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Orthodox priest’s view on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

Resist temptation – at what price?

Sermon on the Mount

"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30) How should we understand these words of Christ?

None of the generally accepted patristic interpretations suggests literal fulfilment of these words, spoken by Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount. The right eye and right hand are most often understood here as people in our immediate surroundings who are likely to become perpetrators of temptation, leading us astray from a Christian path and inclining us to sin. “When you hear about the eye and the hand, do not think that this has been said about your members, for if it has, He would not have added 'right'.” St Theophylact of Ohrid writes, “He speaks of those of our seeming friends that harm us. So a young man who has dissolute friends suffers harm from them. "Leave them." says the Lord. In this way, perhaps, you will save them too, if they come to their senses; if not, then at least you will save yourself. If you keep your love for them, then you and they will perish.”

It is clear, however, that this passage can have a broader interpretation. The eye as a mirror of the soul and the hand, as a means of action, symbolize our thoughts, beliefs and deeds. The mention of both the “right” hand and eye (that is, the most valuable and functional parts of the body) shows that we are talking about those internal attitudes and habits that have literally grown into our personality during our lifetime, at the same time serving as an obstacle for living according to the gospel. The Greek word "σκανδαλον", understood here as temptation, means an obstacle on the way, a stumbling block that hinders movement or leads to a fall. If our habitual way of life impedes our spiritual progress, we must give it up even if it seems valuable, important and necessary. This is what Christ teaches us.

This rejection is an extremely painful and lengthy process. How can one not recall St Paul the Apostle here? He reaches the highest degrees of spiritual perfection where he says about himself, " is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." (Gal 2:20). Yet he laments, "...for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." (Rom 7:19). Rejection requires motivation and perseverance. St Paul is a vivid example of a Christian's motivation being the God-man Jesus Christ in whose person the restoration of the fallen man took place. If we understand that we gain the Source of true, undying, eternal life only in union with Christ, Who said of Himself, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6), then this will become a powerful incentive for change and right alignment of priorities.

This union takes place in the Church, which the Savior established on earth and which mystically constitutes His Body. Through participation in the sacraments of the Church (primarily through Repentance and Communion) we enter into communion with God, become one with Him, and receive grace-filled strength for inner change.

Only in communion with Christ it becomes possible to fulfil his commandment to cut off everything that hinders our salvation.

Father Evgeniy Murzin


May 19, 2022
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