Posts Tagged ‘Christain peacemaking’

Orthodox Christian Statement Opposing Military Action Against Syria: Supporting narrative

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Supporting narrative

The following offers some narrative support for the Statement. Whereas the narrative supports the succinct text of the Statement, it too is necessarily brief; however, numerous supporting materials are offered as background to help broaden understanding (we will begin adding these shortly).

Please bear in mind, this is offered as support and background, not dogma. Mistakes are mine and you are invited to bring them, and dissent or support, to my attention. The supporting documents and our website hopefully fill in many blanks that may exist in the narrative.

Pieter Dykhorst

Editor, In Communion
journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship
[email protected]

1.  The OPF foundation of the Statement:

In blessing peacemakers in the Beatitudes as the children of God, Christ makes the vocation of  healing damaged relationships a hallmark of authentic Christianity. Yet, the path of peacemaking is as messy and conflicted, individually and collectively, as is any aspect of Christian faith and living. What follows is a general summary of what we believe and how we apply it to the current situation. It cannot be taken as a dogmatic or binding statement on anyone’s conscience. We are children of the Church working out our salvation within its sanctuary; this is no exception.

a.  While not all OPF members are against all war at all times, we believe war is always an evil that comes about as a consequence of human weakness and that the good we pursue is less a negative avoidance of war but a positive, robust, and broad pursuit of just alternatives that end current wars and make future wars unnecessary. Thus, before we are “anti-war,” we are “pro-peace.”

However, the Christian peacemaking vocation is not passive. True peacemaking requires foresight and is a preventative work requiring wisdom, faith, compassion for all, courage, and a commitment to justice as well as mercy. Preemptive peacemaking undercuts the foundations of violence long before unavoidable crises that produce violence and war result.

Once war comes, violence always breeds more violence, presently or in the future as the roots of pain and suffering, bitterness and anger, revenge, division, and fear take hold and eventually bear the fruit of more violence. The Gospel is anathema to violence as a legitimate conflict resolution strategy.

b.  We believe when war seems unavoidable and does come, it is always a failure and must be terminated at the first possible opportunity and repented of after. Victory in war can never be celebrated but may sometimes be a least-bad outcome that must still be mourned: we should beg God to show us other means to resolve differences with our enemies.

There is sometimes debate among OPF members about when a war might in fact be unavoidable, when some understandable resort to violence seems necessary. We will not enter that conversation here except to acknowledge its legitimacy and to affirm our consistent opposition to violence as an acceptable conflict resolution strategy; however our website is replete with resources addressing this issue. We are united, however, in our conviction that war must never in any case be other than a truly unavoidable last resort.

We do not believe in this case that the current call to military action can possibly, in any rational framework, be considered necessary or an unavoidable last resort. Thus, we not only oppose this action but we believe there is no “economy” possible for it. Too many viable non-violent, political, legal, and humanitarian alternatives exist: they may fail, but they must be tried.

c.  We do not weigh one side’s actions against the other to make some qualitative or quantitative judgement of who is more evil and who less. Obviously, if we deem war always evil, all sides engaged in the Syrian civil war have resorted to evil solutions.

We do not base our opposition on political considerations or on party affiliations.

To be clear, we are not naive or without personal and even collective judgements: our appeal, however, rests on none of them. Active pursuit of all viable non-violent solutions requires a proper understanding of the problem. Our Statement must be understood to go beyond opposition to military action to engaging in finding and implementing just solutions.

d.  We must acknowledge that persuasive ideological, pragmatic, and sometimes impassioned arguments are being made for and against military action and that OPF members struggle with them as much as anyone might. Supporting documents address these arguments as broadly as possible.

The current situation in Syria and the region is extraordinarily complex and volatile, and we appreciate honest debate as Christians struggle for understanding and solutions. Many international actors have conflicted interests in Syria. Syria’s civil war does not consist of two monolithic entities pitted against each other: history, culture, religion, language, and ethnicity combine in a way outsiders cannot easily understand, creating a confusing mixture of loyalties and interests. Too many simplistic views are being presented in the US media and are grossly misleading because of their misunderstanding.

We make this acknowledgement and offer supporting arguments out of sympathy for those reading here who, like many of us have, may come to a similar vocational commitment through long and conscientious struggle and who value thoughtful and prayerful consideration of other views.

e.  Finally, we simply state that legal options exist for dealing with the crime of chemical weapons use. As, for many, this is taken as sufficient grounds for war, please consider that whoever–Assad, other officials, generals or lower commanders, and/or opposition forces–has used chemical weapons, this war will end and avenues for justice exist and will be viable.

The wight of evidence for guilt for the attack on 21 September may point to the Assad regime, but please consider dissenting opinions and evidence that suggests some rebel factions may also have used chemical weapons on other occasions. As a basis for war, none of this is sufficiently clear or conclusive.

2.  The Orthodox Justifiable War position:

a.  For many within the Orthodox Church there exists some uncertainty about when war may be a lesser evil or lesser good or when war may be otherwise justifiable. The OPF’s position is clearly stated in the first section above. We would not, therefore, base our opposition to any war on a conditional framework like Just War theory although we appreciate the robust debate among some Orthodox on the subject.

Our website contains many fine resources dealing with the questions of “lesser evil,” “lesser good,” and other problems created by real-world conflict scenarios.

Our comments here are restricted to the “justifiable war tradition,” as articulated and defended by Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster in his book The Virtue of War because he argues strongly that the contemplated military attack on Syria would not be justifiable. His books are listed in the bibliography. Any further supporting comments from him will be linked as we are made aware of them. He makes a distinction between Western Just War Theory and what he considers to be an Orthodox justifiable war tradition, an argument developed in his book. he has also written an excellent book on the pacifist tradition within Orthodoxy called The Pacifist Option.

b.  Obviously, our consistent opposition to war would not always find common cause with opposition from within a conditional moral framework. But in this case, the OPF finds it helpful to include in our statement an appeal to those who adhere to justifiable war principles. Fr. Alexander argues a “dual trajectory” (of pacifism and justifiable war) within Orthodoxy, and we feel that when we can agree in opposition to a particular war, it only strengthens our appeal and Orthodox unity to do so.

