The Blessed Beatitudes 


Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. (Matthew 5:3-11) 


Scripture scholar Dale Allison offers some insight into understanding the Beatitudes: 

In [Matthew] 5: 3-12 Jesus blesses believers because of what lies in store for them. This explains the future tenses – ‘will be comforted,’ ‘will inherit the earth,’ ‘will be filled,’ ‘will receive mercy.’ We have here not commonsense wisdom born of experience but eschatological promise which foresees the unprecedented: the evils of the present will be undone and the righteous will be confirmed with reward. The first part of each blessing describes the believers’ present, whereas the second half represents ‘anticipated eschatological verdicts’ (Betz):


Present condition — Future condition

poor in spirit — possess kingdom

mourn — obtain comfort

meek — inherit the earth

desire righteousness — obtain satisfaction

merciful — obtain mercy


pure in heart — see God

peacemakers — sons of God

persecuted — possess Kingdom

oppressed — great reward

The right-hand column in its entirety is a picture of the blessed future, which can be summarily characterized as experiencing in its fullness ‘the Kingdom of heaven.’ (THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, p 42)


The Greek word (makarios) is a way of expressing a good fortune which, because it is known, brings joy. ‘Fortunate are the poor in spirit’ would be as accurate a translation as ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ or ‘Happy are the poor in spirit.’ (Dale Allison, THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, p 43) 


The key to mourning is probably to be found in the scriptural allusion. As observed above on page 16, 5:4 draws upon Isaiah 61:2: ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God: to comfort all who mourn.‘ In the Isaiah passage Israel is oppressed at the hands of its heathen captors; its cities are in ruins; its people know shame and dishonor. So God’s own are on the bottom, their enemies on top. Mourning is heard because the righteous suffer, the wicked prosper, and God has not yet righted the situation (cf. Revelation 6:9-11). It is the same in the Sermon on the Mount. The kingdom has not yet fully come. The saints are reviled and persecuted (5:10-12). The meek have not yet inherited the earth (5:5). The righteous still have enemies (5:43-48) who misuse them (5: 38-42). In short, God’s will is not yet done on earth as it is in heaven (6:10), and that can only mean mourning for God’s people. To those who understand the truth about the present age, grief cannot be eliminated. 


 Blessed are the meek‘ ‘contains an indirect summons to active deeds that fulfill the new law of Christ: active dedication to the high goal of meekness, friendliness, and gentleness – deeds that are determined not by anger, brutality, or enmity, but entirely by goodness’….  (Dale Allison, THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, p 47) 

Love Seeks the Lost 


For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:11-14) 


Jesus says He came to seek and save the lost. Those should be comforting words to any who find themselves doubting what is true or if God exists. God is Lord even of the Lost and loves them enough to seek them out. Christ uses the examples of a person losing one sheep out of a hundred or of losing a coin, who goes in search of that lost item as a metaphor for Himself. Archimandrite Aimilianos reflects on how humans at the beginning became lost and how God in His love seeks to restore humanity’s relationship with Him: 


We can say that God’s lament, His tears, and His anxiety over the fate of His missing son [i.e., Adam], are all things which, in a sense, happened before he put this question to Adam. They are events in the life of God that occurred during God’s search for fallen man. With the glorious light of His countenance, God searches the house of paradise for the lost coin, which bears His sovereign image (cf. Luke 15:8), and as He does so He cries out in hope: Adam, where are you? The response God was longing to hear was this: ‘Here I am, Father, waiting for You, because I have sinned; but I know that You are still my Maker and my God.’ But what did Adam say? I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, and so I hid myself. The woman whom You gave to be with me, she deceived me (Genesis 3:10, 12). 


