So, let us weep over our sins. Amen.
Homily 4 (on the Sunday of Orthodoxy). “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”
Before I speak to you, my brothers, about the meekness and beatitude of the meek, I must say a few words about this Sunday. It is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy because today we commemorate and celebrate the triumph of the Orthodox Church in discrediting the iconoclastic heresy, which reigned for one hundred and twenty years in the Greek Empire; at last, it was publicly rejected and sentenced first at the 7th Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and then at the local council of Constantinople, in 842 A.D., during the reign of the pious Byzantine Empress Theodora under whom the current holiday of Orthodoxy was established. How many challenges during the iconoclastic heresy the defenders of the holy icons had to bear: exiles and dungeons, and deprivation of property, tortures, and cruel executions! The hand of St. John Damascene was hacked off, but after the prayer he said before the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, and after he had slept following this bloodshed, miraculously, the hand grew back. Admiring the grace of the Holy Theotokos, he sang the hymn you just heard: “All creation rejoices in you, who is full of grace.” The wonder-working icon before which it happened was named the Three-Handed. But the two brothers called the inscribed, Theodore and Theophanes suffered from the iconoclasts more than anyone else. Sent to Constantinople to support Orthodoxy by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, they fulfilled the mission with valor, enduring terrible tortures for their piety. They were severely tortured and imprisoned three times, and three times they were brought back for new tortures. The iconoclast Emperor Theophilus ordered a shameful inscription to be etched with needles on their faces and sent them off to Jerusalem. It took a night and a day to finish the inscription; blood streamed off the wounds on the faces. But at last, the torture was over. Leaving the town, the sufferers told their tormentors: “Let all of you who hear know that, when the cherubim who guards Paradise sees this inscription on our faces, he will step aside before us, and with his fiery weapon he will clear the path for us into Paradise For there has not been torture like this since time began.” You will recognize these letters in the countenance of Christ, for he said: “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of my brethren, so have you done unto me” (Matthew 25:40).” Just see what torments were endured by our holy fathers, who left us an example of how we must stand up for our true faith! This is the divine meekness of the sufferers! Blessed are the meek ones, for the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, Lord Jesus Christ, Who they looked up to in meekness and patience, took away all their sins, granting them eternal rest and bliss; for in his name they suffered. So you will stand up, my brethren, for the right and saving faith; honor the holy icons with proper reverence and turn away from those who see them equal to paintings and don't give them due respect. Remember that the person whose face is depicted on the icon is also present there in divine bliss. Venerating the icons, in your mind, you address the prototype depicted on the icon. Now is the time to talk about meekness. “Blessed are the meek,” says Lord, “for they shall inherit the earth.” Previously, the Lord called blessed those weeping over their sins, but he says that the meek are blessed this time. Why are the next beautified after those weeping over the sins are the meek? Because meekness is the fruit and consequence of grieving over our sins and powerlessness; mourning over our sins makes a person meek and gentle, like a lamb. While meekness and gentleness go hand in hand with serenity and beatitude, for what can be more precious and divine than the peace of mind? What do we seek more than serenity? At the same time, no one is more unfortunate than that who lacks peace of mind, lives in constant anxiety and fear. No wealth, no fame, no earthly good is of any value for him. But even the poor one living with peace of mind feels content and happy. For Blessed are the meek.
But what is meekness, what is it about, how can it be recognized? To define it better, let us turn to the Gospel, where we find a beautiful, shining, and sublime image of it. Here is how the Lord describes and teaches it: “But I say to you, don't resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. What I tell you is this: love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your Heavenly Father, who causes the sun to rise on the good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the righteous and the wicked” (Matthew 5:39–45). “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). From these words of the divine teacher, you will see, my brothers, that meekness is a calm disposition of the soul steadfast in Jesus Christ through faith and love; it is the state of the soul calmly enduring every evil caused by people or deceit of demons. Meekness is never irritated by the adversities and obstacles on our way; it willingly forgives the human insults and never wishes bad to enemies out of respect for their human and Christian dignity. A meek man never repays evil with evil or insult with insult. he does not get angry or raise his voice at those who sin or offend him: “he will not contradict, he will not shout, nor will his voice be heard in the streets” (Matthew 12:19); “When he was abused he did not retaliate, when he suffered he uttered no threats, but delivered himself up to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). This is the genuinely sublime image of meekness! This is what it is!
And how can we do it differently, my brothers? How can we not get irritated, angry, or revengeful? God, our common father, before whom we sin over and over again, always treats us with meekness. he does not destroy us, he tolerates us, and whatever happens, he does us good. This means that we must be meek, lenient, and patient with our brothers. “For if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you,” says Jesus Christ, “but if you don't forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs that you have done” (Matthew 6:14–15). We Christians are the members of one body. We must take care of each other in all ways. We are the sheep of Christ's celestial flock, but why are we called so? Because sheep are meek, gentle, and patient. This is what we should be. Only those of us belong to Christ's flock who are meek and as gentle as lambs, and those who lack the spirit of Christ, his meekness and gentleness, are not his. “Anyone who does not possess the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9). At the dreaded Judgment, only the sheep will stand at the right side of the Judge, and the head-burring goats will be at the left; and the sheep will go to Heaven, while the goats will be sent to Gehenna. And how absurd and unnatural is malice and rage! And how akin meekness is to our nature! Look at the face of the meek: how beautiful, clear, serene, calm, and attractive it is! What spiritual fragrance a meek man spreads in other souls: looking at him, an ill-tempered man learns to be meek. And look at a foul, angry man: his face is restless, gloomy, ugly; with a single look, he can annoy many others, as though infecting them with his poison. As you gaze at him, you unwillingly look away to rest your eyes on someone else. Where do rage and anger come from? They come from our sinful self-love, pride, vanity and ambition, insatiability, drunkenness, pursuit for women, thirst for money. Almost every one of you sees and knows why drunkards, proud, ambitious, money-loving, etc., get angry: because of drunkenness, dissolute women, offensive words, and money – how many troubles and quarrels do they cause?
If nothing else can do it, let at least such harmful consequences of irritation and anger and the beneficial effects of meekness make us meek; for meekness brings us peace of mind and joy, as the Lord says: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). You will see that as soon as we learn from the Lord to be meek and humble, the serenity will fill our hearts, followed by “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Besides, it is always easier to do any task when your soul is meek; it always hard when you feel angry and annoyed. The anger with your neighbor turns prayer into sin and condemnation. Meekness gives us love, respect, and a good attitude of other people; meekness makes our prayers pleasing to God, turns God's grace to us, it brings forgiveness of our sins. While rage, anger and implacability humiliate the dignity of every man and Christian, deprive us of the peace of soul and mind, love, respect of neighbors, the God's goodwill and cause nothing but troubles and misfortunes.
We are inspired to be meek with the example of the apostles, all early Christians, and especially the Holy Martyrs. Despite the pagans» unheard cruelty and oppression, they never took a weapon to protect themselves. Still, they suffered like lambs for three centuries, looking up to their divine teacher, who, “when he was abused he did not retaliate, when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed Himself to him that judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). To see an example of meekness, let us turn to the saints we know today.
Today, our Church celebrates and commemorates 40 martyrs who died for Christ in the Lake of Sebaste. They were officers and simple soldiers, fearless on the battlefield, pious and knowledgeable in the Holy Scripture. When they refused to bow their heads to gods under the order of the prince of Lycia, they got stoned. But this is not the end. Accusing his former servants, he took a stone himself and threw it at one of the martyrs. Then, he ordered them to be put in the middle of the lake, among the ice pressing on them from all the sides, where they froze to death. They did not grab any weapon, nor did they retaliate, for they endured the tortures with meekness, like lambs, in the name of Christ. That is a notable example, especially to the military men! This is the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we need to keep in our minds, for his was meek and humble of heart, and taught us to be long-suffering and tolerant, and finally endured the crucifix and death for all of us.
