Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in the heavens.
We are joining these two Commandments of Blessedness together since they are like one another.
In the last two Commandments of Blessedness it is said that everyone who lives according to righteousness will be persecuted. By "righteousness", one must understand life according to God's commandments. In other words, blessed are they who are persecuted for the faith and for piety; for their good deeds, performed in the name of Christ; for constancy and steadfastness in the faith. Such people will be rewarded in eternal life with the blessedness of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Persecution for righteousness takes various forms. This can be spiritual estrangement, rejection or reproval, or opposition to the God-pleasing activity of those living according to righteousness, calumny, constraints caused by those in authority, exile, torture, and finally, death.
Remember the word , said Jesus Christ, that I said unto you. The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me (John 15:20-21). In these words, Christ calls for His followers to imitate Him in everything, including also His self-abasement. To imitate Christ is not some kind of outward duty and it is not the fulfillment of a coercive demand. In other words, this is not an outward assimilation and repetition of His deeds and actions. The imitation of Christ is the living, free ordering of religio-moral life in Christ, by the power of love for Him, as for one's Ideal, Redeemer and Saviour. In order to come to love Christ, we are called to go along the inescapable path of self-renunciation. Through self-renunciation, as such, we come to a reconcilement with all adversities, sorrows and every unpleasantness. The great hierarch of Moscow, Metropolitan Philaret, loved to say: "There is not greater glory than to share dishonor with Jesus."
True Christians will always be persecuted for Christ's sake. They will be persecuted together with Him and like Him, for the truth confessed by them and for the good done by them. As we have already said, these persecutions can appear in the most diverse forms, not only physical, but they will always be senseless, unjust, cruel and without any reason, for, according to the word of the Apostle Paul, all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12). However, we must beware of a false "persecution complex" and be assured that sufferings fall to us only for righteousness, and not for our own weaknesses and sins. The Apostolic writings clearly forewarn: For this is thankworthy, teaches the Apostle Peter, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when you do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps (I Peter 2:19-21).
If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you....But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf (I Peter 4:14-16).
Why does the world persecute true faith, piety, righteousness, which are so beneficial for the world itself? The word of God answers us: ...[the] world lieth in wickedness (I John 5:19). Men, according to the word of King David, loved evil more than goodness (Psalm 51:3), and the prince of this world, the devil, acting through evil men, hates righteousness and persecutes it, since it serves as a denunciation of unrighteousness. As regards this, the holy righteous John of Kronstadt wrote: "Evil, depraved men always hated and persecuted the righteous, and they will always hate and persecute them. Cain hated his righteous brother, Abel, persecuted him for his piety and finally killed him; the bestial Esau hated his meek brother, Jacob, and persecuted him, threatening to kill him; the unrighteous children of the Patriarch Jacob hated their brother, the righteous Joseph, and sold him secretly to Egypt so that he would not be an annoyance to them; the impious Saul hated the meek David and persecuted him until his death, encroaching on his life; they hated God's prophets, who denounced their iniquitous life, and some of them they beat, others they killed, still others they stoned, and finally they persecuted and killed the greatest Righteous One, the Fulfillment of the law and the prophets, the Sun of righteousness, Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Complete Collection of the Words of Protopriest John Sergiev [in Russian], Volume I, pages 218-224).
Persecution on the part of the enemies of Christianity embraces the whole aggregate of external conditions under which the ancient Church's existed. The heavy weight of the persecutions was magnified even more by the fact that indigence and poverty constituted the distinctive features of the first Christians. For you see your calling, brethren, writes the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: ....base things of the world and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are (I Corinthians 1:26, 28). Besides outward trials, the Christians, who were poor materially but rich in spirit, had to endure inner trials which were no less weighty: backbiting, revilement, ridicule, abuse, calumny and so on.
The history of the Church shows us that Christians who were living according to righteousness suffered not only from pagans, but were also persecuted when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Such luminaries of the faith as Athanasius the Great, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, John Damascene, Sophronius of Jerusalem and many others underwent lack of recognition, vilification, exile and martyrdom. So it has been even until our days, when in communist countries the power of the state was hurled forth with particular force for the annihilation of Christianity and Christians.
Saint John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, was a great zealot of righteousness. In accordance with his sacred responsibility, he could not look indifferently on people's vices and he denounced them, not fearing persecution. It is understood that the vicious people on their part could not indifferently endure the denunciations of the preacher of righteousness and social justice. His enemies increased, but for righteousness he was prepared to endure every persecution. The malicious enemies of John Chrysostom triumphed, and the hierarch was condemned to incarceration. When his friends lamented and sorrowed over him, he was completely tranquil and even cheerful. "Pray, my brethren," he would say; "remember me in your prayers." When the tears of those around him were the response to this: "Do not weep, my brethren, " he would continue; "the present life is a journey, during which it is necessary to bear both the good and bad." To John Chrysostom belong the remarkable words, which afterwards many martyrs and righteous loved to repeat: "Glory to God for all things, but especially for afflictions."
Christians must accept any suffering joyfully, with mercy toward him who causes it. As Christ, while dying on the Cross, said:Father, forgive them... (Luke 23:34); as the Protomartyr Stephen, while being stoned, prayed: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge(Acts 7:60). Christ said: But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.....But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto you... (Luke 6:27-29, 35-38).
The final, Ninth Commandment of Blessedness constitutes a preparation, so that we would be able to accept the further preaching of Jesus Christ on following after Him, carrying our life's cross; but the main thing - to approach closer to the great Mystery of the sufferings on the Cross of the Saviour Himself.
Let no one be troubled by the apparent victory in this world of falsehood over truth, of darkness over light. The fundamental truth of the Christian gospel consists of the fact that Christ resurrected, that He is the Conqueror of death, and He makes us, who believe in Him, participants and heirs of this victory. To those who believe in Him, Christ gave the Cross - the most powerful weapon against evil. On the image of the Cross for ever lies the sanctifying reflection of the paschal victory - the victory of God's truth over the kingdom of the prince of this world.
Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations - says the Lord to His faithful followers. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me (Luke 22:28-29).
In the Apocalypse we read about people who have fulfilled the final two Commandments of Blessedness: These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them (Revelation 7:14-15).
From the very first until the very last pages of the Gospel, the Apostles of Christ together with the Mother of God and all the Christians continuously rejoice over the salvation ushered in by Him.
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full (John 15:9-11).
...and your heart shall rejoice, Christ says in another place, and your joy no man taketh from you....Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:22, 24).
True Christian joy is not earthly happiness, pleasure or a pleasant way of passing time, but the joy...in believing (Romans 15:13) that cannot be compared with anything else, the joy of knowing God's love, the joy, according to the word of the Apostle Peter, of worthily [partaking] of Christ's sufferings (I Peter 4:13).
Spiritual joy is closely tied with spiritual suffering. It is incorrect to think that joy comes only after suffering; joy in Christ comes together with suffering in Christ. They coexist and depend one on the other for their strength and power. As sorrow over sin comes together with the joy of salvation, so also suffering in this world is consonant with and even directly evokes this ineffable joy of salvation. Therefore, as the Apostle James says, Christians must count it all joy when [they] fall into divers temptations, knowing that the perfect work of their unshakeable faith is expressed by the fact that they are able to become perfect and entire, wanting nothing(James 1:2,4). Such also is the firm conviction of the Apostle Paul, who wrote:
.....[we] rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Romans 5:2-5).
