Living the Beautitudes (Part II)

Martyr Galaction and his wife, Episteme at Emesa

Martyr Galaction and his wife, Episteme at Emesa

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

LIVING THE BEATITUDES (Part II)

By Father John Chryssavgis

[Fr. John Chryssavgis studied theology in Athens and Oxford. He has been professor of theology at Saint Andrew's Theological College in Sydney and at Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston. He serves as a 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 Saint Tikhon's Monastery in June.]

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. Saint 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. Saint 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 is 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 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 Saint Matthew speaks of the Kingdom, he speaks of justice (dikaiosyne). Saint Matthew uses this word seven times to his Gospel. The opposite of justice for Saint 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 way 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 Saint Matthew, Jesus teaches us that when we pray we must not (a) 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 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.

(To be continued. Next: Blessed are the merciful; they shall receive mercy)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George