Orthodoxy Today
Smart Parenting XXI. Applying Christ’s Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are The Peacemakers

All too long have I dwelt with those who hate peace. When I speak of peace they are ready for war. (Ps 119: 7)

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954) would have us understand that the core of the meaning of this beatitude is that we are called to become "sons of God." Following Moses’ description of the "holy of holies" (Ex 25, 26), St Gregory points out that all the Beatitudes are holy. A special consideration, however, is that the "holy of holies" had a purer, even holier, inner part. St. Gregory called this sanctum, adyton [impenetrable]. It was inaccessible to anyone except the 'high priest.' St. Gregory points out that the impenetrability of the innermost center of the "holy of holies" makes it a fitting symbol of the "inner region of the soul, in which the mystical life is lived." This symbolism applies to the Beatitudes themselves.

This I believe also to be the case of the beatitudes that have been shown us on this mountain. All that the Divine Word has so far laid down is indeed perfectly holy. But what we are now invited to contemplate is truly adyton, and the Holy of Holies. For if the blessedness of seeing God cannot be surpassed, to become the son of God transcends bliss altogether.

Icon of the Creation

Icon of the Creation

Following the Fathers of the Old Testament, St. Gregory notes that Abraham likens man to dust and ashes (Gn 18: 27), Isaiah (40:26), as well as David (Ps 36:2 ), likens man to grass and Solomon proclaims that all that man concerns himself with is vanity (Ecc 1: 2). St. Paul (1Cor 15: 9) counts himself as the least and bespeaks speaks for all mankind that we are as nothing: "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle." However, God's bestowal of sonship on us lifts us to a Divine dimension. St. Gregory tells us:

Man is esteemed as nothing, as ashes and grass and vanity among the things that exist, yet he becomes akin to this great Majesty that can neither be seen nor heard nor thought; he is received as a son by the God of the universe.

Becoming sons of God does not happen automatically. In this Beatitude Jesus points out to us what we must do to be favored with God's free gift of sonship. We must be peacemakers. Having been favored with the free gift of sonship, we then have the duty to continue to be peacemakers, and in this we find our blessedness, we grow into the likeness of the God of peace.

The Bliss of Making Peace

In his homily on this Beatitude, St. Gregory gives us an unexpected spiritual insight. Normally, it might be expected he would go into what making peace means and how it can be accomplished. However, this holy Father of the Church, using the analogy of combat, warfare and competition, tells us that the "contest" of making peace is actually a reward in and of itself. Most contests, at best, involve tremendous, intense, strenuous physical and mental struggle, at worst, fierce fighting involving bloodshed, lament, atrocities and slaughter. But the contest of making peace is different. Yes, winning leads to the reward of spiritual sonship, but of great importance, St. Gregory points out, is that peace is intrinsically a reward in itself. This leads him to say: "So even if no further hope was promised a man, those who have sense would prize peace for its own sake above all else." Does not the psalmist tell us "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity?" (Ps 132:1).

Christ the Foundation of all Peace

Christ the Foundation of all Peace

Spiritual peace means freedom from slavery to the passions and bondage to sin. St. Mark the Ascetic tells us: "Peace is a deliverance from the passions, which is not found except through the action of the Holy Spirit." (Philokalia I). St. Isaac of Syria (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) goes on to explain the relationship between the passions, sin and peace in more detail: "As long as your senses are alive to every occurrence, understand you are [spiritually] dead, for the burning of sin will not be absent from all your members and peace will not be able to settle in your soul." St. Isaac also notes that peace is a step upward in the ladder of the beatitudes from the previous step of being merciful. Harkening to Christ's beatitude of mercy (Mt 5:7), he tells us, "a harsh and merciless heart will never be purified. A merciful man is the physician of his own soul, for . . . he drives the darkness of the passions out of his inner self." The result is peace: ". . .let a merciful heart preside over your entire discipline and you will be at peace with God."

