The Peace of God

 “Be anxious for nothing…and the peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-8)

As I write this, our world seems to be falling apart at the seams, with war in the Holy Land and Ukraine, wanton destruction and murder in the Middle East, with rumors and threats of war, and even unrest and violence here on the streets of America, pitting one segment of society against another. It would seem that the peace of God, of which St Paul speaks, is nowhere to be found on this earth! At least, on the face of it.


Peace, from the usual human perspective, seems to be not much more than the mere absence of war. It appears that there is no such thing as an equitable peace, where both sides resolve differences, then bury the hatchet for good. Rather, to arrive at peace – be it in the 21st century or even in pre-Christian times – the victor takes all spoils and the conquered is totally annihilated, destroyed beyond recognition, or left to pay the price of war, regardless of which party initiated conflict!

The people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.
But they burned the city and all that was in it with fire. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.
(Joshua 6:20-21, 24)

For the Christian, however, peace is something very different. In the scriptural passage above, St. Paul suggests that peace – the Peace of God – is to be found not in our human society, but in prayer, supplication and thanksgiving to God. Further, peace is not merely a ‘gift’ from God, rather it is the attribute of one who lives in Jesus Christ, whose life is in keeping with the teachings of Our Lord Himself. For clarification, here is the entire passage in question:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses [is beyond] all understanding, will guard [watch over] your hearts and minds through [in] Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:6-8)

This Peace of God is mentioned and clarified in the Gospel of St. John as well, by Jesus Himself, when He says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27) [emphasis is mine]

It seems then, that the Peace of God is to be found not in our daily encounters with other humans, but rather, within our own, individual spiritual existence. Peace, then, is a very personal experience, derived from our relationship with God, in and through Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is why more than one Christian prisoner of Soviet era work camps, prisoners of war, and even people living with life-threatening illness can say that they were most at peace when in these horrific conditions. In a word, they found peace in the Christian Spiritual life.

One contemporary Christian writer has explained Christian Peace in this way:

This Christian peace is understood as ‘the liberation from passions,[1] which cannot be attained without the action of the Holy Spirit.’ (St. Mark the Ascetic, 4th c., “Two Centuries on Spiritual Law”) First and foremost, this peace is the freedom from all anxiety and fear. It is the peace of those who are not anxious about their lives, about what they shall eat and drink, about what they shall wear. (Cf. Matt. 6:25-33) It is the peace with which men’s hearts are not troubled nor afraid of anything. (Cf. John 14:27) It is the peace which exists in men even in the most terrible of human situations, in suffering and in death. It is the peace which is in the one who can say: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ [2]

You see, there are those who live according to the flesh; their lives are directed by what the body wants or desires, personal comforts, wealth, fame, etc. Then again, there are those who live according to the Spirit; their minds are focused on the things of the spirit: pursuing what is good and pleasing to God, showing love, compassion and mercy, and accepting everything as a gift from God, an opportunity to learn patience, love, and greater faith. It is these attributes, the signs of the true Christian, that will earn us our place in Paradise. As St. Paul says, in his letter to the Romans: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s Law, indeed it cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:5-8)

Dear reader, pure Christian peace alone can bring us to the gates of paradise, whether in this life or in the next. And there are many early Christians who experienced and taught of this peace. Here are a few sayings from them which will benefit you much more than any words of mine:

If a man does not say in his heart, in the world there is only myself and God, he will not gain peace. Alonius

If you take little account of yourself (if you are humble), you will have peace, wherever you live. Poemen

If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live. Poemen

Detach yourself from the love of the multitude lest your enemy question your spirit and trouble your inner peace. Doulas  [3]

Until next time,
Your Humble Companion


[1] Passions, according to the early spiritual fathers of the Church are those impulses which drive the human to all sorts of evil and sin, sin being the disobedience to God’s Law.

