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Monday, 2 January 2017

The Kingdom of Peace of Earth

 From the Works of Archbishop Jerome of Kholm-Varshava


THICK DARKNESS covered the earth.  Town and countryside were seemingly wrapped in sleep; quiet reigned everywhere; only in Judea, in the fields of Bethlehem, the shepherds kept vigil guarding their flocks.  Suddenly the heavens opened, a boundless light illumined the earth, choirs of the Angels of God were revealed, and they were singing a new song, hitherto unheard from the depths of eternity: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.  The Old Testament prophets had foretold that with the coming of Christ an abundance of peace would dawn forth upon the earth (Ps. 71:7), that they that murmur shall speak peace (Es. 29:24).  Jesus Christ Himself, completing His Divine ministry on earth, unremittingly proclaimed peace (John 14:27).  He called His followers to peace and rest (Matt. 11:28), instilling peace, and He commanded His Apostles to proclaim peace to all (Luke 10:5).  Christ’s Apostles went out into all the world, and their first desire, their proclamation, was to announce and desire peace for all (2 Ptr 1:2,  2 John 3:1,  Phil. 4:7,  Col. 3:15).  And they clearly taught of the reconciliation of man with God through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:19,  Col. 1:19-20, 22)

But what is this peace?  Where is it on earth, when, to the contrary, we see almost continuous wars between one people and another, internal wrangling and instability in governments, disagreements, enmities, and quarrels between individuals?  Where is this peace, when not long ago there was a serious war between us and the enemies of Christendom, and when it is necessary to conduct battles with our internal domestic enemies? Is there no peace on earth? There is.

The peace proclaimed by the apostles of God, announced aforetime by the Old Testament prophets, and proclaimed by the Saviour Himself and His Apostles is, primarily, the peace of God with the race of mankind, the peace of earth with heaven, God’s preaching of the forgiveness of sins for man through Jesus Christ, Who suffered for us.  Since we are justified by faith, says the Apostle Paul, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).  Secondly, that kingdom of peace, which the Angels announced is comprised in Christ’s Church and in the soul of the true Christian.

A few words are sufficient to describe the condition of the Jewish people and of the pagan world at the time of the coming of Christ on earth, to show that the life of the race of man was at enmity with God, and was such that it must needs be curtailed through the kindheartedness of God, either by arousing His just judgment unto condemnation, as happened before the universal flood, or by calling upon a Reconciler.  Israel had evidently outlived its time.  Prophesy had long since atrophied, and princes from Judah had disappeared with the demise of the family of the Maccabees, and now at the head of the Jewish kingdom there was someone foreign, - a sedulous servant of Caesar, and a cruel tyrant who lorded it over the people.  It is through the Gospel that it comes about that we can wrestle with not only the religious, but also the communal order, to which this gave rise.  Under the influence of sensuousness and cruel officialdom, morality fell to such an extent that immoral actions were considered religious.  Art, literature and luxury had never before been so prominent as at the inception of Christianity.  Yet, at the same time, the spirit of society had never before been so decadent.  The rich lorded it over the little people, having over them, as over animals, the right of life and death.  While they were unfair and cruel to the poor, they cringed before the Emperor, proclaiming him a god.  

Mankind, while reduced to a slavery in which it had no recourse to any basic rights, made a god of a man, who more often than not had all the qualities of a beast.  In family life, shamelessness had reached an extreme.  For her husband the wife might be used like a slave for the time being to serve his vile passions - and she would even boast of this.  Children, who were thought an inconvenience, were thrown out onto the street as unwanted; all of human life was tied up in depravity.  By his own abilities man could not rise up from this fallen state; he could not apprehend the righteousness of God, nor could an Angel or a mediator.  It required that God Himself appear, and indeed the Redeemer of the world did appear, Who reconciled the race of man with eternal righteousness.  The Lord Jesus Christ brought peace to people.  He reconciled the sinful race of man to God through His death upon the Cross; He induced sinful man to abandon his enmity with God and to submit his unruly will to the will of God, which gives the soul such peace, as passes all understanding.  He taught people to forgive offences, to desire good for their neighbours, which more than anything else makes firm an inviolable peace.  He inspired man to expel from his heart that which destroys peace between peoples - envy, pride, self-interest.  He disseminated among all peoples the principle of peace.