Such is the joy of Christians, the joy of the martyrs, which more than anything else bears witness to the truth of the Christian faith and the genuineness of Christian spiritual life.
Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in the heavens (Matthew 5:12)."
©Archpriest Victor Potapov
His Eminence Archbishop Jovan of Ochrid, (concelebrating with the Patriarch of Jerusalem), a Confessor of Christ, who suffered many years of unjust imprisonment by the communist in the country of Moldova. He is still living. May we have his blessing!
Teaching given by Fr Victor Potapov, and posted on the website of
St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington DC
Posted here with written permission from Fr Victor Potapov
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Our Creator is the God of Peace. The Heavenly Father sent His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to earth, in order to reconcile man to God. The Apostle Paul speaks with encouragement about Christ the Reconciler:
For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in his sight (Colossians 1:19-22).
This Kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you ... (John 14:27), said the Lord Jesus Christ. And again: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace (John 16:33). Peace in me and my peace mean the peace acquired in accordance with the testament, teaching, and example of Christ. These words of the Savior speak of that very peace that the Apostle Paul lists among the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), which is also the peace of God, which passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
When Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the angles sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14). Despite ongoing conflict, Christ liberated the wills and hearts of the peacemakers when he beckoned them into the Kingdom of God. These peacemakers suffuse peace onto all around them. Peacemakers are called, therefore, according to Christ's words, the sons of God.
The word peace was a form of greeting among ancient peoples. Even now Israelis greet one another with peace, which is said shalom just as during the Savior's life on earth. The ancient Hebrew word shalom is richly evocative. As a metaphor, shalom signified the good relations between peoples, families, and nations, between husband and wife, between man and God. The opposite of shalom was not war but whatever violates or destroys individual well-being or good social relations. And shalom signified a special gift from God to Israel for the sake of His Covenant (agreement), with rich moral, psychological, and historical associations when used in priestly blessings.
The savior used peace, shalom, in the same way. He greeted the apostles with it, as in the Gospel according to John: The first day of the week (after the resurrection of Christ from the dead) ... came Jesus and stood in the midst (of His disciples), and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And then: ... said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you (John 20:19, 21). This greeting is not a formality. Christ really clothes His disciples in peace, knowing that ahead they will travel though enmity and persecution towards martyrdom.
The epistles of Apostle Paul tell us that this peace is not of this world. As one fruit of the Holy Spirit, peace is from Christ, for he is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). The divine services of the Orthodox and other Christian Churches have bishops and priests bless the people of God with the sign of the Cross and the words: Peace be unto all. The experienced wholeness of this peace has us sated and filled. No one can take its power from us. Or Lord=s peace frees a man from every anxiety and fear about what to eat and drink or what to wear. The heart filled with peace is not subject to confusion or fear, even in terrible sufferings and death. And only someone who abides in such peace can say, like the Apostle Paul--
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
The satisfying inward peace of Christ, however, strengthens us to continue to oppose evil in the world. Christ indicated that to oppose evil, He would cause many disturbances and alienations among men. In the Gospel according to Matthew, He says--
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I am come not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:34-39).
In this way, a peacemaker is one who testifies about Christ, who fearlessly takes up his cross, and gives up his life for the Lord, whose life shows truth and love and the peace of Christ. The peace of God, writes Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, is accompanied by the clear presence of the Holy Spirit in a man; it is the activity of the Holy Spirit(Ascetical Experiences, page 594). Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, in his conversation on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, measures the power of the peacemaker on human society: Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved. The soul cannot have peace, teaches Elder Siluan of Athos, if it will not study the law of God day and night, for this law is written by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God passes from the Scriptures to the soul, and the soul feels delight and pleasure in this.
Venerable Siluan of Athos, p.133.
The Apostle Paul instructs us in the Epistle to the Romans:
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceable with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, continues the Apostle Paul, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:18-21).
In his Homily on the Beatitudes, the holy Hierarch Gregory of Nyssa extolls peace and concord among people:
Of everything that people seek to enjoy in life, is there anything sweeter than a peaceful life? Everything that you would call pleasant in life, is pleasant only when it is united with peace. Let there be everything that is valued in life: wealth, health, a wife, children, a home, relatives, friends; let there be beautiful gardens, places for merry banquets and all contrivances for amusement ... let all this be, but if there not be peace, what use is it? ... And so, peace is not only pleasant in itself for those who enjoy peace, but it makes all the good things of life enjoyable. If there should occur with us, as often happens with people, some kind of misfortune in a time of peace, it too becomes more tolerable, because in such a case evil is pacified by good... Judge for thyself: What sort of life do those who are at enmity with each another and are suspicious of one other have? They meet sullenly and one abhors everything in the other; their lips are mute, their glance is averted and the hearing of one is closed to the words of the other.
Everything that is pleasing to one of them is hateful to the other; and, on the contrary, that which is hateful and hostile to one, is pleasing to the other. Therefore, the Lord wants that thou wouldst multiply in thyself the grace of peace with such abundance, so that not only wouldst thou enjoy it, but that thy life would serve as a medicine against the illness of others ... Whoever turns others away from this shameful vice, such a one renders the greatest benefit and may justly be called blessed; such a one performs a work of God's power, by destroying evil in human nature, and by introducing in place of it fellowship with good things. That is why the Lord also calls the peacemaker a son of God, because he who procures such tranquility for human society becomes an imitator of the true God. The Bestower and Lord of good things completely exterminates and destroys all that is unnatural and alien to good. A similar activity does He command also of thee; and thou must extinguish hatred, cut off enmity and vengeance, destroy quarrels, expel hypocrisy, extinguish the remembrance of wrongs which corrupts the heart, and in place of it introduce everything contrary ... love, joy, peace, goodness, magnanimity, in a word the whole assemblage of good things. And so, is not he blessed who distributes the divine gifts, who imitates God in his gifts, whose benefactions are similar to God's great gifts? ("Homily on the Beatitudes.")
Conversion is the like's work of a Christian, working primarily on repentance. The Greek word metanoia is usually translated as repentance, but it means literally a change of mind. The religious change is for mind and our will to leave off an incorrect, ruinous way, for the correct, saving way.
The Russian word pokajanie or raskajanie (repentance) is just as richly evocative. The word okajanstvo(wretchedness) is a derivation from the name of Cain, the murderer in Genesis, the first Old Testament book of the Bible. Cain transgressed God's will like his parents Adam and Eve, and fell lower, having defiled conscience and the earth by shedding the blood of his brother, Abel. Since he broke peace with God and his brother, Cain is the father of enmity. The process of repentance (pokajanie) erases the image of Cain from oneself and removes his mark from one's heart.
Repentance begins with seeing how far our willfulness carried us from God's righteousness. To repent and to reach true spiritual perfection next calls for forgiveness of one another's offences.
Christ forewarns: if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).
Offence sit deeply in the human heart and sometimes must painfully be wrenched out. As our strength increases to cast out grudges and hurts that have and hindered peace with other people, then the joy of forgiveness comes. Boldly we can entreat Our Heavenly Father: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive out debtors (Matthew 6:12).
