Love of Enemies

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Saint Silouan taught that love of enemies was the criterion of genuine Orthodoxy, revealing costly love that resists enemies who invade to destroy a neighbouring people accused of being a mythic enemy.  But how does love remain faithful to Christ in the Spirit, restoring glory to the Father’s reign of the Name, so as not to return evil for evil? When an Orthodox Patriarch blessed a war that destroyed hundreds of thousands of his own faithful in the interests of dictatorial power, where was love of enemies?   Surely, undivided love would never have bombed and shelled them, but when war was in fact unleashed, love in those victims resisted, not out of victimised belligerence, but out of love for all who were suffering from destructive violence.  Saint Sophrony the Hesychast never forgot that freedom was threatened by dictatorial power that oppresses and controls others and he revered holy freedom to the end of his long life. For him, Hesychast wisdom was liberating in the many ways it lived love of enemies, handing on the costly love that inspired Saint Silouan, whilst refusing to placate the enemies of God who utterly rejected love.  Both saints were Russians who were truly Orthodox, but neither of them confused Orthodoxy with ethnic Russianness or demonised democracy in the interests of dictatorship.

Love of enemies was always the criterion of genuine Orthodoxy, long before Saint Silouan condemned pride to hell to purify his heart from pride.  But the unselfish love he communicated to Saint Sophrony inspired genuine Orthodox Patriarchs such as Athenagoras and Demetrius as well as saints.  Love of enemies inspired both Russian saints, injecting wisdom into this moment of excruciating trial, restoring Russian Orthodoxy as it cries out in its extremity.  When a vast Cathedral was dedicated to Russian armed forces, both saints remind it that if force ceases to serve love of enemies and the rule of law, it may indeed be Russian military power but is no longer in any sense Orthodox.  Saint Silouan condemned pride to hell, emptying heaven of pride, restoring hell to heaven.  Russian pride was indeed hurt when it saw Ukraine prosper and flourish in freedom, so it invaded to reassert its overweening pride, but Saint Silouan condemned pride to hell to cure his heart of pride, reminding Russia of Holy Orthodoxy.  To listen to Saint Silouan is to hear his right-glorifying, Orthodox song of love, to recognise Christ where fear and pride saw only enemies.  

What happens to enemies when they are loved?  They are restored to peace in the Name of Christ, because if pride repents of pride, it no longer fears humiliation but loves humility instead.  Such love is costly but is real, cutting to the very root of pride. The Patriarch of Moscow may find it difficult to listen to Saint Silouan, but the saint was Russian and so cannot be dismissed as can the decadent west.  Saint Sophrony, too, was Russian and showed Russians what freedom means, revealing the mystery of free personhood.  Both saints speak directly into the confusion and division of totalitarian war, revealing the hallowing Name.  Peace reigns in glory where both saints dwell in heaven, descending here to earth with their love and prayers.  Love of enemies was always their inexhaustible legacy, translucent in its transcendent glory. Listening to Saint Silouan and Saint Sophrony, ‘Holy Russianness’ is restored from dictatorial parody to Holy Orthodoxy, curing pride.  Humility does not fear humiliation or invade to reassert pride.  Sanity and sanctity return with love of enemies, restoring peace, discovering freedom generating peace, far beyond all proud notions of ‘Russian Pax.’