To avoid anger and irritability, we should look at ourselves, not the sins of others. We need to come to know our own hearts, our sins and our faults. Only then we will find out that the major part of strife and disagreement comes from ourselves, our self-love, pride, irritability, negligence, carelessness, distrust of others, and we will learn to be lenient to others, forgive their weaknesses and drawbacks, to be gentle and patient with everyone. We need to know how to control our hearts at the moment of insult, how to oppress rage and displeasure as soon as it appears. We must make a law to ourselves never to speak or act immediately when insulted by others, but cool down first. “Let us stop evil from the start,” says St. Basil the Great, destroying anger by all means. When we learn it, we will be able to undercut all the evil at the very beginning, at its root. Did someone reproach you? Bless him then. Did he beat you? Just take it. Does he despise and dishonor you? Bring yourself to the thought that of dust you were made and there you will return. he who shields himself with such reasoning will find that every dishonor is less than it may seem at first.
Show your enemy that his reproach does not sting you, and the revenge would be impossible then. Get wiser through the rage of others, and you will weave yourself a wreath of patience. Every time you feel confused by the temptation to say a word of reproach, think that this is the moment to decide whether you choose to approach God with your patience or surrender to your rage and take the side of the enemy. Give your mind some time to make the right choice. But above all, it is crucial to pray sincerely to God to give us the spirit of meekness and patience and strengthen our hearts in mildness. These virtues are gifts the Holy Spirit sent down by God to people who are worthy and able to accept them.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” But what do we mean by inheriting the earth? It means that the meek will enjoy the longevity and other benefits in this life, just like the meek and long-suffering Job, David, or the meek patriarch Jacob, and many other saints who shone with meekness in the New Testament, and most importantly, that they will receive the blessings promised by God here, in the land of the living, in Heaven. May the merciful Lord grant us all these blessings with his grace, generosity and love for mankind. Amen.
Homily 5. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
The days of fasting, repentance and preparation and partaking of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, are the best to say a word about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Who of us is righteous, and who does not languish with spiritual hunger? Who, therefore, does not seem to hunger and thirst after seeing right through the faith in Jesus Christ, who does not crave after righteousness, reformation, spiritual renewal? However, despite our innumerable wrongs, despite all the time we set aside to fasting, repentance and partaking of the holy, immortal, life-giving and dreadful Mysterious of Our Savior Jesus Christ, the genuine hunger and thirst after righteousness cannot be seen in many people, in their cold and formal confessions that lack the hearty warmth and their negligence of this annual Christian obligation. Can we conclude instead that there are more righteous among us than sinners? Has the kingdom of God already come to us, have we lost any connection to sin, are we the chosen ones, are we the people reformed by word and deed? Oh, I wish it was true! Oh, I wish we were all saints as befits Christians who are called the children of the Heavenly Father! Alas… Keep me, God, from deluding you and myself. There are so few of us hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because there are so many sinners sleeping in sinful slumber, so many spiritual dead, those dead to the truth, but unfortunately alive for the sin; there are so many sleeping consciences that need to be shaken and awakened, and, after all, so many unaware of the right of God and of being hungry and thirsty for righteousness. So, my fellow sinners, among whom I am the first, hear the word of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Oh, how I wish this word could arouse hunger and thirst after righteousness in any of you through the grace of God!
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”… Have you ever seen anyone suffering from physical thirst and hunger, or have you felt hunger and thirst yourself? Where do hunger and thirst come from? Why do some people – those who are sick – not feel the need for food or drink? These are the questions to ask ourselves to explain spiritual hunger through the physical one. All of us have felt hungry and thirsty to a greater or lesser extent. A man tormented by hunger or thirst cannot think of anything else but how to quench them as soon as possible. As soon as he finds food or drink or is offered it, he quenches his bodily need with yearning and joy. After that, he feels a pleasant comfort for having filled the emptiness, surge of energy and physical strength. If for some reason, this hunger and thirst cannot be quenched for a long time, he would suffer greatly; if this need cannot be satisfied at all, he begins to swell and dies in terrible torments. Such hunger and thirst come from a bodily need and a lack of the elements required to live; hunger and thirst normally occur in a healthy body. On the contrary, a long-standing lack of hunger and thirst indicates sickness and other dangerous states of the body, for it is caused by disorders of the internal organs. Now let us see what spiritual hunger and thirst for righteousness are. What causes them? Why do many people not hunger after righteousness, is it a good sign?
To explain spiritual hunger and thirst, let us ascend to the origin of man, the creation of man by God, and the story of his fall, for this is where the reason for his hunger after righteousness lies. How was man created? Man was made after the image and likeness of God, or, as the holy apostle says, “in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians. 4:24). Man was created righteous, holy and pure; he bore the source of the life-giving water, for he was in unity with God. Back then, the spiritual food and drink for man were righteousness, and the ever-current source of righteousness was our Lord God. This is the true realm of the soul; this is its food and drink! In unity with God, man did not know what hunger and thirst after righteousness were, for he had always been filled. Those living in abundance have no idea of thirst or hunger. Man got to know this hunger when, through sin, he lost the righteousness and fell away from the source of truth, from God where he could find eternal fulfillment. He turned from simplicity to deceit, from goodness to malice, from humility to pride, from meekness to anger, from holiness to impurity, from love of God to love of this world and self-love, from spiritual, Heavenly love to fleshly and earthly addictions. Having lost its native righteousness, its actual essence, the soul began to suffer from deprivation, hunger and thirst, grief and constriction from the lack of the spiritual food it needed. So, having taken some poison, by negligence or carelessness, one is tormented by internal fire; he hungers and thirsts after the saving remedy or antidote. So does a wanderer in a burning desert, exhausted by the long trip and the scorching sun, crave a refreshing drink. Oh, what a terrible poison is a sin for the immortal soul, created after the image and likeness of righteous and all-blessed God! To what rage, to what fury it sometimes leads man, what fiery and destructive force it pours into the innards and limbs of the body! But what do we see then? We see many people playing with this fire, fanning it, unaware of hastening their own ruin. Brothers! Is deadly poison a toy to play with? Is it right to play with fire?
But if it is certain that all descendants of Adam are born with this sinful poison inside, if this poison has a disastrous effect on the soul and body, if every man was given the inner voice of conscience that denounces sin, then why do many people not feel their sins or hunger for righteousness? This happens because this fleshly (so-called liberal) philosophizing and ever-sinful, passion-loving, dissipated and mercenary lives put their conscience down and finally drown it out. This unfeeling state of soul is the sinful death of a person, which can go from temporary to eternal.
Therefore, a strong shock is needed to awaken a sleeping conscience; to wake up a sinner sleeping in sinful slumber, the blinded eyes of his heart need to be opened, for he doesn’t see the multitude of his sins and the severity of God's righteousness that will judge him after death. Give us, oh Lord, the hunger and thirst for righteousness while we are here on earth so that we could reject all the unrighteousness through sincere repentance and avert his dread and righteous judgment! For blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness this way.
Brothers! Let us open the book of conscience and dispassionately recite all our sinful thoughts, desires, intentions, words, and deeds we have ever had, said or committed. Let us then imagine that we are standing at the Last Judgment of Jesus Christ, who knows down to the speck all of our innermost thoughts, deeds, and words, and who will judge us not only for our deeds, but for every idle word we ever uttered; who will “bring to light what darkness hides and disclose our inward motives” (1Corinthians 4:5), and will render unto each according to his works and the strictest justice. Tell me in all conscience: is there much pure good in us that is worth the most holy and luminous eyes of God? Is there much truth? Are there enough good thoughts, desires, intentions, words, deeds coming from the living faith in God, from the heartfelt love for Him, from reverence for Him, from gratitude to Him and from pure love for our neighbor? Would not there be a thousand times more unrighteousness instead? And for any deliberate, stubborn lie, not effaced with repentance, the righteousness of God will punish us with eternal torment. This is why, having imagined the multitude of our sins before the dreaded judgment of God, whose judgment seat is already prepared, and yourselves, standing before this judgment in the presence of all the heavenly ranks of angels and the entire human race, will we remain dispassionate to our sins, will we not desire to spend the remainder of our lives in repentance and virtue, for the sake of God and for eternity? Let us hasten to expose ourselves to the committed sins without mercy, let us feel their vileness, stop enjoying them, loving them, and doing them.