Humility the pathway to peace

St. Isaac links the acquisition of peace to humility. He speaks of it as ". . .the peace that is born of humility." In his Homily 48, St. Isaac tells us exactly what humility is: "The man who has reached the knowledge of the extent of his own weakness has reached perfect humility." This means that we need to develop an awareness of the passions that beset us, our sensory responses to these passions and the sinful desires and actions that follow. In his Homily 51, the saint uses the analogy of separating ourselves from things of this world as the way to develop this humble spiritual awareness: "Seek understanding, not gold. Clothe yourself with humility, not fine linen." His next sentence gives us the outcome of this endeavor: "Gain peace, not a kingdom."

St. Theophylact

St. Theophylact

The importance of acquiring humility to obtain peace cannot be overstated. It is implicit in the first beatitude. Blessed Theophylact (2006) tells us:

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. First He lays down humility as a foundation. Since Adam fell through pride, Christ raises us up by humility; for Adam had aspired to become God. The "poor in spirit" are those whose pride is crushed and who are contrite in soul.

In meditating on the words of Blessed Theophylact, it would be well to ponder an important point made in a previous article (Morelli, 2012). In his Homily on Blessed are the poor in spirit, St. John Chrysostom asks a deep question: “. . .why did Christ choose the word “poor” [in spirit] and not the word “humble?” St. John’s answer is that the choice of the word "poor" emphasizes that the poor would be awestruck and tremble at God's words, as Isaiah the Prophet (66: 2) said, "My hand made all these things, and all these things were made, saith the Lord. But to whom shall I have respect, but to him that is poor and little, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words?" St John then distinguishes two types of humility. The first he calls "one humble in his own measure," and the second type "another with all excess of lowliness.” Clearly, the second type is true spiritual humility. St. John likens it to “contriteness of heart,” as David tells us: ". . .sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart God will not despise" (Ps 50: 19). St. John, the Golden-mouthed saint, sees that pride is "the greatest of evils" and the consequence of pride is that it has brought "havoc on the whole world." Lack of peace, that is to say, inner warfare within the soul and outer warfare with those around us, is the resulting mayhem.

St. John of Kronstadt (2003) notes:

People who seek to attain such a disposition of spirit are truly blessed because they have attained God's grace, they have attained the source of peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. . . . St. Theophylact of Bulgaria says "peace is the mother of God's grace; the indignant soul must become a stranger to quarrels with people and within itself if it wishes to attain God's grace."

It is no wonder that the proper translation in English of the hymn sung by the angels at the Birth of Christ should be: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will." (Lk 2: 13-14). The angels did not proclaim God's words as 'peace on earth good will toward men.' Rather, we see men have to cultivate the "good will" to acquire peace through humility and then they will be blessed with the good will of God: the Godly peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. Once we have attained inner peace, we are spiritually prepared to extend peace to others.

St. John of Kronstadt

St. John of Kronstadt

It is important to consider that the call to peace is not passive, it is not merely 'being' peaceful. It is a call to action, a call to be makers of peace. I cannot do better than to quote St. John of Kronstadt on this matter. He tells us we must "become peacemakers to our neighbors." This especially must extend to our parishes. He specifically singles out clergy: "Pastors of the Church have a special obligation to be peacemakers. . .this is precisely what they are appointed to do." In any disagreements, no matter what the reason, insult, unfairness, encroachment on our rights or property, we must do all in our power to end it and reconcile. This may involve sacrificing "our property, or our honor, or our precedence." This extends to reconciling those whether "in church, society and family" who have animosity between themselves.

Forest (1999) would have us start by understanding peace as it was meant by the ancient Hebrews.

Consider King David's words in Psalm 121: 6-9: "Pray ye for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem: and abundance for them that love thee. Let peace be in thy strength: and abundance in thy towers. For the sake of my brethren, and of my neighbors, I spoke peace of thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God, I have sought good things for thee." Now the Hebrew word for peace as rendered in English is Shalom.