We thank Fr. Alexander for his contribution to crafting a clause in the Statement that allows us to include his “rail” in the dual trajectory, thus allowing him to support us and broaden our appeal to all Orthodox who are concerned about principled approaches to war within Orthodox moral tradition.

c.  We are concerned about the trend among some Orthodox to base their support or opposition to this or any war on purely political, prudential, or other transient moral/ethical grounds. This narrative with supporting documents, not to mention our entire website, intends to help Orthodox who are seeking moral clarity by furthering healthy and informed discussion.

d.  Additional considerations of justifiable war principles applied to the current situation regarding possible US involvement in Syria will be added to our supporting documents. Good sources to include are welcome. Please send these to me at [email protected]. Important points include:

  1. Consideration of punishment for crossing a “red line,” violating an international humanitarian norm, ignoring a US threat, committing a war crime;
  2. Considerations of deterrence against future use of WMD;
  3. Considerations of how this would be a defensive war from the US perspective;
  4. Considerations of what US involvement would look like in a defensive war from the Syrian perspective (including the government’s perspective and Syrian civilian’s perspective);
  5. Considerations of rules of proportionality;
  6. Considerations of non-combatant immunity (re: collateral damage);
  7. Considerations of prompt termination when a clear and just goal is met;
  8. Considerations of last resort;
  9. Consideration of whether doctrines of “Responsibility to Protect” accord with the Justifiable War tenet of just cause.

It is our contention, aside from the OPF’s clear and consistent opposition to all violent conflict resolution strategies, that the contemplated US action would not be merely problematic under a justifiable war framework but would clearly violate all its basic tenets.

We anticipate robust disagreement on one or more points but welcome honest and careful argument in opposition.

3.  Other Orthodox and Christian non-Orthodox positions being discussed:

a.  The OPF locates its opposition to war in the positive and robust vocational peacemaking principles of the Gospel as articulated by Christ, the Apostles, Fathers of the Church, Saints, and contemporary Orthodox writers as well as in numerous writings and icons found throughout our tradition and history. As such, our position seeks to preclude what might otherwise be self-serving, rational, or prudential arguments.

We do not reject those but rather believe them to be transient and reversible and thus not sufficient alone, certainly not foundational.

There are many such arguments currently circulating. We will address as many as is reasonable in our supporting documents; we briefly address two here:

b.  Those whose lives, loved ones, property, and way of life are existentially threatened as the Christians’ are in Syria cannot be considered self-serving in their cry for help from harm. We stand in prayer and tears with all Syrian’s particularly our Christian friends and family, praying daily for prompt peaceful resolution to the conflict. We ask God for wise and courageous leadership to show us how this may be accomplished and for the strength to follow.

Nevertheless, we see no help in the US plan to intervene. Those who disagree are invited to include their views in our conversation. We hope to include these in our supporting documents.

b. Last, we suggest recent polls in the US showing unprecedented opposition among the electorate must surely carry some weight. We do not base our position on transient popular sentiment, but this might be a convergent moment when the sheer weight of dissent from diverse quarters must give pause. We acknowledge minority voices are often lonely prophetic voices and the current majority view does not imply the minority is wrong. We merely take pause.

A concluding statement

Nothing thus far should be taken as an exhaustive or exclusive presentation of important issues and points. We are acting under time constraints and wish to get this posted and to begin adding supporting documents. All feedback is welcome.

Things not mentioned here may be found under categories in the supporting documents.

Thank you,

Pieter Dykhorst
Editor, In Communion
journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

 

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Of Whom I am First: on the death of Osama Bin Laden

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

By Ágúst Symeon Magnússon

A news stand in Boston: covers of news magazines in mid-May 2011 (photo: Jim Forest)

At the time of this writing most of the world’s newspapers and television channels are reporting on the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden at the hands of a special-operations Navy Seal Team. After ten years on the run following his involvement in the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, Bin Laden was finally found in a high-security compound in Pakistan. Bin Laden had become a potent symbol for militant Islamic extremism and countless terrorist groups throughout the world. The news of his death met with mixed reaction in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda operatives threatened retaliation and vengeance, Hamas condemned the killing, calling it a “continuation of the United States policy of destruction,” while the reaction of other governments in the area ranged from hesitant to jubilant.

In the West, especially in the United States, the news was met with nothing less than festal enthusiasm. Great crowds took to the streets of many cities, especially Washington D.C. and New York – both targets of the horrors of September 11 – cheering and waving flags, chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” as if at a sports event. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented that “Justice has been done,” and newspapers reported on Bin Laden’s death with a range of journalistic flair, from the relatively understated “U.S. Forces Kill Osama Bin Laden” of The Wall Street Journal to the more robust “GOT HIM! Vengeance at last! U.S. nails the bastard!” in The New York Post and the words “ROT IN HELL!” superimposed over a picture of Bin Laden in The Daily News.

All of these reactions are perfectly understandable. Bin Laden was generally seen as leader of an organization whose terrorist activities have cost the lives of thousands of men, women and children in the past decade. The bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 killed almost three thousand. The bombings on the public transit systems of London and Madrid, in 2005 and 2004 respectively, resulted in 247 deaths. Aside from these attacks on European and American soil, al-Qaeda has terrorized and murdered countless Muslim men, women and children in the past decade all throughout the Middle East, denying people their basic human rights and dignity in order to promulgate a philosophy of hatred, religious fundamentalism and death.

Understandable as the jubilant reaction to Bin Laden’s death may be, it is nonetheless not a Christian one. Christianity demands of us an orientation towards a reality that is both supremely difficult and strange, a reality of mercy and love. This reality is the Life of God, the shared love of the Holy Trinity, and it stands in direct opposition to any worldly ideas we may have about justice, vengeance or retribution. We are told by the great seventh-century poet St. Isaac the Syrian that all the sins of the world are like a few grains of sand cast into the ocean of God’s infinite mercy. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that we may be assimilated to this mystical reality, entering into it by forgiving each other our sins so that we may fully be able to experience the mystery of God’s forgiveness. And in the sixth chapter of the gospel of Luke, Christ tells us to love our enemies and to neither judge nor condemn but rather to forgive absolutely and unconditionally.

What then would a proper Christian response to Bin Laden’s death be? Do we forget the horrors he inspired? Is our God not a God of justice as well as mercy? In thinking about such questions and exploring the mystery that lies behind them, perhaps we will come to better understand the mystical reality of God’s mercy. If nothing else, this event may be a catalyst for examining what lies at the center of these mysteries of forgiveness, repentance and communion. To enter into such a questioning is to take up the challenge given to us by Christ in the gospels to reconsider our relationship to one another and our understanding of good and evil.

