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

The Holy Glorious and All-Praised Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul

The Holy Glorious and All-Praised Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul

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

DELIGHT IN THE LAW OF GOD: Sermons on the Beatitudes and the Commandments of God (Part VI)
by Protopresbyter James Thornton

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (St. Matthew 5:8). This is the Sixth Beatitude of Christ. How should we describe what it means to be pure in heart, as Christ Himself intends us to understand that term? Those persons who possess purity of heart, Saint John Chrysostomos asserts, are "either those who have attained unto all virtue, and are not conscious to themselves of any evil: or those who live in temperance. For there is nothing which we need so much in order to see God, as the last virtue."

What this means is that the one who is pure in heart is completely virtuous and therefore free from all habitual sin; that is to say, the habits of sinfulness have been cleansed from his heart, and his heart is consequently pure. Additionally, such a one lives his life in temperance, which means that he has total control over his various fallen inclinations, inclinations connected physical appetites, and therefore allows himself only that which is morally acceptable to God.

Remember please, in this regard, my beloved children in Christ, that Saints are not men and women who have freed themselves wholly from corruption. The demons are always at work to destroy souls and would enjoy bringing down and capturing the soul of a Holy One. Saint Paul relates: "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:22-23). Saint Paul tells us that he too was tempted and struggled with sin, that the spiritual inward man had to battle the fallen, sinful man. Obviously, with Saint Paul, the spiritual, inward man won that battle. Saints are men and women who are, first of all, watchful over the state of their souls, and who simply exercise their faculty of self-control and therefore turn away from temptation. And his watchfulness and self-control bring earthly as well as heavenly rewards.

Saint Ambrose of Milan writes of this purity of heart that it is accomplished "[w]hen you have made your inward self pure from every stain of sin, so that no disorder, no strife arises from your disposition of soul..." (The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. iv. p. 468). Such inward purity and peacefulness, as described by Saint Ambrose, is characteristic of the Saints, since the dictates of the passions and sin produce a maelstrom of continuing inner conflict, while the setting aside of baseness and corruption brings inner tranquility and composure.

We gain insights into the fullness of the meaning of purity of hearts in the writings of many Holy Church Fathers. Let us note here some passages written by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783), in which he contracts an obsession with worldly things, that is, temporary things, with spiritual things, that is, eternal things. One who has cultivated purity of heart, needless to say, is one whose mind is fixed upon the eternal. First, Saint Tikhon distinguishes between our fleshly birth, into this world, and our spiritual birth, through the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments). He then speaks of the divergent proclivities that accompany either the worldly-minded, on the one hand or the spiritually minded, on the other:

"To the fleshly birth belong pride, high-mindedness, haughtiness, conceit, self-importance, and disdain for neighbor. To the Spiritual birth belong humility, deprecation and negation of one's own self. To the fleshly birth belong unbelief, to the spiritual--faith. To the fleshly birth belongs recklessness, to the spiritual--fear of God.

To the fleshly birth belong recalcitrance, insubordination, disobedience, and opposition to God, to the spiritual--submission, subordination, and obedience. To the fleshly belongs ingratitude, to the spiritual--thankfulness to God.

To the fleshly belongs indifference to the honor and glory of God, to the spiritual--the desire and care for the glory of God. To the fleshly belongs hope in one's self, in one's honor, riches, in one's strength, in man and in every creature, to the spiritual belongs hope in God alone. To the fleshly belong anger, wrath, malice, and the desire to be avenged in word and deed, to the spiritual--meekness, innocence and long-suffering. To the fleshly belongs immoderate self-love, to the spiritual--love of God and man.

To the fleshly belongs miserliness, avarice, mercilessness and care for one's own self, to the spiritual--mercy, love of generosity and compassion, and helping one's neighbor. To the fleshly belong envy and all its consequent evil, to the spiritual--love and compassion for a neighbor's misfortune and joy over his happiness.

To the fleshly belong guile, slyness, falsehood, cunning and hypocrisy, to the spiritual--simple-heartedness and truth. To the fleshly belongs theft, robbery and every injustice, to the spiritual--justice. To the fleshly belong impurity, drunkenness, incontinence or lustful desire, to the spiritual--purity, chastity, sobriety, and continence.

To the fleshly belong the love of this world, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, and worldly wisdom, to the spiritual--disdain of the world and its vanity, and the wisdom of heavenly and eternal good things. In a word, to the fleshly birth belongs evil habit, and to the spiritual--virtue."

And so, we see how comprehensive is the notion of purity of heart. It means purity, it means cleanliness, in all of our thoughts, deeds, and words, and even in our motivations. It means that our only motivations in doing good are love of God and love of neighbor (See St. Luke 10:27). The practice of virtue, for example, from motives that are not pure negates the virtue, and therefore whatever good is perhaps accomplished in the practice of a particular virtue is cancelled out, insofar as our spiritual life is concerned.

Is purity of heart possible? We know that it is from the lives of countless Saints. Saint Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 330-ca. 395) asks if the Lord would "command something so great that it completely surpasses our nature and the limits of its power? Surely not. He does not tell those He has not provided with wings to become birds, nor does He bid creatures He has destined to sojourn on land to live in the water. The law is adopted to the capacities of those that receive it in everything else, and nothing is enforced that is beyond nature."

Therefore, purity of heart is most assuredly possible.

To the pure in heart Christ promises that "they shall see God." "All men shall see God in the life to come. However, those who have refined their selfless love and practice of virtue to the highest degree, and who are therefore truly pure in heart, will actually see God in this life and in the next. It is through the eyes that one perceives the physical world. Physical sight operates through the reception of light through the lenses of the eyes. It is through the heart that one perceives the spiritual world. Spiritual sight operates through the reception of spiritual life into the heart. The heart that is clean, that is free from the distortions and filth of sin, that is crystal clear in its purity, will be granted the vision of the Light of the Uncreated Energies of God. To this the hosts of the Saints and the Holy Church Fathers testify. To this Saint Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833) testifies, when we read that he was surrounded by the Light of God's Uncreated Energies, a Light so powerful that it visibly illumined the darkened landscape of the Russian winter all around him.

Let us strive most of all for purity of heart. It is, as the Holy Fathers counsel, a condition that requires constant labor throughout one's life. It requires diligence, and, above all, as we discussed earlier, absolute watchfulness over oneself and one's thoughts and actions. The reward for such diligence and watchfulness is the vision of God, forever.

We read in a passage from the writings of Saint Hesychios of Sinai (8th century), published in The Philokalia, the following:

"We should zealously cultivate watchfulness, my brethren, and when our mind purified in Christ Jesus--we are exalted by the vision it confers, we should review our sins and our former life, so that shattered and humbled at the thought of them we may never lose the help of Jesus Christ our God in the invisible battle. If because of pride, self-esteem or self-love we are deprived of Jesus' help, we shall lose that purity of heart through which God is known to man. For, as the Beatitude states, purity of heat is the ground for the vision of God."

(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,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George