Blessed Are You When Men Shall Revile You and Persecute You and Say All Manner of Evil Against You Falsely, For My Sake. Rejoice and Be Exceeding Glad, For Great is Your Reward in Heaven
March 30, 2014
Our Lord’s words are “powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,” for the Word and Son of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). He knows that listeners to His voice desire more than to marvel at the blessed poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and peacemakers. They want to become what they admire and the Lord already begins to accomplish that transformation by shifting from speaking about them in the third person to speaking to you in the second and to the blessedness that is yours if you follow Him, swimming upstream in rapids cascading down in the direction of vice, and in the process you find that others revile you, others persecute you, and others slander you for the Lord’s sake, and yet you rejoice and are exceedingly glad!
Feeling persecuted, reviled, and slandered in a dark and dangerous world where no one can be trusted is not a healthy state when considered apart from Christ. In fact, it could serve as an apt description of a paranoid personality disorder. Those suffering with such a disorder fear that they are not capable of handling threatening situations on their own and believe that trust cannot be given to anyone. They have very little self-efficacy and ill-boding over many things. Not so, for the Christian Christ calls us to become. Christians who face reviling and persecution for His sake also are able, like Saint Paul, to confess: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phillipians 4:13), for “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). They trust in the Lord with all their heart and become “like Mount Zion, which cannot be removed but abideth forever” (Psalm 125:1). And if a limited range of choices and narrowed freedom of inner movement characterize those who suffer from psychopathology, those who are persecuted for righteousness on the contrary feel more freedom, as Saint Athanasius observes when he writes, “the more the enemies hem us in, let us be all the more at liberty; although they revile us, let us come together” ( Letter 11).
No stranger to persecution and revilement himself, Saint Nikolai of Zicha wrote these words to a suffering woman, “According to Christ’s teaching—blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake—those who are put to shame and slandered for Christ’s sake will rejoice and be glad in the homeland of angels, along with these people, happy are those who trust their Savior for they shall be saved, those who burn with love toward the Creator and His creatures, for they will be crowned with unfading glory, those who sacrifice their earthly life, for they shall obtain life in heaven. This is the true and unceasing happiness which our Lord has revealed and declared to mankind. For this kind of happiness, kings have sacrificed their crowns, the rich men their riches, martyrs their lives—as easily as the trees cast away their leaves in the fall” (Letter 89 “To An Unfortunate Woman Who Asks, ‘Why Does the Gospel Not Talk About Happiness?”).
How do Christians manage such heroic and free acts with the ease of trees shedding their leaves? How can they rejoice and be glad in situations that would leave most people, even the most psychologically healthy, with only the most negative options from among which to choose, such as shuddering at such situations, being afraid, becoming angry, or becoming despondent? The answer is that they have become like Christ, the sole purpose of the Beatitudes and incarnation of God the Word. They “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) and look at the world in a radically different way through the Light of God that illumines and warms all of creation. Saint John Chrysostom in his second Eutropian homily— delivered after Eutropius had fled authorities and left the sanctuary offered by the Church—said to the Christians present, “I saw the swords and I meditated on Heaven; I expected death, and I thought about the resurrection; I beheld the sufferings of this lower world, and I took account of the heavenly prizes; I observed the devices of the enemy, and I meditated on the heavenly crown: for the occasion of the contest was sufficient for encouragement and consolation. True, I was being forcibly dragged away, but I suffered no insult from the act; for there is only one real insult, namely sin: and should the whole world insult you, yet if you do not insult yourself you are not insulted. The only real betrayal is the betrayal of the conscience: do not betray your own conscience, and no one can betray you.”
Christians always have an additional option. They can always rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because they can always turn their minds from earth to heaven, from death to life, from man to God. This is the secret of the martyrs and of all Christians truly worthy of that most honorable and majestic name. Again, Saint Nicholai of Zycha in his Prayers by the Lake, once wrote, “When your mortal brothers hear about your sufferings they consider them unbelievable and unbearable, for they can really imagine themselves only in your suffering and not in your love, in the meaning of your sufferings. Oh, if they could only imagine themselves in your love also! All your sufferings would seem like nothing to them, just as they seemed to you. Just as the cold rain and the howling of the wind seem like nothing to a mother as she hurries home to her child. To one who has a goal greater than the world, the world can do nothing. One who hurries to a home wider than space, space cannot contain. One who has a love more precious than temporal creations, can neither be impeded nor trampled by time. Across all rugged terrain and through all stormy tempests Love leads His beloved ones and draws them to Himself.” And so, it should come as no surprise at all that “they rejoice and are exceedingly glad, for great is their reward in heaven,” a reward they already experience in the depths of their humble, meek, merciful, pure, and peaceful hearts that have become living tabernacles of the Son of God.