To begin with we must be absolutely clear on the fact that the teachings of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church unequivocally state that evil is very real and that it permeates the very fabric of our existence due to the consequences of the Fall. The only way to reorient our lives towards God and to accept the salvation that He so freely offers us in and through his Son, the divine Logos who became incarnate as Jesus Christ. God does not force his mercy upon anyone. If he did, his mercy would no longer be love. This means that the salvation of our souls is in fact dependent upon our own free will and to what extent we choose to orient our lives towards the Good. And this is exactly why it is more 1 than likely that someone like Osama Bin Laden would find himself in a place that is the metaphysical realization of the life he lived on this earth, a life that was defined by suffering and pain and the inability to love one’s fellow human beings, irrespective of their religion, nationality or past sins. Yet in accepting the reality of evil, we, as Christians, also believe in its ultimate defeat. Christ frees us from violence, hatred and death, opening a door towards a way of life (a Tao/Logos) that we can appropriate and assimilate ourselves to through the grace of God that He so mercifully grants to us. The question then becomes how we enter upon this path and become conduits for God’s love and mercy instead of proliferating yet more suffering for both ourselves and our brothers and sisters. The answer, mysterious and indefinable as it must be, seems to always center on the mystery of repentance.   Repentance is among the most difficult and complex spiritual and philosophical realities in the entire Christian tradition. It is the beginning of the spiritual life, the first commandment of both John the Baptist and Christ in the gospels, our entrance into the Kingdom that is “at hand” (i.e. among us – present in the here and now). To begin our treatment of this difficult subject we might examine a prayer that is both beautiful and bizarre in its implications. It is a prayer said by Eastern Orthodox Christians moments before they receive the body and blood of Christ in the mystery of Holy Communion in the Divine Liturgy:

I believe O Lord and I confess, that you are truly the Christ, the living God who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am first. Moreover I believe that this is truly your most pure body and that this is truly your own precious blood.

“To save sinners of whom I am first.” What astoundingly strange words. Surely there have been worse people than I – murderers, rapists, dictators and despots. People like Osama Bin Laden. Even though I fully acknowledge that I am sinful and that I struggle with a great many passions in deed, word and thought, I nonetheless have a hard time thinking of myself as the chief of sinners, as the worst of the worst. Is this perhaps a kind of psychological flagellation, a “woe is me a sinner” attitude so that we may feel our unworthiness in the face of the holy sacraments?

Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to begin to understand these strange words, we need to break down our preconceived notions regarding repentance and communion. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, repentance, confession and sin were never thought of in legalistic terms, nor was juridical language ever applied to these realities, which was a tendency that sometimes tended to dominate Latin thinking on these matters. Rather, these spiritual realities were – and still are – understood in terms of a kind of spiritual anthropology, a language grounded in the language of medicine and healing as opposed to rules and regulations. Sin is understood as a spiritual sickness from which all of us suffer, a metaphysical condition that permeates the entire cosmos and from which God in his infinite mercy has freed us through the loving grace of his only begotten Son and his Holy Spirit. Repentance, in turn, becomes not a matter of psychological guilt, nor of feeling as if one is unworthy or tainted. Rather, it is a matter of a spiritual reorientation. The Greek word is metanoia, literally a “change of mind” or a “turning around” of the soul. As Metropolitan Kallistos writes in The Orthodox Way:

Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive. It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity. It is to look not backward with regret but forward with hope – not downwards at our own shortcomings but upwards at God’s love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the light.

When Plato in the Cave Allegory in the Republic describes the freeing of the prisoner in the cave who then turns away from illusion and suffering towards the light of truth and beauty he uses this very word metanoia. There is a turning around of the soul from the realm of shadows towards the divine. Such is repentance of the Christian who now sees him or herself in the light of the Resurrection and the mercy of God. This opening of the spiritual eyes, the cleansing of the nous – as it was known to both the Greek philosophers and Church Fathers – lies at the center of the mystery of repentance. It not only changes our perception of ourselves but of every living thing, the entire cosmos, but primarily it affects how we view our brothers and sisters. No longer are we subject to the individualism and egotism that ensconce us ever deeper in the mires of sin where we constantly measure ourselves against each other, whether materially or spiritually. Instead, our eyes are opened to the love that is the very being of God, a reality where humility, sacrifice and compassion direct the course of our lives rather than our desires and passions.

What is paradoxical about this reorientation is that in opening our eyes to the beauty and goodness of God that permeate this world we also become ever more aware of the reality of suffering and pain and all the repercussions of the Fall. In repenting of our own sins, especially through the sacrament of confession, we become ever more cognizant of the spiritual sickness that permeates the very fabric of our world, the alienation, separation, violence, disease, hunger and pain.

Repentance is a softening of the heart and an opening up of the human being, a path that makes us more sensitive and humane, more aware of the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Through this mystery we break down the illusion of individualism where we view ourselves as separate atoms, each pursuing our individual gain apart from one another. Instead we enter into the life of God where love and communion become the very essence of our life, just as they do for the persons of the Trinity. To repent is to begin to understand our very being as communion, to borrow a phrase from the Orthodox philosopher and theologian John Zizioulas.

Through repentance we begin to experience God’s mercy, the healing salve that cures the world of violence and hate. (The Greek word eleos, usually translated in English as “mercy,” has the same root as the word for olive oil, one of the most common medicinal balms of the ancient Greek world.) Hatred, in fact, makes true repentance impossible. It turns us away from the reality of God’s love towards a reality that is entirely our own construct, a reality characterized by discord and separation. This is why we are told not to approach the Holy Eucharist unless we have purged our hearts of hate. The reality made manifest in the Gifts is entirely antithetical to hatred and to being controlled by fear, for it is primarily through fear that we begin to hate.

The response to Bin Laden’s death is one that is primarily characterized by fear. In many ways it is a justifiable fear, one based on the immense pain and suffering that this man had wrought upon the world. Yet fear, in all its forms, is a passion, something that separates us from God. If left unchecked, like all passions, it can lead towards an ever-deepening cycle of suffering, both for ourselves and those around us. Hatred begets only hate. Violence begets more violence. It is a cycle as old as humanity itself. Al-Qaeda has already promised revenge for the slaying of Bin Laden. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rage on. The jubilant response to Bin Laden’s death, even though it is understandable to an extent, is nonetheless primarily symbolic of the anger and hatred that feeds this cycle of violence and despair.

