50. Rebuke hatred by your deeds rather than by your words.
51. Honour peace more than anything else. But strive first of all to be at peace in yourself: in this way you will find it easy to be at peace with others. How can someone whose eyes are blind heal others?
56. Be a proclaimer of the Gospel at all times. You will become a proclaimer of the Gospel when you lay upon yourself the Gospel’s way of life.
St. John of Apamea, Letter to Hesychius
We live in a world- as did St. John of Apamea, and all the other saints who have come before us- that does not value peace, is filled with various hatreds and all sorts of strife, and in which the Gospel is, if proclaimed at all, often muted by the very actions of we who proclaim it. It is very tempting to face such a situation with nothing but righteous polemical rage- and there is plenty to get angry about. I do not have to go far to find war and hatred, racism and oppression. In fact, I don’t have to leave my house. For, as St. John implies, the root of war and hatred lies, not in some other person or system or State, but in each one of our hearts. In my heart- that is where the violence and hatred, the spurning of the Gospel begins, and unless I deal with it, I cannot do anything about the outside world.
If I desire peace in the world, then I must cultivate peace in my own life, in my own heart. St. James writes in his epistle that the root of our fighting and sparing is that we are, first of all, greedy, wanting this and that, and when we don’t get it, we go to war, sometimes literally. And when we do get what we want, we spend it all on ourselves, having set ourselves off against other persons, as if we each had our own little fortress set up against our neighbors. It is a fundamental lack of peace- of contentment with our own state- within the heart that spurs on strife and violence. If we were at peace with ourselves and at peace with God- fully cognizant of the true nature of our own selves and of God and His love- we would hardly be concerned with whatever it was that drove us to hatred and violence in the first place. When we recognize the love and grace of Christ, we find peace, and once in Christ we recognize the true nature of our brother and sister- and hatred must die.
Once we ourselves have begun to acquire peace and remove the hatreds that have built up in us- as the Gospel becomes active in us- if we want to resist the hatreds and wars on the outside, we must labour with love, and not the easy path of mere polemic. I can spend all day telling anyone who comes within earshot how bad it is to hate your brother. I can preach against the evils of war and racism, and bemoan the oppression and injustice of the world. But unless I am actively loving people, unless I am going to the oppressed- and the oppressor- and showing, in concrete terms, the love of God, all my polemic does no good, and can be easily dismissed by those meant to hear it. We rebuke hatred- against ourselves and against others- by countering it with love, as Jesus commanded. We counter war and violence with the peace of Christ, lived out in our love for all the combatants in a given battle. It is not enough for me to spout slogans, no matter how noble, unless I am putting actions behind them- indeed, much of the time it’s best to leave the slogans and preaching behind entirely.
To bring it closer to my own experience, living in the American South I encounter the old racial hatreds with considerable regularity. The old intercommunal tensions of blacks and whites has expanded with the addition of Latino people to our society; I don’t have to go far to find strife and hatred. It would be easy enough- and I’ve done it- to lash out in anger and disgust at the attitudes I encounter in my community, in my own family. But does my anger and indignation really achieve anything? Do I even remove the latent racism and hatred in my own heart? Instead, the right- and so much harder- path is one of engagement with all sides of the strife, of active love towards all those involved. By my love I can show an alternative to hatred; by active, involved love I can give some small evidence of the Gospel and its impact on human relations.
‘When you lay upon yourself the Gospel’s way of life’: this is a task so much harder and more involved than shouting slogans or pushing fliers. The call is for a fundamental shift in the way we live, in the way we exist in the world. To live in love, to live in peace, requires not merely intellectual assent or adoption of some new political or social principles, but an entire restructuring of life. I must leave behind entirely the war and violence and hatred of the old life, and embrace a way of life that runs in an entirely different direction, from a whole different perspective, with an entirely different goal. This is the Resurrected Life, a life that incarnates peace and love. And when we live such a life, the world around is transformed, just as the Resurrected Christ so vividly transformed those around Him. What the world needs now is not merely the idea of love, but the love of Christ, the Prince of Peace, incarnated in flesh-and-blood people, people willing to embrace His life, and live it in the world. Only then can we rebuke hatred, embody peace, and truly proclaim the Gospel.