Like many of you I have been, and continue to be, very concerned about what is happening in the Middle East. Daily reports tell of the horrors of war and the deaths of thousands of people who are "in the way" of these wars. They are called collateral damage and it is the result of war. However, some of them are not collateral damage; some of them are targeted for no other reason than that they are Christians.
In a survey released this month Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians around the world, documented 2,123 "martyr" killings in 2013 around the world. There were 1,213 Christians killed in Syria in 2012, mainly by the U.S.-backed rebels. This number accounts for half of the total number of Christians killed around the world in a year's time.
So what are we to do?
Located on the coast of Greece is a peninsula that is inhabited by monks of the Orthodox Christian Church. Mount Athos has stood as a center of spirituality for generations and has produced some of wisest thinkers in the Orthodox Church today. One such person is Saint Silouan. St. Silouan died in 1938 and was recognized as a saint in 1987. He is what one would call a modern-day saint familiar with the modern world. In researching another topic I stumbled upon one of his quotes, "The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies" -- what a powerful thought.
Hating our enemies is easy, but hatred is a very powerful and destructive force in our lives and hatred brings much destruction to our soul. An extremely large part of Orthodox Christian spirituality is this sense of inner peace. Inner peace allows us the time and space we need to communicate with God, not in "I need this/please help this person" kind of way but in the "what am I supposed to do with my life" kind of way. This conversation can only take place when we have inner silence and comes from peace.
The very first lines of our Orthodox divine liturgy seek peace, peace with each other, peace with God, and peace with ourselves. In one particular part of the Liturgy we pray "for those who love us and for those who hate us." Hatred is easy but love is difficult.
How can we possibly love someone who has done us wrong? This question applies not only to situations like Syria and Egypt but in our own day-to-day lives where people have done things to us for one reason or another, and now we find that we hate that person or persons. Perhaps it is a hurt from sometime past in our lives that we have never fully gotten over, not that we every truly get over these kinds of things. But holding on to the hatred that comes with the hurt continues to give that situation power over us and we are never truly free.
Surrendering the power that that hatred has over us is not a simple task but it can be done. I am not saying that we forget what happened, but it has to start with forgiveness -- we have to be able to forgive the person who has harmed us as the first step in letting go of the hatred. Forgiveness provides us with the power that is needed to overcome the hate. Forgiveness is the light in the darkened world and it is only after forgiveness happens that true healing can begin.
The human body is a complex machine that is made up of the physical body as well as the spiritual body, and I am a firm believer in the concept that our physical health has as much to do with our body as it does with our soul. The physical and the spiritual are tied closely together and if one is not functioning properly the other will suffer as well. When we are physically sick it is difficult for us to perform any task, let alone pray, and the same is true for when we are spiritually sick. What this all boils down to is that our hatred not only harms us spiritually but has the potential to harm us physically.
One of the more powerful passages of Scripture that illustrates this concept of forgiveness comes at the time of the Crucifixion. Jesus asks His Father to forgive those who have just done this to Him and in doing so gives us an example of how we are to forgive those who have harmed us. Do not waste another day filled with hate. Ask God for the strength to forgive those who have harmed you and then pray for them.