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Homily for 6/6/10 - P2 - The beatitudes

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  • Fr David Moser
    Matthew 4:18-5:12 The beatitudes, which we not only heard read this morning but which we also sing every Sunday as a part of the Divine Liturgy, hold a place
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2010
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      Matthew 4:18-5:12

      The beatitudes, which we not only heard read this morning but which we
      also sing every Sunday as a part of the Divine Liturgy, hold a place of
      great preeminence in our Christian life. In ancient times the Law was
      given to the people of God through the prophet Moses, and at the
      foundation of the Law were the 10 Commandments. At the incarnation, God
      became man and dwelt among us. The God/man Jesus Christ fulfilled all
      the Law – in other words He embodied in Himself the purpose and end
      result of the Law, which is the perfection of man. But the perfection of
      our humanity is not the final purpose of God – if that were the case the
      Law and the 10 Commandments would have been sufficient. God’s purpose
      for us is not that we become perfect men, but even more that we might
      become like Him and live in union and communion with Him. For this we
      needed not only the Law, by which our humanity is perfected, but we also
      required the transforming action of the grace of God which makes us more
      than human – it unites us with God our Creator.

      To this end we are given a further law by Jesus Christ – alongside the
      10 Commandments of the law, he also gives us the 9 Beatitudes. The
      Commandments of the Law were given to exclude all those things which
      tainted and distorted our humanity. They defined the sin which pollutes
      our souls and which separates us from God. By perfectly following the
      law, we avoid the pitfalls and traps which distort our being and which
      make impossible the realization of God’s purpose for us. But the power
      of the commandments ends here. Having cleared the path for us to follow
      God and acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit, the law cannot lead us
      along the path to our sanctification and theosis (deification, i.e.
      becoming like God). For this a further guide is needed and that guide we
      find in the Beatitudes. The ten Commandments of the Law are restricted
      to prohibiting those acts which would be sinful. The Beatitudes explain
      to us how we may attain the Christian perfection of grace.

      In the Gospel there is a parable given to us by Christ which likens the
      people of God to a vineyard which is prepared by God. In the parable it
      is described how the owner of the vineyard carefully prepared it,
      digging out the stones and clearing the weeds and building a wall around
      the fields to keep out the animals that would harm the vines and steal
      the fruit. This describes the actions of the Law. The purpose of the
      commandments is to dig out the stones of sin from our souls, and to
      clear the weeds of the passions which overwhelm us. The Law acts as a
      wall which repels the intrusions of the demons who would take us captive
      and lead us away from God. The vineyard of the soul is thus prepared and
      made into the perfect environment for the growth of the vines and the
      production of fruit.

      But there remains something that is yet to be done which the law cannot
      accomplish. Having prepared the vineyard, the owner then filled it with
      life – he planted in it the vines which would be nurtured and tended,
      fed and watered, and which would grow and produce the desired fruit. So
      in our souls, God plants the seeds of life and these seeds are watered
      with the grace of the Holy Spirit just as the rain falls upon the plants
      of the earth and the Light of Christ shines upon us continually warming
      that life, invigorating it and drawing us to Himself, just as the sun
      warms the plants of the earth and draws them to itself. This part of the
      parable describes for us the purpose of the Beatitudes – the nurturing
      of the life of Christ within us and the production of the fruit of the
      Holy Spirit in us.

      The Commandments were given to restrain man from evil by prohibiting
      certain evil acts which lead us into sin. The Beatitudes are given to
      Christians to show us what disposition to have in order to move in the
      opposite direction and draw closer and closer to God, to acquire
      holiness, and together with that, blessedness, which is the highest
      degree of happiness. Holiness arising from nearness to God, is the
      greatest happiness that any person could possibly desire.

      Just as the Commandments of the Law laid out the path which avoids the
      pitfalls of sin, leading to the perfection of our humanity, so also the
      Beatitudes lay out the path for us to follow Christ and for the
      acquisition of the Holy Spirit, leading to our glorification and
      transformation, realizing in us the image and likeness of God. The union
      and communion with God which is the result of this transformation is the
      true meaning and essence of our salvation.

      It is beyond our ability here today to go into detail regarding each of
      the Beatitudes, however, in summary we can look at the goal and purpose
      of each one in our Christian life. The first beatitude, “Blessed are the
      poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” leads us to the
      foundation and mother of all virtues, which is humility. Without the
      poverty in spirit, humility, we can make no progress in the growth of
      the life of Christ in us. Humility is the opposite of pride, it is the
      setting aside of all our self centeredness and all the “self”
      characteristics that we frequently seek (self-esteem, self-worth,
      self-sufficiency, self-dependence, etc). In humility we replace the
      “self” in these things with God so that we become not self-centered, but
      God centered.

      The second beatitude, “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be
      comforted” speaks of the necessity of sorrow in our lives. First the
      sorrow of repentance for our sins, but also of the compassionate sorrow
      that we feel when we see the trials and difficulties of others. The
      greater this compassion extends, even to the whole world, the more we
      share the compassion of God for all mankind.

      The third beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the
      earth” describes for us the soul in which the love of God is fully
      developed. The characteristics of this love are described by the Holy
      Apostle in the 13th chapter of the First Epistle to the Church in
      Corinth. In such a person the love of God for the whole world is made
      manifest.

      The fourth beatitude, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for
      righteousness for they shall be filled” reminds us that we are to desire
      God above all else. This is the restatement of the first and greatest
      commandment to love God “with all your heart with all your soul with all
      your mind and with all your strength.”

      The fifth beatitude, Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain
      mercy” speaks clearly of the necessity of the active work of compassion
      in us (this compassion was introduced earlier in the second beatitude).
      When we think of mercy, we think first of forgiveness of wrongs – but
      mercy is not limited to forgiveness alone, but to all the works of mercy
      of both body and soul (feeding, giving drink and clothing those who are
      in need, visiting those in prison and who are sick, hospitality, caring
      for the dead, witnessing to the Truth of the Gospel, comforting the
      grieving, returning good for evil and praying for others, etc.) These
      actions of mercy are the evidence of compassion in action.

      The sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see
      God”, instructs us that it is not only necessary to lead a righteous
      life openly and outwardly, but that our inner life, our thoughts our
      feelings, the depths of our soul, must also be pure. This we accomplish
      through ascetic labor and constant prayer.

      The seventh beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be
      called the children of God” describes for us the nature of our life in
      the community. We are to live ourselves in peace and harmony with others
      and we encourage others to live in peace as well.

      The eighth beatitude, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for
      righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” simply restates
      the words of our Lord which tell us that when we follow Him, we will set
      ourselves against the fallen nature of the world and so the world will
      be against us. Just as God the Son, Who became man and dwelt among us
      was persecuted and even killed by the powers of the world, so also we,
      when we follow Christ will suffer at the hands of those same powers.

      The ninth beatitude, “Blessed are you when men shall revile and
      persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you for my sake.
      Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”
      points out for us that “no man hath greater love than this, than he lay
      down his life for another.” This is expressed openly in the lives of the
      martyrs who gave their lives for Christ’s sake. This is also the
      expectation of us all that we sacrifice our own lives, dying to
      ourselves and to the world, that we might live instead to Christ and be
      filled with His life.

      These beatitudes are the directions by which we are filled with the
      grace of God. They are the directions which lead us into the kingdom of
      heaven and by which we are transformed and made anew in the image and
      likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. They bring us to our salvation to
      live in union and communion with God. Let us follow them with joy and
      eagerness, anticipating the great blessedness of holiness and eternal
      life with Christ for which we were created.

      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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