Do you understand what Adam is saying? ‘I am no longer looking for God, but only to justify myself.’ Instead of hearkening to God, Who has called out to him, Adam has turned inward, so that God becomes a frightening, external force: I heard sound of you, and I was afraid. And what is he afraid of? He is afraid of the truth about himself, afraid that God will not accept his self-justifying explanation of what happened. And what explanation was this? That God himself was to blame for what happened! Because that is what Adam meant when he said, ‘the woman whom You gave me, she deceived me, and thus this is all Your fault, God.’ (THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, pp 236-237) 


It is only when humanity cuts itself off from God that it becomes afraid of the Lord, or perhaps as Aimilianos suggests humans become afraid of what is true about us. For the truth is our becoming lost, separated from God is the result of our own thinking and activity and is not God’s fault, though we frequently blame God for our bad relationship with Him. God for His part continues to seek us out and to call us back to Him. 

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant, for I do not forget thy commandments. (Psalm 119:176) 


For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-16) 

Pentecost: The Feast of the Holy Spirit


When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)

St Silouan the Athonite says the Holy Spirit helps us deal with pains and sorrows of life in this fallen world:

‘The Holy Spirit is witness. The Holy Spirit knows, and He instructs us.’

‘But can anyone see the Spirit?’


The Apostles saw the Spirit descending in tongues of fire, and we feel His presence within us, sweeter far than all earthly things. The Prophets tasted Him, and spoke to the people, and the people hearkened unto them. The holy Apostles were filled with the Holy Ghost, and preached salvation to mankind, fearing naught, for the Spirit of God was their strength. When St Andrew was threatened with death upon the cross if he did not cease preaching, he replied:

‘If I feared the cross, I should not be preaching the cross.’


In this manner all the other Apostles, and after them the martyrs and holy men who wrestled against evil, went forward with joy to meet pain and suffering. And all because the Holy Spirit, sweet and gracious, draws the soul to love the Lord, and in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the soul loses her fear of suffering.  (ST SILOUAN THE ATHONITE, pp 355-356)

12801381304_24a5921bfb_nPentecost with Pascha form the two bookends of our salvation. It is not some ‘additional’ event added on to Pascha, rather it is an essential part of what unites us to our God. Salvation consists of both Jesus destroying death through His resurrection and the restoration of the Holy Spirit to all of humanity, making us fully human again. The spiritual over emphasis on repentance and Great Lent can make Pascha seem almost anticlimatic as church members are exhausted by the Lenten services and rejoice cathartically that Lent is finally over. Pentecost in that scenario is a distant after thought. The reality is Pascha-Ascension-Pentecost is one feast of our salvation. Pentecost is every bit as essential to us as is Pascha. One hymn we sing at each Divine Liturgy after receiving the Eucharist is actually a hymn from Pentecost, which gives us a strong sense of the importance of Pentecost for our salvation, for Holy Communion and  for our daily lives as Christians (most hymns of Pascha are sung seasonally, but this Pentecost hymn is sung throughout the year):


We have seen the True Light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us. 

Another hymn from Pentecost reminds us of the essential nature of this Feast for us:

The Holy Spirit is Light and Life, a living Fountain of spiritual gifts, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, all-knowing, upright and good: He leads us and washes away our sins. He is God, and He makes us gods; He is Fire proceeding from Fire, speaking and acting and distributing gifts. Through Him all the Prophets, Martyrs and Apostles of God are crowned. Strange account, strange and wonderful sight: fire is divided for distributing gifts.


The Limits of Scripture 


And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen. (John 21:25)

48987526873_6a49b9b18d_nScripture does not contain all the knowledge humans can acquire. As St John noted in his gospel, even to record all that Jesus did might be impossible. Since the advent of the scientific age and the discovery by Europeans of the New World, humans have been increasing their knowledge of creation, learning countless new things never mentioned in Scripture. Some criticize this knowledge, especially the scientific, as being absent of God. Yet, humans have accomplished many wonderful things in the fields of engineering, inventions, construction, science, health, technology, communications, computing, etc. This same progress has also posed many challenges to humanity and not a few threats. Which may be where a knowledge of God can be important in helping us to create the ethics to guide our use of our inventions. As advances are made in genetics, artificial intelligence and military weapons, we are now more than even in need of moral guidance in what we are inventing.

