Even before NATO bombs began falling on Serbia, the Synod of Bishops issued instructions for a special petition to be inserted in the divine services on behalf of the suffering Serbian Orthodox people, and urged the faithful to remember them in their private prayers. The Orthodox Church regularly prays "for the peace of the whole world," and in recent weeks the conflict over Kosovo has been for many of us the focus of this petition - even after slender hopes for a diplomatic solution evaporated in the face of an aggressive New World Order agenda.
Prayers for the peace of the world usually direct our minds towards areas of armed hostilities: scenes of the evening news flash before our mind's eye - not only Serbia but Ireland, Israel, Somalia, East Timor. Our prayers are needed the world over, and we should try to be more conscious of the suffering of those affected by these conflicts, and intensify our prayers on their behalf. Peace, however, does not refer only to freedom from external strife. In the Christian spiritual life, peace signifies an internal state that is often quite unrelated to the peace of the world. How many martyrs, buffeted by persecution, gave witness of their inner peace by calmly bowing their heads beneath the executioner's sword? By contrast, how many people here in America, a country that has not seen war within its borders for more than a century, are literally sick with anxiety, a state that indicates an absence of inner peace? And where, between these two polarities, do we find ourselves?
Some may attribute the current malaise of our society to what has been called "pre-millennial angst," fueled largely by dire predictions of a Y2K (Year 2000) disaster caused by the failure of computers to recognize the new date, and responding to it as if it were the year 1900, thereby generating an economic crisis of global proportions (how dependent we have become on these soulless machines!). Others would point a finger at the rise in "irrational" crime, such as the recent Columbine massacre and the "copycat" shootings that followed in communities, like Littleton, Colorado, where residents had been sure "it couldn't happen here." Teenagers, as they face the prospect of shouldering the responsibilities attendant upon adulthood, are prone to anxiety in the healthiest of societies, but today's teens are setting records for suicides, eating disorders, and alcohol abuse. Younger children, too, are exhibiting behavioral problems in record numbers, problems serious enough to warrant prescription of behavior-modifying drugs. While there is an ongoing debate as to the underlying causes of such problems, one cannot dismiss a profound insecurity, reflecting the insecurity of parents and of society at large.
Insecurity, however, is but another symptom; we have yet to get to the root of the matter. As a contributing cause, one can certainly cite the anarchic spirit of the '60s, which has had such an influence on today's "ruling" generation of baby-boomers. That spirit, however, was but a flowering of seeds sown even before Nietzsche triumphantly announced, "God is dead." If we follow the taproot of our current malaise, we will reach right down to Satan's abode in hell, for it is Satan himself who is the author of strife, of confusion, division, and despair - the offspring of unrelieved anxiety. The remedy is obvious: Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6), and His Kingdom is joy and peace (Rom. 14:17). All the life of the ungodly is spent in anxiety (Job 15:20), whereas, "Life in God, cutting us off from worldly turmoil, brings peace to the heart" (Bishop Theophan the Recluse). Saint Paul writes likewise that to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom. 8:6). The answer is obvious - and still our society persists in ignoring God, and in staking its security on economic prosperity. Little wonder that the specter of a Y2K economic meltdown is a source of such concern. (Even the Kosovo "solution" was heavily laced with economic considerations.)
Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
As Orthodox Christians, we are to cast are all our cares upon the Lord: He is our security, and only through Him can we acquire true peace. How? Through a pure conscience and heartfelt prayer. "Heartfelt prayer," writes Saint John of Kronstadt, "is the source of peace of heart, whilst insincere, superficial, inattentive prayer wounds the heart" (My Life in Christ). In like manner, we must be at peace - with ourselves (i.e., our conscience) and with others - in order to pray effectively. We are reminded of this at the begining of each litany, when the priest (or deacon) exclaims, "In peace, let us pray to the Lord." Only then do we begin our petitions, praying first "for the peace from above and the salvation of our souls," and then "for the peace of the whole world." We proceed to "offer the holy oblation in peace," and "in peace" we are blessed to depart.
This peace signifies much more than an absence of anxiety and freedom from worldly cares. With words of experience, Saint John of Kronstadt writes:
...when the soul separates itself from God, then it experiences extreme distress. But the life of my soul consists in the peace of my spiritual powers, and this peace proceeds exclusively from God. There is, it is true, carnal peace also, but it is a delusive one - the forerunner of spiritual storm - of which the Lord says, When they shall say, Peace and safety, then suddenly destruction cometh upon them; but spiritual peace which proceeds from the Spirit of God differs, as heaven from earth, from such carnal peace. It is heavenly blissgiving. Peace, give I unto you, often said the Lord to His disciples, giving them His peace, and the Apostles also gave "peace to believers," and wished them God's peace as the highest blessing, because God's peace constitutes the life of our soul, and witnesses to the union of our soul with God. (My Life in Christ)
Let us avoid being ensnared by the anxieties of this world and pursue instead union with God, that His peace might shine in our hearts and draw others to experience this peace that passeth all understanding, even as we also pray for the peace of the world.
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