Peace in the Epistles of St Paul

Previous Post:  Christ Proclaims Peace. Christ is Our Peace.

Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says the LORD…  (Isaiah 57:19)

“For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”  (Ephesians 2:14-22)

Willard Swartley (COVENANT OF PEACE: THE MISSING PEACE IN NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY AND ETHICS) contends that some modern biblical scholars and ethicists do not treat “peace” as prominent  a  theme as it deserves based on how frequently the word “peace” occurs in the New Testament.  These scholars fail to see how “peace” is a lens through which we need to read the New Testament.  In this  the last post in this series we will look at a few things which Swartley notes from the epistles of St. Paul the Apostle.    As mentioned in the previous posts, the word “peace” occurs 44 times in the  greater Pauline corpus,  while  ‘God of peace’ occurs seven times in his writings.  Paul never uses  ‘God of wrath’ or ‘God of judgment’ as titles for God.  Says Swartley: “Paul, more than any other writer in the NT canon, makes peace, peacemaking, and peace-building central to his theological reflections and moral admonition” (p 190).   Just in the above quote from Ephesians 2:14-22, Paul uses the word peace 4 times and also uses the word reconciliation – this is Paul’s understanding of who Jesus is and what salvation He brings to the world.  In Christ God is reconciling the world to Himself, as well as reconciling and bringing to peace both Jews and Gentiles.  Additionally, Paul in using Isaiah 57:19 in his theology  clearly ties the Messiah to the promise of peace which God made through the prophets.

In Ephesians 2:14-17 Paul draws on Isaiah, just as Jesus and the Gospel writers also did.  Paul sums up Jesus’ life and work by joining two Isaiah texts, 52:7 and 57:19.  Christ proclaims peace is from the rich Isaiah declaration, ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace’ … This oracle continues by describing further this messenger as the one ‘who announces, who says, to Zion, “Your God reigns.”’  It concludes with the universal vision: ‘all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God’ (52:10b).  (p 200)

As noted in Ephesians 2:14-22, for St. Paul not only does Christ proclaim peace, He is our peace.  It is in Christ that we are reconciled with God – made one with God, ending our enmity with God due to our sin, making us at peace with God – and also ending the division between Jews and Gentiles, making us all into one people again.  We are all united to one another in Christ and made into the people of God who turn out to be a living temple for God.  Salvation is thus for St. Paul not just something individualistic – something that happens between “me” and God – it is social and relational in its full dimension, establishing a proper relationship between each human and God, but also between every human with each other as well as with all humans and the rest of creation itself.  God’s peace brings an end in each of us to personal desire which is opposed to the good of all because God’s peace also means loving everyone as well as all of God’s creation.  The denial of self that Christ taught is so that we can love everyone else and live at peace with them.  In this we imitate Christ who is our peace.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.   (Ephesians 2:11-13)

If we live in Christ, we live in Christ’s peace, because He is our peace.  St. Paul describes what this means for us –

Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.    (Romans 12:17-21)

As with the idea of shalom in the Old Covenant, we the people have to live this peace.

…in Philippians 2:1-12 … (v.12) exhorting recipients of Christ’s salvation-work to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’  God’s gift of salvation-peace is thus matched by the human responsibility to ‘work it out,’ to do those things that manifest the new life of peace with God and peace with one another.  (p 211)

 

Quote of M.L. King

We are to work out our peace with God, with neighbor, with enemy and with all of the created order.  Thus being in Christ changes everything for us.  No longer are we to live for the self, but rather we live in love for all and everyone which and whom God loves.  St. Paul’s ideas of salvation are thus opposed to ideas that “I” am to be concerned about my salvation as opposed to everyone else’s.  The Church isn’t set up for me to work for my salvation with no regard for anyone else.  I am to work out my salvation in love for others and for creation itself.  I am saved with others and with all creation.  The “us vs them” thinking which sometimes almost seems to be a defining mark of various Christians denominations is thus not the life in Christ which St. Paul imagines.  All dividing walls come down in Christ, which makes is possible for all to be reconciled in Christ.  I am to live in peace with everyone and everything, not become disinterested, neglectful or indifferent toward others.  Nor is it correct for me to see myself working out my salvation as disconnecting me from the rest of humanity.   “I” work out my salvation with the rest of humanity.   The freedom Christ brings us is not freedom from others, but the freedom to work out my salvation with all others.  “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.”  (Galatians 5:13; see also 1 Peter 2:16).  The Church opted in its history for a “catholic” vision rather than a sectarian one – for the life of the world (John 6:51) as Fr. Schmemann so famously proclaimed .  As Swartley points out:

