Christians: Be angry, but do not sin

“Be angry, and do not sin”  (Ephesians 4:26)                (Written in 1997)

I feel one great dilemma in dealing with anger as a parent.   Here I am, not only a Christian, but also a priest, sermonizing about love and patience while facing the reality of a wife and four kids (ages 6, 10, 13, 15).   I feel their expectations and those of  the parish are that I be firm yet fair, supportive yet correcting,  leading by example, teaching, fully upholding God’s law, righteous, forgiving, always knowing and always doing the right, but then begging forgiveness for all the wrong I actually do.

 What I see in my kids’ behavior is a lot of me.   I see them reflecting and parroting my attitudes, emotions and behavior.   I don’t always like what I see in them.   I feel frustrated and angry at their behavior, attitudes, lack of cooperation, fighting, yelling, choice of words and music.  Confronted with all of this I have to deal with them with the love God has for His children, the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon.

Then my prayer life comes into play.  Among the prayers which are part of my life is the prayer which reads in part:

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, for laying aside all excuse, we sinners offer to You, as our Master, this supplication:  Have Mercy on us!

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

O Lord, have mercy on us, for in You we have put our trust.  Do not be angry with us, nor remember our iniquities, but look down on us even now, as You are compassionate, and deliver us from our enemies; for Your are our God, and we are Your people; we are all the work of Your hands, and we call upon Your Name.

 I look to my God and I ask for His mercy, for His patience, for His kindness.   Is that not what my children also want and need from me?   Do they want me to destroy them in my wrath for what they have done?   No, they need my love.   I need God’s love.  I ask for Him to be merciful and I need to learn how to show loving mercy to my own children.   My anger will teach them little, as St. James wrote:   “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness”  (James 1:19-20).            It is from my love that they will learn.

If I can ask my Lord not to be angry with me for my faults, mistakes, intentional sins, should I then turn and show nothing but anger to my children for their mistakes and intentional disobedience?   I must somehow be their father and guide to correct and instruct and discipline them, yet learn to control my own anger.  For that is what I want from God and for that I pray daily.   If I want forgiveness, mercy and love from God, so our Lord Jesus instructs us, we must give that same mercy, patience and kindness to others, including our children.   Be angry but sin not (Ephesians 4:26).   Discipline the children don’t discourage them (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). 

At every Vespers, as priest, I say this prayer:

O Lord, rebuke us not in Your anger, nor chasten us in Your wrath!  But deal with us according to your leniency, O Physician and Healer of our souls.  Guide us to the haven of Your will.  Enlighten the eyes of our hearts to the knowledge of Your truth.

 My prayer to God is something to also guide my life and behavior.  If I can ask God not to rebuke me nor chasten me when He is angry with me, but rather to wait until He can guide me in His lenient mercy, should not I do the same with my own children?   It is my duty to guide them to God’s will by teaching them and disciplining them in love.   It is not mine to destroy them in my anger.  That is purely sin.

 So I continue to struggle with my own sinfulness, seeking God’s mercy for my soul, and struggling to show my family the mercy, patience and love that God has shown me.

The Harvest is Plentiful: Send Me Lord to do the Labor

A couple of months ago in my blog Ecclesiology and the Resurgence of the OCA I mentioned a business organizational book  The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.   Authors Brafman and Beckstrom offer thoughts and some history lessons about how having power diversely spread through an organization allows institutions to survive and even thrive through times in which leadership breaks down or is forcefully eliminated.   This is like a starfish which when its arms are cut off from its head regenerate and form new starfish.  Though they don’t use it as one of their examples, certainly the early Christian Church fits their starfish model.  Despite persecutions, despite the imprisonment and executions of the bishops, the Church continued to grow and thrive because its power – the faith of each Christian – was distributed throughout the organization.  Cutting off the head – martyring the bishop – did not change the faith of the membership.  New bishops kept arising because the people believed in their God and in their Gospel.

In fact a new form of charismatic leadership emerged in the Church – monasticism.   The monastics took up the mantle of the martyrs and attempted to keep the Church fervent in its faith by living the Gospel to the full, even if the Christians were no longer threatened by the state.  But the monastics were a spiritual leadership – not in the line of the official apostolic succession, which after all could be disrupted by martyrdom or by apostasy to the lures of the world by bishops who were more concerned with power or wealth than with the evangelical life of martyrdom (witnessing to the Gospel through their own lives).   One needs only look at some of the canons, for example those of the Council of Antioch in 341AD, to see how real the problem of bishops misappropriating church funds and abusing their power really was. 

Fr. Paul Tarazi in his book THE NEW TESTAMENT INTRODUCTION: JOHANNINE WRITINGS makes the argument that St. John in his Gospel and in the Book of Revelation is making this very point in his emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the early Church.   Faced with the loss of leadership due to persecutions, the Christians needed both guidance and a sense that they were being faithful to the apostolic message.  

“…it is as though John is insisting that any reliance on particularly authoritative human leaders is superfluous, even undesirable.  God wants to make clear that he and only he will lead his people, and he will do so directly through his Spirit.   Given this viewpoint, the loss of an authoritative person to death may not be a loss but a gain because it reminds people of where true authority lies. ‘It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’  (Jn 16:7).”

The Holy Spirit was what held the Church together in any one time, but also throughout the world and throughout time as well.   Church membership might lose sight of this from time to time and become overly reliant and dependent on bishops, hierarchy and ecclesial structures to lead the Church  or to forcefully maintain the unity of the Church.   But according to Tarazi St. Paul and St. John both place the emphasis of church unity squarely on the Holy Spirit of God.   Human leaders might be martyred or even commit apostasy or sin against the Church, but the Holy Spirit would not leave the Christians orphaned or leaderless.  The Holy Spirit would inspire Christians to rise up even if the “official” leadership was eliminated or failed.   Certainly this is the witness of the saints and of monastics when they are true to their own calling.

The import for us today should be obvious.  We too can be tempted with being overly reliant on bishops (or even monks!) to lead the Church.  But the Holy Spirit is given to the entire Church at Pentecost and to each Christian at baptism.   “Leadership” in the Church is thus bestowed on all Christians as the power of God is spread throughout the Church membership as God distributes His gifts to all as He sees fit for the good of and building up (edification) of the Body of Christ.

Today, for the bishops to be able to be true Christian leaders, the entire membership has to embrace the mission Christ gave to us and use the spiritual gifts given to each of us.   To wait for the bishops to lead without the entire membership being actively engaged in living and proclaiming the Gospel is to guarantee failure in the leadership of the bishops.   They will end up feeling the need to defend their role and authority to the membership and over the membership rather than seeing themselves as empowered in and by the Body and the Spirit to accomplish the Great Commission.   The harvest is plentiful,  therefore  let us pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise us up as the laborers to do the needed work in His vineyard.

For another blog on Fr. Tarazi’s book see my Christ the Interpreter of the Law