49333343348_1b40d62bc3_nI think it was Galileo who quipped that the bible teaches us how to get to heaven but not how the heavens go. There is truth in this saying for the Bible is not much of a source of scientific knowledge. I’ve been reading the 4th Century Christian bishop Nemesius’ book, On the Nature of Man. Almost all the ‘science’ that he embraces and quotes comes from sources outside of the Bible, namely from pagan intellectuals like Plato, Aristotle and Galens. If Nemesius is representative of his times (which many think he is), then it is obvious that 1600 years ago the Christians were not looking to the Bible to learn science. They knew that much practical knowledge comes from outside of the Bible, which means from pagan sources. And they didn’t reject that knowledge because of its source.


Scholar Gerhard Ettlinger notes that even great theologians like St Basil understood there were limits to what one can learn from the Bible. Some of the Old Testament applied only to the Jews, and the history in it is more or less a history of the Jews rather than of the world.

[St] Basil … said, Old Testament laws applied only to the Jewish people  . . .  Basil quoted scripture to support his opinion, but at the same time used custom to contradict scripture in order to effect a change. He saw no problem in this, moreover since it was Old Testament practice that he rejected.  (NEW PERSPECTIVES ON HISTORICAL THEOLOGY, pp 166-167)

8487727140_003c17208c_nIn the 4th Century, Christians were still a minority people in the world, and they did not feel threatened by the wisdom and knowledge which one could learn from pagans and non-Christians. And these folk were not friends of Christianity and often opposed the Christians. But truth is truth, and the Patristic writers recognized that truth, even from non-biblical or non-Christian sources, is valuable to help us live in God’s world. They thought of God as being creator of the entire world and of all people, so they surmised that God would give wisdom and knowledge for all people in the world just as God gives rain and sunshine to the good and the wicked. They knew that Scripture has its limits and that one needed to learn things from sources that were not Christian.


A year or two ago, I read an account of a French Catholic priest who was in North America (I forget many of the details like his name and what year he was here, but I think 18th Century). He recorded many conversations he had with the native Americans and unlike most of his European contemporaries, he did not see the native Americans as being childlike, ignorant, unintelligent, unsophisticated or savage. He was impressed by their knowledge and sophisticated reasoning ability. One question they asked him particularly troubled him. The native Americans knew that the Christians believed one God created the entire world. But they were curious as to why if God was omniscient, He made no mention in the Bible of the New World or of the people who inhabited it. They pointed out that they had never heard of this God and God apparently was unaware of them, so He could hardly be the God of everyone and certainly wasn’t all knowing. They questioned why the Bible could not account for where the native Americans came from. What they were pointing out is the limit to Scripture and the knowledge it contains. There is so much more to know about the earth, let alone the entire cosmos, than what the Bible tells us so. What the Bible may offer us is moral guidance in how to deal with the knowledge and wisdom which comes from the world.  Many Church Fathers thought there were two sources of revelation about God – the Scriptures and nature. They are not opposed to each other and in fact are to be used together.


Loving Christ in Us 


“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:24-26) 

St Nicholas Cabasilas comments on our choice to love Christ and be united to Him, which is also a rejection of the false, crumbling kingdom of Satan. Through Christ’s sacrificial love for us, we recognize how valuable we are in God’s eyes, who willingly gave His Son to die for our salvation. 

When we thus greatly love Him we become keepers of his commandments and participants in His purpose, for as He says, ‘he who loves me will keep my commandments‘ (John 14:15, 21). 


