Category Archives: Prayer

Prayer for Believers to turn from Violence and be Reconciled

Nothing is more basic to Christian life than prayer. It is the foundation of all other response, not an alternative to response. Please find time each day to be aware of wars now going on in the world and to pray for peace.

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Special prayer being used at the St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam

 

st nicholas myra amsterdam

Let all believers turn aside from violence and do what makes for peace. By the strength of your powerful arm save your people and your Holy Church from all evil oppression; hear the supplications of all who call to you in sorrow and affliction, day and night, O merciful God, let their lives not be lost, we pray you, hear us and have mercy on us.

But grant, O Lord, peace, love and speedy reconciliation to your people whom you have redeemed with your precious blood. Make your presence known to those who have turned away from you and do not seek you, so that none of them may be lost, but all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, so that everyone, in true harmony and love, O long-suffering Lord, may praise your all holy Name.

The Beatitudes: a selection of Patristic Comments

Christ calling Peter and Andrew. Duccio 14th Century

Christ calling Peter and Andrew. Duccio 14th Century

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

St. Hilary of Arles: The Lord taught by way of example that the glory of human ambition must be left behind when he said, “The Lord your God shall you adore and him only shall you serve.” And when he announced through the prophets that he would choose a people humble and in awe of his words, he introduced the perfect Beatitude as humility of spirit. Therefore he defines those who are inspired as people aware that they are in possession of the heavenly kingdom. Nothing belongs to anyone as being properly one’s own, but all have the same things by the gift of a single parent. They have been given the first things needed to come into life and have been supplied with the means to use them.

St. Jerome: Do not imagine that poverty is bred by necessity. For he added “in spirit” so you would understand blessedness to be humility and not poverty. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” who on account of the Holy Spirit are poor by willing freely to be so.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

St. John Chrysostom: The sorrow [of those who mourn] is of a special kind. Jesus did not designate them simply as sad but as intensely grieving. Therefore he did not say “they that sorrow” but “they that mourn.” This Beatitude is designed to draw believers toward a Christian disposition. Those who grieve for someone else their child or wife or any other lost relation have no fondness for gain or pleasure during the period of their sorrow. They do not aim at glory. They are not provoked by insults nor led captive by envy nor beset by any other passion. Their grief alone occupies the whole of their attention.

St. Chromatius: The blessed of whom [Jesus] speaks are not those bereaving the death of a spouse or the loss of cherished servants. Rather, he is speaking of those blessed persons who do not cease to mourn over the iniquity of the world or the offenses of sinners with a pious, duty-bound sentiment. To those who mourn righteously, therefore, they will receive, and not undeservedly, the consolation of eternal rejoicing promised by the Lord.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

St. Chromatius: The meek are those who are gentle, humble and unassuming, simple in faith and patient in the face of every affront. Imbued with the precepts of the gospel, they imitate the meekness of the Lord, who says, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

St. John Chrysostom: What kind of earth is referred to here? Some say a figurative earth, but this is not what he is talking about. For nowhere in Scripture do we find any mention of an earth that is merely figurative. But what can this Beatitude mean? Jesus holds out a prize perceptible to the senses, even as Paul also does. For even when Moses had said, “Honor your father and your mother,” he added, “For so shall you live long upon the earth.” And Jesus himself says again to the thief, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” Today! In this way he does not speak only of future blessings but also of present ones.

St. Augustine: “Inherit the earth” … means the land promised in the psalm: “You are my hope, my portion in the land of the living.” It signifies the solidity and stability of a perpetual inheritance. The soul because of its good disposition is at rest as though in its own place, like a body on the earth, and is fed with its own food there, like a body from the earth. This is the peaceful life of the saints. The meek are those who submit to wickedness and do not resist evil but overcome evil with good. Let the haughty therefore quarrel and contend for earthly and temporal things. But “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.” This is the land from which they cannot be expelled.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Origen of Alexandria: If I must utilize a bold explanation indeed, I think that perhaps it was through the word that is measured by virtue and justice that the Lord presents himself to the desire of the hearers. He was born as wisdom from God for us, and as justice and sanctification and redemption. He is “the bread that comes down from heaven” and “living water,” for which the great David himself thirsted. He said in one of his psalms, “My soul has thirsted for you, even for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?” “I shall behold your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied in beholding your glory.” This then, in my estimation, is the true virtue, the good unmingled with any lesser good, that is, God, the virtue that covers the heavens… (Fragment 83)

St. John Chrysostom: Note how drastically he expresses it. For Jesus does not say, “Blessed are those who cling to righteousness,” but “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” not in a superficial way but pursuing it with their entire desire. By contrast, the most characteristic feature of covetousness is a strong desire with which we are not so hungry for food and drink as for more and more things. Jesus urged us to transfer this desire to a new object, freedom from covetousness. … Those who extort are those who lose all, while one who is in love with righteousness possesses all other goods in safety.” If those who do not covet enjoy such great abundance, how much more will they be ready to offer to others what they have.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

St. Chromatius: By a great number of witnesses indeed, just as many in the Old Testament as the New, we are called by the Lord to show compassion. But as a shortcut to faith we deem enough and more than enough what the Lord himself in the passage at hand expresses with his own voice, saying, “Blessed are the compassionate, for God will have compassion for them.” The Lord of compassion says that the compassionate are blessed. No one can obtain God’s compassion unless that one is also compassionate. In another passage Jesus said, “Be compassionate, just as your Father who is in the heavens is compassionate.”

St. John Chrysostom: Jesus speaks here not only of those who show mercy by giving worldly goods but also of those who demonstrate mercy in their actions. There are many ways to show mercy. The commandment is broad in its implications. What reward can people expect if they obey the commandment? “They obtain mercy.” The reward at first glance appears to be an equal reimbursement, but actually the reward from God is much greater than human acts of goodness. For whereas we ourselves are showing mercy as human beings, we are obtaining mercy from the God of all. Human mercy and God’s mercy are not the same thing. As wide as the interval is between corrupted and perfect goodness, so far is human mercy distinguished from divine mercy.

