13th Sunday of Luke
Brethren, Christ is our peace (2:14)
In today’s reading from St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle here provides us with a precise definition of a word that is repeated constantly in both the Holy Scriptures and the sacred services. The Divine Liturgy begins with the words, In peace, let us pray to the Lord, and continues with petitions for the peace from on high; for the peace of the whole world; for mercy, life, peace, health, salvation; that the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless; an angel of peace, a faithful guide; things good and profitable for our souls and peace for the world; that we may live out our lives in peace; a Christian end to our lives, painless, unashamed and peaceful, and so on. We offer the holy oblation in peace and confess it to be mercy and peace: a sacrifice of praise. We pray that those in civil authorities may be granted a peaceful reign and that those with ecclesiastical authority may serve [God’s] holy churches in peace, concluding the Liturgy with the exhortation to go forth in peace as we pray: Grant peace to Thy world, to Thy churches, to the priests, to our rulers, and to all Thy people.
This peace, according to today’s epistle reading, is Christ himself: “He is our peace”. And he is our peace because he came “in order that he might create himself the two into one new man, making peace, and might thoroughly reconcile them both into one body to God through the Cross, having slain the enmity by it” (2:15-16). In other words, by his incarnation, with which the two natures of God and man were united, and by his crucifixion, with which the obedience of the fall was undone and the enmity of death was conquered, our Lord Jesus Christ reconciled us to God.
True peace, then, means peace between God and man, first and foremost, which is very different to the worldly notion of peace. This is why the Lord said to his disciples, “Peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you; not as the world giveth, give I to you” (John 15:27). He even said, “Never think that I came to cast peace on the earth; I came not to cast peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34), because “friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world is rendered an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Therefore, when the Lord says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9), he first of all means those who have been reconciled to God and have made their hearts a dwelling place for the peace from on high, those who strive not only for the temporal and superficial cessation of earthly conflict, but for their neighbours’ salvation from the enmity of friendship with the world, which drives man far away from the grace of the Holy Spirit.
And if we wish to see the invisible war taking place in the heart of every human being, if we wish to see what great need we have of this peace from on high, we only need pick up our prayer rope and say the prayer, Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, and we will quickly see what great deluge of thoughts and temptations will wash over us, how quickly we remember every unfinished or pending task, or how quickly we are overcome by tiredness.
Many people are left disappointed after prayer, because they expect peace and not war. It’s as if they’ve sat down to relax in front of the TV and are disappointed by what they see on the screen because they were expecting something else. Then they lose their appetite for prayer, or suggest that prayer doesn’t work.
However, the problem is not prayer. The fact that prayer reveals to us the true state of our heart is proof that prayer works just fine. It’s not the prayer that disappoints us, but rather the truth revealed to us by prayer that disappoints us; it’s seeing our heart in a state of conflict and captivity that is difficult. However, the appearance of the passions hiding and lurking in our hearts should not be a cause of disappointment, but rather joy, because this revelation is the first step towards the conquest of those enemy passions. “Deem it all joy whenever ye fall into diverse temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith worketh out patience” (James 1:2).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not run away from prayer, let us not flee from the unseen warfare, but let us make every effort to conquer the passions so that the peace from on high may reign in our heart. Let us test and encounter every thought that comes to us in prayer with the words of King David the Prophet: “If you come in peace, may my heart be according to itself upon you; but if to give me over to my enemies, not with truth of hand, may the God of [our] fathers see, and may you be put to shame” (1 Chronicles 12:17). Then we will also receive the same reply David received from the spirit: “Go forth [thou] and thy people; peace, peace be to thee, and peace to thy helpers, for thy God has helped thee.” (1 Chronicles 12:17-18)
Amen. Peace be with you all.
Fr Kristian Akselberg