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Stephanie Kon
July 9, 2009
Diocesan Oratory Competition

Our contemporary culture is focused on immediate gratification. “Just Do It” “Obey Your Thirst” “VISA--It’s everywhere you want to be.” It is a culture centered on the idea that you only have one life to live so you better make the most of it. But making the most of life in our modern world means making the most money, getting the best job, car, or house, and indulging in the pleasures of this world. Nobody wants to suffer; if you don’t like something, why do it? If it’s going to cause you pain or hardship, is it really worth it?

But if life is all about pleasure, why are so many people unhappy? The problem with immediate gratification is that it is temporary gratification. The only permanent gratification is in Christ. But following Christ means denying our urge for immediate gratification and acknowledging that this life is not our end goal. We were created for beatitude, for “…true, full, and everlasting [dwelling]…in Heaven where the all-blessed God dwells in unapproachable light, where dwells the company of the Forefathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Hierarchs, Martyrs, Monastics, Righteous, and all the Saints…”(Kronstadt 20) but as St. John of Kronstadt points out in his first homily on the Beatitudes, “…we want and seek beatitude on earth, where it cannot be found, and not in heaven, where it abides unto the ages” (19).

So how can Orthodox Christians fully live the beatitudes in our current times? We must be prepared to live counter-culturally, to fight against the ideas of our “dismal and despairing” times, and most importantly to keep God at the center of our lives and the remembrance of Him always in our hearts, minds, and souls. Following Christ is a narrow and difficult path because the commands that Christ gives us to help us achieve beatitude go against everything that our modern world emphasizes, celebrates, and values. 

Our culture embraces the idea that “it’s all about me.” We are encouraged to have pride in ourselves and our own abilities. We are pushed to be independent, and to always be trying to get ahead, no matter what the cost to others. Christ , however, proclaims: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. To be poor in spirit, we need to recognize our inability to do anything alone; we are in desperate need of God’s love, guidance, forgiveness and mercy. Only when we acknowledge our sinfulness, quit trying to do everything on our own and allow God to guide our lives will we attain true humility. When we are able to humble ourselves like this, we will then begin to mourn over our sinful state.

But who wants to be sad? We have countless medications to solve this. You only get one life to live so you better enjoy it. As Christians, however, we know that this life is just a fleeting moment, nothing in comparison to eternity. If we want to spend eternity in Heaven, to live in eternal beatitude, we need to acknowledge and weep over our sins now so that we can truly repent of them and receive forgiveness. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  We too recognize that we only have one life to live and that it is a fleeting one, but rather than enjoy all the pleasures of it while we still have time, we must use the time to repent of our sinfulness and follow the ways of Christ. When we do this, we begin to become meek.

St. John of Kronstadt explains that “meekness is a calm disposition of the soul” (43). But how can we have peace and calm living in our world today? Our culture values industry, productivity, and effectiveness. It values peace only in terms of its health benefits. We hear all the time how stress causes wrinkles, frown lines, premature aging, grey hair, heart attacks, anxiety, etc. and so people go to therapy and yoga and take all kinds of medication to try and reduce stress and anxiety. But true peace comes from within; as mentioned earlier, it is a “calm disposition of the soul.” So while we cannot always eliminate all the busyness in our lives, we can learn to have inner peace in the midst of all the world’s confusion—to stay centered, prayerful, and focused on Christ despite what confusion and fear, what trials, tribulations, or temptations come our way. It is only in this state of peace and dispassion that we can focus on hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

We all know what it means to satisfy our earthly needs, so why not focus on the Heavenly ones? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. As we realize our sinfulness, weep over it, and acquire a spirit of peace, we begin to desire righteousness. So what does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness? People who hunger and thirst after righteousness, as St. John of Kronstadt illustrates, are those who “feeling themselves to be the greatest of sinners, repent sincerely and resolve firmly to improve” (58). See how each of these beatitudes are connected to each other and build on each other. We must acknowledge our sins, weep over them, but the last part, the hungering and thirsting after righteousness, means “resolving firmly to improve.” But as we desire righteousness, we also recognize our ultimate need for God’s mercy.