St. Augustine: You may overflow with temporal things but remain in need of eternal life. You hear the voice of a beggar, but before God you are yourself a beggar. Someone is begging from you, while you yourself are begging. As you treat your beggar, so will God treat his. You who are empty are being filled. Out of your fullness fill an empty person in need, so that your own emptiness may be again filled by the fullness of God.

Anonymous: The kind of compassion referred to here is not simply giving alms to the poor or orphan or widow. This kind of compassion is often found even among those who hardly know God. But that person is truly compassionate who shows compassion even to his own enemy and treats the enemy well. For it is written, “Love your enemies, and treat well those who hate you.” (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 9)

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

St. John Chrysostom: In the same vein Paul wrote, “Pursue peace with everyone and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” He is here speaking of such sight as it is possible for one to have. For there are many who show mercy, who refuse to rob others and who are not covetous but who still may remain entangled in sins like fornication and licentiousness. Jesus adds these words to indicate that the former virtues do not suffice in and of themselves. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, bore witness concerning the Macedonians, who were rich not only in almsgiving but also in the rest of the virtues. For having spoken of the generous spirit they demonstrated toward their own possessions, Paul says, “They gave themselves to the Lord and to us.”

St. Augustine: To behold God is the end and purpose of all our loving activity… Whatever we do, whatever good deeds we perform, whatever we strive to accomplish, whatever we laudably yearn for, whatever we blamelessly desire, we shall no longer be seeking any of those things when we reach the vision of God. Indeed, what would one search for when one has God before one’s eyes? Or what would satisfy one who would not be satisfied with God? Yes, we wish to see God. Who does not have this desire? We strive to see God. We are on fire with the desire of seeing God.

But pay attention to the saying, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Provide yourself with this means of seeing God. Let me speak concretely: Why would you, while your eyes are bleary, desire to see a sunrise? Let the eyes be sound, and that light will be full of joy. If your eyes are blind, that light itself will be a torment. Unless your heart is pure, you will not be permitted to see what cannot be seen unless the heart be pure.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

St. Chromatius: The peacemakers are those who, standing apart from the stumbling block of disagreement and discord, guard the affection of fraternal love and the peace of the church under the unity of the universal faith. And the Lord in the Gospel particularly urges his disciples to guard this peace, saying, “I give you my peace; I leave you my peace.”

Anonymous: Peace is the only begotten God, of whom the apostle says, “For he himself is our peace.” So people who cherish peace are children of peace. But some may be thought to be peacemakers who make peace with their enemies but remain heedless of evils within. They are never reconciled in heart with their own internal enemies, yet they are willing to make peace with others. They are parodies of peace rather than lovers of peace. For that peace is blessed which is set in the heart, not that which is set in words. Do you want to know who is truly a peacemaker? Hear the prophet, who says, “Keep your tongue from evil, and let your lips not speak deceit. Do not let your tongue utter an evil expression.” (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 9)

St. John Chrysostom: Here he not only responds that they [who follow Jesus] should not feud and become hateful to one another, but he is also looking for something more, that we bring together others who are feuding. And again he promises a spiritual reward. What kind of reward is it? “That they themselves shall be called children of God.” For in fact this was the crucial work of the Only Begotten: to bring together things divided and to reconcile the alienated.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

St. Chromatius: The martyrs above all are the epitome of those who for the righteousness of faith and the name of Christ endure persecution in this world. To them a great hope is promised, namely, the possession of the kingdom of heaven. The apostles were chief examples of this blessedness, and with them all the just people who for the sake of righteousness were afflicted with various persecutions. Due to their faith they have come into the heavenly realms.

St. John Chrysostom: Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear the kingdom of heaven granted with every single Beatitude. For even if Jesus names the rewards differently, he still puts all of them in the kingdom of heaven. For in fact he says, “Those who mourn will be comforted, and those who show mercy will receive mercy, and those pure in heart will see God, and the peacemakers will be called sons of God.” In all these things the blessed One does nothing but hint at the kingdom of heaven. For people who enjoy these things will certainly reach the kingdom of heaven. So do not suppose that the reward of the kingdom of heaven belongs only to the poor in spirit. It also belongs to those who hunger for justice, and to the meek and to all these blessed others without exception. For he set his blessing upon all these things to keep you from expecting something belonging to this material world. For if one wore a prize or garland for things that are to be dissolved together with the present life, things that flit away faster than a shadow, would that one be blessed?

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St. Hilary of Arles (+449) came from a notable family of Northern Gaul, but, at the urging of St. Honoratus of Arles, abandoned honors and riches and embraced the ascetic life. After the death of St. Honoratus, the people of Arles drafted Hilary as their new archbishop. He assisted at church councils held at Riez, Orange, Vaison, and Arles. His writings on the Beatitudes are in “On Matthew.”

St. Jerome, born in Stridon about 340-2, went to Rome about 360, where he was baptized. He next went to Trier to begin his theological studies. About 373 he traveled to the East, first settling in Antioch, where he heard Apollinaris of Laodicea, one of the first exegetes of that time. From 374-9 Jerome led an ascetic life in the desert southwest of Antioch. Ordained priest at Antioch, he went to Constantinople (380-81), where a friendship sprang up between him and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. From 382 to 385 he made another sojourn in Rome, then returned to the East, reaching Bethlehem in 386, where he led a life of asceticism, study, correspondence, writing and translation. He is best known for his translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. He died in Bethlehem in 420. See his “Commentary on Matthew” for his treatment of the Beatitudes.

St. John Chrysostom, born in Antioch in 347, was famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciations of abuse of authority in the Church and in government. He was nicknamed chrysostomos, Greek for “golden mouthed.” Baptized in 370 and tonsured a reader, he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386. In 398 he was called, against his will, to be the bishop in Constantinople. Concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor, in his sermons he emphasized almsgiving and living modestly. He often spoke out against the abuse of wealth and refused to host lavish entertainments. An irritant both to the imperial court as well as to worldly prelates, he died in exile in 407. His final words were “Glory be to God for all things!” He is regarded as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. For his writings on the Beatitudes, see especially “The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 15.”