When we are unreconciled with neighbors, neither fasting, nor services, nor prayers, nor sacrifices have any significance as repentance. If pride hinders us, we must overcome it. Pride is the cause of every evil. We must humble ourselves and find strength to fight our pride. The Orthodox Church placed the merciful Rite of Forgiveness on the Eve of Great Lent, when those entering the Lenten path ask forgiveness of each other. We are all guilty. Any sin of ours, even the most hidden, even mental sin and the sin we unconscious, harms all of us and the world. All mankind has one family, and the sin of each harms everyone else.
Sometimes, for example, an evil man enters into a room, or a man who is not evil but somewhat gloomy. His gloom shows in his gaze or unfriendly smile. Sometimes an encounter with such a gaze or unfriendly smile can depress other people and increase malice in their souls. In reverse, the silent presence of a holy man or an ordinary but good man - his gaze, smile, and voice - can comfort people with joy and peace. Children also bring light and joy just by their presence. So we are accountable for the bad that we did or thought or for not doing enough good.
The Apostle Peter asked of the Lord: How many times should one forgive a debtor? until seven times? To this Christ answered: I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). That is, one must forgive continuously.
So we must acquire a spirit of peace to influence our neighbors, so that, according to the word of Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, thousands around us would be saved. We must try to find the part in the soul of each man that is receptive to goodness. We must enter his circle of interests and to adapt ourselves to his concepts and leanings. The Apostle Paul did so constantly, who wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law (I Corinthians 9:20-21).
By trying to see a man's strengths, and not his shortcomings; and by forgiving his blunders and sins, we take part in his reform, rebirth, and reconciliation to God. As missionaries, we draw him into Christ's Court, where the sound of those that keep festival is unceasing and endless is the delight of those who behold the unutterable beauty of [the Lord's] countenance. Insofar, by grace, we become sons of God."
©Archpriest Victor Potapov,
The Most Holy Theotokos is our foremost example of holiness and purity of heart.
In the words of St Gregory Palamas,
"She also is a cause of those before her and patron of those after her and a cause of things eternal; she is a promise of the prophets, foundation of the Apostles, support of the martyrs, platform of the teachers, she is the glory of those on earth, the delight of those in heaven, the adornment of all creation; she is also the principle and source and root of the ineffable good things, she is the summit and completion of every saint" St Gregory Palamas in Homily 53, Ibid p.297 from the Homilies of St Gregory Palamas, translated by Dr Christopher Veniamin, Mount Tabor Publishing
Teaching given by Fr Victor Potapov, and posted on the website of
St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington DC
Posted here with written permission from Fr Victor Potapov
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
In this commandment, Jesus Christ prompts us to achieve purity of heart. The heart is the guardian of our spiritual life. It contemplates whatever the eyes cannot see and the mind cannot grasp. Spiritual contemplation is possible only with a heart that is pure. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said: The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness (Matthew 6:22-23).
The pure heart and its vision of God are lofty concepts. One can only describe. According to the words of the holy, righteous John of Kronstadt, a pure heart is meek, humble, guileless, simple, trusting, true, unsuspicious, gentle, good, not covetous, not envious, not adulterous. My Life in Christ, p. 56. According to Venerable John of the Ladder, Purity is the assimilation of a bodiless nature (Step 15). That is, the life hidden from the physical eyes - the life of the spiritual world - is revealed to the pure in heart. He who has made his heart pure, writes Venerable Simeon the New Theologian in the Philokalia, will not only come to know the meaning and significance of things secondary and which exist after God, but on having passed through them all, will also see God Himself - in which is the extremity of good. The pure in heart are people who can clearly see God's real presence, and who can proclaim together with the Psalmist:
The Lord is my light and my savior; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid? ... One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life... My heart said unto Thee: I will seek the Lord. My face hath sought after Thee; Thy face, O Lord, will I seek (Psalm 26:1, 4, 8).
A pure heart preserves the word of God as the seed sown in Christ's Parable of the Sower:
But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:15).
To see God is the highest blessedness. So the pure heart constantly seeks the vision of God; it wants His light in its depth, so strives to live in perfect purity. The Mother of God lived this way. We call the Virgin Mary Most Pure; for her ever-virginity, and for her spiritual wholeness. Her heart was pure, her mind was healthy, her soul magnified the Lord, her spirit exulted in God her Savior, and her body was a spiritual temple.
The pure Mother of God inspires saints to preserve their purity of heart. The saints never allow thoughts contrary to God into their the hearts. Isaac the Syrian points out purity of heart in the Venerable Sisoes, who renounced worldly desire and thought, and reached an elemental simplicity. He became like a child, but without childishness. Venerable Sisoes even would ask his disciple:Have I eaten, or have I not eaten? But as a child to the world, to God he was mature and perfect in purity (Venerable Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, p. 142. While reading, you should recall the words of Christ: Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Purity of heart is necessary for mystical oneness with God. Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes of this in his Sixth Homily, On the Beatitudes--
The joyful vision of God is offered to the man who has purified the sight of his soul. Thus, the Word (i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ) teaches us, when He says to us that the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). This teaches us that the man who has purified his soul from all passionate impulses will reflect by his inner beauty the likeness of the Divine image... By a good life, wash off the filth that adheres to thy heart, and then shall shine forth thy divinely appearing beauty.
The Apostle Paul wrote of this too, in his pastoral epistles.
Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15).
If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (II Timothy 2:21-22).
Abba Pimen struggled for piety and purity of heart. He taught us:
"As long as the pot is on the fire, no fly nor any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold, these creatures get inside. So it is for the monk; as long as he lives in spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him." Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 154.
What should we do if we do not have a pure heart? How can we purify it of defilement? First of all, we must pray that the Lord give us spiritual insight, that He give us the Holy Spirit, Who penetrates everything, Who sees everything. Such a prayer is always heard, for the Lord has promised: If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him (Luke 11:13). A praying heart, filled with contrition, is acceptable to God, for, as it is said in the 50th Psalm: A heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise (verse 17). Sincere prayer warms the heart, arouses reverent compunction, and draws to itself the purifying and sanctifying grace of God. Thus the Church teaches us to purify the heart by warm prayer. In the Canon of Preparation for Holy Communion we read: Teardrops grant me, O Christ, to cleanse my defiled heart(Third Ode).
Prayer expels evil - that offspring of Satan, the enemy of our salvation - from the heart. We must frequently and reverently say the name of Jesus Christ. The Savior said: In my name shall they cast out devils (Mark 16:17). Frequent invocation of this most sweet name with faith and reverence in the so-called mental or Jesus Prayer can expel impurities from the heart and fill it with heavenly joy and peace.
In Way of the Ascetics, Tito Colliander wrote some inspired lines concerning the Jesus Prayer. His chapter 25 reads:
"The saintly Abbot Isaiah, the Egyptian hermit, says of the Jesus Prayer that it is a mirror for the mind and a lantern for the conscience. Someone has also likened it to a constantly sounding, quiet voice in a house: all thieves that sneak in take hasty flight when they hear that someone is awake there. The house is the heart, the thieves, the evil impulses. Prayer is the voice of the one who keeps watch. But the one who keeps watch is no longer I, but Christ."
Spiritual activity embodies Christ in our soul. This involves continual remembrance of the Lord: you hide Him within, in your soul, your heart, your consciousness. I sleep, but my heart waketh (Song of Solomon 5:2): I myself sleep, withdraw, but the heart stays steadfast in prayer, that is, in eternal life, in the kingdom of Heaven, in Christ. The tree-roots of my being stand fast in their source.
