By Subdeacon Stratos J Mandalakis
It’s no secret that the American and international political climate has been anything but calm in these last months and weeks. With terrorism, communism, isolationism nationalism and all the other “isms” surrounding us in our daily lives, we are in a constant state of flux. In fact, the media and medical community have coined a new acronym for a new condition: PESD, Post Election Stress Disorder. Polarizing issues now exist on so many different fronts that the resulting tensions echo back to the demonstrations and unrest that were commonplace when I was a child in the 1960’s & early 1970’s. It is pretty unnerving to
The situation is exacerbated by social media, the internet and things like live news feeds to our computers, phones & tablets, as we are constantly being bombarded by the din of negativity and angst. So how are we able to cope? How are we supposed to respond to, and navigate through all this as Christians? How are we supposed to have hope? How are we supposed to find peace?
As Orthodox Christians, we are blessed with a treasure trove of resources to help us respond through scripture, Holy Tradition and especially through our rich prayer tradition and worship. Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church left us His words and the gift of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Through these, we have the tools we need… so long as we tap into them.
In the 14th Chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit and immediately discusses the peace that He leaves and that this is not of this world!
26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you. 27Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.
If we follow this discourse then we should not fear or be troubled by what the world gives, for the world gives unrest and peace in the world is conditional and often short lived… just consider the many peace treaties that have come and gone in the Middle East! It sounds easy, but getting yourself into the groove of internalizing Christian peace seems impossible.
How do we start? Ya gotta start somewhere, so how about with prayer?
It would seem cumbersome and awkward to “stop and pray,” right? So how about a simple Lord have mercy under your breath every time you are tempted or angered by something or someone? While in the process of drafting this piece, I made a conscious effort to do this during the day… What floored me was how many times I had to utter Lord have mercy! It was unnerving to realize how often I was not in a state of peace and how often things got under my skin during a normal day! It is no wonder that nearly every service, and especially the Divine Liturgy, begin with what is known as the Great Litany or Litany of Peace, a laundry list of petitions in which the response of the people of God is, Lord have mercy.
Unfortunately, because the majority of us Orthodox congregants rarely make it to church in time for the beginning of a service and thus this litany, I venture to say the the amount of “prayer energy” that we exude during this part of the service is quite compromised. And it is a shame, because not only does the litany begin with an exhortation that only in peace, let us pray to the Lord….but the ensuing petitions cover every need in our lives! We pray for
This holy house and all who enter…..
Our bishop, the clergy and people……
The city, land, country and all the faithful dwelling therein…
Our PRESIDENT and all civil authorities and the military….!
The sick, suffering, travelers, those in prison…
Healthful seasons, the abundance of the earth and PEACEFUL times…….
It’s a travesty that our churches are usually empty when we are remembering each and every need, issue, problem in our lives – issues that during the rest of the week, bring us so much stress! And if we are in church, are we paying attention… are we internalizing each petition? Are we, for example, praying for the sick and suffering people in our lives or are we praying for our religious or secular leaders with the same fervor and energy that we might use when criticizing their actions? Are we distracted? Not at peace, maybe? I have to say that as a choir director, it is really hard to conduct and concentrate on each petition and really pray the petition – being attentive in church is really tough!
It is this peace, or lack thereof that Christ was speaking about! The peace that allows us to pray for our enemy. The peace that allows us to disagree with someone but still respect him or her. It is this peace that we must find in our souls in order to truly come closer to Christ. Without it we will always be enslaved to our surroundings.
When describing saintly people, it has been said that saints are never enslaved by their environment. Through persecution, torture and even death, saints and martyrs were known to meet such horror with peace and joy. This is the divine peace that we are called to. It is no accident that during the Divine Liturgy, the priest greets us with Christ’s “Peace be with you” before the gospel, before the consecration, and before communion, each moments when we encounter God through His Word, the power of the Trinity and work of the Spirit and in the reception of the Eucharist. Being at peace is a prerequisite for communing with God.
Yes we will have opinions, cares, troubles, crosses to bear. But we have the God-given power in our free will to decide on how to respond. With Great Lent approaching, there are more services, with more Great Litanies to pray. What if next or every Sunday, we try to make it in time to participate in that opening Litany? The opportunities are there to be tapped into if we are willing.
So to coin a popular song shared by John Lennon during those turbulent times, decades ago, all we are saying is give Christ’s Peace a chance.