Delight in the Law of God: Sermons on the Beatitudes and Commandments of God

Apostle Bartholomew of the Twelve

Apostle Bartholomew of the Twelve

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

Sermons on the Beatitudes and the Commandments of God

by Protopresbyter James Thornton

The English word "beatitude" comes from the Latin "beatus", which word means "blessed" or "happy." In the original Greek, from which the Latin translation comes, the words are "μακάριοι" ("makarioi") or "μακάριος" ("makarios") the meaning conveyed by those words being the same as the Latin, that is, "blessed" or "happy." Consequently, a beatitude is a pronouncement or declaration of blessedness that proceeds or flows forth from particular virtues and from the generosity of God. And blessedness itself indicates that someone or something is pleasing to God and therefore sacred or holy, and thus set apart from the things of the mundane world. "Holiness" and "blessedness" are, in this context, synonyms. It must be said too that the word "blessedness" is synonymous with "contentment," "joy," "happiness," and "comfort," all of these to be understood in the spiritual and not worldly or material sense.

The literary form known to us as a beatitude appears also in many places in the Old Testament. For example, we read in the Book of Psalms: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the impious"; (Psalm 1:1); "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him" (Psalm 2:13); and "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." (Psalm 32:12). One is blessed because one is faithful to God and to His law and shuns evil; one is blessed because one trusts in God; and one is blessed because one, or one's nation, remains close to God.

However, blessedness, which is acquired by the practice of virtue, should not be understood to imply that the one who acquires it was born specially favored by God over and above all other men. God loves each member of the human race with a boundless love, and so desires that men become His friends. All are called by God to blessedness...We, as Christians, are resolved to avoid evil, and not only obvious, blatant evil, such as murder, theft, gossip, fornication, and so forth, but also the subtle, inward evils, such as pride, anger, envy, and greed. We fight against such evils.

Regarding the battle against evil required of the Christian, Saint Syprian of Carthage (ca. 200-258) writes:

"For as I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe that I could by possibility be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices; and because I despaired of better things, I used to indulge my sins as if they were actually parts of me, and indigenous to me. But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart,--after that, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man;--then, in a wondrous manner, doubtful things at once began to assure themselves to me, hidden things to be revealed, dark things to be enlightened, what before had seemed difficult began to suggest a means of accomplishment, what had been thought impossible, to be capable of being achieved; so that I was enabled to acknowledge that what previously, being born of the flesh, had been living in the practice of sins, was of the earthly, but had now begun to be of God, and was animated by the Spirit of holiness."

The Lord Jesus Christ and His Church summon each of us to blessedness. It is not a gratuitous summons; it is not a summons to go beyond that which is necessary for the salvation of our souls; it is a summons to achieve salvation, since to become the blessed of God IS the same as to achieve the salvation of our souls. The summons of Christ is a summons to lead the life in Christ and to turn away from an obsession with this world, as if it were the only world that matters.

My beloved children in Christ, attend once again to the words of our own Saint John of Kronstadt:

"Look upon everything in this world as a fleeting shadow and cling with your heart t nothing of it; consider nothing in this world great, and lay your hopes upon nothing earthly. Cling to the One Eternal, invisible, and only wise God."


"Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit"

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (St. Matthew 5:3). What is the meaning of the words "poor in spirit"? Saint John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) writes that "poor in spirit" means simply those who are "humble and contrite in mind". He goes to say:

"For by "spirit" He hath here designated the soul, and the faculty of choice [the will]. That is, since many are humble not willingly, but compelled by stress of circumstances; letting these pass (for this were no matter of praise), He blesses them first, who by choice humble and contract themselves."

We see, then, that "poor in spirit" has nothing necessarily to do with economic distress. All men, rich and poor and those in between, may become poor in spirit. A rich man who is fully committed to Christ may be poor in spirit and so prepared, if called upon by God, to surrender all of his wealth for the sake of Christ. In contrast, a poor man, in the economic sense of that term, may fail through bitterness, envy, pride, or whatever, to achieve the spiritual condition described by Christ.

