During the Liturgy and other services of the Church the priest will often turn to face the congregation and will say, “Peace be with you – Irini pasi!” After the consecration of the most precious and true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he has made himself present on the altar for the salvation of those who will receive him, the priest steps aside from the altar whenever he says, “Peace be with you.” All of this represents the confession and the understanding that the peace which is being offered is not the warm wishes of the priest, but is the very peace of God himself. When Christ is present on the altar the priest does not offer this peace on behalf of Christ but stands aside so that that the peace of God might be received from the presence of God who is among us.
When our Lord rose from the dead and first appeared to the holy disciples who were gathered together in fear, his first words to them were, “Peace be with you.” And then he spoke again, saying, “Peace to you.” And then when St Thomas, who had been absent on this first meeting with the Lord, was present with the disciples, the Lord appeared again and said to him, “Peace to you.”
When the Lord makes his dwelling in the heart he brings peace. What is this peace? It is not the absence of exterior disturbance, as if it depended only on our circumstances. Indeed when he gave his own peace to the disciples their circumstances had not changed at all. This divine peace, the gift of God himself, is experienced without being subject to our understanding. It is essentially a participation in the absolute love of God which establishes and preserves the whole world in being. That love which made all things, when it is present within the heart as a divine presence, becomes an eternal foundation that cannot be moved, and around which all the disturbance of the world moves without effecting the interior condition of the heart.
This presence of God within the heart is a kingdom which cannot be shaken. To seek this kingdom, this experience of personal union with God by the indwelling Holy Spirit, is the meaning and purpose of the Christian life. Our Lord Jesus commands us, Seek first this kingdom of God, and the sign of the experience of this kingdom is peace, the divine peace which passes all understanding and which Christ promises to those who trust in him.
The Lord Jesus instructs us, Do not allow your heart to be troubled, or disturbed, or filled with fear. These are all signs that we have not yet perfectly experienced union with God and participation in the kingdom of God. To be united with God is to receive his gift of peace. If we consider the movement of our heart in relation to the circumstances in which we find ourselves we will be able to gain an insight into whether or not we have found peace in union with God. If we are disturbed by circumstances in our lives and in the world around us then we have not yet participated in the divine life as God wills.
Very often we will seek to find a peace of our own, by working hard to change circumstances, or by growing angry and even embittered, or in developing a merely social activism. But these are not the source of that peace which the world cannot give, even when the things we are doing are of value. It is only in the experience of union with God, a union that comes about in unceasing prayer, in the reception of grace in the sacraments, and in humble and self-sacrificing service, that we will ever find the unshakeable peace that God himself offers by his own presence.
If we do not have peace in our heart, if we are angry, or fearful, or bitter, or in despair, then we must seek God, at whatever cost to our own self. If we are not at peace then there is more of God that he would have us experience, but the participation in the divine life requires the giving of ourselves to God as far as we are able at each stage in our spiritual pilgrimage.
What are we to do? If we find our heart is easily agitated by circumstances, and the words and actions of others, then we must begin by confessing our lack of faith and trust in God. We must offer the causes and circumstances of interior disturbance to God, not asking that he take them away, but that he give us his own presence to bear with them in his strength. The three youths in the fiery furnace were not removed from the heat, but they found that one was with them in their trial. Daniel was not taken out of the lion’s den, but one was present who shut their mouths. Therefore when we are disturbed we must cry out to God confessing our lack of faith and asking for more grace and a new beginning of the journey into union with the divine life and love.
If we are participating in this life of eternity with God then we will have peace in our heart. Let us therefore seek this peace in seeking first the kingdom of peace in union with God by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Peace and the Comforter of those who have been disturbed. But we must also reflect on the movement of our heart and be sure that the one who waits to give his peace beyond understanding also requires each of us to choose this way of peace for ourselves. Do not let your heart be troubled or disturbed or filled with fear. Trust in God.