The title of the article is drawn from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew. The verse is part of what is known as the Beatitudes of Jesus or the Sermon on the Mount. In His writings, St. Ambrose wrote of these not simply as a listing of the various attitudes that Christians should have but rather a systematic approach to develop a deeper spiritual life given by Jesus Himself. St. Ambrose taught, as did others, that following this approach would lead to the life that Christ has in mind of all of us so that, in the words of St. Irenaeus, “”If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods.”
Purity of Heart is a cleaning or an emptying a “Kenosis” a self-emptying of our passions, our desires, of our self and filling that space with God. This happens along the journey of Theosis where we find a synergy or cooperation between us and the uncreated energies of God. The transformation of our hearts from their current position to that of purification is what makes it possible to “see God” as Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel.
In his most recent book, “Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking of Theosis” Normal Russell speaks of the heart as the “spiritual expression of the embodied person.” He continues, “it is the meeting place of God within us. It is where we find freedom of speech before God.” Russell contends that it is through thanksgiving that we become truly liberated from the body and subjugate the will and only then will we be able to see God. When we are filled with thanksgiving, our ego disappears, we are freed from the passions, and “we share in the self-emptying of Christ.”
The best example of this self-emptying is the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. Christ emptied Himself, not of His divinity, but took on our humanity in everything but sin. This was an example to us of the fullness of humanity not just a restoration of the humanity of Adam and Eve in the Garden before sin, but our ability to obtain a much closer relationship with God, and complete fullness of humanity, as Irenaeus said, “that we may become gods.” In the book, “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” Vladimir Lossky argues that this is the basis for the incarnation and that Jesus would have become human even if Adam and Eve had not sinned.
This purity of heart comes about through faith, the right faith, and obedience to what God the Father is asking of each of us. We need to begin to change our lives, and that includes the way we think and act. We begin to transform our lives to the Church of Christ and away from the world, and all of its empty promises. The ways of the world and its philosophy of death and destruction are shown for what they truly are, lies and deceit. We begin to realize that freedom only comes with a life in Christ, and we cannot have a foot in both worlds.
This transfiguration of our lives is an ongoing process, but it begins with our desire to begin the process, to climb Mount Tabor if you will and ask in the words of the Psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit in me.” (Ps 50:12)
This Psalm is a twofold request. We are asking God to create in us a clean heart but then we ask Him to renew a right spirit in us. A right spirit is a spirit that is not controlled by the passions but is inspired by the Holy Spirit who makes this transfiguration of life possible. “It may be that you find it hard to purify your heart. Call upon Him, and he will not disdain to make there a clean abode for himself, and come to dwell with you.” Blessed Augustine
It has been said that the Orthodox faith is not an intellectual faith but it is an experiential faith. One must simply experience Orthodoxy in order to understand what we mean by Theosis. When the emissaries that Holy Prince Vladimir sent out, in search of a faith for his people returned, they remarked that Orthodox worship was like heaven on earth. Orthodoxy also is not a religion or just another denomination it is a lifestyle that by living it to its fullest, will transform even the hardest of hearts.
The Orthodox Church is open and inclusive, and by that, I mean we are open all who seek to be transformed. The Church is a hospital for those who are sick and filled with those who are on the road to recovery. Orthodoxy challenges the belief of modernity and points out its failings. Orthodoxy does not preach the “I’m okay you’re okay” theology that has become popular. We are all sinners, but we have not lost the love of God. We can transfigure our hearts and experience the uncreated light of the creator if we are just willing to do so.
If you come to Orthodoxy expecting to meet perfect people you will be disappointed, but if you come to Holy Orthodoxy with an open and sincere mind and a willingness to be transformed, you will be just that, transformed.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”