The Divine Liturgy begins with the Great Litany or the Litany of Peace. It’s referred to as such not only because this litany begins with the invocation of peace (“In peace let us pray to the Lord”) but the first three petitions deal with peace. Protopresbyter Stephanos Anagnostophoulos, in his interpretation of the liturgy, notes: “peace is the oxygen, it is the clean air, in which the people of God can live, in other words the Church. The primary thing we need in order to stand before God is peace. We should be peaceful in our inner selves and then amongst ourselves: with our partner, our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters, with the people who are close to us, with our relatives, with each fellow man, for when our heart is peaceful our relationship is peaceful. When we are in Church we cannot say nor do anything without this peace.”
But peace doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of strife. The Hebrew meaning of the word ‘shalom’ has a slightly different meaning. The verb form of the root word is shalam and it indicates someone who is making restitution. In other words, if someone has wronged me they have to make shalam, they have to restore or return unto me what has been taken. Upon doing so I will be in a state of “shalom”, that is, a state of wholeness; I will be at peace.
Now, the peace that we know of from a Christian point of view is the one that comes from God. Indeed, in the very Litany of Peace we pray that God grant us “the peace from above.” As the Lord says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you” (John 14:27). However, if the word peace refers to the one who has destroyed the state of wholeness to initiate the peace-making process, it would appear that man and not God needs to offer the peace. After all, it was man who disobeyed God not the other way around.
The message of the Gospels, however, is of the great love that God has for mankind, that He sends His only begotten Son to return everything to a true state of wholeness. Christ is the one who, for the salvation of the world, made peace through His blood (Col. 1:20). Moreover, He teaches us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
It is, therefore, with this peace that we “pray to the Lord”. For, in the end, we are to heed the words of the holy Apostle who advises us: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15).