The means of attaining this is the prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Repeat it aloud, or only in thought, slowly, lingeringly, but with attention, and from a heart freed as much as possible from all that is inappropriate to it. Not only worldly interests are inappropriate, but also such things as every kind of expectation or thought of answer, or inner visions, testings, all kinds of romantic dreams, curious questions and imaginings.
©Archpriest Victor Potapov,
Teaching given by Fr Victor Potapov, and posted on the website of
St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington DC
Posted here with written permission from Fr Victor Potapov
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Mercy is an attribute of Divine love and one of man's noblest sentiments. To show mercy means to be Godlike, for He, according to the testimony of the 102d psalm, is compassionate and merciful ... long-suffering and plenteous in mercy. Jesus Christ speaks of mercy in His Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the 6th chapter of the Gospel according to Luke:
Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:35-36).
To show this mercy neither justifies falsehood and sin, nor tolerates foolishness, nor ignores specific injustice. To show this mercy means to have compassion upon people gone astray as captives of sin. It means to forgive those so unrighteous that they hurt themselves as well as others. All people are sinners before God and each another, and they deserve every blame. But the Lord, according to His infinite mercy, forgives and has mercy on repentant sinners, just as the Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches us. If we show mercy to one another, we too shall get mercy from God. Justly the merciful can say the prayer Our Father ... forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12).
Holy righteous Father John of Kronstadt has written:
"For thy mercy to the brethren, thou shalt receive mercy from God; for temporal mercy - eternal mercy; for a little mercy - infinitely great mercy. Thou shalt be worthy not only of pardon because of sins from eternal condemnation at God's judgment, but thou shalt also gain eternal blessedness." (Complete Works, vol. 1, p. 189).
Sacred Scripture abounds with sayings about the mercy necessary in man's spiritual life. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment, we read in [the Epistle of] the Apostle James (2:13). In his First Epistle, John the Theologian, the Apostle of Love, teaches us:
But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (I John 3:17-18).
And the Apostle Paul exhorts us thus: But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased(Hebrews 13:16).
The Old Testament often mentions the importance of mercy: Blessed is the man that hath understanding for the poor man and the pauper, in an evil day the Lord will deliver him (Psalm 40:1), exclaims the Psalmist.
We learn from the wise Sirach that alms make atonement for sin (Ecclesiasticus 3:30), and they deliver from death (Tobit 12:9).
Perhaps Jesus Christ's words on the Dread Judgment are his most striking Sacred Scripture about mercy. Christ makes it clear that this Judgment will take no account of our worldly success, because the question for each of us will be How did we serve our neighbor? Christ counts six forms of help to render to neighbors. Identifying Himself - in his love, condescension and mercy - with everyone poor and needing help, the Savior says: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me(Matthew 25:35-36).
Mercy to the suffering is greater than fasting. The Church reads Christ's words on the Dread Judgment on the Eve of Great Lent, so that the faithful will know that the main Lenten struggle is to have mercy on the unfortunate. For I will have mercy rather than sacrifice (Hosea 6:7).
The February 19 readings of Lives of the Saints illustrates this truth:
The venerable Dositheus, as he was dying, was bid farewell by the Superior with these kind words: "Child, go in peace to the Lord, and pray for us before His throne!" The brethren of the monastery in which Dositheus struggled were disturbed by these farewell words of the superior, for they knew that Dositheus was not notable either for fasting or for prayer vigils, that he would often be late in coming to the all-night vigils, and sometimes he would not come at all. The Superior learned of this disturbance, and once, during a general assembly of the brethren, he put the following questions to them: "When the ringing of the bell calls me to God's church, and there is a suffering brother in my care, what should I do then? Leave the ailing and hasten to church, or remain in his cell and comfort the brother?" They answered: "In such a case the Lord accepts the help given to a suffering brother as true divine service." "But when my strength becomes weak from fasting, and I am unable to serve the suffering as I ought, should I gain strength from food in order to wakefully look after the sick, or continue the fast, even though through this the sick would suffer?" "Excessive fasting in such a case would not be as pleasing to God as would the solicitous care for the needs of the sick brother," answered the monks. "You have reasoned correctly," the Superior said to them. "Why then did you condemn Dositheus, who, because of the responsibility laid on him to tend the sick, did not always come to the divine service in church and did not always fast as others did? Meanwhile, you yourselves witnessed with what diligence, with what wakefulness he waited on the sick, with what love he fulfilled their demands, which were often capricious! And who among you will say that he ever heard a murmur from him regarding the labors and the fatigue!" Such was Dositheus' divine service; and the Lord accepted him as His faithful and diligent worshiper: for in the person of the suffering brethren he served the Lord Himself.
The more a man practices mercy and loves people, the nearer he draws to God; and the more a man experiences the personal Divinity with his heart, the more he loves people. The venerable Abba Dorotheus explains this thus: "Imagine a circle and its middle point, its center; and from the center there extend radii or rays. The further these radii go from the center, the more they diverge and move away from one another; on the contrary, the closer they come to the center, the more they themselves converge. Assume now that the circle is the world. The very middle point of the circle is God, and the direct lines (the radii) going from the center to the circumference or from the circumference to the center are the paths of people's lives. And it is the same here--as the saints progress within the circle toward its middle point, desiring to draw near to God, so they become closer to God and to one another according to the extent of their progression ... in the same manner they can move away from one another; and as they move away from one another, so do they move away from God." Such then is the nature of love. Christian Life According to the Philokalia, page 24).
Christ calls His Church to serve the needy and unfortunate rather than the self-satisfied and well-off. Eastern Christian consciousness places the image of the abused and rejected Christ above all else. The Church sees royal dignity through the poverty that He voluntarily took upon Himself. The early Church Fathers repeated the demand to feed the hungry, and to help the sick and the homeless. According to Saint Basil the Great, one can fulfill God's will only by minding one=s fate with the fate of others. For Saint Basil the Great, indifference and individualism were depraved and self-destructive. Even more than Basil the Great, his younger contemporary Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, preached the theme of mercy. Let us turn to his works:
"Almsgiving is the heart of virtue ... it is the queen of the virtues, which quickly leads people to the very height of heaven; it is the best of advocates ... Virginity, fasting, and lying on the bare ground are important only for the one who gives himself up to them, and they save no other person; almsgiving extends to all and embraces the members of Christ (6th Homily on Titus, 2). To do alms is a work greater than miracles... . To feed the hungry Christ is a work greater than raising the dead in Christ's name. In the first instance thou art the benefactor of Christ; in the second He is thy benefactor ... When thou workest miracles, thou art God's debtor; when thou doest alms, God is thy debtor."
Saint John Chrysostom believed that social evils start in man's thirst for wealth and they worsen in man's desire to use his wealth selfishly. Saint John Chrysostom says that the only lawful Owner of earthly goods and treasures is God Omnipotent. People must serve the true Owner and manage His property according to His will. According to Saint John Chrysostom, worldly goods are for the needy, the sick, and the orphans. In those who endure pain and who await help, Christ Himself suffers; their torments are His lasting agony. Cries of those suffering from need, Chrysostom tells us, are voices of the crucified Savior Himself. The moral fervor of Chrysostom and his passionate appeal depend on the Church as the living Body of Christ Himself.
