Anger & the Prayer of Jesus

In the latter 1800’s, Alfred Lord Tennyson invited a Russian nobleman to his estate. And early one morning this nobleman took off with dogs & guns & servants to go hunting.

At mid-day he returned & Lord Tennyson asked him how he did. He answered, "Not very well. I shot two peasants." Lord Tennyson thought for a moment & then said, “No, we pronounce it with a ‘ph’ here. It is ‘pheasants.’ You shot two pheasants.

"No," the nobleman replied, "I shot two peasants. They were insolent towards me, so I shot them."

Oh, anger how quickly you rise. We also saw it this past week as we read the story of the first brothers Cain and Abel and how their relationship was destroyed very quickly as the Cain became consumed by anger.  He was unable to deal with the jealousy he held towards Abel on account of his offering being accepted by God and Scripture shares Cain’s countenance fell (Genesis 4:5-6).  Out of this first anger springs the first murder. 

Our Lord in His Sermon on the Mount speaks authoritatively, “it was said to those of old, ‘you shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment’. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22). 

I pray we do not need these illustrations to recognize how quickly the passion of anger can damage the relationships we have in our life; between us and our family, friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors and ultimately our Lord.  The world we live in is filled with such overwhelming pressure that our nerves are strained to the limit and even the slightest provocation from fellow man or machine arouses in us the sin of anger.

Doctors have studied how anger works in the body. They found that first there is some input from our senses that serve as a trigger. This may be verbal attack on our self-esteem or a put down. It may be a challenge to our given authority, or a desire that is suddenly blocked. It may be a reprimand by a coworker or authority figure. When this event occurs we can easily lose it.

In less than a second the brain sends commands to the other regions of the brain and almost everywhere in the body proper.  The result is an instantaneous change in the whole state of our biological system. Our heart rate will increase and other physical changes will take place.  It is only after all this takes place that we become aware of a feeling. The implication of this is that when we do experience extreme feelings we need to be aware that our body has been changed and is prepared for a fight.

“Reason is pushed aside”, in the words of St. Basil the Great, “once reason has been pushed aside, the passion takes control…making the human being entirely like a wild beast”. 

This means we need to intervene immediately if we wish to return peace to our body and soul.  A good spiritual reminder is found in the words of Solomon, “an angry man is not dignified” (Proverbs 11:24).  But, we need more than a reminder of the sin’s ugliness to fight this passion. 

We must appeal to our Lord and Savior for aid, He who suffered unjustly for us, and “trampled down death by death” is the only hope we have to restore peace in a moment of frustration.  Before we express our anger, be it in speech or gestures (this includes “eye rolling”), we should turn to the prayer of Jesus, saying “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”.  We should concentrate on the word “sinner” and our anger will abate. 

We must place an unshakable obstacle before the demon of anger.  For us, this rock is Jesus Christ, Who will bless our heart, softening its hardness and sanding down the sharpness of our tongues. 

No matter the state of our spiritual development the prayer of Jesus—the theology of which was developed by St. Gregory Palamas (whom we remember today)—will place us back in touch with our God, from whom we have removed ourselves through anger. 

May the grace of Jesus Christ offer us the power to overcome our anger that we may show ourselves at peace before others and the Lord.