Repentance is the way out of this cycle. Repentance is to not only look at our individual sins and shortcomings, but to open ourselves up to the mercy of God. It is then up to us to extend that mercy to others. By telling us to love our enemies, Christ obviously did not mean for us to “like” them nor did He mean we should overlook the evil they have done. Rather, in loving them we are to manifest the Kingdom of God where our primary concern is not retribution or “justice,” but rather mercy as healing.

In realizing our own sins, our own entanglement in the web of suffering and pain, we free ourselves of the bonds of our sins through God’s mercy and in turn become more sensitive to the suffering of those around us. It is only at that point that we can begin to extend the healing of God to others, first and last through prayer but also through direct involvement and actions.

It is then that we can begin to address the injustice of this world, the innocent victims of terrorists such as Bin Laden as well as those who suffer because of the political machinations of foreign powers. Bin Laden’s death, instead of being an opportunity for revelry and glee, could have been one of quiet contemplation and prayer and a call to action for Christians that we do everything in our power to help those who suffer and to put an end to war, violence and economic oppression.

Among the revelry following news of Bin Laden’s death, there were also images of a very different kind – photos of people who came together to pray for the victims of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Perhaps some were also praying for Bin Laden himself. Images of people at peace, of candles being lit, heads bowed, orienting their minds towards God and their brothers and sisters, mindful of their suffering and the healing that is so desperately needed in this world. In the faces of people at prayer and in the silence that surrounded them one could see an alternative path to that of fear and hate– a Way given to us by the God of mercy and love.

Ágúst Symeon Magnússon is a philosopher, teacher, writer, husband and father who currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he works and studies at Marquette University. A native of Reykjavik, Iceland, he joined the Orthodox Church in 2005. His favorite pastimes are reading, drinking coffee and playing on the floor with his son Jóakim.

_____________

1. The details surrounding the theological debate on universal salvation and to what extent the Orthodox Church has advocated such a position (at least as favoring a certain kind of theologoumenon) falls outside the boundaries of this text. There are various scholarly expositions on the matter, but Orthodox works of the catechetical sort usually address the issue in a succinct and intelligent manner. In The Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes: “Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have nonetheless believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God…. We must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception. No one must be excluded from our loving intercession. ‘What is a merciful heart?’ asked Isaac the Syrian. ‘It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation, for humans, for birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for all creatures.’ Gregory of Nyssa said that Christians may legitimately hope even for the redemption of the devil.” (The Orthodox Church, new edition., p. 262).

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011

Salt of the Earth: An Orthodox Christian Approach to Peacemaking

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

by Jim Forest

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” This verse from St. Matthew’s Gospel comes just after the Beatitudes.

But how many of us want to be become like salt? Perhaps we ought to advise Jesus that it’s time to revise the Sermon on the Mount? “Dear Lord, we revere your every word, but couldn’t you use more attractive metaphors? How about, ‘You are the sugar of the earth, but if the sugar should lose its sweetness, it is tossed out the doors and trodden under foot by men’?”

Living in a sugar-addicted world, surely sugar would be a much more welcome term for modern people. Salt is bitter. Sugar is far more appealing.

But for the time being we are stuck with the Gospel Christ gave us rather than the one we might write ourselves. He tells his followers that we are intended to be like salt, a substance normally used in small amounts.

Salt was more valued by our ancestors. In commentaries on this passage, the Church Fathers stress the value of salt as a preservative and thus a life-saving substance. “Salt preserves meat from decaying into stench and worms,”says Origen. “It makes meat edible for a longer period.”

St. John Chrysostom comments on the salt metaphor in these words:

It is a matter of absolute necessity that he commands all this. Why must you be salt? Jesus says in effect: “You are accountable not only for your own life but also for that of the entire world. I am sending you not to one or two cities, nor to ten or twenty, not even to one nation, as I sent the prophets. Rather I am sending you to the entire earth, across the seas, to the whole world, to a world fallen into an evil state.” For by saying, “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus signifies that all human nature has “lost its taste,” having become rotten through sin. For this reason, you see, he requires from his disciples those character traits that are most necessary and useful for the benefit of all.

There is a great deal of salt in the Gospel, and not much sugar.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ identifies peacemakers as God’s own children, but peacemaking is often a bitter, salt-like undertaking. To stand against hatred and killing in time of war (and when is it not time of war?) is no sweet task. One is likely to be regarded as naive, if not unpatriotic, if not a traitor.

Yet at every service, Orthodox Christians hear the challenge: “In peace let us pray to the Lord.” We begin the Liturgy with an appeal to God not just for a private peace or the peace of our family or the peace of the parish community or the peace of our neighborhood or the peace of our city or the peace of our nation, but “for the peace of the whole world and the union of all.” The Litany of Peace draws our attention to the world-embracing mission of the Church. We are, as St. John Chrysostom said, “accountable not only for [our] own life but also for that of the entire world.”

Prayer is not simply a request that God do something or give something. It is a summons to responsibility. What I ask God to do implies a willingness on my part to participate in God’s answer to my prayer. If I am unwilling to help in doing what I ask God to do, can it even be thought of as prayer? Why would God do at my request what I refuse to do? We are talking then not only about what we ask God to do but what we are asking God to equip us to do. If we ask for peace, the peace of the whole world, then we must be willing to become people actively doing whatever we can that contributes to the peace of the world.

Consider three key words: Orthodox, Christian and peace.

Often the word “orthodox” is used as a synonym for rigidity. Not often is it understood in its real sense: the true way to give praise, and also true belief. Attach it to the word “Christian” and it becomes a term describing a person who is trying to live according to the Gospel. He may have far to go, but this is the direction he is trying to take. “To be an Orthodox Christian,” said Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, “is to attempt to live a Christ-centered life. We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.”

To be an Orthodox Christian means belonging to the Orthodox Church. It is not possible to follow Christ and remain alone. I am part of a vast, time-spanning community of people with a collective memory that goes back as far as Adam and Eve. It is a community that includes the Church Fathers, whose words we are encouraged to read.

It is also a Church of Councils. We hold ourselves accountable to the results of those councils even though they met many centuries ago. This means not letting my own opinions or those of my peers take charge of my faith. This requires guarding myself from the various ideologies that dominate the world I live in.

