Thursday, September 24, 2015

St Silouan: On Love for One's Enemies

Icon of St Silouan (Sept 24)
by Fr Andrew Tregubov 
Today is the feast of St Silouan, who came to love and pray for the whole world, and whose teachings on loving our enemies present us with a great challenge.

The world does not understand what love is. But the saints, because they are united to Christ, do grasp the mystery of love. Even love for one's enemies.

We must love our brother, our neighbor, our enemy. Yet one cannot love evil itself, one cannot love falsehood, for to do so would be to affirm it, to say "Amen" to it, and thus to wrongly and mistakenly give it validity, power, enthronement in the hierarchy of values.

The saints understand this, the difference between loving my neighbor, the person right in front of me, and honoring what he stands for. I must love my neighbor, even if he is my enemy, even if he has dressed me in an orange jumpsuit and is sawing my head off with a serrated blade because of my love for Jesus Christ. "Father forgive him, for he knows not what he does!"

I must forgive him because what he does to me is evil. I cannot say that the evil is not evil. I cannot honor the evil, for by doing so I dishonor the good. I cannot honor the lie without dishonoring the Truth. But I can and must love and forgive the person himself.

The saints understand that we must stand for Truth. It was his confession of the Truth for which Jesus was condemned and crucified.

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But He kept silent and answered nothing.
Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?”
And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
— Mark 14:60-64 

Jesus said, "I AM." Ego Eimi, in this simplest statement, equating himself with "He Who Is." Jesus speaks the Truth for He is the Truth, and He cannot deny the Truth, for then He would be a liar. John presents this confession of Jesus in a different context, in Jesus' discussion with the Jews.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” [...]
Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
— John 8:42-47, 54-59

Now consider this powerful quote from Yuri Maximov, close friend and co-laborer with New Priest-Martyr Daniil Sysoev, who was killed by a Muslim group for showing the falsehood of Islam and converting 80 Muslims to Christ in the Orthodox Church:

Among those who call themselves Orthodox, I have met such strange people who say that Fr. Daniel should not preach to Muslims, that one must respect their religion, and that there is no benefit from his preaching. But Fr. Daniel thought, as did the Lord, the Apostles, and all the saints, that one must respect mistaken people but not their mistakes. Truth is one, that which contradicts and negates truth is a lie, and respect for a lie is contempt for the truth. (Source

My Muslim neighbor, even if he is my enemy and wishes to cut off my head, is still created in the image of God. Jesus died for him just as He did for me. I must love him, for, as St Silouan teaches, "Our brother is our life." But if I truly love him, will I not wish for him to know Jesus Christ and be saved from the spiritual deception and darkness of Islam? 

Yes! This is love, that we should wish for and pray for Muslims to have eternal life, "That they would know Thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent," for "there is no other name under heaven given by which we must be saved" (JN 17:3, ACTS 4:12).

Love AND Truth. This is the Way of Jesus Christ, the saints, and of St. Silouan. This is the Faith which can remove mountains. Lord help us to grow in such Love and Truth in Your Likeness!

From 'The Life and Teachings of Elder Siluan'
by Bishop Alexander (Mileant) and Natalia Bufius; Translated by Anatoly Shmelev:

Bishop Alexander, in his wonderful condensed work on St Silouan, relates the Saint's teaching:

"Our brother is our life," taught the Elder. Through Christ’s love all people are accepted as an indivisible part of our own personal eternal being. The commandment to love your neighbor as you would yourself, he begins to understand as something other than a mere ethical norm; in the word "as" he sees not an indication of the level, or measure, of love, but a sign of the ontological commonality of being. 
"The Father does not judge, but has given judgment to the Son... because He is the Son of man" (John 5:22-27). This Son of man, the Great Judge of the world, on Judgement Day will proclaim that "the one among the smallest of these" is Himself; in other words that the being of each individual is held in common with Him, and is included in His own personal being. All of humanity, "all of Adam," he has taken into himself and has suffered for all of Adam. 
After the experience of the torments of hell, after God’s admonition to "Keep his mind in hell," it became a habit of Elder Siluan to pray for the dead suffering in hell. But he prayed also for the living and for future generations. His prayer, which was not bound by temporal limits, erased any trace of the transient features of human life, and of enemies. 
He was given in the sorrow of the world to distinguish between those who experienced God and those who did not. It became unbearable for him to consider that people could languish in the depths of darkness. 
Once a hermit-monk said to him that "God would punish all atheists. They will burn in an eternal flame." It appeared to give this monk satisfaction that they would be punished by eternal fire. But Elder Siluan, with some worry, asked, "Tell me please, if you are placed in Heaven, and from there you see how others burn in hellish flames, would you remain detached?" "What can you do — it’s their own fault," countered the monk. The Elder, filled with sorrow, answered, "Love cannot accept that... Everyone must be prayed for."