The aim of atonement is redemptive solidarity, not penal substitution. (p 193)

Christ dies for our sins not mostly to fulfill some legal demand by a wrathful God that someone has to suffer for our sins, but in order to end the walls of enmity that pitted us one against the other and against God Himself.

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Not only are we reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, but we are to be actively reconciling the world to God.  This is the very vision, mission and purpose of the Church.

God’s act in Christ reconciles humans to God (not God to humans by pacifying divine wrath) and that reconciled-to-God humans are then enlisted into the ministry of reconciliation.   . . .  Christ, who knew no sin, but became sin for us in dying on the cross, ‘so that we might become the righteousness of God’ (cf 1 Pet 2:24).  (pp 203-204)

Salvation in Christ does not pit us against others – “we” are saved but “you” are not.  Rather, in Christ, we work to be reconciled with all others in the world, so that we might bring all to Christ.  Those tendencies in Christianity which cause us to want to run away from the world and not be tainted by the world, fall short of St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations vision of what it means that Jesus is Messiah and Savior of the world.  Christ Himself proclaimed that His Body given as food is not just communion for the faithful few but is given as life for the world.

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  (John 6:51)

We are to go into all the world, for the life of the world and to make disciples of all nations (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19).  We are not called to withdraw into the salt shaker, but to be the salt of the world.  We are not blessed to hide our light under a bushel, but rather to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16)

In Christian terms, a prayer for world peace is a prayer that Christ will prevail – not only in the world but especially in our hearts and minds.  We pray constantly in Orthodoxy “in peace”, for the peace of the whole world, for the peace from above, that we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance.  This peace we pray for is Christ.   If the words of our prayers are not to be emptied of all meaning, then WE have to live in peace with each other, with God, with neighbor, and even with our enemies.  Peace is not something God will impose upon us, but rather something we must  choose and we must will, for the kingdom of God is within us.

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”   (Luke 17:20-21)

Christ Proclaims Peace. Christ Is Our Peace.

You know the message, [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is the Lord of all. (Acts 10:36)

For he [Christ] is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…   (Ephesians 2:14)

Because I thought Willard Swartley’s book, COVENANT OF PEACE: THE MISSING PEACE IN NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY AND ETHICS , was such an excellent look at “peace” in the New Testament as well as a superb scripture study, I decided to comment on the book in a couple of posts, hoping to encourage others to read the book.  The previous post is The Covenant of Peace.

Swartley argues that peace – shalom – is a central theme of the Covenant that God made with Israel.  That peace/shalom comes from God for His people, but the people have to uphold their part of the covenant by living the peace that God commands.

… shalom is a gift of God, but the people must actualize that reality by living in accord with the righteous and just statutes that God gives and prescribes in the covenant (Ps 119; Exodus 20; Deut 18:16-18).  (p 30)

Thus the New Testament use of peace is not introducing something to people of God which didn’t exist in the first covenant, but rather expands upon it and fulfills it.  Swartley offers many examples of the New Testament building upon and expanding the theme of peace found in the Old Testament.  The New Testament often focuses on a peace theme that may not be mentioned directly in an Old Testament text but which the New Testament writers draw out of the text.  So, for example, Genesis 14:18 reads:

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.

Hebrews 7:1-2 making use of  this Genesis text in reference to Christ makes a clear connection between Melchizadek  and peace:

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God… is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 

Swartley notes:

Heb 7:1-3 is plainly Christological in its use of eirene.  As commonly recognized, it is a midrash on Gen 14:18-20.  (p 254)

In another instance Swartley looks at Acts 10:36 –

You know the message, [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is the Lord of all. 

