Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Church Fathers



Essay by Saint Gregory of Nyssa


Source: https://www.paratiritis-news.gr

An interpretive theological memorandum by the God-fearing Father of the Church, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, on one of the Beatitudes of the Lord:

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

During apocalyptic times and eras of friendlessness, lack of brotherly love and fellowship, of the war-thirsty and the bellicose, the anti-peace individuals and the peace-thwarters, the Church of Christ- as the Lord’s mouth and voice that speaks in defiance of these times and the prevailing gloomy situation - offers up prayers and petitions every single day (or rather, night-and day) to the Godman Jesus Christ - the Lord of Peace - asking for the “Peace that comes from above” and for the sake of “Peace to the entire world...”.

When the drums of war resound everywhere and when all the ominous predictions and analyses by “experts” have become bewildering and are clouding the minds of people, then is revealed the tragically great lack of true (not professional or commissioned) peacemakers, while at the same time, “all of Creation” has been flooded with puffed-up pacifists touting Peace (or more like a pseudo-peace) for this world, behind whom are hidden assorted interests, illegalities and misdeeds at the expense of the innocent peoples of the earth, who are brutally violating Peace itself with actions and omissions, both obvious and latent, while simultaneously demeaning the value of the term “Peace”, which has been rendered merely fashionable or popular, in use by even those who are anything but peacemakers, but more like peace-thwarters and peace-mongers, peace-deceivers and peace-fakers.

We are therefore in need of peace-makers and not peace-talkers and peace-mongers, who, inside the “treasury of their soul” do not possess the slightest trace of the “Peace from above” that the Church of Christ prays for, given that this “Peace from above” is not of this world, but is offered as a benefit of spiritual and transformative power by the Lord of Peace, the Gift-giver of all good things: the Godman Jesus Christ. This “Peace from above” must be born within the “inner man”, to render him spiritually at peace according to God, so that, by being peaceful, through his actions and his words he will be at peace with the life-giving peacemaker Christ and with his fellow man, and thus actualize “the works of Peace”, for "the peace of the entire world.”

Inspired by the Lord's Beatitude: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God, the God-bearer of the Church - Saint Gregory of Nyssa - interpretively highlights the more profound, ontological content of the terms “Peace” and “Peacemaker”, thus offering his theological teaching as spiritual sustenance for every well-meaning person  who craves the Peace according to God.

In a masterful expressive way, the God-moved and God-illuminated Saint Gregory of Nyssa conceptually defines the words “Peace” and “Peacemaker”, while simultaneously setting the prerequisites - the spiritual requirements - in order for the peacemaker to be truly peaceful in the inner treasury of his soul and towards his fellow men, by writing: “A peacemaker is whoever imparts peace to another, and will not give to others what he himself does not have.

It is therefore necessary that you first be filled with the goods of peace, and only then to impart those goods to those who are lacking. But let's not go into the details to find the deeper explanation. For the acquisition of the good, the existing words are enough for us: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

This quote with its brevity bestows healing of many diseases, by containing within it all the pertinent details, with its epigrammatic and general expression. Let us first consider what “Peace” is. What other than a mutual stance of love towards our fellow human beings? And what is the opposite of love?  Hatred, rage, anger, envy, grudging, retribution, hypocrisy, and the calamity of war.

“Can you see how a single word becomes an antidote for so many diseases?  It is because Peace is equally opposed to each of the evils we just mentioned, and with its presence, causes the elimination of evil. Likewise, when health is restored diseases will disappear, and when light appears, darkness recedes, thus also, when Peace appears, all the opposing passions dissipate.

Just how beneficial this is, I don't think needs to be proven by me. Think for yourself, how the life of those is, who suspect and hate each other, so much so,that a meeting between them is unbearable, with each abhorring the other in everything. Their mouths are mute and their eyes look away, and their ears are blocked, on hearing the voice of the one who hates and who is hated.

Dear to each of them is whatever is not dear to the other; on the contrary, whatever is desired by the enemy is hated and hostile.  So, just as very fragrant perfumes fill the air around them with their pleasant fragrance, that is how you too must have an abundant surplus of the gift of Peace, so that your life may become therapy for every foreign disease…”.