Saint Ambrose of Milan (339-397 AD) declares, "When I am truly content in poverty, I should then seek to make my disposition mild and gentle." In other words, a man who is economically poor, if he is not embittered, by the very nature of his situation and because he is powerless, is mild and gentle in his dealings with others, so as to obtain the necessities of life and to survive economically among the rich and powerful. The poor in spirit seek to emulate this disposition spiritually in order to survive and prosper spiritually. So these words of Christ do not address economic status. Rather, the words designate those men and women who are by choice, of their own free will, humble and contrite.

The English word "humble" is derived from the Latin word "humilis," meaning "ground," that is, the surface beneath our feet. The word "contrite" also comes from the Latin. The Latin word is "contritus," a derivative of the verb "conterere," the meaning of which, curiously and significantly, is "to grind down" or "to wear away." So we may say that by hour humility we regard ourselves, most particularly in relation to God, as low as the surface of the ground on which we tread. And by our contriteness, by our sincere repentance, we grind down our rebelliousness toward God and His law and we wear away our tendency to sin.

In the following passage, Saint Gregory of Sinai (1255-1346 AD) encompasses the notions of both humility and contriteness:

"Those who seek humility should bear in mind the three following things: that they are the worst of sinners, that they are the most despicable of all creatures since their state is an unnatural one, and that they are even more pitiable than the demons, since they are slaves to the demons."

Focusing his attention on the word "poor," Saint John Chrysostom asks the question, "But why said he not 'the humble,' but rather 'the poor?" He answers by stating that Christ meant to refer to more than just outward humility: "For He means here them who are awestruck, and tremble at the Commandments of God." The Saint, by way of proving his point, then quotes a passage from Saint Isaiah the Prophet, wherein God says, "But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word." (Isaiah 66:2). And he quotes also from the Book of Psalms: "A sacrifice unto God is a contrite spirit; a contrite and humbled heart God will not put to shame." (Psalm 50[51]:19)...

What is the opposite of humility? The opposite of humility is pride. By his exaltation of the poor in spirit, Christ Jesus attacks that most harmful of man's failings. Saint John Chrysostom calls pride "the greatest of evils" and affirms that by His Own words "Blessed are the poor in spirit," Christ "begins at the root of things by uprooting pride, the root and source of all malice. Against it He sets humility, as a strong and stable foundation, which, securely laid, is a base on which other virtues may be built."

Saint John warns, however: "But should this base collapse, whatever other blessing you may have acquired, are lost."

If we are excellent Orthodox Christians, walking the way of truth and purity in our lives and mastering all of the virtues, but if, at the same time, we cultivate overweening pride in our hearts, then all for which we have struggled--all--is utterly for naught. Pride was the downfall of Lucifer (Satan), who was jealous of God, his Creator, and so rebelled, and found himself thrust into the pit of Hell. (See St. Luke 1o:18). Adam, misled by the Devil, fancied that he might become like God (See Genesis 3:5), and so through pride disobeyed God and brought sin into the world. One can review the whole of mankind's history and see numberless examples of the catastrophe caused by pride. Pride brought certain men to think that they might conquer the world. All not only failed miserably but brought ruin to their followers and themselves, and great adversity to other men. Pride, to quote Saint John Chrysostom once again, is the source of the "havoc of the world."

Therefore, to summarize what we have covered today, those who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, according to Christ's Own words, will be men and women who are by choice humble, who are cognizant of their lowliness and smallness before God, and who repent fully for their sins, that is, who are broken in spirit by the very thought of their past sins, who thus turn away from a life of sin, and who struggle to lead a Christlike life...

Let us end with these words of Saint Anthony the Great (251-356 AD):

"He therefore who has gained humility, has already become a dwelling place of the Most High God; and has attained to sublimity of soul, to the love of innocence, to peace and to charity. Come then, dispose your heart towards humility, and do not walk in the company of devils in pride of heart...Whosoever therefore walks in the pride of his own heart, is an associate of demons...The pride of heart of men is unclean before God: but hearts that are humble and contrite the Lord will not despise. The Mercy of God...coming to us from on high, became humble of His last breath. And because of this we glory with the psalmist, saying: "See my abjection and my labor: and forgive me all my sins" (Saint Anthony, "On Humility; and on Deceit").



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.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


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

+Father George