Let us recall the suffering of Christ the Savior and his death on the Cross. What brought Jesus Christ to such torment and such a painful and shameful death which he willingly accepted? That was the righteousness of God. But who and what was it for? It was for us and our sins. And if God's righteousness worked like this with the verdant tree that Jesus Christ was, what would happen to dry trees like us, for we are all sinners? What would our torments be if we did not turn in and repent? Do Judgment and Gehenna frighten you now, my brother? Will you now hunger and thirst after God's justification, for the incorruptible justice of God not to condemn you for eternal torment? Let us rise from this sinful slumber and reform ourselves.
Oh, if only those scorched and dejected by the passions of life, tormented by this unbearable hunger and thirst, could crave justification, reformation of their hearts and lives with all the might of their souls, as the Gospel requires and as says our God, relentlessly calling us to turn from the path of destruction to the path of salvation! Oh, if only all those scorched with the affliction of schism in our town would hunger and thirst after the truth of the only holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, unity with it, sanctification of it through divine service, sacraments and teachings through the word of God! Do they really not languish with the saving hunger and thirst after the motherly, life-giving milk of the Church? Have they abandoned the springs of living water to dig out some broken vessels that don't hold water? For how long will this separation last, for how long will we suffer from this stubborn, vain thinking? For how long will this wolf plunder and scatter the flock of Christ? The faithful children of the Church enjoy the ever-flowing source of living water here, in church, while the others, alas, are constantly yearning for the grace of God and cannot fill themselves unless they come back to the mother who once gave them birth and who they left by ignorance, delusion and stubbornness.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” But can those hungry and thirsty for righteousness be filled? Just like those who feel bodily hunger and thirst. Physically satisfied, one does not feel hunger or thirst but feels his body getting stronger through food and drink. Satisfaction of the soul is achieved through calming our spiritual powers and heartfelt repentance, cleansing our sins through grace, acquiring the strength to do good that we did not know as we lived in sin, the strength given to us by Jesus Christ, our peace, our righteousness and power.
Oh, if we could all come to know the imperishable beauty and sweetness of virtue! And only in the tearful repentance of our sins we could fill ourselves with the righteousness of God, and come to love it irrevocably love it with all our hearts, despising the path of sin! May the grace of God do it! Amen.
Homily 6. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
It has been a long time since I spoke to you, my brothers! Five weeks ago, we discussed the beatitude of those who hunger and thirst for God's righteousness and the justification of Christ. I guess that you, absorbed in your everyday chores, could have forgotten what I said in that homily and, perhaps, in the previous ones too. It is my duty to remind you briefly so that you can thus compose the divine commandments in your hearts “and remember them, so as to do them” (Psalm 108:18).
We have mentioned the four Lord's commandments for the beatitudes, in the first of which our Lord commands his followers to spiritual poverty, humility. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” According to this commandment, we must think of ourselves humbly, seeing ourselves as full of countless sins and weaknesses, incapable of any direct, pure good without the help of the grace of God; we must regard everything we have not as our own, but as a gift of God; for everything we have, we must thank God, the giver of all good, and resort to his mercy.
In the second commandment, God calls blessed those who grieve and weep sincerely for their voluntary and involuntary sins, promising them the consolation of grace, forgiveness of sins and comfort of conscience. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This divine commandment obliges us to keep all of our sins, the foulness, carelessness and distraction from the Lord's commandments before our eyes, remember the great responsibility for our sins before God, the dreaded judgment and the eternal fire prepared for the unrepentant sinners; it inspires us to live in ceaseless repentance.
In the third commandment, the Lord blesses the meek, promising them the inheritance of the earth. This divine commandment teaches us to be always meek and gentle, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was as gentle as a lamb – “When reproached, he did not reproach; when suffering, he did not whine; but left everything up to God, Who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). he taught us never to be irritated and irritate, never offend, restraining our outbursts of anger in every possible way; to treat everyone kindly, patiently, leniently; to conquer evil with good, and to correct the wrong with patience and reasoning. Our Lord promises to reward meekness and patience with the inheritance of the earth, i.e. first of all, long life and well-being here on earth, as meekness and restraining of anger, calmness and kindness are good for the health and longevity of man, and, secondly, blessed and eternal life in the Heavenly fatherland.
In the fourth commandment, the Lord blesses “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”, i.e. those who feel themselves as the greatest of sinners and heartily repent, make a firm decision to improve, and willingly hunger and thirst for righteousness and holiness, after the grace of Jesus Christ to justify and fill their souls, just like the hungry and thirsty languish for food and drink. This was a brief summary of our previous homilies. Keep them in your heart and act as God commands you, so that may you be blessed and receive the kingdom of Heaven prepared for those who follow God's commandments.
Now let us speak about the next, the fifth commandment of the Lord for beatitude. The Lord says: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” What do sinners need most of all? They need the mercy of God, they need God not to accuse us of the sins we committed, they need the forbearance of God and more time for repentance, and the inspiration of the soul to repent, to have our sins forgiven, and, in the end, the mercy of God at the dreaded Judgment. That is why the Church always says in our name: “God, have mercy!”
So, fellow sinner, if you have already admitted that you are the greatest of sinners deserving condemnation and torment, if you have come to realize the vileness and absurdity of your sins, the immeasurable insult you caused through them to our Lord and the responsibility you must bear; if you hunger and thirst after the justification and mercy of God, then try to show mercy to your neighbor in the ways possible for you: “Blessed are the merciful, says our Lord, – for they shall obtain mercy.”
For the mercy you show to your brother, you will receive mercy from God; for fleeting mercy, you will get eternal mercy, and for a little mercy you will receive mercy that is immeasurable, for you will not only be forgiven from the eternal condemnation at the dreaded judgment but given eternal bliss. Mercy to your neighbor is easy to show for everyone, for mercy is diverse, just like the people who have different needs, spiritual and physical, ranks and positions in the society. A superior can show his mercy through patience, lenience to those who sin, and consideration, by recognizing the merits of his subordinates and rewarding them; a subordinate – through self-organization, obedience and diligence; a scientist – by enlightening the ignorant and promoting right statements of faith, life, mission of man on earth, the earthly goods, death, and righteousness of God, of eternal judgment or through denouncing social vices; the rich can show mercy to the others by donating his property to the Church and its servants, to charitable organizations, or by giving generous alms to those in need; the poor may show mercy through his gratitude and diligence in serving the rich, his prayer for the benefactors; a pastor can show mercy through his sincere and relentless care about the souls of people, by constantly teaching the divine words, through his permanent readiness for divine service, as well as counsel, advice, consolation; the flocked can show their mercy through respect, humility and gratitude to the pastors, tolerance to their shortcomings and fervent prayer for them.
The most important acts of physical mercy, common to all, are as follows: 1) feeding the hungry, 2) giving drink to the thirsty, 3) clothing the naked or those in need of proper and decent clothing, 4) visiting the imprisoned, 5) visiting the sick, serving them and aiding to their recovery or preparing for a Christian end by calling a priest to give them confession and communion to Christ's Holy Mysteries, 6) hosting a traveler and comforting him, and 7) burying those who died in poverty at onés own expense, or with donations collected for this purpose. All these acts of mercy, except for the last, are mentioned by the Lord in his depiction of his dreaded Judgment. Here are his words: “When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. The king will say to those on the right, "You have my father's blessing; come, take possession of the kingdom that has been ready for you since the world was made. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger, you took me into your home; when naked, you clothed me; when I was ill, you came to my help; when in prison, you visited mé” (Matthew 25:31–36).