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was one of the pivotal figures in the development of Christianity in the West. Born in North Africa, he went to Carthage at age 17 to continue his education and later taught in the same city. In 383 he moved to Rome, and the following year to Milan to teach in the imperial court. The influence of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, plus the impact of reading a life of St. Anthony, brought him to baptism in 387. He abandoned his career in rhetoric, quit his teaching position in Milan, and devoted himself to serving God. In 388 he returned to Africa, sold his patrimony and gave the money to the poor, keeping only enough to convert his family house into a monastery. In 396 he became bishop of Hippo. His sermons and other writings had. and still have, immense influence. For his insights on the Beatitudes, see his “Sermon on the Mount” and Sermon 53.

St. Chromatius of Aquileia (+406-407), one of the most celebrated prelates of his time, was in active correspondence with his illustrious contemporaries, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. Himself a scholarly theologian, he urged his friends to the composition of learned works, St. Ambrose to write exegetical works and St. Jerome to undertake translations and commentaries. In the bitter quarrel between Jerome and Rufinus, Chromatius sought to make peace between the disputants. Chromatius opposed the Arian heresy with great zeal and gave loyal support to St. John Chrysostom when he was suffering oppression from the imperial court. His comments on the Beatitudes are in his “Tractate on Matthew.”

Origen (185-254) grew up in a Christian family in Alexandria. He was 17 when his father died a martyr’s death. When their property confiscated by the imperial authorities, Origen worked to support his family by teaching. Taking the place of Clement of Alexandria, who had gone to Palestine, Origen assumed direction of the city’s catechetical school while also devoting himself to studying Plato and the Stoics. He learned Hebrew, and often consulted Jewish scholars who helped him with translation questions. In his late 40s, by now a renowned Christian scholar and writer, he settled in Caesarea, Palestine, where he founded a school. During the persecution of Maximinus (235-37), he spent an extended period with his friend, St. Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Origen was over 60 when he wrote his “Contra Celsum” (his defense of Christian refusal to serve in the army) and his “Commentary on St. Matthew.” The persecution of Decius in 250 brought about Origen’s imprisonment. He died in 254, never having recovered from the torture he had endured. For centuries his tomb, behind the altar of the cathedral of Tyr, was visited by pilgrims, but today nothing remains.

Anonymous: Not all the names of the authors of ancient New Testament commentaries have survived. However, recognizing the value of their writings, surviving fragments have been preserved in collections of the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers.

Note: All the commentaries used here are taken from the volume Matthew 1-13, edited by Manlio Simonetti, in the series The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. ❖

Spring 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53

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Several statements, prayers and appeals of Patriarch Pavle

-- Patriarch Pavle, speaking at a news conference June 28, 1999, at the 14th-century Orthodox monastery in Gracanica
— Patriarch Pavle, speaking at a news conference June 28, 1999, at the 14th-century Orthodox monastery in Gracanica

“If the only way to create a greater Serbia is by crime, then I do not accept that, and let that Serbia disappear. And also if a lesser Serbia can only survive by crime, let it also disappear. And if all the Serbs had to die and only I remained and I could live only by crime, then I would not accept that; it would be better to die.”

Here is a small collection from the writings and sermons of Patriarch Pavle.

Memorial service in February 1992 for war victims:

Today, on this the Sunday following the feast of St. Sava, as on every other Sunday, brothers and sisters, the Holy Church celebrates the weekly commemoration of the greatest event of our salvation, the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Sunday is for every week what the Feast of Easter is for the whole year.

Before the Son of God, the One Who out of love for us and for our salvation was Crucified on the Cross and Resurrected by His Divine power, we prayed today, for the peace of the whole world, for the salvation of our souls, and for all our fathers and brothers who have gone before us.

In particular we served a general requiem where we prayed for all the souls of our brothers and sisters and children who shed their blood and lost their lives in the terrible of this senseless war.

In humbleness of heart we pray to God to receive their souls mercifully and give them rest in the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life reigns everlasting.

With tears and sighs we bemoan all those brothers and sisters who remained alive but were driven from their homes and are now refugees from their birth places; those who have been left physically and spiritually disabled. With tears we bemoan all the children left without the homes of their childhood, left without their childhood, and left without one or, in many cases, both parents.

While lamenting those closest to us by faith and blood, for all the hardship that came upon them, destroyed homes, churches, irretrievable destroyed treasures of historical and cultural significance, we lament the Croatian people also, for their misfortune and suffering as well as the destruction of their property and churches, their cultural and historical monuments, knowing that had we been better Christians and better men, this disaster could have bypassed us.

I appeal to you all, brothers and sisters, to spend this following week in fasting, in humility of heart, in prayer and repentance, that our conscience and mind at least be awakened from these tragedies, so that we see the teaching of the Gospel that it is not terrible to die for the sake of God’s righteousness, but it is terrible to die for the sake of sin, not seeing and feeling its horror and the need for repentance, the correction of our lives, the return to God’s way, the way of humanity, justice and truth.

Let us grasp the teaching of the Holy Apostle Paul, that one cannot accomplish good by evil means — a lesson our mothers taught us through the ages, warning us that evil never brings good. Oh, that God would help us to understand that we are human beings and that we must live as human beings, so that peace would come into in our country and bring to an end the killing of Serbs and Croatians.

Lord, give rest to the souls of Thy servants who have been killed, our brothers, sisters and children. Lord, show Your mercy to all, and upon us. Amen.

[S. M. / Translated from Pravoslavlje, February 15, 1992]

Petitions composed by Patriarch Pavle for inclusion in all services:

At the Great Litany:

“For the mercy of God for us, His unworthy servants, to keep us all from hatred and evil deeds, to implant in us unselfish love, whereby all may recognize that we are disciples of Christ and people of God, as were our saintly ancestors, so that we may always know to ally ourselves with the truth and justice of the Heavenly Kingdom, let us pray to the Lord.”

“For all those who committed injustice against their neighbor, whether they saddened the poor or spilled innocent blood, or returned hatred with hatred, that God grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and hearts, and illumine their souls with holy love even toward their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.

Litany of Fervent Supplications:

“O Lord, how many are the foes who war against us and say: ‘There is no help for them from God or from man.’ Lord, reach out Thy hand to us that we remain Thy people, both in faith and in works. If we must suffer, may it be on the road to Thy justice and Thy truth, and not because of our injustice or hatred toward anyone. Let us all say fervently, Lord have mercy.”

