Wrath (or anger) is the sin by which I’m most frequently overcome and it’s no wonder. In a world that values instant gratification and hyperindividualism, we are not trained to resist anger. We are even taught that intense saccharine expression of emotion, especially anger or sadness, is somehow more honest and true. We are trained to overemote and to be ever offended.
But wrath and anger are poisons which generally do nothing to others while chipping away at the foundations of our soul. They are a blackened tempest that obscures all light and keeps us closed off to the grace of God and the good in others. They keep us selfish and prideful.
The antidote to Wrath is the virtue of Patience. It is through patience that we are able to choke out Wrath, its erosion of our hearts, and its influence over our actions.
There are two important quotes, both of which I found in Father Joseph Huneycutt’s book, Defeating Sin. The first quote comes from Elder Joseph the Hesychast:
"You are delivered from [anger] through love towards all humanity and true humility. Therefore, when anger comes, close your mouth tightly and do not speak to him who curses, dishonors, reproaches, or bothers you in any way without reason. Then this snake will writhe around in your heart, rise up to your throat, and (since you don’t give it a way out) will choke and suffocate. When this is repeated several times, it will diminish and cease entirely."
The second comes from Saint John Climacus:
"Bring out the staff of patience, and the dogs will soon stop their insolence. Patience is an unbroken labor of the soul which is never shaken by deserved or undeserved blows. The patient man is a faultless worker, who turns his faults into victories. Patience is the limitation of suffering that is accepted day by day. Patience lays aside all excuses and all attention to herself. The worker needs patience more than his food, because the one brings him a crown, while the other may bring him ruin. The patient man has died long before he is placed in the tomb."
Reread these quotes and take in what they are saying.
First, that Patience closes around and suffocates the serpent of anger. That’s a powerful image.
Second, that the patient man is a faultless worker who turns faults into victories. This, again, reminds me of Marcus Aurelius and his insistence that,
"What hinders action, advances action. What blocks the way, becomes the way."
The patient man will either not anger or, if he does, will not be tempted to act immediately on the flames of his passion. He will let those flames burn out and then assess the situation and do what is required. Faults become victories.
Last, that the patient man is dead long before he enters the tomb. Our purpose in life, as fallen creatures who are working to reacquire virtue, which are the attributes of God, is to repent of our fallen nature. That is, we are called to die to ourselves, to our present condition, and to submit ourselves to the Logos, to the order of the cosmos, to God’s will instead of our own. To do otherwise is slavery. The patient man, therefore, is dead to himself. Before he dies, he has already transcended death.
So, how do we acquire the virtue of Patience?
1. Shut Up
Just shut up. Be quiet. Do not let anger move you to action. Recognize the state you are in when you are angry and refuse to act on it. As Elder Joseph the Hesychast said, shutting up will suffocate the snake. Eventually it will subside.
2. Reflect on What is Holy
Wrath and anger keep us from seeing what is good. We become entrenched in darkness and burn with our own hatred. If we attempt to focus instead on seeing the light, on seeing what is beautiful and holy, Wrath becomes unable to take us. Reflect especially on the torments of Christ during His Passion. Humble yourself at the immense love of a murdered God who gave up all that we could live. His sacrifice was as sufficient for your enemy as it was for you. It’s difficult to be angry in light of such a sacrifice.
3. Meditate on the Jesus Prayer
Begin to repeat the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Say it as much as you have to, concentrating meaning on each word, until your anger subsides. Mercy will be given to you and, just like focusing on any other beautiful thing, Wrath will be unable to take you.
Wrath, for me, is certainly the easiest sin to fall into because it rises up and catches fire without my consent. It is not dependent on circumstance, but merely an incorrect perception of any circumstance. It can happen at any time without me realizing, and for this reason Patience is probably the most important virtue I can cultivate. Perhaps the same is true for you.
More from "The Seven Deadly Sins" series:
- Fighting Sloth: How to Acquire Diligence
- Fighting Greed: How to Acquire Liberality
- Fighting Envy: How to Acquire Contentedness
- Fighting Lust: How to Acquire Chastity
- Fighting Gluttony: How to Acquire Temperance
- Fighting Pride: How to Acquire Humility
- An Introduction to the Seven Heavenly Virtues
- Demarcating the Battlefield: An Introduction to the Seven Deadly Sins