As we continue our fast for the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity, we consider the following wisdom from St. John Chrysostomos whose feast we joyfully celebrated today.
The Golden-Mouth counsels us to thank God for our enemies who actually help us in our journey to the eternal Kingdom. Enemies, he tells us, provide us with the opportunity to be Christlike by practicing love, mercy, and forgiveness. As our Savior teaches us in His Sermon on the Mount, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Mt 5:46). Offering love, mercy, and forgiveness to those who offer the same virtues towards us is easy enough, but what about offering love, mercy, and forgiveness to our enemies? This is far more difficult, indeed.
The saint approaches the matter in the “cold light of reason” and concludes we should be thankful for our enemies because they afford us with a precious opportunity to obey the Gospel commandments and imitate the perfection of God Himself. In addition, he advises us to treat our enemies as spiritual benefactors, because, through them, we receive forgiveness of sins.
Read what the holy saint says in this excerpt from Homily 27 of his Homilies on Genesis 18-45.
Consequently, I beseech you, let us keep this in mind and no longer bear to hold a grudge against those who have done us an injury or otherwise wronged us in some way, nor be badly disposed towards them; instead, let us consider of how much kindness and confidence for us with the Lord they prove to be instruments, and before all else the fact that reconciliation with those who injure us turns out to be a discharge of our sins. Thus let us show all enthusiasm and effort, and out of consideration of the gain accruing from this let us display as much care of those who injure us as if they were really our benefactors.
In other words, if we look at things in the cold light of reason, those kindly disposed towards us and those anxious to serve our every need will not succeed in benefiting us as service of those others, which will render us deserving of favor from above and will lighten the load of our sins. Consider, dearly beloved, how important is this virtuous behavior to judge from the rewards promised by the God of all things to those who practice it. He said, remember, “ ‘Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, pray for those who abuse you’ ”(Mt 5:44, Lk 6:27), since these directions were very demanding and aspiring to the very summit of perfection, he added, “ ‘so that you may be like your Father in heaven, because he makes his sun rise on good and evil, and sends rain on just and unjust’ ”(Mt 5:45). Do you see whom that person resembles—as far as is humanly possible—who not only takes no vengeance on those who harm him, but even shows zeal in praying for them?
Accordingly, let us not deprive ourselves through indifference of such gifts and rewards surpassing all description, but rather evince enthusiasm for this kind of virtue by every means and, by disciplining our thinking, respond to God’s command.1
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us sinners through the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos Mary and the prayers of the Holy John Chrysostomos.
- St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 18–45, ed. Thomas P. Halton, trans. Robert C. Hill, vol. 82, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990), 180–181. ↩