Hebrew Script
The Greek Pagan goddess Eirene

The Greek Pagan goddess Eirene

This word allows for multifaceted understandings, but these can be summarized in the most general way as meaning: completeness, good relationships, prosperity and welfare. For the Hebrew people and for King David it would have been applied to the relationship between God and man, between states and cities and between individuals. In Greek, peace is rendered eirene, originally derived from the name of a pagan goddess.

The interpretation of the statue in the museum located in Munich Germany is that she is shown maternally gazing at her trusting infant. The meaning for the pagan Greeks was that prosperity occurs only under the protection of peace (Eirene). It is easy to see how the Greek-speaking Hebrews writing the Septuagint version Old Testament Sacred Scripture, the text used by Christ Himself, would see God as the protector of the people of Israel and as the God of peace (eirene). Psalm 75 reads: "In Judah God is known, His name is great in Israel. And His abode has been in Salem, and His dwelling in Zion. There He broke the powers of the bows, the shield, the sword and the battle. You shine forth in wonder, from the everlasting mountains." In this context, then, we can understand the prophesy of Isaiah:". . .and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they be exercised any more to war. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Is 2:4-5). Such a sense of peace requires action. It means to do what it takes to make peace. We have to break the powers that make conflict.

The Mystical Icon of the Holy Orthodox Church Against Persecution and the Wars of Heretics Which Could Not Defeat Her

The Mind of Christ and His Church on the meaning of peace is easily seen in St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians (3: 12-15):

Put on for yourselves, therefore, as elect of God, holy and beloved, compassion from your inward parts, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, bearing with one another, and graciously forgiving one another, if anyone hath a complaint against someone; even as the Christ graciously forgave you, thus also do ye. And over all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God be presiding in your hearts, to which also ye were called in one body; and keep on becoming thankful.

As St. Paul told the Corinthians: "God hath called us in peace." (1Cor 7:15). We should see that when we work at making peace it is extending the work of Christ Himself. Christ opened to us the pathway to peace through His death on the Cross. St. Paul makes this clear when he tells us that it pleased the Father "through Him to reconcile all things to Him, having made peace through the blood of His Cross, through Him, whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens." (Col. 1:20). St. John Chrysostom tells us: "Yea, for this became the work of the Only Begotten, to unite the divided, and to reconcile the alienated." Thus, as Christians, we must put into action the counsel that St. Paul gave to the Romans (14:19): "Let us then pursue the things of peace and the things of building up of one another."

A seeming paradox: make peace but go to warA seeming paradox: make peace but go to war

The teachings and actions of Christ, as recorded in the Holy Gospels and the other books of New Testament Sacred Scripture, as well as the teachings of the Scripture writers themselves pose a seeming contradiction. Many of Jesus' teachings would have us focus on peace. Of course, foremost:"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God." (Mt 5: 9). Consider some other of Jesus’ words written in Sacred Scripture on making peace:

  • “But when ye enter into the house, salute it, saying, ‘Peace be to this house.’" (Mt. 10:12])
  • "And He [Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee well; go in peace, and be sound in body from thy scourge.” (Mk. 5:34)
  • "Be having salt in yourselves and keeping peace with one another.” (Mk. 9:50)
  • “And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’" (Lk. 10:5)
  • Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith to them, “Peace be to you.” (Lk. 24:36)
  • “I have spoken these things to you, abiding with you; “but the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, that One shall teach you all things, and shall remind you of what I said to you. “Peace I leave to you, My peace I give to you; not as the world giveth, give I to you. Let not your heart continue being troubled, nor being fearful." (Jn. 14:25-27)

We can also reflect on the words and actions of the Apostles:

