Delight in the Law of God: Sermons on the Beatitudes and Commandments of God (Part II)

Martyr Antonina of Nicea

Martyr Antonina of Nicea

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.

DELIGHT IN THE LAW OF GOD (PART II)
Sermons on the Beatitudes and the Commandments of God

by Protopresbyter James Thornton

"Blessed Are They That Mourn"

We are at the third of our lessons on the Beatitudes of Christ. You will recall that last week we investigated the first of these, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," noting that the poor in spirit are those who are filled with humility and contrition, that is, remorse for their sins. Today we will scrutinize the Second Beatitude, in which Christ Jesus teaches us, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" (St. Matthew 5:4).

Losses that we suffer in this life, material losses and the loss of kinfolk, friends, and neighbors, can be terrible. The loss of employment, for example, can plunge a family toward destitution, and so in that situation one mourns the loss of what he imagined was a measure of economic security. The loss of one's good health is a shock, since one bases many of his plans for the future on the continuation of his physical well-being...

Worse yet, much worse in the earthly scheme of things, is the loss through death of a person whom we loved, perhaps kin or perhaps a close friend, and we mourn our loss, we feel deep sorrow, since we no longer can enjoy that person's friendship or companionship. All these feelings, feelings of loss and of pain, are perfectly normal and proper, so long as they are not carried too far.

The Christian places his hope, and his faith, and his trust in God, knowing that this life is temporary, that material things are all temporary, and that earthly life is but a prelude to eternal life. Therefore, mourning, to a Christian, whatever its cause, is not an act of despair or despondency, wherein one abandons all hope, or loses one's courage, or loses one's will to live. And it certainly is not a state in which one becomes angry toward God because of one's adversity. The Christian feels sorrow--Christ Himself wept at the death of Saint Lazarus the Four-Days-Dead--,but it is controlled, it is circumscribed, by the knowledge that God promises eternal happiness to His beloved in the life to come.

What does it mean to mourn? The English verb "mourn" is of Germanic origin, and if we trace back through history to the oldest source of that word, we find it is linked to the word "memory," to the notion of remembering. We remember the loss of the material things to which we became attached; we remember the loss of the freedom and strength that good health once offered us; or we remember the loss of loved ones who are no longer here to share our journey through life. Such remembrance brings us suffering. The pain of remembering is at first intense, but usually fades with the passage of time, though it may never entirely disappear. The remembrance of loss, the sorrow that we feel, and the tears that we shed may, if humbly accepted, be spiritually profitable, in that such loss reminds us of the fragility of material goods, of physical health, and of earthly life itself.

So, we have examined the source, and meaning, and significance of mourning in its worldly connotations. It is clear, however, that Christ's words, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted," are aimed far less at the kinds of mourning we have just discussed--mourning for lost loved ones, for lost health, or for lost material possessions--than at spiritual losses.

Saint Theophilaktos of Ohrid (1050-1126 AD) writes in his Gospel commentary:

"Blessed are they that mourn" for their sins, not for things of this life. Christ said, "They that mourn," that is, they that are mourning incessantly and not just one time; and not only for our own sins, but for those of our neighbor."

Thus, Christians are expected to be profoundly cognizant of sin, of the nature of sin, and therefore of the true seriousness of their own sins. We must mourn for our sins. They are not small matters but grave matters, matters that threaten our happiness not simply for a few weeks, months or years, but threaten our happiness for all eternity.

We grasp the depth of gravity of the sort of mourning of which Christ speaks in this passage from the writings of Saint John Chrysostom:

"Blessed are they that mourn."...And here too again He designated not simply all that mourn, but all that do so for sins...This Saint Paul [the Apostle 67 AD] also clearly declared, when he said, 'The sorrow of the world worketh death, but godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, not to be repented of.' These then He too Himself calls blessed, whose sorrow is that kind; yet not simply them that sorrow did He designate, but them that sorrow intensely. Therefore He did not say, "they that sorrow," but "they that mourn." For this Commandment again is fitted to teach us entire self-control. For if those who grieve for children, or wife, or any other relation gone from them, have no fondness for gain or pleasure during that period of their sorrow; if they aim not at glory, are not provoked by insults, nor led captive by envy, nor beset by any other passion, their grief alone wholly possessing them; much more will they who mourn for their own sins, as they ought to mourn, show forth a self-denial greater than this."

Saint John Chrysostom is explaining to us in the foregoing quotation that if we mourn intensely for our sins, we are rendered immune to its temptations, we are rendered impervious to the beckoning of our passions, since always in the background of our minds is that recognition of the distance that sin puts between us and God.

We mourn for the sins of those we love, since sin places them too in danger, earthly danger and spiritual danger. Christians are not isolated individuals, but from, in the Church, a Community of Love. Thus, we share in the trials and anxieties of one another and, thus, we are distressed to the point of mourning over the sins of all our brothers and sisters in Christ. That mourning brings us to pray for one another, to pray to God that all whom we love may be saved.

To those who, recognizing the immense import of all sin, mourn intensely for their sins, mourn for the loss of the spiritual beauty of their former innocence, mourn for the sake of the likely fate of their souls, Christ promises, "They shall be comforted." How will those who mourn be comforted? They are comforted, the Holy Fathers tell us, both in this life and in the next. In this life they are comforted in the knowledge that, as a result of mourning, they are spiritually stronger than before. Recognizing the consequences of sin, they are better equipped to fend off its attacks. They are comforted, too, in the realization of God's love for them and of His readiness to forgive them. Saint John Chrysostomos speaks of this as follows:

"Wherefore, if thou wilt be comforted, mourn: and think not this a dark saying. For when God doth comfort, though sorrows come upon thee by thousands like snow-flakes, thou wilt be above them all. Since in truth, as the returns which God gives are always far greater than our labors; so He hath wrought in this case, declaring them that mourn to be blessed, not after the value of what they do, but after His own love towards man."

And the Saint continues that for those that mourn for their sins, it is sufficient comfort to know God has forgiven them and to know that God not only forgives them, not only relieves them of the burden and ramifications of sin, "but He makes them even blessed," that is, makes them His Own friends, by which He gives them eternal life.

May we comprehend the injury that sin brings to us, which injury is equivalent spiritually to the gouging and tearing of our physical flesh. May we all mourn for our sins. And having mourned, may we happily envelop ourselves in God's forgiveness and boundless consolation.

(To be continued)

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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