Tag Archives: Beatitudes

The Beatitudes: A Selection of Patristic Comments, IC70

The Beatitudes: A selection of Patristic Comments

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:
5 sermon-on-the-mount-romania Beatitudes
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.

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.”

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.”

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?  IC

Living the Beatitudes

by Fr. John Chryssavgis

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The root of the English word “beatitude” is “beau­ty.” The Greek term kalos implies attractiveness — literally, an attraction toward divine beauty.

In the first book of the Bible, beauty is central. We learn how God made the world as a “very good” creation (Gen. 1: 31) — a beautiful cosmos. And in the first Gospel, the protoevange­lion of the Christian scriptural canon, Matthew opens his very first verse by describing the message that he wishes to convey as “a book of genesis.” By so doing, Matthew is being faithful to Genesis as an archetype of God’s message or purpose for the world.

In his gospel account, Matthew is not offering a biography of Jesus, but a way of living for a new Israel, the Christian community, the church; he is presenting an ecclesiol­ogy, not a history. He is addressing a people in community, con­firm­ing a way of life. He is telling us that the beauty for which God created and intended the world must become part of our own life style and worldview.

Matthew is addressing a people in crisis. After the resurrection, an apocalyptic attitude sustained the Christian community. The early Christians believed Jesus would soon return. Yet Matthew believed and proclaimed other­wise: that the kingdom of heaven is already at hand, even now in our hands. God is already present in those who live a life of restoration and resurrection in Christ.

To help you appreciate how it is that Matthew could have an alternative vision, let me take an example from daily life. When we look at buildings, the untamed eye will observe bricks and mortar, wood and glass. An architect, however, will perceive beyond the surface appearance; an architect discerns harmony or pressure points. Yet another person will discern the beauty of the spiritual world, the presence or absence of God.

Matthew too is able to reveal a new understanding of our world, new — and at the same time ever deepening — perceptions of the presence of God in our lives. In the beginning, in the book and the event of Genesis, God saw chaos and darkness, and God cared enough about the world to place things in order, to render things beautiful. He created the cosmos. In Matthew’s Genesis, God once again cared for and loved the world. The phrase “in the beginning” — whether in the first book of the Old Testament or the first book of the New Testament — is a symbol for whenever, signifying always. The term “whenever” implies the phrase “in the beginning.” It also includes “every beginning.” This reality teaches us to respond accordingly. Whenever we see any form of deviation, any deformation in nature, in life, or in the world, we too must care enough to respond; we too must love sufficiently to restore, to heal.

How does Matthew propose that we achieve this? Instead of searching for God in empty places, Matthew asked his community to return to and re-examine its roots. He begins his Gospel with three periods, three series of fourteen generations, in order to show how God’s presence in this world, in history, has both roots and continuity. As Orthodox, we would adopt the term “tradition.”

In the genealogy that is offered, Matthew is in fact very radical, hardly traditional — he includes women, non-Jews and a foreigner. He could quite easily have included each of us.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit: theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

God’s kingdom is never reduced simply to a matter of rules and regulations. It is certainly not a reinforcement of worldly positions and secular institutions. God’s kingdom is a reversal of attitudes, a metanoia, a conversion and reordering of values and behavior. It means becoming more and more a person who shares in the holiness, the beauty, and the perfection of God. It implies coming under the authority of God, rather than under the authority of this world. Living the Beatitudes signifies our acceptance of this new authority.

Matthew often uses the word “perfect.” The Greek word for perfect (teleios) signifies reaching for a goal (telos). For Christians, this “end” is the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, Matthew is telling us that perfection is a process, a series of stages of progress. It is less a condition of perfection, than it is a potential or possibility. Think of the emphasis in St. Gregory of Nyssa on “never-ending perfection” (epektasis).

And in order to become perfect, Matthew tells us we must become poor. To become complete, he tells us we must surrender, we must be incomplete. If you want, “go sell all your possessions and give to the poor.”

There is a cost involved here. The question is: How much have we sold? How much have you sold? How much have I sold? And are we in fact willing to give up and to give up everything? Are we prepared to sacrifices our preconceptions, our prestige, our positions, our possessions, our power?

Matthew is not romanticizing poverty. Sharing in the kingdom in fact depends on our effort to alleviate the various forms of poverty in the world. Poverty is not good; it is not blessed; it is not a virtue. Poverty is miserable; poverty is a clear indication that the kingdom of God has not yet come.

