Makarios not beatitudo

Homily 439 – 26th Sunday After Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 6, 2020
Epistle: (229) Ephesians 5:9-19 and (335) Hebrews 13:17-21 (St. Nicholas)
Gospel: (85) Luke 17:12-19 and (24) Luke 6:17-23

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

When we celebrate great saints, as we do today with our beloved St. Nicholas, we read from St. Luke what are commonly called “The Beatitudes.” We also sing the beatitudes at pretty much every Divine Liturgy.

“Beatitudes” is a word that comes to us from Latin – beatitudo – which in Latin means a state of happiness, good fortune, or blessedness. So, in most English language translations of the Bible, the word “Blessed” is used.

The underlying Greek, though, offers a different understanding. It uses the word “makarios.” Fr. Stephen DeYoung, a scripture scholar in Louisiana, indicates that the word is pre-Christian in origin.

Now I have to side-step a moment here. I enjoy a social media account called “Grandeliquent Word of the Day.” A way of poking fun at pretentious folks that use big words or obscure words that once were used but have fallen out of usage.

Macarism is such a word. It is the opposite of a word that has recently regained favor – schadenfreude – finding pleasure in the troubles of others.

Macarism, though, is the finding of pleasure in the joy of others.

In Greek, macarios refers not to a relationship between actions and emotions – there is no transaction here – but rather, it is a state of being marked by happiness or bliss. It wasn’t the result of an action or activity – being poor wasn’t the cause of blessedness or makarios.

The Greek gods were living “makarios” – forgive me for butchering Greek grammar. They lived this not because of what they did, but rather because of who they were.

Fr. Stephen further mentions that the Greeks eventually used “makarios” in referencing the deceased – they were “sharing in the state of the gods,” so to speak. Much like we refer to the deceased as now “living in heaven” or similar.

In pre-Christian Greek pagan life, participation in the life of the gods was marked by several things: prosperity, leisure, the acquisition of power and wealth, and self-indulgence, in food, in entertainment, in sexual activities.

What Christ does in the beatitudes, though, is quite different. He says if you want makarios – participation in the life of God – that life manifests itself differently.

We find that participation in the life of God is not found through wealth and power, but poverty – blessed are the poor – and through humility.

We participate in the life of God through sorrow and ridicule.

We recognize in these things a person – Jesus Christ. He was poor. He was hungry. He was sorrowful and ridiculed. All of these things, Christ was as incarnate God – by choice.

And so, those of us who follow Christ, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, have to be like Christ – we are like Christ.

What did Christ do? He denied himself – He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, but He chose to leave that to become incarnate, in obedience to His Father.

The literal creator and owner of everything rejected it and became like us – by choice. He became a baby in need of learning. He was impoverished, having only the clothes on his back and homeless. He was meek, by choice, not because it would make Him blessed – but because He was already blessed – already holy and divine.

He embraced sorrow – at the occasion of raising Lazarus, and looking over the city of Jerusalem, which would reject Him. He embraced sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He pledged His very being to the will of His Father, instead of His own will.

And He took up the Cross.

And He asks the same of us. To leave our lives of comfort and ease, and partake of the foretaste of the Heavenly Blessings. Beloved, we are to be children of God, partaking not in the pleasures of this earth, which will pass away.

Think about it – what do we have, that we hold dear, will follow us into eternal life?

Power? No. All power is God’s and God’s alone. Wealth? No, all things are God’s, and in His mercy, He chooses to share them. Pride? I think not, as pride is the source of all evil, the source of our corruption.

The things that will follow us into eternal life that we can enjoy now are meekness and poverty – meaning complete dependence on God for our needs – and, maybe most importantly, love.

The love that we have for God – which is the love we have for one another.

Christ tells us that if we desire Him – then we will have to deny ourselves, as He did, pick up our Cross, as He did, and follow Him, as He followed the Father.

If we become like Him, we will then participate in the Kingdom of God – that is His promise to us. Both now and after our repose.

But should we not desire Him, then we will go into eternity with nothing and participate in nothing of the Kingdom of God.

There is a choice – however, it isn’t a choice at all.

As we move forward and follow Christ, know that the Beatitudes are there to describe life in God – the participation in the Kingdom.

Both here and now, and in the fullness which is still to come.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!