Swartley points out:

The key phrase in [Acts] 10:36, ‘preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all’ … Its significance is …  First it is a quotation from Isaiah 52:7 (LXX)… This is one  of the Isainic texts announcing that God’s good news of peace will be heralded to and embraced by those at ‘the ends of the earth.’ (Isa 52:10; cf Acts 1:8).   (p 161-162)

What the New Testament does is link God’s good news promised through the prophets with Jesus the Messiah.  Jesus heralds the coming of God’s peace.  The notion of peace/shalom is part of the covenant with Israel, but the New Testament fully connects this peace to Jesus Christ and expands upon the ideas presented in the first covenant.

Jesus as the Messiah shows Himself to be the King of Peace.  Unlike earthly kings he does not rely on weapons of war to establish His Kingdom.  He does not rely on threats of violence, on revenge, on self preservation or self defense.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.  (1 Peter 2:23)

He shows Himself to be the Son of God precisely by acting in humility, willing to suffer for and because of humanity.  Commenting on Mark 15:39, Swartley notes:

  For this is the treasure of the Gospel: the One who did not retaliate against the evil plots of the leaders, but willingly offered himself as suffering servant, in accord with God’s purpose… is the true Son of God. (p 115)

Swartley says this same idea of the suffering Messiah – the One willing to suffer but not afflict suffering on His enemies shows Himself to be from the God of Love.  Even in the Book of Revelation, Swartley claims the same theme is evident.

The theology is similar to that of John’s Gospel, in which death and exaltation are viewed as one: in being ‘lifted up’ Jesus fulfills his commission to glorify God.  The drama of Revelation is of the same moral fabric: through the Lamb’s suffering and the suffering of the believers God’s victory over evil is won. (p 334)

The paradoxical image of victory through suffering love forms the heart and soul of Revelation’s Christology.  Suffering love marks the authentic followers of the Lamb.  (p 343)

The up-side-down Kingdom of Heaven is inaugurated by a King whose weapon against evil is humility, suffering and the cross.  Indeed as we sing in Orthodoxy, “the cross is the weapon of peace.”  The incarnate Son of God chooses to suffer as his weapon and warfare.  He teaches his followers to deny themselves and to take up the cross to follow Him.  We are to stand our ground against evil, but not with weapons which can kill, but by laying down our lives because we completely trust God and see ourselves as belonging to His Kingdom more than to this world and its way of war.

As Swartely nicely states it:

Rather than thinking first and foremost about peace with security, the exposition leads one to think about peace through repentance.  (p 2)

The Gospel is a challenge to how we want to deal with evil through self preservation and self protection rather than through self denial.  Many an Orthodox saint thought self-preservation did not prevent evil but rather was the cause of much evil – making us think that killing and harming others is a good.

Finally, Swartley points out that in the Tradition we have received from the people of the First Covenant, that the use of war and military weapons to achieve one’s goals is introduced to humanity by those angels who themselves rebelled against God and God’s Kingdom:

It is striking that the various conceptualizations of evil in and behind biblical thought link war and military weapons to evil itself: in the ‘Watchers Myth’ (Azazel) gives to humans the knowledge of weapons for war (1 Enoch 8:1) (p 107, n 35)

“And Azaz’el taught the people the art of making swords and knives and shields and breastplates . . .”  (1 Enoch 8:1)

Death entered into the human condition as a result of sin.  “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned— ” (Romans 5:12).  It was humans who then used this sin caused death to inflict further death on other humans.  but it is Christ who uses death – His own – to defeat death and bring peace with God to all humans.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  (Romans 5:8-10)

Instead of death stopping us from sinning, we humans used death to stop other people from living.  In so doing we made ourselves enemies God who is the Giver of life.  Christ undoes all of this by using death – His own – to conquer death, to give life to all, and to reconcile all of us to God.  No longer are we at war with God, but in Christ we are at peace with God.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  (Romans 5:1-2)

Next: Peace in the Epistles of St. Paul

The Covenant of Peace

I recently finished reading Willard Swartley’s book, COVENANT OF PEACE: THE MISSING PEACE IN NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY AND ETHICS  , which I thought was an excellent read.  The book takes a serious look at the idea of peace in the New Testament as well as looking at the New Testament through the lens of peace.  The chapters which look at different books in the New Testament are in themselves a superb bible study.  Swartley posits that peace is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the life of all Christians who are to live at peace with each other as well as with all others in the world.

