“Man by himself, has no power to fulfill the commandments of God”
Saint Siluan of Mt. Athos
A word that I think we should always bear in mind when we read or hear the Gospel and, especially the Gospel pertaining to the love of one’ enemies, that is read on this Sunday during Divine Liturgy.
Father Raphael Noica (a disciple of Elder Sophrony Sakharov from Essex) takes this further and says: “God, by commanding these things to us, does not expect us to be able to do them, because He knows that we do not have the power within us to fulfill His Word.”
How can this be? Does it mean then that God is asking us “the impossible”? Yes, and in a certain sense, this is what He asks of us! For His commandments are not merely moral requests accessible to the simple human’s will. God’s commandments are “a revelation of the divine life” (Elder Raphael N) to which Christ calls us. They are Divine commandments and not human commandments.
Does it mean then that God is absurd? No, but it means what Father N. Steinhardt used to call “God’s noble spirit,” Who put into your lap a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, & run over” (cf. Lk. 6, 38). God wants to give us EVERYTHING, He wants us to be like Him, to partake of His life and therefore He commands us things impossible to human nature; in fact, through His commandments, He calls us to an absolute call, a call of a “final authority” which we cannot ignore.
At the same time, by this kind of commandments God wants us to discover our inability to live by ourselves and become humbled in Him, in a total hopelessness, to look deeply into our weakness and wickedness, and desperately ask Him for help. As we hear it in today’ Gospel: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12, 9), and by living the awareness of our weakness in doing the divine will, we get ready to receive Him! In other word, if we would receive much more than our efforts or merits, we would be too proud and mock the “gift” (grace) that is given to us! “Joyfully I will praise rather in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may live in me” (Ibid.).
When I will empty myself of any trust in me, of any reliance on my own power and my own opinion that I did anything good, only then I can be filled up by the grace of God! For only by divine power, by the grace of the Holy Spirit one can do things of the Spirit and of God, that is … the Gospel’ commandments.
I thought that these things must be made clear before we talk about the Gospel commandments and, in particular about the commandment of love culminating in the love for enemies. And this is because many wrongly assume that it is very handy to love all people and love even the enemies of the Church, by imagining that they are already fulfilling so easily the hardest commandments of Christ and judging those whom according to their understanding, “do not love.”
While others, at the opposite pole, deceitfully believe that if they cannot naturally fulfill the divine commandments (i.e. they cannot love or can be gentle, ..), then these commandments are not been asked of them (especially if they live in the world), so they either give up the fight or will take from Christianity only certain things “accessible” to their nature. Both of these extremes are denounced by the Fathers of the Church as been wrong paths. Then, without realizing, they reduce the Gospel to a pure natural, humanistic or psychological content.
The first (category) live very much in imagination and, been lead by nature or emotions, by more intense or exalted feelings, they get to believe that it is very easy for them to love and that they even “have love” for all … to them, the more firm words by which Orthodoxy separates itself from deceit and called evil by its name, may seem too extreme and loveless. They only want to see “what is good” and “pink” and their “love” is more a projection of one’ psychological needs for safety and comfort which automatically exclude or deny what is “uncomfortable “.
At the other pole, love is almost out of the question, or something ” fad and sensible” we need not, because what is important is to be tough and courageous, and to use “strong” expressions against opponents, all under the motivation of “defending” the truth.
Some of us climb up in our imagination and believe to have reached the exceptional measures of our brother from the Paterikon (collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers) “that from so much goodness, He did not know what’s evil”, while others believe we are dispensed from the Gospel’ commandments, since we like more to win the fight over ideological “enemies of our nations” or strictly from the stand point of correctness of the Holy Canons.
Some dream of a universal peace and harmony and are troubled at the words of our Lord saying: “I came not to bring peace, but division” or when they hear that the Holy Fathers have commended us not to have fellowship with the heretics. While others understand spiritual warfare as an endless quarrel.
But authentic Orthodoxy is taking the “royal path”. Love for one’ enemies is necessary for our salvation, let us go on the narrow way of acquiring it, let’s recognize that we do not have it and that … we need to ask God for it!
At the same time, I cannot see the black as white or call the white, black because: the enemies of the Church are real, and there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing, not all are good, beautiful and well-indented and … I cannot confuse the brother with the foe. I ought to be (spiritually) awakened to discern the wheat from the chaff and not to compromise with the evil or become an advocate of the “son of lies”!
True love does not deny nor justify evil, does not overlook the cruel reality of the fallen world, does not cover injustice and shamelessness, but it assumes them with the burning pain of a compassionate heart. I must not sin by cowardice and stupidity and allow evil to unfold freely (without me doing anything). But this does not entitle me to condemn without appeal or to mock those who seem lost, some however without their consent. But I must have mercy towards all and pray for the salvation of all, to become truly a “son or daughter of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” (Luke 6, 35) and wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Amen!