At another point in his divinely inspired interpretive speech, the divinely inspired author Saint Gregory of Nyssa links the definition of the term “Peacemaker” in relation and reference to the long-suffering philanthropy of the God-man Jesus Christ, by pointing out that a true peacemaker must emulate the example of the Lord of Peace and the Giver of “Peace from above” Lord, Who authentically defines the content and spiritual prerequisites of the term.

On all of the above, the Holy Father of the Church writes:

So, ‘blessed are the peacemakers’...And who might they be? They are the ones who emulate the divine philanthropy; they who display the characteristics of the divine energy in their own lives. The Giver of every good – our Lord - completely erases and annihilates everything that is beyond the nature of the good and foreign to it. This is what He legislates, and what you must also do: that is, to discard hatred, to stop war, to eliminate envy, to divert strife, to quash hypocrisy, to extinguish the fire of grudges that burns inside your heart, and in their place insert everything that takes their place after the extrication of their opposites. In other words, just as with the retreat of darkness comes light, likewise the place of each of the above will be occupied by the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, long-suffering... the entire list of good that the Apostle has provided for you”.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa characterizes peacemaking as a “supreme exercise”, for which the Gift-giver Jesus Christ has determined that the peacemakers’ prize will be their adoption as “sons of God”.  

He even underlines with emphatic words that peace in people's lives is “the sweetest thing, whichsweetens our entire human life - whereas war is the source of all pain - by characteristically mentioning the following:

So, the prize is indeed superb; but for which feat is it?  It is for when you contribute towards the restoration of peace” - he says – that you will be crowned with the Grace of adoption. I think that the labour for which He promises such wages is yet another gift. Because, which of the things we humans seek in our lives is sweeter than a peaceful life? Whichever of the pleasures of life that you may mention needs peace to be pleasant. If all that we value in life: riches, health, wife, children, houses, parents, servants, friends, land, sea do exist, each with its own abundance of goods - orchards, hunting, baths, palaces, gymnasiums, places of entertainment for the young and all else that comprise inventions for pleasures (including the pleasant spectacles and musical hearings and whatever else contributes to pleasure in the life of those who entertain themselves) - if then all these are present, but the good of peace is absent, what is their benefit, if a war hinders the enjoyment of those goods?

Hence, Peace itself is pleasant to those who live it, making everything that we honor in our lives as pleasant. But if, as humans, calamity befalls us personally in times of peace, the evil that becomes mingled with the good is made somewhat easier to bear for those who had suffered it. But when our lives are shaken by a general war, we feel no relief whatsoever during such sad incidents. This is because the common calamity surpasses personal calamities as regards the pain involved.

And just as doctors teach about physical pains - that when two pains occur in the same body, only the stronger one is felt, while the smaller pain passes somewhat unnoticed, pushed aside by the more dominant one - so also are the sufferings of war, because they are superior in pain, making an individual not pay attention to his personal calamities”.

But when the “Peace from above” as a divine gift and a good thing is lacking in man, then he is not peaceful, but instead is immersed in the personal hell of his passions, torturing himself and his fellow humans as well, hence experiencing the passions of rage and anger, envy and jealousy, hatred and malice, cunning hypocrisy and the slandering of one's neighbor.

The non-peaceloving and belligerent in spirit person is a person sick in spirit and soul; it is somehow as if he is possessed and dominated by the passions of rage and anger (which are the gloomy offspring of a noetically pro-war and hostile predilection where such terrible and scary things are observed), and also very revealing of the ailing, passionate human soul’s manifestations and tragic symptoms, which the God-fearing Father of the Church Saint Gregory of Nyssa describes as follows:

“How great a good this is, you will understand better, if you think about the calamities caused to the soul by the feeling of a hostile predisposition.

Who will deservedly expose the passions of rage? What words will describe the indecency of this disease? You see, the passions of those who are demon-possessed are manifest in those who are dominated by anger. Consider as parallel the manifestations of the demon and of anger, and what the difference is between them...

