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Purity of the Heart

April 15, 2015

Երանի այնոցիկ, որ սուրբ են սրտիւք, զի նոքա զԱստուած տեսցեն։
“Blessed are they who are pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
—Matthew 5:8

This sermon was delivered by Catholicos Garegin Hovsepiants, former Primate of the Armenian Diocese of America, who was possessed of a brilliant mind, heroic love for his people and culture, and sweeping Christian conviction. The sermon was originally published in Ararat, the official journal of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, in 1907 and reprinted in his collection of sermons, Դէպի լոյս եւ կեանք [Toward Light and Life]. The Armenian the word “pure” is սուրբ / soorp, which can also be translated “holy,” “pure,” “clean,” “saint,” or “saintly.”

2015-04 DewdropSunThe heart is mankind’s primal organ. Before anything else it is the heart that takes shape in the mother’s womb and it is the heart that outlives all other organs. When the heart dies, the person dies. The entire body dies.

But the Lord is not speaking about this physical organ but rather the spiritual organ that is as significant for moral life as the heart is for physical life. By “heart” Christ understands our inner world, our identity, our personality in its entirety. He is speaking about our three spiritual faculties: mind, emotion and will; that which is relative, which gives color and shape to our personality.

However as in ancient times, likewise today, the concept of “heart” is also somehow a synonym for emotion. It is not at all coincidental that our Lord gives so much importance to its sanctity, considering its purity to be a condition for blessedness and the ability to see God. None of our spiritual faculties plays such a great role in religious and moral issues as the “heart” or emotions. Reason endows us with principles and distinguishes the good from the bad, but this is still not enough for us to turn its suggestions into work or life.

Untainted Love

Similarly, the exercise of the will is a support for us but it becomes powerful and effective only when it receives content and impetus from our inner feelings and passion. It is emotion that compels a person toward self-sacrifice and moral heroism, not cold reason. During war the hero is the soldier who sacrifices himself, driven by love for the liberation of his homeland, ignoring the objections of mind and reason. All of the  astounding achievements in history and life that are worthy of admiration can be explained as having been motivated by untainted love and emotion. Any and every virtue that we consider—bravery, patriotism, love for one’s parents, philanthropy—all of them share one and the same source: a pure heart or emotion.

Consider the Source

But emotion can also make a person tumble into the abyss if its source is murky or self-absorbed. Greed, selfishness, hatred, conceit and every sort of repulsive obsession share the same source as the virtues. It is a characteristic of the human spirit that evil and good, noble and base, the shameful sentiments and crude egotism all have a place in our hearts alongside self-sacrifice and honorable inclinations. Sometimes one dominates in our life, sometimes the other.

Like a true and compassionate physician, Jesus wishes to eradicate evil by pointing out the real cause of moral infirmities. Our entire way of life, our speech, our inclinations, and our actions are all merely the expression or instrument of our inner ways. If our inner ways or emotions are pure, then their corresponding actions will inevitably be pure. If the source is pure, the water flowing from it will be pure.

People usually make judgments based on outward appearances. But in and of themselves outward appearances are not sufficient to determine the moral quality of an action because a deed that seems noble and good on the outside may flow from selfish and foul interior motives. Many times charity can be offered pretentiously for greater personal gain, glory and other hidden, selfish motives. Every deed must be evaluated on a moral basis from the perspective of its deeper motivation. Otherwise Pharisees, hypocrites, and devious con-artists would be humanity’s shining stars.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Jesus came to proclaim a new life and a new path to liberation. Instead of the primitive religions teeming with their rituals and external laws, Jesus always emphasized inner purity. Jesus valued the prayer of the tax collector, who was despised and considered a sinner by the Jews, over the outwardly righteous and traditional prayer of the Pharisee. For him the widow’s penny, which she gave from the heart, was more precious than the magnificent donations of the rich men. Ceremonies, ritual washings, fasting—all of these are of no use if the corresponding, underlying emotions are lacking. On the contrary, the piety that results from purity of heart, untainted sentiments and life—this is the fulfillment of Jesus’ Gospel. (Of course it is also the most deplorable hypocrisy to avoid the church’s ceremonies and sacraments using the excuse that one’s heart is lacking in inner purity).

A Sacred Art

 The religion that Jesus brought was a life coinciding with interior emotions. It is a supreme and sacred art which takes its shape not in a slab of marble or clay, but in a living, rational, thinking and feeling creature if the divine bolt of lightning strikes his heart. Of all of life’s circumstances the most subtle is the religious, which cannot bear falsehood. Like black stains on a clean, white dress, falsehood in the name of religion is most repulsive. Purity of the heart is the highest ranking authority for truth in our conscience and life. It ennobles our emotions and warms our spirit for good, for beauty, and for truth. It is such a condition of the spirit that Jesus considers blessed and a condition for seeing God.

In our Christian faith God is an invisible and incomprehensible being. Clearly, here again, Jesus’ words do not concern physical sight. God’s existence can be perceived and seen only by pure souls. Just as the image of the sun is reflected in a miniscule, crystalline drop of dew, likewise God’s image and life and never-ending happiness are given in a stainless and pure heart.

“Blessed are they who are pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Translated by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern).

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