Sermon delivered November 30, 2008
Terrorists struck again, this time in Mumbai, India. No apparent goal existed other than to achieve maximum destruction and death of innocent civilians with particular focus on Americans, British and Jews. Death toll currently at 195 with nearly 300 injured.
It is another in a long line of terrorist attacks around the globe over the last twenty-five years but given greater attention since the attacks on the United States of America September 11, 2001. Lest we forget, let us remember the rise of violence on our own shores and in our own homes. Black Friday was truly dark with the 6AM trampling to death of a Walmart worker by stampeding shoppers. The increasing regularity of school shootings, domestic abuse and murder, and gang-related crimes are evidence that terror is breeding in our backyard too. What can we do to counteract violence, destruction and evil in the world?
First and foremost we must pray. We may not notice because we do it every week, but the Liturgy calls us to pray for peace-a lot. The emphasis on peace is quite strong. The first three petitions in the Great Litany at the start of the Liturgy, mention the word "peace." "In peace let us pray to the Lord. For the peace from above For the peace of God's holy churches and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord". That's why it's often called the Litany of Peace.
In fact, the beginning of almost every litany is a plea for peace. "Again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord." During the Completion Litany, after the Great Entrance we pray, "For a perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless day, let us pray to the Lord .For an angel of peace For peace in the world For the remainder of our lives in peace For a Christian and peaceful end to our lives let us pray to the Lord" At the Anaphora, we pray that "we present the holy offering (of bread and wine) in peace." The people respond and sing, "A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise."
Later, the priest prays, "And for all those in public service, permit them, Lord, to serve and govern in peace that through the faithful conduct of their duties we may live peaceful and serene lives in all piety and holiness." Later, we pray that our Archbishop may serve the holy churches in peace. At the Dismissal, we pray, "Let us depart or go forth in peace, let us pray to the Lord."
Then in the Prayer Behind the Amvon, the priest says, "Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, to the clergy, to those in public service, to the armed forces, and to all Your people." In addition, four different times the priest or bishop says, "Peace be with you" These are a direct quote of Jesus' words several times as recorded in the Gospels.
What does peace mean? The Greek word for the Pacific Ocean is eirenikou. Pacific comes from pacify. The waters of the Pacific Ocean are relatively more peaceful than the Atlantic Ocean. The dictionary defines peace in relation to the public as a state of non-war, the end of hostilities and antagonism; mutual harmony; freedom from commotion, violence, strife and dissension; it is public order and security. It also defines peace in a personal sense as freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, or obsession; peace is tranquility and serenity including silence and stillness. The actual word "peace" is from the Middle English pes which is a derivative of pais or the Latin pax. That's where the word "pact" comes from. Peace is like calm water.
However is prayer and pure passivity enough to sustain peace? The simple answer is "No", for if it were "Yes," there would be no need for security companies, police officers, soldiers and armies. The ideal we seek is peaceful co-existence but we know that not everyone is committed to this goal. In fact, many people seek the exact opposite-violence, destruction and murder-usually as a tool to achieve some other objective.
Lately however, an extreme nihilism and desire for death has been demonstrated in murder-suicides, suicide-by-cop, and suicide bombers (more correctly- homicide bombers). In order to stop this violence and murder, the threat and necessary use of greater force against the perpetrator is required. Some are called to serve others in occupations of law enforcement, security and military. Christ Himself stated, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13).
For those of us not serving in this manner, we must pray for those who do. Unfortunately, two petitions in the Great Litany of Peace are omitted from most English translations of the Divine Liturgy. They do appear in the Greek Ieratikon (Priest's Service Book) and they help us understand that the Church can and does pray for soldiers and against enemies.
First, in the petition beginning with "For our country and the President ", are the words that, when translated, read, "For our Christ-loving military of land, sea and air, let us pray to the Lord." Right after this, the next petition says, "For the fellow-fighters of the military and for the subjection under its power of every adversary and enemy, let us pray to the Lord."
I believe these petitions aslo apply to all law enforcement officers who fight crime and criminals on the local, state and national level. When we pray for them, we pray not only for their protection from injury and death, but as well for their victory over the forces of evil.
Often our media portray people in the military and law enforcement as lawless, corrupt bullies that harass and murder innocent civilians. While this may get more ratings from a curious public, it is clearly a gross distortion of the truth. Because they literally serve on the frontline against the forces of demonic evil, they are subject to extreme stress and temptation. It's easier for the devil to subtly undermine soldiers and law enforcement personnel than to fight them outright. Therefore, our prayer for them should include protection from stress and temptation to abuse their power or engage in any sinful activity that compromises their integrity.
Our prayers for peace in general and specifically for those who protect and preserve peace will mean precious little unless each one of us takes it as a personal responsibility and duty to promote peace between ourselves and others. Even more, we must strive for peace as the inner state of our heart and mind. However, as some know from experience, the struggle for peace is truly a battle within a larger war between our will and the demonic forces, between our eternal soul and our mortal flesh. St. Paul speaks of this inner struggle that each of us fights:
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me (Romans 7:15-20).
Consider too these words from the Gospel of Matthew, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:11). St. John Chrysostom says the "violent" who take the Kingdom "by force" are those who have such earnest desire for Christ that they let nothing stand between themselves and faith in Him.
Christ came to bring peace, but He also said Christians would face conflict:
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire (Matthew 18:8-9).
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be those of his own household (Matthew 10:34-36; see also Lk.12:51-53).
We learn from Christ and St. Paul that pure passivity will by no means help achieve the peace of the Kingdom. Rather, we must actively battle, making extremely difficult choices that require great sacrifice which can bring about separation, pain, injury and death. Many pilgrims in the spiritual life attest to the fact that the journey is full of blood, sweat and tears. Clearly we see this manifested with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying so intensely that He begins to sweat blood. The forces that act upon us and within us are also very great. Our struggle to attain righteousness and holiness, to do God's will, requires great effort on our part.
So, if our life is sweet and easy, we might want to ask if we've really entered into the spiritual combat. It makes sense then that Jesus and St. Paul employ the terminology of warfare so frequently when talking about spiritual matters. One might wonder how this can be, warfare and peace spoken of in the same sentence? Like most things within the Orthodox worldview, it's a paradox. Even though the weaponry is different, our will, intelligence and cunning must be greater than the devil. It's really about who wants to win more and who's willing to make the greater sacrifice in order to win:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
Christ is the solution to the war within us. By uniting with Him, the Holy Spirit can bring peace by empowering us to do battle against the forces of evil in and around us. Listen to the following two brief passages:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:14-18).
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:15-17).
The battle to establish peace in the whole cosmos/creation begins here, in our heart and in our mind. Without actively participating in that struggle, we have little hope for bringing peace to our relationships with other people, nor in our prayers for peace throughout the world. Amen.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.