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

Martyr Julita (Ulita) of Tarsus

Martyr Julita (Ulita) of Tarsus

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 SHAL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

DELIGHT IN THE LAW OF GOD: SERMONS ON THE BEATITUDES AND THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD
By Protopresbyter Father James Thornton

"Blessed Are Ye, When Men Shall Revile You, and Persecute You, and Shall Say All Manner of Evil Against You Falsely, for My Sake".

"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven" (Saint Matthew 5:11-12). This is the Ninth Beatitude, the ninth category of men and women whom Christ calls blessed and to whom He promises wondrous rewards in the life to come.

In his famed "Fifteenth Homily on the Gospel of Saint Matthew," Saint John Chrysostomos remarks that many of the things enumerated by Christ as worthy of blessedness are the very things that worldly minded men seek to escape: poverty, mourning, persecution, and having evil spoken falsely against one. These are things one is inclined to avoid, to run from. Yet these are the things that save us, that bring us closer to God's Nature, and that make us worthy of God's embrace.

Now, what precisely is Christ Jesus saying in His Ninth Beatitude? He is saying that men are blessed if they are reviled, if they are persecuted, and if they are the target of slander, that is, if their names are blackened unjustly. If evil is spoken against a man that is true, then, of course, that man is not blessed. As Saint Theophylaktos of Ohrid declares, such a man "is a wretch, as he has been a cause of temptation to many." If we say of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), for example, that he was one of the greatest mass murderers in history probably the all-time bloodiest insofar as sheer numbers are concerned, and that he was cruel, monstrous, and an evildoers on a scale of near unimaginable immensity, make him blessed. So the evil spoken against someone must be false.

But Christ ends the sentence with one more qualifier, and that is, "for My sake." Persons suffer persecution and slander for many reasons: because of petty disagreements with neighbors, because of oddities in their deportment or character, because of their unpopular political opinions, because of their ethnic origins, or whatnot. These, however, do not meet Christ's requirements for blessedness. The reviling, the persecuting, and the slandering must be suffered for the sake of Christ, for the sake of His Church, or for the sake of His virtuous ways of life, if the suffering is spiritually to transform the sufferer and make him blessed. How, we may ask, is this accomplished?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa points out that suffering for Christ's sake cleanses the psyche (soul) of impurities. The fallen psyche (soul) associates sin with pleasure, while suffering tends to drive away all thoughts of seeking pleasure. As Saint Gregory writes, "...[A]s sin entered through pleasure, it is exterminated by the opposite." He goes on to say:

"So if men persecute others for confessing the Lord and invent the most intolerable tortures, they bring, through these sufferings, a remedy for souls, for by applying pain they heal the disease caused by pleasure. Thus [Saint] Paul receives the cross, {Saint] James [the Brother of the Lord ((ca 4 B.C. - A.D. 62) the sword; [Saint] Stefanos (Stephen) [the Protomartyr [the First Martyr) (+34 A.D.) the stones, the blessed [Saint] Peter [the Apostle (+ 67 A.D.) is crucified head downwards...All these and other things like them the Saints have embraced with joy as a purification from sin. And so pleasure has left no trace impressed on the heart, for the piercing sensation of pain effaced all the imprints it had stamped on the soul. Therefore, "Blessed are those who suffer persecution for My sake."

Saint Gregory speaks in the foregoing passage about persecution, primarily physical persecution and the bodily pain associated with that form of persecution. Let us look closely at those that are reviled and who have evil things---"all manner of evil," as Christ said--spoken against them falsely for the sake of Christ's Truth. This is actually another form of persecution, one that is in some ways even harder to endure than physical pain. As Saint John Chrysostomos puts it, "For most assuredly, men's evil reports have a sharper bite than their very deeds."

