"Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face." (Job 1:9-11)
In every situation of horror, injustice, callousness, and death, God has raised up men and women to stand like rocks against the raging torrents of evil. Everytime I am caught in the "Slough of Despond" over such things, I find solace in studying the lives of these heroic men and women who kept the faith in the face of evil, and lived it out to their last breath.
Meister Eckhart says that "it is clear what the armor of God is: It is the cross of Christ"1. This cross that we accept as Christians presents us not with a happy journey along the primrose path, as it were, but becomes our constant joyful burden borne along the narrow path to heaven. If borne with joy, the cross truly is a light yoke, but the trick is actually bearing it with joy for the sake of Christ in all things, come what may. St. Theophan the Recluse indicates this when he says that "All that is required on our side is faith in God's loving providence"2. I know from my readings of Walter Ciszek, the Jesuit who suffered in the Communist labor camps for fifteen years, that this is precisely what kept him going. Matthew the Poor writes "Whenever physical hunger turned cruel against me, I found my gratification in prayer. Whenever the biting cold of winter was unkind to me, I found my warmth in prayer. Whenever people were harsh to me (and their harshness was severe indeed) I found my comfort in prayer. In short, prayer became my food and my drink, my outfit and my armor, whether by night or by day"3. In my view, this winter is really "the contest of this present winter"4, this life which is given us and in which we are tested continually in the face of evil.
Perhaps this is the secret of the great men and women who stood in the face of evil with courage and love. Perhaps they managed to do so because they were able to suffer all things for the sake of Christ.
Whenever I see the atrocities happening from day to day in the news, I think that there are those out there in the thick of these horrors that are living lights in the darkness. Walter Ciszek was a source of hope and inspiration to all who suffered alongside him in the Soviet labor camps - he even said Mass in secret with and for the other prisoners using smuggled bread crusts for the Eucharist. Dietrich Bonhoeffer died resisting the Nazi regime, after being one of the first to attack it on radio. St. Elizabeth the New Martyr died tending to the wounded in an abandoned mineshaft, after Bolsheviks had forced her and others into it to die from the explosions of their hand grenades that they threw in after them. But these are only a few examples, and there are many other heroic Christian lives to be examined that proved to be defiant in the face of evil - Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, Father Arseny, Bl. Theodore Romzha, St. Edith Stein, St. Maria Skobstova, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, and a whole host of others. This is not to mention the countless nameless ones whose lives and heroic actions have not been made known to us as of yet.
"When we love God through evil as such, it is really God whom we love"5. I think this is true - it emphasizes that our love is pure and untainted by anything happening around us, by any evil that may be afflicting us. We must love God in spite of the tests that evil presents to our spiritual life. I think this is why the heroic men and women mentioned above were heroic in their faith, because they remained steadfast like Job in their love of and trust in God, despite all the hardship, suffering, and evil surrounding them - "if we really wish to be delivered from evil and not to enter into temptation, we should trust in God and forgive our debtors their debts"6.
All this is fine on paper for more non-saintly among us - but for myself, I find forgiveness of some things nearly impossible. This is where I must rely on the strength I find in leaning on Christ, for Christ died even for those who hated Him and nailed Him to the cross. He did not spit on or curse them as they nailed Him to the cross, but rather said "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ - this for me, is one aspect of the life of Christ that I have always found particularly difficult. But as I said, I lean on Christ and rely on Him to give me the strength to come to understand what faith in Him looks like in the face of evil.
As St. John Eudes once wrote, "All our actions must be the continuation of the actions of Jesus"7. If this is the case, we are called to face evil in the same way our Lord did - we must show mercy, long-suffering, patience, and prayer. We must walk the way of the cross - there is no other way to face evil than through the imitation of Christ.
1 - "Sermon XLV - 21st Sunday after Trinity Sunday"
2 - qtd. in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, pg 231
3 - From here.
4 - Origen, An Exhortation to Martyrdom, XXXI
5 - Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, pg. 67
6 - St. Maximus the Confessor, On the Lord's Prayer
7 - The Life and Kingdom of Jesus in Christian Souls, qtd. in Berulle and the French School: Selected Writings, pg 296.