Pursue peace and holiness

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). This exhortation of the Holy Apostle Paul, addressed to the Jews who believed in Christ, is more relevant than ever. Seeing God begins with seeing our neighbor. If we don’t have eyes to see the person next to us, who is palpable, much less will we be capable to sense the invisible yet real presence of God. Seeing our neighbor does not mean, in this context, to perceive him (or her) with our physical eyes – yet, though seemingly strange, even this is sometimes difficult to accomplish in our times – but to sense his inner person, his uniqueness and beauty, even if this beauty is hidden behind many wounds or masks that the world forced him to put on. To sense, beyond appearances, the needs, aspirations, and capacities of the person who crosses our path in life. This is one of the meanings of the peace which the Apostle Paul urges us to pursue, together with the Prophet David: “Shun evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 33:13).

In the world, there is much discourse about peace, but conflicts – both collective ones and private ones – continue to multiply. True peace is care for our neighbor, attentiveness to his need, pain, aspiration, or anxiety. When a teacher of the old Law asked our Lord who his neighbor is, our Lord responded through a parable, the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. And at the end, Christ modified the question: who is the neighbor of the one who fell among the thieves? “He who showed mercy on him,” the teacher of the law replied unequivocally. In other words, it doesn’t matter who your neighbor is – for any person whom we meet visually can be considered our neighbor in a broad sense – but rather be yourself a neighbor unto the one who is in distress, in an impasse, in a state of soul-searching. You become his neighbor and he becomes yours, in a bond that refashions the personal interhuman relationship, thereby bringing reconciliation and peace among people. The more you become the neighbor of the person next to you, whose need you perceived, the more you fulfill the exhortation to be in peace with all people. Thus, the personal quality of man is restored, the principal characteristic of which is relationship, the capacity to love, a merciful heart open to receive with goodwill every other person, without judging him, disdaining him, or elevating ourselves above him. Those next to us recognize us as men of peace when in our midst they don’t feel judged; on the contrary, they feel accepted as they are, with both their good side and their bad side, and they feel loved not for what they have, but for who they are.

The second entreaty is to pursue holiness. For many, holiness seems anachronistic; they consider that saints are those who lived in ages past or that only certain people are born with this “ability” to become saints or religious people. Saint Symeon the New Theologian, who lived in the 10th century, considered this mindset to be the greatest heresy. He strengthens us in the conviction that holiness is accessible in every time and to every person, because God is close to each one of us (cf. Acts 17:27) and Christ “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Our Lord Himself promises that He is with us “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), sealing this promise with all the miracles that He worked among us and especially with His Resurrection and Ascension to Heaven, as well as with the testimony of the Holy Spirit which speaks to our heart. To pursue holiness means to fulfill Christ’s commandments so that, to the extent that we fulfill them, He can reveal Himself more and more in our heart. By pursuing peace with all people, by becoming the neighbor of those whom we meet in life, and by fulfilling our Lord’s commandments, our spiritual eyes are opened and we begin to see, at first from afar but eventually from close-up and more clearly, God’s presence in the world and in our life. Then we understand that nothing is random, but rather everything is providential. Sin, which is a manifestation of our egotism and pride, is no longer attractive, because something more important has captivated our attention and interest: calling upon the Lord so that we may rejoice in His life.

Protosyngellos Gherasim Soca