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)

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Images Not Imagination

A picture is worth a thousand words, or at least wisdom claimed this at one time.  Here are three images that caught my attention.

First from the Dayton Art Institute which recently had an origami art display.  A piece entitled “Twisted Holy Book” by  Miri Golan (2014):

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The holy book is opened and there is an outpouring from the book as the meaning of the words expand beyond the limits of the book itself.  The words have life in them and a force like the living water Christ mentions – they are moving, flowing, interacting with the reader of the words who in turn gives them life, an incarnation so that they can be observed by others who cannot see the book.  If the words remain print on a page, they are lifeless, but when they flow from the pages into the world, into our hearts then they expand in a divine way – eternal and infinite.  We, the readers, of course, have to be willing to allow the pages of life to enter our lives.  We have to be looking for the living God on every page to see beyond the ink into the infinite.  When we move beyond the words on the pages, we come to experience the Word of God to whom the Scriptures bear witness.

The second I saw in the Indianapolis Museum of Art was painted in 1864  by Frederic Edwin Church and is called “Our Flag”:

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The year it was painted America was in the midst of the Civil War, a depressing time for the country with a lot of hopelessness, and yet the artist still had a hope in “The triumph of America.”  The country was completely divided by the partisan politics of the day, by the evil of slavery – and the division sometimes pitted family members against each other.  Yet, America still symbolized something – an ideal, a goodness that could rise above the turmoil, above the fray.  And perhaps even the darkness was needed to make people want to find the light – to help them understand there is a light beyond the immediate controversy which can shine on us and through every darkness.  It might give us hope that America is greater than what the extremists on the left and right push for and refuse to compromise on.  Maybe the ideal will be the unifying factor that will enlighten and inspire our politicians to work for the common good, not for a political party when we realize the ideal is multifaceted and we may just be looking at it from different sides.

The third work I saw at the Denver Art Museum, entitled “Peace: The Beauty of Friendship Overcomes the Beasts of War” by Steff Geissbuhler (1986):

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This one brought a smile to my face as Godzilla and King Kong, mortal enemies in the movie hold hands and share an ideal.  The beasts of war are in our heart – individually but also collectively as a nation.  We can overcome and tame those beasts, humans actually can rise above their passions if they choose.   We as creatures in God’s image can rise above our mere animal nature.   If we understand that we are a small piece of the big picture which is unfolding, and that we are not God, not even Godzilla, but are human, capable of soothing the beasts within ourselves, capable of opening our hearts to allow the God who is love to dwell in us.   We may disagree but our warfare need not last forever.

Peace as Well-Being

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-8; emphases not in original text)

It has been noted that St. Paul speaks fairly frequently about peace and reconciliation in his various epistles.  Surprisingly, therefore, not many scholars focus on Paul as an advocate for peace.  It certainly has been noted that peace – shalom – is a very important theological concept throughout the Old Testament.

Biblical Scholar Michael Gorman writes:

For our purposes, we will define shalom — a word that appears 238 times in the Bible (Old Testament) — rather generally. First, negatively, shalom is the resolution and cessation — and henceforth the absence — of chaos, conflict, oppression, and broken relations. Second, positively, shalom is the establishment, and henceforth the presence, of wholeness, reconciliation, goodness, justice, and the flourishing of creation — “physical and spiritual wellbeing.”   (Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, Kindle  3735-3741)

If we think about shalom meaning “physical and spiritual wellbeing”, we come to understand that Christ healing people was not merely a medical miracle, it was giving the person the shalom God promises His people.  Too many Christians put way too much emphasis on the miracle/magic of Christ’s healing people, and fail to see that miracles are signs of God’s peace.  The healing is not the most important thing that happens.  Rather, the one who is healed participates in the shalom of God – participates not only in God’s promises, but participates in God!  The healing part of the miracle is the least significant part of what is being given and revealed.  Yet, Christians ignore what the miracle points to and continue to want only magic in their lives.  Consider the Gospel lesson of  Luke 13:10-17 –

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

The woman who is healed immediately praises God.  She is experiencing shalom, physical and spiritual well-being.  She is reconciled to God.  Her relationship with God is restored – something she could not experience in her diseased state.  Yes, diseased includes being dis-eased.  She could never have peace while in her suffering state.

The woman’s healing, her shalom, reveals the dis-ease of the synagogue ruler.  He is truly diseased.  He cannot rejoice in the woman’s healing or experience the peace of God.  He is incapable of seeing God in the miracle.  God gives shalom to those who are ready to receive it.  The woman was ready, but the synagogue ruler clearly was not.