[2] “Spirituality,” Thomas Hopko

[3] The above quotes can be found in various texts, such as “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers,” by Benedicta Ward.




Last time, we considered the shortcoming – or, dare we say “sin?” – of judging others. Yes, we should be non-judgmental and not scrutinize the faults of others. However, some may understand things in a different manner than intended, that we should overlook the sins of other, that I am suggesting a permissive or liberal attitude toward sinful behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth!

First of all, Jesus commands us very plainly not to judge others: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matt 7:3) You see, rather than worry about my neighbor’s shortcomings, I would do well to dwell on my own instead. But, while we are commanded not to judge others, Scripture pointedly tells us that the Christian is to exercise different kind of judgment than is most often understood in our Western society. Rather than judgment of person, character, or actions, the true Christian concept is in judging between right and wrong, good and evil. Ultimately, we must judge or choose which Path to follow – the Path of Righteous, which leads to eternal reward, or the path of perdition, which leads to eternal condemnation and suffering. In the end, we must make use of this judgment continuously in our daily lives.

St Paul tells the Thessalonians to “test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (I Thess 5:19-22) In the same way, Our Lord Himself tells us “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matt 10:16) For his part, St Luke recounts that the people of Berea were more refined than those in Thessalonica in that “they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily,” (Acts 17:11) endeavoring to determine if the message they were being preached was in accordance with what the Bible taught. Put another way, particularly in matters of the Faith, we must tread carefully, so as not to go astray of the Path.

Think of the last time you took a stroll through nature. Especially if we have never been on a particular path, we want to pay attention to right and left: stray off the trail and we could end up in a patch of brambles or poison ivy, fall into a body of water, or even take a dive off a cliff! We must then be vigilant, always using care and discretion.

The Ancient Christians taught and practiced the virtue of discernment, one which we scarcely dare mention in today’s world! You see, the practice of discernment is an active one and results from the light of Christ, which come to us through prayer and a life in Christ. If we wish to see God’s Will – not our ‘vision’ or interpretation His Will – then we must place Christ in the center of our life and heart. This is what Jesus meant when He said: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matt 6:21–23). The eye which is illumined by the light of Christ leads to an illumined heart which is able to discern what is of this world and what is Godly and eternal. More easily said, when Christ is in our heart and is the focus of our life, then and only then are we able to understand God’s Will…and do it!

Now, discernment is not a goal itself, but a tool along the Way, a means of guidance. At every turn along the path of life, there are decisions to be made: those which are godly and those which are not. This reminds me of the famous poem that says “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. “ [i] The author could have taken either road, but often the one not taken is the one God would have us choose. And again, it is the gift of discernment that guides us to the correct choice.

A wise and accomplished Christian once said: “after God, let us have our conscience as our mentor and rule in all things, so that we may know which way the wind is blowing and set our sails accordingly.” [ii] The conscience, in this case, being that very same gift of discernment.

The same writer continues, reminding us that “among beginners, discernment is real self knowledge … it is the spiritual capacity to distinguish unfailingly between what is truly good and what in nature is opposed to the good.” [iii]

Another holy man of times past tells us that “discrimination [discernment] is no small virtue, but one of the most important gifts of the Holy Spirit … [it is] … nothing worldly or insignificant. It is the greatest gift of God’s grace … the ability to discriminate between spirits that enter into him and to assess them accurately.” [iv]

You know, so often we hear people announce proudly that God “spoke” to them and told them to do thus and so. Sorry, but I think God has many more important things to do than run our private lives – this is why He has provided us with teachings (call it the Bible) and ongoing personal support (prayer). If God told me what to say and do all the time, I would be merely a marionette, operated by a great celestial Puppeteer. No, I need to take responsibility for my words and actions, so it is I who must learn discernment.

So, next time I’m faced with a dilemma, I suppose I’ll attempt to perceive what is the Will of God, in the light of Holy Scripture and the life of Jesus Christ. And further, I will prayerfully and deliberately try to discern the eternal results or consequences of my decision – which response will lead me to reward and which to eternal judgment. Pray for me, as I will for you.