  • “Now he [Moses] was supposing his brethren understood that God through his hand was giving them salvation; but they understood not. “And on the following day he appeared to those who were fighting, and he constrained them toward peace, saying, ‘Men, ye are brethren; why is it that ye wrong one another?’" (Acts 7: 25-26)
  • "Then indeed were the churches throughout all of Judæa and Galilee and Samaria having peace, being built up and proceeding in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit they were being multiplied." (Acts 9:31)
  • "Then Peter opened his mouth and said, “In truth, I comprehend that God is not a respecter of persons, “but in every nation, the one who feareth Him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him.” “The Logos Whom He sent forth to the sons of Israel, preaching the Gospel, peace through Jesus Christ—this One is the Lord of all." (Acts 10: 34-36)
  • " . . .Paul answered, “What are ye doing, weeping and breaking in pieces my heart? For I not only hold myself in readiness to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And when he would not be persuaded, we held our peace and said, “The will of the Lord be done.”" (Acts 21: 13-14)
  • ". . .Jesus Christ our Lord, by Whom we [St. Paul and the other Apostles] received grace and apostleship to an obedience of faith among all the nations in behalf of His name, among whom are ye also called of Jesus Christ, to all those who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ." (Rm 1:4-7)
  • "For they that are according to the flesh mind the things of the flesh, but they that are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the spirit is life and peace. Because the mind of the flesh is enmity toward God; for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither can it be." (Rm. 8: 5-7)
  • “How beautiful are the feet of those preaching the glad tidings of peace, of those preaching the glad tidings of good things!” (Rm 10: 15). [St. Paul referencing Is 7: 52: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, and that preacheth peace: of him that sheweth forth good, that preacheth salvation, that saith to Sion: Thy God shall reign!"]
  • ". . .for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serveth Christ in these things is well-pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us then pursue the things of peace and the things of building up of one another." (Rm 14: 17-19)
  • "And the God of peace shall crush Satan under your feet quickly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Rm 16: 20)
  • "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1: 3)
  • "Finally, brethren, keep on rejoicing, keep on being perfected, being comforted, being of the same mind, being at peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you." (2Cor 13: 11)
  • "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Gal 5: 22-23)
  • "But now in Christ Jesus ye who once were afar off came to be near by the blood of the Christ. For He is our peace, the One Who made the both one, and broke down the middle wall of the hedge, having abolished by ordinances the enmity—the law of the commandments—in His flesh, in order that He might create in Himself the two into one new man, making peace, and might thoroughly reconcile them both in one body to God through the Cross, having slain the enmity by it. And He came and preached the good tidings, peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then ye are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens of the saints and of the household of God, who were built up on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom every building, being joined together, increaseth to a holy temple in the Lord...". (Eph. 2: 13-21)
The Holy Land at the time of Melchisedech

The Holy Land at the time of Melchisedek

  • ". . .walk worthily of the calling in which ye were called, with all humility and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph 4: 1-3)
  • ". . .be comforting one another and building up one another, even as also ye do. And we ask you, brethren, to know those who labor among you, ... be esteeming them exceedingly in love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, be admonishing the disorderly, be consoling the fainthearted, be supporting the weak, be long-suffering toward all. See ye that no one render evil for evil to anyone, but always be pursuing the good both toward one another and toward all. Be rejoicing always; be praying unceasingly. In everything be giving thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1Th 5: 11-18)
  • "For this Melchisedek, king of Salem, priest of God the Most High—who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, . . . which indeed is first interpreted “king of righteousness,” and then also “king of Salem,” that is, “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but having been made like the Son of God [a prototype, a prophetic prefigure of Christ], remaineth a priest in perpetuity." (Heb 7:1-3)
  • Melchisideck Icon at the Royal Doors of the Wooden church of St. Archangels of Libotin, Maramures, County, RomaniaMelchisideck Icon at the Royal Doors of the Wooden church of St. Archangels of Libotin, Maramures, County, Romania"But the wisdom from above indeed is first pure, then peaceable, equitable, easily entreated, full of mercy and of good fruits, impartial and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace ... From what place come wars and fights among you? They are from this place, from your desires after pleasure which war in your members, are they not? ... Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world is rendered an enemy of God . . . .But He giveth greater grace. Wherefore it saith, “God setteth Himself against the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Be subject therefore to God. Stand against the devil, and he will flee from you." (Jas 3: 17-18, 4: 1,4,6-7)
  • "Grace to you and peace be multiplied in a full knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord..." (2Pt. 1: 2)