Miracles are not given as some divine magic allowing a person to pursue their own interests.  A miracle of God restores a person to a proper relationship with God, it gives peace, shalom to the person.  It is the peace of God which we each should be seeking in our lives.  A miracle which does not bring a person into peace with God is a failed miracle.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.   (Ephesians 4:1-6; emphases not in the original text)

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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For the Peace from Above

For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls . . . . For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord. (Petitions from the Divine Liturgy)

St. Tikhon, the Enlightener of North America comments:

Therefore the angels at His very birth already sing “on earth peace, good will toward men.” But perhaps you might ask — where is peace on earth, since from the coming of Christ until this day we see conflicts and wars; when at the present time one nation rises against another and one kingdom against another; when even now discord, hostility, and animosity are seen so often among people?

Where are we to look for peace, which was brought and left by Christ (cf. John 14:27)? “It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains”; “all nations will stream toward it” “and beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” “and they will not train for war again” (Is. 2:2, 4); “every man shall sit under his own vine undisturbed” (Mic. 4:4). This kingdom of peace on earth, which was foretold by the Prophets of the Old Testament, is indeed the Church of Christ; and it is in it [the Church] that peace should be sought. Here man is given peace with God, since in the mysteries he is purified from sin and becomes a child of the Lord, pleasant to Him. Here also in the services offered to God, in the mysteries, in the order and life of the Church, a Christian draws peace and delight and calmness for his heart.

The nature of man is transformed and renewed, and into his meek, gentle, truly humble, merciful, and loving soul comes the God of peace and love. And a Christian then experiences the heavenly bliss of which there is nothing higher on earth. No troubles or sufferings of any kind can overshadow this blissful peace in a Christian. On the contrary, we know from the history of the Church of Christ that holy men even rejoiced in suffering and boasted in sorrows, captivity and prisons, deserts and dens of the wicked. Amidst all deprivations they were placid and calm, perhaps more so than people who live with all the comforts and prosperity ever feel. They are not afraid of death itself; they calmly expect its approach and depart to the Lord in peace. Peace is dispersed everywhere in the Church of Christ.

Here people pray for peace in the whole world, for the unity of all; here all call one another brethren, and help one another; here everybody is loved, and even enemies are forgiven and cared for. And when Christians listen to the voice of the Church and live according to its commands, then they truly have peace and love.  (St. Tikhon of Moscow: Instructions and Teachings for the American Orthodox Faithful (1898-1907), Kindle Loc 453-471)

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)

Passions, Peace and Anger

“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 the 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 ascribe 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. 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 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 lairs 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 not only anger towards men, but also towards animals and even inanimate objects.” (St. John Cassian in The Philokalia: Vol 1, p 85)

Peacemaking In a Troubled World

The Lord Jesus said: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

In the Orthodox Church liturgies, prayers for peace abound in the litanies.  Additional the celebrant and congregants wish each other peace throughout the services.  When the Gospel is proclaimed, peace is wished upon all those listening.

Yet, we know that peace in the world is elusive, even though Christ our Lord commands us to love even our enemies.  We pray for and hope for and pursue peace with all, and yet we cannot determine how others will act towards us or towards each other.  St. Gregory the Great, (d. 604AD) reflects on the difficulty of wishing to pursue peace in a world in which many are not interested in peace at all, nor are they influenced by or concerned about God.   Are Christians only to be Good Samaritans and come in and help those who are suffering, or do Christians have any mandate to resist or prevent evil from occurring, even by the use of force?

St. Gregory writes:

“Therefore, those who are peaceful should be advised that if they desire human peace too greatly, they might fail to reprove the evil conduct of others. And by condoning that behavior, they will sever themselves from the peace of the Creator – for by avoiding external quarrels, they will be punished for breaking their internal alliance [with God]. For what is transitory peace if not a footprint of eternal peace? Therefore, what could be more demented than to love a footprint, pressed in dust, but not love the one who made the impression?

Thus David, when he would bind himself to the internal footprints of peace, testifies that he did not hold any concord with evil persons, saying: ‘Did I not hate them who hated you, God, and waste away because of your enemies?’ For to hate God’s enemies with a perfect hatred is to love what they were made to be but to reprove what they do; in other words, to reprove the actions of the wicked but to remain of assistance to them. Therefore, we must well consider what a great sin it is if we silence our criticism of the wicked and hold peace with them. […] The peaceful are to be advised that they not fear to disturb the temporal peace by offering words of correction. Again, they should be advised that they keep inwardly with undiminished love that peace that will be disturbed externally by their reproving words. David declares that he has observed both prudently when he says: ‘ With those who hate peace, I was a peacemaker; when I spoke to them, they fought against me without a cause.’ Notice that when he spoke, he became embattled, and yet, despite this opposition, he was peaceful. He did not cease to correct those who were incensed against him, nor did he cease to love those whom he reproved.

