Meditation by Archbishop Prof. Dr Anastasios of Tirana and Durres, Primate of Albania at the opening prayer service of the Central Committee meeting February 2011
The most tragic violence today is the misuse of the term peace by people who do not really believe in it. Nevertheless, the human longing for a worldwide peaceful coexistence remains permanent. The Church has been always singing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace” (Lk 2:14) and praying “for the peace of the whole world…”. Parallel to the dramatic public events which the mass media project, peace is undermined and destroyed in our communities, our families and inside our hearts in various unsuspecting ways. These last do not often provoke much noise, nevertheless, are festering like a cancer inside the body.
Since we Christians continue to have a leading role in local and global events, we must, again and again, study the Christian principles of peace and strengthen our will in the struggle for peace. In the beginning of our Central Committee let us meditate upon some of these basic truths.
1. Peace is a gift of God. Christ “is our peace”. Peace is not something a human being can acquire through its own powers alone. It remains a divine gift. The Supreme Reality, the Creator and Provider of the universe, is revealed in the Bible as the “God of peace” (Rom 15:33, Phil 4:9, Heb 13:20). It is a gift that, in order to be given, requires the desire of each person to receive it.
The divine revelation comes to its fulfilment with the incarnation of the Word of God. In the Person of Christ the prophecy of Isaiah is realized concerning the “Prince of Peace” (9:6) as the “suffering servant” (53.5). In His birth, the basic consequences of His mission are defined: Glory and peace.
“Glory to God … and on earth peace” (Luke 2:14). It is not a simple wish, but an essential promise, which is related to the salvation of the whole humanity. In the life of Christ, which has been culminated in the Cross and the Resurrection, the multi-faceted peace that He offers to the world has been revealed.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27), He assured His disciples before the Passion. And after His Resurrection He emphasizes: “Peace be with you ...,” – a peace rooted in His victory over death.
“Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:19-22). In receiving the Holy Spirit, they acquire a new power with which to overcome sin, the constant threat to peace in the life of humankind. As the eternal Victor of our reconciliation with God, Christ is “our peace” (Eph 2:14; cf. Col 1:18-20) on the personal, communal and universal level. His peace is multi-dimensional, holistic, sanctifying, eschatological.
2. The primacy of inner peace. Peace begins from within, in the depths of human existence. It is related with humility, forgiveness, freedom from hatred, bitterness, jealousy and endurance in suffering. It flourishes in constant communion with the Triune God. The Christian meaning of inner peace is deeper and broader than the impassivity of the Stoics or the nirvana of the Buddhists. It is not related to apathy for what happens around us.
Keeping our inner peace we shall be able to live in peace with others. “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:18). Saint Seraphim of Sarov (+1833), binding inner peace with its wider benevolent radiation, said: “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you shall be saved”.
3. Co-workers in the peaceful activities of God. Those who have been blessed with inner peace bear also the responsibility to become peace builders. We cannot remain indifferent to the tensions and conflicts, which are developing around us – in our families, communities, societies. We have to contribute to overcoming misunderstandings and tensions, to work for the reconciliation of persons and groups by our wise word, our discerned silence, our peaceful presence. The real characteristic of a Christian is to be in every situation a peacemaker. The Lord promised to him the greatest reward: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9).
4. Relationship of peace and justice. From its earliest development, Christian thought identified peace with justice, with righteousness. “Righteousness and peace will kiss (according to the Septuaginta, translation: kissed) each other” (Ps 85:10). Sincere yearning for peace at both the local and the global level means a true desire and struggle for justice. An unjust world cannot be peaceful. Today peace and justice have also acquired another name: development. And all of us, all the Churches can and must contribute to the development of the poorest areas. Poverty remains the worst type of violence. When people, near or far from us, are deprived of the basic needs for their survival, it is not strange that they turn to other directions and adopt other extremist religious beliefs about the meaning of life and death.
5. Love as the basis of peaceful coexistence. Christian experience, in particular, is steadfast in the view that the real opposing force to peace is egoism; egocentrism, manifesting at the personal, communal or national level. The only effective antidote to egoism is love. The power of love that conquers the love of power - which often destroys peace. Love with dynamism and practical implementations as revealed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Love, joy, peace are united as the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). “Live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11).
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In the 21st century, it becomes more and more evident that a world-wide peace is not going to prevail without peace between the religions. This truth was made more obvious by September 11, 2001, and the conflicts that followed and continue to trouble millions of people during the last decade. This issue is very complex and, of course, we do not advocate any type of syncretism. The true respect for the religious freedom of every person, for his/her human dignity remains the solid foundation for peaceful coexistence. The inter-religious dialogue that the WCC launched forty years ago remains also a critical challenge. There are important elements and peaceful inspirations in the doctrinal layers of the great religions that must be carefully discovered, utilized and made productive for a world-wide peace.
The shared quest for world peace can contribute most of all to the peaceful coexistence of religious communities. “He who seeks peace, seeks out Christ, for He is peace” (Hom. in Ps.33), declared St Basil the Great (+379), the renowned “Ecumenical Teacher” of the one undivided Church. Seen from such a perspective, one could discern in persons who earnestly seek peace, not only fellow-sojourners, but seekers longing, at the end, for the source of peace. On another occasion, St. Basil stated: “It is not possible to persuade myself that without ... being at peace with everyone I am worthy to be called a servant of Jesus Christ” (Ep. 203,1). Even with those who have different opinions or beliefs from me.
Finally: Let “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Let the struggle for peace, deep within us, to build just and peaceful communities of women and men become one of our main concerns. In the certainty that “God is peace” and is always with the peace builders, inspiring and supporting them in their struggle.