Overcoming Anger

for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  (James 1:20)

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  (Ephesians 4:31-32)

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St. Paul warns that those who act in anger will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:20-21).   The spiritual literature of Christianity through the centuries kept anger (or one of its manifestations – wrath, rage, revenge, hatred, etc) as one of the deadly sins or passions which Christians were to work to overcome.  And though the New Testament does allow for anger as long as it doesn’t involve sin (Ephesians 4:26), anger was viewed as a dangerous and destructive passion for it often overwhelms the rational thought process and pushes people to act hastily and with force disregarding wisdom or a measured response.

Christ does not want you to feel the least hatred, resentment, anger or rancor towards anyone in any way or on account of any transitory thing whatsoever. This is proclaimed throughout the four Gospels.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 13842-44)

Anger can give us a sense of empowerment – even when we are in the wrong or have not authority in a situation.  Our angry response towards others is often more a measure of our own feelings than a proper evaluation of the wrong we think someone else has done.  Anger can arise in prayer, making us think it is righteous, but often is a sign of our own spiritual illness.

When you pray as you should, thoughts will come to you which make you feel that you have a real right to be angry. But anger with your neighbor is never right. If you search you will find that things can always be arranged without anger. So do all you can not to break out into anger. Take care that, while appearing to cure someone else, you yourself do not remain uncured, in this way thwarting your prayer.  (St. John Cassian, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 1302-8)

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The cure for anger?  Humility is a cure all for much of what ails us spiritually in Orthodox literature.  The humble person maintains an even keel no matter what is going on – be it praise or criticism – and does not react to others but carefully chooses their actions.  Humility stops us from getting emotionally charged by everything that happens around us.  But anger can also be overcome by the combination of courage and mercy – which may not seem like they can go together, but they are at the heart of what it is to be a Christian.

Nothing so converts anger into joy and gentleness as courage and mercy. Like a siege-engine, courage shatters enemies attacking the soul from without, mercy those attacking it from within.   (St Gregory of  Sinai, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle 43079-43081)

 

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The Noise of Children in Church

The problem of children making noise in church is not a new one, but an ancient one.  In THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS we find the following quote attributed to Abba Poemen (4th Century AD):

“Abba Peomen’s brethren said to him: ‘Let us leave this place, for the monasteries here worry us and we are losing our souls; even the little children who cry do not let us have interior peace.’ 

Abba Poemen said to them: ‘Is it because of voices of angels that you wish to go away from here?’” 

Indeed if the noise of children causes us to want to leave the church, how would we stand if threatened with martyrdom?   Many Christians remained faithful to the Church even when the cries and noise they heard was that of those who came to silence them and even kill them because of their faith in Christ.

It may be that the distraction of noisy children in church puts us to the test.  The real test however is whether we can overcome our anger, impatience and judgmentalism.  St. Paul does warn us that if we engage in enmity, strife and anger, we will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:20-21).   He never says that children being noisy in church will lose their salvation, no matter how damnable we feel their behavior is.  When we lose self control and allow wrath, anger and hatred to take control of our thoughts, emotions and lives, we drive the Holy Spirit away from our hearts.   For St. Paul tells us:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”   (Galatians 5:22-23)

Indeed, the feelings of anger and annoyance at the behavior of others might in fact be a normal human reaction in the world of the Fall, but we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and so are to strive to overcome our sinful inclinations.  That is the very purpose of our confessing our sins in church.   The noise of the thoughts which arise in our hearts and minds – our anger, wrath and malice – are much more offensive to God than the noise of little children.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice,  and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”   (Ephesians 4:30-32)

An old Christian saying:  “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”  It is better for us in love to find solutions to parish problems, to create a worship space in which all can be blessed by God.

I am addressing these words to those who struggle with impatience and anger as they experience noisy children in church.

Mary and Joseph bring the Christ-child into the temple

To the parents of children, there is another wisdom needed, that of love for one’s fellow Christians – we can exhibit that in our own dealing with our children and being aware when it is time to take them out of the church nave because their behavior is disturbing others.  Parents too have to learn patience and perseverance in bringing their children to church and having to deal with them during the Liturgy.  Your child is not preventing you from experiencing the Liturgy, but rather is giving you opportunity to do the work of love – raising your children – within Christian community.  The word “Liturgy” is often said to mean “the work of the people.”  The parents work is to patiently deal with their children while persevering the faith.  Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.    Denying oneself is something each Christian must practice and we also thereby set an example for our children.

See also my blog The Angelic Voice of Children.