We are also a Church of saints. Day by day we remember them. We bear their names. We call on them for help. We remember what they did and sometimes what they said. We have icons of some of them in our churches and homes.

Attention to the Church Fathers and the saints can be a bewildering experience. For example we discover one Church Father showers the highest praise on marriage while another regards marriage as a barely tolerable compromise for those unable to embrace the real Christian calling: celibate monastic life. It can be disconcerting to discover that on various questions different Church Fathers may have different ideas or different emphases or just plain disagree.

Or we look at the saints and find one who was martyred for refusing to be a soldier, then the next day discover a saint who was a hero on the battlefield. Or we read about a saint who wore the rich clothing of a prince and then find another saint whose only clothing was his uncut beard. Here is a saint who was a great scholar while there is a saint who was a holy fool. Here is a saint who raced to the desert, while over there is a saint who refused to leave the city and was critical of those who did. Each saint poses a challenge and each saint raises certain questions and even certain problems. The puzzle pieces don’t always fit. We discover that neither the Church Fathers nor the saints on the calendar are a marching band, all in step and playing in perfect harmony.

Devotion to the saints solves some problems and raises others. In the details of their lives, they march in a thousand different directions. They also made mistakes. They were not saints every minute of every day. Like us, they had sins to confess. But their virtues overwhelm their faults. In different ways, each saint gives us a window for seeing Christ and his Gospel more clearly.

To be an Orthodox Christian means, as St. Paul says, that we are no longer Greek or Jew. Nationality is secondary. It is not the national flag that is placed on the altar but the Gospel. For us, even though we find ourselves in an Orthodox Church divided on national or jurisdictional lines, it means we are no longer American or Russian or Egyptian or Serbian. Rather we are one people united in baptism and faith whose identity and responsibility includes but goes beyond the land where we were born or the culture and mother tongue that shaped us.

On to the next word: peace. This is a damaged word. It’s like an icon so blackened by candle smoke that the image is completely hidden. “Peace” is a word that has been covered with a lot of smoke from the fires of propaganda, politics, ideologies, war and nationalism. In Soviet Russia there were those omnipresent slogans proclaiming peace while the Church was often obliged to take part in state-organized and state-scripted “peace” events. As a boy growing up in New Jersey, it was almost the same situation. “Peace is our profession” was the slogan of the Strategic Air Command, whose apocalyptic task — fighting nuclear war — was on stage center in the film “Doctor Strangelove.” In more recent years, there was a nuclear missile christened “The Peacemaker.”

Not only governments but peace groups have damaged the word “peace.” Anti-war groups often reveal less about peace than about anger, alienation and even hatred. It’s always a surprise to find a peace group that regards unborn children as being among those whose lives need to be protected.

In wartime talk of peace can put you on thin ice. I recently heard a story that dates back to the first Gulf War. Three clergymen were being interviewed on television. Two of them insisted that the war was a good and just war and had God’s blessing. The third opened his Bible and read aloud the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers Love your enemies ” But he was cut short by a shout from the angry pastor next to him: “That’s not relevant now! We’re at war!”

War does this to us. Parts of the Gospel are simply abandoned. They are seen as temporarily irrelevant, an embarrassment to the patriotic Christian. “Peace” is put in the deep freeze, a word to be thawed out after the war is over. Thus the salt loses it savor and sugar takes its place.

Part of our job is to clean words like “peace.” It’s a work similar to icon restoration. Otherwise it will be hard to understand the Gospel or the Liturgy and impossible to translate the Gospel and the Liturgy into daily life.

Peace is one of the characteristics of the Kingdom of God compressed into a single word. Consider how often and in what significant ways Christ uses the word “peace” in the Gospel: “And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.” “And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’” “And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’” “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” His greeting after the resurrection is, “Peace be with you.” In Mark’s Gospel, once again we come upon the metaphor of salt: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

In the Slavic liturgical tradition, the custom is to sing the Beatitudes while the Gospel Book is carried in procession through the church. Why? Because the Beatitudes are a short summary of the Gospel. These few verses describe a kind of ladder to heaven, starting with poverty of spirit and ascending to readiness to suffer for Christ and at last to participate in the Paschal joy of Christ. Near the top we come to the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Christ’s peace is not passive nor has it anything to do with the behavior of a coward or of the person who is polite rather than truthful. Christ says, in Matthew’s Gospel: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He means the sword metaphorically, as Luke makes clear in his version of the same passage: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” To live truthfully rather than float with the tide means most of the time to swim against the tide, risking penalties if not punishment for doing so. Christ had, and still has, opponents. Christ’s words and actions often brought his opponents’ blood to a boil. Think of his words of protest about the teachings of the Pharisees who laid burdens on others they would not carry themselves. Think of him chasing the money changers from the Temple. No one was injured, but God’s lightning flashed in the Temple courtyard.

Jesus speaks the truth, no matter how dangerous a task that may be. He gives us an example of spiritual and verbal combat. But his hands are not bloodstained. Think about the fact that Christ killed no one. Neither did he bless any of his followers to kill anyone. There are many ways in which Christ is unique. This is one of them. His final miracle before his crucifixion is to heal the injury of a temple guard whom Peter had wounded. He who preached the love of enemies took a moment to heal an enemy while on his way to the Cross.

In the early centuries, Christians got into a lot of trouble for their attitude toward the state. You get a sense of what that was like in this passage from second-century hieromartyr, St. Justin:

From Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.

The big problem for early Christians, a problem that so often got them into trouble, was their refusal to regard any ruler as a god. This doesn’t mean simply a ruler who claims to be a god, but the persistent tendency of so many rulers down to the present day to behave as gods and expect to be treated that way. Christians were obedient members of society in every way they could be without disobeying God, but were prepared to suffer even the most cruel death rather than place obedience to Caesar before obedience to God.

While eventually the baptismal requirements of the Church were relaxed, it was once the case that those who did not renounce killing, whether as a soldier or judge, could not be baptized. It is still the case that those who have killed another human being, even in self defense or by accident, are excluded from serving at the altar. Presumably this would also bar anyone whose words incite others to kill.

What’s the problem? Killing in war is often awarded with medals. Aren’t soldiers only doing their duty, however horrible it may be? Is there not virtue in their deeds, however bloody? I am reminded of an interview with an American soldier in Iraq that I heard on television recently: “A part of your soul is destroyed in killing someone else.” He might have said, but didn’t, that a part of your soul is wounded when you kill another. The Church looks for ways to heal such wounds.