“Again we pray to God, the Savior of all men, even for our enemies, that the Lord who loves mankind turn them away from violence against our Orthodox people; that they not destroy our holy temples and graves, that they not kill our children and persecute our people, but that they also find the road to repentance, justice and salvation. Let us all say fervently, Lord have mercy.”

From the Introduction to the book, War Damage Sustained by Orthodox Churches in Serbian Areas of Croatia in 1991:

We cannot pass through this world without suffering and hardship. The history of mankind is filled with so much devastation caused by the elements, so much misery caused by man to his fellow man.

In the Holy Scriptures, God points many times to the suffering that awaits His faithful: In the world you have tribulation…; If they persecuted me, they will persecute you: let he who wants to go with me take up his cross and follow (Jn 16:33; 15:20). The Apostle Paul also says that we must enter the kingdom of God through many tribulations (Acts 14:22). The Apostle Peter even teaches that there is a difference between suffering for the sake of righteousness which, he says, is part of the suffering of Christ, and suffering for sins, and he warns the faithful: let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrong-doer (1 Pet. 3:14; 4;15).

Not heeding this advice draws us into the madness of war that has befallen both the Croats and ourselves. It brings so much spilled blood and loss of lives, so many disabled persons, exiles and refugees, so many ruined material and cultural effects, so many destroyed churches, so many historical and cultural riches accumulated over the centuries that are lost forever.

The inestimable losses suffered, brought before our eyes and the eyes of the world, should jolt our senses and our conscience, and make us remember that we have been a Christian people for more than one thousand years, and that in so much time we have yet to learn the simplest teaching of Christianity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Mt. 7:12). And what have we done with the essence of the faith, love, and love’s highest form, love for our enemies, which means rising to the stature of our Father’s hallowed Son who is in heaven, and the awareness that we are people of God, and to act accordingly. Let us try to achieve this. Then God will hear us and bring an end to the war, so that peace may reign in this turbulent world.

From an address by Patriarch Pavle on October 6, 1992, when he arrived in the US:

For over three decades as the Bishop of Ras-Prizren in the Kosovo-Metohija Province, I traveled by foot to many Albanian and Serbian homes to speak personally with them of peace. Due to the tragedy that has befallen the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, I once again must travel through the war-torn villages of my homeland, down Belgrade streets in protest of war, in search of peace. And now I have come to America to appeal for an end to suffering, for an end to this mindless war.

As you know, on May 27, as the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, over which I preside, condemned with great severity the hate-breeding nationalism that exists on all sides. We called on President Milosevic to step down, supported the Opposition parties’ boycott of elections, and urged them as I urge now that a government of national unity and salvation be created that will enjoy the confidence of all the people.

I come to you just having met with Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb on September 23. Together we appealed and demanded, on the basis of our spiritual position and moral responsibility, for an end to the violence. We condemned ethnic cleansing and the blasphemous destruction of all shrines and places of prayer, both Christian and Muslim….

I appeal to you, as I have appealed to Cardinal Kuharic and Islamic leader Reis-ul-ulimi Jakov, that each side must see the other, acknowledge each other’s suffering, and approach peace through just negotiations. I appeal to you, to pray to God for peace in our country, and that truth illumine the hearts and minds of all those in whose hands the destiny of my people lie.

From a letter of Patriarch Pavle to the Islamic reis-ul-ulemi Jakov Selimovski:

Your Eminence,

I received your letter of June 1 in which with great sorrow you set forth the misfortunes of the faithful of the Islamic community since the outbreak of this mindless war in Bosnia and Hercegovina. You number the thousands of Moslems that were killed, mainly unarmed citizens, women, children and elderly men. You also number those who were interned in camps in the vicinity of Sarajevo, Bratunac, Bosanska Krupa, Zvornik and other places. You said that “all this is happening to a people only because they have a different culture, because they confess the Islamic faith and because they express the will to be free as other peoples are.”

It is understandable that you, heading the Islamic faith community, see and feel the sufferings of your faithful brethren, as I, too, see and feel the sufferings of the Orthodox faithful, for they turn to me as to their spiritual father. But we must both see the other side, that the Orthodox and Catholics are suffering those same misfortunes. How many of them are in detention camps, how many wounded, how many killed, only because they belong to another nation, and to another faith, and because they also wish to be free as other nations are? And therefore they suffer at the hands of isolated individuals, brutes and criminals, whose behavior shows no regard for the faith to which they say they belong.

How many times have I begged and pleaded, spoken and written in the media, that peace must be obtained; that we begin to make a break with the killings and the evil, that we become the human beings that we are, and behave as men of faith in the one God of justice, truth and peace who calls us to righteousness and peace, but whose call goes unheeded.

From an interview in October 1992 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, quoted in the National Catholic Review:

Our goal must be not to see things only from one side, and have one rule by which we justify ourselves and another by which we judge our enemies, because then our enemies will do the same, and there will be no end. A crime committed by my brother is still a crime.

It is only the will of the devil that is served by this war, who through the ages is the killer of man and of everything good. We have the choice now whether to listen to him and follow his way, or to listen to God and follow His way.

Cain and Abel were the closest possible of human beings, brothers alone on the earth. And yet hatred occurred. Whether we are to be Cain or Abel depends on each of us, regardless of the pressures from the world or from our enemies. Our Lord came to this world to teach us how to be true human beings, how to become heavenly beings. His suffering and death give meaning to every instance of our suffering on the way to his justice. We should never fear dying for the sake of God’s justice; but we should fear committing evil, for such sinners are the walking dead of this world. God has one standard for us all.

Practical Assistance in Conflict Areas

By Sheri San Chirico

While taking a fresh look at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship website, I was reminded of the OPFs three principal work areas: theological research, publications, and practical assistance in conflict areas. The first two are addressed by In Communion, our website, our e-mail discussion list, and by our conferences.

While I still have high hopes for the growth of OPF in these areas, I believe the most potential we have for growth is in the area of practical assistance in conflict areas. This is the most difficult aspect of peacemaking — it is, as they say, where the rubber hits the road.

