August 10, 2015

An Interpretation of the Beatitudes of Christ (1 of 9)

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3).

In this year's summer homilies we will interpret the eight Beatitudes, which Christ said at the beginning of His activities, in the region of Galilee, on the renowned Mount of Beatitudes, according to Matthew the Evangelist.

This sermon of Christ reminds us of when the Prophet Moses went up Mount Sinai at God's command, and there encountered the pre-incarnate Word in the darkness, from Whom he received the commandments, enabling the Israelite people to distinguish truth from falsehood, God from the devil, the path towards truth from the path towards error.

In the Old Testament the pre-incarnate Word gave the Ten Commandments, because people had been led astray by the devil in Paradise, falling out of communion with God, plunging into deep darkness, and this is why the written law was needed, so that people could come to know the will of God. Now, in the New Testament, the incarnate Word gives the perfect law, not to replace the old Law of Moses, but to supplement it and fulfill it. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes, in which Christ shows us the path towards deification and sanctification.

There are nine phrases that begin with the word "blessed", but the last two have a uniform meaning, so that, according to interpreters, there are in fact eight Beatitudes of Christ.

The word "blessed" can be interpreted as "happy", but not happiness as a material or biological state. According to the Fathers of the Church, blessedness is the source of goodness, of unspeakable and incomprehensible good things, the true Light.

When Christ praises someone, it means He establishes them as a model of life. And in fact He tells us to imitate them and be like them. Thus, the Beatitudes of Christ are not optional propositions, but commands. That is, when Christ says "blessed", it means that we should apply that thing which is praised as being blessed.

In the first beatitude, poverty of spirit is praised. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," or blessed are those who feel their spiritual poverty, who sense they are poor before God. Essentially, blessed are those who are humble in soul. With the word "spirit" is meant "soul". Also, the result of this state of being is determined, which is the participation in the kingdom of heaven. In this beatitude we observe, therefore, two specific points: First, that the "poor in spirit" are proclaimed blessed, and second those who have this gift possess the kingdom of heaven.

The "poor in spirit" are the humble and broken in soul, because they feel their spiritual poverty. They see themselves as not having what God wants for His creation. "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works" (Eph. 2:10). We were created to live in the Light, to live according to God, to have spoken communication with God, to converse with Him as a friend does with another friend, just as Moses spoke with God atop Mount Sinai. When we sense that we were created for another state and know with the darkening of our nous we don't have communion with God and thus are spiritually poor, then the beatitude of Christ begins to operate in our hearts.

This in actuality is true humility, not just humble formalities and humble words, but the sense that we are far from our true destination, from God. This sense creates brokenness in the soul, which is why, when Christ says, "blessed are the poor in spirit," in reality its as if He is saying: "Blessed are the broken in soul."

By placing this beatitude first, Christ wants to correct us spiritually, because Adam fell due to pride, due to a feeling of self-sufficiency and arrogance which removes us from a divine life.

It is important to know that those who feel their spiritual poverty by the energy of divine Grace - just as we feel our face unclean when light shines on it -  have within themselves the kingdom of heaven. In Holy Scripture, the kingdom of heaven is the communion of man with God, with the Light of divine life. Thus, with our spiritual humility the kingdom of God begins to operate within us.

The first beatitude of Christ is the basis of the spiritual life, and from it comes all spiritual good things. The self-sufficiency observed in many Christians is an example of the darkening of the nous and pride, proof that one has not begun to live spiritually. While the sense of spiritual poverty, humility, is the beginning of the spiritual life.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.