What is a “Peacemaker”? A Reflection

Then Jesus Christ said; “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (St. Matthew 5:9)

We sing this every Sunday as part of the Beatitudes (sung during the Little Entrance, when the clergy process to the Holy Doors with the Gospel), but what does it mean?

Let’s start with the promise being made: the Son of God is telling us that if we bring peace to this world, His Father will adopt us as His sons and daughters!  Imagine that: God has more riches and power than any billionaire or king, and He wants us to be His heirs (e.g. Romans 8:17)!  He wants to give us a special inheritance (e.g. Colossians  3:24)!  This as an incredible reward for doing something that should come naturally: bringing peace to the world!

But what is a peacemaker? 

The peacemaker is more than just someone who acts to resolve disputes; peacemakers bring peace to those around them but because they have become peace themselves.  The ministry of the peacemaker is more a “ministry of presence” than a “ministry of counseling”.  As Fr. Thomas Hopko put it, the peacemaker “bears witness by his own peace in the midst of conflict.” (“Peacemakers” in The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4 on Spirituality).  This means that you don’t have to have a special college degree, seminary training, or title to do it; it is a job that all of us can do, a job that all of us are supposed to do.  We are called to be peacemakers just as we are all invited to become children of God!    

What is unique about Orthodox Christian peacemakers?

Everyone sees the terrible damage that violence – be it physical, mental, or spiritual – does to people.  They all know that we need to replace it with something different.  While some of the strategies are common to all cultures and religions (to include secular and atheist ones), not all approaches are equally useful.  For example, people from all cultures and religions might agree that patience, empathy, and diplomacy are useful techniques for defusing someone’s anger, but they are not all capable of  bringing real peace to bear on the situation.  The Orthodox Christian is.

Peace as a Positive, Powerful, and Personal Energy

Peacemaking is about more than just eradicating anger and violence; true peace is a positive force that transforms the space around it.  Peace is not an impersonal force like gravity; its energy flows continually from the Triune God.  Humans have access to it through their relationship with Jesus Christ (“Prince Peace” – Isaiah 9:6) and the Holy Spirit whom He sends. God established Holy Orthodoxy to give everyone the opportunity to have the most complete relationship with Christ possible, to the point that they can join St. Paul in claiming “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me!” (Galatians 2:20).  When someone has Christ living within his heart, the grace that continually flows continually from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit radiates from him as well.  This is why St. Seraphim of Sarov is able to claim; “acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”  St. Seraphim is not suggesting that these “thousands” will be saved by the Christian’s words, but that they will be transformed by the power of God working through his very presence.

But it gets even than that: God has told us that He operates most completely within this world when we gather together in His name.  The grace He provides through His Church (what we call it when we are together) transforms water into an element of spiritual renewal, oil into a salve of spiritual healing, and bread and wine into the meat of our salvation.  That same grace can renew troubled marriages, heal communities devastated by war, and transform victims and murderers into bearers of Christ Himself. 

In summary, the active power of peace radiates from God, even when He is in the world.  It radiated from Him when he walked the Holy Land two thousand years ago, it radiates from Him as He lives in every Christian’s heart, and it radiates from His living body, the Church.

A Caveat: The Peace of Christ Stirs the Passions of Those Who Reject Him

It is an unfortunate fact that not everyone responds to the grace of God in a way that leads them towards holiness and peace.  We read in the Gospels how some people hated the “Prince of Peace” so much that they were inspired to commit violence against Him and His followers., even to the point of scourging Him and torturing Him to death on the cross.  We are promised no greater fate on this earth than our master (John 15:20). 

When we bring God’s grace to those around us (along with the patience, charity, and long-suffering love that this grace brings us) most of our neighbors will eventually give up their demons … but some will be inspired to greater passion and violence.  In the same Sermon on the Mount in which Christ said; “blessed are the peacemakers…”, He also said; “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10 & 12a) 

We are called to bring the power of peace to bear in this world.  The results will be mixed as long as the world is contaminated by demons and sin; but the victory of peace is assured and all who served Christ in His ministry of peace will receive eternal blessings as “Children of God.”