“The deiform soul cannot nurse hatred against a man and yet be at peace with God, the giver of the commandments. ‘For’, He says, ‘if you do not forgive men their faults, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your faults’ (cf. Matt. 6:14-15). If your brother does not wish to live peaceably with you, nevertheless guard yourself against hatred, praying for him sincerely and not abusing him to anybody.”
+ St. Maximos the Confessor, Four Hundred Texts on Love (4.35), in The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 2)
The very first petition that the priest intones at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (or, during the Great Fast, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great) every Sunday is "In peace, let us pray to the Lord." Look at that simple phrase - it only contains 8 words, and yet it is so profound, we gloss over it in utter forgetfulness. How many times have we, good Catholic Christians as we profess to each other, have ignored this simple petition? We may be angry with our children for causing a ruckus before coming to church; we may be furious with the person that cut us off on the street on our Sunday journey; heck, we may even be furious with our priest and utterly hate him for something he might have said or done at an earlier time. And yet, we dutifully go to Sunday Liturgy and we respond mechanically, "Lord, have mercy."
This is a disgraceful sin that stains our very selves.
As we consider our vocation in life, no matter what it is (priesthood, diaconate, religious life, married life, secular celibacy, etc.), we need to discern just what it is that we are looking for. But we cannot discern God's call to us if we are not at peace, both with ourselves, and with others. St. Maximos the Confessor (an important Eastern Christian monk and theologian whose life spanned from 580-662 AD), gives us the important key to those who wish to live a life where they clearly can hear God speaking to us. We must reject hatred in our hearts if we are to be at peace. And in order to hear God's voice, we must be at peace.
Maximos is categorically NOT advocating a fluffy, foo-foo, tree-hugging, hippy, feel-good sort of peace that some would think. What he is advocating is a "high-road" approach, one that allows us to take an advantageous position in our daily spiritual warfare. Specifically, one must be able to set aside hatred, vindictiveness, and spite, as these negative passions simply drag us down in a stew of seething anger, resentment, and viciousness. We should recognize our anger for what it is, and positively acknowledge it, but we must be able to channel it in a constructive way. And the best way to channel this anger is through forgiveness, realizing that if God does indeed forgive us of our sins and transgressions, we must be ready to forgive as well. Even if our brother or sister wishes to be our most bitter opponent and seeks to cause us harm at every opportunity, we must be willing to not descend to their level and seek indiscriminate vengeance - this is the pathway to sin and ultimately to hell, where hatred, indiscriminate anger, pride, gluttony, greed, jealousy, rule those unfortunate souls trapped there, refusing to hear and acknowledge God's merciful and loving call.
The man (and woman) seeking to live a virtuous life in Christ must be willing to practice that virtue of forgiveness and be willing to pray for those that hate them. It does not mean that they can take steps to defend themselves - we all have the right to preserve our personal integrity - but we must temper everything we do with temperance, humility, patience, and love (as St. Ephrem the Syrian says in his legendary and powerful prayer). We must truly be at peace with ourselves and each other if we are to really participate in the most holy sacrifice of the Mystery of the Eucharist. One who partakes in the Mystical Body and Blood of Christ with hatred and misery in their soul only adds to their condemnation and pain.
So what do we do? If you really have a bad attitude and are spitting nails furious when coming to, or are already in Church, do participate in the prayers of the Divine Liturgy, but do not partake of Holy Communion. Instead, go to the priest and receive the Mystery of Confession, candidly opening your heart to the priest and to God so that those burdens of anger may be removed from your soul. Next, learn to focus on working on the virtues of humility, temperance, patience, and love. This is not easy but is best done by praying for those who have harmed you or hate you in any way. This takes the burden of your anger off of you, and instead places it at the foot of the Holy Cross, so that God may help you properly channel that energy into something more productive. Finally, a saying from various parts of the web helps as well - "Haters are going to hate." You will not be able to change someone who is dedicated to their anger and who lives on hating, but you can pray for them - God's grace is more powerful than you realize, and His grace in prayer can melt the most hardened of hearts. Vent to a close friend if you need to - this is also a good tool to help us out, but be careful not to slander the one that hates you, for then you are only descending to the level of hatred instead of getting the poison out of your bloodstream.
If you want to hear God's voice talking to you, and you wish to really gain the spiritual and material benefits of the Divine Liturgy (and prayer in daily life), listen to Maximos's advice above. Really take it to heart. Hate sin, but do not hate the sinner - only then can you really be at peace, and truly discern God's voice in your life.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!