Swartley comes from a peace tradition denomination, the Mennonites, and while that certainly was an inspiration for his study, his content is valuable for all Christians to consider.  As the book’s subtitle suggests, he is concerned that current work in scripture scholarship and ethics underplays the role that peace has in the Gospel and entire New Testament.   For example, biblical scholar James Dunn’s monumental 734 page book THE THEOLOGY OF PAUL THE APOSTLE, has only one listing in the subject index for peace, but the word “peace” (Greek: eirene) occurs 44 times in the  greater Pauline corpus of writings.  Says Swartley: “Paul, more than any other writer in the NT canon, makes peace, peacemaking, and peace-building central to his theological reflections and moral admonition.” (p 190)

Swartley contends that peace not only is frequently mentioned in the NT but the theme of peace is central to understanding reconciliation and salvation. Christ is bringing peace between God and humans, between Jews and Gentiles, between believers and between humans and the rest of creation.

When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together; and he said to the man that did the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow?”  (Exodus 2:13)

And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and would have reconciled them into peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you wrong each other?’  (Acts 7:26)

Swartley notes that for whatever reason there is a tendency to downplay the role of peace in the New Testatment.  He points out or example that Acts 7:26 – is a reinterpretation of Exodus 2:13 in which Moses intervenes between 2 Jews who were fighting.  St. Luke, the author of Acts, adds a motivation for Moses not mentioned in the Exodus text – Moses tries to be a peacemaker and reconcile the two men.  Swartly points out that Acts 7:26 reads in Greek literally that Moses “appeared to them as they were fighting and sought to reconcile them into peace”  BUT then he notes that almost no English translation includes the phrase “into peace” (eis eirenen).  Most English translations simple say Moses sought to reconcile them but eliminates any reference to peace  (p 156).    Swartley says the Greek mentions both reconciliation and peace which is trying to put emphasis on what Moses did, and yet English translators ignore the emphasis and even don’t bother to include the words  “into peace” in their translations at all.  This for Swartley is part of the evidence that “peace” is missing from much of modern biblical and ethical scholarship.

Additionally, Exodus 2:13 indicates that Moses ‘said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?”’    Moses only addresses the one who was attacking the other.   However, in Acts 7:26, St. Luke has Moses addressing both men as culpable, ‘Men, you are brothers.  Why do you wrong each other?’   Swartley notes: “By these differences Luke takes this event and portrays Moses as a peacemaker among his fellow Hebrews.  Moses is thus presented as reconciler between hostile parties and works to bring unity between two men fighting with each other”  (pp 156-157).  Luke reinterprets the Moses narrative, adding to it a peace dimension, making Moses into a peacemaker (and then strangely, the English translations of Acts drop the very idea that Luke emphasizes in his text!).

Even the New Testament English translators focus on Moses reconciling the two Jewish opponents, yet as Swartley notes ” the word peace appears one hundred times in the New Testament, and reconciliation four times” (p x).  With this overwhelming New Testament emphasis on peace more than reconciliation, it is amazing that the English translators of the New Testament still focus on reconciliation rather than peace.  Brothers being reconciled is a good thing, but for them to live in peace with each other demands a great deal more self-denial and taking up the cross.  Reconciliation is important when relationships are broken, but living in peace requires from us to strive not to break relationships in the first place.

Other “statistics” Swartley notes:

… the phrase, ‘God of peace’ … occurs seven times in Paul, once in Hebrews, and only once outside the NT, in Testament of Dan 5:2.  . . .   Paul’s frequent use of the appellation ‘God of peace’ is most significant … ‘God of hope’ occurs only once (Rom 15:13) and ‘God of love’ only once—in conjunction with ‘God of peace’ (2 Cor 13:11).  . . .  Note also that nowhere does ‘God of wrath’ or ‘God of judgment’ occur as titles for God in Paul.  In light of the prominence of “God as Warrior” in the OT (Exod 15:3), it is striking that no such appellations for God are found in Paul or any other NT writer. . . .  the notion that the God of peace is also the God who delivers/rescues… believers from divine wrath (1 Thess 1:10), from evil (2 Tim 4:17-18), persecution (3:11), and ‘wicked and evil people’ (2 Thess 3:2) lies at the heart of Pauline theology.  (p 208-210)     (n 59 – It is striking that the verb (syntribo) in Rom 16:20 is the same as in the LXX translation of Exod 15:3, where ‘God of war’ in the Hebrew text becomes ‘God crushes war’—an astounding reinterpretation.)