Obviously, we can insert "Muslim" and "Jihadist" in the place of "Atheist" above, and the point is clear for us...

And indeed, he prayed for everyone; to pray only for himself became a foreign concept. All people are disposed to sin, and all are stripped of God’s glory (Romans 3:22). For Siluan, having been exposed to the glory of God and having been denied it, the very thought of such denial was too heavy to bear. His soul languished in the consciousness that people live without knowing God and His love, and he prayed with great prayer that the Lord through his inscrutable love should allow them to know Him. 
Till the end of his life, despite waning strength and sickness, Siluan continued to sleep for only brief spells. He had much time for individual prayer, and he remained in prayer constantly, changing its form to fit circumstances. He prayed especially strongly at night, before the matins. That was when he prayed for the living and the dead, for friends and enemies, for the entire world.

St Silouan himself writes as follows:

Christ prayed for those that crucified Him: "Father, count not this sin against them; they know not what they do." Archdeacon Stefan prayed for those who stoned him so that the Lord would not judge this sin against them. And so we, if we wish to retain grace, must pray for our enemies. 
If you do not find pity on a sinner who will suffer in flames, then you do not carry the grace of the Holy Spirit, but rather an evil spirit; and while you yet live, you must free yourself from his clutches through repentance. 
Whoever wishes to love the Lord must love his enemies and be without spite; then the Lord will give you to glorify Him day and night, and your mind will forget the world; and if it should return and remember, then it will pray diligently for the world. 
This is how the saints lived, for the Spirit of God taught their souls to pray for others. 
The Lord loves us greatly, despite our sins, as long as we seek humility and love our enemies. Whoever does not love his enemies cannot achieve peace, even if he were placed in Eden.

Bishop Alexander continues:

As wise and learned and fine-looking as a person may be, if he does not love his enemies, i.e. any other person, he cannot reach God. And the opposite is also true, however simple a person may be, and poor and ignorant, but if he carries within himself that love, then "he is with God and God is with him." The Elder maintained that it was impossible to love one’s enemies outside of the One True God. The carrier of such love is a participant in eternal life, and he carries within himself an undeniable witness of this. 
He is the abode of the Holy Spirit, and knows the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit, knows them with a true and life-giving knowledge, and in the Holy Spirit he is a brother and friend of Jesus Christ, he is the son of God, and close to God in grace. 
The Lord condensed all the law and prophets into two brief commandments (Matthew 22:40). And during the last supper, before His path to death on the cross, said to the Apostles, "There is no greater love but that a man lay down his life for his friends," adding, "You are My friends... I call you friends because I have told you all that I have heard from My Father" (John 15:13-15). Thus in these few words was said everything. And without them all the laws, prophets, cultures, are nothing
In order to remain in the love of God, it is necessary that anger and "hate" be multiplied to their limits, but they must be directed at the sin that lives inside me, at the evil that acts within me, within me, not within my brother.

In the Akathist to St Silouan, we find praises for his teaching that we must love our enemies:

Even the most eloquent of orators are unable to describe the power of thy love, O all wondrous father Silouan; for with tears thou didst thirst to extinguish all enmity and disorder among men and to reconcile everyone unto God, crying out to the Master of the world: “O Lord, I yearn to be Thine, and to crucify myself with Thee for the whole world, that all may be saved!” And to the brethren thou didst cry out: “My children, pray for thine enemies, for they are our brethren, our life; and only the devil is the enemy of peace.” And guided by thee toward brotherly love and love of mankind, we cry out to thee: 
Rejoice, thou who in thy goodness didst make thyself like Christ on Golgotha;
Rejoice, thou who didst crucify thyself for thine enemies, not through thy hands, but thy heart and soul!
Rejoice, thou who carest for thy neighbor and didst not lose the beauty of grace filled stillness;
Rejoice, thou who, loving thy neighbor, didst acquire the power of unceasing prayer!
Rejoice, thou who through fasting and prayer didst utterly deflect the darts of the evil one;
Rejoice, thou who hast taught us to overcome the evil wiles and machinations of the devil!
Rejoice, thou who, laboriously grinding thy flesh in the mill of Christ, like sacred grain, didst sweeten thy heart with prayer;
Rejoice, thou who with the bread of life didst abundantly feed the workmen of the garden of the Queen of heaven!
Rejoice, O father Silouan, inextinguishable burning of love in thy prayer for the world!

May the Lord draw us to Himself, and grant us His Grace through the Holy Spirit, so that we too may love our enemies, even as we reject that false religion which commands hatred, killing and destruction.