Tag Archive for: Sermon on the Mount

Advent 47-50: Non-Violent Revolutionary

Advent Day 47 of 50: Non-Violent Revolutionary

On the Feast of Theophany, January 6, we celebrate the Revelation of God. The Armenian word for it is a compound word of Asdvadz (God) + haydnutiun (revelation) = Asdvadzahaydnutiun. The English word is a direct translation of the Armenian. Theo (God) + Epiphany (revelation) = Theophany. The Feast was and still is celebrated on January 6 by the Armenian Church. We described the mechanics of the date change earlier in this series, but add this sidenote so as not to confuse the Armenian Celebration of Theophany with what is sometimes referred to as the Orthodox Christmas on January 7. That date is merely December 25th transposed from the Gregorian calendar to the older Julian calendar, which has a difference of 13 days. Hence, on the Julian calendar the Baptism of Christ is celebrated on January 19.  The Armenians Church is the only Church that celebrates Theophany and remembers the events in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the Nativity to His Baptism, on January 6.

We began the 50 day cycle of Advent with a promise that when we arrived at the Theophany, saying Merry Christmas would be an inadequate expression considering the awesome event that takes place on that day. The God of the Universe, that which put everything in motion, takes on human form and teaches us to love and embrace one another as an expression of our Faith.

We read the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7) and the essential teachings of Jesus were disclosed to us. It is a novel message which insists on taking personal responsibility, articulating our Faith as a course of action, to strive for the perfect by exercising Love.

Very simply, Jesus Christ led a revolution, and he did so in a non-violent manner. The Armenian Church’s celebration of Theophany is in recognition of that revolution. It is not connected to all the trappings that come with Christmas celebrations in the West, and yes, even in the East. Theophany is the great mystery, the un-understandable – that which Created life has humbled Himself and taken human form to reveal the wonder of Eternity.

We end with a prayer that comes to us by way of an Armenian hymn on the Feast of Theophany A great and sublime mystery is revealed on this day: the shepherds sing with the angels and give good tidings to the world. A new King is born in the city of Bethlehem, sons of men, praise Him because He became flesh for us.

Cover photo: Luna & Gregory Beylerian, 2023

Advent 46-50: House Building

Advent Day 46 of 50: House building

You have journeyed through the Advent season feasting on the Essentials Teachings of Jesus Christ as expressed through the Sermon on the Mount. We have reached the last verses of His address. He concludes by expressing that His Teachings are the foundation upon which to build your life.

“Therefore,” Jesus concludes, “Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Even in his concluding remarks, Jesus’ emphasis is on doing the work of God – doing the message He preached. There is no escaping the practicality of Christianity when you read the Sermon on the Mount. The words you heard throughout Advent are the starting point of Christianity and appropriately, we read and studied it as the preface to the great Theophany, what we refer to as Asdvadzahaydnutiun, the Revelation of God.

Now, in these last few days of Advent in preparation for the Feast of Theophany, as promised, I will tie it all together, so we understand it is much more than a Merry Christmas, but a time to be in awe at the Wonder of God. For today, we conclude with the final words of narration following the Sermon on the Mount and an opportunity for you to reflect on the entire discourse. Given options, where do you build your house?

And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:28)

Advent 23-50: Aspire to the Divine

Advent Day 23 of 50: Aspire to the Divine

“You have heard,” says Jesus as he points to laws from, what we call, the Old Testament. And in the next breath he says, “But I tell you…” Thus far we’ve heard him put forward a revolutionary new way of interacting with people – with one another.

I waited for this day to share with you Jesus’ words about his intention. He says, Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

With Jesus the law was completed. On the Cross, his final words, “It is finished” alludes to the completion of the law. The revolution Jesus brings is encased in his essential teachings, that is, the text of our Advent Journey: the Sermon on the Mount. It is not enough to follow the law, but his call to live life so that, “Your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.” Jesus calls us to a higher standard than the law, he asks us to aspire to the divine. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) By aspiring to the divine, he calls us to live by the way of God, that is love. God is Love, says the Evangelist John in his first letter (chapter 4). And so, the call is to Love.

Thus far, love instead of hate, because hate is murder. Love instead of divorce, for divorce opens the doors to adultery. Love your enemies because your enemy is also a child of God, and God does not differentiate between his children.

Let us pray, the Orthodox church’s canon, O Almighty Word of the Father, Jesus Christ, Who art Thyself perfect: Because of Thy great mercy, do not ever depart from me, Thy servant, but always abide in me. Amen.

Advent 9-50: Shifting from Action to Thought

Advent Day 9 of 50: Shifting from Action to Thought

The contrast between New and Old Testament is harsh, at least it is when you follow the teaching of Jesus. In this next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus accents that contrast by quoting the old law and then instructing with “But I say to you…”  As we read through these new rules, remember the lessons of the first week of Advent. They have prepared us to decipher through the harsh contrast twixt the law of old and the moral imperative as presented by the One who pronounced the spirit of the laws.

Jesus begins, You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ (an insult equivalent to calling him ‘empty headed’) shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

Whether you are hearing this for the first time or have heard it 100 times before, the shock level is not diminished. Jesus has equated murder with anger. Think of the implications of this shift. Judgment is not on your actions but on your thoughts. For Jesus, your innermost thoughts, the desires of your heart are what betray you to sin. Jesus was demanding the purity of heart. And, he lays out the consequences of our insincerity in detail, from judgement to sentencing to the punishment.

Journal your immediate reaction to these verses. We are only in the second week of Advent. Compare those reactions in a few weeks as we get closer to the Theophany.