Your Humble Companion



[i] “The Road not Taken,” Robert Frost

[ii] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] St John Cassian, Philokalia





“Discernment – one of the Most Important Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Judge Not

It appears that if I wish to truly become a spiritual person, I need to learn to love my neighbor, first and foremost. Beyond that, however, I need to go one step further, and keep Jesus’ admonition in my heart: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1)

You see, it seems to be part of human nature that we tend to want to judge our neighbor – be it friend or foe, the latter more enjoyably, however. We can find all sorts of things wrong with even the best of people: the hairstyle is all too wrong, she doesn’t keep the best company, he could do better for himself, I don’t approve of their decisions, and so on. It seems that some people just can’t get it right…but I always do. At least, that’s what I’ve managed to convince myself.

There is an old saying that says to be careful of judging others, pointing out their mistakes. When we point out their shortcomings (literally, with the forefinger), three fingers are aiming back at me, to point out my failings.

All the same, we enjoy judging others – it seems to be part of our (fallen) “human nature.” Sometimes, well beyond annoying characteristics and attributes, we judge the behavior or actions of another. For some reason, we feel that we’ve got it right and need to make sure that our neighbor knows it. But why this desire, this need to judge others? Can’t we see that we’re all in this together? That we’re supposed to be supporting, loving, tolerating, and encouraging one another, not picking each other apart?

There was once a young man who was wronged by another. So he sought out a wise old man and said to him: “So and so has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.”

The old man pleaded with him saying, “No, my child, leave vengeance to God.”

But the young man insisted, saying, “I shall not rest until I have avenged myself.” So the old man urged him, saying, “Brother, let us pray.”

Then the old man stood up and prayed: “God, we no longer need you to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves.”

Hearing these words, the young man fell at the elder’s feet, saying, “I will no longer seek justice from my brother; forgive me.” [1]

But why this need to judge, to hold things over another? Is it because we do not approve of our neighbor, or perhaps is it out of jealously? Am I so self-righteous as to believe that I alone have found perfection and therefore, my judgment is superior. Who am I to judge another? Jesus says: “if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.” (John 8:16) When I choose to judge others, do I somehow have the Father with me as I judge? A bit presumptuous, to say the least.

In the world today, we see so much judgment being passed on others on so many levels – between individuals, in institutions, as well as from so-called religious groups. One faction is at war – whether verbally or in actuality – over teachings or practices. Seems to be that if you do not act and believe like me then you must be wrong and I (or we) shall then condemn you. Ultimately, my standards have now become the measure for others. While this can be injurious enough on a personal level, imagine what happens – or, is happening – on a nationwide or global scale when one faction sets the standard for everyone else to follow?

How many assassinations, mass killings, invasions or wars will it take before mankind recognizes the folly of his ways? Why can’t we all be more accepting and tolerant of one another, focusing on our own faults rather than those of our neighbor? Why can’t we look at ourselves closely in the mirror rather than worry about the other guy? If I am not able or willing to change or correct my behavior, why should I expect this of my neighbor? And why should I expect my neighbor to be kindly toward my shortcomings if I must always point out his?

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: if God has endowed me with Free Will, if He gave me the ability to choose and work out my own destiny, whether I wish to spend eternity in Heaven or Hell, then surely, He gave Free Will to my neighbor also. And, if I am free to live my life as I believe to be true and just, according to God’s Will, should I not also grant that same freedom to my neighbor? Should I not also allow him to work out his own destiny as he sees fit? To do anything less would be to deny God’s Gift to him. To judge my neighbor, therefore, is to limit or put restrictions on his Free Will, a grave injustice both to him and to God Himself.

One day a man by the name of Isaac went up to a monastery. Here he saw a monk committing a sin and he condemned him. When Isaac returned to his home, an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door and said, “I will not let you enter.”

