Thursday, July 16, 2015

Who Are the Peacemakers?

Today we struggle with the need for peace in the Middle East. The most recent effort has been the agreement to constrain Iran on the development of a nuclear weapon. This seems to have become controversial in the political sphere. Some wanting to hold out for everything even if it means more war. Others are satisfied with a path that constrains their ability to develop such a weapon. But what I wish to address is the idea of a peacemaker as taught by Jesus.  Who are the true peacemakers? What did Christ mean when He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall become sons of God"?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa gives us some insight in one of his sermons on the Beatitudes. In commenting on being a peacemaker he begins by reminding us how different we are from God. He is all powerful and we are just made from dust. Yet, God tells us, if we can become a peacemaker we will become His son. This can only mean that we become like Him.

What is a peacemaker? Saint Gregory puts it this way:
Now a peacemaker is a person who gives peace to another; but one cannot give to another what one does not possess oneself. Hence the Lord wants you first to be yourself filled with the blessing of peace, and then to communicate it to those who have need of it.
So being a peacemaker has to do with our own condition. Are we peaceful, do we have an inner peace to share? We can only give what we have to give.

Next he asks, What is peace? He writes:
Surely peace is nothing but a loving disposition towards one's neighbor. Now what is held to be the opposite of love? It is hate and wrath, anger and envy, harboring resentment as well as hypocrisy and the clarity of war.
It is easy to see that wrath is against goodness. No one who experiences the wrath of another person or another country sees this as good. If we can free ourselves from our own anger that leads to wrath we will move towards becoming a peacemaker. The passions that boil within ourselves are what need to be aimed first if we are to become like God.

In addition to wrath which we see externally, there is an inner disposition that may even be worse because it is hidden. That is envy and hypocrisy. Saint Gregory speaks of it this way:
Such is the disease of envy and hypocrisy; it is cherished secretly in the depth of the heart, like a hidden fire, while externally everything is made to look deceptively like  friendship. It is like a fire that is hidden under chaff. For a time is smolders inside and burns only what lies near; the flame does not flare up visibly, only biting smoke penetrates, because it is so vigorously compressed from within. But if it meets with some gust of wind, it is rekindled into a bright open flame.
We see this in the Biblical story of Cain and Able. Cain raved when Able was praised, but his envy lead him to killing Able. To become a peacemaker we must also rid ourselves of this hidden disease of envy. We cannot live with hypocrisy in ourselves and lead others to peace. We have a war going on within ourselves that can flare any time to warlike action. By becoming open and congruent with our feelings and actions we will receive God's grace to act with Divine power. Only then can we act with love and lead others towards peace. With any kind of malice hidden in our heart we will find ourselves separated from God and His love. We may even be contributing to the wrath we so much despise.

Not only are we asked to regard the needs of others by seeing their goodness, we need to address the war that Saint Gregory says is inherent in ourselves. He says:
I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind, but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.
This is our true challenge. The passions of our body too often dictate our actions. The mind may say one thing but the bodily passions take us in another direction. This is the aim of the Orthodox way of life, to lift our way of being so our higher nature is in control. Not only are we reconciled with God in repentance, prayer and the sacraments, but we discipline ourselves in these actions as well as fasting. It is the Orthodox way of life that will lead you to become a peacemaker and a son of God. This is the only way there will ever be peace in the world.

Ten Points on the Orthodox Way of life

Reference: Saint Gregory of Nyssa: The Lord's Prayer, The Beatitudes, Vol 18 Ancient Christian Writers.