Ambassadors of the Faith: "HE WHO HEARS YOU HEARS ME"
Love for our Enemies
by Jonathan Tartara
"Geronda Porfyrios once asked a spiritual child if he were to see his brother being attacked by an evil man with a knife, beating him, pulling his hair, and then throw him down in front of you bleeding, would he get angry with his brother or feel sorry for him. So it is when any brother does you an injustice, he has fallen victim at the hands of the evildoer bandit Satan. Feel sorry for your brother. Do not counterattack him. For then Satan will jump from your brother's shoulders to your own and have you both under his awful control."
In the writings of the Desert Fathers, we can find countless proverbs and lessons such as this one that can help us improve ourselves and to become more like Christ. This lesson is a very difficult one for us to be remembering, particularly in a culture that glorifies the ability to confront, to insult, and to obtain revenge. Our behavior though, is reflective of the condition of our heart. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that we were all created in God's image and likeness. In other words, we were all created to be holy and to live upright and godly lives. As Geronda Porfyrios tells us, the reason that some do not fulfill their purpose is not because they are evil people, but because they have been attacked, beaten and deceived by the evil one.
In my interactions with non-Christians, one of the verses that they seem to be most attracted to in discussing Christianity is the following from Matthew 5: "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven?For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Unfortunately, many of them say, we as Christians often fail to live up to this moral that Jesus tried to teach us. One of the admissions that we all have to realize is that people who are "turned-off" to Christianity are not that way because of Christ?they are that way because of Christians. Unfortunately, we as Christians often fall short of delivering the Gospel message of love, grace and mercy. Instead of these words, people have begun to associate Christianity with words like corruption and hypocrisy. Again, this has nothing to do with Christ's ministry?it has everything to do with how we have behaved.
Whether we like it or not, we may be the only Bible that some ever read, we might be the only Church service that some ever attend, and we might be the only introduction to Christ that someone ever has. When this happens, what will they come to know? Will they know the true Christ who is loving, gracious and merciful? Or will they meet someone different? This is our critical responsibility as Christians, to use our lives to spread Christ's true message to the whole world. We need to keep this responsibility in mind constantly, and to always remember that we are ambassadors of Christ, here on earth. This means overcoming our own egos and doing good to those who might wrong us. This means controlling our actions, our words, our facial expressions or anything, however subtle, which might offend people. This means, in short, living a Christ-like life, even towards our enemies.
Certainly, this lesson is a high calling, but this is one of those things that distinguish us from those of the world. Are we expected to get along with everyone that we interact with? Definitely not?however we are obligated, as Christians, to respect the humanity of every person and to remember that each person, no matter how different they are, or no matter how inappropriately they may behave, is a child of God. It is truly a high calling to "love our enemies," but it seems that in a world that is so consumed in hate, we, as Christians, may be the world's best hope.
Jonathan Tartara is currently the Youth Director and Pastoral Assistant at Annunciation Church in Akron, Ohio. He is a 2003 graduate of Holy Cross School of Theology and a 1999 graduate of Miami University (OH).
For additional resources, visit the Youth Ministries website at www.youth.goarch.org.