Christ is not simply an advocate of peace or an example of peace. He is peace. To want to live a Christ-like life means to want to participate in the peace of Christ. Yes, we may fail, as we fail in so many things, but we must not give up trying.

How do we give a witness to Christ’s peace, especially in time of war? There are at least seven aspects of doing this.

The first is love of enemies. Love is another damaged word. It has been sentimentalized. It has come to mean a nice feeling we have toward a person whom we enjoy seeing and being with. The biblical meaning of the word is different. Christ calls on his followers to love their enemies. If you understand love as a euphoric feeling or pleasant sentiment, fulfilling this commandment is impossible. But if you understand love as doing what you can to protect the life and seek the salvation of a person or group whom we fear or despise, that’s very different.

Jesus links love of enemies with prayer for them. Without prayer, love of enemies is impossible. One of the saints who gave special emphasis to this theme was the 20th century monk St. Silouan of the Holy Mountain. Silouan’s stress may have its roots in the fact that, before becoming a monk, he nearly killed another young man. Not long afterward, he went to Mount Athos. Much of his teaching later in life centered on love of enemies. “He who does not love his enemies,” he insisted, “does not have God’s grace.”

The second aspect is doing good to enemies. Jesus teaches his followers, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:28)

Jesus’ teaching about a merciful response to enemies was not new doctrine. We find in the Mosaic Law: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under a burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it.” (Ex 23:4-5)

In his letter to the Church in Rome, St. Paul elaborates:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so you will reap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Christ’s teaching to do good to enemies is often viewed as unrealistic, but in fact it is a teaching full of common sense. Unless we want to turn the world into a cemetery, we must search for opportunities through which we can demonstrate to an opponent our longing for an entirely different kind of relationship. An adversary’s moment of need or crisis can provide that opening.

The third aspect is turning the other cheek. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other also.” (Mt.5:39; Luke 6:29) Contrast this with the advice provided in the average film or novel, where the standard message might be described as “The Gospel According to Hollywood.” This pseudo-gospel’s basic message is: If you are hit, hit back. Let your blow be harder than the one you received. In fact, as we saw in the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003, you needn’t be hit at all in order to strike others. Provocation, irritation, or the fear of attack is warrant enough.

“Turning the other cheek” is widely seen as an especially suspect Christian doctrine, an ethic that borders on masochism. Many would say it is Jesus at his most unrealistic: “Human beings just aren’t made that way.” For a great many people the problem can be put even more simply: “Turning the other cheek isn’t manly. Only cowards turn the other cheek.”

But what cowards actually do is run and hide. Standing in front of a violent man, refusing to get out of his way, takes enormous courage. It is manly and often proves to be the more sensible response. It’s also a way of giving witness to confidence in the reality and power of the resurrection.

The fourth aspect is forgiveness. Nothing is more fundamental to Jesus’ teaching than his call to forgiveness: giving up debts, letting go of grievances, pardoning those who have harmed us, not despairing of the other. Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, we are telling God that we ask to be forgiven only insofar as we ourselves have extended forgiveness to others: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

How hard it is to forgive! For we are wounded and the wounds often last a lifetime; they even spill across generations. As children, as parents, as husbands or wives, as families, as workers, as jobless people, as church members, as members of certain classes or races, as voters, as citizens of particular states, we have been violated, made a target, lied to, used, abandoned. Sins, often quite serious sins, have been committed against us. We may feel damaged, scarred for life, stunted. Others we love may even have died of evil done to them.

But we are not only victims. In various ways we are linked to injuries others have suffered and are suffering. If I allow myself to see how far the ripples extend from my small life, I will discover that not only in my own home but on the far side of the planet there are people whose sorrows in life are partly due to me. Through what I have done or failed to do, through what my community has done or failed to do, there are others whose lives are more wretched than they might have been. There are those dying while we feast.

But we prefer to condemn the evils we see in others and excuse the evils we practice ourselves. We fail to realize that those who threaten us often feel threatened by us, and may have good reasons for their fears. The problem is not simply a personal issue, for the greatest sins of enmity are committed en masse, with very few people feeling any personal responsibility for the destruction they share in doing or preparing. The words of Holocaust administrator Adolph Eichmann, “I was only following orders,” are among humanity’s most frequently repeated justifications for murder.

The fifth aspect is breaking down the dividing wall of enmity. In Christ enmity is destroyed, St. Paul wrote, “for he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of enmity that he might create in himself one new person in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing enmity to an end.” (Eph 2:14-16)

Walls would have been on Paul’s mind at the time; in the same letter he mentions that he is “a prisoner for the Lord.” His words of guidance were sent from within the stone walls of a prison.

Consider Christ’s response to the centurion who asked him to heal a sick servant. It must have been hard for his more zealous disciples to see Jesus responding positively to the appeal of an officer in an occupation army and galling to hear him commenting afterward, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” In this brief encounter, the dividing wall of enmity collapsed.

We live in a world of walls. Competition, contempt, repression, racism, nationalism, violence and domination: all these are seen as normal and sane. Enmity is ordinary. Self and self-interest form the centering point in many lives. We tend to be a fear-driven people. Love and the refusal to center one’s life in enmity are dismissed as naive, idealistic, even unpatriotic, especially if one reaches out constructively to hated minorities or national enemies.

Many wars are in progress at the moment. The cost in money, homes destroyed, damaged sanity, in lives and injuries is phenomenal. So many deaths, and mainly non-combatants — children, parents and grandparents, the very young, the very old, the ill, all sorts of people. Countless hideous wounds, visible and hidden. There are also less tangible costs, spiritually, psychologically, for we have become a people who make war and preparations for war a major part of our lives. We hear of many people who expect to die a violent death and who live in a constant state of “low grade” depression. Fear and despair are widespread. Stress-relieving pills are selling better than ever in today’s world.

The sixth aspect is nonviolent resistance to evil. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” When Peter used violence to defend Jesus, he was instantly admonished, “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” For several hundred years following the resurrection, the followers of Jesus were renowned for their refusal to perform military service. But for many centuries, Christians have been as likely as any others to take up the sword and often use it in appalling ways.

The refusal to kill others can be a powerful witness, yet Christian life is far more than the avoidance of evil. It is searching for ways to combat evil without using methods that inevitably will result in the death of the innocent.