Likewise, Paul said: ‘If it is possible, as much as it is in you, have peace with all people.’ For just as he was about to exhort his disciples to have peace with everyone, he began by saying: ‘If it is possible,’ then added: ‘as much as it is in you.’ For indeed, it was difficult for them who were to correct evil acts to have peace with everyone. But when temporal peace is disturbed in the hearts of evil men because of our correction, it is necessary that peace should remain in our own hearts. For it is rightly said: ‘As much as it is in you.’ (The Book of Pastoral Rule, pp 151-153)

Peace is to rule in our hearts, even if we have to confront evildoers and those who disturb the peace.  We should defend what is good and right without losing the peace that comes from Christ.

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

Preserving the Peace of God Within Yourself

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (d. 1867) writes:

“If you have felt that your mind has come to be at one with the soul and body, that you are no longer cut into pieces by sin but are something unified and whole, that the hallowed peace of Christ is breathing in you, then watch over this gift of God with all possible care. Let prayer and the reading of religious books be your principal occupation; give to other works only a secondary importance, be cold towards earthly activities, and if possible eschew them altogether. Sacred peace, fine as the breath of the Holy Spirit, immediately withdraws from the soul which behaves carelessly in its presence; the soul which lacks reverence, proves disloyal by indulging in sin, and permits itself to grow negligent. Together with the peace of Christ, grace-given prayer withdraws likewise from the unworthy soul: then the passions invade it like hungry beasts, and begin to torment the victim who has given himself to them, and who has been left to himself by God, who has withdrawn from him.

If you become surfeited with food, or still more with drink, the peace of God will cease to act in you.

If you are angry, you will lose this peace for a long while.

If you allow yourself to become irreverent, the Holy Spirit will no longer work within you.

If you begin to love something earthly, if you become infected by a passionate attachment to some object or skill, or by a special liking for some person, holy peace will certainly withdraw from you.

If you allow yourself to take pleasure in impure thoughts, peace will leave you for a long time, because it does not tolerate the evil stench of sin – and especially the sins of lust and vanity.

You will seek this peace and find it not; you will weep for its loss; but it will pay no attention to your tears, that so you may learn to give due value to the divine gift, and to guard it with proper care and reverence. Hate everything that draws your down into distraction or sin. Crucify yourself on the cross of the Gospel commandments; keep yourself always nailed to it. Rebuff all sinful thought and wishes with courage and vigilance; cast away earthly care; try to live the Gospel by zealously fulfilling all its commandments. When you pray, once more crucify yourself on the cross of prayer. Push aside all the memories, however important they may be, which come to your during prayer: ignore every one of them. Do not theologize; do not be carried away by following up brilliant, original, and powerful ideas which suddenly occur to you. Sacred silence, which is induced in the mind at the time of prayer by a sense of God’s greatness, speaks of God more profoundly and more eloquently than any human word. ‘If you pray truly,’ said the Fathers, ‘you are a theologian.’” (The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo, pp 207-208)

Charity: The Love of God

St. Jacob of Alaska

“Let the sowers of strife hear what is written: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.’ On the other hand, let them recognize that if those who make peace are called the ‘sons of God’, then those who confound it are the sons of Satan. Moreover, all those who separate themselves, through discord, from the lifeline of love will wither and die.[…] Therefore, let the sowers of strife consider the extent to which they sin. For when they perpetuate this particular sin, they also eradicate every virtue that they may have in their heart. For in this one evil, they beget many others, because by sowing strife they extinguish charity, which is the mother of all the virtues. And because nothing is more revered by God than the virtue of charity. Therefore, whoever destroys the charity of his neighbor by sowing strife acts as though he were in the service of God’s enemy. For he takes from their hearts this very virtue, which the devil lost before his fall, and he cuts them off from the path by which they might return.”   (St. Gregory the Great – d. 604AD, The Book of Pastoral Rule, pps.154-155)’

St. Gregory the Great
St. Gregory the Great

In these weeks of Great Lent we take note of the divine words of St. Gregory the Great: “nothing is more revered by God than the virtue of charity.”   While the ability to fast from food differs greatly from person to person, all of us can practice charity with neighbor and stranger.  We each are able to make it our Lenten effort to protect and preserve “the charity of our neighbor.”  We contribute to the lives of all when we live so as to enable our neighbor to be charitable.