In the spirit of St. Gregory of Nyssa discussed above, that likens obtaining peace to combat, we can consider that the seeming paradox of making peace by warfare does not mean warfare literally, but rather refers to the ascetic struggle and discipline that is necessary to overcome the passions that beset us. We may be inclined to vengeance, anger and tempest, but this is not what we are to do. St. Paul writes to the Romans (12: 18), "If possible, as to that which depends on you, be at peace with all men." We are to hold on tenaciously to the teachings of Christ and His Church, but we are to do so by adopting a kindly demeanor toward any who may oppose us. Not to do so would be to send a message of aggression, discord and most probably have any you are interacting with focus on your dysfunctional, un-Godly angry emotion rather than on any Godly message you may want to be communicating. (Morelli, 2006a,b,c; 2011b). This would be in the spirit of St. John Chrysostom who comments:

Do thine own part, and to none give occasion of war or fighting, neither to Jew nor Gentile. But if you see the cause of religion suffering anywhere, do not prize concord above truth, but make a valiant stand even to death. And even then be not at war in soul, be not averse in temper, but fight with the things only. . . .But if the other will not be at peace, do not thou fill thy soul with tempest, but in mind be friendly, as I said before, without giving up the truth on any occasion.” (Hom. 22, P.G. 60: 682 (col. 611) in The Orthodox New Testament, 2004).

Connections: The Orthodox Services and Prayers

In a previous article I comment on the connection between the Beatitude on Mercy and the Orthodox Services: "One need go no further than the ordinary prayers, such as Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Liturgy and other services in the Eastern Church, to meet the phrase that God, our God is a God of Mercy." (Morelli, 2012). Similarly, this Beatitude on Peace is a repeated theme in the Liturgical Services and Prayers of the Church. It is significant that the entryway into the Kingdom of God is by peace. The Divine Liturgy begins by announcing the presence of the Kingdom of God: "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The petition of the first prayer that immediately follows is that this be done in peace: "In peace let us pray to the Lord." This same petition is repeated constantly in the numerous Holy Mysteries of the Church. Forest (1999) has an excellent, more detailed discussion and references to peace in the Divine Liturgy.

Peace in times of tribulation and conflict

It should be noted that peace does not remove us from the tribulations and conflicts in the world. It merely gives us the armor and shield of God in passing through life's troubles. The words of the psalmist come to mind: "For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me." (Ps 22:4) Did not Jesus Himself tell His Apostles in His priestly discourse at the Last Supper, words that we now to apply to ourselves as well, “These things I have spoken to you, in order that ye may have peace in Me. In the world ye shall have affliction; but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33).

It is in this sense that we can understand Our Lord's words in commissioning His Apostles: ". . .the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them forth two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Therefore He was saying to them, “The harvest indeed is great, but the workers are few. Entreat therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send out workers into His harvest. “Go; behold, I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves." (Lk. 10:1-3)

St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril of Alexandria would understand these words to mean:

How can a sheep prevail against a wolf? How can one so peaceful vanquish the savageness of beasts of prey? ‘Yes,’ He says, ‘for they all have Me as their Shepherd—small and great, people and princes, teachers and taught. I will be with you and aid you, and deliver you from all evil. I will tame the savage beasts, I will change wolves into sheep. I will make the persecutors become the helpers of the persecuted....For I will make and unmake all things, and there is nothing that can resist My will.’ (Hom. 61, Commentary, Ch. 10, 264 in: The Orthodox New Testament. 2004).

