When you consider the things that Orthodoxy asks of you –fasting, prayer, church attendance, tithing, study, etc. – it’s a pretty demanding business. What else could anyone ask of you? Well, if you think these things are hard, listen to Jesus:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and selfish.”
Love your enemies? Jesus must be kidding. In fact, He is not, and he put his words into practice, even to the Cross. Often, I don’t love the people I call my friends. I don’t know how in the world I’m supposed to love my enemies. The word “enemy” means someone that I don’t like or actually despise. How am I supposed to love them? What living person has no enemies?
A mafia boss on the island of Sicily was on his death bed. He called for the local priest to come see him and hear his confession. He had decided he wanted to get right with God before he died. The priest came and, before he began to administer the sacraments, said, “Part of getting ready to die is that you need to forgive all your enemies.” The mafia boss said, “Father, I don’t have any enemies.” The priest was surprised and said, “That’s amazing! After all the years of your violent and criminal life, you must have enemies!” The mafia replied, “No, Father, I really don’t have any enemies. I killed them all.” (Fr. Andrew Harman)
This isn’t what Jesus meant, but is there a way that we can come to love our enemies? Father Andrew Harmon, Pastor of St. Matthew Antiochian Orthodox Church, North Royalton, Ohio suggests the following:
- Pray –I wonder how often we think to pray for our enemies. Why pray for them? Mainly because only God can heal the wounds of the heart. In praying for our enemies, it may be our hearts that are healed.
- Thank God for something good about your enemy– We tend to think of our enemies as being devoid of anything good. The fact is that they are no more evil than we are, and we believe that there is some good in ourselves. Dwelling on what is good rather than what is evil may result in realizing that like our enemy, we are a mix of good and evil. Maybe it was my evil that contributed to the conflict. Maybe, in the remembrance of wrongs, I have forgotten the part that I played and have made my enemy to be more of a villain than they deserve.
- Shift your anger – One of the great roadblocks to creating peace is anger. Because of anger, we will not listen to any suggestion that reconciliation is possible. What does it mean to shift anger? It means to turn the power of anger against the root of habitual sin in our own hearts instead of outward against people who offend us. If we did this, we would soon be saints. Ask St. Moses the Black.
- Treat them kindly – Finally, Jesus tells us that it is not enough to good to people we like. We must do something good to our enemies like turn the other cheek or walk the extra mile. We are to be like our Father who is good to the evil and well as to the just; who causes the rain to fall on the fields of the righteous and the unrighteous. So, Jesus said that we should be like Dad. In doing good things, we may find that we will change a heart and gain a friend. We might discover the treasure of true humility.
In conclusion, listen again to St. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic:
“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.” (an excerpt)
Do good to your enemies. Be like your Father in heaven. Loving your enemy will change your life, and save your soul.