The earthly Christians were so reviled and slandered by the pagans. It was said that Christians were guilty of scandalous and impure rituals during the Divine Liturgy, which in those days was celebrated privately. They were even accused calumnies that brought harsh and painful judgments on them from their non-Christian friends and neighbors, and doubtless they suffered tremendously as a result, knowing that the gossip was all a bundle of vicious lies, but that they were powerless to silence the enemies of Christ.

A number of the Saints endured such persecution, having their names and reputations damaged or ruined by malicious gossip and falsehood. And this they experienced because their conspicuous holiness and dedication to virtue made them stand out from the more spiritually unexceptional people around them. Thus, although they were vilified and smeared by fellow Orthodox Christians, they were nonetheless reviled, persecuted, and slandered for the sake of Christ.

The last Empress of Russia, Saint Alexandra the Tsarina-Martyr (1872-1918), a convert to Orthodoxy from the Lutheranism of her native Germany, was ridiculed by the pleasure-loving nobility of Saint Petersburg for her great piety and love of Christ. She took her newfound religion very seriously, while many cradle Orthodox in the Imperial Court did not. Against her was spoken "all manner of evil," from the moment of her Coronation until the moment of her death.

Saint John of San Francisco was repeatedly a victim of such evil. The peculiarities, the seeming oddities, of his intensely spiritual outlook and way of life were a source of irritation to those wedded to the world. And so they attempted, though failed, to murder his reputation.

The same was true for the great Saint Nektarios of Aegina (1846-1920), whose wisdom, decency, humility, and dedication to his flock as Metropolitan of Pentapolis brought down upon his head the hatred and jealousy of others. He was removed as Metropolitan because of false rumors of scandal and immorality, and so he returned from Egypt to Greece and took up the humble post of a preacher and, later, director of a school, where he taught theology.

Saint Alexandra the Tsarina-Martyr, St. John of San Francisco, and Saint Nektarios of Aegina accepted revilement and slander as part of their calling as Christians and never thought in terms of retaliation. Saint John of Kronstadt, who was also reviled by his enemies, speaks of the early Martyr-Saints as follows:

"...[T]hey had a kingly spirit, kingly greatness, invincible patience, and with their faith and by their patience they shamed all their tormentor-kings and governors...See how the word and the all-powerful grace of the immortal King-Christ strengthened them, see how strikingly Christ's power manifested itself in these weak vessels!"

Yes and precisely the same accolades are earned by those who suffered the bloodless persecution of revilement and slander as were earned by those who were tortured and killed. (Saint Alexandra receives double the accolades and rewards, since she suffered both.)

I have mentioned only three such Saints, but there are doubtless numerous others who suffered revilement, persecution, and slander for the sake of Christ. Orthodox Christians venerate the Saints for several reasons, and among these is that they offer outstanding examples to us, revealing to us an ideal against which we may measure ourselves and toward which we may strive. Should any of us be so blessed as to suffer revilement and persecution, should any of us have "all manner of evil" spoken falsely against us for the sake of Christ, then, like the aforementioned Saints, we should accept this trial as one that has the power to purify us and to transform us. At the same time, let us be certain that we never participate in such evil.

Christ promises the victims of these forms of persecution, "Great is your reward in Heaven" (St. Matthew 5:12). As to the fate of those who revile, persecute, and speak all manner of evil against their brother or sister, one can only speculate. I refer, here, especially to the sin of gossip. Gossip is one of the deadliest poisons, one of the most evil of evils, and one of the most lethal of sins. We need not concern ourselves about whether gossip is true or false--no gossip whatsoever should be spoken by Christians. About the reviler, the persecutor, the speaker of "all manner of evil," the gossip, one can only say that without sincere repentance, it is difficult to imagine a good outcome at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Let us conclude today with a quotation from Saint Gregory of Nyssa. "...[A]ffliction," he states, this He has promised, that those who have been persecuted for His sake shall be blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven..."

(Next: the Commandments of God)

____________________________________

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.

+

"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"-St. John Chrysostom

+++

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

+Father George