Besides, when we recognize how great is our own worth, we shall not readily betray it. We will not endure being slaves to a runaway slave when we have found out that a kingdom is ours. We shall not open our mouth in evil speech when we recollect the sacred banquet and that Blood which has reddened our tongue. How can we use our eyes to look on that which is not seemly when we have enjoyed such awesome Mysteries? We shall not move our feet nor stretch forth our hands to any wicked thing if the recollection of these things is active in our souls. Since they are members of Christ they are sacred, as it were a vial containing his Blood. Nay rather, they are wholly clothed with the Saviour Himself, not like a garment which we wear or the skin with which we are born, but much more, in that this clothing is far more closely united to those who wear it than their very bones. One could amputate our members without our consent, but as for Christ, no one, man or demon, can separate Him from us. As Paul says, ‘neither things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature‘ (Romans 8: 38, 39), however great its power, can separate us from Him.  (THE LIFE IN CHRIST, p 165)


Poets and Pundits 


A few weeks ago there was quite a bit of fuss about a few political pundits who lost their jobs. Personally, I don’t feel sorry for any of them as I tend to see them as both being responsible for the political polarities dividing us and for being enriched by stirring up emotions through their comments – creating heat but no light. While diversity in ideas contributes to helping us see things in new ways and potentially to coming to better solutions to our problems, the pundits are often not interested in democratic discourse or solutions but only in firing up their base and encouraging further division and polarity by being totally one-sided.

Pundits stirring up people’s emotions is not a new thing, though perhaps we use different names for them than the ancients did. Eusebius Pamphilus wrote The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century. In that work he says:

… it is the privilege of poets to lie, since the peculiar province of poetry is to charm the spirits of the hearers, while truth is confined to the strict relation of mere matters of fact. (Kindle Location 2854-2856)


Apparently, the poets of his day were the equivalent of all the cable, internet and social media pundits of today. They are given a freedom of speech to claim, distort, misinform and disinform, partly because we see their comments as entertaining. They make big claims, but as Eusebius notes because of them ‘truth is confined to the strict relation of mere matters of fact.’ Today, however, even mere facts are disputed as everything becomes fodder for the pundits who are willing to trespass boundaries and alter facts to serve any purpose they choose. And yet, people listen to them because they find it entertaining, until some folk unable to discern the truth begin to act upon the disinformation the pundits are pandering. Some find the outrageous claims and comments of these pundits entertaining because it fits their idea of reality even if it doesn’t square with reality itself. St Paul said: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3).


The pundits are not alone, as politicians often both feed them and are fed by them. Long before social media was a thing, American historian Henry Adams (d. 1918), the descendent of two American presidents, wrote:

Politics as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.


Fear and hatred are grist for the political mill. Those emotions prompt people to take an interest in politics, to pay attention to pundits and politicians, and to get out and vote. And because the pundits and the politicians recognize the power of those emotions, they play on them constantly even if it means distorting the truth, ignoring the truth or outright lying. Eusebius in the 4th Century thought it the privilege of poets to lie, but today that privilege is more commonly found among politicians and political commentators. The poets among us are now often telling the truth about people and society.


As Simon and Garfunkel remind us in their song “Sounds of Silence”:

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said:
“The words of the prophets are
Written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.”


One solution to all this might be for Americans to become more discerning in what they choose to read, listen to or believe. Turn off the pundits and let them blather to themselves. And we all might benefit from two pieces of wisdom: Don’t believe everything you think. The strength of your convictions doesn’t determine the truth of your cause. And one more bit of wisdom I’ve seen on signs recently: Turn off the media and love your neighbor.

Sorrow Turned Into Joy 


Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (John 16:20-22)


Jesus did not hide from us that we would experience sorrow in this world. He also gave us hope in saying that He has overcome the world (John 16:33) and so our sorrow will not last forever (even though we sometimes fear it might). Not only is sorrow a temporary condition, but we will then have a joy which cannot be taken away from us. The sorrow we experience will also be pregnant with hope, just like the woman in labor. Sorrow is temporary, joy is eternal.

Dn John Chryssavgis comments on a sorrow Christ tells us we will experience in this world, and the purpose it serves in helping us to hope, to look forward, to anticipate what God is accomplishing for our salvation.