Let us pray, Lord Jesus Christ, you came because of the Love of the Father. Your only demand on us was sincerity, that is, a rejection of hypocrisy. You asked us to come to you with the purity of heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” you said, “For they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Keep me from evil thoughts, which lead to words and deeds, so that I may strive for the goodness you have placed in my heart since my mother bore me. Amen.

Cover photo: Luna and Gregory Beylerian

Advent 4-50: Meekness, the Key to Gratitude

Advent Day 4 of 50: Meekness, the Key to Gratitude

Meekness is often equated with weakness. This is certainly far from the truth, for Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Obviously, not a prize for the weak. In Jesus day, meekness meant control over oneself. In the New Testament, meekness means, “power under control.” Horses exemplify power. We gauge the speed of cars by referring to horsepower.  When a horse is harnessed and tamed, it is brought under control. This does not make the horse a wimpy animal, instead its power is focused and therefore channeled.

The blessing offered by Jesus is upon those who have taken control of themselves, through discipline and direction. Meekness is a way of saying we have lost (or are losing) the ego.  which skews our perception and prevents us from finding true fulfillment in life. We are taught to “believe in yourself,” while Jesus teaches, “Believe in me.” We hear, “Strive to be number one,” while Jesus says, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” We learn that the game-plan is “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”  Jesus says “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” And of course we know the way of the world is, “Don’t get mad, get even.”  Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In all these examples, the focused and controlled soul is the one that finds true success. Like the wild horse, we are not losing strength, only channeling it.

Everyone, in whatever arena, whether sports figure or surgeon, musician or architect, laborer or employer, finds success through discipline and control.

As the Advent season is beginning, our perception of Christmas is beginning to take form. We are led by the bright Christmas star. God who is revealed and lives among us has invited us to join in the celebration. Our first steps begin in a spirit of meekness, losing the self, controlling the power within, and acknowledging our reliance on God. And here, we find feelings of gratitude and thanksgiving.

In America we have a special day set aside for Thanksgiving. When approached in a spirt of meekness, thanksgiving becomes an art. We find sincerity in that act of gratitude because with the ego out of the way, we channel our attention to the Divine, for we understand that everything and all is from God.

Today we hear the prayer of the Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving, after enduring the hardships of life in the new world. O Lord our God and heavenly Father, which of Thy unspeakable mercy towards us, hast provided meat and drink for the nourishment of our bodies. Grant us peace to use them reverently, as from Thy hands, with thankful hearts: let Thy blessing rest upon these Thy good creatures, to our comfort and sustentation: and grant we humbly beseech Thee, good Lord, that as we do hunger and thirst for this food of our bodies, so our souls may earnestly long after the food of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen.

Cover: Luna & Gregory Beylerian for Epostle.net

Advent 50: The Message

Armodoxy for Today/Advent Journey 50: The Message

The Nicene Creed – “We Believe in the Father almighty, creator heaven and earth…” You know it, “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father… Light of Light, Very God of Very God…” It’s the standard by which we proclaim Faith as members of the Christian Church, whether in the Orthodox or Roman Catholic traditions or in mainline protestant churches, the Nicene Creed is the Confession of Faith… This is what we believe.

And while we proclaim faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and confess his birth, baptism, passion, crucifixion, burial and resurrection, there is something that is not proclaimed in the Creed. We remember the events of Jesus’ life without mention of his teachings! We believe in what he taught!

What are the teachings of Christ? You’d be surprised to learn them, because some of them sound so outlandish: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are the meek.” “Do not resist evil.” “Turn the other cheek.” And “Love your enemies.”

These examples all come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7. I refer to these three chapters as the “essential teachings” of Jesus. In fact, when students ask me how to read the Bible, I have them start at this point, because Jesus lays out what is asked of us by God. This Advent Season, we will be focusing on the Sermon on the Mount: The Essential Teachings of Jesus. Each one leading us to finding the Christ in Christmas.

Today, we begin with the reading of what is known as the Beatitudes. It is the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus outlines what is considered a blessing. Contemplate these today. You may wish to keep a journal, written or mental, through the 50 days of Advent. When we finish at the Theophany, we will read these once again, it will be interesting to compare your thoughts then with what you hear today.

St. Matthew records this in his Gospel, “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 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.

Cover photo: Luna & Gregory Beylerian for Epostle.net 2023

Greater than God

Armodoxy for Today

Greater than God

For Jesus, there is one thing which is greater than God. It probably sounds unusual to express this, in this manner, but in fact, when all is said and done, Jesus makes it very clear that one thing is more important than God.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5)

Jesus makes it clear that the sacredness of church, the worship practice, or even supporting your church are all secondary to our reconciliation with one another. He draws a line separating sincerity from hypocrisy, it doesn’t make sense to give outwardly if you aren’t at peace inwardly. “Leave your gift there before the altar,” he says. There is something much more important, and that is for us to be at peace with one another, reconciled and in union with one another. In fact, this is the first message given to us on the night of Jesus’ birth: “Peace on Earth/Good will toward one another.”

Christianity is about our reconciliation with one another and thereby being reconciled with God.

Let us pray the prayer of St. Nersess Shnorhali (23), “All merciful Lord, have mercy upon all your faithful, on those who are mine and those who are strangers to me, on those whom I know and those whom I do not know, on the living and on the dead, and forgive all my enemies, and those who hate me, the trespasses that they have committed against me, turn them from the malice which they bear towards me, that they may be worthy of Your mercy. Amen.