Ancient [Kievan] Rus' to some, extent lived according to this ideal. It was called Holy Russia. The holy Prince Vladimir, the Equal of the Apostles, under whom Rus' was enlightened with the light of the Christian faith, was a model of mercy in ancient Rus'. Having given a tithe for the upkeep of the church, at the same time he published an edict to care for cripples, the needy, and wanderers at the churches, and to set up poorhouses and hospitals. In his own home on feast days, he arranged dinners for the clergy, nobles, and poor; on especially solemn days, as, for instance, during the consecration of churches, the Prince distributed much money to the poor. The needy and the wretched could freely come to the Prince's palace and take food and drink for themselves. Moreover, for the infirm and the sick who could not come to his palace, Prince Vladimir commanded that special wagons be loaded with bread, meat and other provisions, and he bestowed these things on those unable to come to the Prince's palace.
Here is another of Prince Vladimir's works of mercy - During pagan times, as is well known, there were oppressed slaves. Usually such persons were captives of war or weak or friendless people that the powerful could subjugate and sell into slavery. Prince Vladimir, the Equal of the Apostles, put an end to these conditioned and himself ransomed captives and set them free. G. Fedotov pointed out the main thing in the Christian consciousness of Old Russia, before Tsar Peter the Great:
Probably, thanks to the Slavonic Liturgy and the Slavonic Gospel, the image of Christ and His commandments of love were deeply etched in the memory and in the heart of the Russian people. Sinning and falling throughout its cruel and bloody history, the Russian people could not ever part with this Divine image. It warmed the people's life, by softening human relations through pity and forgiveness, by teaching them to see in the poor and suffering not only a brother, but also Christ Himself, and by parching their hearts with thirst for another, radiant life, in the fullness of which the behests of brotherly love could be realized.
The Christian in the Revolution (Paris, 1957), page 95).
Opponents of Christianity insist that Love for God is no selfish striving toward a personal salvation. They may say to show any love for fellow man by improvement of the condition of all humanity. Let us reply that out that sincere love for God and willingness to live according to His commandments is unsuited to egoists. Love for God and membership in God's Kingdom exclude preoccupation with personal salvation. The Christian strives toward renewal of all creation.
Concerning this, Saint John Chrysostom wrote:
"Let us not be satisfied with seeking our own salvation; that would mean losing it. During a war, in the ranks, if a soldier thinks only about saving himself by flight, he destroys himself and his comrades. The valiant soldier, who fights for others and together with others, saves himself too." (45th Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 54).
As touching social activism, remember that justice and humanity, as well as condemnation of social inequality, all originate in the Gospel. Christian love for man demands personal sacrifice daily and lifelong. The Christian is always alert, for he sees Christ in each man he meets. Each man is not an occasion for a so-called good deed. Instead, each man is revealed, to the Christian, as the beginning of eternal communion with God Himself, a personal communion where the usual forms of human interaction disappear. Desire and will to love a unlovable man only because he represents Christ helps us to recognize that other man's hidden, genuine value. A merciful love of such a man can help even the most depraved man to recall the image of God that may slumber in his heart, so that he can promote his own spiritual rebirth. Otherwise he may linger in spiritual darkness while still well-off in terms of the world."
©Archpriest Victor Potapov,
St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington DC
Posted here with written permission from Fr Victor Potapov
"Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
We hardly think about the daily bread that we eat to keep up our strength. But the hungry man thinks about bread constantly; he seeks it everywhere. A man fainting from thirst feels himself ready to trade anything for a cold glass of water, to pay any price. As he seeks bread and water here and now for the body, so the Christian must seek the bread and living water of heaven for his spiritual hunger and thirst. Seeking righteousness throughout his life will bring him righteousness. At His baptism by John the Forerunner, Lord Jesus Christ called righteousness the fulfilling of God's Law. And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him (Matthew 3:15).
Christ's Fourth Commandment of Blessedness promises blessing to him who suffers with every unrighteousness and who waits ardently for the triumph of truth. Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness (I Peter 2:24).
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?-- the Savior exhorts his followers--For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:31-33).
The saints followed this teaching of Christ. First they sought the kingdom of God, and then sought his righteousness. When they found them both, they were filled with happiness and joyous knowledge of God's world, and they became righteous themselves. Contentment and rest come from God, and they in turn bring a new hunger and thirst, but not in contradiction to the words of Christ:He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth in me shall never thirst (John 6:35). The new hunger and thirst confirm the fact that the unrest of the human heart, according to the words of Blessed Augustine, is directed toward God, and that the rest, found in Him, according to the words of the Venerable Maximus the Confessor, is a profoundly dynamic rest; always increasing and developing into an even greater unity with the inexhaustible wealth and fullness of the Divine Existence.
In the fourth century, the holy hierarch Gregory of Nyssa, wrote an essay that explains the yearning:
The human mind constantly runs about, distracted by whatever pleases the senses . . . it does not have enough strength to reach the true good . . . . But for him whom the Creator gave a nature constantly in motion, he cannot ever stop; but if he sets up a barrier to his movement toward vanities, he cannot then strive toward anything but the truth. . . . Consequently, the spiritual man does not pass directly from iniquity to righteousness. Instead, he passes gradually, and will develop eternally in God in ever greater righteousness and perfection.
Brethren, writes the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Philippians, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do [count]: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded . . . (Philippians 3:13-15).
The Christian achieves righteousness through knowledge of God. The more a man comes to know God, the closer he fulfils the aims of life: first righteousness and then holiness. But it is hard to understand the holiness of the saints. Our contemporaries usually understand the saints to be infinitely remote from us so-called ordinary man. Their saint has subordinates his whole life to other people's welfare and to fine ideas. Certainly fine, high ideas belong to the nonordinary Christian understanding of holiness, for sanctity cannot abide with the ordinary readiness or desire to be like everyone else.
Biblical holiness is still more profound. The Gospel calls each man to holiness, recognizing that each man starts his life already holy as a creature of God and bearer of His image. The Gospel teaches that a man's life gathers further meaning only as he overcomes whatever makes him not holy and apart from the perfect holiness of God. Gospel holiness is not for a few only, for baptism into the Church is being chosen for a new life in spirit and in truth (John 4:23), and a forgetting the way of life of the ungodly who live by only the values of the world. According to Christ's word, that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). A saint thirsts after God's righteousness with all his strength and strives to know God. The saint's struggle sanctifies him and the world around him. The saints lead the rest of us toward knowledge of God.
God is invisible, but the saints can see him, who have become like Him. Christ is the most perfect self-revelation of God. Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him, we read in the Gospel according to Matthew (11:27). Christ, according to the word of the Apostle Paul, is the perfect image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Christ asks that in Him the Father be loved. The Holy Spirit is the Continuer and Completer of the redemptive work of Christ, who testifies about Christ (John 15:26) and glorifies Him (John 16:14). Christians honor the Three-Person God in Christ. Our salvation is inseparably bound with the knowledge of the Son of God, accepted by the whole heart and mind. Revelation was given for the knowledge of God. But the Son does not reveal Himself directly, but through the Spirit of Truth, Who teaches everything and guides unto every truth (John 14:26; 16:13). The higher realm of knowledge or spiritual, divine vision is revealed exclusively by the Holy Spirit. The knowledge of God without keeping the commandments is a lie, teaches John the Theologian (I John 2:3-;4).
