Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
Before you read this missive about peacemakers, read this disclaimer: I am probably not the most eligible candidate to write a piece on peacemaking, but, I do know what an intense relief that bringing two warring parties to the table brings to the soul.
St. John Chrysostom wrote, “Here [Christ] not only responds that they (His disciples) should not feud and become hateful to one another, but He is also looking for something more, that we bring together others who are feuding. And again he promises a spiritual reward. What kind of reward is it? ‘That they themselves shall be called children of God.’ For in fact this was the crucial work of the Only Begotten: to bring together things divided and to reconcile the alienated.” Like many other of these concepts of the Beatitudes like humility, and mercy, and righteousness, peace is both a reason why God will bless you and a gift of that blessing.
And now, some terminology: The word “peacemakers” stems from Greek εἰρηνοποιός (pronounced ei-ray-no-poi-os) and means “one who makes peace; one who cultivates peace and concord.” The root of this term is εἰρήνη (eirene – ei-ray-nay), which means: peace, tranquility, concord, unity, love of peace. The Hebrew term for peace is shalom (שלום), which means all of the above things as well as “whole and entire,” and that brings an interesting angle to this discussion. Unless one is at peace one cannot be truly healthy. They say that mental or emotional anguish (in other words, being at war with oneself) brings physical disease. That’s considered a modern concept, but I believe that Bronze Age Man too had that notion pegged.
Peace is a terribly important word in the Christian language: It occurs over 100 times in the New Testament. Peacemakers, then, are those who are peaceable inwardly and outwardly; who are peace with themselves and who make peace between warring parties. With great irony, the word “peace” often breeds conflict. Massive overuse by many, often mercenary, parties have caused the word to be devalued over time. The word has become somewhat of a misnomer. “‘Peace’ is a word that has been covered with a lot of smoke from the fires of propaganda, politics, ideologies, war and nationalism,” writes Jim Forest, editor of In Communion and co-secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. “In more recent years we had a nuclear missile christened the ‘Peacemaker.’ Such abuse of words is what George Orwell called Newspeak in his novel 1984. But ‘peace’ is a word that has also been at times abused by peace movements. Anti-war groups often reveal less about peace than about anger, alienation and even hatred.”
I would hypothesize that Jim, like many of us Orthodox, would at this juncture aim his proverbial ICBMs at the Western, modernist concept of peace. The West seems to define peace as a political process that often requires appeasing evil and accepting heterodoxy at its most compromised worst. It awards great prizes to luminaries for damnable political reasons and demystifies the notion of peace to the point that people like me end up running the other way – to belligerence or warmonger-ism – because the peace crowd has become so bellicose and hypocritical.
This leads to a larger question: What does Christ’s concept of peace truly mean? The Church Fathers draw us closer to true peace in their discussions of the contest between worldly peace (the fulfillment of selfish desires) and spiritual peace (communion with God). The writer known as Ambrosiaster wrote this: “The peace of God is one thing, but the peace of the world is another. People in the world have peace, but it works to their damnation. The peace of Christ is free from sins, and there it is pleasing to God. A person who has peace will also have love, and the God of both will protect him forever.” Perhaps, though, the peace of God is something that we on this side of eternity are not made to understand fully. Recall St. Paul’s rendering of it: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7). God’s indescribable peace shall keep (or defend our minds from demonic attack) through Christ Jesus (our faith in the Living God and His Savior of our Souls).
St. John Chrysostom noted: “This peace then, i.e. the reconciliation, the love of God, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts.” And of course, one of Jesus’ departing gifts was His peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” (John 14:27) He made this statement to His disciples to reassure them after they realized that He was preparing to leave them for the next world. The Blessed Theophylact paraphrases Jesus’ words like this: ”Find your peace in Me and you will not be harmed by the turmoil of this world. Oftentimes the peace of this world is forged by evil means and is mere foolishness. I give you peace that will enable you to have peace among yourselves. It will make you all one Body, and thus stronger than any adversary.”
In this sense, what at first seems like an interior kind of peace is actually something that occurs when we are part of a body, which is the Church. Only in Christ’s Church can we know true peace. We must be part of this Church to receive His protection. Then and only then can we understand His words, His Scripture, His Tradition. Thus, Christ’s peace is really a unity on the Church that transfers to the interior. When we have been received into the Church, and partake of its Sacraments, and believe in Christ thoroughly and with a childlike faith, then we will begin to receive peace. Did not St. Paul write, “…live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” (II Cor 13:11)
And I would also offer this, that peace is one of the greatest ideals of our Christian faith. And, as one who has fought and continues to fight spiritual battles, I know what a highly coveted prize peace is. Perhaps it is the highest rung of the ladder leading to heaven. about the coming Civil War, but I am also the type to play dead if someone hits me. But just as I am one of the last people who should be writing about peace, I am writing about it because it is so important that I understand it. I do know what it is like to bring two disparate parties to the table; I know the sense of relief that brings to the soul. And I would also offer this, that peace is the greatest ideal for mankind and one of the great gifts of our Christian faith.