From these words of our Lord, can you see, my brothers, how necessary and infinitely important Christian mercy is for us. It is necessary because, without acts of mercy, it is impossible to inherit the kingdom ready from the time the world was created for those blessed by our heavenly father, “in that judgment, there will be no mercy for the person who has shown none” (James 2:13). It is infinitely important because the mercy we show to our neighbor we show to Jesus Christ himself, according to his own testimony: “anything you did for one of my brothers here, however insignificant, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40); for all people, especially Christians, are younger brothers and sisters to him, and Christians are members of his body.
Spiritual deeds of mercy are the following: 1) converting the sinner from delusion through admonishment, for example, converting an unbeliever, a non-Christian, a schismatic, or a drunkard, adulterer, spendthrift etc.; 2) teaching truth and good to those ignorant, for example, teaching prayers to the one who does not know how to pray, instructing someone who does not know God's commandments in what they are and how to fulfill them; 3) giving onés neighbor good advice at the right moment, for example, in difficulty or in danger they are unaware of, in illness, or ill intentions to someonés life and wealth; 4) praying to God for everyone: “pray for one another, that you may be healed,” says the Apostle (James 5:16); 5) comforting the mourning: “encourage the fainthearted,” says the Apostle (1 Thessalonians 5:14); 6) not revenging or seeking requital for the evil ever done to you. “Never pay back evil for evil” (Romans 12:17), or “abuse with abuse” (1 Peter 3:9), “don't seek revenge, but leave a place for divine retribution” (Romans 12:19); 7) sincerely forgiving all the insults, knowing and remembering that the one who hurts another, hurts himself above all, bringing down the wrath of God upon himself; remember that he hurts another at the instigation of the enemy, that we deserve the injuries from the sins we commit, and, finally, that God forgives all of our sins and insults that we cause his Greatness. Let us finish our homily today reminding you once again to remember these commandments of our Lord and fulfill them without omission; for “the servant who knew his master's wishes, yet made no attempt to carry them out, will be flogged severely” (Luke 12:47). Next time we will talk about incentives for mercy and the right frame of mind to show mercy and give charity. Amen.
Homily 7. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”
This time we shall talk, my brothers, about the incentives to mercy, about who, how, and in what spirit mercy should be shown.
Nothing is so characteristic of a true Christian as mercy or charity to one’s neighbor. Why? – Because the Christian faith and the Church relentlessly preach about the endless mercy of our Lord to the people. Despite its permanent presence in the world, this mercy was revealed in his only-begotten Son sent to earth by God the Father to save the world from eternal destruction, in the Church of Christ he founded on earth and in the community of the saved, in the Christian family and especially in the seven Holy Sacraments, as, for example, in baptism, through which we all became children of God, or in communion, in which we share the Body and the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, eternal life in Him. We all can feel the great, immeasurable and multifaceted mercy of God over ourselves every day. But if the Lord our God is so merciful to all people and to us Christians in particular, we must be as merciful to each other as well. The Lord calls us to be merciful to our neighbors, namely, through his mercy over us. “Be merciful”, he says, “as your Father in Heaven is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
The entire New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ proclaims mutual love and mercy; he teaches us through his parables, such as the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37), the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13), the parable of the unmerciful debtor who owed ten thousand talents (Matthew 18:24–35), and many times he speaks of mercy directly: “It is mercy I require, not sacrifice” (Matt. 12:7, 9:13); “be merciful” (Luke 6:36); “sell your possessions and give to charity” (Luke 12:33), “be good, compassionate” and so on. But most of all, he teaches us mercy through the deeds of the Savior among people, as all these deeds were nothing else but his works of mercy.
But apart of it and on top of it all, mercy should be characteristic of a Christian, for he is a member of the Church of Christ, whose members comprise one body. And as long as this body has many weak members going through various hardships and needs, nothing can be more natural and fair than sympathy, compassion for the weak, helping the needy members as much as the others can, depending on the need, status and occupation of the one showing mercy to those in need. “Christ is like a single body with its many limbs and organs”, says the Holy Apostle Paul, “which, many as they are, together make up one body; for in the one Spirit we were all brought into one body by baptism, we were all given that one Spirit to drink. A body is not a single organ, but many… if one part suffers, all suffer together; if one flourishes, all rejoice together. Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you a limb or organ of it” (1Corinthians 12:12–14, 26–27).
This is what should motivate each of us to carry the commandment of mercy: firstly, the infinite mercy of God for the human race in general, for Christians partly and for each of us in particular. Secondly, the explicit commandment of the Gospel. Thirdly, the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Fourthly, our very name is Christians, which means members of Christ, members of his body. To all these, add the sense of mercy embedded in our nature by God himself, the mercy that evokes compassion even in a savage, and which should all the more be present in a Christian. And finally, all these people like us, suffering from various bitter needs, the multitude of the poor, the miserable, the starving, the naked, the sick, shouldn’t they prompt natural compassion in us? We want others to be compassionate and helpful to us when we endure sickness, troubles and needs. Shouldn’t others expect the same compassion from us? “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). God gave us talents for the common good, not only to please our own vanity; don’t they prompt us to serve our neighbors in need?
Do you see how many impulses to mercy there are? There is nothing our Lord Jesus Christ and the righteous people of the Old and New Testament impel us to stronger than mercy. So the Lord says: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).
“See how continually divinely inspired men and women instill mercy in others and how close it is to their hearts”, writes St Gregory the Theologian. “It is not as if they just mention something about the poor once or twice and then let it go at that; it is not as if some of them mention compassion and others don't, or that some say more about it and some less as if it were not a most necessary subject. No: all of them, and each one in particular, regarding this commandment as the most important or one of the most important, zealously impels us to fulfill it, sometimes by exhortation, sometimes by threats, sometimes by reproaches, sometimes by praising the compassionate. By such constant reminders of this commandment, they seek to strengthen its action in our hearts”.
“No service is so pleasing to God as mercy”, writes St Gregory the Theologian. “Because it is most akin to the merciful and just God, to whom one ought to bring mercy rather than judgment as a gift. The righteous Giver showers his love for humanity most on those who themselves show love for humanity”. Pointing out the same nature in us and the poor, and with this unity impelling us to mercy, he says: “They are of the same human nature as you. They are made of the same matter as you, or even better. But most importantly, just like us, they are gifted with the image of God, and they preserve it even better than we do, even if they may be physically sick, for all of us bear Christ in our inner person. They have taken the same pledge of Spirit and all the same laws and commandments of God, testaments, meetings, sacraments, and hopes they share with us. And Christ, who took the sins of all the world onto himself, died for them just the same as he did for us; they are the heirs of Heavenly life, even though they may not be successful in this one. They are buried with Christ, and with Him, they will rise. They suffer with Him, and with Him they will be glorified.
Don't despise your brother, don't ignore, don't shun him as something unclean, like an infection, like something disgusting or outcast. Though twisted with misfortune, he is still your member. “To you is the poor man left” (Psalter 9:35) as to God himself, even though you pass by haughtily. You are given a chance to prove your love for humanity, though the enemy turns you away from your own happiness. Learn from the troubles of others. Give at least a tiny bit of your mercy to the poor, and it won’t be small for the one in need and for God himself if this is what you could do to help.
Instead of a big gift, bring your compassion. You have nothing? Comfort the other with your tears. The best treat for the miserable is hearty compassion; the misfortune is relieved with sincere sympathy. This is what our mind, law, experience, and the fairest people teach us.
The first Christians who lived at the time of the apostles and after shared everything. The rich and the wealthy willingly donated their property and money, and the Church representatives kept it to use to maintain the poor, widows, orphans, sick, imprisoned, and other needy people. “We have a treasury”, wrote one of the church teachers, “for everyone to donate every month or whenever they want, as much as they can. These donations are used to feed and bury the poor, bring up the children who lost their parents, maintain the elderly who cannot leave their houses and work anymore, and comfort the unfortunates who underwent shipwreck… Comprising as we do one heart and one soul, how can we reject community of property?”