But Isaac persisted saying, “What is the matter?”

The angel replied, “God has sent me to ask you where you want to throw the guilty brother whom you have condemned.” Immediately the old man repented and said, “I have sinned, forgive me.”

Then the angel said, “Get up, God has forgiven you. But from now on, be careful not to judge someone before God has done so.” [2]forgiveness

Until next time,

Your Humble Companion


[1] Sisoes of the Desert

[2] Isaac of the Desert

“Teach your Heart to Guard that Which your Tongue Teaches”

You know, it’s so easy to recite words and maxims that we’ve learned from the Bible or our elders. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Do unto others….,” among others. But how difficult it is to put them into practice! Particularly the one about loving your neighbor. It’s just that some neighbors are not all that loveable, plain and simple. Problem is, though, Jesus didn’t put conditions on that love – He merely told us to love our neighbor.

The question then becomes, how can I demonstrate Christian Love to the unlovable one? Even more so, how can I love my enemy, assuming that he is also my “neighbor?” That’s a pretty tall order, anyone would agree. We’ve seen plenty of examples of love of neighbor from Scripture, but how does that translate into our daily life? While I don’t have any concrete answers, I suppose part of the response is in what it means to love the neighbor.

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God sells Righteousness at a very Low Price

“God sells righteousness at a very low price to those who wish to buy it:

a little piece of bread, a cloak of no value, a cup of cold water, a mite.”

Epiphanius of the Desert


And so, it appears safe to say that love of neighbor is one of the hallmarks, as it were, of Christian spirituality. Problem is, just how do we go about expressing that love of neighbor? How are we to serve fellow man in a Christ-like way? Are there ways in which we should not act as we love our neighbor?

I recall once seeing a cartoon depicting a young Boy Scout standing at a street corner. He was waiting to escort each old lady that might want to cross over to the other side. His assumption apparently was that they all wanted to cross and by escorting them one by one, he would earn his merit badge…one old lady at a time.

All well and good, but there are two very significant problems here. First, the scout was indeed interested in seeing that each old lady crossed the street safely, but there seems to be an element of greed here – how many ladies can he assist during a session? Or perhaps, he may have been thinking “How many do I need to help across in order to earn my badge?” Put another way, at what point will I have completed my “good deed” and can then go back to the status quo?

For the person who wishes to live according to the Spirit, there is no concept of “when am I done?” Leastwise, not so long as I have breath and am able. You see, being Christ-like is not a part time occupation, nor a periodic “change,” after which I can go back to being my old self. It is not like our seasonal fasting periods, after which we return to our old diet, sometimes with a vengeance. Rather, Christian spirituality supposes a permanent change; a way of life, rather than an occasional opportunity to do good. To use the example of the Boy Scout, I don’t wait for my shift to begin at the street corner or when I am wearing my scout uniform to help the old lady to cross the street. No, I need to offer a helping hand at the intersection no matter of day or time. If she needs to cross and I am at hand, I escort her; plain and simple.

The second problem, as I see it, is that of imposing myself, my will on someone else. Did the scout above ask if the old lady wanted to get to the other side, or if she wanted his help? Or did he merely assume that she needed or wanted help? Did he impose his will on her, perhaps causing her to accept an outcome that she did not have in mind? This, I see, can and should be a concern as we attempt to walk in Christ’s shoes.

Think back to occasions in Scripture when Christ healed the sick, drove out demons, or any of the many other miracles He performed for those in need. Didn’t He usually ask if the person wished to be healed? On other occasions, didn’t He ask “what do you want?” He respected the individual enough so as to allow him to verbalize his desire, to ask for help.

There is a story of one Macarius who lived in the community of Scetis in Egypt long ago. One day some visitors came and found nothing in his room except stagnant water. So they said to him, “Macarius, come up to the village, and we will get some clean water for you.”

