“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27)
Christ was crucified along with two thieves. One of the two thieves scoffed at Him asking, “Are you not the Christ? Then save yourself and us.” (Luke 23:39) But the other thief said, “Lord remember me in your heavenly Kingdom.” The Lord replied to the second thief “Truly I say to you from this day you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Here as always the universal law of God’s word applies. When a person is pre-occupied with preserving his or her life for this life, he or she dismisses what this life is really for. By so doing, the person also dismisses why Christ died on the Cross for all of us. We fail to perceive that this life is perishable, whereas the life that Christ came to prepare for us in his heavenly kingdom is eternal.
Our enemy is the devil who was defeated by Christ on the Cross. The enemy cannot accept that Christ has saved the world and everything will be made new. He cannot accept that we are to be granted new life beyond the grave sharing in His great glory because of his jealousy for what God has prepared for us. So the thief scoffs because he has no vision of God rather than making amends and to cry out to God as the other thief did to have mercy on his soul.
The thief scoffs at Christ giving expression to the enemy’s cause, to provoke and to tempt God; to initiate a response from God given the desperate disposition that the thief finds himself in and revealing the doubt that is embedded in his heart. At this most urgent hour, full of doubt and close to his death he seeks to force God to reveal His authority and power with the aim of saving himself. But Christ chose to die on the Cross for all of us, to save us from the enemy. The act of desperation on behalf of the thief is not pleasing to God. His aim is purely to preserve his earthly life, fulfilling Christ’s words “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for My sake, will save it. (Luke 9:24)
If we learn to love our enemy we effectively disarm him. Who is our enemy? Our real enemy is the author of the forces of darkness and evil, the devil. He seeks to invade our hearts and minds. He works through others and ourselves to do this.
To disarm the enemy we must not harbour ill will against anyone. It is important to remember that the enemy has no outlet other than through God’s fallen creation, attempting to gain entry to us by undermining our will and integrity through our thoughts and actions, knowing our volatility and vulnerability, we having fallen from grace and communion with God.
It is important to remember that the enemy is cut off from God. Therefore the desperate enemy attempts to undermine us in order to gain access to us and to control our life especially opposing those who struggle to progress towards God. This is the true battleground and spiritual warfare of our lives.
The enemy wants to be central to the source of life and to interrupt it. The enemy opposes God. The enemy scoffs at God. The enemy exerts himself through terror, confusion, distortion, darkness and chaos. But the enemy knows also the subtle nature of enticement before attempting interference through manipulation, deception, illusion, fantasy, interrogation, by the counterfeit and the lie. The enemy loves to work on those who are unsuspecting so that they lose all hope, so that for many the spiritual battleground is completely unknown or redefined in terms of anxiety, depression, personality disorders and the like. These spiritual states are then given names together with medical diagnoses to legitimise them, to support and justify them, providing strong medication to realise a sense of order to those who suffer such illnesses.
The role of the Church is not understood by the world as legitimate and complementary to the medical interventions that endeavour to assist in the recovery of these mental states and conditions in supporting the well-being and recovery of people who suffer in this way. In this, there is no acknowledgement of the soul and the spiritual life of the person who is suffering. The result is a detachment from the deeper source of peoples’ problems and an over reliance on medications to restore balance and well-being to the people.
The Church however, through its Sacraments heals the whole person, body, soul and mind. And most importantly it does so with love and compassion.
Two Kinds of Enemies
There are two kinds of enemies. The first and obvious enemy is the one that lurks and hides behind the scenes. He is the author of all that sits in darkness and evil from whom proceeds all the forces of confusion, anger, disharmony, dissension, divisions and all things despicable. He is the fallen angel Lucifer, better known as the devil, supported by his helpers the fallen angels, commonly referred to as the demons.
The second enemy or enemies is mistakenly identified by us as all those unsuspecting persons whom the devil co-opts to oppose what is good in the world through the passions. This may range from simple deception to the most heinous of crimes. It is through the offence of people against other people that the work of the devil is done. So though unbeknown to most, the second kind of enemy involves the persons who have served harm and abuse to others, and who we ourselves are also guilty of doing by doing the same to others. The underlying truth however, is that the origin of these offences is the devil himself and his helpers, whom the offender has cooperated knowingly or unwittingly through negligence and the passions that have taken hold to serve the offence.
It is not to suggest here that the offender is not to blame or that the offender should not put right their wrong, but just as there is the Author of what is all good and that is God, so there is the author of all that is fractured, confused, dark and evil and that is the devil. People that make no effort to understand the spiritual realm are, rendered ignorant and naïve by putting trust and hope in the material and perishable world. When people do this, they confine the enormous God given expanse and beauty of their soul so that it is becomes narrow and restricted, so that it is only capable of taking its cues from tangible things in this world – in other words, only what can be seen and touched. In this spiritually impoverished state, people are unable to perceive or relate to the spiritual and supernatural realm that Christ came to prepare for us and this is the heavenly kingdom.
If we love our enemy as Christ instructed – then we disarm the enemy and his deceptive powers. This is why we say in the Orthodox Church, ‘always love the person but never the sin.’ The enemy is disarmed by our love and forgiveness for others. The enemy cannot infiltrate our soul via the offence that has been served by any person to us if we learn to forgive and to love them, thereby releasing them from judgement and ourselves from the malice and hatred that often follows.
The way in which we treat the person who offends us or who does us wrong manifests and reveals the state of our heart either for the good by forgiveness, or for the bad through our resentment and hatred. This means if we keep our heart pure and our mind clear we do not have to do anything else, so that we do not allow the offence to take root in our heart and mind. This good response by us to evil is realised through good thoughts by our love for God and by our love and forgiveness for all people. We cannot therefore love and not forgive, nor forgive without love. All this means if we resist evil, we are inoculated by the grace of God to defend ourselves against the onslaught of the enemy, the devil.
So all of this poses some important questions for us. Are we persuaded by our enemy simply to save ourselves, or do we respond by way of love that calls out to God to deliver us from evil so that our conscience may also remain free? Do we love our enemy knowing that by doing so we put a STOP sign to the forces of evil that can infiltrate us? If we do the latter we exercise discipline to our mind through our thoughts so that the enemy loses the capacity to influence us and occupy our mind. So that our heart is safeguarded and our soul receives the peace of God’s grace.
The answer to these questions are made even clearer by our own need for Christ’s forgiveness. If we forgive our brothers and sisters for their offences then Christ will also forgive us our offences. Forgiveness is love. Love that does not want to see anyone suffer or perish. Love that does not want anyone condemned. Love that knows no evil. Love that knows freedom in truth. Love that knows it is free of resentment, jealousy, envy, pride and deceit.
The devil’s method is to undermine the person who then being downcast passes on the evil and serves the offence to others with the end aim of undermining each and everyone of us. This spread of harm is much like how influenza spreads from one person to another. In spiritual life, the negativity is spread by allowing ourselves to be infected by harbouring resentment, anger, holding on to grudges, jealousy, hatred and negative thoughts in general. Once we arrive in this state through our own free will, the devil is able to distort and compromise our spiritual struggle by affecting the state of our mind and heart.
Forgiveness and pure love allows protection from the devil and his ways. But even more importantly it sets us free to experience the real joy of that great gift – life. It restores the mind to find its peace, clear and uncluttered. The mind becomes focused rather than scattered. The mind finds its proper bearing and purpose to orientate itself and progress toward God, rather than drifting aimlessly. When the mind is at peace, it can by the grace of God begin to pray. When the mind is at peace it infuses the heart with joy.
Christ said “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
Fr Emmanuel Stamatiou