Finally, what should be a strong impulse to mercy, is that it is the most useful for the benefactors themselves, for it strengthens in them a feeling of philanthropy, gives the purest joy to their hearts, attracts love and affection of others and, most importantly, brings them the love and favor of God, consoling them with the hope for mercy at God’s dreaded judgment and the hope for eternal bliss. “When you give the fruit of charity, you receive it yourself”, writes St. Basil the Great, “because the wholesomeness of good deeds returns to giver». Have you ever given to the hungry? And what you have given does not only remain your property but returns with an interest. Like a grain of when that falls to the ground turns into a profit of the one who planted it, the bread given to the hungry brings back a hundredfold. God will accept you, angels will praise you, and all the people who have lived on earth since the creation of the world will glorify you. Eternal glory, a wreath of truth, and the kingdom of Heaven will be your reward for the proper use of your perishable property”. St. Gregory the Theologian writes: “Prudent are those who don't trust the goods of the present, gather a treasure for the future, and, seeing the evanescence and changeability of earthly wealth, they love charity, which will never betray.”
To whom and how should we give charity? Jesus Christ says, “Give to everyone who asks you” (Matthew 5:42), which means that we must help and do good to everyone with no distinctions, regardless of people’s situation, origin, or religion. We must give charity to everyone in real need. St Gregory the Theologian says: “We must open the arms of mercy to all the poor and those who are suffering for whatever reason; we must, as people, pay others the tribute of charity, regardless of what need impels them to seek help, let it be widowhood or being an orphan, or exile from their homeland, the violence of the rulers, or harshness of their superiors, or the inhumanity of debt collectors, or the greed of their enemy, or loss of their property, or a shipwreck. For all of their equal right to compassion, and all of them look at our hands like we look at the hands of God asking for mercy. It is much better to reach out to someone unworthy rather than, afraid of encountering the unworthy, deprive of charity those people who deserve it.” We must help others not out of vanity or conceit, not out of the wish to be thanked or rewarded, but altruistically, to please the Lord and for the love of our neighbor. “An alm infected with the sickness of vanity is no longer an act of charity”, writes St John Chrysostom, “but is boasting and hardheartedness, for by giving selfishly, you publicly mock your brother.”
Charity is not only about giving money; it is about sharing a Christian sense of compassion. We must do good and help eagerly, willingly, sincerely, generously, respectfully, with an unfeigned love to the poor, without any indignation, vexation, or despise. “Each person should give as he has decided for himself”, says the holy apostle Paul, “there should be no reluctance, no sense of compulsion; God loves a cheerful giver” (2Corinthians 9:7). “It is sharing your bread with the hungry, and taking the homeless poor into your house” (Isaiah 58:7), and doing it all heartily, as St Gregory the Theologian says. “If you help others in distress, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:8), and then our readiness will double the value of your good deed. Because what is done with sadness or out of need cannot be pleasant; so doing good, one should rejoice, not grumble.
“Giving charity is more than just giving”, says St. John Chrysostom, “but doing it zealously and joyfully, with a feeling of gratitude to the one accepting your charity”. And so, if you are giving charity with a different disposition, you should better not do it, for it is not charity, but a waste… It is charity when you offer it with joy and feel that you are acquiring more than giving.
Furthermore, you can give charity only from your own property, not from someone else’s you have no legal right to; from your own property, you have earned through honest labor and not by theft, deceit, or falsehood. To give enough charity, we must limit our expenses: refrain from buying excessive or luxurious things we could do without. This is stealing property from the poor, for our surplus belongs to them. We must help and do good to others continuously, not losing spirit because of the challenges and obstacles we meet on the way. St John Chrysostom says: “May charity and faith not be depleted.” He does not say do good once, twice, three, ten, or one hundred times, but always: “May this work not leave you”.
Giving your charity, you must distinguish between the truly poor from those looking poor only on the surface; you must help as much as you can, preferring the poorer over the less poor, the most worthy over the less worthy, your nearest and dearest to strangers. This is why some of the Church Fathers advise entrusting the distribution of charity to the experienced people. But don't be too picky or discriminating concerning the poor, not to deprive of help those in need. “There is no example”, says St John Chrysostom, “of the over-scrupulous person coming upon someone holy. Instead, such a person most often encounters tricksters. So I beg you, let us do everything simply.”
At last, don’t you think too much of your good deeds, but regard yourself as a distributor of God’s gifts. “You will never be more generous than God”, says St Gregory the Theologian, “even though you might donate everything you have, even though you might give away yourself along with your property, for everything that a person gives to God, including himself, he gets back from Him. However much you might pay Him, even more will remain with you, and you will not give away anything that is yours, inasmuch as everything comes from God.”
So, let me conclude our homily: “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Oh, what a great reward for doing good to others you can get, being shown mercy from God at the dreaded ordeal before the entire world, and inherit the kingdom of Heaven prepared for you from the creation of the world. Amen.
Homily 8. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
In this commandment, the Lord blesses the pure in heart and inspires us all to seek purity of heart. The Scripture teaches us that our heart is the receptacle of life: “Guard your heart more than anything you treasure, for it is the source of all life” (Proverbs 4:23). Our heart is where all our joys and sorrows come from; this is the source of our satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
Is there anyone pure in heart among the living? In the New Testament, in the kingdom of beatitude, of course, the Lord does know people pure in heart, as it is written: “The Lord knows his own” (2 Timothy 2:19). Some of those pure in heart also reveal themselves to people as holy saints glorified by God with the gifts of clairvoyance and miracles, a gentle and humble heart. If the Lord blesses those pure in heart, then there is no doubt that they exist; but the purity of heart is very, very rare, as rare as pure gold, as rare as precious stones. They are rare now, but even rarer were they in the Old Testament, when the people of Israel lived under the law, but not under grace, and the majority of people were sunk in idol worship. All people are conceived and born in iniquity. Only the glory of God can stop the iniquity and cleanse the hearts and souls of the chosen ones, making them his worthy vessels. “This has touched your lips; now your iniquity is removed, and your sin is wiped out” (Isaiah 6:7) said the fiery Seraphim to the chosen prophet Isaiah as he touched his lips with a glowing coal. And this touch took the sinful impurity of the man of God away. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean one?” exclaims Job the Long-Suffering and answers to himself: “Not one” (Job 14:4).
Where does this universal sinful impurity in people come from if they were created in the image and likeness of God, and God is the most pure and the most holy? It comes from the devil, my brothers, from the devil, who is most often called by the Scripture, the unclean spirit. In the church prayers, especially in the exorcism part of baptism, he is named the «crafty, impure, vile, loathsome and alien» spirit. And that was he, the unclean spirit, who fell from God and became the vile vessel for every impurity of sin. That was he who defiled the hearts of the first man and woman with his impure breath, infected their very being, soul and body with his impurity, and now, like a hereditary disease, it is transmitted to all their successors, and ourselves, and so it will be passed on to the careless and unbelieving ones until the end of the world, as the holy angel said to the holy apostle John in the Apocalypse: “The time of fulfillment is near. Meanwhile, let the evildoers persist in doing evil and the filthy-minded continue in their filth, but let the good persevere in their goodness, and the holy continue in their holiness. I am coming soon and bringing with me my recompense to repay everyone according to what he has done!” (Revelation 22:11–12).
And so, the impurity of the heart comes from the devil or from the first sinful human fall after which all people became his captives and slaves. This sinful impurity is so great and so deeply ingrained in human hearts. It is so difficult to get rid of that even the holy saints of God, who always kept vigil over all the thoughts and movements of their hearts, would also sometimes find themselves in an inundation of evil, in a storm of wicked, nasty and blasphemous thoughts. Then they prayed the Lord and the Most Holy Mother of God to tame those fierce and impure waves, to calm this demonic storm. It was so great that some men who had already reached the summit of holiness and purity would swiftly fall into the sin of impurity. It was so great that despite all our frequent prayers, the grace of the Sacraments and our instruction in the word of God and all the punishments the Lord sends on us for our sinful impurity, but it still remains in us. It will be there until we are dead. And to the great shame of humanity, in some of us, it only reveals itself right before the grave with particular brazenness and audacity.