To provide practical assistance in conflict areas first requires vigilance regarding conflict in order to know when and where it arises, and the time and energy to understand the history and nuances behind the conflict. Then time and money must be given in order to travel to where the conflict is. Finally, practical assistance demands the commitment and courage to enter into the realm of the conflict, to open ones self up to the dangers involved. For practical assistance to be useful, a clear vision of how to help overcome the conflict is needed — facilitation, negotiation, or simply a peaceful presence which refuses to allow aggression or violence to continue unchallenged.

How can a small fellowship like ours, scattered as it is throughout the world, reach the maturity necessary for this significant aspect of its work? Im not sure, but I think its time we begin learning how.

As a first step, I suggest we commit ourselves to training leaders within OPF who will not only draw on their own experience of peacemaking but who will learn a core curriculum that is uniquely OPFs. The training will include learning from other peace groups that have accumulated years of experience in conflict areas and have a track record of constructive impact. The process will also require integrating what we learn from these groups with our Orthodox faith, nourished by the Liturgy, drawing on our rich tradition of peacemaking, self sacrifice, solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and of speaking out by our actions and words in places of violence and conflict. And finally, the training will strive to further in each peacemaker the resources needed in order to stand in the place of conflict as an ambassador of Christs peace. My hope is that, step by step, as we become more capable, OPF peacemaker teams will go to the places of conflict, especially within the Orthodox world, to be a presence of peace and assistance.

The groundwork is now laid for a first step. The first OPF training session will begin this May at Matthew 25 House of Hospitality in Akron, Ohio. Might you take part? Those who make themselves available will forge the way and begin the trek toward expertise in peacemaking.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, writing on The Lords Prayer and the Beatitudes, provides an apt description of the peacemaker in his commentary on Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God:

Peacemakers are those who imitate the Divine love of others, who show forth in their own life the characteristic of the Divine energy. The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is without affinity and foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart. Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed. For as light follows the departure of darkness, thus also these evil things are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit: by charity, joy, peace, benignity, magnanimity, all the good things enumerated by the Apostle (Gal 5:22). How then should the dispenser of the Divine gifts not be blessed, since he imitates the gifts of God and models his own good deeds on the Divine generosity?

But perhaps the beatitude does not only regard the good of others. I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.

[Ancient Christian Writers series, Newman Press]

This is our challenge. If you are willing and able to take part in this first training, please contact me ([email protected]) and I will communicate with you regarding the particulars.

Sheri San Chirico is North American coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. She received her Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, has worked with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education and as a hospice chaplain. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband Kerry and daughter Lucy.

Rescued by Christmas

by Jim Forest

What shall we offer you, O Christ, who for our sake has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by you offers you thanks. The angels offer you a hymn; the heavens a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer you a virgin mother.

(Nativity Vespers)

In a culture in which a sense of the presence of God is increasingly rare, many people see Christ as a long-dead, myth-shrouded teacher who lives on only in fading memory. There are scholars busily at work trying to find out which words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament were actually said by him. Yet even skeptics celebrate Christmas, at least in a limited way. The problem of miracles doesn’t intrude, for what could be more usual than birth? If Jesus lived, he was born, and so with little or no faith in the rest of Christian doctrine we can celebrate his birth whatever our degree of faith. Pascha is more and more lost to us but at least some of the joy of Christmas remains. Perhaps in the end this feast will lead us back to faith in all its richness. We will be rescued by Christmas.

The traditional icon of the Nativity, ancient though it is, takes note of our “modern” problem. There on the lower right we find a despondent Joseph listening to a figure who represents what we might call “the voice of unenlightened reason.” As icons are so deeply silent, we are free to wonder about Joseph’s morose condition. One explanation is that he cannot quite believe what he has experienced. Divine activity intrudes into our lives in such a mundane, physical way. A woman gives birth to a child as women have been doing since Eve. Joseph has witnessed that birth and there is nothing different about it, unless it be that it occurred in abject circumstances, in a cave in which animals are kept in cold weather. Joseph has had his dreams, he has heard angelic voices, he has been reassured in a variety of ways that the child born of Mary is none other than the Awaited One, the Anointed, God’s Son. But still belief comes hard. The labor of giving birth is arduous, as we see in Mary’s reclining figure — and so is the labor to believe. Mary has completed this stage of her struggle, but Joseph still grapples with his.

The theme is not only in Joseph’s face. The rigorous black of the cave of Christ’s birth in the center of the icon represents all human disbelief, all fear, all hopelessness. In the midst of a starless night in the cave of our despair, Christ, “the Sun of Truth,” enters history having been clothed in flesh in Mary’s body. It is just as the Evangelist John said in the beginning of his Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

The Nativity icon is in sharp contrast to the sentimental imagery we are used to in western Christmas art. In the icon there is no charming Bethlehem bathed in the light of the nativity star but only a rugged mountain with a few plants. The austere mountain suggests a hard, unwelcoming world in which survival is a real battle — the world since our expulsion from Paradise.

The most prominent figure in the icon is Mary, framed by the red blanket she is resting on — the color of life, the color of blood. Orthodox Christians call her the Theotokos: God-bearer or Mother of God. Her quiet but wholehearted assent to the invitation brought to her by the Archangel Gabriel has led her to Bethlehem, making a cave at the edge of a peasant village the center of the universe. He who was distant has come near, first filling her body, now visible in the flesh.

As is usual in iconography, the main event is moved to the foreground, free of its surroundings. So the cave is placed behind rather than around Mary and her child.

The birth occurs in a cave that was being used as a stable. In fact the cave still exists in Bethlehem. Countless pilgrims have prayed there over the centuries. It no longer looks like a cave. In the fourth century, at the Emperor Constantine’s order, it was made into a chapel. At the same time, above the cave, a basilica was built.

We see in the icon that Christ’s birth is not only for us but for all creation. The donkey and the ox recall the opening verses of the Prophet Isaiah: “An ox knows its owner and a donkey its master’s manger…” They also represent “all creatures great and small,” endangered, punished and exploited by human beings. They too are victims of the Fall. Christ’s Nativity is for them as well as for us.

There is something about the way Mary turns away from her son that makes us aware of a struggle different than Joseph is experiencing. She knows very well her child has no human father but she does not know her child’s future, only that it is clear from the circumstances of his birth that his way of ruling is in absolute contrast to the way kings rule. The ruler of all rules from a manger in a stable. His death on the cross will not surprise her. It is implied in his birth.