However, poverty can be voluntary, as with monastics. Voluntary poverty becomes a way of sharing with the poor, a means of giving up whatever gives us security. Indeed, such poverty is more than merely giving up. It is a way of giving! But so long as we justify our ways and our behavior, we shall not appreciate the need to change. We will not understand that everyone has a right to enough of the earth’s resources: to sufficient water, energy, food, clothing, health, a safe environment, and peace.

If God’s purpose is for us to be more and more, then we must admit that to have more than enough is to be less than human. It is to bear a lighter “footprint” on the world that we inhabit. In the Beatitudes, we learn that we must choose our gods; we cannot serve two masters. Remember, where your treasure is, there your heart is also. And our world offers us numerous temptations to find security in consumer goods.

“Blessed, then, are the poor in spirit.” Blessed are those who submit to God, who put their trust in God, who have confidence in God, who are not controlled by their needs or by the demands of this world.

Blessed are those who

– know that they are poor in spirit:

– recognize the need for healing

– admit the wasting of goods

– work to remove conditions that contribute to world poverty

– are ready to change their lifestyles

– reflect on their ways and their attitudes

– work with others to overcome the fears and controls of society

– recognize they will not change (either themselves or the world) by themselves or indeed overnight

– trust that “our heavenly Father knows all that we need. Therefore, seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to [us] besides.”

Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted

When we think of Jesus Christ, we imagine the healer, the one who overcomes brokenness and death, the Lord that assumed the scarred flesh and touched the shattered world. There is a softness of touch, almost a sense of joy, to this Beatitude. When Isaiah speaks of comfort, he says: “Give them oil of gladness in place of mourning” (61: 3). There is an entire literature and theology of tears in early ascetic writers.

Mourning and tears continually touch every level of our life. And Jesus brings healing to all levels of life. Yet comfort is not tantamount to relaxation; it is again a form of restoration. It is in fact a challenge.

How is healing brought to those who suffer, or comfort to those who mourn? First, Jesus notices the brokenness, cares for the broken, and responds to the broken. Second, all the healing miracles of Christ have to do with overcoming individualism, with breaking open the closedness within us and around us: the deaf person is shut off; the dumb person cannot communicate; the paralytic cannot step beyond himself; the leper is isolated, ostracized from the community; the demonized man is possessed, imprisoned.

And how does Jesus heal these people? To the deaf, he says: “effatha” (be opened). To the dumb person, he says: “speak.” To the paralytic, he says: “take up your bed, and walk.” To the leper, he says: “be cleaned.” To the demonized man, he says: “be healed, go to the rest of the community, and show yourself.”

These miracles offer us an insight into the healing and wholeness of the kingdom. Henceforth, if we wish to live by the Beatitudes, we can no longer remain deaf to the cry of those who suffer, or to an environment that groans.

And so we mourn. We mourn because we have betrayed our call to be faithful to God’s plan and authority. We grieve and admit our sins — sins of envy, greed, gluttony, jealousy and aggression — against our neighbor and against the earth. We recognize of course that such external “sins” are only symptoms of our inner disease. However, by recognizing our own brokenness, we are forgiven and comforted. Then, and only then, are we given the power to heal.

It is significant that Matthew’s Gospel shows that Christ’s disciples were given the power to heal as early as in chapter 10. It is not until much later, in the final chapter 28 — and in the very last verse of that chapter — that they were also given the power to teach! The message is simple: when we are in pain, we do not easily receive or give teaching. When our community or our environment is broken, mere words about the beauty of nature will not go a long way in restoring the suffering that we have inflicted upon it.

There is a further dimension to our mourning. Mourning is a condition, not just a singular event. Standing before society’s unwillingness to change, even Jesus is brought to tears. Sometimes even our wrongful ideologies, our mis­guided values are reinforced by established religion and the institutional church. One of the shortest and most powerful verses in the Bible is: “Jesus wept.” Yet this verse is also a symbol of comfort and sweetness to a broken people.

Finally, in relation to the natural environment, the Book of Hosea tells us that even “the land itself mourns, and everything that dwells in it languishes [i.e., sheds tears]” (Hos. 4: 1).

Matthew wrote of birds in the sky; today, oil slicks wash them ashore. Grass in the fields brought joy in the times of Christ’s disciples; today, toxic chemicals and warfare leave the land barren. Jesus assumed that foxes had homes; today, we cannot assume that foxes will survive. Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes; today, 800 million are severely undernourished.

Extending our care and concern to people and to inanimate creation brings good news to the whole world. One teardrop of mourning for our way of life can water the whole world.

Blessed are the meek; they shall inherit the land

As the King of heaven and earth, Christ comes not with violence but in meekness. He will inherit the earth and all its power, all its positions, all its prestige. Matthew reassures us that God is found at the very center of the world, with us in all generations. And this King comes to assume authority over all of creation, to reorder all creation from chaos into cosmos — an allusion to the events recorded in the first Genesis.

