On The Love of Enemies

“An enemy is by definition one who obstructs, ensnares, and injures others. He is therefore a sinner. We ought to love his soul by correcting him and doing everything possible to bring him to conversion. We ought to love his body too by coming to his aid with the necessities of life. That love for our enemies is possible has been shown us by the Lord Himself. He revealed the Father’s love and his own by making Himself ‘obedient unto death’ (Phil 2.8) as the Apostle says, not for his friends’ sake so much as for his enemies. ‘God shows love for us in that we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5.8).’

And God exhorts us to do the same. ‘Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us. (Eph 5.1-2)’ God would not ask this of us as a right and proper thing to do, if it were not possible.

On the other hand, is it not perhaps true that an enemy can be as much of a help to us as a friend can? Enemies earn for us the beatitude of which the Lord speaks when he says: Blessed as you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in Heaven (Matt 5.11-12).'” St. Basil the Great, The Lesser Rules, 176

St. Basil in teaching the monastic communities and the flocks he shepherded speaks to us of the love we might have for our enemies. While not approving of their actions, we are called to love them and this love is what can change the heart of stone.

St. Dionysius the Great (190-265) catalogues a beautiful example of this for us in his letters. There was a very great persecution of the Christians in Alexandria during his time. However, there subsequently arose a great plague in the roman empire including in Alexandria. St. Dionysius writes that many lost their lives tending to the sick and even burying those of the pagans whose bodies had been thrown into the streets. He writes,

“Certainly very many of our brethren, while, in their exceeding love and brotherly-kindness, they did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously, and treated them for their healing in Christ, died from time to time most joyfully along with them, lading themselves with pains derived from others, and drawing upon themselves their neighbours’ diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them. And many who had thus cured others of their sicknesses, and restored them to strength, died themselves, having transferred to their own bodies the death that lay upon these. And that common saying, which else seemed always to be only a polite form of address, they expressed in actual fact then, as they departed this life, like the “off-scourings of all.” Yea, the very best of our brethren have departed this life in this manner, including some presbyters and some deacons, and among the people those who were in highest reputation: so that this very form of death, in virtue of the distinguished piety and the steadfast faith which were exhibited in it, appeared to come in nothing beneath martyrdom itself…

But among the heathen all was the very reverse. For they thrust aside any who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from their dearest friends, and cast the sufferers out upon the public roads half dead, and left them unburied, and treated them with utter contempt when they died, steadily avoiding any kind of communication and intercourse with death; which, however, it was not easy for them altogether to escape, in spite of the many precautions they employed.” St. Dionysius The Great, Epistle XII, The Epistle to The Alexandrians

Even those whose family members had died would not care for them for fear of falling ill themselves. Here the Christian people give of their very lives for the people who had been persecuting them before. In this selfless love we will shortly see the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. For love can crack the heart of stone and in seeing our love for them, our enemies can see an approximation of The Beautiful, God Himself. “God is love” and we image Him in that we bend down in love even towards those who have been persecuting us. Let us look to love those around us who may today be both sick with physical ailments but even more so to the one who is sick with sin. May He grant us the strength to pursue this love for in it we shall become like Him Who is love.

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