Responding to evil with its own weapons, even with the best of motives, often results in actions which mimic those of the enemy, or even outdo the enemy’s use of abhorrent methods. When Nazi forces bombed cities, there was profound revulsion in Britain and the United States, but in the end the greatest acts of city destruction were carried out by Britain and the United States.

Yet what is one to do? Christians cannot be passive about those events and structures which cause innocent suffering and death.

For centuries men and women have been searching for effective ways of both protecting life and combating evil. It is only in the past hundred years, because of movements associated with such people as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day, that nonviolent struggle has become a recognized alternative to passivity, on the one hand, and violence on the other.

Such acts of nonviolent protest are far from unknown in the Orthodox Church. One powerful example occurred in Constantinople in the year 842 when, opposing the iconoclast Emperor Leo V, a thousand monks took part in an icon-bearing procession in the capital city. They were exhibiting images of Christ and the saints which, had they obeyed the emperor, should have long before been destroyed. Their act of civil disobedience risked severe punishment. Iconographers had been tortured, mutilated and sent into exile. Thousands of icons had been destroyed. The death of the emperor later that year was widely seen as heaven’s judgment. In 843 his widow Theodora convened a Church Council which reaffirmed the place of the icon in Christian life. The first Sunday of Lent was set aside to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

There is one last element of peacemaking: It is aspiring to a life of recognizing Jesus. In his teaching about the Last Judgment, Christ tells us, “Truly, I say to you, what you did it to one of the least of these, you did to me.”

Occasionally the question is raised: “Why are we judged together and not one by one as we die?” It is because our life is far from over when we die. Our acts of love, and failures to love, continue to have consequences until the end of history. What Adam and Eve did, what Moses did, what Plato did, what Pilate did, what the Apostles did, what Caesar did, what Hitler did, what Martin Luther King did, what Mother Maria Skobtsova did, what you and I have done — all these lives, with their life-saving or murderous content, continue to have consequences for the rest of history. What you and I do, and what we fail to do, will matter forever.

It weighs heavily on many people that Jesus preached not only heaven but hell. There are many references to hell in the Gospels, including in the Sermon on the Mount. How can a loving God allow a place devoid of love?

A response to this question that makes sense to me is one I first heard in a church in Prague in the Communist period. God allows us to go wherever we are going. We are not forced to love. Communion is not forced on us. We are not forced to recognize God’s presence. It is all an invitation. We can choose. We can choose life or death. Perhaps we can even make the choice of heaven while in hell. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis has a tour bus leaving daily from hell to heaven. But the bus is never full and tends to return with as many passengers as it took on the trip out of hell. Heaven is too painful, its light too intense, its edges too sharp, for those who are used to the dullness of hell. In fact the older we are, the more we live by old choices, and defend those choices, and make ideologies, even theologies, out of our choices, and finally become slaves to them.

We can say, not just once but forever, as Peter once said of Jesus, “I do not know the man.” There are so many people about whom we can say, to our eternal peril, “I do not know the man,” to which we can add that he is worthless and has no one to blame for his troubles but himself, that his problems aren’t our business, that he is an enemy, that he deserves to die — whether of frostbite or violence matters little.

As St. John Chrysostom said, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” If I cannot find the face of Jesus in the face of those who are my enemies, if I cannot find him in the unbeautiful, if I cannot find him in those who have the wrong ideas, if I cannot find him in the poor and the defeated, how will I find him in bread and wine, or in the life after death? If I do not reach out in this world to those with whom he has identified himself, why do I imagine that I will want to be with him, and them, in heaven? Why would I want to be for all eternity in the company of those whom I despised and avoided every day of my life?

Christ’s Kingdom would be hell for those who avoided peace and devoted their lives to division. But heaven is right in front of us. At the heart of what Jesus says in every act and parable is this: Now, this minute, we can enter the Kingdom of God. This very day we can sing the Paschal hymn: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tomb he has given life!”

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Jim Forest, international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is the author of many books, including The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life and Ladder of the Beatitudes. The text is based on a lecture given at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York.

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How St. Telemachus of Rome ended gladiatorial combat

Honorius, who inherited the empire of Europe, put a stop to the gladiatorial combats which had long been held at Rome. The occasion of his doing so arose from the following circumstance. A certain man of the name of Telemachus had embraced the ascetic life. He had set out from the East and for this reason had repaired to Rome. There, when the abominable spectacle was being exhibited, he went himself into the stadium, and stepping down into the arena, endeavored to stop the men who were wielding their weapons against one another. The spectators of the slaughter were indignant, and inspired by the mad fury of the demon who delights in those bloody deeds, stoned the peacemaker to death. When the admirable emperor [Honorius] was informed of this, he recognized Telemachus as a victorious martyr, and put an end to that impious spectacle.

– Theodoret of Cyrus (393-457); The Ecclesiastical History, book 5, chapter 26

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

On the Love of Enemies

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

The Teaching of St. Silouan

by Jean-Claude Larchet

Although it is natural and usual to love those who love us and to do good to those who do good to us (Mt 5:46-47; Lk 6:32-33), to love our enemies is distasteful to our nature. One can say that it isn’t in our power but is an attitude that can only be the fruit of grace, given by the Holy Spirit. This is why St. Silouan the Athonite writes, “The soul that has not known the Holy Spirit does not understand how one can love one’s enemies, and does not accept it.”

The Staretz repeatedly says that love of enemies is impossible without grace: “Lord, You have given the commandment to love enemies, but this is difficult for us sinners if Your grace is not with us”; “Without God’s grace we cannot love enemies”; “He who does not love his enemies, does not have God’s grace”; “He who has not learned to love from the Holy Spirit, will certainly not pray for his enemies.” On the contrary, St. Silouan always teaches that this attitude is a gift of the Holy Spirit: “The Lord has commanded us to love our enemies, and the Holy Spirit reveals this love to us”; “One can only love one’s enemies through the grace of the Holy Spirit”; “When you will love your enemies, know that a great divine grace will be living in you.”

This grace does not suddenly erupt in the soul, but rather shows itself in a divine pedagogy, where taking into account the weakness and the difficulties of man, the Holy Spirit progressively teaches him to love and teaches him all the attitudes and ways which will allow him to do so. “The Holy Spirit teaches us to love even our enemies”; “The Holy Spirit teaches the soul a profound love for man and compassion for the lost. The Lord had pity for those who were lost… The Holy Spirit teaches this same compassion for those who go to hell”; “I could not speak about it if the Holy Spirit had not taught me this love”; “The Lord taught me love of enemies… The Holy Spirit taught [me] to love.”

