From Fr. Sophrony: However wise, learned, noble a man may be, if he does not love his enemies – that is, love his every fellow-being – he has not attained to God. Contrariwise, however simple, poor and ignorant a man may be, if he carries this love in his heart, then ‘he dwelleth in God and God in him.’
A question was recently raised in our conversations about what exactly constitutes an enemy. I think the simplest answer is: “anyone we do not love as God loves.” That is the broadest way of stating the issue. Were it weakened to mean only those people whom I actively hate, we would find apathy and an unfeeling heart falsely supplying us with a sense that we have fewer enemies than is the case, or that we are further along the road to Christ than we are.
I once had a woman in a class I was teaching to ask, “What if you do not have any enemies?” This was a class I was teaching for the general public. Most of those participating were not Orthodox Christians – not that this mattered with regard to the question.
My answer was straightforward: “Do you ever go to Church?” She looked puzzled. I explained that if she would become actively involved in a Church she would soon have plenty of enemies. 🙂 Though I said this somewhat light-heartedly, I meant it in all seriousness. It is easy to love humanity (a generalization that means almost nothing). What is hard is to actually love another person. Life in the Church, at the very least, is a kind requirement of our loving God, to rescue us from the delusion we would create for ourselves had we not the daily trials and temptations of life in a real Church.
Church nurtures and feeds me – but it also gives me all of the struggles required to gain my soul – to “work out my salvation.” As far as I can tell from listening to the members of my parish, and occasionally those from others, we have plenty of things to work on – all of us.
These simple facts should cause us to daily give thanks for all whom we know (and many whom we know not). We should give thanks with the sure and certain knowledge that they are not accidents in our lives – but deliberate acts of a loving God.
We should not blame others for the struggles we must endure – for they often have little knowledge of the struggles they have created for us – and to blame them would be to deny God credit for what He Himself has done. God does not tempt any man, the Scriptures tell us. Thus we should not look at those around us as though they were placed there for our temptation. They are a gift from God, and we should be confident of that. We should give thanks, pray for all, and be aware of just how lacking we are in grace such that we find others irritating or problematic. God is not only aware of all this – He meant it to be so. You cannot go from where we began (in bondage to sin) to where we are destined (utter union with Christ) without encountering many people who will require of us much prayer, and all the grace we can obtain.
Who is my enemy? Almost everyone I know – myself most of all.