Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Old-New Way To Treat Those Who Consider Themselves Your Enemies

"The persecutors came into the desert, says Rufinus, horse and foot, tribunes and prefects and captains, to make war on quiet men.  'And when they had come there, they found a new kind of fighting: enemies that bowed their necks to the sword, and said nought else but this, Friend wherefore art thou come?'"1

It is a rare thing that anyone ever hears of a Christian being apologized to when their faith is insulted.  I suspect many of us routinely hear Christ being mocked in our day to day lives, our Church being insulted, our faith parodied, and even ourselves being personally attacked over it all.

It raises the question - how should we act when people insult, berate, mock, and generally mistreat us? 

Of course, for Christians, the answer of Jesus to the problem is well known, though as the years go by, I note that very few actually understand the idea of "turning the other cheek".  Be that as it may, I decided to look a little deeper into the subject itself.

One thing that jumped out to me was this passage from St. Isaac the Syrian - "When you meet your neighbour force yourself to honor him beyond measure.  Kiss his hand and his foot and piously warm your heart with great love for him.  Grasp his hands many times and place them on your eyes, and caress them with great honor.  Attribute beautiful things to his person that are not his.  And even when he is far away, speak good and beautiful things about him, calling him by special titles of honor."2

If we apply what St. Isaac is saying to our enemies, I wonder what would happen.  I know that for me personally, thinking on the Passion even when I was virulently anti-Christian was a life-changing thing - I remember saying to my father at one point, "I feel like I am beating a man to death who simply keeps getting back up and trying to just say hello to me."

Seraphim of Sarov beaten by bandits.
If we look in the lives of the saints as a guide, we see that the great hermit St. Meinrad was murdered by thieves for his kind and unassuming treatment of them - but we also read of such figures as St. Francis of Paola who had the opposite effect on those who wished to torment and persecute him.  It is related that "A famous preacher, instigated by a few misguided monks, set to work to preach against St. Francis and his miracles.  The Saint took no notice of it, and the preacher, finding that he had made no way with his hearers, determined to see this poor hermit and confound him in person.  The Saint received him kindly, gave him a seat by the fire, and listened to a long exposition of his own frauds.  He then quietly took some glowing embers from the fire, and closing his hands upon them unhurt, said, 'Come, Father Anthony, warm yourself, for you are shivering for want of a little charity.'  Father Anthony, falling at the Saint's feet, asked for pardon, and then, having received his embrace, quitted him, to become his panegyrist and attain himself to great perfection."3

Obviously, we do not live in a society where we caress our eyes with someone's hands anymore or hear of anyone picking up burning coals in such a manner - but apply it to our often dry modern context.  What if we treated those who treat us with scorn in such a way?  In this way, I think we imitate our Lord Jesus Christ, in that we give our backs to the smiters (cf. Isa 50:6).   Again, by doing this, we imitate Christ, and is this not our calling as Christians?  To imitate and follow our Lord?

Silouan the Athonite gives a very good directive on this matter in the following: "I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonor on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, saying: 'O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants and turn their hearts to repentance,' and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, will help you in all things, and experience itself will show you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God’s love within him, and does not know God."4

Much like the little act of reparation I suggested previously, I think that Silouan's advice of saying the above prayer whenever situations of persecution and the like arise is an easy thing to do, as well as a good habit to get into. 

If you do decide to do it, know I will be doing my best to keep up with you.

1 - qtd. in Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers, 162
2 - On Ascetical Life V:86
3 - Rev. Alban Butler, Lives of the Saints, 1894 ed.
4 - From HERE.


  1. Replies
    1. Josiah!!!!! You're alive and well!

      So glad you are reading and enjoying them. Do you have skype by the way? Maybe sometime you and I could chat. Let me know, yes?

      Many blessings to you old friend,

    2. sure, I'll pass along an email with my skype name. I don't have much time for the internets these days, but every once in a while, I write a blog post from my notebook before disappearing from the information highway.

  2. My brother,
    Your wisdom overwhelms me often.
    I recall Fr. Ronald Knox (in the collection of his retreat talks) painting the Gospel of Jesus at the Last Supper and in the Garden of Olives. He directed that Jesus never had harsh or cruel words for Judas and in the end received him with an embrace. If we are to embrace Jesus and imitate Him we too are called to embrace all who affront us. Now for me this can be difficult especially when reading of Muslim attacks on Christians or other outrages. But we are called to pray for those who persecute us and embrace them. Again, via the Good Samaritan parable, we see Jesus giving example of loving, embracing or enemies.
    Certainly, as you point out (and thank you), Silouan the Athonite is to the point. We are all God's creatures. And pray for all your enemies, though they may be legion, that they may find repentance.
    My son and brother peace, blessings and the love of Christ to you.

  3. Oh God I am so far behind in everything. Thanks for at least reminding me of all of this.

  4. Thank you, this is just what I have been seeking lately. God bless :)