By Deacon Daniel Malyon
“For we are members of one another.” Forsaking Bitterness | By Deacon Daniel Malyon.
In our fast passed and modern lives, based around quick communication and quicker reaction we often do not take time reflect; however, this lack of reflection and introspection can often give rise to the struggle of controlling anger and lack of consideration of the impact of these feelings on ourselves and our faith. In fact, both scripture and the writings of the Church fathers warn of this constantly and give numerous reasons why we need to be cautious about our failures to stop and consider others.
In his letter to the Ephesians, St Paul dedicates vast swathes of his writing to warnings of the impact of a lack of insight when dealing with others. He begins the fourth chapter of the letter with a plea to, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:3) reminding the community that collaboration and cooperation with another in our spiritual lives is a task which requires effort on all our parts. Throughout the chapter St Paul uses this opportunity to express the link between acceptance of the weaknesses of others and growth in the Christian life.
In this way we are warned here to take time to think of the impact of our activities on those around us and reflect on the situations which may surround us when confronted with anger or bitterness towards others for our weaknesses or theirs. St Basil discusses this also in his sermon on anger, stating that it leads us to act irrationally since those caught in the throws of anger, “do not have time for the perception of what they have suffered, since the whole of their soul has been moved toward revenge against those who have grieved them.”
This presents us with a challenge since we are all often caught in the bonds of annoyance or frustration, having felt wronged, and we see this become especially common today where we are open to means of communication which can respond in short and quick terms without the need for any physical or emotional closeness to others, effectively foregoing the need for any consequence or witness of the implications.
St John Chrysostom discusses this in his 8th homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians, emphasising the need to recognise the unity of ourselves and our brothers instead of enmity at times of strife. He says that we should, “Bind yourself to your brother. They bear all things lightly who are bound together in love.”
In this there is a recognition of our natural biases towards those close to us, however the solution he offers is not a novel one but I vital part of the Christian message, to recognise that all are our brothers and sisters and therefore there is to be no favouritism in our dealings with each other, echoing Christ’s own sentiment in Luke 8:21 that, “My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”
In these words, all we interact with become closer and to be treated equally with respect as those brought into life in Christ. These words can apply in any situation, and not just to those who share our faith but all those who share in being part of God’s act of creation.
So how do we overcome this struggle? It is not an easy task. However, we are given many examples in the words of the Apostles and Fathers to guide us in this challenge. The first of these we can take it is to stop and consider our responses to the actions of others. St Basil speaks of this as to, “give your thoughts the opportunity to choose the good portion,” and considering that the actions you take will either assist that person in their growth, demonstrating God’s love.
If you choose in such situations to act in spite it will have the opposite impact and drive that person further to their own anger and potentially into the hands of other sins. A similar sentiment is expressed by St Paul to his Ephesian brothers, whom he tells “In your anger do not sin,” (Ephesians 4:26) in this manner telling them to think before they take actions which will lead to the suffering of others. This manner of thought before action leads one to the opportunity to assess their situation and reflect before they turn from godly acts.
This also allows the opportunity to reflect and apply this response when in struggles, giving the opportunity for prayer and development in these virtues.
Similarly, another way to build up a habit against anger and bitterness is to actively practice Christian virtue. This is again a key theme mentioned by St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians when he advises them to, “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” (Ephesians 4:24) warning them against continuing to practice deception and anger. In this way, if we are to seek to emulate Christ through a life of virtue we should be constantly vigilant in avoiding sinful passions.
This can mean working on both our prayer life, which is the basis of all virtue, and on the application of our faith in our daily lives through recognition of the virtues of humility and peacefulness in our actions we can work to avoid lapsing into anger and malice, always being reminded of the example set in the life and teachings of the incarnate Word of God.
This leads to a final thought. St Paul finishes the 4th chapter of his letter to the Ephesians with a command to the people, he says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. (Ephesians 4:31-32) In this we are reminded of this important promise of the Christian faith, that to be born again in Christ does not mean to become immediately perfect but to have the opportunity of salvation in him.
In this we are given the opportunity to dwell alongside others and together to cast of our old selves and become what we are made to be. In this we are not called to rashness but to compassion, not to bitterness but to forgives, and not to wrath but to the divine forgiveness through Christ and his life-giving Cross. There can be no greater glory than this, so it is certainly worth taking time to reflect upon before any action.
By: Deacon Daniel Malyon | A Deacon of St Paul’s Ministry and St Mary & Pope Kyrillos VI Church. United Kingdom ~ Coptic Diocese of London.
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2021-02-05 from London, England
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