This is the second entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope.
On Peace, by Joy of Reconciliation
The true joy of the feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is often mistranslated by the world, packaged to us in the form of abundance, private gatherings, indulgence in food and gifts, and wrapped in stress. The world, in its fallen state, skews matters of the divine and leaves us empty. The world, in its fallen state, which rejected Christ, belittles His creation and mocks the true human potential. But beautifully, the gift of Christ’s Divine Incarnation and subsequent Crucifixion and Resurrection always resonates with the human soul. His love in these acts is transformative. It is a gift of peace, meant for all. It lifts us up and inspires us to reach our highest calling. Those imbued with such love have lined the darkest chapters of human history with opportunities for light. We call them
peacemakers, and in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Living in a region of the world known as both the Holy Land and a notorious place of conflict, questions about peace always arise. When will we have it? How do we seek it? The peace that we seek is not to be claimed and possessed. It will not be found with haughtiness and discrimination. It will not be imposed with walls and intimidation. We know this because Christ’s example showed us the way to everlasting peace. According to His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos, head of the Christian Community in the Holy Land, in order to have peace, what we truly must seek is reconciliation. Reconciliation with one another, and therefore reconciliation with God.
Designed in the image and likeness of our Creator, all of humanity seeks to reconcile itself with its intended divine nature, that is, oneness with God. It is a longing we can never fulfill with earthly possessions or by exalting ourselves while disparaging others. The absence of this peace is a hole in the human heart – a sickness that doesn’t discriminate by age, wealth, beauty, or intellect. But Christ’s divine providence is a gift of peace, an opening of the way back to Him – true fulfillment. This peace is the fruit of humility and love, rooted in sacrifice, and reaped by all who seek it.
In our lives, circumstances can often feel too large to overcome and too far gone to be reconciled. Injustice, suffering, and fear stand before us like mountains, seemingly impossible to see beyond. But then we hear stories of impossible love and forgiveness, like individuals who forgive their family member’s killer. How could such a counterintuitive act feel so right? Because we were created to transcend anger, fear, and death. It felt right because it speaks to our truest nature. And in those moments of reconciliation, born out of love, the mountain is conquered. No longer standing in its shadow, we see bright horizons. And our fellow man is standing by our side on this summit. That is peace.
In Jerusalem, the Holy City, we face particularly treacherous metaphorical mountain terrain. Particular groups struggle to exclusively claim the city with the force of continental shifts, pushing the mountain range higher and higher – to heaven itself. In seeking Jerusalem for themselves exclusively, these radicals delve deeper into a place of despair. What peace is there in a holy city for those who throw their fellow man outside its gates and continue to hear their cries?
In the past few years, especially, the Churches have experienced a forceful attack on their long- standing presence in the Holy Land by these radicals who want to strip Jerusalem of its ancient multi-religious, multi-cultural mosaic character and possess Jerusalem. Ironically, the Church, which is the oldest institution in the region, has survived because it maintained a spiritual mission that called for Jerusalem to remain accessible to all people as a holy city. It protects the holy sites of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and stands as a testament to our shared sacred history. We reach out again now to these distraught individuals with love and ask them to join us in love. Let Jerusalem, the Holy City, be the place where “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). This special land has been sanctified by the blood of the prophets and of Jesus Christ himself. It carries within its grounds, waters, and air a grace in which all humankind should be able to partake. Furthermore, while this land is sacred, the dwelling place of God is in our hearts, and we seek to love one another with the reverence that such a fact demands.
As we approach the feast of the Nativity of our Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, may we seek His love, may we reconcile with our fellow man, and may we welcome His light into our hearts to become beacons of peace in a world that so deeply seeks it.
The following is an excerpt of a Nativity prayer in the Greek Orthodox Tradition:
For unto us a Child is born; to us a Son is given.
For God is with us.
And the government shall be upon His shoulder, and of His peace there will be no end.
For God is with us.
And His name shall be called the Messenger of Great Counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the World to Come.
Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Now and Forever and to the ages of ages,
Anna Koulouris is an English language communications advisor for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem since 2010. She graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and Middle East Studies. She also contributes articles and lectures to various institutions on topics related to the Church’s role in the Holy Land, effective communication in conflict areas, and overcoming religious radicalism in the Middle East.