The old man said to them, “my friends, do you know so-and-so’s bakery in the village?” and they said that they did.

Macarius said, “I know it, too. Do you know so-and-so’s field, where the river runs?” They said, “yes.”

The old man responded, “I know it too. So when I want to, I can go there myself, without your help.”

So, I suppose that when we wish to truly love our neighbor as ourself, we need to be mindful of his or her feelings as well, otherwise our “help” could be merely an expression of our vision of what is good for him. In fact, I really need to be mindful not to be judgmental, imposing my values on my neighbor. Otherwise my “help” could be taken as a “put down” instead, or merely an expression of my ego.

This reminds me of a friend who lived by himself and, because he didn’t often have visitors, was not particularly attentive to keeping his house tidy. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to visit him and not want to clean up the crumbs lying around on the table or pick up the dust balls here and there. Well, one time, a couple of ladies came to visit him and although they meant well, they took it upon themselves to begin tidying up – washing dishes stacked in the sink, straightening up his living room and so forth as they visited with him. So as not to offend his guests, the man said nothing, but he was truly hurt by their actions. You see, the visitors had decided to impose their standards on him without consulting him at the outset. They had insulted him in his own home. Needless to say, he never invited them again.

Time for another story:

One day, as some men were traveling on foot to a far away village, their guide lost his way for it was night-time. So the men consulted with the eldest and said, “what shall we do, in order not to die wandering about, for the guide has lost the way?”

The old man said to them, “If we speak to him, he will be filled with grief and shame. But look here, I will pretend to be ill and say I cannot walk anymore; then we can stay here till dawn.” The others thought this was a good solution, adding, “we will not go on either, but we will stay with you.”

They sat there until the dawn, and in this way they did not upset the guide.

The admonition “Go and do likewise” comes to mind.


Until next time,

Your Humble Companion

“Love is the Fulfillment of the Law”

Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

(Romans 13:10)

 Looking back on Holy Week, as we recently observed it, in all of the great themes of the betrayal, trial, beatings, crucifixion and ultimately, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ the great theme at the heart of all of this is: love of neighbor. If we stop and consider it, Jesus endured humiliation, torture, agony, and even death, all for His neighbor – that is, you and me. What a concept! I suspect that most of us love – if we could use the expression – our neighbor a whole lot less than this.

It should be evident to anyone who has ever read even a small portion of the Bible that God is love. Period. I recall once looking for the word ‘love’ in a Bible Concordance, one of those big, thick books that you’d use to find a word or concept in Scripture. Low and behold, the word ‘love’ appears over 450+ times, the majority of those occurrences in the New Testament! Evidently, love is an important attribute of the disciple of Jesus Christ.

Remember when the Hebrew lawyer asked Jesus to proclaim which was the greatest of all the laws – keeping in mind that he was talking not just about the Ten Commandments, but also the hundreds of laws contained in the first books of the Bible as well. Jesus’ response was very clear: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”[1]

Herein lies a very real problem, however. In what way(s) are we expected to love our neighbor? We remember that Jesus used another example to illustrate this as well: that of the Samaritan. [2] In this case, as St. Luke relates the story, the Samaritan had compassion for the poor man lying at the side of the road. Moved by this compassion, or empathy, for the neighbor, the Samaritan then tended to the man’s wounds, saw that he got to civilization, and ensuree that his immediate physical needs were tended to. Jesus’ command to the lawyer – and to us, by extension – is simple: “Go and do likewise.”

If the Samaritan actively expressed love for his neighbor in tending to him in his hour of need, does this not give us a pretty good idea of how we also must love our neighbor? Love of neighbor is not a matter of hugs and kisses for him or her, as much as this might otherwise be an expression of love. Neither is inviting our friends and neighbors for dinner – are these guests in dire need of my food, or is this merely a social gesture? Greeting and chatting with the person at the other end of the pew in church is not ‘loving my neighbor’ either, since I should already be treating a fellow Christian charitably. And the list goes on.