It is pretty amazing that St. Paul who gives warnings about the wrath of God does not declare Him to be the God of wrath, but does proclaim Him to be the God of Peace.  I also found it so intriguing that St. Paul only refers to God as the God of Love once, yet in the Johannine writings that God is love is central to the Gospel.  On the other hand, Swartley also notes: “Nowhere in the Johannine writings (Gospel, Epistles, and Revelation) are Jesus’ followers commanded to love their enemies.  Nor is there an explicit emphasis on reconciliation of enmity relationships  (p 276).”

So while we find in the New Testament both that God is love and that we are to love even our enemies, these two teachings are proclaimed by different New Testament authors.  Both are part of our Tradition, and it helps us to see why we need the diversity of writings and voices found in the New Testament.  It is a good indication as to why efforts to harmonize or homogenize divergent scripture texts are misguided.  The Scriptures do not represent one monolithic human viewpoint, but give us humans insight into the omniscience of God.

One other “statistic” which I found interesting in the book: “The specific term ‘kingdom of God’ is virtually absent from the OT” (p 15).  When we come to the New Testament, the New Covenant, we enter into a new creation as well.   The text of Isaiah 40:9, ‘Here is your God!’ is translated in the Isaiah Targum as ‘the kingdom of God will be revealed’  (p 94).  In Christ indeed God’s Kingdom is finally revealed, for Christ is Emmanuel, and where God is, there the Kingdom is for God comes in His kingdom.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore.”  (Ezekiel 37:26-28)

Swartley says:  “Ezekiel prophesied that God would make a new covenant, a covenant of peace (p xiii).   His contention is:  “The (new) covenant that Jesus makes with his disciples also fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy, where the Lord God says, ‘I will make with them a covenant of peace’ (34:25; 37:26; cf Isa 54:10)   (p 177)

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.  (Isaiah 54:10)

Next: Christ Proclaims Peace. Christ Is Our Peace.

 

Remaining In Peace

In peace, let us pray to the Lord.

That we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us pray to the Lord.  (Petitions from Orthodox liturgical services)

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Brethren, let us preserve this peace in ourselves as far as we can, for we have received it as an inheritance from our Savior who has now been born, who gives us the Spirit of adoption, through which we have become heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (cf Rom. 8:15, 17). Let us be at peace with God, doing those things which are well-pleasing to Him, living chastely, telling the truth, behaving righteously, “continuing in prayer and supplication” (cf Acts 1:14), “singing and making melody in our heart” (cf Eph. 5:19), not just with our lips. Let us be at peace with ourselves, by subjecting our flesh to our spirit, choosing to conduct ourselves according to our conscience, and having the inner world of our thoughts motivated by good order and purity. Thus we shall put an end to the civil conflict in our own midst.

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Let us be at peace with one another, “forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you” (Col. 3:13), and showing mercy to each other out of mutual love, just as Christ, solely for love of us, had mercy on us and for our sake came down to us. Then, recalled from the sinful fall through His help and grace, and lifted high above this world by virtues, we may have our citizenship in heavenly places (cf Phil. 3:20), whence also we wait for our hope (cf Rom. 8:23), redemption from corruption and enjoyment of celestial and eternal blessings as children of the heavenly Father.

(St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p. 484)

Prayer for the Peace of the Whole World

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Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people on the earth. Guide, I pray, all the nations and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace. Protect us from the evils of injustice, prejudice, exploitation, conflict and war.

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Help us to put away mistrust, bitterness and hatred. Teach us to cease the storing and using of implements of war. Lead us to find justice, peace and freedom.  Unite us in the making and sharing of tools of peace against ignorance, poverty, disease and oppression.

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Grant that we may grow in harmony and friendship as brothers and sisters created in Your image, to Your honor and praise. Amen.