The silence of tears reflects our surrender to God and to new patterns of learning and living. Through weeping, we learn by suffering and undergoing, not just by speculating and understanding. The connection between tears and silence is important in this context. Tears are another way, a tangible way of addressing our pain and our panic. They are another, a passionate way of knowing our passions. They are the articulation of our grief, the wording of our desire. The greater our love, the greater the corresponding sense of grief. It is the depth of our love that determines the intensity of our weeping. Through tears, we give up our infantile images of God and give in to our living image of God. We confess our personal powerlessness and profess divine powerfulness. Tears confirm our readiness to allow our life to fall apart in the dark night of the soul, and our willingness to assume new life in the resurrection of the dead.  (IN THE HEART OF THE DESERT, p 49)


Through our sorrows we spiritually grow in order to come to a mature faith, to understand God and not be deceived by the temporary pleasures of this life which all are passing away and will not be part of eternity.

However, then even our sorrow will pass away as we enter into the joy of our Lord. Fr Alexander Schmemann, a herald of Christian joy, proclaims:


The source of false religion is the inability to rejoice, or, rather, the refusal of joy, whereas joy is absolutely essential because it is without any doubt the fruit of God’s presence. One cannot know that God exists and not rejoice. Only in relation to joy are the fear of God and humility correct, genuine, fruitful. Outside of joy, they become demonic, the deepest distortion of any religious experience. A religion of fear. Religion of pseudo-humility. Religion of guilt: they are all temptations, traps – very strong indeed, not only in the world, but inside the Church. Somehow ‘religious’ people often look on joy with suspicion.


The first, the main source of everything is ‘my soul rejoices in the Lord…’ The fear of sin does not save from sin. Joy in the Lord saves. A feeling of guilt or moralism does not liberate from the world and its temptations. Joy is the foundation of freedom, where we are called to stand. Where, how, when has this tonality of Christianity become distorted, dull – or rather, where, how, why have Christians become deaf to joy? How, when and why, instead of freeing suffering people, did the church come to sadistically intimidate and frighten them?  (THE JOURNALS OF FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN 1973-1983, p 129)

It is when the Archangel Gabriel pronounces the word “Rejoice” to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:28) that God becomes incarnate in her. Our salvation is linked to the word, “Rejoice.”


The angel cried to the Lady Full of Grace: Rejoice, O Pure Virgin! Again I say: Rejoice! Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb! With Himself He has raised all the dead! Rejoice, all you people! (Canon of Pascha)

Picturing Psalm 104 (E)

Previous: Picturing Psalm 104 (D)


When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.

When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.


May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works—

who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.

Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.

Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Praise the LORD!


You can see all my photos at Ted’s Flickr page. Just click on any small icon to open the album.

Laying Down One’s Life in Love 


This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

The Apostle John in both his Gospel and his epistles tells us that Jesus in love laid down His life for us, His friends, and He also taught us we ought to have this same love for one another. To be clear, we are to be willing to “lay down” our lives for others, which means to sacrifice our self. It doesn’t at all mean that we should be willing to kill others for our friends. Jesus didn’t offer that as one of His teachings. His idea of love is even more demanding in that it doesn’t promote self-defense and certainly does not favor self-preservation. It speaks only of sacrificing one’s self for the good of others. It is a call to martyrdom, to be willing to do for others what Christ did for us.


The Fathers, as I’ve noted before, do not always present a black vs white idea regarding virtues or ethics (see my post Keeping Christ’s Commandment to Love). They often present that one can incrementally keep the Gospel or practice love. For them, the perfect is often the enemy of the good. For example, in the desert fathers we encounter the following thought on laying down one’s life for one’s friends:

“Beginners in the desert had to learn to be humble, that is, to abandon the heroic image of the self and learn to believe that all human beings, themselves included, were weak and vulnerable. They needed to learn instead to take up appropriate tasks, and appropriate tasks for weak and vulnerable human beings are ones that can actually be performed. They had to learn to accept it as true that all tasks contribute to the final goal, and the small ones are often of infinite significance. Someone asked Abba Poemen what it means to lay down your life for your neighbor: 


Abba Poemen answered, 

… When a [person] hears a complaining word and struggles against himself [or herself], and does not … begin to complain; When a [person] bears an injury with patience, and does not look for revenge; that is when a [person] lays down his [or her] life for his [or her] neighbor. 