A popular teen movie carries the slogan “Don’t get mad, get even.” Our culture certainly does not value or encourage people to forgive, to turn the other cheek, or to love their enemies. But as Christians, we are called to this. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Those who acknowledge, repent of, and turn from their sins, eagerly desiring to do better and for God’s justification, need mercy. But to obtain mercy we need to show mercy. St. John of Kronstadt explains, “For a fleeting mercy you will receive eternal mercy”(59).  But what does it actually mean to show mercy? St. John of Kronstadt clarifies that there are both physical and spiritual ways of showing mercy which include: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and in prison, converting sinners, instructing the ignorant, giving good advice, praying to God for everyone, consoling the sorrowing, not seeking revenge and forgetting wrongdoing (61-63). But how many of us are justified only doing the last two? How many of us feel satisfied that we did not seek revenge or “give someone what they deserved”? For us as Christians, however, mercy is not only not showing judgment; it is also about showing kindness, compassion, and love to those around us. To be merciful we need to be pure in heart.

Purity in our world today is often associated with being too naïve or innocent, being inexperienced, or being sheltered, but our Lord said: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Purity is difficult to obtain because we live in a world of impurity and we are bombarded by a vast array of media every day that has anything but purity as its focus. We were created in the image and likeness of God but impurity came in through the fall and is kept alive in this world by the devil and his followers. So how do we obtain purity of heart? By focusing on God rather than on the world and by looking to the lives and teachings of Him and His saints. St. John of Kronstadt explains that purity of heart is attained only by frequent tears, constant inner prayer, repentance, and Communion. With purity of heart comes inner peace, and that peace impacts those around us.

How many times have we said or heard someone say. “It’s not my fault”? We live in a world where our first response is to blame someone else, and are always claiming that if that person hadn’t provoked us, this or that would never have happened. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. St. John of Kronstradt explains that in order to be a peacemaker, “..we must not allow passions to disturb us, but instead must repel the onslaught of passions at their first appearance, and keep ourselves in a peaceful disposition” (81). For many of us, being a peacemaker is about solving our own conflicts with others or conflicts between others. St. John makes clear, however, that being a peacemaker is first and foremost an inner task. He illustrates how fights and struggles come from our inner passions. In order to be a peacemaker we need to guard our hearts and our responses to things, not try and fix other people. And as St. John of Kronstadt concludes, “The Lord calls peacemakers children of God precisely because people who bring such calm to human society become emulators of the true God” (84).

Blessed are those who 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. For what will we be persecuted? For the exact things that our Lord calls us to in the beatitudes: for righteousness, peace, humility, faith, piety, and good deeds. Today’s persecution is often not physical but instead takes the form of “disbelief…liberalism…freethinking, sloppiness with regard to different religions… slander”(94). So why do people persecute the good and pious? Because the world is fallen and full of wickedness, and the devil hates righteousness because it exposes wickedness. As St. John of Kronstadt further explicates, “Nowadays pious people are called hypocrites, slaves to routine, ignorant, narrow-minded people. The Christian faith is called the faith of the common people; Christian compassion is weakness or nervous irritability; charity is stupid squandering; public prayer is hypocrisy; joy and delight in prayer are idiocy, practically insanity” (94). This is the world we live in and this is why we must actively live counter-culturally. We need Christ’s beatitudes to fight against the disbelief, liberalism, and freethinking of our time. We need his commands to keep us on the narrow path in the midst of a “dismal and despairing world.” Most importantly, we need these steps in order to achieve eternal beatitude.

So to conclude, I would like to hearken back to the slogans I began with: Don’t just do it; fight against the prevailing liberalism and desire for immediate gratification so prevalent in our times. Stop trying to do your own will in your own way. Obey Christ’s commands because eternity with Him is exactly where you want to be.

Works Cited
Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes by St. John of Kronstadt. Cornerstone Editions: Albany, 2003.

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