The grace of the Holy Spirit shows to him who possesses it the way to love his enemies. But it also reveals to him the foundation of this love: the love of God for all people and His will to save them: “No man can know by himself what divine love is if the Holy Spirit does not instruct him; but in our Church divine love is known through the Holy Spirit, and that is why we speak about it.” Grace also “gives man the capacity and the strength to love his enemies, and the Spirit of God gives us the strength to love them.”

Staretz Silouan insists that because love of enemies is a fruit of grace, it is essentially through prayer that it can be obtained. Several times he urges us to “ask the Lord with our whole being to give us the strength to love all men.” He also advises to pray to the Mother of God and the Saints: “If we are incapable [of loving our enemies] and if we are without love, let us turn with ardent prayers to the Lord, to His Most Pure Mother, and to all the Saints, and the Lord will help us with everything, He whose love for us knows no bounds.” The Staretz confesses that he himself constantly prays God for this: “I continuously beg the Lord to give me the love of enemies… Day and night I ask the Lord for this love. The Lord gives me tears and I weep for the whole world.” Wishing in his universal love for all men to receive such a gift, he links them to himself in his prayer: “Lord, teach us through Your Holy Spirit to love our enemies and to pray for them with tears… Lord, as you prayed for your enemies, so teach us also, through the Holy Spirit, to love our enemies.”

Yet obtaining the grace to love one’s enemies presupposes other conditions.

The love of enemies is completely bound to the love of God: we have seen that the principal foundation for the love of enemies is the love that God shows to all His creatures equally and His will that all people should be saved, and Christ gave us a perfect example of such love throughout his earthly life. The love of God leads man to accomplish His will and to imitate Him as much as possible, and so also to love his enemies. The Staretz also notes that he who does not love his enemies shows that he has not learned from the Holy Spirit to love God.

To love one’s enemies is also tightly bound to humility. The Staretz often associate these two virtues. Almost all the difficulties we encounter in loving our enemies are linked with pride: it is from pride that flows the affliction that follows upon insults, hated, bad temper, spite, the desire for revenge, contempt for one’s neighbor, refusing to forgive him and to be reconciled with him.

Pride excludes the love of enemies and love of enemies excludes pride: “If we love our enemies, pride will have no place in our soul.” The fact that humility goes hand in hand with love of enemies proves the presence of grace and the authenticity of love: “If you have compassion for all creatures and love your enemies, and if, at the same time, you judge yourself the worst of all people, this shows that the great grace of the Lord is in you.”

Indeed humility is the indispensable condition to receive and keep the grace that teaches us to love our enemies and gives us the strength to do so. The Staretz advises: “Humiliate yourself, then grace will teach you.” On the other hand, “pride makes us lose grace… The soul is then tormented by bad thoughts and does not understand that one must humiliate oneself and love one’s enemies, for without that one cannot please God.”

The Staretz sometimes also stresses the role played by penitence in connection with humility. “Regard yourself the worst of men,” he advises. This is an attitude of great humility that of its nature implies penitence. He who counts himself the worst of men necessarily thinks others better than himself; he will judge and blame himself, and not judge and criticize his enemies, for he tends to estimate them better than himself.

The Staretz also gives us the example of another penitential attitude — asking God’s forgiveness each time one has not loved one’s enemy: “If I judge someone or look at him angrily, my tears dry up and I fall into despondency; and again I start asking the Lord to forgive me, and the merciful Lord forgives me, a sinner. “Through such an attitude, by which the soul humbly recognizes before God its faults and shortcomings and obtains from Him forgiveness, an opening can be made that becomes bigger and bigger for grace and unceasing progress in love. As to a total absence of compassion for enemies, it shows the presence and the action of an evil spirit; sincere repentance is the only way to be freed from it.”

The insistence on prayer, humility and penitence shows that, although St. Silouan recognizes a determining role to the action of grace in acquiring love of enemies, he does not neglect the role played by the efforts that man makes. The Staretz is very conscious of the importance of the initial action; this is why he says, “I beg you, try,” and states, “In the beginning, force your heart to love your enemies.” The efforts one makes must manifest themselves in a general way in a straight intention and constant good will, stretched toward the realization of God’s command. God will not fail to respond.

For the person who feels discouraged by such a demanding task, St. Silouan reassures him: “Seeing your good intention, the Lord will help you in everything.” The Staretz who felt in himself so acutely human powerlessness and weakness seems to think constantly of these words of the Apostle: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13) and witnesses in his own experience the mighty help that everyone can receive from God.

For Christ there are no enemies

The Staretz would say that for Christ there are no enemies — there are those who accept “the words of eternal life,” there are those who reject and even crucify; but for the Creator of every living thing, there can be no enemy. So it should be for the Christian, too, who “in pity for all must strive for the salvation of all.”

Wherein, then, lies the force of the commandment, “Love your enemies”? Why did the Lord say that those who keep His commandments would know from very experience whence the doctrine?

…God is love, in superabundance embracing all creatures. By allowing man to actually know this love the Holy Spirit reveals to him the path of fullness of being. To say “enemy” implies rejection. By such rejection a man falls from the plenitude of God… “The whole paradise of Saints lives by the Holy Spirit, and from the Holy Spirit nothing in creation is hid,” writes the Staretz. “God is love and in the Saints the Holy Spirit is love. Dwelling in the Holy Spirit, the saints behold hell and embrace it, too, in their love.”

…[It] is possible to judge whether a given state of contemplation was a reality or an illusion only after the soul had returned to consciousness of the world; for then, as the Staretz pointed out, if there were no love for enemies and so for all creatures, it would be a true indication that the supposed contemplation had not been a real communion with God.

– The Monk of Mount Athos (London: Mowbrays, 1973) by Archimandrite Sophrony; pp 70-71

Jean-Claude Larchet is professor of philosophy and a specialist in Patristics living in France. This is a section of a longer essay published in Buisson Ardent by the Association Saint-Silouane l’Athonite in the society’s journal (Maxime Egger, secretary, Le Sel de la Terre, 79 avenue C-F Ramuz, CH-1009 Pully, Switzerland). As space allows, we hope to publish more of the essay in future issues. The translation was made by Mother Lydia of the Orthodox Cloister of St. John the Forerunner in The Hague.