My Kingdom, the Saviour said, is not of this world (John 18:36).  From these words it is clear that it is not in the earthly, human kingdoms, in which, according to the Saviour’s prophecy, we shall hear of wars and rumours of wars (Matt. 24:6), but in the particular Kingdom of the Grace of Christ, in the Holy Church, that we must needs seek peace.  One of the Old Testament prophets directly calls the New Testament Church the place which grants peace.  In comforting the Jews, who were mourning over the glory of the first temple, and manifesting unto to them the glory of the second, he says: Great will be the glory of this house, the latter more than the former, saith the Lord Pantocrator, and in this place I will grant peace, and peace to the soul in providing to its founder, who hath raised up this temple.  The Kingdom established by Jesus Christ on earth, which is called the Church, is not by its communications, nor by its inner character, not yet by its purposes, like earthly kingdoms.  The communications of this Kingdom are spiritual - the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  And through these communications it conquered the obstinate Jews, and the faithless pagans, and the wise and the powerful of this world, so as to establish one flock in Christ Jesus (see Rom. 12:5), and all, according to the Apostles expression, in the one Spirit were baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves of free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).  The unity of those who believe in Christ, who constitute the One, Catholic Church on earth, is expressed in all its strength in the gatherings of the Christians in prayer, where Christ Himself quickens them by His invisible presence.  The life of the Church in these sacred, mystical moments presents an image of the life of Heaven.  Finally, if we turn our attention to the purpose of the Church on earth, it is impossible not to see her as the most peaceful kingdom.  The Church follows one aim - the salvation of her members and life eternal for them.  This aim is not earthly, it is foreign to every earthly consideration, and removes all causes and incitements to feuds and conflicts.

The history of the Church of Christ positively confirms the truth that the True Church is a kingdom of peace.  What an exalted spirit of love and unity we see amongst the members of the original Christian community! And the multitude of them that believed, says the Apostle who was an eye-witness, were of one heart and one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.  Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of things that were sold, and laid them down at the Apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need (Acts 4:32, 34-35). Such was the peace in primitive times, such was the original love and unity,which we also see in the spreading of the Church of Christ to all the ends of the universe.  All her true members call each other brothers according to the spirit, they pray for each other, they help each other in their physical needs and even more so in the spiritual, they desire for them salvation and eternal blessedness.  The harrier of the race of man did not leave the earthly Kingdom of Christ in peace.  Aiming to shake it, he engendered conflicts in kingdoms of men, which lead to various kinds of disturbance and instability, and he even openly fired up the pagan world against the believers in Christ, whereupon a whole range of fierce persecutions against them was initiated. Yet the peaceable kingdom of Christ continued unshaken and unmoved throughout all those times. Whole kingdoms and peoples have disappeared from the face of the earth, but the Church of Christ continues and will do us unto the ages.

The Church of Christ, being the true kingdom of peace, grants peace in particular to each and every one who believes in Christ.  If a Christians maintains obedience to the holy faith, fulfils the law, which was brought from Heaven by the Son of God, participates in the saving Mysteries of the Church, then, without a doubt, he has within the Kingdom of God, as the Lord Himself said concerning His followers: The Kingdom of God is within you, that is, whoever keeps all that was laid down in Christ’s law, and employs all the means that the Church has granted for the salvation of her children, such an one comes to conform with his calling, to harmony and reconciliation with himself, he achieves the required relationship with God.  And could there be any higher or more blessed state for the soul on earth, than to experience peace, to abide in peace with one’s neighbours and to be found in union with God?  No impoverishment or suffering could even besmirch such a state.  On the contrary, we know from the history of the Church that holy people even rejoiced in their sufferings, and offered praise in their afflictions, in bonds and in prisons, in the deserts and in caves, in every visible depredation they were well humoured and at peace, such as those people who live with every comfort and good fortune perhaps never experience.  Death itself does not terrify the people of God, with equability they await their demise, and with peace they depart unto God, their Saviour.

This is where the peace on earth is, which the Angels of God proclaimed as they announced the advent of our Saviour.  The Kingdom of peace is in the Church of Christ and in the soul of the true Christian.  Let not your heart be troubled by any disturbance deriving from this world.  We have a quieting - this is the protection of the God’s Church; we have the possibility of acquiring lasting peace in the soul - this is obedience to the Church of Christ.  The Kingdom of Christ is not of this world.  In the world wars between peoples and kingdoms never pass and never cease, and it is just the same between individuals, and among those not established in God’s Kingdom they flourish and will increase.  In the world conflicts will never cease, because the people therein are guided by worldly and temporal inducements and interests, from which enmities and conflicts derive.  But if people are wholly convinced of the spirit of faith and of the Church, then they are concerned with spiritual good things, and worldly good things fail to have such a significance as is usually ascribed to them.  If society were founded on such concepts, then, doubtless, there would be fewer disagreements and conflicts on earth.  One can confidently say that the Christian peoples are more condescending and peaceful than the pagans and the Muslims, and among Christian peoples the more they are devoted to the Faith and the Church the more they are distinguished by a greater spiritual tranquility, by compliance and by a peace-loving character.  In particular that Christian who is devoted to the Church, and follows all her ordinances and precepts, will have greater meekness, condescension and love.

Translated from the Trinity Calendar for 1988, published by the Holy Trinity Monastery, Printing Press of the Venerable Job of Pochaev, Jordanville.

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