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August 21, 2015

An Interpretation of the Beatitudes of Christ (8 of 9)

...continued from part seven.

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:10).

In the fourth beatitude Christ blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Here in the eighth beatitude Christ blesses those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Everything in life has value and people depending on their options collect the positives and negatives of each action.

The term "righteousness" is very important in Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. Righteousness is the prevalence of the authority of justice, as well as the prevalence of love, therefore it is "beyond all virtue".

Christ affirms that those who work towards righteousness will be persecuted by people, because societies rely on injustices, they adopt injustices and, despite the apparent legitimacy, injustice prevails. Whoever, therefore, wants righteousness to exist, who will speak of righteousness, and who desire to live according to the will of God, will be persecuted.

Persecution usually takes place in human societies. If someone does not go along with the common standards that exist in society, they are automatically ejected from society and live on the margins. Society itself which is organized with special authorities will persecute people who refuse to comply. Of course, with this we do not mean those cases where people do not want to abide by the laws of a certain nation and are sentenced by the courts, but rather those where people cannot keep certain unwritten laws that have prevailed in societies. In other words, if someone wants to live honorably, without committing illegalities, they are marginalized by the system and isolated.

Such persecutions were endured by the Christians since the first day the Church began to operate as the Body of Christ, that is, from the day of Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John the Evangelist describe these early persecutions of Christians.

Persecution is the basis of the Orthodox Christian preaching. Just as a shadow follows the sun, so does persecution follow the sun of righteousness, Christ. Christ warned His Disciples about this: "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (Jn. 15:20). Ecclesiastical history from the day of Pentecost until today is full of persecutions, martyrdoms, tortures and deaths, showing the authenticity of the ecclesiastical life.

It is natural for Christians to be persecuted for righteousness. Every society is organized either by a religious side or a side of atheism and indifference, or even a side of other deities besides that of Christianity. Many times people do not tolerate diversity, so they turn against Christians. There is also a deeper reason. When people deny false gods or deny the passions that are deified, then they are considered dangers and damaging for those living in atheism, deism, mysticism and idolatry.

The Martyrs accepted the hate of people and suffered persecution. They confessed Christ and suffered martyrdom for Christ. They refused to deny Him and gladly accepted martyrdom. Not only were Martyrs persecuted, however, for confessing their faith, but those who defended the aggrieved and wanted to live a life of virtue were also persecuted. Persecution "for the sake of righteousness" determines when persecution has value and when it doesn't. Because even criminals, thieves and murderers are persecuted, but they are persecuted for unrighteousness and illegality, which are not included in this beatitude.

Those who are persecuted "for the sake of righteousness" are children of God, because God loves the aggrieved, for He Himself was persecuted, defamed and martyred, which is why He rewards them. This is why the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them. The first beatitude that speaks of humility and the eighth beatitude that speaks of persecution for the sake of righteousness both speak of the Kingdom of God as the prize and reward. But all the intermediate beatitudes also speak of the Kingdom of Heaven, just with different expressions. Essentially the Kingdom of Heaven is one, but is received in a variety of ways.

The point is that every action we do has an analogous value, and it is a special blessing from God for one to be persecuted for God and not for their passions, for their Christian life and not their impassioned life, because then the fee is raised. The Martyrs of blood and the Martyrs of choice have great honor and glory in the Church.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.