THE DREAM OF PEACE
by Rev. Fr. Athanasios Bitar
Hope for peace is the dream of every person. Today, more than ever before this yearning is mounting in the hearts and minds of millions. Modern communications keep us informed of every turmoil or war in any part of the world. The wish for peace is expressed more frequently during the Christmas and New Year Season. This is because the promise of peace was announced by the angel at the time when Jesus was born. “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth among men of good will.” The Heavenly Peace is not for everyone, only for those who have good will.
Man has always sought peace. Centuries of wars have passed, and yet man has not learned how to achieve peace. Man searches for peace on his own terms. Jesus distinguishes between two kinds of peace: Peace of the world and Peace of God. Two different kinds of peace. Each one is reached by completely different means.
World peace is reached when no wars are launched among or within nations. A tangible peace may be obtained by treaty between two nations. However, pieces of paper cannot guarantee the cessation of war or hostilities. As long as the evil elements which provoke war remain in the hearts of men, a peace treaty is easily violated. War starts in the heart before it is expressed as a conflict carried on by force of arms. World peace cannot be achieved by external means. It has to be started on an inner individual basis. The spirit of man has to receive inspiration and strength from the great spiritual Source of Peace. The spirit of man remains restless and inclined to commit many kinds of evil deeds as long as his soul is not enlightened.
God’s Peace is a state of mind experienced in the depth of man. It is a state of harmony in the totality of man’s life. St. Paul put it in this way: “To be spiritually-minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). The sign of the divine presence of the Kingdom of God within man is “Peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
Man in a state of peace of mind is not negative. He is involved and cares for others. He is concerned, but he is not facing the world with anxiety. Jesus Christ is called the Prince of Peace, because He gives the inner heavenly peace which surpasses all understanding to all who live according to the will of God. Whenever Jesus appears among His disciples He says: “Peace be to you.” In fact the whole mission of Christ is to bring peace to the heart of man. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, not as the world gives, I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Jesus praised those who make peace, not those who talk about it. “Blessed are the peacemakers: For they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). Peacemakers initiate peace and make it a reality. Warmongers, instigate war and in the name of peace, justice and freedom, talk and strive for selfish interests. The peacemakers are those who have peace within them and spread it about them. The Truth of Christ is not to be compromised out of fear. Christ’s message requires the implementation of effort and courage. It is in this sense that Jesus says; He has come to bring a sword, not peace (Matt. 10:34).
War is a great tragedy. In all wars many innocent people lose their lives for no purpose. Slaughter in wars is justified as defense. To kill, to take a life, which is a divine gift, except for this reason of security, is a great sin.
St. Augustine describes peace as follows: “Peace is serenity of mind, tranquility of soul, simplicity of heart, the bond of love. Peace takes away enmities, restrains wars, holds back anger, calms those who quarrel and reconciles those who are enemies.” There is a close connection between peace and justice. Often, the absence of justice brings turmoil and war. Modern history shows us that when a class of society is in poverty and suffers deprivation, war erupts, hopefully to restore equal justice for all. When a wealthy society has an inordinate love for possessions, it uses political influence to promote wars for economic benefit. Powerful nations invade weaker ones and take territories.
When a religion is misrepresented by its religious leaders, fanatics initiate strife and civil wars to defend their beliefs. All kinds of blood baths and brutalities are justified as a means to defend the “truth.” Religion becomes an instrument of war, when involved in political schemes. It is not the will of God that we should suffer and have wars. We are inclined to blame God for our difficulties. We are ourselves, because of human weakness and uncoverted hearts, the cause of sufferings. Our late Patriarch Elias IV said: “Devoid of God, everything is dead. Devoid of God everything is nothingness, selfishness, hatred, enmity, war, destruction, robbery and slaughter. This is the picture of the death which works within those who are bereft of the Lord.”
A blind nationalism goaded by narrow religious concepts provokes wars. Convinced by false pride that they are the chosen people or superior race the proponents of nationalism war against everyone to reach their goals.
Until man learns more about the reality of the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of man, wars will remain a destructive force to the universal peace. Man has the spiritual capacity to direct his mind and heart toward living in God’s peace. This peace is not in a far-off place. God’s Spirit is everywhere. We should be aware of His presence and closeness. Peaceful living comes from uniting man’s will with God’s will. God is ever willing to send the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, if we let Him. Thus, we become children of God, the Spirit of Christ working in us, adapting and adopting us to God. His peace becomes ours, that peace which transcends all understanding.
Father Athanasios Bitar is pastor of St. George Church in Bridgeville, PA.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America