The impure always sees everything impure, as his mind and conscience are defiled. And the Lord, the knower of all hearts, says: “From inside, from the human heart, come evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21–23).(Mark 7:21–23).
This is what impurity of the heart is! It is a prickly thorn that stings a person from inside, keeping him restless. It is a trap that is so brutal to get in, but people still often willingly go and get caught in it. It is a dark cloud and haze in the soul that conceals God's true path of salvation that can take the people to their foreordained goals. And, at last, it is the sinful scabs that cover and devour our hearts.
Cleansing the heart requires great effort and sorrow. It takes a lot of tears and relentless inner prayer, restraint, and reading the Word of God, writings and Lives of the holy saints. But most importantly, it requires frequent repentance, communion of the Most Holy Mysteries and daily self-examination; reflection about how pure the man was created and how the filth of sin came to the world; about the likeness and image of God in us, and our duty to liken ourselves to the Prototype – the Most Pure God. We should ponder on our redemption by the priceless blood of the Son of God, our adoption in Christ Jesus, about the commandment to be “holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). We should keep thinking about death, judgment and fiery Gehenna.
We say it takes a great sorrow, for it heals the disease of sin and burns the thorns of passions. “To enter the kingdom of God we must undergo many hardships” (Acts 14:22), says the Holy Apostle Paul, and all the saints underwent the great sorrows to achieve purity of heart, and none of them was crowned without it: some of them endured all sorts of torments from their persecutors, others willingly wore themselves out with fasting, vigils, physical labor, sleeping on bare ground. They kept vigil by prayer, and its sweetness kept every filthy onslaught of sin away. They frequently partook in the Holy Mysteries as the most powerful way of cleansing, sanctification, and the renewal of soul and body. They learned relentlessly from the Word of God, engaged themselves in deep meditation of God. And as they did that, some of them had tears flowing from their eyes all the time, like St Ephraim the Syrian.
These sincere and deep tears are what we need most, for they cleanse our hearts of filth. “Teardrops grant me, O Christ, to cleanse by defiled heart” (Prayers before Communion, Ode 3, Verse 1), cry the holy saints as they pray to God. “Give me abundant streams of tears, flowing unceasingly from my eyes and thoroughly cleansing me from head to foot” pray we in the canon to our Guardian Angel, “that, having donned the garment washed whiter than snow by repentance, I may enter into God's bridal chamber” (Canon to the Guardian Angel, ode 8, verse 4). “Implore the Lord to give me the grace of shedding drops of flowing tears, o Holy Angel, that thereby my heart may be cleansed and may see God” (Canon to the Guardian Angel, ode 6, verse 3). Everyone who has ever wept for his sins knows how tears help achieve purification, serenity and beatitude of heart, for with the tears, the sin flows out from our souls, and after that, quiet and calmness dawns upon our conscience, and comes spiritual fragrance and joy. With wiser eyes, man can look into himself to see God taking all his iniquities away and granting mercy to him. This is when the man learns by his experience how blessed, calm, and content are pure in heart, for their conscience does not torment them, their sins have been levied with the endless mercy of God. Inside, they feel that they repose in God, the source of beatitude, and God reposes in them. “Blessed are pure in heart.”
So, pureness of heart is an abundant source of calmness and everlasting joy; gazing at everything good, at every creation of God, the pure in heart rejoice within themselves, for in all the creatures they see the imprint of grace, wisdom and the almightiness of the Creator. Such people are also blessed in themselves, for the pureness of hearts and the mercy of God make them happy, and they feel comforted by the future blessings “which the eye has not seen, and the ear has not heard” (1Corinthians, 2:9), but whose security they carry in their hearts.
On the other hand, those with impure hearts are pathetic, which is a source of endless sorrow, even though they appear to be merry. The impure heart is a source of misfortunes and fears because sin and passions suck their hearts dry like warms. Conscience denounces them, keeping them restless, and the secret foreboding of God's judgment terrifies them. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Yes, blessed they are, one hundred times blessed, for they shall see God face to face in the age to come, for it is the nature of the pure to behold the Most Pure, as it is natural for the pure eye to see the light.
If we feel blessed even now, in this life, when, having left everything earthly behind we devote ourselves to prayer and talk to God as children to their father, although we don't see Him with our eyes, but as if through a mirror darkly, and if even in this life we melt from the warm sensation of God's presence, what can be said about the righteous or pure in heart when, in the age to come, they see God face to face, when they see the One who is the source of eternal light and beatitudes for ranks of angels, for all forefathers, prophets, apostles, hierarchs, martyrs, reverend fathers, and all the saints in which every creature in Heaven and on earth lives and rejoices? Oh, this will be a true beatitude and incredible sweetness, “where there is the ceaseless sound of those that keep festival, and the unspeakable delight of those that behold the ineffable beauty of your countenance.”
And so, my brothers, let us all strive to purify our hearts, through the tears of repentance, vigil, prayer, abstinence, frequent instruction in the Word of God, and let us hasten to cast away the blindness of passions from our hearts, and may we gaze upon Christ our God, the Savior of our souls.
“O Christ, the true Light, which illuminates and sanctifies every person who comes into the world! Let the light of your countenance be shown upon us, that in it we may behold the light ineffable; and guide our footsteps aright, to the keeping of your commandments; through the intercessions of thine all-pure Mother, and of all your Saints.” Amen.
Homily 9. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.”
Blessing the peacemakers, the Lord inspires us all to seek peace and hold on to it, for without peace, according to the apostle, “no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). For “he is our peace, who has made both one” (Ephesians 2:14), and who came down to earth, to re-establish his peace on it, and “has laid to his Church the word of reconciliation” (2Corinthians 5:19). Therefore, those who aim to reach eternal beatitude must be peacemakers.
How can this commandment be fulfilled? First of all, each of us, my brothers, must not allow passions to disturb us, and repel the passions at their first appearance, keeping ourselves in a peaceful disposition as the apostle commands: “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:13); “and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2Corinthians 13:11). And where do all the quarrels, conflicts, and disagreements between us come from? Since we have not learned how to restrain the onslaught of passions in our hearts, nipping them in the bud, we have not learned to remain peaceful within ourselves, in the depth of the soul. This is why each of us is obliged to acquire a peaceful spirit, that is, to bring ourselves to the point where our spirit will not become indignant with anything. We need to be like dead, or completely deaf or blind, when we encounter all the sorrows, slanders, insults, deprivations that inevitably happen to all who wishes to walk the saving path of Christ.
And who wouldn't say that the people who have achieved such a state of spirit are truly blessed, for they attained God's grace, the source of “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans, 14:17)? They don't become indignant at anything contrary to them. So St Theophylact of Bulgaria says: “Peace is the mother of God's grace; the indignant soul must become a stranger to quarrels with people and with itself if it wishes to attain God's grace.” This is the truth many of us have learned from our own experience. So let us, my brothers, make all effort to attain the peaceful disposition of spirit. Let us attain peace from passions, and then we will reach God's grace that will make us blessed and children of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
As we calm ourselves, we must, secondly, be peacemakers for our neighbors, being friendly with everyone, causing no disagreement and preventing it by all means if it ever occurs due to someonés insult, or unfairness, or encroachment upon someonés property or right. We must try in every way to end it, even if it requires sacrificing whatever belongs to us, let it be our property, or honor, or our precedence, as long as it is not contrary to our duty and does not hurt anyone. We must attempt to reconcile those warring with each other as much as we can or pray to God for their reconciliation, for what we cannot do, God can, as he can even make a brutal heart lamb-like. So that they who have realized the importance of peace in human life, let it be in church, society, or in family, which feels so natural and beautiful, and who know the harm of disagreement and fighting which break everything up, will strive to act agreeably with everyone, and promote peace and harmony among people: “God has called us to peace” (1Corinthians 7:15).
