“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” The call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is one of the most radical teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church, and yet, it is a teaching upon which we need to reflect today more than ever.
For the past 20 years, every September 11th we Americans look back on that tragic day in NY and Washington, and we remember: we remember those who died from terrorism on that day; we remember the heroic men and women who risked and even sacrificed their lives trying to save the victims; we remember the countless families whose lives drastically and forever changed by this disaster; we remember the response of love and compassion from the worldwide community during that time of need.
Unfortunately, we also remember how the world dramatically changed on 9/11/2001. Terrorism now is a household word. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, our future is still uncertain. Yet as Orthodox Christians, how should we reflect on the events of 9/11? How should we face the post September 11th reality of wars and terrorism and fear? What are our attitudes going to be and what are our hopes and dreams for the future?
Is our hope only to punish the perpetrators and to protect ourselves against any future evil? Or can there be a more positive, creative and beneficial response for the world?
The great American social prophet, Martin Luther King Jr., had a challenging solution to hatred, injustice and evil. “Hate cannot drive out hate;” he preached. “Only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, and violence multiplies violence in a descending spiral of destruction… Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
As we forge ahead in our troubled world, we need inspired thinking that will take a risk in striving to transform our enemies into our friends. We need to use the greatest arsenal in the history of the world – not the military power of technologically advanced weapons of mass destruction, but the oldest and only eternal power, the weapon of divine love.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
How can we cultivate such divine love among all peoples throughout the world, especially among those who feel marginalized and rejected? Only through critical self-evaluation, and a readiness to sacrifice for the other – to follow the Golden Rule of the Bible which says, “Do unto others, as you want them to do unto you” – can we hope for a transformation of our enemy into our friend. As Christ clearly teaches us with His life – we have to be ready to be crucified by the other, NOT to crucify the other. This is what we remember in the Gospel today when we hear one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son to the world to condemn it, but in order that the world should be saved through Him.” Only with such a spirit of sacrifice and love can we reach our ultimate goal of peace and harmony with others.
God loving us in an unconditional and infinite manner is at the center of our Christian faith, and of our Orthodox identity! When we freely accept the infinite love of God into our lives, then we are able to truly and unconditionally love others, even our worst enemies.
Such divine love even for our enemies is the only power capable of transforming a despised opponent into a desired friend!
Do any of us have such love in our hearts at this present moment? Let us forget for a moment the extremes of God’s love, a love even for terrorists. Let us begin by looking around the relationships in our own lives and ask ourselves if divine love is present. Is love present in all our relationships in our family, in our Church, in our neighborhood, in our workplace, and among acquaintances and friends. Do we have love in the midst of this pandemic and the ongoing debate of masks and vaccines? Do we Do we strive to make love the central characteristic in relationships with people of other political persuasions? Do we have love even for those who are difficult to love?
I know many of us can look in our lives and see where others have hurt us, have offended us, have upset us, and who maybe do so on an ongoing basis. Even here in the Church, I see from time to time old wounds and offensive words spring up among parishioners, and poison the atmosphere of love which we want to cultivate here. All of us must humbly look at ourselves, and see where we need to cultivate the love of God more in our relationships!
As we begin the new Church year this month, as we welcome many people today through our Festival, and then as we will begin our Fall activities with Sunday School, Bible Study groups, Philoptochos and other events, we must constantly ask ourselves, “What spirit are we carrying into each of these events and ministries? What spirit am I bringing into these activities, and what spirit am I cultivating with the other parishioners with whom I have contact, even those whom I don’t like so much?”
Remember what it means to be the Church. What it means to be an Orthodox Christian. To be
a member of this Church Family means first and foremost to be people of divine love – and divine love automatically implies being people who forgive the other (no matter what they’ve done) who show mercy towards the other (even the one who has offended us) and to be kind and compassionate to the other (even our enemy)
To cultivate such divine love in our hearts doesn’t come easy. It demands a strong desire on our part, and a willingness to struggle with a disciplined effort. Our Lord Jesus Christ is ready to fill our hearts with this love, but He will never impose it upon us. He offers it freely, but we have to open up the door of our hearts and receive it. In order to open up our hearts, that means we have to break down the walls which hinder divine love – the obstacles of hatred, fear, insecurity, self-righteousness, arrogance, pride and self-centeredness. Breaking down these walls may be painful and scary. We often get used to the barriers we set up in our lives which hinder God’s love. Christ came to free us from these obstacles, however, and once the walls come tumbling down, He will fill us with His divine love!
If we ever hope to truly love our enemy, we have to begin by first trying to love our neighbor – loving all our family members, loving our co-workers, loving the Church members who irritate us, loving those with whom we have contact in our daily lives – divine love that transforms enemies into friends begins here!
Our Sts. Constantine and Helen Family should not be known in Webster solely for its Greek foods and wonderful festivals. That can be a secondary reputation we develop. First and foremost, our Church needs to be a community that is known for its deep love for one another and for the community at large. Loving one another, forgiving one another, sacrificing for one another, and showing mercy and compassion to one another – these are the ultimate qualities of any authentic Orthodox Church and any true Orthodox Christian.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son to the world to condemn it, but in order that the world should be saved through Him.”