(My Orthodox Prayer Book, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Kindle Location 824-834)

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St. Jacob of Alaska, Peacemaker

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

St. Jacob of Alaska (d. July 26, 1864) brought peace to warring tribes in Alaska at the same time as the Civil War was being fought in the United States.  He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, instructing them that once baptized they were brothers in Christ and so should no longer go to war against each other. (Of course, at that same time the fact that many Americans considered themselves Christian did not stop them from going to war against each other or from enslaving people).  St. Jacob’s accomplishment is no easy task.    Traditional enemies laid down their weapons and embraced each other in the Faith.  St. Jacob writes in his journal:

“Beginning in the morning, upon my invitation, all the Kol’chane and Ingalit from the Yukon and the local ones gathered at my place and I preached the word of God, concluding at noon. Everyone listened to the preaching with attention and without discussion or dissent, and in the end they all expressed faith and their wish to accept Holy Baptism, both the Kol’chane and the Ingalit (formerly traditional enemies). I made a count by families and in groups, and then in the afternoon began the baptismal service. First I baptized 50 Kol’chane and Ingalit men, the latter from the Yukon and Innoko. It was already evening when I completed the service. March 21, 1853.”

St. Jacob pray for our country asking God to give peace between the politically factious and fractious.  May we Christians in America live according to the Gospel.  If traditional enemies can become brothers and sisters because of the Gospel, certainly Christians can learn to live in peace with one another.

“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:27-36)

Patience: Being Able to See Clearly

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  (James 5:7-11)

“Patience is a virtue,” goes the saying.  It is indeed one oft mentioned in the New Testament but rarely in the Old Testament.  Patience needs other virtues to bear fruit, otherwise it can just be inaction, passive tolerance.  Patience needs to be coupled with the actions of love, kindness and mercy to be Christian virtue.

“Therefore the patient [people] should be told to study how to tolerate those whom it is necessary for them to love. For if love does not follow patience, the virtue on display will transform itself into the greater sin of wrath. Thus, when Paul says: ‘Love is patient,’ he immediately adds: ‘it is kind’ (1 Corinthians 13:4).  Clearly those who are tolerated in patience are also loved with unceasing kindness. And so, the same great teacher when he was persuading his disciples of the virtue of patience, was saying: ‘Let all bitterness, and wrath, and indignation, and clamor, and blasphemy be put away from you’ (Ephesians 4:31). And having put all outward matters in good order, [Paul] turned to the internal life when he added: ‘with all malice.’

Because clearly, it is useless for indignation, clamor, and blasphemy to be endured externally, if internally malice, which is the mother of all the vices, dominates. In vain is wickedness cut from the outer branches if it survives at the root internally, only to grow again in many forms. Thus, the Truth well says in person: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and speak falsely of you’ (Luke 6:27).  For it is a virtue before men to endure adversaries, but it is a virtue before God to love them. Because the only sacrifice that God accepts before his eyes on the altar of good works is the flame kindled by charity. Hence, to those who were patient but did not love, he says: ‘And why do you see the particle in your brother’s eye but not see the beam in your own?’ (Matthew 7:3)

 For the disturbance of impatience is the particle, while malice in the heart is the beam in the eye. For the breeze of temptation blows the former, but consummated iniquity makes the beam nearly immobile. Rightly, then, was it added: ‘You hypocrite, first remove the beam from your own eye and then you will be able to see so that you can clear the particle from your brother’s eye’ (Matthew 7:5).  It is as if it were being said to a wicked mind, which grieved inwardly but feigned patiences externally: ‘First, cast off the beam of malice and then correct others for their mere impatience; otherwise, if you do not even attempt to conquer your own pretences, you will suffer much more than simply bearing the faults of others.'”

