Friday, May 21, 2010

On "Enemies"

Many years ago, I met a wonderful woman from Beirut, Lebanon, named Houda, who has since (I am told) become an abbess. Back then, she told me over lunch, she was the catechist for her parish, what we would probably call the director of Christian education. So, as the civil war in the Lebanon was then raging, I asked her, somewhat sardonically, "So when people's homes are bombed and their daughters raped, do you teach them to love their enemies?" (I can't remember why I felt I should take such an attitude about it.)

"No," she said.


"No. I teach them that the Christian has no enemies."

I gasped in amazement as she went on: "It's all about love, isn't it? That's the whole thing, love. How can we regard anyone as an enemy?"

Well, yes... But -

"I tell the children to be brave and not to worry, because somewhere, someone is praying for us."

By this time my soup was being salted by my tears; this was one of those defining moments in my life, at a time when I had only recently resolved to become Orthodox. The words that came out of my mouth amazed us both: "I want to come to Beirut with you and share in your work there!"

She stared at me long and hard and finally said, "Your destiny awaits you back in Washington." Which was true, my destiny being Demetrios, to whom I was not yet married, nor even engaged.

I've been praying for Houda and her people ever since, and hoping to have the huge blessing of meeting this saint again before I die.

And yes, hers most definitely is the Christian attitude toward "enemies": To love all, and in equal measure. More precisely, to love without measure, for true love has no measure.

However, this remains: it is stupid and dangerous to fail to recognize when people are moving against you. And pointing it out is a good thing; never mind it may not be politically correct. You can't know how to proceed, other than keeping on loving, if you are blissfully unaware where danger lies. Jesus exhorted us not simply to be "harmless as doves", but also "wise as serpents".   And all this applies even if the one setting himself against you is the pope, as in approving the bombing of Kosovo, or certain Muslims, as in killing Christian priests.


William Weedon said...

What a beautiful story. And so true. In the Great Litany, we pray for our enemies, persecutors and slanderers, that God may turn their hearts. We are not praying for those WE hate (for she was absolutely right - Christians have no enemies) but for those who hate us, mistreat us and speak unkindly and untruthfully about us. Thanks for sharing and I do so hope you meet up with her again.

Your last paragraph kept bringing images of Fr. Arseny to mind - how he loved everyone and yet hated what their hating and hateful actions did to those whom he loved.

Miss Tilney said...

You only could find this attitude in a church under persecution. Persecution - and we use the word so easily and forget the grim realities, the rapes, the poverty, the destruction of families - is the purifying fire of St Peter. As I said when I was talking about deaconesses, it’s truly amazing that the Copts who live daily with persecution have queues of women wanting to be sisters but in Europe and America where we are pretty cosy we have handfuls of women thinking about status.
And, of course, it's the serpent and dove thing again, knowing when and how to differentiate between people and movements.

margaret said...

Sorry about that, forgot who I was signed in as.