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

Prophet Elisha

Prophet Elisha

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


by Protopresbyter James Thornton

"Blessed are the meek"

We are at the fourth of our discussions on the Beatitudes, and so this week we consider Christ's declaration, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." It is clear that in examining the meaning of this Third Beatitude, we must be especially careful in our definitions. In modern English, the word "meek" often carries overtones of complete submissiveness, of spinelessness, of weakness, or of total passivity. However, this is obviously not what Christ had in mind when He gave His blessing to the meek.

The original Greek word, "πραύς" ("prays"), which is translated in the best versions of English Bibles by the word "meek," carries a quite different connotation than passivity or spinelessness. Rather, the correct meaning, here, is best expressed as a blending of such notions as "mild of manner," "gentle," "patience," "kind," and "slow to anger." The now old-fashioned ideal of the "gentleman" correctly expresses, at least in part, what Christ Jesus was conveying.

The ancient Greek abhorred extremes of behavior and exalted moderation. Thus, they counseled meekness--meekness correctly understood--as a virtue. The display unbridled anger and violent emotion over every imagined deficiency on the part of others was considered a sign of overweening pride and therefore of a lack of virtue. Likewise, to be incapable of righteous anger and therefore incapable of proper action in the face of some evil was a sign of a lack of courage. But between these two extremes one finds the virtue of meekness.

For example, the meek man is in full control of himself and so possesses stability in his relationships with others. And while he is not an emotional tinderbox set to explode at the least provocation, not an emotional roller coaster swinging from this extreme to that, and not in a constant state of agitation, rage, or fury, which only cloud one's judgment, the person possessing the virtue of meekness is nevertheless capable of anger when anger is appropriate. The passive or spineless man tolerates such evils as gross injustice, or cruelty, or blasphemy. The meek man does not. The passive or spineless man will not rise to defend his family, friends, or neighbors at a time of danger. A meek man will even give his life for those in danger. He is meek, but he is never a coward.

Christ Jesus is the very quintessence ofmeekness, yet, nonetheless, when He observed the great Jerusalem Temple being used by the money changers for mercenary purposes, "made a scourge of small cords...[and] drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables" (St. John 2:15). That was a proper, righteous anger. Similarly, in old Constantinople, when Saint John Chrysostomos--ascetic, humble, and meek to his fingertips--unleashed his anger against the selfishness of the jaded and worldly among the Byzantine nobility in his sermons, that was a proper, righteous anger.

Saint Ambrose of Milan writes that in serving toward meekness, as the Lord commands, you must:

"lay aside what things are base, be destitute of vices according to virtuous poverty, tame your disposition, so that ye are not angered, or, indeed, if angry, that ye sin not, according as it is written, 'Be angry, and sin not' (Psalm 4:5). For it is honorable to temper emotion with counsel, nor is it reckoned a lesser virtue to restrain anger and suppress indignation than not to be angry at all, although very often the former is adjudged the milder and the latter the more violent."

In other words, as we have already noted, the Christian is capable of anger, but the anger is restrained by mildness and by careful forethought.

With regard to spiritual life, the Christian who has cultivated meekness is accepting of the will of God. He is not defiant toward his Maker, but receptive to all that God bestows--both the agreeable and the difficult. In the face of adversity, such as illness, poverty, or the loss of a loved one, he places God's will before his own, bears life with fortitude, in stoical fashion, and so does not continuously complain and grumble over his fate. He sees the hand of God in life's problems and trials and is content to use these to direct his life and to strengthen himself spiritually.

So, we have defined the precise meaning of the word "meek," with its essential nuances, which allow us to grasp Christ's words correctly. Christ promises that "the meek...shall inherit the earth" (St. Matthew 5:5). What does this mean? Saint John Chrysostomos writes that the earth spoken of by Christ includes things of this life and things of the next. He says:

"And this He saith, not a limiting the rewards to things present, but as joining with these the other sorts of gifts also. For neither in speaking of any spiritual thing doth He exclude such as are in the present life; nor again in promising such as are in our life, doth He limit this promise to that kind. For He saith, "Seek ye the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you" (St. Matthew 6:33). And again: "Whosover hath left houses or brethren, shall receive an hundred fold in this world, and in the future shall inherit everlasting life" (St. Matt. 19:29; St. Mark 10:29-30; St. Luke 18:29-30).

Now, in a world dominated by greed, selfishness, mania for power, and a willingness to crush adversaries underfoot, how do the meek inherit the earth? As Saint John Chrysostomos explains, we must understand Christ's words in both an earthly and a spiritual manner. The man who is meek, that is, who is gentle, kind, forgiving, and patient in his dealings with his fellow men, who is serene and untroubled in his daily life and yet courageous and forthright in the face of misfortune or in overcoming evil, will inherit the earth. He will inherit the earth in the sense that he will become, through his recognition of God's love for mankind, of God's ultimate plan for himself and all others, and of God's omnipotence, the sovereign of his own life under the supreme sovereignty of God. His passage through this life will not be an endless cavalcade of anger, fear, hysteria, disappointment, and hardship, but, on the contrary, will be a peaceful and steady movement in the direction of God. In the Book of Psalms we read, "But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (Psalm 36:11). God will protect the meek of this earth. Moreover, the meek shall inherit the earth in the spiritual sense. The meek, in the life to come, will inherit the Kingdom of God, the "new earth" (Isaiah 65:17, 22; II Peter 3:13; Apocalypse (Revelation) 21:1). Spoken of in Holy Scripture, wherein all of God's creation will be renewed. And that new earth the meek will enjoy for all eternity.

God particularly loves the meek. "The Lord lifteth up the meek, but casteth sinners down to the ground" (Psalm 146:6), relates a passage in Psalms. God loves the meek since they imitate the virtues of Christ Himself, Who said, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (St. Matthew 11:29). Note the linkage in these passages between meekness and a state of peace and rest. Saint Paul the Apostle, writing to the Romans, admonishes them, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceable with all men" (Romans 12:18).

Thus far, in our talks, we have spoken of blessedness, of contrition, of humility, of mourning for sins, and, now, of meekness. It is of the highest significance that these qualities are scorned by the world, while their opposites--most especially pride---are applauded by the world, a world more and more determined to try to demonstrate that Christian virtue is an illusion and that lasting happiness can be found in the things of this world.

The world is wrong, my children in Christ, it is wrong. Both in this life, and for the sake of the next, we must struggle toward that blessedness, that contrition, that humility, that mourning and that meekness. It is a formidable task, since everything around us bids us to follow a different road. And if we have failed to achieve all that Christ demands, we do not surrender, but continue the struggle.

Saint Gregory the Dialogist (Dialogos) [540-604 AD] tells us:

"Our imperfection will not be entirely harmful to us if we are set on our journey toward God,  if we do not look back at the things that are finished with, if we hasten to accomplish what lies ahead. An imperfect person who worthily enkindles his desires may become strong enough to become perfect, through our Lord Jesus Christ..."

(To be continued)



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 (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George