On Loving Your Enemy


From Fr. Sophrony: However wise, learned, noble a man may be, if he does not love his enemies – that is, love his every fellow-being – he has not attained to God. Contrariwise, however simple, poor and ignorant a man may be, if he carries this love in his heart, then ‘he dwelleth in God and God in him.’

A question was recently raised in our conversations about what exactly constitutes an enemy. I think the simplest answer is: “anyone we do not love as God loves.” That is the broadest way of stating the issue. Were it weakened to mean only those people whom I actively hate, we would find apathy and an unfeeling heart falsely supplying us with a sense that we have fewer enemies than is the case, or that we are further along the road to Christ than we are.

I once had a woman in a class I was teaching to ask, “What if you do not have any enemies?” This was a class I was teaching for the general public. Most of those participating were not Orthodox Christians – not that this mattered with regard to the question.

My answer was straightforward: “Do you ever go to Church?” She looked puzzled. I explained that if she would become actively involved in a Church she would soon have plenty of enemies. 🙂 Though I said this somewhat light-heartedly, I meant it in all seriousness. It is easy to love humanity (a generalization that means almost nothing). What is hard is to actually love another person. Life in the Church, at the very least, is a kind requirement of our loving God, to rescue us from the delusion we would create for ourselves had we not the daily trials and temptations of life in a real Church.

Church nurtures and feeds me – but it also gives me all of the struggles required to gain my soul – to “work out my salvation.” As far as I can tell from listening to the members of my parish, and occasionally those from others, we have plenty of things to work on – all of us.

These simple facts should cause us to daily give thanks for all whom we know (and many whom we know not). We should give thanks with the sure and certain knowledge that they are not accidents in our lives – but deliberate acts of a loving God.

We should not blame others for the struggles we must endure – for they often have little knowledge of the struggles they have created for us – and to blame them would be to deny God credit for what He Himself has done. God does not tempt any man, the Scriptures tell us. Thus we should not look at those around us as though they were placed there for our temptation. They are a gift from God, and we should be confident of that. We should give thanks, pray for all, and be aware of just how lacking we are in grace such that we find others irritating or problematic. God is not only aware of all this – He meant it to be so. You cannot go from where we began (in bondage to sin) to where we are destined (utter union with Christ) without encountering many people who will require of us much prayer, and all the grace we can obtain.

Who is my enemy? Almost everyone I know – myself most of all.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





15 responses to “On Loving Your Enemy”

  1. […] din limba engleză şi adaptare de Pr. Drd. Dorin Octavian Picioruş. Cf: sursa. Published […]

  2. design101 Avatar

    Knowing that one does not love others as one should results in a difficult feeling of utter failure. How does one continue on in the work of Christ with joy, knowing that one has failed?

  3. Lucas Avatar

    Father, bless-

    Whenever I’m reminded of what you’ve said it reminds me to repent. The difficulty I have is in maintaining this change of heart–maintaining the self-emptying love toward those with whom we should commune in love daily–in the post-office line, in traffic, etc. (I think it was Chekov who said that any idiot can survive a catastrophe, it takes a hero to face the day-to-day; bad paraphrase, I’m sure)

    The question is, how do we keep before us the realization of all others as icons of Christ and therefore those who are to be deeply loved and cherished? With me this is impossible; with Christ, I know this is possible. Thank you always, Father, for your counsel and for this blog.

    pray for me, a sinner.

  4. Fatherstephen Avatar


    We’re Christians not motivational speakers. Repentance is the mode of our existence in Christ. I’m not down on me, I am trusting in Christ. My joy should not be in my successes. That’s just not right. We should rejoice in Christ. He is my success. He is my joy. If I delight in Him, I will know peace, and many will be saved. I continue in the work for Christ because I know that Christ will succeed (I don’t think I like that word).

  5. Kellen Avatar

    This is interesting, as it fits in very well with something I heard just last night about how the Fall put us at enmity with God, nature, others and ourselves. It didn’t occur to me that the “enmity” means, in essence, that I am an enemy of everyone and everything, including myself. I can affirm that it certainly feels that way in my daily life.

    So would the word “enemy” and “neighbor” be, in a sense, interchangeable? I’m thinking of the passages where Christ commands us to love our enemies…perhaps those statements are no different from the commands to love our neighbor.