Also, we can reflect on St. Paul's words to the Ephesians:

Put on the full armor of God, for you to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; because for us the wrestling is not against blood and flesh, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the cosmic rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of evil on account of the heavenly things. For this cause take up the full armor of God, in order that ye might be able to withstand in the day, and having counteracted all things, to stand. Stand therefore, having girt your loins with truth, and having put on for yourselves the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet in readiness of the Gospel of peace; on the whole, take up the shield of faith, with which ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God—by means of every prayer and entreaty, praying in every season in the Spirit, and being vigilant toward this same thing with all perseverance and entreaty for all the saints. . . . (Eph. 6:11-18)

While St. Paul uses the accoutrements of warfare to describe how we are to engage the evils in the world, he means it in the spirit of peace and to bring about peace. Blessed Theophylact understands this and considers that St. Paul's speaking of "the cosmic rulers of the darkness of this age" refers to the "wicked practices [of] the world.” (The Orthodox New Testament. 2004). However, these wicked practices are to be countered with the Gospel of Peace. Blessed Theophylact explains it this way: “He means it is needful to be in readiness for the Gospel and to preach. For, ‘Beautiful are the feet of one preaching glad tidings of peace, as one preaching good news [cf. Is. 52:7]’

Tribulation and conflict was not present at the onset of creation. But it was not that way in the beginning of creation. God created mankind who was made and placed in Paradise in a state of wholeness. The brokenness that is in the world stems from the original sin of pride of our ancestral parents. Becoming a peacemaker is working toward reestablishing the end for which we were made.

Bringing about peace

One of the first steps of being a peacemaker is to develop inner peace of mind and soul. This will be brought about by having undistorted cognitions (thoughts) and will be manifested by emotional stability and appropriate behavior toward others. Specific helpful strategies toward achieving this are available through Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) It is commonly known that CBT has been successfully applied to a host of emotional and interpersonal problems in adult populations. It is less well-known that these interventions can be applied effectively to a variety of children's and adolescent's psychological problems (Friedman & McClure, 2002).

Cognitive denominator

It is important to note that children's cognitive capacity is not as developed as an adult’s, therefore, a less complex cognitive factor structure should be considered. For example, when working with children clinically, I have found it useful to compress the more complex adult cognitive structure delineated by Ellis, (1962) and Beck, (1976) that I have discussed in other articles relating to adults (c.f. Morelli, 2009a.c) to two cognitive distortions or thinking errors: demanding expectations and over-evaluations (catastrophizing).

  • Demanding Expectations: Belief that there are laws or rules regarding the world, others and self that must always be obeyed. Furthermore, world, others and self will always be the way one thinks they 'should' be. This distortion is sometimes referred to as the “tyranny of the shoulds.” Jack thinks because something is his, he as the right to it and can do anything he wants to maintain possession of it, even if it means picking a fight with another child that takes or is trying to take his possession from him. A program of conflict resolution focusing on alterative appropriate responses would be a way of helping the child settle the matter in a 'peaceful' way. Rewards for appropriate behavior and punishment for inappropriate behavior, administered without anxiety or depression, would be the constructive response to apply here (Morelli, 2006a,b,c).
  • Catastrophizing: The perception that something is worse than it actually is. Jill erroneously reacted to her average job evaluation as if it represented a grave and catastrophic event and thus reacted with even more anxiety.

An alternative to consider is to change the names of the cognitive distortions to a more elementary vocabulary. Creed, Reisweber and Beck (2011) present children and adolescents with the cognitive distortions now renamed as "Thinking Traps":

  • The repeat: Thinking that if something happened once, it will always happen the same way.
  • It's all about me: Blaming yourself for bad things that happen, even when they have nothing to do with you.
  • The pessimist: Expecting that things will always turn out for the worst.
  • Selective sight: Not seeing the good parts of a situation, but picking out all of the dangerous or bad things that could/did happen.
  • Ignoring evidence: Picking out the evidence that tells you that the worst thing is going to happen, instead of looking at all the evidence to decide what will happen.
  • The jumper: Jumping to conclusions before getting all the facts about a situation.
  • The mind reader: Reading minds, but not in a good way—such as deciding that someone is thinking something bad about you without any evidence.
  • Shoulds: "Should" thinking—"I should start a fight with every person who crosses me" or "I shouldn't ever get mad."
  • The crystal ball: Predicting what will happen in the future, and that things will probably go wrong.
  • A perfect disaster: Thinking that if something is less than perfect, it is a complete failure.

