The word of the day is “peace.” Of all the blessings of God, peace is one of the most sought after. We begin our litanies with the invitation, “In peace let us pray to the Lord” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 29). And we follow with the petition for “peace from above.” But we pray not only for heavenly peace but for the peace in our world. So we pray for “peaceful times” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 30). And later we pray for those in government that they enjoy “peaceful times.” Thus in their “tranquility,” we may live a “calm and peaceful life” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 71).
Peace is necessary for good order, cooperation, and happiness in our communities, work, families, and our churches. Without it, nothing constructive may be achieved, no one can reach good and lasting goals.
Though peace is desirable, many do not do what is necessary to pursue it. They do not realize how peace is attained. Today in our reading of James 3:11-4:6, the apostle teaches how we might gain peace. The apostle states, “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (OSB vs. 18).
Peace is Made
We must actively make peace. This insight is an echo of the teaching of the Lord: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” (OSB Matthew 5:9). Fostering peace means sowing peace, planting peace, and nurturing peace. None of this is done by wishing for it.
The Lord and the apostle teach that peace starts with the human heart. This is true even for our rulers. In the Liturgy of St. Basil we pray “Remember…all civil authorities, grant them a secure and lasting peace; speak good things in their hearts concerning Thy Church and all Thy people, that we, in their tranquility may lead a calm and peaceful life…” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 146). Putting these thoughts together, “tranquility,” that is, peacefulness of heart, creates the climate of peace for the Church and for all.
The Wisdom from Below and the Wisdom From Above
But what is true for rulers in their domains is true for us in our spheres of life. We cannot have peace and war at the same time. And warfare begins with the turmoil of our hearts. In this vein, today’s writing contrasts two types of wisdom, the wisdom from below and the “wisdom from above.” The “wisdom from below” harbors “envy [and] self-seeking” in the heart. It is boastful and deceitful. It is “earthly, sensual, and demonic” (OSB vs. 14-15). When these worldly habits of the heart possess us, they compel us to stir up the turmoil in our hearts in the souls of others
On the other hand, the “wisdom from above” first of all is pure. It has no competing desires that contend with each other within us (James 4:1-2). It entertains no hypocrisy or partiality (vs. 17.) Thus, in its purity, it is “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, and full of mercy and good fruits” (OSB vs.17). Thus the fruit of our peacefulness is the righteousness of peace of all persons and things around us.
The Philokalia writes, “Blessed are the peacemakers (Matt 5:9), that is, those who have set soul and body at peace by subjecting flesh to the spirit, so that the flesh no longer rises against the spirits (c.f. 5:17 (Nikodimos 1979, Kindle Ed. Loc 380323). This passage from The Philokalia makes it clear that when James speaks of the “desires for pleasure [that] war in your members” (OSB James 4), he is referring to the passions of the “flesh” that “lust against the spirit” (OSB Galatians 5:16-17). The Orthodox Study Bible notes that the flesh does not refer to the body. Flesh is a general term for evil in action, depravity in will, worldliness in mind, and sloth and carelessness in soul (OSB fn. Galatians 5:16).
But The Philokalia goes on: “All the Beatitudes make man a god by grace: he becomes gentle, longs for righteousness, is charitable, dispassionate, and a peacemaker…” (Nikodimos 1979, Kindle Ed. Loc 380323). Thus, the Philokalia teaches that when we let the Holy Spirit take full charge of our souls, the inner warfare of flesh against spirit ceases. We have peace with God. Moreover we possess the peace of God with all its attributes (Nikodimos 1979, Kindle Ed. Loc 380323) to share with the world around us.
Nikodimos, St. . 1979. Edited by G. E. Palmer, The Philokalia: the Complete Text: Farber and Farber.
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.
- The Orthodox doctrine of deification. By grace we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4). By deification, we become like God and the image of God is restored in us.