I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22).
See, therefore, that Jesus sanctions neither anger expressed outwardly nor anger in one’s thought. No one thinks evil without corrupting the heart in which God should dwell. Whoever is angered in thought against his brother tears apart a sacred tie between him and the other. And this tie is difficult to reestablish, because the demon of anger, once it has penetrated the heart, fabricates numerous arguments in your defense that stop you from reconciling. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, the holy Apostle Paul gives a series of counsels to the inhabitants of the city of Ephesus and emphasizes the sin of anger in a special way. The quotation from the beginning of this article is from his Epistle. Knowing that man gets angry for many reasons and that this anger has the tendency to remain in the heart of man and to transform it into hatred (or at least to dig a gulf between us), the Apostle counsels us not to allow the sun to go down upon our anger. Through this counsel, the power of anger—which often hurts and eventually becomes a deep-rooted sin—is swept away and its power dissolved.
I am concerned about the sin of anger as an everyday sin committed against those who are close to us: against our family, friends, colleagues, an anonymous strangers who happen to cross our path. In an instant, anger expressed through fiery words against our wife or husband wounds the sensitive bond between the married couple. In the mystery of marriage, the Bridegroom is the symbol of Jesus, and the Bride is the Church. The holy Apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Ephesians—the Epistle that is read at the crowning service [the marriage ceremony]—in this sense speaks about the family as a family church in which the bridegroom loves the bride with the love with which Jesus loves the Church, and the bride loves the bridegroom with the love which the Church loves Christ.
If the husband and wife would ponder on their marriage as the relationship between Christ and Church, the sun would never set upon their wrath, and they would never separate. Neither would the children be delivered over to state or private institutions, like some worn-out objects no longer needed by these two, separated through the sin of anger, which was not extinguished at the setting of the sun. The love of their family becomes a hollow word, which no longer matters before the demon who took complete mastery. A word said in anger wounds just as seriously as a physical blow. If he who wounds does not rectify the spiritual damage, little by little, a gulf is dug between the two, a deadly coldness kills the sentiment of love and respect appropriate between husband and wife; time deepens and enlarges the gulf. Later it is very difficult for them to be able to throw a bridge across it—only with great effort and suffering.
I have seen spouses—who had maintained a good marriage for many years—divorce after many years, causing pain for their children, who were, perhaps, already married. I have also seen happy spouses divorce after a short time, all caused by anger over time, leaving small children to grow up in frustration and confusion, not understanding who is father or mother. Later, following the example of their parents, they no longer consider marriage to be a sacred bond, like that between Christ and the Church.
I have seen brothers who loved each other in Romania, but after arriving in America became estranged due to the pressures of being in a foreign land and the difficulties of adapting. They remained enemies until death, because their anger burst out fiercely into strong words and because they allowed the sun to go down upon their anger.
An Arabic proverb says that when you become upset, count to ten, and if you are roused to anger, to count to one hundred. I do not know how effective this solution is, because it does not contain a mystical element; it merely appeals to the reason to moderate the outward expression of anger. I counsel my penitents that before they express their anger, be it in speech or gestures, be it only mentally, to utter three or five times, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. And if they say the prayer quickly and inattentively under the oppression of anger, then they should concentrate with humility upon the word “sinner,” and their anger will abate. Many of them have succeeded in making their life, their family relationships, their relations with other people, and even their interior life change for the better.
All the conflicts in the world have their origin in unabated anger. One is angry and wounds the other, who then responds with greater violence and strength. Once this chain is begun, it cannot be stopped except through the appeal of prayer—genuine prayer.
Change the conditions of this equation and substitute groups of people for individuals and you will realize the immense dimension of the disaster spawned by anger.
Try to put an unshakable obstacle before the demon of anger. Put a guard on your mouth (cf Psalm 140:3) and change the evil thoughts originating from the impulse of anger, and your interior life will be transformed. The blessing of the Lord will work in your heart, your tongue will no longer be so sharp, and the Jesus Prayer, uttered at the necessary times, will convince you of your sinful state, thus stopping you from either exteriorizing anger or keeping it in your mind and heart.
The name of Jesus is sweet to utter. It casts out the demons and brings the angels back into the heart, into the mind, and you will bear yourself in meekness before others.
Translated by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood from the newsletter of Holy Cross Church in Alexandria, Virginia (in Romanian).