The word of the day is “anger.” One of the traits of maturity is self-mastery. And one of the greatest tests of self-mastery is the ability to control one’s temper. In our reading of Proverbs 16:17-17:17, the wise sage of Proverbs writes, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (NKJV vs. 16:32). Anger is like a powerful army that storms a city and conquers it. Accordingly, it takes an almost superhuman strength to resist its attacks. Today we explore what it takes to defeat the might of anger in our soul.
The Loss of Control
More than any of the vices, anger exposes the loss of control for all to see. In the Septuagint (LXX), the sage writes, “An angry man is not graceful” (OSB Proverbs 11:24). The word in Greek is a form of the word that means stirred up to wrath (Strong’s #2373, 118). The angry person is filled with hot passion. The Orthodox Study Bible comments that those who are angry are “out of control and therefore not graceful.” The word “graceful” in Greek means noble or honorable (Strong’s #2158, 197). Those in charge of their temper have an elegance that is the opposite of the ugly upheavals of the enraged.
The Philokalia states that what distresses us does not always make us angry. Yet some things both upset us and infuriate us (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 98). Our angry reaction to these things reveals the passions that lie in our hearts. We get angry when something that we desire is taken from us.
Anger for Many Reasons
What is the reason for our anger? It may be our pride when someone has proven that they are better than us. It may be our greed when something is taken away from us. It may be our avarice when someone has cheated us. It may be our honor when someone has insulted us. It may be our inflated sense of authority when someone has disobeyed us. It may be self-centeredness when others frustrate our plans.
These insights offer us some thoughts on the remedy for anger. The Philokalia advises, “If you wish to be in control of your soul and body, forestall the passions by rooting out their causes (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 310). So once again, we find that the battle with the passions is necessary to gain spiritual growth to maturity in Christ. When we ask ourselves what conditions and circumstances make us angry, we quickly discover the vices that we need to confront in our souls, whether they be such things as pride, greed, avarice, or egotism.
The Philokalia recommends that we should chase away the thoughts that come from our passions (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 84). For instance, for anger and resentment it advises that we be “indifferent to fame, dishonor, and material things” (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 85). For rancor it counsels that we pray for the one who has offended us (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 85).
Yet, indifference to the vices does not mean the elimination of desire. The Philokalia states,
“Unless the intellect finds something more noble to which it may transfer its desire, it will not be persuaded to scorn these things completely (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 93). Rather than leave a vacuum in our soul, we must find holy virtues to replace the unholy yearnings whose dissatisfaction produces anger. In today’s reading, we see the alternatives of humility, trust in the Lord, prudence, understanding, pleasant words and excellent speech, quietness, friendship, and kinship. These qualities of our character are more than enough to keep us busy with the godly work of exchanging the vices that stir up our anger with God-pleasing virtues.
Therefore, as we carry on our struggle to give up the godless passions and acquire the godly virtue, may the Lord grant us the Spirit of love, the most powerful defense against the assaults of anger.
St. Dorotheos of Gaza described the case of a man who sat in the marketplace, seeming at peace and minding his own business. Along came a man who said something unkind to him. The man felt justified in being angered with the passer-by and blamed him for disturbing his peace. But the saint said that the man deceived himself. The man who annoyed him did not put the antagonism in his soul. Anger was already there like mold on a piece of stale bread. All it took was a word, and the fury of resentment flamed up inside of him. -St. Dorotheos of Gaza, <phttps://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/?s=doro>
Now that his anger has flared up, what would you recommend that this man do to secure true peace?
G.E.H. Palmer, et. al. Trans. 1981. The Philokalia: the Complete Text Vol. 3. New York: Farber and Farber