Overcoming the Beast of Anger - Part 1
Fr. George Morelli · February 3, 2010
With Forgiveness Sunday approaching, Fr. George shows how we can make ourselves less angry and grow in love for God and our neighbors.
Hello, This is Fr. George Morelli .. in just a couple weeks we are coming up to Forgiveness Sunday and the beginning of Lent. In as much as the dysfunctional emotion of Anger is what so separates us from union with God, Him indwelling in us and love of others, how fitting it is to discuss anger and it’s healing at this time. Let us consider why this is so. All of us know of St. John reminder to us of Christ’s injunction: “If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” (1Jn 4: 20-21) St. Dorotheos of Gaza explains it this way .. he uses a wheel. I will my own imagery: Picture a wagon wheel like those on the Stagecoaches in the Old West .. alternatively you could picture a bicycle wheel…. At the Center is God. .. we are the spokes …at the edge of the wheel, the furthest point from the center we are also at the furthest points of the other spokes … So we are both apart from God and each other. But any movement toward God, necessitates a moving closer to the other spokes, that is of course our neighbors …..Applying this to Anger … when we get angry with any of our brothers and sisters in Christ …. we move ourselves to the edge of the wheel ….farthest away from God and our fellow man.
The spiritual-cognitive components of anger were long recognized by our Church Fathers. St. Basil recognized the loss of reason in anger. “It makes a man completely bestial…In fact, it does not even allow him to be a man at all, because he ho longer has the help of his reason.”
An interesting spiritual issue arises in this context. In order for us to perceive ourselves to be “intruded on” to the extent that it justifies, anger, vengeance, and retaliation we have to have to see ourselves as ‘important.’ St. Basil tells us “Anger nurses a grievance. The soul, itching for vengeance, constantly tempts us to repay those who have offended” (St Basil the Great, Homily 10). I am so important, so above others I have the “right” to act uncharitably toward other.
What is the root of this reaction? The passion and sin of pride. St Mark the Acetic (Philokalia V. I) wrote: “The passion is strengthened especially by pride. And as long as it is so strengthened it cannot be destroyed. ...Thus the structure of evil in the soul is impossible to destroy so long as it is rooted firmly in pride.” From the Shepard of Hermas (Book II Commandment 5) who saw the Holy Spirit choked by anger: “For he is choked by the vile spirit, and cannot attend on the Lord as he wishes, for anger pollutes him. For the Lord dwells in long-suffering, but the devil in anger.” Abba Agathon wrote that anger can produce spiritual death: “An irascible man, even if he is capable of raising the dead, will not be received into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Another holy desert father Abba Poimen saw anger as obliterating he who would consider himself a monk: “A complaining, vindictive monk, prone to anger, cannot exist,”. That is to say that, any who have such faults are not actually monks, even if they wear the schema.”
Mankind is created in the image of God and as creatures of God we are called to be “like” Him. (Gen. 1:26) The Church Fathers define the image of God in us as our free will and intelligence. To be like Him meant that mankind must choose “the good.” For our first parents, choosing good was to obey their Creator—not to make themselves into gods by tasting the fruit of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Noting mankind coveted a spiritual power above it’s created nature Blessed Augustine interpreted this passage to mean that Adam and Eve thought of themselves as having the knowledge of God.
When God further revealed His Will in the form of the Law: the Ten Commandments (Deut 5: 6-21). and other proscriptions listed for His people. When the fullness of time had come and God sent His “only Begotten Son” our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, He revealed to us the fullness of what it was to be “like” Him. Our Lord tells us “And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another.” (John13:34,35).
What greater love could the Father have for us that even though He is God, nevertheless, send His Son to take on our nature so we—all mankind—can be lifted up to Him? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John3:16). Let us ponder some of the things Our Lord has told us about love. “If you forgive the faults of others your Heavenly Father will forgive yours. If you do not forgive the faults of others, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you.” (Mt. 6:14-16). “My son your sins are forgiven.” (Mk. 2:5). “If you want to avoid judgment, stop passing judgment. ” (Mt. 7:1).
How do we achieve this love shown to us by the Father and His Son, Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ? St. Paul tells us: “Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God as forgiven you in Christ.” (Eph. 4:31). Our calling as part of God’s creation, as a member of Christ’s body, the Church, is to grow and actualize ourselves; to find those imperfections in us that are barriers preventing us from being “like God”; that prevent us from loving and forgiving. In keeping with St. Paul’s words, our emotions, such as anger, are just such an imperfection or barrier. By making ourselves less angry we can grow in the love of God and our neighbor.
Current research psychology has helped us understand the cognitive structure supporting and triggering anger. Besides aiding in helping us to understanding how anger comes about, this research also helps us to employ psychological techniques that can aid in overcoming and preventing anger. The cognitive-behavioral model of emotional dysfunction (Beck, Shaw & Emery, 1979; Ellis, 1962) has been shown to be effective in this regard.
Beck points out the theme of anger is “significant intrusion.” We feel some one has intruded on us or on someone or something we love and posses that we consider to be an extension of ourselves. According to this model, emotions such as anger are produced by distorted or irrational beliefs, attitudes and cognitions. Situations (something that someone has said or done or events that have happened) do not produce or cause our upset.
We upset ourselves over people and events, by our “interpretations” of them, thereby making ourselves dysfunctionally angry, anxious or depressed or simply functionally annoyed, concerned and disappointed. If our thinking is clear, rational and non-distorted we have normal feelings like: bearable nuisances, caring and livable letdowns. If our “interpretations” are irrational or distorted we get enraged, intensely worried and despondent. Ellis has long pointed out that emotions such as anger add to our problems like in a ‘domino effect.’ Originally we have a problem, the “Activating Event.” Our angry emotional response is a new problem added to the original, which in turn is linked to other dysfunctional outcomes, etc.
This was so clearly perceived by one of our spiritual fathers so early after Our Lord’s message, the Shepard of Hermas said: “But anger is foolish, and fickle, and senseless. Now, of folly is begotten bitterness, and of bitterness anger, and of anger frenzy. This frenzy, the product of so many evils, ends in great and incurable sin.” (Book II, Commandment 5)