Peacemaking is a special duty of all pastors of the Church. This is actually the purpose as to why they were appointed to this position, to reconcile everyone with God and each other. It is they who must put out all family quarrels, disagreements between husbands and wives, parents and children, people of different titles and ranks. And a great reward of being called the sons of God lies before them if they work hard to return peace and concord to the world of people.
Their duty is to reconcile those suffering from the ailment of schism, those unjustly hostile to the Church, and everyone infected with the Satanic spirit of enmity to this Heavenly and immaculate Mother, breaking apart from her, and, therefore, from God Himself. They must firmly convince such people that we are all brothers, children of the one Heavenly Father, redeemed by the blood of the one Lord Jesus Christ and called to inherit the one Heavenly kingdom. Therefore, we must live in mutual love and harmony, and hold fast to God's one home, the Church of God, which gave birth to us in one font and feeds us from one Chalice. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!... for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Psalm 132). And indeed, peace and harmony are a great blessing for us: they bring us closer to God and bring his blessing down on us, granting us peoplés love and respect. Without peace and harmony with others, a person can never have peace and harmony within himself, for the disagreements and fights with our neighbors suppress our noble and gentle feelings, little by little making us cold, insensitive, cruel, savage, fierce, non-humans and non-Christian, depriving us of our inner tranquility, happiness and every well-being.
Praising the peace and harmony among people, St Gregory of Nyssa says: “Of everything in which people delight, is there anything sweeter than a peaceful life? Anything you might call pleasant in life happens only when it comes with peace. Let there be everything we value in life: riches, health, a spouse, children, a house, relatives, friends; let there be beautiful gardens, spaces for joyous feasts, and every pleasurable invention. Let there be all of this, but if there is no peace, what use is any of it?
Peace is not just pleasant in itself, but it sweetens all the other good things in life. Even if some misfortune should happen, as it often does, even that is more bearable while we are at peace, because then evil is tempered by good. Think about it: what kind of a life do people have who quarrel among themselves and who suspect one another? They meet sullenly and shun one another in every way, their mouths are silent, their gazes are averted, and the ear of one is shut to the words of the other. Everything that is pleasant to one is abhorrent to the other; and, on the contrary, everything that is abhorrent to one, the other likes. This is why the Lord wants you to increase the grace of peace within yourself, so that not only yourself can delight in it, but so that your life might serve as a tonic for the ailments of others. The person who protects others from this shameful vice does them the greatest good service and can justly be called blessed; he does the work of God, destroying the evil in human nature and introducing a circulation of good in its stead. The Lord calls peacemakers children of God precisely because people who bring such calm to human society become emulators of the true God. The giver and Lord of good things utterly destroys and exterminates everything unnatural and alien to good. he enjoins you to a similar activity. You must extinguish hatred, cease enmity and revenge, destroy quarrels, chase away hypocrisy, extinguish the grudges which smolder in your heart, and in their stead introduce everything contrary: love, joy, peace, goodness, magnanimity, the whole assembly of good things. Is not the person blessed who distributes divine gifts, who emulates God in his talents, or whose good deeds are likened to the great gifts of God?” (St Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on Beatitude in Christ).
However, there are times when disagreement is better than peace, and such peace should be rejected. This is the peace of lawless people, of whom David says: “I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 72:3). This is not good peace when everything happens as wicked people wish, when they prosper through the injustice of all sorts, when they get rewards and decorations, blossom in good health etc. “Let no one think that I am saying”, writes St Gregory the Theologian, “that one needs to cherish every kind of peace. For knowing that there is magnificent discord and the most pernicious unanimity, one must love a good peace which has a good goal and unites one with God… But when the matter concerns an evident impiety, then one must go hastily for fire and sword rather than partake of an evil leaven and to touch the infected” (St Gregory the Theologian, Homily on Peace). “Peace settles in”, writes St John Chrysostom, “when the infected part is cut away, when the inimical is separated from the good. Only in this way can Heaven unite with earth. For the physician, too, saves parts of the body when he cuts off the incurable member from them; and the military leader reinstates calm when he spreads discord among ill intentioned accomplices. It was like that in Babel: the evil peace was destroyed by good discord, and good peace was instilled. Like-mindedness is not always good: criminals, too, can agree with one another” (St John Chrysostom on Matthew, Homily 25).
So, “blessed are the peacemakers”, first, those who suppress and calm the passions in themselves and do their best to maintain good peace with their neighbors; second, those who always make an effort to reconcile the warring ones by all means they might have at hand. “They will be called sons of God”, which means they will be granted the highest honor before all angels and all people, for there is no greater honor for a mortal man to be called a son of the immortal and blessed God, and to become immortal and blessed himself, and inherit the kingdom of Heaven as an heir of God and the co-inheritor of Christ. But the beatitude of peacemakers is indescribable and especially great, for they worked to plant the greatest beatitude of peace in other people and contributed to peoplés temporal well-being and eternal beatitude.
Let us then, my brothers, be peaceful, peace-loving, and never give up reconciling the those in fight. Let us diligently oppose the intrigues of the spirit of enmity that lingers everywhere. In the name of the Lord, I ask each and every one of you to do it. For this, may you have grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Homily 10. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness» sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven.”
Until now, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, has blessed those who fulfill his commandments, and specifically the humble ones, weeping for their sins, longing for meekness and gentleness, hungry and thirsty for the righteousness of Christ, committed to deeds of mercy, tirelessly plucking the thorns of passions from their hearts and instilling peace in themselves and people around them. In his two last commandments on beatitude, the eighth and the ninth, he blesses his followers for the persecutions they have gone through, and they always will for their faith and virtue. he consoles them with the sweetest promises of eternal bliss and a great reward in Heaven, with endless abundance to reward them for all the reproaches, sorrows, misfortunes, deprivations, and torments they have endured, and they will continue to endure for his name. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness» sake.” By «righteousness», we mean the Christian faith and living according to the Commandments of Christ. It means blessed are those persecuted for faith and piety, for their good deeds, commitment, and steadfastness in faith. But why does the world persecute the true faith, piety, and righteousness that is so good for people as they bring unity, mutual love, good morals, peace, tranquility and order into the fragmented human societies? Because “the whole world lies in wickedness” (1 John 5:19), people “love evil more than good” (Psalms 51:3), and because the prince of this World, the devil, who acts in the sons of resistance, hates righteousness with infernal hate and persecutes it, for it denounces injustice, embarrasses it, and makes it taste bitter.
Evil, debauched people have always hated the righteous and persecuted them, so they will hate and persecute. Cain hated his righteous brother Abel, persecuted him for his piety and finally murdered him; the brutal Esau hated his meek brother Jacob and persecuted him, threatening to kill him; the wicked sons of Patriarch Jacob hated their righteous brother Joseph and sold him secretly in Egypt so that he was not a thorn in their flesh; the unjust Saul persecuted the meek David to his death; the Jews hated the prophets of God, who denounced their lawless life, beating, slaughtering, stoning them, until they finally persecuted and executed the greatest of the Righteous, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, the Sun of Righteousness, our Lord Jesus Christ. Listing different types of persecution for righteousness in the Old Testament, Apostle Paul says: “Some were tortured to death, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection; others, again, had to face cruel mocking and flogging, even fetters and prison bars; they were stoned, they were torn apart, they were tortured, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and in mountains and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35–39).
