Love the Enemy Within

Homily October 2/15, 2017
Ss. Cyprian & Justina

II Corinthians 11:31-12:9
Luke 6:31-36

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Christ is among us; He is and ever shall be. Beloved in the Lord,

Paul-Thorn-in-my-FleshIn this morning’s Epistle and Gospel, we are given two very difficult questions to ponder. What should we do with unanswered prayer and how do we love even our enemies? St. Paul raises the first question in his second letter to the Corinthians when he insists that three times he asked the Lord to remove a thorn in his flesh and after only the third time did he receive his answer. What are we to make of this heavenly reluctance to respond? How many of us have had similar unanswered prayer and have felt almost like giving up asking? St. Cassiodorus writes in the 5th century about the surprising advantage of unanswered prayer:

220px-gesta_theodorici_-_flavius_magnus_aurelius_cassiodorus_28c_485_-_c_58029Paul begged that the flesh’s thorn be removed from him, but he was not heard by the Lord. The devil prayed that he might strike Job with the harshest of disasters, and we know that this was subsequently granted him. But Paul was denied the fulfillment of his prayer for his glory, whereas the devil was granted his for the devil’s pain. Thus it is often an advantage not to be heard even though postponement of our desires depresses us.

And that isn’t all that depresses us in this world that hates the Gospel. We may try with all our might to live in Christ and receive not only unanswered prayer but open opposition from the people closest to us. Like the psalmist says, it might have been easy to hide from an open enemy, but when the enemy is one, “… of like soul with me, my guide and my familiar friend, thou who together with me didst sweeten my repasts,” (Psalm 54) then indeed we are brought so low, we almost are unable to return. As enemies without and unanswered prayers within haunt us, where can a soul turn for help?

30604-pThe Gospel is unequivocal in its response, “Love your enemies, do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” (Luke 6:35) But who is my enemy and why should I love him? How might it answer my prayers any faster? The great Serbian Bishop, St. Nikolai Velimirovich, who suffered the ravages of a Nazi concentration camp in the middle of the last century wrote about how to love and bless our enemies:

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.

Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth

and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.

They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.

They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.

They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.

Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

so that my fleeing to You may have no return;

so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;

so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;

so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;

so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.

Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

(From Prayers by the Lake by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, published by the Serbian Orthodox Metropolitanate of New Gracanica, 1999)

And so we learn that, “A person has no enemies in the world except himself.” May our Lord Jesus Christ grant that we learn to love this enemy– first the one within and those we might still have without. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

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