The Power of a Peaceful & Sober LifeFr. Barnabas Powell
I remember the first time I heard the prayer “For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.” I thought “What a curious prayer?” Why would the Church have us pray this at every litany? What is really being asked for here?
It wasn’t long until some reading of the Fathers of the Church, listening to the hymns of the Church, and actually pressing out the implications of the miracle of Jesus Christ and His glorious triumph over sin, death, and Satan, that I began to understand the importance of sobriety. In our de-enchanted world where everything is about materialism, we usually assume sobriety is only about abusing drugs and alcohol. But those vices are only icons of the deeper intoxication and chaotic living of a life that has spiritual drunkenness on things like pride, envy, fear, and selfishness. That drunkenness does the very same thing that physical drunkenness does: it makes it impossible for you to see clearly how to live your life well. You make short-sighted choices. You stumble into toxic relationships. You foolishly neglect the absolute necessity of de-cluttering your soul through repentance.
And, when the conflict comes, you’re not clear-headed enough to see which way to go!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 23:1-11:
IN THOSE DAYS, Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose; and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome.”
St. Paul has come with St. Barnabas to Jerusalem to help out the believers for a soon-coming famine in the area. They bring gifts and supplies to aid the Church in the area. And, of course, Paul gets in trouble and is arrested! All the leaders in Jerusalem remembered Paul as Saul. And all of them were furious that this once prominent leader in their midst had become this champion of the message of Jesus Christ risen from the dead! And, they wanted him silenced!
During his interrogation, the High Priest that year, Ananias, has Paul slapped in the mouth! Is that any way for a priest to act? Paul fires back and then proves he understands protocol with his response of learning it was the High Priest who slapped him. Then Paul, knowing his audience and being given the wisdom to say the right thing at the right time, reminds the court that he is a Pharisee. So, of course, the Pharisees in the crowd start defending Paul. And notice what they say “What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” You see, the other group, the Sadducees, didn’t believe in angels or spirits. Paul understood how to speak in this moment of real danger for him because he was sober in spirit and was attentive to the words he could use to accomplish God’s purpose for him and that was to get him to Rome so he could witness for Christ before the Emperor.
But Paul’s abilities have everything to do with his being sobered by the focus on his need for repentance, and for his need for God’s grace. Paul was able to be clear-headed and not intoxicated with fear or anger because of his relationship with Jesus Christ and the attentive disciplines of the Christian Faith were creating peace inside him! And when your life isn’t cluttered with intoxicating passions, you can hear clearly the wisdom of God when you need it! He is living his life dedicated to the mission Christ gave him, and that focus, that clarity, quiets his inner life SO THAT he can hear God’s wisdom in stressful times like this! Paul is rescued from the growing mob by the Roman soldier who has him in custody. That very night another manifestation of Paul’s intimacy with God is displayed as Jesus “stood beside him” and told him he was going to witness to the Faith in Rome!
When we are free from a driven life of noise and fear, we open up our lives to be filled with the Spirit through our daily practice of this life-creating faith. This being filled with the Spirit, far from being intoxicated, is actually the sobering gift of “peace that passes understanding. The disciplines of a Normal Orthodox life de-clutter our hearts and minds through repentance and sets us free to be at peace no matter what is going on around us. Don’t you want that for your life? I know I sure do!
This sober peace in a Normal Orthodox life helps us understand how the saints could endure such physical torture and not abandon their faith in Christ. St. Hermias was such a man. Already an old man during some time in the early 2nd century, Hermias was arrested because he refused to deny Christ and offer incense to the “genius of the emperor.” After three days of torture where his captors disregarded the advanced age of this man, his jaw was broken, and his flesh torn and even his eyes put out, Hermaias refused to deny Christ. After three days of such torture, his tormentors beheaded him and we remember his name to this day but all the identities of his tormentors are forgotten!
So, today, do you have the courage to face whatever life throws at you? You can. Ask God to set you free from all “affliction, wrath, danger, and necessity” and let Him replace all that with His Holy Spirit so that you can be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. Your Martyr, O Lord, in his courageous contest for You received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from You, our immortal God. For since he possessed Your strength, he cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by his prayers, save our souls, since You are merciful.