The venerable elder Siluan of Athos advanced the original idea that only he who has known God and then lost Him can seek Him again. The venerable Siluan thought that every search for God somehow follows an experience of God. God uses no force against man, but patiently stands by the human heart and humbly waits until the heart opens to Him. God Himself seeks a man before that man begins to seek Him. At a suitable moment, the Lord reveals Himself to a man, the man comes to know God only then, according to the measure given him, and he then begins to seek God, Who steals away from his heart. The elder Siluan says: How can you seek that which you had not lost? How can you seek that which you completely had not known? But the soul knows the Lord, and therefore seeks Him (pages 43-44).
Maximus the Confessor considers knowledge of God to be beginning and end of salvation. His wisdom begins as fear and ends as love. In one voice, the Fathers of the Church tell of the necessary knowledge of God and the final living, blessed, and radiant spiritual vision. The God of the Fathers cannot be an object of their thought because thought presupposes division, because thought is interaction between the one who thinks and the object of the thought. Whoever delves deeply within himself, renouncing anything external, can rise to sublimity. Such diversion is contact with God. The soul feels no movement nor activity, nor any thought at all. To know God, to contemplate God, a man must give up thought. The Venerable Isaac the Syrian said that the Kingdom of Heaven is not acquired by learning; it can be instilled only by Divine Favor (Word 49). No one gains spiritual knowledge by external, mental means.No one is able to have this spiritual vision, continues the Venerable Isaac, unless he is converted and become as a child, that is, unless he fixes himself in an infant's manner of thought.
According to another Church Father, the Venerable Simeon the New Theologian:
"A Christian is called a believer because mysteries are entrusted to him by God, which even the Angels did not have knowledge of before us (vol. 1, p. 330) . . . By the Holy Spirit, Christians are taught all understanding and perception, continues the Venerable Simeon, and every word of wisdom and of the most mystical knowledge. That which the unbelievers do not know, we who have been vouchsafed to be made believers can know, think and talk about, being taught and enlightened by the grace of the Most Holy Spirit. Indeed, the key to understanding is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given for the sake of faith. The grace of the Holy Spirit, writes the Venerable Simeon, opens our closed and darkened mind and communicates to it the true knowledge and perception of divine enlightenment (vol. 2, page 59). God can be known by us just as much as someone is able to see a boundless sea, standing at its edge at night with a small lit candle in his hand. Do you think that you will see much of that whole boundless sea? Of course, a certain little bit, or almost nothing. Nevertheless, he sees the water well and knows that the sea is before him, that the sea is boundless, and that he cannot encompass it in his gaze. So it is in relationship to our knowledge of God. Neither vigil, nor solitude, nor fasting, nor possessing nothing, nor bodily labor, nor any other virtue can without the Holy Spirit procure for us a word, or knowledge, or reason; because all this is the path leading to the light, but not the light itself. Without the Spirit no one can himself be taught or teach others. For how can He Who is higher than every mind and thought be known by our mind which was created by Him, unless it be enlightened by Him and united with Him (vol. 2, Words 61 and 87)."
The Venerable Simeon also wrote that the unrepentant cannot know or understand the mysteries of the Christian faith. Unbelievers or those of little faith do not and cannot see. Therefore, according the Venerable Simeon, let no one ever delude you with vain and deceptive words, saying that it is possible to know the divine mysteries of our faith without being taught and enlightened by the Holy Spirit (vol. 2, p. 343). The great Christian philosopher, Isaac the Syrian, from his spiritual experience depicted the mystical procession and ascent of the soul seeking God:
That which happens with a fish out of water happens with the mind that has stepped away from remembering God and stews in remembering the world. Insofar as a man is removed from conversing with people, so far then is he deemed worthy of the boldness of conversing with God through his mind, and to the extent that he cuts off from himself the consolation of this world, to such an extent is he deemed worthy of God's joy in the Holy Spirit . . . . And as fish perish from lack of water, so the movements of the mind, which spring up from God, vanish in the negligent heart (Word 8).
Such is the saints' knowledge of God, which leads them to spiritual insight and which affects all those around the saints. The righteous Archbishop John Maximovich, a man of our time, expressed this insight in a sermon on holiness:
Holiness is more than righteousness, for which the righteous are worthy to enjoy the Kingdom of God. Holiness is such a height that people so filled with the grace of God that flows from them onto those they meet. Great is their blessedness from beholding the glory of God. Filled with love of God, the saints respond to peoples' needs and entreaties as mediators and intercessors for them before God (San Francisco, 1971).
Bishop Theophanes the Recluse writes that nothing can compare with the sweetness of divine meditation and glorification. The Prayer of the Third Antiphon in the Liturgy of John Chrysostom entreats God - Fulfill even now the petitions of Thy servants as is expedient for them, granting us in the present age the knowledge of (Thee and) Thy truth, and in that to come, life eternal.
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). The feeling of spiritual fullness merges with consciousness of fulfilling one's duty before God.
Seek after God, and your soul shall live - cries the David the Psalmist (Psalm 68:37). Seek God as a treasure buried in the earth - not for cold knowledge about Him, but as a living, dynamic union with Him, to feel His love. This blessedness Christ promises to all who fulfil His Fourth Commandment of Blessedness."
©Archpriest Victor Potapov,
Teaching given by Fr Victor Potapov, and posted on the website of
St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington DC
Posted here with written permission from Fr Victor Potapov
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Meekness is necessary in a spiritual person; the power of meekness erases anger, malice, enmity, and condemnation from the heart and adorns the soul with a gentleness.
Christ Himself was meek. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, said Christ. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
The Apostles of Christ also preached meekness. The Epistle of the Apostle James tells us:
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits... (James 3:13;17).
Let your moderation be known unto all men (Philippians 4:5), exhorts the Apostle Paul. He does not mean for us to be meek for show, but rather that we strive so that meekness becomes a widely recognized quality for Christians. The Apostle numbers meekness among the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:23).
Meekness means gentleness and kindness, freedom from selfishness and celebrity, and refusal to coerce and force matters. Meekness is to have a firm and quiet conviction that good is more powerful than evil, and that it can reach victory sooner or later. The words of Saint John Climacus tell us:
"Meekness is an unchangeable state of mind, which remains the same in honor and dishonor. Meekness consists in praying calmly and sincerely for a neighbor when he causes many turmoils. Meekness is a rock overlooking the sea of anger, which breaks all the waves that dash against it, yet remains completely unmoved. Meekness is the buttress of patience, the door, or rather, the mother of love, and the foundation of discernment, for it is said: The Lord will teach the meek His ways (Psalm 24:9). Meekness prepares us for the forgiveness of sins; it is boldness in prayer; an abode of the Holy Spirit. But to whom shall I look? Even to him that is meek and quiet. (Isaiah 66:2). In the hearts of the meek the lord finds rest, but a turbulent soul is a seat of the devil."
He, who is completely incapable of becoming angry, is not meek, but rather he who feels the movement of anger and restrains it, overcoming his sinful self-centeredness. The meek man never repays evil for evil, offense for offense; he does not become angry, does not raise his voice in anger against sinners and offenders... he shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the street (Matthew 12:19), according to the word of the Evangelist.
