(Eph. 2: 14 – 22)
“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the wall of separation, having disabled in His flesh the enmity (Eph. 2:14).
It is of the Lord Jesus Christ that the holy Apostle Paul speaks in the epistle that we heard at today’s holy liturgy, brothers and sisters. With his most pure blood, the Lord redeemed mankind, Israel and the gentiles, and helped them make peace with God. Before Christ appeared, “there was a gaping abyss between the Israelites and the Gentiles. An abyss that no mortal man could bridge or fill. Only Christ could have done it, and He did it. He brought near and united what had been very far… by His blood. By His sacrifice, He replaced all other, previous sacrifices. By doing so, he redeemed and replaced with Himself all of nature which people used to offer up sacrifice to their God, or gods. For one sacrifice suffices both for the Israelites and for the Gentiles – the sacrifice of Christ” (Bishop Nikolai).
By His blood, Christ united all things into “new creation,” meaning the Christians, “a holy and righteous people” (2 Pet. 2;9), so that there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised nor uncircumsized, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). In this sense, all Christians are brothers between themselves, and blood brothers at that. There should never be any conflict between Christians individually, or between Christian nations. If there are wars and conflicts, that only means that individually we are not good Christians, and that, on a wider scale, we are not good Christian nations either.
Peace, brothers and sisters, is one of the most frequent words that we come across in the New Testament. Everything begins and ends with peace. Our Savior begins his redemptive mission with peace. “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will among men” (Lk. 2:14) was how the angel proclaimed to the world the birth of the Lord. God came down among us to enlighten those who are in the darkness and to set forth our footsteps on the path of peace” (Lk. 1:79).
The Lord greeted people with peace and bid farewell to them with peace. He gave His peace to them in His farewell sermon to his disciples. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).
St. Paul begins his epistle with the greeting of peace. He invokes peace into the lives of the Christians of his time with the blessing of peace: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:2) is how he begins the epistle to the Ephesians, part of which we heard at today’s holy liturgy. Likewise, he finishes this epistle with an invocation of peace: “Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:23).
As all services in the Orthodox Church, this holy liturgy began with a call for peace. “In peace let us pray to the Lord,” we heard and we prayed. We prayed for peace from on high, which is God’s peace. We prayed for the peace of the world and the union of all. Holy liturgy ends with the priest’s blessing and with his call to take the peace that you have received at holy liturgy and to spread it among all those with whom you come into contact. “Let us depart in peace,” marks the end of holy liturgy.
Peace, brothers and sisters, is a state of the heart and the soul. A heart and a soul that have been burdened by sin, evil mindedness and evil thoughts can neither nurture peace nor pass it on to others. Each one of us individually must first work with our own selves in order to find our inner peace. Then we can pray for a blessing of peace from on high. People who have peace in themselves are easy to recognize. There are some even among us, glory be to God. A person who is at peace with himself passes this peace on to others. Remember the holy martyr Vukasin of Herzegovina? “Just you do your job, son,” he said to his tormentor.
On the other hand, those who are tormented by their own inner anxieties pass their disquiet on to others. “When man is at war with God, he finds himself at the same time in a state of war with himself and with the entire universe: nature, people and angels,” says Father Zivan Marinkovic. Or, as St. Luke puts it, “a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45). These people can be seen on the streets of any city; they walk as though they were afraid of something, they look around them in confusion and fear, they murmur and talk to themselves, often arguing with an invisible companion.
“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men,” says St. Paul to the Christians in Rome (Rom. 12:18). He knows that it is all but impossible for us sinful men to preserve our peace and not to overreact. But at the same time he knows, and we should know, too, that it is ultimately up to us. If only we could count up to a certain number before uttering a hurtful word! The greater the number, the better! We’ve all seen seemingly innocent conversations about politics or sports that suddenly take a violent turn and end up in a serious quarrel. I can vouch for myself that I never felt sorry when I kept my mouth shut. On the other hand, whenever I let my heart ‘have its way,” I repented bitterly.
“But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Or. 2:16). “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God,” says St. Paul of the Christians (1 Cor. 11:16). “God has called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15). “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33). “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Rom. 14:19), in order that the Lord might recognize us as His own. “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all!” (2 Thess. 3:16). Amen.