We see that the Christ child’s body is wrapped “in swaddling clothes.” In icons of Christ’s burial, you will see he is wearing similar bands of cloth, as does Lazarus in the icon of his raising by Christ. In the Nativity icon, the manger looks much like a coffin. In this way the icon links birth and death. The poet Rilke says we bear our death within us from the moment of birth. The icon of the Nativity says the same. Our life is one piece and its length of much less importance than its purity and truthfulness

Some versions of the icon show more details, some less.

Normally in the icon we see angels who are worshiping God-become-man. Though we ourselves are rarely aware of the presence of angels, they are deeply enmeshed in our history and we know some of them by name. This momentous event is for them as well as us.

Often the iconographer includes the three wise men who have come from far off, whose close attention to activity in the heavens made them come on pilgrimage in order to pay homage to a king who belongs, not to one people, but to all people, not to one age but to all ages. They represent the world beyond Judaism.

Then there are the shepherds, the simple people summoned by angels to respond to Christ’s birth. Throughout history it has in fact been the simple people who have been most uncompromised in their response to the Gospel, who have not buried God in footnotes. Not the wise men but the shepherds were permitted to hear the choir of angels singing God’s praise.

On the bottom right of the icon often there are one or two midwives washing the newborn baby. The detail is based on apocryphal texts concerning Joseph’s arrangements for the birth. Those who know the Old Testament will recall the disobedience of midwives to the Egyptian Pharaoh; thanks to one of them, Moses was not murdered at birth. In the Nativity icon the midwife’s presence has another still more important function, underscoring Christ’s full participation in human nature.

Iconographers may leave out or alter various details, but always there is a ray of divine light that connects heaven with the baby. The partially revealed circle at the very top of the icon symbolizes God the Father, the small circle within the descending ray represents the Holy Spirit, while the child is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son. At every turn, from iconography to liturgical text to the physical gesture of crossing oneself, the Church has always sought to confess God in the Holy Trinity.

The symbol is also connected with the star that led the magi to the cave.

Orthodoxy often speaks of Christ in terms of light and this, too, is suggested by the ray connecting heaven to the manger. “Our Savior, the dayspring from on high, has visited us, and we who were in shadow and in darkness have found the truth,” the Church sings on Christmas, the Feast of Christ’s Nativity According to the Flesh.

The iconographic portrayal of Christ’s birth is not without radical social implications. Christ’s birth occurred where it did, we are told by Matthew, “because there was no room in the inn.” He who welcomes all is himself unwelcome. From the first moment, he is something like a refugee, as indeed he soon will be in the very strict sense of the word, in Egypt with Mary and Joseph, at a safe distance from the murderous Herod. Later in life he will say to his followers, revealing the criteria of salvation, “I was homeless and you took me in.” We are saved not by our achievements but by our participation in the mercy of God — God’s hospitality. If we turn our backs on the homeless and those without the necessities of life, we will end up with nothing more than ideas and slogans and be lost in the icon’s starless cave.

We return at the end to the two figures at the heart of the icon. Mary, fulfilling Eve’s destiny, has given birth to Jesus Christ, a child who is God incarnate, a child in whom each of us finds our true self, a child who is the measure of all things. It is not the Messiah the Jews of those days expected — or the God we Christians of the modern world were expecting either. God, whom we often refer to as all-mighty, reveals himself in poverty and vulnerability. Christmas is a revelation of the self-emptying love of God.

Jim Forest is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. This is an extract from his book, Praying With Icons (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997). The Ladder of the Beatitudes is due to be published in January.

The Beatitudes, Steps of Virtues

This is a paper presented by Fr. Nicolae Stoleru, professor of moral theology and publisher in Bucharest, Romania, at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat at the Bethanie Community in Gorze, France, in March 1998.

The first of the few great sermons of the Savior is the one known as the sermon on the Mountain written in short by evangelists Matthew (chapters 5-7) and Luke (chapter 6).

The sermon on the Mountain is essentially an extensive confrontation between the content of the old law and that of the new one, with special stress on the new superior character of the latter in comparison with the former one, a moral program entrusted to the Church to be fulfilled unto the age of ages.

If the sermon on the Mountain represents the essence of the new Gospel, the beatitudes are its best and most concise summary.

It is almost two thousand years since these sentences have been first uttered but they will always be vivid and exemplary. The context in which they are related by the evangelists reflects the enthusiasm of the crowds of people eager to hear the divine wisdom. The Mountain of the beatitudes, a promontory lying halfway between Tabor and Caparnaum, near the city of Tiberias, in Galilee, is the place where Christ sums up in nine sentences and recommendations, the Messianic teaching about how the Christian can inherit the Kingdom of heaven, as a target and sense of life, as an evangelical ideal. The respective sentences are both ways and steps of perfection, a bunch of virtues through which eternal happiness can be acquired. Both guide marks, perfection and happiness, imply each other. In the content of each of them we obviously distinguish the urge and the promise of eternal happiness.

1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5,3)

It is the first virtue to be acquired and the need to be assumed in the hope to get the Kingdom of Heaven. By those “spiritually poor” St. John Chrysostom means those humbled of their own accord, those who lack the pride of mind, the unlimited love for themselves, as these are sins through which the angels and the first people fell. He does not mean at all those lacking wisdom or knowledge. Those spiritually poor are also those who, craving permanently for divine perfection, are sure that they are far away from it as long as they live in a body; these ones empty out their minds and release themselves from the deceiving, useless, temporary things. Their mind is filled both with the richness of the divine glory and the thirst of eternal things. Such Christians, however virtuous, never consider themselves perfect but always climb, step by step, the stair of moral perfection, fighting for the triumph of good. They think that everything

they have: good health, fortune, talent are gifts of God, which they multiply both for their own good and for that of their fellows. “Those spiritually poor” are the humble ones, in body and soul, in mind and feelings, in words and deeds.

The first beatitude is based upon humbleness, an eminently Christian virtue which must be accompanied by a genuine love for God and permanent fight against passions. The virtue of humbleness brings about the removal of the mean impulses from our being.

