Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh on Love for Enemies and Love for the Oppressed

Arabic original here.

The Beloved Syrian

My Syrian friend, a practicing Christian and a secularist by political inclination, confirms that events in Syria are sliding toward increased sectarian division, since sectarian affiliation and the obsession with preserving members of one's own sect has taken primacy for some over citizenship or other forms of trans-sectarian affiliation. My friend himself worries about the distortion of true Christian witness coming from the positions of some Christian religious leaders which support a logic of force and violence and are silent before practices of torture, abuse, destruction, and expulsion.

Christ the Lord says, "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). This means that Christ calls for distinguishing between a person and his works. It in necessary to love a person because he always bears the image and likeness of God, but his evil works are to be hated. Christ hated evil, but he loved all people, because no one is good but God alone. Thus, the love of enemies is a call to consider the enemy to be a person capable of repentance. Consequently, resisting him is resiting the evil that is in him and the hope that he will change into a good person.

If these words are true about enemies in general, then how much more are they true about people who are not enemies, the people of a single nation, a single city, a single village... They are brothers and relatives and neighbors, partners in work and in life. Christians, then, are called, according to the theological writer Kosti Bandaly in his book "The Violent or non-Violent Struggle to Realize Justice" (Manshurat al-Nour) to the difficult and risky reconciliation between two things: the love of those persecuted, which pushes for struggling for the sake of justice and the love of one's enemies, which calls for struggling for reconciliation and peace.

The love of "enemies" does not in any way cancel love for the oppressed. This is confirmed by Christian tradition. Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) says, "He who does not stop the injustice that threatens his brother when he is able to do so is no less guilty of sin than the one who commits the injustice." Bandaly states that any following along with an oppressor in his aggressive positions is a defeat for love, a denial of the power of the kingdom of God that is from this moment active on earth, and a perpetuation of the cycle of evil.

In Christ's behavior we have a living example of reconciling between loving the enemy and combating evil at the same time. When those whom He disturbed with His teachings planned to kill Him, He went to the ultimate limits in His love for them. He would not treat His enemies as they planned on treating Him. He did not return evil with evil, but rather countered evil with good. The apex of the Christian position was reached on the cross, in the words of the crucified Christ, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Christ was able, even at the very last moment, to distinguish between the person and the evil that he is committing and He maintained His love and His hope for that person.

There is a great distinction between striving to put an end to oppression, persecution, and coercion-- or fear of them-- on the one hand, and getting carried away by desire for destruction, for free and senseless murder, and the victory of the spirit of  vengeance on the other. The Syrian citizen, no matter which national or political option he inclines toward, is a person who must be loved, because the love which alone must be present forms the nation, builds up the earth, and gives life to man.


idealart said...

The first job of a Christian is to love God. Not one's enemies. Big dif.

Anonymous said...

"Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44)

tanios said...

OK a christian must love his enemies and hate the evil things they do. Such a christian is then following the path of sanctity. It requires a strong faith and of course an obedience to the teaching of the Church. Such a christian must be ready to die at the hands of his enemy... This is the fate of our martyrs...But when we talk of the christians in Syria, Lebanon we talk of a cultural group whose most members are not ready to behave like saints. They want to save their life if there is a danger...Not all people are strong, most of us still drink milk like babies and do not get a solid meal...
Lord have mercy!