The average Jew during the life of Christ, and the average Christian disciple of Christ, had one of two ways of responding to Jesus: either with meekness or violence; either through peace or indignation. The way in which we receive Christ is reflected in the way in which we regard the earth or the land.

God and land, divine Word and created world must be integrated. The spiritual life brings God, the land, and the people together in a balance and integrated order.

This means that the land or the earth must never become an end in itself. God is always the source of all worldly resources. Israel laid aside a weekly day of rest in order to remember this, to reflect on where our treasure is. Worshiping the created land, venerating any false god, is a form of idolatry. Yet on the other hand, Worshiping God without assuming responsibility for the land is a dangerous and misleading form of spiritualism.

We may, for instance, pray for the environment, imploring God to do something about the crisis that we confront, yet never changing our lifestyle, which may well be reinforcing the problem. Matthew’s Christ warns us: “None of those who cry out: ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom but only the one who does the will of my Father” (7: 21).

Or else we may be activists who leave little or no room for prayer. Our lamps should not go out because of our failure to wait for God (25:1-3) in silence. Prayer is not a pretext for the evasion of responsibility. Prayer and action are equal dimensions of spirituality. We must understand how Jesus was as authentic when He healed the sick, as when He withdrew to be alone with God.

Our society, however, promotes a mentality that exalts the acquisition of material possessions. Once we are in “the land,” it is difficult to “seek first the kingdom of God.” It is easy to forget that this earth is inherited — it is received; it is not taken, or snatched. It is never ours to own, but only God’s to give.

Therefore, the land and its wealth must be oriented to others in order to promote God’s kingdom, reordering the priorities of this world. Meekness is the blessed way of dealing justly with the land. The meek person reflects a reversal of attitudes toward power, possessions and positions. Other­wise, the land becomes a territory of violence, a domain of division, a realm of mistrust.

Meekness is a way of caring. It should touch every aspect of our lives. It should teach us that God is God, that we are God’s, and that the land is God’s. Thus, the land is ours only to use and share responsibly. Meekness is a blessed correction, a heavenly contrast to the violence which we have wrought upon the earth, a stark opposition to the desecration of God’s plan for creation.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [or justice]; they shall be filled

This Beatitude introduces the fundamental theme of justice in relation to the environment and the spiritual life. “The Lord is our justice,” says the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 23: 5-6). And when we thirst for justice, we know that we shall be filled. “As the earth brings forth its plants … so will the Lord God make justice” (Is. 61: 3-4, 10-11).

Hunger and thirst lead to dependence on God. And God promises that there will always be enough for all. That is justice; that is fairness; that is righteousness. However, like Israel in the Old Testament, we want more than enough, more than our share, more than what is just and fair. We lose our conviction and confidence that God will “give us our daily bread.” God responds to our need, and asks in return that we do not store up treasure on earth, that we do not live in excess, so that others too may have enough. We are to seek to have only just enough, in order to be more and more.

When Matthew speaks of the kingdom, he speaks of justice (dikaiosyne). Matthew uses this word seven times in his Gospel. The opposite of justice, for Matthew, is not injustice; it is hypocrisy. Justice creates community; hypocrisy destroys commonality. Justice creates cosmos (beauty); hypocrisy creates chaos. Justice means sharing; hypocrisy signifies concealing and keeping. The ultimate test of our justice is to ask ourselves whether we continue our acts of piety when no one is watching.

For the Jew and the early Christians, there were three practical ways of materializing justice:

  1. Almsgiving: Almsgiving is not simply a matter of feeling. Almsgiving means responsibility. And almsgiving is not an optional virtue. Giving all that is in excess is naturally expected of everyone.
  2. Prayer: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us that when we pray we must (a) not talk too much; and (b) learn to forgive. Yet when we look honestly at our life of prayer, we have to admit that we do tend to talk too much. Prayer must heal divisions, not harbor anger or resentment. “Forgive us … as we forgive others,” we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. If we are not striving to create heaven on earth, then perhaps we should stop praying the Lord’s Prayer. Our actions and our lifestyle will show whether we mean what we pray (“your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven”), or whether we are merely talking too much.
  3. Fasting: We fast in order to remember the kingdom. We fast in order to commit ourselves to the priorities and the ways of the kingdom. We fast in order to practice offering our resources to the poor and sharing our possessions with our neighbor. Fasting helps shape a vision whereby we can view the world with God’s eyes. It clarifies the purpose and sharpens the focus, so that our view and our worldview is larger than ourselves.