Cognitive complexity

There may be a network of complex, interconnected cognitive distortions. These may be hierarchically ordered. George Kelly's Personal Construct Theory (1955) contends that individuals have cognitive constructs and postulates that they function according to a set of corollaries. One important corollary is the "Organizational Corollary." It is defined as "each person characteristically evolves, for convenience in anticipating events [their understanding and behavior in the world by predicting future occurrences], a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs." An individual's construct system is formed and modified by their experiences. The meaning of construct systems being ordinal is that particular constructs may be subsumed by superordinate constructs. For example, a set of (subordinate) constructs, smart-stupid, may be subsumed by the superordinate set, good-bad. In Kelly's model, constructs are always in dichotomous pairs specific to a particular individual. The person's construct system makes the world, and others, more predictable, but at the same time, if the construct system strays too far from reality, the construct system would be the basis of emotional dysphoria and dysfunctional behavior. A person's unique construct system must be discovered, interpreted or revealed by the individual themselves. Others (e.g., clinician, friends, parents or teachers) can only serve as facilitators of the discovery process. Current research suggests that this complexity extends to genetic and differential physiological brain activities and structures as well.

Clinical example

A clinical example may be helpful. Several years ago I had a female patient engage in counseling for problems in interpersonal relationships. During sessions she would consistently describe certain individuals as "friendly," while giving no description of those who were not described as "friendly." I knew I did not understand her cognitive world view, so to speak, so picking up on Kelly's clinical model I inquired: "You know Lyn, you described (here I named a few persons she had mentioned) as "friendly." Now, there are others around you, if they were not "friendly" what would they be? What is the opposite of friendliness for you?" I was expecting an answer like, "stand-off-ish," or "quiet," or even "aloof," but she answered, "critical." Obviously, her answer opened a whole new view of her 'cognitive life space,' that is to say, how she viewed others around her, and this revelation was very helpful in her treatment.

CBT: the Beyond

Judith Beck's (2011) modification of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy model extending cognitive processing to the underlying beliefs of automatic thoughts may be somewhat similar to Kelly's Organizational Corollary. She postulates that Core Beliefs, followed by Intermediate Beliefs, are the foundation of Automatic Thoughts. She considers Core Beliefs as the most fundamental belief level. These lead to Intermediate Beliefs, which are rules, attitudes and assumptions that are regarded as "global, rigid and overgeneralized." In turn, these lead to Automatic Thoughts that are the actual words and images an individual is thinking in specific situations. An example provided is a Core Belief: "I am incompetent," that leads to an Intermediate Belief: Attitude: "It's terrible to fail," Rule: "I should give up if challenge seems to great," and Assumptions: "If I try to do something difficult, I'll fail. If I avoid doing it, I'll be okay."

Of clinical utility for working with children, adolescents and even adults is the Case Conceptualization Model based on Beck (1995), discussed and presented by Creed, Reisweber & Beck, (2011). It consists of answering questions about:

  • Early Experiences: What are the significant early experiences that have affected the student [child, adolescent, adult].
  • Underlying Beliefs: What are the student's [child's adolescent’s adult’s] beliefs about him- or herself and the world. What are the . . .beliefs about how to get by in the world—as directly related to his or her core beliefs?
  • Thinking and Feeling Patterns: What are the quick, evaluative thoughts that occurred in a specific situation? What are the emotions linked to the thoughts?
  • Behavior Patterns: What does the student [child, adolescent, adult] do based on his or her beliefs?