“The poor in spirit” is the man strong in faith, insisting in prayer, in proper obedience and frank repentance. The humbleness of the mind of the “spiritually poor” brings about a greater crave for the divine grace for the peace of the soul, for knowing himself. The fruits of humbleness are also the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, patience, restraint, piety etc. (Gal. 5,22).

The divine paradigm “… and learn from Me, because I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11,29) as well as the remarkable words of St. Peter the Apostle “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5,5) are illustrative for what the specific character of what “spiritually poor” means.

2. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5,4)

There are many people in the world who weep because of poverty, needs, troubles and pains of all kind, of the death of their beloved ones, but they comfort themselves with the words of the right Job “The Lord gave and now the Lord has taken away…” (Job 1,21). It is to them that Christ gives the hope for the better and the divine comfort.

But there are also people who mourn and repent all their life for the sins committed, for the many offenses brought to God as well as for the prejudices their sins caused to other people. The sin which has not been washed with the tears of repentance is a hard burden when we pass away.

The Savior wept for the sins and crimes the inhabitants of Jerusalem committed (Luke 13,3) for Lazarus, His friend (John 11,35). St. Archdeacon Steven wept for his killers (Acts 7,60).

To all those who wept both for their sins and for those of their fellows, the Savior promises the forgiveness of their sins on earth and eternal comfort and happiness in the life to come.

Do we have troubles, trials, temptations? Do we suffer in our soul, in family and in society? Let us be patient, wise, strong in faith and most of all let us have firm faith in God.

3. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5,5)

Here the Savior refers to the inter human relations just as He did when He spoke about humbleness. Nobody can be good, gentle, humble only for himself but in relation with someone else.

To be kind means — from a human point of view — to be good, kind, understanding, patient and calm, not to offend your neighbor.

The kindness Christ refers to and of which result is the inheritance of the Kingdom of God is the most faithful and characteristic expression of the new law, the Law of love, kindness and grace.

Kindness is seen when we do not react against the moral and material damages caused, when we show understanding, sympathy and compassion for those despised and avoided by everybody else. A kind man is the friend of all those without friends, a man who always has some good words for his fellow who suffers.

According both to the old Law and to the human understanding, it is natural to be good with the kind one and to hate the one who does you harm. In the new law the Savior urges: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5,44). That is the kindness which Christ wants from us. If kindness remained within the limits of human understanding the endeavor as such would not have too great a value. “Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the pagans do that. (Matthew 5, 46-47). The Savior spoke of kindness and He was a perfect model of kindness. “Take my yoke upon you… and learn from me, because I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11 ,29). The Savior’s gentleness is a permanent state of sacrifice for the good of all people. He was gentle with all the oppressed and despised people of His society: He healed lepers and paralytics and He forgave the sinful woman. The supreme expression of Jesus’s gentleness and kindness was the sacrifice on the cross and the death which He received “just like an innocent lamb”.

The evangelical gentleness is not an innate feature of man but one acquired through his own endeavor and assesses with the help of the divine grace.

4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5,6)

When saying that, Jesus refers to those who do wish good to be done for them and for their fellows. This desire is as natural as hunger or thirst, absolutely necessary for life.

Justice is an essential virtue and its perfect image is in God, the spring and the father of justice. The image of the evangelical justice must be found in the life and deeds of the Christian. Justice should be enriched and completed through love, while love, in its turn should be built on justice. The full satisfaction of justice should be understood as a fulfillment of the hope of perfection and holiness, partially in the earthly life and completely in the life to come (Matthew 19,29).

Although the word “justice” is understood especially as a fullness of virtues, moral perfection, spiritual horizon, it can be also interpreted as a social virtue, in which sense the one wishing justice from the bottom of his heart endeavors to fulfill it for himself, for others and for the human relations.

5. “Blessed are those who are merciful to others, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5,7)

Mercy is a divine commandment (“It is kindness that I want…” -Matthew 9,13) expressed in every good deed.

The Savior often felt mercy for the people and gave them parables: that of the Good Samaritan in order to unite love with deed and that of the merciful wealthy man to condemn the lack of mercy, of kindness, that is the unfulfillment of the commandment to be merciful and its consequences.

At the great just judgment the criteria of estimation and reward of the richness of our faith will be the mercy we have for our fellows with whom Christ identifies Himself “… whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of Mine, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25, 40).

So, the object of our mercy is our fellow, any man whom we show our love, kindness, comfort and sacrifice. The merciful one is very sensible to the material and spiritual needs of our neighbor, he diminishes and gives up his selfishness while his faith becomes “work through love” (Gal. 5,6). Mercy is the sublime act of human and brotherly solidarity, up to “pro-existing” with all those in material and spiritual need and who are really entitled to our assistance, encouragement and sacrifice.

The characteristic features and qualities of mercy are: discretion, lack of ostentation, promptness, lack of praise, humbleness and pure mind. Good advice for the growth and improvement of our neighbor is also mercy.

The model of perfect mercy is God. “Be merciful just as your father is merciful” (Luke 6,36). The liturgical formulae which bring honor to the virtue of mercy are revealing for all of us: “mercy of God”, “with mercy and endurance” ”that You are a merciful God who loves people”.

6. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5,8)

To “see” God is the happiness of all happiness, the fulfillment of the Christian’s life, and that is to be done through what the Savior calls “purity in heart”. So, God can be seen. He himself ensures us that this is possible and also shows us the way to do it. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory…” (John 1,14). The divine promise becomes a reality for us, through the ever growing ascension to perfection “a perfect man to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4,13). The very hardships and the steps of the ascension are the beatitudes, such as “the spiritual poverty”, that is the purification of the inner side of our being of all the impurities of sin, the weep, as a gift of tears, gentleness, the permanent hunger and thirst of justice and the sufferance to reach it; mercy — the “wing” of Christian love.

Pureness of the heart means the overwhelming of all our being with good after emptying it out of anything damaging and opposite to love. The same as a physical healthy heart gives good health to the whole body, so gives a pure heart spiritual health to the whole being. The great spiritual men cultivated “the prayer of the mind in the heart”, the pure prayer, as a proof of the permanent vigilance against sin.

The one “pure in heart” resists the avalanche of bad thoughts and always remains in a wakeful state and sacrificial love. Seeing God is the aim of Christian life, through permanent and ever bigger spiritual renewal “Pure heart.., humble heart give me God” (Ps. 50,11,18).