This is how the righteous were persecuted in the Old Testament before, and this is how after the incarnation of the Son of God St John the Forerunner and archdeacon Stephen suffered. And after his resurrection and ascension to Heaven, the faith in Christ faced terrible persecution from the Jews and pagans. The Christians were sealed up in wells, thrown into dungeons, crucified, fed to animals; they were slashed by swords and drowned in rivers, torn apart with iron claws, broken on the wheel. Their arms, or, one by one, all limbs of their bodies were hacked off; they were pierced by spears, had molten lead or boiling oil poured over them, or sunken in boiling cauldrons, burned on red-hot pans or copper grills, to say nothing of mocking, insults, slaps the witnesses of Christ's name had to endure. These are the persecutions the world exposed Christians to! Those were not only people and their injustice, ignorance, and malice the witnesses of crucified Christ had to fight against, but all of Hades, Satan and his might, for it was Satan himself who began the persecution against the Church of Christ using wicked people as his tools. Glorifying the martyrs, the Church sings: «By you, the gates of Hades which opened onto the church were sealed shut». And if the word of Our Lord's Gospel did not give martyrs strength, if he did not say: “Blessed are those persecuted for truth” and “Don’t fear them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28), “blessed are you when men shall revile you,” and so on, if these words did not reinforce his beatitude, not one of them would have ever endured all those dreadful persecutions, all those inhuman torments! This is why Our Lord consoled all his faithful followers in advance with his Blessedness, the promise of the greatest reward in Heavens, eternal kingdom of Heaven, and became the first to tolerate the cruelest torments and death, leaving us the lasting example of courage and patience when being persecuted for the truth.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness» sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven… rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in the Heavens.” By saying that, he meant: don't despair or discourage yourselves, my faithful followers, proclaiming my truth through word and deed with unbreakable strength, standing up for my truth and my commandments even to exile and death. I will be your support, strength, consolation, and inner bliss in all your miseries, misfortunes and sorrows, in all the tortures and torments you endure for My name. “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ” (2Corinthians 1:5), because in all the troubles, exiles, and torments I will be inside you, and my kingdom will be the kingdom of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. You may be expelled from your fatherland, but Heaven in the fatherland for those for whom God himself became a Father through Me. So says the apostle: “Our dwelling is in Heaven” (Philippians 3:20), or as my prayer say, “Our Father, who is in Heaven”, for where the Father is, there is the fatherland. If the Father is in Heaven, Heaven is the fatherland, where all of his children will come together. They may deprive you of your property, but the one who follows my steps has a better, eternal property in Heaven, instead of the earthly property on earth, which fades away like a dream. They may deprive you of your honest name, ranks and decorations, but they will never take away your calling as a Christian, which is the name of all children of God; they cannot take away your calling as God's heir and co-heir of Christ, they cannot take away the seal of the gift from the Holy Spirit, and these callings and names are all more honorable than all the earthly ranks and decorations. They may even take away your life, but “Don’t fear them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).
And the word of God came true. Despite all the persecutions, sorrows, deprivations and torments, the exiles and martyrs for the name of Christ triumphed over their persecutors even in their earthly lives, rejoiced as they went to the vicious tortures as though they were going to take a kingdom. They had a kingly spirit and kingly might, invincible patience and the faith with which they shamed all their tormentors, the kings and hegemons. And after death, they inherited the kingdom of Heaven. They are still there, reigning together with Christ, according to his word: “To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). This is how the word of the immortal King Jesus Christ and his omnipotent grace inspired their words; this is how the power of Christ manifested itself in these feeble vessels! That's how the divine, Heavenly faith of Christ miraculously planted itself on earth, filled with polytheism and wickedness! Oh, our faith is a genuinely everlasting, marvelous wonder, a wonder of God's power which is made perfect in weakness, for now, it works great wonders in all those who truly believe, renewing their soul and body, their nature corroded and worn out with sin. It helps them endure courageously and thankfully all the sorrows and misfortunes which, without faith in Christ, would crush their spirit and destroy the body. It helps them tame their inner turmoil and passions that could sink the fragile boat of the body and extinguish the spirit. Where is the impudent disbelief that rejects all the miracles of faith, explaining them by the laws of nature? “Who is so great a God as our God? You are the God that works miracles, you have declared your strength among the people” (Psalm 76 (77):14:15). “Wondrous is God in his saints!” (Psalm 67 (68):36).
So, love the truth, my brothers, and loath lies or sin of any kind: speak the holy truth forthrightly and boldly, denounce the lie with patience and meekness, for the truth to reign as befits it, and the lie to be shamed and eradicated, never raising its head up with insolence: “Let everyone that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). Will people be offended by your truthful speech? Will not they love and accept you anymore? What of it? May you be unpleasant to others (like an eyesore), but you will be the mouth of God, the apple of God's eye. You will be respected by all angels and saints, and they will gladly accept your soul to their Heavenly realm when it separates from this mortal body. The celestials don't look indifferently upon the feats of our virtue, our struggle with sin and iniquity, but watch us with compassion and concern, as we are all members of Christ's single body, as the Lord testified, saying that “joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repents” (Luke 15:7), or, as the Apostle says, “when one member is honored, all the members rejoice together” (1Corinthians 12:26).
How calm the conscience is, how happy a person can be when he speaks out the holy truth! And how much the conscience can torment him if he is ashamed or afraid of speaking it when necessary! But isn't it when the untruth spreads and raises its head insolently, if not when it is let free, when it is not denounced?
But good sense, however, requires to withhold the truth sometimes:
1) when it does not concern us for there are people around whose job or duty is to tell the truth;
2) when we foresee that the word of truth will plunge us into apparent danger, and there is no benefit our word can bring. Then it is better to pray secretly to God so that he brings the unjust to the right path Himself, or sends the mighty and capable people to expose the truth! Virtue requires good sense and moderation; without it, virtue would not be virtue anymore and lose much of its value.
“Blessed are you when you shall be reviled and persecuted and when they shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” Are there still reproaches and persecutions for the truth, for the faith of Christ? There are, and there will be, until the end of the world, since for many people, the kingdom of God has not yet come in all its power, and for many, it has not come at all. There is still much wickedness and untruth in Christian societies themselves. Satan is not yet fettered, and he walks the earth and freely passes through the skies. Now, it seems, he rages even more fiercely on those who adhere to the right faith “because he knows that he has but a short time” (Revelation 12:12). But now, it is not the torments and executions that he uses to persecute us, but the unbelief, imaginary progress, liberalism, or, simply, freethinking, sloppiness concerning different religions, the insolent denial of faith, defamation, mocking, blasphemy, slander, or arrogant inattention and despise. Righteous people are now called hypocrites, obsessed with routine, ignorant narrow-minded people. The Christian faith is called the belief of common people; Christian compassion is pictured as weakness and nervous irritability; charity is said to be stupid squandering; verbal prayer is seen as hypocrisy, delight and joy of prayer as idiocy, almost insanity. On the contrary, the licentiousness and dissolution pleasing the countless lusts of the flesh are presented as modern and progressive; alienation from home and public prayers, denial of all rituals of faith, the life that does not resemble either Christian, or Jewish, or Tartar, or pagan lives, but rather some kind of animal, devoid any obligation of faith is pictured as a common style natural for a modern person (a cosmopolitan who belongs to the entire world but no faith at all).
Wouldn't you agree that it would be highly unpleasant for any believer to live among such people? Happy is the one who does not live with them, happy is the one who endures persecution, mocking, caustic remarks, but does not remain silent but stands up to his faith, his beliefs, to shame this dishonor: “answer a fool as his folly deserves, or he will think himself wise” (Proverbs 26:5).
How else does the untruth and wickedness of today persecute truth and piety? Through the inattention to the labors and merit of the pious and truth-loving, depriving them of the fair honor and reward they deserve, while the ingratiating and bribing untruth gives itself generously the glory and honor and riches of the world. No wonder! You get what you pursue. The truly pious and righteous people don't seek any fame from others; they seek glory from God alone, although they don't seek glory from men, seeking glory from God alone, although and don't shun it when it comes to them for the glory of God and the joy of those fearing God. While the people of this world whose treasure is here on earth pursue it and attain it. The first share and give away everything they have to those in need. Hence, they never stay rich, while the latter do their best to multiply their wealth through righteous and unrighteous means and become rich.
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.” The more the righteous endure the persecution, abuse, and deprivation here on earth, the more grows the reward they will get in Heaven. They often lose everything here to get it back in abundance: the imperishable glory, the imperishable wreath, inexhaustible treasure, eternal joy, and the endless kingdom our God may grant to us through the grace, generousness and love for mankind of his only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be honor and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.