It is possible to say, that the meek become like Christ, Who, as the Apostle Peter writes in his First Epistle, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (I Peter 2:23). A good illustration of these words we find in the Prologue (12th of March).
A certain elder monk, Cyrus by name, being of low origin and very meek, was not liked by the brethren of the monastery where he was saving himself. It often happens because of humility or because of some other good quality, that someone will, in the end, become liked who previously was not liked; but the lot of the Venerable Cyrus was not such! In time, the hatred of the brethren increased: not only the elder brethren, but also the youths who were novices, insulted him and not infrequently even drove him away from the table. This continued for fifteen years.
The Venerable John of the Ladder happened to be in this monastery, we read further on in the Prologue. Seeing that the meek Cyrus, on being driving away from the table, frequently went to sleep hungry, he asked him: Tell me, what do these offences against thee mean? Believe me, beloved guest in Christ, answered the humble elder, the brethren do not act this way out of malice; they are only testing me to see whether I am worthy to wear the angelic habit. On entering this monastery, I heard that an anchorite must be tested for thirty years, and I have only lived here half that time.
This incident from the life of the Venerable Cyrus is an extreme example of Christian meekness, of which only a few are capable. The ascetic did not wish to take revenge on his persecutors, but even derived benefit for himself from their insults and accepted as the highest good fortune that which others would consider for themselves as misfortune and dishonor.
In general, all the saints were good teachers of meekness. One may further name the disciple of the Venerable Anthony the Great (251-356), the Venerable Paul the Most Simple (4/17 October) who by his life gave an example of blessed simplicity. The Venerable Sergius of Radonezh (25 September/8 October), by his gentle and meek words and persuasive speech, as the Church sings in one of the hymns in his honor. He reconciled the princes who were at enmity with one another. And here is a clear example of meekness from the life of the Venerable Theodosius of the Caves, the abbot of the illustrious Monastery of the Caves in Kiev:
Once, the Venerable Theodosius was conversing with the Great Prince Iziaslav until late in the evening. The Great Prince did not wish to let the Venerable One go to the Monastery by foot, and ordered one of his servants to take Saint Theodosius to the Monastery. But this servant, seeing the wretched clothing of the Venerable Theodosius, took him for a simple alms' collector, and said:
Monk, it is high time for me to rest in thy place. The Venerable Theodosius good-heartedly gave up his place to him, and himself began to drive the horses, and the servant fell asleep. In the morning, upon waking up, the servant saw that all the grandees coming to the Great Prince were bowing to the venerable Theodosius. His terror increased when, upon driving up to the Monastery, he saw that all the brethren came out to meet their abbot and with reverence received a blessing from him.
Not only the saints who lived in antiquity showed an example of evangelical meekness and simplicity. In our days too, the righteous also teach us holy meekness by the example of their life. In this connection, let us mention the Russian New-martyr, Metropolitan Benjamin (Kazanski) of Petrograd. At his trial in 1922, Metropolitan Benjamin in his final word said: I know not what you will announce in your sentence--life or death. Whichever it is, with reverence I turn my gaze on high, place upon myself the sign of the Cross and say: Glory to Thee, O Lord God, for everything. Shaved, in rags and with prayer on his lips, Metropolitan Benjamin went calmly to the place of execution. He uncomplainingly accepted a martyric death, remembering the words of Jesus: Whosoever doth not bear his cross , and come after me, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27).
The lot of martyrdom is not appointed for everyone, but we have the ability to be meek cross-bearers, according to the spirit of Christ's teaching, if, as the Apostle Paul says, we crucify our flesh with the passions and lusts (Galatians 5:24), if we preserve meekness and good-heartedness in the face of offences and insults, if we refrain from envy, anger, evil speaking and revenge.
How can we act otherwise, how can we get irritated, grow angry, take revenge? asks the holy righteous John of Kronstadt; and he says further: God, our common Father, before Whom we commit sins without number, always deals with us according to His meekness, does not destroy us, is longsuffering with us, ceaselessly benefits us. And with our brethren, we must be meek, condescending and longsuffering. For (according to the word of Christ) if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).
Furthermore, continues the righteous one of Kronstadt, all we, as Christians, are members of one body, and members take care of one another; besides, we are called sheep of the rational flock of Christ; why is this so? Because sheep are meek, free of malice, patient; such must we also be. Only those of us who are meek and free of malice, like lambs, belong to Christ's flock; but they who do not have Christ's spirit, His meekness and lack of malice ; they are not His. Complete Collection, vol. 1, pp. 173-174.
The only reliable path to salvation is to imitate the Lord Jesus Christ's meekness: His judgment by Caiaphas and Pilate, the painful minutes being nailed to the Cross, and the hours being crucified and blasphemed. These images show heavenly meekness to the world.
And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace (Matthew 26:62-63)
We read in the Gospel according to Matthew, and in the Gospel according to Luke--
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:33-34).
We cannot bear the Cross of the Savior because His Cross is too heavy for us. But we must take up and bear our own cross in life, meekly enduring life's adversities for Christ's sake. The holy Apostle Peter says:
For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when you do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (I Peter 2:19;23).
Christ's third Commandment of Blessedness promises the meek that they will inherit the earth. This is true although difficult for contemporary man to comprehend in the context of stormy recent politics. States, parties and people continue fight for land and riches. Throughout history, people have fought over land and resources, making war and other violence, destroying so many human families as well other resources. The violence may well go on. Millions suffer in torment, and cannot see or take delight in the real beauty of our splendid earth, created by God.
Nevertheless, there are people who, as it is said in the Scriptures, have nothing, but posses everything (II Corinthians 6:10). These Christians ascetics live in the bosom of nature in deserts and mountains. Some of them were wanderers, who in Holy Russia went about the country on foot, from monastery to monastery, from one holy place to another. They delighted in the beauty of the land and were nourished by its excellent fruits. They breathed the pure air and drank spring water. They prayed to God beneath the open sky. They worked with their own hands, and they never took away land from anyone. And the land really belonged to them. And they, in their meekness, possessed it.
By the commandment of meekness, Christ foresaw not only such a possession of the earth. The time will come, when the earth in reality will belong to the meek. According to the word of the Apostle Peter, we, according to his promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (II Peter 3:13). By God's Judgement, the meek will become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, which the Psalmist calls the land of the living. I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 26:15).
Meekness is freedom from this sinful world, but a loving attitude towards it . The world needs healing by meekness. And meekness is readiness to endure suffering patiently and with joy. Only in this kind of meekness, can one win Christian victor: not by self-denial but by sacrificial love. This Christian victory is directly opposite to any worldly victory that suppresses enemies or rivals with vindication of one's purpose and pretension. Christ's victory is to attract to Himself the hearts of men. His victory challenges all worldly wisdom about man and man's futile aspiration. Christ's victory is goodness, self-renunciation, and love.
All earthy experience adds up to a loss in the face of what the Gospel calls treasure in the heavens. The believing mind knows that all things earthly evaporate and lose their power to attract. It believing mind wants heavenly treasure to nourish it fully without fear of loss f any kind.
The commandment the meek shall inherit the earth expresses the existential truth that unselfish love irresistibly attracts the human heart. It is an invincible power. We know that a mysterious law operates. True victors may look like people suffering defeat. The contemporary French writer Albert Camus expresses this truth in these words: I cannot but believe those witnesses who gave themselves up to be killed.
