In the second chapter of The Compassion of the Father, Father Boris Bobrinskoy addresses the theme of loving one’s enemies. The work of salvation involves a long, painful pedagogy, for the germ of evil is deeply rooted in the human heart. Nor are the categories of a fallen world enough to protect us from the demands of the Gospel.
The standard concepts of “brother,” “neighbour,” “adversary,” or “enemy” should be reconsidered in the light of the new law. There is no watertight barrier between them, but a passage from the one to the other. From the beginning, the law of sin is spread out over the entire earth like gangrene. It penetrates into the inmost human heart, where it breaks the integrity and inner unity. Man is divided, alienated from himself, from God, from his brothers; he becomes an enemy to himself, of God, of his brothers.
The history of Cain and Abel, like that of Joseph and his brothers, is at the same time decisive and emblematic of all our fraternities, all our natural relations. Ancestral sin, even before the murder of Abel by Cain had already introduced enmity like a universal germ of hostility into human relationships. Friendship and natural love, whether of a parental, fraternal, or conjugal order, sometimes hide hatreds and tenacious resentments behind a smiling face. Let us recall the words of the Lord on the whitewashed graves. They concern not only the Pharisees of His time, but also all of humanity. (69)
Behind the mystery of evil we can discern the profile of the Adversary who personifies hatred. He is the one whom Jesus confronts and overcomes. And it is this personification that allows us to appropriate some of the cruellest texts of the Old Testament.
In their spiritual reading, the Fathers teach us to see in the children of Babylon or the children of Egypt, a symbol of sin, of hatred, of Satan. Thus we try to smash all these offshoots of evil and sin that try to live in us against the Rock, Christ. (70)
Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and love for enemies finds its ultimate truth in His prayer for His executioners and it is only in Him that we can find the peace that abolishes the law of retaliation. It is His peace that we need to penetrate in order to become truly peaceful. And we are enabled to do this through His gift of the Holy Spirit.
To the extent that we enter into the mystery of Christ, who died for us when we were all sinners and under the wrath of God, our hearts in our deepest being is transformed. The heart, once inhabited by the forces of darkness and hatred, becomes the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is no longer I who live – this detestable I – but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). He is the one who lives, who loves, who forgives. He is the one who prays and intercedes. Jesus on the cross makes heavenly intercession, as the one whom the Epistle to the Hebrews and the entire Christian tradition calls “the high priest.” Essentially the risen Christ prays that we might enter into His prayer and forgive. In the breath of the Spirit who sighs in us, “Abba, Father,” He is the one who is poured out in our hearts. This is the gift of Pentecost, the gift of tongues, the anti-Bablel. (71)
If we are attentive to this sighing of the Holy Spirit within us, we will be able to repeat the words of Staretz Saint Siloaun:
The Holy Spirit teaches that one should love one’s enemies so much that one will have compassion on them as one would on one’s own children. The one who does not love his enemies does not have the grace of God. (71-72)