How much easier it is to daydream about the dramatic acts of love and self-sacrifice I or the church might make to prove our love of God and neighbor! But the temptation to regard such small actions is unimportant while there are so many serious social problems in the world is the temptation to understand the Christian life only in heroic proportions.”  (Roberta Bondi, TO LOVE AS GOD LOVES, p 47)


We often make the mistake which Naaman the Syrian commander made (2 Kings 5:9-14), thinking that godly things must be great, earth-shaking events, and not common, mundane type things. Naaman would have been willing to go to war, conquer an enemy, capture a city, but to be told that all he had to do was wash in the puny stream called the Jordan was beneath his dignity. His servants however wisely prevailed upon him to do what the Prophet Elisha told him. Naaman did so and was cured of his leprosy. So too, in the above quote, St Poemen points out there are many ways to die to the self in order to love one’s friends including simply not complaining to others or joining in when others are criticizing and complaining. Or by not seeking revenge when one has been harmed in some way, this too is dying to oneself and not inflicting one’s anger on others.


To die to oneself, or within oneself, is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends as one chooses not to inflict on others the pain one feels in one’s heart. It is not as radical as physically dying for others, but it does fulfill at least in part the Gospel teaching. Often when we deny the self, we die to our self. It is another way to lay down our lives for the good of those around us. [As always, I want to say this self-denial for the good of others works when one is in healthy relationships with others. It isn’t sound when we are in dysfunctional or abusive relationships. And self-denial is righteous only when we freely deny the self, not when we are being abused by others and have no choice or say in what happens to us.]

The Inconvenient Christ 


St Paul says in Acts 20:35-36 :

I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.  

In the Acts of the Apostles, St Paul attributes a saying to Jesus that is not recorded by the four Gospel writers. This should not be a surprise in that the evangelists don’t claim to have recorded everything Jesus said or did (John 20:30-31; John 21:25). Since Paul was not one of the original disciples, he learned this saying from someone, but his source is lost to us. This saying, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ is certainly consistent with other teachings of the Lord Jesus. Christians are taught by Christ to be generous and giving people. This is also obvious in the writings of Christians through the centuries. Christ both taught and exemplified the behavior He expected from His followers. Below are two thoughts from the sayings of the desert fathers, regarding basic Christian morality. The first is directed to monks but has application for every believer:


An elder said: Here is the monk’s life work, obedience, meditation, not judging others, not reviling, not complaining. For it is written: You who love the Lord, hate evil. So this is the monk’s life – not to walk in agreement with an unjust man, nor to look with his eyes upon evil, nor to go about being curious, and neither to examine nor to listen to the business of others. Not to take anything with his hands but rather to give to others…


[Christians are to be givers rather than takers as they relate to each other and to the poor. This idea is also found in the Old Testament: “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be’ (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

Always being generous has other implications which consumerist and capitalist Christians may find more troubling:]

Abbott Agatho frequently admonished his disciple, saying: Never acquire for yourself anything that you might hesitate to give to your brother if he asked you for it, for thus you would be found a transgressor of God’s command. If anyone asks, give to him, and if anyone wants to borrow from you, do not turn away from him.  (Thomas Merton, THE WISDOM OF THE DESERT, pp 28, 60)


That is a challenging aphorism: never possess any thing that you would be reluctant to give to a fellow Christian should they ask you for it. Two sayings of Jesus that modern consumerist Christians might not want to know:

Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)

Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. (Luke 6:30)

Neither Jesus nor the apostles thought that the goal in life was to accumulate as much stuff as possible. Rather, they understood God blesses us with the world’s goods so that we can share with those in need.

But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)