7. “Blessed are pacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5,9)

Peace is the essence of the Messianic call of the Gospel having in the foreground the Savior Christ “God of Peace” (II Cor. 13,11). The redeeming work of Christ is a message of peace “so that he may bring back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven…” (Col. 1,30).

So great a value peace has that those who achieve it become children of God. “To wish peace means to be with Christ Himself’ says St. John Chrysostom.

Peace means equilibrium, understanding, justice, mercy, sacrificial love, complete harmony. “To be a peacemaker means to quench the desire of revenge and everything which is against Christian love. Peace means co-existing in love with your neighbor. The opposite of love is hate, anger, envy, revenge, hypocrisy, conflict…” says St. Gregory of Nyssa.

The Christian prays for peace but also contributes to its implementation, with all his physical and spiritual strength, seeks peace with God and with all people, “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4,3).

For the religious man peace is the most valuable thing, essential for life and the expression of the fulfillment of God’s will. If for all the other people the work of peace springs both from the permanent universal postulates of natural morality and from the respect for human rights, for the Christians it becomes the argument of divine affiliation.

The perfect model of peace and harmony is the Holy Trinity, “the structure of supreme love”, the life of the three divine hypostasis in the unity of deification. Through Christ peace becomes a living reality receiving a rich moral content.

St. Basil the Great says that “to have peace means especially to love. Nothing becomes more characteristic to our nature than to be in communion with other people”, while St. Cyprian of Carthagena adds: “love is the bond of fraternity, the spring of peace, the permanence and strength of unity”.

The Christian “peacemaker” lives in the spirit of the Gospel, remains in the peace of Christ, integrates himself in the life of the Church and identifies himself with the noble aspirations of humankind and of his time too.

8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven!” (Matthew 5, 10)

We return to moral objective of justice, fully aware that it generates from God, that it is eternal (Ps. 120, 42). Christ brought complete justice into the world, which will be one of the criteria of the last judgment. At the same time with the incarnation of Christ “Love and faithfulness will meet, righteousness and peace will embrace” (Ps. 85, 10). If in the old covenant justice was especially a social virtue, in the Law of grace it is a fruit and a sign of man’s reconciliation with God and the necessary condition to get the citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

Those “persecuted for justice” mentioned by this beatitude are all those who implement good through their deeds, words and thoughts but are rewarded with evil and injustice. The Savior promises the heavenly happiness to all those persecuted by their fellows both for the strength of their faith and their pure life, for the victory against sin and the sacrifice of life, in the name of divine justice. The perfect parable, in this regard, is Christ Himself who received crucifixion and death because He preached and served justice. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you… But I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15, 18-19). The beauty of the martyrs’ life and of all those persecuted for justice” consists in that neither trouble, nor need, hunger, persecution, sword “separated them from the love of Christ” (Romans 8,35).

9. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil lies against you falsely for My sake.” (Matthew 5,11)

The last states of conflict are mentioned here which the obedient of Gospel could come across, before getting the communion with God, in His Kingdom. The painful side of the human relations in comparison with the Christian mission, the insult, persecution, calumny is also taken into consideration, as this is endured by those who witness Christ and the truth of His Gospel, that is the verticality of moral life. Therefore, according to our Savior’s words, the confessors affected by the hostility of the people around them have the certitude of a heavenly reward: “Therefore, whoever confesses he before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10,32).

Many of the Christians of the first centuries, before getting the religious freedom in the Roman Empire, assumed plenary the preaching of the Gospel of Christ in the world and sealed it with the love of the truth of their confession, suffering a martyr’s death (St. Steven, the first of the martyrs). The Savior warns the apostles and all those who were to confess Him: “they will persecute you, kill you and hate you all for My name

God has always rewarded the faithful and courageous ones in His confession, those who faced the persecution of the world in order to defend the dignity of the divine truth, the reality of the incarnation of the Son of God and of His resurrection. All confessors endured physical and moral suffering always thinking of Christ, wherefrom they received patience and courage, especially the strength to forgive their persecutors.

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5,11)

The Savior ends up the nine beatitudes urging to joy and gaiety, for the full comforting reward in the Kingdom of Heaven, which crowns the hardships faced on the way to perfection.

But the urge to joy and gaiety sends us to the Gospel of Christ, to the good news which brought joy to all nature. The conceiving and the birth of Christ were announced to Marie and to the world with words of joy, while the resurrection from the dead is “the day which God made so that we may be glad and gay on it”.

Christian joy springs from the strong faith and is nourished by hope, which makes us consider the eternal life as the supreme joy we are called to.

The beatitudes are a bunch of principles of Christian life, entrusted by Christ to guide the children of the new Kingdom to perfection. The words are simple, convincing, mobilizing, without affecting man’s freedom. The hard thing is to accept and to obey them. Through their content, our Savior, Jesus Christ, focuses His attention on the inner side of man, pointing out that it is from here that the change for the better must start, asking for good deeds, not only intentions, for a reality not an appearance. The recommendations of the beatitudes are not given as cold, exterior, rigid commandments but as generous, persuading, promising spiritual goods, related to the good order of the Christian’s life and projecting all hardships into the horizon of eternity.

There is cohesion, causal concatenation, even some gradation among beatitudes, one of them generating another one or being the provision needed to achieve the next one. The involvement into such a struggle of virtues implies permanent spiritual endeavor: when you are spiritually poor, that is humble, fully aware of the mistakes committed and of need of repentance, you know how to weep for your sins; when you weep, you are gentle, sympathizing, you crave for justice, holiness and you do good deeds; when you are merciful, implicitly, you are just, pure in heart and the man with a pure heart has won peace. Finally, hate and persecution rise against those who crave for good and the courage they prove in their trials often bring about martyrdom.

The beatitudes are listed in the large and bright series of the three theological virtues, faith, hope and love and represent the true guide of perfection, “steps” to the eternity of the love with Christ.

Father Nicolae Stoleru

Str. Stirbei Vod nr. 99 – Sector 1

Bloc 25 D, etaj V, apart. 17

77104 Bucuresti, 1

Romania

tel: 0040 – 01 – 637 75 06