For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me. Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 1:30-2:4)
St Paul wished that all Christians would be willing to work for concord, peace and unity within their communities. Peace, however, is not achieved by being passive, but requires a great amount of energy on the part of each member to control their own passions, particularly that of anger or ambition. He advocated that each member of a community learn humility and to defer to their fellow members rather than demanding their own way. In this, Paul wished for us to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ.
St John Cassian (one of my favorite Patristic writers) comments:
If therefore we are to follow the divine laws, we must struggle with all our strength against the demon of anger and against the sickness which lies hidden within us. When we are angry with others we should not seek solitude on the grounds that there, at least, no one will provoke us to anger, and that in solitude the virtue of long-suffering can easily be acquired. Our desire to leave our brethren is because of our pride, and because we do not wish to blame ourselves and describe to our own laxity the cause of our unruliness. So long as we assign the causes for our weaknesses to others, we cannot attain perfection in long-suffering.
[Cassian is clear that the cause of anger lies within each of us, it is not caused by the behavior of others. He would certainly advocate that when it comes to anger we have to think in terms of “I” rather than “you.” This is the difference between saying “I get angry when I feel I am …” as versus saying “you make me angry.” When I can acknowledge that I own the anger in me, rather than blaming those around me for my anger, then I have opportunity to overcome the sin of anger in me. Then I don’t try to blame or accuse others of being the problem, but recognize the passion of anger in me causes me to react badly to what others do. So Cassian doesn’t think living by yourself is anyway to overcome your anger – it is still raging in your heart but you think you are controlling it because others aren’t around you to disturb you. He doesn’t advocate solitude as the cure for anger, for it only masks it. Anger is only overcome when we actively strive to control it within our selves. We don’t become less angry if others tolerate our anger as that only tends to feed the monster in us.]
Self-reform and peace are not achieved through the patience which others show us, but through our own long-suffering towards our neighbor. When we try to escape the struggle for long-suffering by retreating into solitude, those unhealed passions we take there with us are merely hidden, not erased; for unless our passions are first purged, solitude and withdrawal from the world not only foster them but also keep them concealed, no longer allowing us to perceive what passion it is that enslaves us. On the contrary, they impose on us an illusion of virtue and persuade us to believe that we have achieved long-suffering and humility, because there is no one present to provoke and test us. But as soon as something happens which does arouse and challenge us, our hidden and previously unnoticed passions immediately break out like uncontrolled horses that have long been kept unexercised and idle, dragging their driver all the more violently and wildly to destruction.
Our passions grow fiercer when left idle through lack of contact with other people. Even that shadow of patience and long-suffering which we thought we possessed while we mixed with our brethren is lost in our isolation through not being exercised. Poisonous creatures that live quietly in their layers in the desert display their fury only when they detect someone approaching; and likewise passion-filled men, who live quietly not because of their virtuous disposition but because of their solitude, spit forth their venom whenever someone approaches and provokes them. This is why those seeking perfect gentleness must make every effort to avoid anger not only towards men, but also towards animals and even inanimate objects. (THE PHILOKALIA Vol 1, p 85)
St John Cassian’s words are very meaningful to me as I realize that anger abides in my heart always waiting for opportunity to raise its ugly head. I live a fairly hermit-like existence by choice. I am shy and an introvert and find solitude to be comforting, but social situations are a constant battery drain for me. When I’m alone I can imagine I am a man of peace and patience, but the reality is all kinds of little setbacks and problems, readily upset, frustrate and anger me. The anger is there, waiting to explode or be tamed, if I’m willing to engage in the spiritual warfare to contain it. It doesn’t disappear because I’m not around people, but hides itself in my heart, lurking like a ferocious tiger in ambush, just waiting for me to trigger its attack. To be truly at peace requires me to tackle my anger head on, not ignore it or suppress it or pretend it no longer is there.