(St. Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, pp. 104-106)

Carrying the Peace of the Holy Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is …. peace…” (Galatians 5:22)

St. Silouan the Athonite teaches us:

“But if we accustom ourselves to praying eagerly for our enemies, and loving them, peace will always dwell in our souls; whereas if we feel hatred toward our brethren, or find fault with them, our minds will be clouded and we shall lose our peace and the confidence to pray to God.  […]  The man who carries the peace of the Holy Spirit in his heart spreads peace around him, too; but he who has a malevolent spirit in him spreads evil.  […]

It is a great thing in the sight of God to pray for those who hurt our feelings and injure us; and for this the Lord will accord us grace, and by the Holy Spirit we shall come to know the Lord, and bear every affliction with joy for His sake, and the Lord will give us love for all the world, and we shall ardently desire the good of all men, and pray for all as for our own soul. The Lord bade us love our enemies, and the man who loves his enemies is like to the Lord.” (St. Silouan the Athonite, pp 316-317)

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”  (Mark 11:25)

Sleeping, Resting, Rising and God

Papa bear growled, “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed.”

There may be many reasons why we don’t get the perfect night’s sleep, or even why we can’t get to bed!   “For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on it, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in it.” (Isaiah 28:20)   There indeed are many things that can bug you in bed and keep you awake.

Following my surgeries and chemotherapy, sleepless nights were common, so I had time to consider God’s word regarding sleep.  If you find yourself having trouble falling to sleep, you might remember the scripture:

In bed I remember You; as I lie awake I reflect on You, mindful of how you helped me, and I rejoice in the safety of your wings.  (Psalm 63:6)

It is a verse from the Psalms that Christians for centuries have been saying as part of morning prayer.   St. John Chrysostom said that in his day, that is, the 4th Century, saying Psalm 63 in the morning was already part of the ancient tradition of the Church.    You can join Christians from the first centuries of the Church in praying this psalm.

If sleep escapes you, take the time to remember God and all God’s contact with you during the day.   You don’t even have to have lots of words, you can remember God and keep yourself in God’s presence.  And though it may be hard to do, work on rejoicing in the night, especially a sleepless night, as the verse 63:6 says.   It helps to remember the words of St. Paul: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Always and in all circumstances includes the middle of the night when sleep frustratingly eludes you.

Monks for their part came to see sleep as something to be avoided and even included sleeping on the hard ground as a virtue.  But Christ promised to give us rest, and the Scriptures do say God gives the ones He loves sleep (Psalm 127:2).  Ill health deprives us of sleep, which is not good, but on the other hand can increase our prayer life.  God’s creatures do enjoy the rest in sleep that God bestows on us all.

Whenever you lie down to rest, pray:

Into Your hands, O Lord, do I commend my spirit: Bless me, have mercy on me and give me eternal life.

If you wake up in the night, you might remember Psalm 3:5 –

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.

You awake – whether after a long night’s sleep or in the middle of a disrupted night –  because the Lord sustains you.  Can we be comforted by this thought?  And be thankful for that awakening?   It takes some doing to believe that we are awakened again in the night because of the goodness of the Lord.   In Muslim countries the early morning call to prayer reminds the faithful that prayer is better than sleep.

And if there are just too many things on your mind, too many things you have to get done, so you shorten your sleep, remember these words:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)

Being unable to sleep, frequently awakening in the night, or being jolted awake in the middle of sleep make one weary for sure.  When the morning arrives and we need to get up, the sleep which tauntingly escaped us all night, often comes upon us, and we drag ourselves into the morning.

And again the words of the Psalms can come to mind:

As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form. (Psalm 17:15)

 

Peace: The Search for Being Human

In the 13 June 2016 issue of TIME, Belinda Luscombe writes an article, “How to Stay Married.”   Part of what interests me is that article is defending marriage and the benefits for couples who remain in the same marriage for life.  The article is not advocating some retro-return to a religious past nor is it overtly defending conservative religious values.  It notes the divorce rates have declined over the past few decades, and does claim there really are health and happiness advantages to remaining married over a life time.

However interesting the articles main points are, I was also intrigued by the worldview expressed about humans, which seems to be a natural extension of secular, humanistic assumptions.  Luscombe writes:

“Lifetime monogamy, as many have pointed out, is not a natural state.  Very few animals mate for life, and most of those that do are either birds or really ugly (Malagasy giant rat, anyone?).  One theory as to why humans took to monogamy is that it strengthens societies by reducing competition among males.

But natural and worthwhile are not the same things.  Reading isn’t a natural thing to do.  Neither is painting, snowboarding nor coding.  Nobody suggest we abandon any of those.  Monogamy also has a certain energy-saving appeal: it saves humans from wasting time and effort on constantly hunting out new mates or recovering from betrayals by current ones.

