Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Blessed are they that mourn, . . . Blessed are the meek, . . . Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, . . . Blessed are the merciful, . . . Blessed are the pure in heart, . . . Blessed are the peacemakers, . . . Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.  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; . . . .’

The Beatitudes – the “blesseds” – form a core part of every Divine Liturgy.  We stand before them as before a mirror, and we are compelled to ask ourselves whether or not we believe the words of our Lord and whether or not we see ourselves in them?  Or, better, do we see them in us?  Have we ever taken the time to ponder these words spoken by our Lord to His Disciples, words meant not only for their ears but for ours as well?  It is one thing for us to exegete these words, to study them and understand their content.  It is quite another to be found in them, to allow them to form us into their prescribed reality.  Hence, I stand before you as the preacher of this Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, not as the expert who has mastered the divine reality they point us to, but as a sojourner and fellow traveler with you into the Kingdom promised by our Lord to all those who persevere in the obedience of faith.  The depths and the height and the breath to which the Beatitudes beckon us far exceeds the abilities of this poor sinner, but they do not exceed the ability of God to work in us “to will and to do for His good pleasure,” a divine and holy work we are assured that will be ongoing in us “until the Day of Jesus Christ,” that is, “until Christ is formed in us,” which is the goal of salvation (Ga. 4:19; Pp. 1:6; 2:12-13).  

For, if we look intently into these “blesseds” of the Kingdom of God, we will see – we have to see – Christ God Who embodies each and every one perfectly.  In some ways, each of the Beatitudes is like a piece of a puzzle that forms a whole image.  Our Lord intends that each be found in us so that none of these Beatitudes or virtues is missing (Sts. Barsanuphius and John).  Thus, by the grace of God, permitting us to “grow up into Jesus Christ,” to “come to the unity of the Faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; [so] that we should no longer be children, . . . .” (Ep. 4:13-16).  Only then will we be a “new man . . . created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ep. 4:24; Co. 3:10).  In these Beatitudes we see, as an icon, what God sees and calls us to become in Christ, “to be conformed to the image of the Son [of God]” (Rm. 8:29).

The Sermon on the Mount as a whole are words of Wisdom, coming from the very lips of God the Word Himself, the Power and the Wisdom of God (1 Cr. 1:24), thus confirming for us that a “’man shall not – and cannot – live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Dt. 8:3; Mt. 4:4).  “’Lord, to whom shall we go?,’” Peter once asked our Lord after hearing some hard words that caused others to abandon Jesus, “’Thou hast the words of Eternal Life, . . .’” (Jn. 6:68).  Sacred Scripture clearly teaches us that the soul that listens to Wisdom and heeds Wisdom’s ways is indeed blessed (Pr. 8:32, 34; Mt. 7:24-27).     

But, of course, all of this begs the question, What does it mean to be blessed?  We all may have some vague notion of what a blessed soul looks like.  We certainly are quite familiar with the terminology, maybe even to the point of over familiarity.  It certainly is a rich and fertile religious word, if not concept.  It’s used extensively in Sacred Scripture in one form or fashion.  But, Jesus says here quite plainly that the poor in spirit, the merciful, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted, etc. are all blessed despite the seemingly contradictory evidence.  One thing we know is that what God deems to be blessed, the world does not.  The Beatitudes make that pretty clear.  Where else can one suffer humiliation and degradation and be declared “’blessed’”?  Generally, those two things don’t go together with the understanding of blessed. 

Some translators of the Bible have opted to use the word “happy” to translate the Greek word and to convey what blessed is driving at.  But, somehow, for me, that idea of happy doesn’t quite capture the catholicity of the notion of blessed, especially in our culture that is ever seeking to be happy and not finding it.  Happiness or being happy, so it seems, is an emotionally laden word, though admittedly being happy and happiness is part and parcel with being blessed.  It is an aspect of blessedness, but not the sum total of it.  For me, blessed is all about God.  For God is alone blessed and the soul that has God is truly blessed.  In our culture, happiness and its pursuit is skin deep whereas in Sacred Scripture, the happiness conveyed by blessed goes way deeper.  There is a sense of exuberance, of a luxuriousness, of a deep and abiding contentment or satisfaction rooted in God and overflowing with faith, hope, and love, of having peace or being at peace in the midst of turmoil, of possessing a sense of being at one with God, with others, and with self, of finding God’s power in the midst of our weakness (2 Cr. 12:7-10).  For me, then, the aroma of blessed carries with it a deeper, richer, full bodied and robust flavor.  There is a sense of fertility, of the drippings of fat imaged in the Bible that even the poor can experience (Lk. 6:20). 

Happiness and those who are happy can find it in a multitude of ways, but none of them necessarily must include God.  To be blessed, however, is to be full of God.  It flows from God and connotes divine favor and outpouring, of God turning His countenance toward us, so that the soul that has the Lord “shall not want” or “lack anything,” even in the desert or in the wilderness (Nm. 6:22-27; Ps. 22 [23]:1; 33 [34]:10).  This is why our Lord can say, if you are humble, you are blessed; if you are persecuted for His sake, you are blessed; if you mourn for your sins and the sins of others, you are blessed; if you return evil with mercy, you are blessed; if you are clean of heart, you are blessed; if you seek to be at peace with those who have no interest in peace, you are blessed.  The Beatitudes are the foundation upon which the rest of the Sermon on the Mount hangs together and is built, just like the very first psalm in the Psalter sets the tone for the entire Psalter:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor takes the way of the sinful, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  But his will is in the Law of the Lord and in His Law he will meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree whose fruit comes forth in its season and whose leaf shall not wither, and whatever he does shall flourish (Ps. 1:1-3; Jr. 17:7-8).

As the Fathers thought, the Beatitudes are like a ladder to Heaven with each Beatitude building on the one before it and encompassing it, with the very first being absolutely foundational: “’Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’”  Without humility, it all comes crashing down like an ill-conceived skyscraper because God gives His grace to the humble, especially as we can see in the Most Blessed and Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary who was the living epitome of the Beatitudes and the Ladder to Heaven (Pr. 3:34; Lk. 1:26-38, 46-55; Jm. 4:6; 1 Pe. 5:5-7). 

Beloved, the Evangelist specifically notes that our Lord went up onto the mountain.  He does so in order to lead us to God, where God might be found on His holy mountain – in His Church called Mt. Zion – to teach us His ways that we might walk therein (Is. 2:3).  To be blessed, beloved, we must follow Him, where He may be found, leave the confines of this world behind, and lay aside all earthly cares, all worldly endeavors and concerns and pursuits (Co. 3:1-2; Cherubicon).  As our Lord has further taught us in this Sermon, if we seek God and His Kingdom first and foremost, turning neither to the right nor to the left, all these things shall be added unto us (Mt. 6:33).  For “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him” (Ps. 2:12).         

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.  Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!


Hb. 11:33-12:2

Mt. 4:25-5:12