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Blessed are the Peacemakers, for They Shall Be Called Children of God

March 15, 2014

2096324073_d766d91caeAs we continue to explore the Lord Christ’s Sermon on the Mount with specific attention to the Beatitudes, it may be profitable to pause for a moment and reflect upon the nature of beatitude itself.  Beatitude encompasses far more than happiness or blessedness.  It is an eschatological lodestar guiding us to a way of life that promises eternal salvation. The Beatitudes initiate one of the main themes of Matthew’s Gospel, that the Kingdom so long awaited in the Old Testament is not of this world, but of the next, meaning, among other things, that it is not political or external, but spiritual and internal, yet having the power to transform every aspect of life, every corner of space, and every moment of time.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa refers to beatitude as “dispassion, divine union, estrangement from vice, and likeness to what is good” (Prologue to On the Song of Songs). In his introductory homily on the beatitudes, he provides us with a thought that illumines and is illuminating, “Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want.  Perhaps the meaning of beatitude may become clearer to us if it is compared with its opposite.  Now the opposite of beatitude is misery.  Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings” (Homily 1 on the Beatitudes, PG 44.1193).

This is precisely the manner in which Saint Gregory reflects upon the eighth beatitude.  If bringing peace to another is the outward manifestation of love, its opposite, causing discord or disturbance, must necessarily be the offshoot of hatred.  As Saint Gregory writes, “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 calamity of war. Do you see for how many different diseases this single word is an antidote? For peace is equally opposed to every one of the things mentioned, and wipes out these evils by its own presence. Just as illness vanishes when health supervenes, and as no darkness is left when light begins to shine, so also when peace appears, all the passions connected with its opposite are eliminated” (Homily 7 on the Beatitudes, PG 44.1284).

St._Gregory_of_NyssaThe gift of peace is truly a healing balm for every ill. Although those suffering from depression, anxiety, the cravings of addiction, the turbulence of anger, obsessions, compulsions, and the many other manifestations of psychopathology may say they want to be the opposite of what they are at present, what they ultimately desire is peace of mind, for peace brings a new healthy and wholesome way of being in the world that is productive, fertile, and full. When people are at peace, they feel as though their needs are satisfied, they can be grateful for the gifts they have, they can be warm and loving with others, they can set goals for direction in life and set out for bright futures where joy, trust, compassion, and freedom are faithful companions. With peace, human beings, who are confessedly “dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:29) and “like the grass that withers” (Psalm 102:4), become sons and daughters of God, thus transcending their own nature, for “the mortal becomes immortal, the corruptible becomes incorrupt, the ephemeral becomes everlasting, and the human becomes divine” (Gregory of Nyssa, Homily 7 on the Beatitudes, PG 44.1279).

If we are to be peacemakers we must first possess peace in our hearts.  As the old Latin saying goes, “Nemo dat quod non habet” (you can’t give what you don’t have).  While hatred is the catalyst that fuels the passions in the human heart, passions such as envy, anger, jealousy, and hypocrisy are like sticks of kindling smoldering below the surface waiting for the right opportunity to burst into flame.  Once again, Saint Gregory offers the illumined insight of a pure heart, “Jealousy and hypocrisy are 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 it smolders inside and burns only what lies near; the flame does not flare up visibly, only a biting smoke penetrates, because it is so vigorously compressed from within” (Homily 7 on the Beatitudes, PG 44. 1288).

There can be no peace if these passions lurk in the human heart.  They lay dormant until the moment for them to become enflamed in much the way the passions of Cain led to the murder of his brother Abel.  “The envy within commanded the murder, but hypocrisy became its executioner,” writes the Saintly Bishop of Nyssa. To be a peacemaker, we need to have peace. And to have peace, we need to be sincere and look with kind eyes on our brothers and our sisters, rejoicing in their every good even more than we would rejoice in our own.

The peaceable heart is the simple, single-minded heart in which the divine spirit dwells and inspires the believer to love and to act in divine way, unencumbered by the passions and the attractions of the flesh.  In Saint Gregory’s words, “someone is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the civil war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the nous, but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine commandments” (Homily 7 on the Beatitudes, PG 44. 1288). This “good order,” according to Saint Isaac the Syrian, “generates peace; peace gives birth to light in the soul; and peace makes the pure air in the mind radiant” (Homily 48).

If we desire to be peacemakers we must tend to our own hearts, pulling out the weeds of the passions and planting the flowers of the virtues. Saint Isaac the Syrian wrote, “No one has understanding if they are not humble, and they who lack humility are devoid of understanding. No one is humble if they are not peaceful, and they who are not peaceful are not humble. And no one is peaceful without rejoicing. In all the paths upon which people journey in this world they will find no peace, until they draw nigh to hope in God. The heart finds no peace from toil and from stumbling blocks, until hope enters it, makes it peaceful, and pours joy into it. That worshipful and all-holy mouth spoke of this when it said, ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’” (Homily 51) Those who become peacemakers in like manner offer rest to others, being ministers of peace and co-heirs of the prince of peace. And so these bearers of peace bring calm, gladness and love just as the sun brings light, just as water brings cleanliness, just as a fragrant perfume fills the air with a perceptible, yet invisible delight. When Saint Seraphim of Sarov famously told his spiritual children, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and then thousands around you will be saved,” he was simply putting the beatitude in different words. The meaning is clear: “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

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2 Comments
  1. Fr. Vasili Hillhouse permalink

    Dear Fr Alexios,

    Many years on the Feast of St Alexios Man of God.

    Please keep me and my family in your prayers!

    Καλή Σαρακοστή, Fr Vasili Hillhouse

    Via iPhone

    >

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