Luscombe did not apparently do much research in or reflection on the entirety of Western Civilization (Christian, Jewish or Islamic) and its understanding of what it is to be human or its attitudes towards marriage and monogamy.  If she had she might have easily recognized what is so totally incomplete in her own thinking on humanity and marriage.  [BTW, just because it is bizarrely interesting, I will mention that wolves are reportedly monogamous, and so too vultures!].

I’ll focus only on the Christian version of this, but Luscombe’s concept of what is “natural” is incomplete, for humans have not only an animal nature (which they do share with other animals) but humans also have consciousness and a conscience.   Humans are not limited by what is natural to animals because they are not reducible to only animal nature.  Humans have a human nature which undeniably is tied to our animal bodies, but which is capable of self-awareness, of consciously changing behavior and rising above mere animal instincts.    Morally, humans have developed traits of altruism, kindness, sharing, self denial, love, forgiveness, selflessness, philanthropy, apologizing, benevolence, etc.  These are very much part of what it is to be human.   Monogamy may not be common in the animal world, but it is a consciously and conscientiously chosen human behavior.   From an Orthodox Christian point of view, morality is a normal part of human nature.

Humans choose monogamy not simply because it has some benefit for natural selection, but for moral reasons, for religious beliefs, because they can!   For believers, human practices such as monogamous marriage, is not the random outcome of natural selection, but a morally chosen path for humans.  Humans are capable of self-consciously choosing behavior which is not purely animalistic because humans are more than mere animal nature.

Being self-conscious, humans have to choose behaviors, and can reflect on their choices and which can reflect their chosen values.  Humans can create abstract reasons to defend their choices, and for believers, can receive revelation from God about how to use their consciousness, free will and conscience for a greater good.  Humans are not completely limited by their genes, but now are actively shaping their genetic futures.  We are not completely and uncontrollably pre-destined either by our individualism nor by our genetic make-up.  We are capable of being philanthropic and making choices good for our species as well as for the world. [And sadly, we don’t always choose those options!]

Luscombe’s comments seemed to me to be exactly the kind of thinking about humanity which Fr. Alexander Schmemann so lamented and skewered as where humanity has gone wrong.   A recent issue of The Wheel (Number 4 | Winter 2016), has a quote from Fr. Alexander which is exactly to the point, though he is addressing a different issue and problem (reducing humans to economic beings), yet the underlying errant assumption is materialism.  He writes:

“Man’s nature demands peace, but his life conduct constantly opposes it. Why?

The materialistic worldview that is presented by its preachers as the most advanced teaching about a human being not only does not give an answer to this question, but does not see the question itself. It reduces all human divisions to economics and the distribution of earthly goods, while the overcoming of those divisions is reduced to struggle, including armed struggle. Therefore calls for “world peace” smack of a terrible hypocrisy on the lips of the representatives of a materialistic worldview that does not, in essence, recognize peace. There cannot be true peacemaking where there is no person to be reconciled to, to reconnect with, where there is no one with whom harmony, accord, and love can be reconstructed. This is because, from the point of view of materialism, there is no peace in the very nature of man; there are only animal needs, the satisfaction of which does not pacify but only affords a sense of satiety.

The Christian approach to man sees in division and strife a tragically irrational disparity with respect to his true nature and calling. The cult of natural demands to which, in essence, all materialistic anthropology is reduced is seen by Christianity as a sinful perversion of the original concept of a human being. Division and strife came about precisely because man had become satisfied with minimalistic self-valuation, had accepted a caricature of himself. Therefore the central place of peacemaking is in restoration of the true person and true humanity. Peacemakers will be called the sons of God because reconciliation is the transcendence of the boundaries of one’s “I,” the recognition of one’s brother in another, the reconstruction of life as the unity of love, the regaining of paradise lost.”

Humans, as Fr. Schmemann’s thought would have it, not only transcend the boundaries of “I” in peacemaking, but in marital love-making as well.  We choose monogamy to transcend our animal nature, our basest instincts and animals drives.  We do it because of love – because we are loved by God, and we are capable of loving others – rising above the limits of our animal nature and aspiring for sharing in the Divine Life and Love.