An alternative conceptualization of core beliefs is that they may refer to a kernel evaluation of self. These may be expressed as statements of 'being' that contain some form of the word am. For example: "If someone bullies me and I do not fight back that would mean I am a 'wus.' If I let him or her get away with that, I am a coward.” Such distorted self evaluations are similar to what J. Beck (2011) labels as intermediate or core beliefs. Unfortunately, societal evaluations support such irrational beliefs: Attila the Hun, Hitler and Idi Amin, for example, are (a statement of being) intrinsically evil.

In an earlier seminal work delineating the pathway of irrational beliefs leading to dysfunctional emotions, Ellis (1962) would describe such thinking as a "quite erroneous, belief or assumption that he is worthless, no good, valueless as a person for having done wrong." Certainly a human being does evil things, makes errors, mistakes and gravely sins. As we know from the Orthodox Funeral Service: ". . .there is no man who liveth and sinneth not."

"Statements of Being": Bad Psychology and Bad Orthodoxy

Not only are statements of being psychologically irrational, but they are incompatible with Orthodox Christian anthropology. All mankind is made in God's image. That is the core of everyone's being. We are called to be like Him, and that is the sum of what we do in synergy with God's grace.

One way to discover these unarticulated erroneous self-evaluations is to ask a question such as: "If you did not fight back, what would that say about you?" or "If you did apologize, what would that say about you?"

Some practical interventional suggestions

Some practical suggestions to facilitate the psychological interventions above and relate them to the Mind of Christ and His Church (e.g.: Morelli, 2007, 2010) would be to:

  • Model appropriate temperate speech and behavior oneself. (2006b,d)
  • Respond to a perceived conflict by first asking what they think the problem is?
  • Talk over alternative ways of responding to identified problems. Possible responses may not always be objectively rational in terms of societal or spiritual norms. For some, a core belief regarding maintaining a good "self image" (e.g., I am not a 'wus,'" or "I'm strong, I am no pushover.") may mean it is worth doing harm to others or be subject to punishing consequences. In such cases, the value of "moral courage" versus societal adulation (Morelli, 2012) should be addressed.
  • Avoid speaking in an adult 'pontificating' way. Speak in an attentive, collaborative manner in order to validate the feeling of the other. (c.f. Morelli, 2007)
  • Repeating what you have been told in the child's own words may help the child to know they are understood. Facing the child and maintaining eye contact also facilitates their knowing that they are being listened to and heard.
  • In previous papers, "role playing" conflict resolution was recommended (Morelli, 2011a,c) . For example, with a young child: "Children can be prompted to make up sharing agreements for toys, games, and video play. Role-modeling scripts can be practiced. Initially, the parent may have to model such cooperative dialogue with the child. "Ok, lets take turns, you choose the first game and I'll choose the second game," etc."
  • Icon Christ is our Reconciliation (Monastery of Saint John in the Desert (Jerusalem)Icon Christ is our Reconciliation (Monastery of Saint John in the Desert (Jerusalem)Behavioral "homework assignments" is a well known technique in CBT following after role playing. (Edelman & Chambless, 1995). The child or adolescent may be asked to suggest something they could "practice" after the session, in real life.' Collaborate with the child to choose something doable/manageable. For example, a child or adolescent may initially practice keeping a distance from someone they previously had fights with. Be prepared to 'de-brief' the homework exercise, to go over any obstacles and come up with needed changes. Positively reinforce even small increments of appropriate problem-solving behavior. (Morelli, 2008). Remember to reinforce the behavior, e.g.. "Good job, walking away;" not the child: as in: "Johnny, you're great."
  • Initial stages of peacemaking and conflict resolution may be indirect.
  • It is important to keep in mind that cognitive-behavioral change is incremental and may take several attempts to achieve success. Spiritual growth will take a lifetime.
  • All peacemaking should done on the foundation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, begotten by His Father and nurtured by His Holy Spirit, thus working toward spiritual happiness. (Morelli, 2009).

The fruits of peace not only provide inner peace that is intrinsically blissful and ensures peace among men of good will, but also proclaim the glory of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God, to all mankind and contribute to a person’s theosis. Consider the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov:

Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.


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Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: May 1, 2013

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