That is to say, when passion dominates and the blood of “black bile” (blood poisoned by hatred etc.) surrounding the heart becomes overheated (as they say) - which the passion of anger then distributes to every part of the body - then, because of the vapours that are compressed inside one’s head, all the senses pertaining to the head are aggravated; the eyes bulge outward with a blood-red gaze, the way that a snake reacts when someone disturbs it. Bowels rise and fall because of heavy breathing, the veins of the neck are distended, the tongue thickens and the voice shrieks as the artery narrows, the lips harden and blacken as that cold bile passes through them, rendering it difficult for their natural opening and closing, so that not even the superfluous saliva can be confined in the mouth, as it is spat out of the mouth together with their words, and with their final, distorted word they spit out the froth... and if during an altercation one's mouth comes close to the other's body, the teeth don’t remain idle; they may even bite those who approach them, like wild beasts...”.

Particular is the mention by the god-bearing Father, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in his interpretive homily on the terrible passion of envy, which the person who is not at peace spiritually and in soul will conceal under the horrible veil of hypocrisy. The passion of envy corrodes and consumes the non-peaceful person,  whom it will render inhuman and bestial.

In this regard, Saint Gregory writes:

“While hatred lurks in the depths of the heart like an invisible fire, outwardly it hypocritically looks friendly.

And just as a fire that is covered by straw does not emit a flame visibly and only thick smoke billows out from the straw that pressures it, and if a wind happens to rise it causes a bright flame to spring forth into the open, likewise is envy. It consumes the heart from within, like fire in a barn full of straw. And of course the envious person hides his illness out of shame, however he is not able to hide it completely. Like a thick smoke, the hostility of envy is discernible in the manifestation of its displays. And if calamity happens to find the envied one, then that illness manifests itself by making that envied person’s grief the envying one's satisfaction and joy.

No matter if we imagine that a hidden passion is not evident; it is inevitably betrayed by visible proof on one's face. In the desperate person, the signs of death often appear on the one who is melting with envy, drying up their eyes and sinking them into their retracted eyelids, with eyebrows falling out... where there was flesh, bones are now visible...

And what is the cause of evil? To want a brother or relative or neighbour to experience sorrow in their life. What a new perception of crime! To regard as a crime that the other is not suffering any misfortune; whose happiness makes the envious one sad; without judging as unfair any harm that he may have suffered by the other, but simply because the envied one, without being unjust in anything, has what he desires...”.

All of the above - which are impassioned manifestations of the non-peaceful man - Saint Gregory of Nyssa rates as “ugliness”... as the extreme degradation of human existence... while he praises the peacemaker who resists and obstructs that human degradation - by writing that:  

“Whoever hinders degradation is worthy of the beatitude and of honour for this immense benefaction that he offers. For,if the one who rids a person of a certain bodily indecency is worthy of honor for his act, how much more should he be considered a benefactor of life, who rids the soul of this disease?  Inasmuch as the soul is superior to the body, even worthier of honour than the one who heals bodies is the one who frees souls from their disease... Isn’t the one therefore who removes from a human life that disease - who connects people with friendship and peace and leads his fellow men to a friendly consensus - doing the work of divine power, by limiting the defects of human nature and replacing them with a communing of good things? This is why He calls the peacemaker “son of God”: because he becomes an emulator of the true God, Who bestows gifts in people's lives”.

The God-man Jesus Christ - as Prince of Peace - lavishly and richly bestows the “peace from above”, by which the hard-hearted human is transformed into a peaceful person, into a true peacemaker, who eventually, through words and deeds, transmits the goods of peace to the the rest of his fellow men.

On all the above, the God-illuminated Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes and teaches:

“This is therefore how we can comprehend the surplus of philanthropy - that the good gifts were not bestowed on us by Him as toil and sweat, but as delights and pleasures of sorts - provided that the crowning of whatever pleases us is peace, which each one wants to have in a measure that will not be limited to them alone, but with plentiful abundance to impart to those who do not have it...

How, then, is the distributor of divine gifts not blessed? The emulator of God's charismas? The one who equates all the good he does, to God's great gift? Perhaps that beatitude does not pertain only to the benefaction of others, but - I think - a peacemaker is chiefly one who brings to an agreement of peace the dimension of flesh and of spirit; to the civil war of human nature, when the physical law of the body (which opposes the spiritual law) ceases to function - and having accepted the yoke of the loftier Kingdom becomes a servant of the divine decrees ...  It is when the dividing wall of malice – one’s inner barrier - is eliminated within us, that such people are literally called sons of God...”.

Translation : A.N.

Article created:  29-9-2023.

Updated on:  29-9-2023.