“This is the fasting that I desire: releasing those bound unjustly … setting free the oppressed …. sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked … satisfying the afflicted …. Then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty …. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails …. ‘Repairer of the breach,’ they shall call you” (Isaiah 58: 6-12).

Fasting reminds us of the hunger in the world. The degree to which we resist fasting may reflect the degree to which we contribute to hunger.

Blessed are the merciful; they shall receive mercy

An essential aspect of justice and righteousness is mercy. Mercy is the personal experience and practical expression of God’s love. To be blessed by God is to show compassion, to have concern, to care for every living person and every living thing. We remember in this regard Abba Isaac the Syrian describing the merciful heart:

[The merciful heart] is a heart that burns out of compassion for birds, beasts, human beings, even demons. … Such a heart cannot bear to hear of the slightest pain suffered anywhere in creation.

Blessedness, then, means showing mercy. Indeed, the perfection of God and the kingdom of God are almost synonymous with the quality of mercy. Mercy is a sign of God’s kingdom. This is why we repeat “Lord, have mercy” in our liturgy. We are asking God to be who He is in spite of who we are. We may think here of the parable of the king who forgave the large debt. When the official refused to show a similar compassion to the servant, the forgiving king was angered. Sadly, while the mercy of the master changes the situation of the official, it does not convert his heart.

A Christian cannot win God’s mercy. But a Christian can lose God’s mercy by not extending it to others and to the environment.

At the same time, God’s mercy is also passionate, full of “pathos” (or pas­sion). If we do not show mercy, if we are a-pathetic, if we do not care, if we are indifferent to the cry of the earth, if we remain neutral in the face of injustice: then we do not reflect God’s image, we are not revealing God’s kingdom.

There are no excuses for our un-involvement. We have the information. Anyway, we are deeply — innately and inevitably — involved in one way or another. We must choose to care. Otherwise, we are not being fair; we are not acting in a just manner. Otherwise, we are being hypocritical, self-righteous, and certainly not righteous.

Let us consider one example of such mercy from the life of Christ. In the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes, the Lord encourages the disciples to act for their environment: “There is no need for them to disperse. Give them something to eat yourselves.” (Mt 14: 16) “Use your own resources” is what He is telling them. The disciples response reflects ours: “We have nothing here.”

What they are saying is that we have only limited resources. Yet it is the willingness to share that transforms what looks like very little in the eyes of the world into what is more than sufficient. We shall never give people enough to eat. But we must give them from our table.

How many people sit at our table? What kind of people do we invite to sit with us at our table? How many issues do we ignore at the table of our life? How significant — or just how subtle — is our attitude of prejudice?

Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see God

Seeing God’s face depends on purity of heart, a purity requiring total commitment to God’s kingdom, an inner attitude of wholeheartedness. Our external actions indicate our internal priorities. “Where our treasure is, there our heart is also.”

Purity of heart is achieved through purification, through asceticism. By asceticism, I mean learning what really matters, not being controlled by the cares of this world, not remaining on the surface level of life, not seeking instant results, not avoiding painful struggle. Asceticism is learning what to care for, and when not to care; when to be involved, and when not to interfere; it is taking the time and making the space to be still in order to “hear” God. Then our heart becomes pure; then we become better disposed to “see” God.

So purity of heart implies a process of stripping the surface. It is an invitation to greater depth. It is making choices about things, about people, about God. Then we value and desire not what we want, but what we need; and gradually we come to value and desire only what God wants. We begin to understand what blocks our vision of God, what separates us from God. We learn to see the world with new eyes. We hear God’s silent words in creation. The very same things appear renewed, “a new heaven and a new earth.”

At this point, it is very much like being in a guest-room by ourselves only to sense that we are in another person’s presence. There, in our heart, we discover ourselves in relation to God; but there too we discover ourselves in communion with the entire world. Then we see Christ everywhere. And therefore — as Fr. Alexander Schmemann liked to say — we can only rejoice. For we have direct and intimate access to the face of God, to the ear of God, to the word of God.

And because we live — or at least strive, desire to live — in purity of heart, we can actually see God. And our prayer for purity becomes simply: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me and on your world.

Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God

To understand how it is that we can work for peace in a way that God will call us His children, it may be helpful to remember what it means for Christ to be called God’s Son. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ is called “Son” twice, and the call comes from a voice from heaven. The first time was at His baptism; the second was on the mount of transfiguration. On both occasions it is said: “This is my beloved Son; in Him I am well pleas­ed.” (3: 17, and 17: 5)

Christ is the Son of God because He is in full communion with the nature of God; because He is fully committed to the will of God.

