Orthodox America


  A Guide to Confession


PART XIII

The Eighth Beatitude:  Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:10)

By righteousness is understood here the Christian faith and a life according to Christ's commandments. It means that blessed are they who are persecuted for faith and devotion to God, for their good deeds, for being resolute and unwavering in the faith.

       True faith, piety, righteousness---these have a very beneficial effect on people, bringing, as they do, to society unity, mutual love, good morals, peace, tranquility and order. Why, then, does the world persecute those who strive after righteousness? Because the world lies in evil, and people loved evil more than righteousness (Ps. 51:5).

       In His Sermon on the Mount, the Saviour indicated two paths of life: the wide (broad) and the narrow (strait). The wide path leads to destruction, and many go this way, while the narrow path leads to life, i.e., salvation (Matt. 7:13-14). The narrow way (the "strait gates") requires that we struggle, that we engage in a constant spiritual warfare with sin and with all other obstacles on this path. Our flesh rebels against this path; our nature, which is marred by ancestral sin, finds the case for purity of body and soul to be irksome. The enemy of the human race rebels against it; he abhors the care people take for their salvation. People around them rebel, those who feel convicted by the good life of believers.

      All of this opposition, especially on the part of people who are ill-disposed toward believers, is directed towards God's righteousness itself. Evil, corrupt people have always despised the righteous and persecuted them, and they will continue to despise and persecute them. History recalls many of these persecutors. The first was Cain, who murdered Abel on account of his righteousness. The bad-tempered Esau persecuted his meek brother Jacob. Isaac's children persecuted their brother Joseph and sold him into Egypt, so that he would no longer be a thorn in their side. The ill-fated Saul, until his dying breath persecuted the meek David. The Jews persecuted and stoned their prophets, who reproached them for their iniquitous life, and, finally, they persecuted and killed the supremely Righteous One, the Fulfiller of the law of the prophets, the Sun of Righteousness, our Lord Jesus Christ. After the Saviour's Ascension, there came a prolonged period of frightful persecution of the followers of Christ. And all these persecutions arose because of "righteousness' sake". Not for righteousness in general--in our daily life, at work, in society--but for that righteonsness which is most essential to man, that is, Christ's righteousness.

      Only this righteousness satisfies the fundamental demands of the human spirit, it alone helps to properly resolve all other demands of human life: family-related, work-related and social.

      Persecution for righteousness is expressed in many different forms. From unimaginable, bestial tortures, inflicted upon the martyrs of the first centuries for confessing Christ; to the ridicule, condemnation, insults, and scorn of the faithful as ones who are "backward," not modem, even harmful. At the root of this animosity lies a misanthropic dislike, not only for people but, as we have already said, for the very Righteousness of God.

      What does this beatitude require of us? Love for Righteousness or Truth. Do we have sufficient love for God's Righteousness? for our Christian faith? for a life in accordance with Christ's commandments? No! Lord forgive us, sinners!

    If we truly loved Godís Righteousness, our Christian faith and a life following Christ's commandments, we would value every minute of our lives, we would use every moment in studying the law of God, in prayer, in the practice of virtues, in uprooting the had inclinations of our nature,

       But we have lost ourselves in love for the world and "all that lies therein." To such an extent, that the only way we are distinguished from unbelievers is in going to church and in fulfilling--with strained effort--some church rules and external rites. Or in some exotic manner of dress--all in black, perhaps, with your head wound up until only the tip of your nose is visible, and a prayer rope around your wrist. All these do not correspond to your calling and are therefore absurd, only drawing attention to yourself and making unbelievers smirk. And you thought you were pleasing God by your external appearance? Repent! The scribes and Pharisees like to stand out from other popl by what they thought to be a pious manner of dress. And what did the Lord say to them? Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess (Matt. 2_3:25). Lord, forgive us sinners, for this!

       It may be that some of you have neglected to nurture in your children pious feelings, a love for God's temple, faith in the Mysteries of the Church. Only later, you demanded that your son or daughter attend the services, receive Holy Communion, marry in the Church. And, in order to satisfy your nagging demands, they approached the Mysteries without faith, perhaps even scoffing at them inwardly, while you rejoiced at this show of their "turning to faith." Repent to the Lord, for you are at fault for this insult to what is sacred.

       Lord, forgive us sinners, who so senselessly try to correct the errors of many years of our careless life, when we did not even think about God and did not instill in our children any religious feelings.

      It may be that some of you have entertained doubts in the teachings of the Church, to which you belong by baptism. Perhaps you have taken an interest in sectarians and those "independents" who have left the Church and thereby torn the robe of Christ. Or perhaps you have caused others to have doubts with your criticisms and judgments, which are in fact far from the Truth, because one has to know, and experience and understand a great deal in order to have the right not only to judge but even to deliberate church matters.

      Lord, forgive us sinners, who have lost all fear, and have gone so far in our brazenness as to dare to pass judgment on the Church.

      Lord, we are virtually all illiterate or semiliterate in matters of church doctrine, church rules, and the church typicon. We do not answer to the Lord for anything apart from our own salvation, nor do we have the least moral right, and yet we have fallen into the habit of constantly judging members of the clergy -- even hierarchs. Repent!

      Foolish children. Because of their position in the Church as ones who are shepherded, and because of their lack of spiritual knowledge, they have not the slightest understanding of the depth of difficulty and the tremendous responsibility before God of those to whom the Lord says, Tend My sheep.' It is our sacred duty to help them by our prayers and with all our hearts, and not to throw at them stones of judgment. As it is, there are already many people who want to "eliminate" the servants of Christ's Church, and who have taken up "stones" against them.

Lord, forgive us, sinners! 

(To be continued)

 Translated fro Opit posroyenie isgovedi, Sviato-Uspenkovo


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