The Invincible Weapon of Peace

We live in a world mutilated by violence. Indeed, at this particular historical moment it seems the world is engulfed in the flames of it. The thunder of anguish and indignation rides on the shockwaves of bombs and fills the world with disturbing echoes of death, misery, and recrimination. In the din of so much bitterness calls for peace seem to have no power. Does this mean that peace is unattainable and naive? As Christians called to reconcile the world to God we cannot accept such a cynical answer. But how can the balm of peace overcome the maelstrom of violence sweeping us away? The answer is the cross. But before we unpack that answer the question needs to be refined. Because we have access to a global perspective we tend to think in global terms, “how can we achieve peace around the world?” But if you ask the question this way you’ll end up with a faulty notion of peace as well as a faulty answer. Political solutions can certainly put an end to wars but the fact that people are not shooting each other in the street or running one another out of town doesn’t mean there is peace. It means there isn’t war. If what we Christians mean when we say we desire peace is that we do not want war then we need look no further than diplomacy for the answer to our hopes. Otto von Bismarck, no saint, successfully kept Europe at “not war” in spite of itself for more than 30 years. Peace however is something much more than “not war” and harder to achieve.
What is peace? Peace is a state of being defined by inner freedom. A person who lives in peace is not dominated in his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors by outside influences of either demonic or human origin. A peaceful person has an inner stability and strength that is more powerful than hatred or desire. Such a person may certainly be manipulated physically; others may kill or wound his body, but they cannot alter the condition of his soul and therefore cannot change what he is. Such a state of being is not something gained by diplomacy, which only controls external factors. It is a gift of God and the cross is the means by which we gain this gift. How this works is revealed in one of the stichera hymns for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and life-giving Cross.
The stichera speaks of the cross as an “invincible weapon of peace.” So much is packed into those four words. Notice first, that this weapon is invincible. It cannot be defeated, not even by the devil. Second, consider the paradox at work here. The cross is spoken of as a weapon but the one who carries it is not going out to slay but to be slain. This means the weapon is not aimed outward, at the world, but self-ward. This further implies that the enemy is not “out there” but “in here.” St. Paul confirms this when he tells the Ephesians that “we wrestle not with flesh and blood but against… [demonic] spiritual forces of evil.” (Eph. 6:12) These demonic forces manipulate our thoughts, attitudes, feelings, desires, memories, etc., in such a way as to provoke us into doing evil in the world which is what they desire because they are opposed to God and want to unmake everything He has made. Demons are the cause of war. The only way to battle and defeat these demonic powers is to voluntarily crucify in ourselves the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16). How do we crucify these things? Self-denial. When you want to throw angry words at someone who hurts you but refuse to allow yourself to do it you are crucifying your desire for revenge, which is rooted in self-love. When a sexually stimulating image catches your eye and you turn away instead of looking again you are crucifying your lust. When you resist the temptation to speak or think ill of others you are defeating self-righteousness and vainglory. The more you deploy the weapon of the cross against your own sinful inclinations the less power demonic forces have over you and the more room there is in your heart for the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit living in us that makes us free; free from the power of sin and the devil, and therefore free not only not to hurt others but to heal them with the love of God. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace [the Holy Spirit] and a thousand around you will be saved.”