Fr. Stephen Freeman’s Apothegmata

Posted over on Pontifications
You only know God to the extent you love your enemies.

This saying, like all those planned for this little collection, is not in the least original though it is not a quote. It is an Orthodox parish priest’s effort to make the simple point implied in 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” The same point can be found in many places within the Fathers, and most recently in the teachings of St. Silouan and in the writings of the Elder Sophrony.

Christ commanded that we should love our enemies, and tells us that in loving our enemies we become like God.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:32-36

This is the real test of “Theosis,” not visions of the Divine Light or any other imaginings of the “spiritual.” This is the teaching of the gospel. We will love as God loves, if we truly dwell in Him. If we love as God loves, then we will know Him. And God is merciful and good even to the selfish and ungrateful. God is good even to those who do evil, making his rain to fall on the just and the unjust. To love like that is to know God. And we only know Him to the extent we love our enemies.

And here’s what Fr. Stephen’s comments helped me to think about:

Fr. Stephen,
What wonderful words, and such deep Truth! Thank you.

Truly God is good even to those who do evil, making his REIGN to fall on the just and the unjust… Coming under the sovereignty of God was an important decision for me. The corollary (again, for me) was knowing that until I knew myself to be under God’s sovereignty I was His enemy. And in being God’s enemy I came to know why it was always so hard to love myself.
I was given a vision of seeing myself as God sees me and that was the beginning of my repentence. In my repentence I was led to see that if God loved me while I was yet His enemy (Romans 5.10), then that should/must be my attitude toward those whom I imagined were my enemies as well. And thus began a fantastic reappraisal of my relationship with other humans. The crux arrived in the reconfiguring of the old saying. Rather than merely comparing myself to others, in what seemed sort of a cruel and better-than-thou attitude, I came to see that the Christian version of the saying ought to be “There, BY the grace of God, do I go.” It has since become much easier to love God and all others: the lovable and the unlovable, the good and the bad, my friends and my “enemies.”

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