But if we take the above examples and insert a total stranger instead: an indigent picking through the garbage barrel, looking for a meal; the man in tattered clothing, struggling to make his way across the street; the grieving widow who has no one to comfort for her…that is, someone who truly needs my compassion then, I think, we begin to understand what Christian love is.

In fact, showing compassion on, loving our neighbor is so fundamental to the Christian experience that we can easily hope that God overlooks many of our own sins (call them shortcomings, if you like) when we show true Christ-like love for our neighbor! One of the great men of the Early Church famously chided those who spent lavish amounts of money to adorn the church – and themselves – with all manner of beautiful adornments. He once scolded his congregation saying that if there were needy people in the community and the parish had no money to give them for food, it would be better to sell the silver and gold vessels of the church, so as to accomplish the command of Christ to love one’s neighbor. Gold, silver and massive bank accounts cannot save us – compassion for our neighbor can and will.

A wise man once said, “A house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundation in order to reach the top.”Another asked him, “What does this saying mean?”He responded thus: “The foundation is our neighbor whom we must win, and that is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.”

Until next time,

Your Humble Companion


[1] Matthew 22:35-41

[2] Luke 10:25-37

All Things to the Glory of God

“Doing all things to the glory of God is the meaning and substance of life for a human being. This ‘doing’ is what Christian spirituality is about.”

In light of the above, truly the great challenge for the Christian is just how do go about this “doing” all things to the glory of God. Yes, Jesus does tell us to “render… to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21), but just how do we accomplish this? Apparently this is where Christian spirituality comes in.

As we can see, there seems to be not only a contrast, but a significant degree of tension between the material and spiritual aspects of our lives. That is, we need certain material things in our lives – a roof over our head, a couple of warm meals each day, perhaps even some “creature” comforts. But, at the same time, we cannot become so attached to these comforts that we overlook the spiritual side of our Christian calling. Expressed another way, there is a difference between the quantitative (material) and the qualitative (spiritual) side of our existence as Christians. Materialism is “me-oriented,” whereas spirituality is “other-oriented.”

Remember when Jesus was challenged to proclaim which was the greatest commandment of the Law (Matt. 22:37-39)? How did He respond? By challenging us to love God before all things BUT love our neighbor as ourself. This is a tall order. How easy it would be if we could love God alone…and leave our neighbor alone! But no; Our Lord ventures beyond this and expects us to love both equally. Which brings us to another revelation – in the Christian life, it’s not just about winning the prize (paradise) but also about how we earn the prize. Or, from another perspective, we cannot expect to gain the prize if we do not earn it – one neighbor at a time.

desert-islandI don’t know about you, but I have often fantasized how wonderful it would be to live on a deserted island, all alone. I could do as I want, not accountable to anyone, no unreasonable humans to deal with, and please myself and God only. Only problem with this idyllic scenario is, how could I love my Creator if I cannot also love His Creation, fellow man included? It’s like saying you like Mexican cooking but can’t stand chili peppers – sorry, but they’re part of the package. As one early Christian put it: “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”[1]

So, in the end, Christian spirituality is about relationships – my relationship with God but, at the same time, my relationship with my fellow human beings. I cannot have one without the other. For the Christian, spirituality means a life in communion with God, not just in his mind, heart and soul, but it also refers to his entire life, as inspired and guided by the Spirit of God. As such, every action of the Christian must be a spiritual act. Every thought is spiritual. Every word, deed, and movement of the body becomes an expression of that spirituality. This spirituality extends even to how and what the person thinks. For the spiritual Christian, our entire life is guided by the Holy Spirit, so that the Will of God the Father may be accomplished in him, as taught and modeled by Jesus Christ Himself.

. . . Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  (l Corinthians 10:31)

Your Humble Companion



[1] St Anthony of the Desert, 3rd-4th cent. AD