Full communion means sharing in all His resources. Full commitment to the Beatitudes signifies a reflection of God’s unity, of divine peace, life, and justice. Even though Christ’s communion and commitment lead Him to the cross and to death, nevertheless He remained surrendered to God’s purpose, irrespective of whether this meant standing in direct contrast, indeed in contradiction to the way society understood peace and justice.

So perhaps it is important to stop measuring progress or success in the way society regards these. The criterion for success cannot be defined in quantitative terms. For Christ, the end was the cross; for John the Baptist, the end was his beheading.

Now, the emphasis on becoming children underlines another point. Peace­making means building community; and community begins by realizing and respecting the dignity of each person. Each member of the community is precious in the eyes of God. Therefore, when Christ was asked about greatness, He called a young child over, stood it in the midst of those who were gathered, and said: “I assure you, unless you change [literally, repent] and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God” (18: 2-3).

This was a radical, not a sentimental gesture. At the time of Jesus, children were denied human rights. They had no access to necessary resources for basic survival. By their age, as well as by law, they were segregated from the rest of society. In order then to be a “peacemaker,” in order to be called a “child of God,” we are to give way — to defer — to others, out of reverence for the rights of others. We must recognize that all people require the resources of this world.

It is in this light that we are invited to become peacemakers. This also means that making peace is work. It is in fact very difficult work. Yet it is our only hope for the restoration of a broken world. By working for peace, by working to heal the environment, by removing obstacles for peace, by avoiding what harms the environment, we may — at least, this is what we are assured — hear a voice in our heart that says: “This is my beloved. In my beloved — and him, in her, in you — I am well pleased.” What greater joy, what richer blessing, what more abundant grace can there be than this?

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice [or righteousness]; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you for great is your reward in heaven

Matthew wished to reassure his community about two things: first, if they lived by the Beatitudes, according to His name, then they should expect rejection; ­and second, if they were persecuted, this would be a sign that they were truly faithful.

This last Beatitude, like the first, is a reassurance that the kingdom of God can be immediately expected.

Christ did not come to spread peace, but the sword, that is division (10:34). Persecution must be expected. Some people will not under­stand the language about justice and healing the environment. Society will not understand; much less will society be “converted.” Even the Church may not understand. What Christ calls a “blessing” is for others a “scandal.” Living the Beatitudes means resisting, sometimes even reversing, the ways of the world. Society will reject both message and messenger, our theology and actions alike. People have too much at stake. As the Prophet Isaiah says: “They look, but they choose not to see; they listen, but they choose not to hear.” (Mt 13:13; Is 6: 9-10)

In response, the Christians become a “remnant” community, a small flock, the leaven. They can begin a new process of hope in a world unwilling to receive the kingdom. Yet they are not afraid; they are not alone. They may rejoice, for He has overcome the world. Fear gives way to faith in God’s promise: “the kingdom of God is theirs.” Indeed, it is ours.

Yet Matthew placed this Beatitude last in order to indicate something more powerful than this. This Beatitude is more than a mere conclusion. It is a clear commission, an explicit command for the disciples to enter the world of their day, to assume the problems of their time, to bring God’s care into the world — no matter what the cost, irrespective of the risk or the pain. That’s why the Lord continues the Beatitude by changing to the second person: “Blessed are those who are persecuted…. Bless­ed are you when … they persecute you …. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.”

The Beatitude now becomes a direct invitation, a personal blessing, a definite assurance and promise. And Christ later continues: “You are the salt of the earth …. You are the light of the world” (5: 13-15).

We must persist in responding to the poor, in striving to share the resources of the world, in trying to heal our broken community and environment. This is the way in which we shall inherit the heavenly kingdom and this earth. In fact, this is the way that we shall understand how the kingdom relates to this earth. For by living the Beatitudes, we shall hear Christ’s voice: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you from the creation of the world.” (Mt 25: 34)

Matthew’s new Genesis returns to an echo of the creation story, closing with a reminder about the first Genesis when God created the world; “and behold it was good,” indeed “very good.”

Fr. John Chryssavgis studied theology in Athens and Oxford. He has been professor of theology at St. Andrew’s Theological College in Sydney and at Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston. He serves as theological advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues. His recent books include Soul Mending: The Art of Spiritual Direction, In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and Cosmic Grace, Humble prayer: eco­logical initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholo­mew. His text on the Beatitudes was the keynote address at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in June.

Reprinted from In Communion, Quarterly journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Spring-Summer 2003 / issue 30. Copyright by the author.