Let us complete our sketch with the prayerful instruction of the contemporary teacher of meekness, the Venerable Siluan of Athos:
The soul of the humble is like the sea; toss a stone into the sea and for a minute it slightly disturbs the surface, and then falls into its depths. So do afflictions drown in the heart of the humble man, because the Lord's power is with him.
Where dwellest thou, O humble soul; and who liveth in thee; to what shall I liken thee?
Thou burnest brightly, like the sun, and burnest not out; but with thy warmth thou warmest all.
To thee belongeth the land of the meek, according to the word of the Lord.
Thou art like unto a flowering garden, in the heart of which there is a splendid home, where the Lord doth love to abide.
Thee do heaven and earth love.
Thee do the holy Apostles, Prophets, Hierarchs and Venerable love.
Thee do the Angels, Seraphim and Cherubim love.
Thee, the humble, doth the Most Pure Mother of the Lord love.
Thee doth the Lord love and rejoice over."
©Archpriest Victor Potapov,
Teaching given by Fr Victor Potapov, and posted on the website ofSt John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington DC
Posted here with written permission from Fr Victor Potapov
"Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
In this commandment, Lord Jesus Christ speaks about the contrition and sorrow that come from knowing one's separation and remoteness from God. Christ lists this spiritual mourning next after those poor in spirit, counting them blessed who tearfully sorrow over their unworthiness, as King David cried out in repentant sorrow: Every night I will wash my bed, with tears will I water my couch(Psalm 6:7). So too did sorrow the Apostle Peter, who denied Christ: And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). The Apostle Peter wept continually. It is said that during his life, each time whenever he heard the cock crow, he would recall his denial, and, with a feeling of the most profound repentance until the end of his days, he would shed bitter tears.
Whoever thinks he can go along the way after Christ without mourning is naive, writes Archimandrite Sophronius (Sakharov) in his book To Know God as He Is. Take up a dry nut, place it under a heavy press and you will see how oil will begin to flow from it. Something similar takes place in our heart when the invisible fire of God's word burns it from all sides. Our heart has become stony in its brute egoism, and, what is worse, in its spasm of pride. But truly there is such a Fire (Luke 12:49), which is able to melt even the strongest metals and stones.
The First Beatitude - Poverty of Spirit - gives rise to the Second - Blessed Mourning. The man who is poor in spirit, who is free from spiritual and physical desires, cannot but sorrow over himself and in general over the fallen state of all humanity, and over the horrors of our godless world, held captive by its own vain inventions, a world which considers itself rich and prosperous, in need of nothing, but which is in reality, according to the word of the Apocalypse, wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked(Revelation 3:17). Knowing all that God gives us, and all who actually abides with God, one can only sorrow and weep - As the prophets did over the sinners of Israel, as the Lord did over the corpse of Lazarus, or over the city of Jerusalem, and last in the garden of Gethsemane, before the cup of His Own passion. Any absence of mourning, according to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, shows that our prayer has not yet ascended past its first degree towards God.
Who has not wept in life? We know sorrow from the loss of relatives and near ones. This is natural sorrow. Tears are a sign of suffering. But can suffering give happiness and blessedness to man? Not always. If a man suffers because of visible good things, because of pride, passions and self-love, then these sufferings only torture the soul and do not bring any benefit. But if a man accepts suffering as a trial sent by God, then grief and tears cleanse and wash his soul, and he finds joy and comfort even in grief itself.
The Fathers of the Church teach us to distinguish the sources of tears. Thus, the Venerable Ephraim the Syrian writes:
"With people there are three different kinds of tears. There are tears for visible things--and they are very bitter and vain. There are tears of repentance, when the soul desires eternal good things, and they are very sweet and beneficial. And there are tears of remorse there, where (according to the Savior's word) there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12), and these tears are bitter and useless, because they are altogether fruitless when there is no longer any time for repentance."
For the Venerable Ephraim the Syrian, the second kind of tears is that blessed sorrow over sin necessary in spiritual life. Such mourning is considered blessed because the tears have no darkness or hopelessness, but, on the contrary, Christ's victory fills this sorrow with hope, light, and joy.
Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, writes the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Corinth, but that you sorrowed to repentance: for you were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you (II Corinthians 7:9-11).
The Venerable John of the Ladder, following after the Apostle Paul, says in the Seventh Steps of The Ladder of Divine Ascent:
"Mourning according to God is sadness of soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly seeks that for which it thirsts . . . Mourning is a golden spur in a soul which is stripped of all attachment and of all ties . . . Keep a firm hold of the blessed gladdening sorrow of holy compunction, and do not stop working at it until it raises you high above the things of this world, and presents you pure to Christ . . . The fruit of spurious compunction is self-esteem, and the fruit of praiseworthy compunction is consolation . . . When I consider the actual nature of compunction, I am amazed at how that which is called mourning and grief should contain joy and gladness interwoven within it, like honey in the comb."
Another great Christian ascetic, the Venerable Nilus of Sinai, speaks on this theme. In his work On Prayer; we read:
"Do not turn into a passion the means (provided) against the passions, lest thou stir to greater wrath Him Who gave thee this grace (that is, tears). While shedding tears over (their) sins, many have forgotten the purpose of tears and, having become frenzied, they have fallen away from the right path."
The saints, through the contemplation of nature and its phenomena, themselves learned spiritual mourning, faith, and piety. So, for example, did the Venerable Ephraim the Syrian.
"One day", he writes, "after rising very early, I went out with two brethren from the blessed city of Edessa; lifting up my eyes to heaven, which, like a pure mirror, gloriously shown upon the earth with stars, in wonder I said: If the stars shine with such glory, then will not the righteous and holy, who did the will of the Holy God, shine with the ineffable light of the Savior at that hour when the Lord cometh?
But no sooner did I remember about the terrible advent of the Lord than my bones began to shake. My soul and body trembled; I began to weep with heartfelt pain and said, sighing: What will I, a sinner, prove to be at that terrible hour? How shall I stand before the throne of the Terrible Judge? How shall I, the dissipated, have a place with the perfect? How shall I, the fruitless, appear among the number of those who have brought forth fruits of righteousness?
Who will recognize me? The righteous will be in the bride chamber; the impious, in fire; the martyrs will show their wounds; the ascetics, their virtues; and what shall I show, besides my indolence and negligence?"
The Holy Fathers of the Church teach us to ask of the Lord the gift of tears, because without tears there can be no real repentance and cleansing of the soul. Penitential tears are a kind of second baptism that washes away every sin from a man=s soul.For much as after a violent burst of rain, says Saint John Chrysostom, there is a clear open sky; so likewise when tears are pouring down, a calm arises, and serenity, and the darkness that ensues on our sins quite disappears (Homily 6 on the Gospel according to Matthew). Mourning over sins, writes Saint Demetrius of Rostov, washes the soul, whitens every darkening, cleanses the conscience, enlightens the mind, loosens sinful bonds, and expiates the handwriting of iniquities.
Those who sorrow over their fallen condition and the sinful world will rejoice in the future age, according to the Savior's word:Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy (John 16:20). Those who mourn in this life will rejoice in eternal life, for genuine, blessed joy--consolation is given only in the eternal abodes in God's Kingdom, for there, as it is said in the Revelation of John the Theologian, God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death,, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away (Revelation 21:4)."
©Archpriest Victor Potapov
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