  6. John S. Bell Avatar

    “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” G. K. Chesterton

  7. Adam Avatar

    “My joy should not be in my successes. That’s just not right. We should rejoice in Christ. He is my success. He is my joy. If I delight in Him, I will know peace, and many will be saved.”

    Amen to that. I’m beginning to realize however that it takes a lifetime, which isn’t a bad thing. For me, the hardest thing is finding joy after my failures. My grandfather, God rest his soul, once said that God judges us not on how successful we are, but how hard we try. Loving my enemy makes me have to try harder.

  8. Father Ronald Avatar
    Father Ronald

    Re: “We’re Christians, not motivational speakers…”

    What you wrote in that comment highlights what I believe to be one of the most subtle and yet destructive tendencies in the Christian life: To focus on self. It’s subtlety lies in the fact that it is a pious self-centeredness. We want to live well for God, we want to do His work, we want to suceed in the Christ-life. These holy aspiriations can, and most of the time are, corrupted and tainted by worldly visions of what it means to “succeed” or “live well.”

    Eugene Peterson writes of the subtle shift in thinking that often happens in Christians whereby we no longer see ourselves as entering into the work God is eternally doing and instead seeking how we can use God in the work WE are doing for Him.

    Truly we must “be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He prowls especially near to those who would live a life of repentance and devotion. And he’s hardly ever obvious.

  9. Jason Avatar

    Re: [Quote] What you wrote in that comment highlights what I believe to be one of the most subtle and yet destructive tendencies in the Christian life: To focus on self [End Quote].

    How does this square with Orthodox spirituality that tells us to look inward (for example, Fr. Bloom’s teaching on prayer)?

  10. maximus daniel greeson Avatar

    Thank you for responding to my question. In reading some of Archimandrite Sophrony during my visit to Holy Cross Monastery I was especially convicted of these things. Thank God for repentance, and for the gift of His Holy Spirit.

  11. Lucas Avatar


    When Metr. ANTHONY writes that we should look inward, he is talking about entering the Heart where we meet Christ. Ultimately, this is not a form of narcissistic self-contemplation, but a union with Him in the true center of our being.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think I did not write fairly or completely enough with Design101’s question. I think they are two separate things, really. Our failures before Christ are something we need to deal with on their on with Him. We’ll never get anywhere trying to relate to God on the basis of success, because it doesn’t even work here with other people. Instead there is a healing of the heart where we can bear failure in His presence and discover in that His cross as well and His joy with us, despite our failures.

    Loving our enemies, or failing to love them, is something to be wrestled with in a different way, I think. But I do know that we’ll not love our enemies by trying to love them. It requires a true change in our heart, which, I suppose, is related to the other matter. But this is truly grace at work in our lives, healing us.

  13. Roland Avatar

    As a stickler for semantic precision, I’m not comfortable with this broad use of enemy. My feelings, attitudes, or actions towards a person do not determine his status as an enemy. My enemy, rather, is one who intends ill toward me.

    I am sometimes annoyed by the unthinking actions of my friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners – and I’m sure the feeling is often mutual. But that doesn’t make us enemies. Imperfect love is not the same as enmity.

    I am conscious of this because I once had the misfortune to have a real enemy – an evil one, at that. My previous career was systematically sabotaged by my deputy office director, who needed a downsizing victim. It wasn’t personal – she placed lesser obstacles in the career paths of a number of my friends for no obvious reason – but it was intentional and unprovoked. Worst of all, in order to get me to qo quietly, she tried enlist my own modesty against me by twisting it into feelings of incompetence. (If she had not slipped up once she might even have succeeded.)

    Praying for her was a real struggle – but it was worth the effort. Through trying to find a way to pray for her, I even gained a small amount of empathy with her – not love, but a small step in the right direction.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’ll grant you the point – there is a difference. But, sin being a pernicious as it is, I have seen people develope antipathies as strong as the enemy example you gave even within very convivial settings. It’s just the work of The Enemy. I broaden the term, as is done in many spiritual writings within the Church, lest we think we have no enemies, and now love them all. Minor irritations are, of course, petty. But Judas betrayed Christ for mere money, a very petty thing. The petty stuff will gradually poison the soul (Judas, we are told, had been a thief for a while as he held the common purse). We battle even the small stuff on a daily basis, lest it battle us big in the end.

  15. Kevin Avatar

    Regarding the difficulties of loving our enemies, perhaps a piece of advice given by C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity” might help a bit:

    “Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor (or enemy); act as if you did.”

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