"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 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.|
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.