Saint John of Kronstadt was a parish priest who was intensely familiar with interpersonal problems between relatives, neighbors, and friends. In the following passages from My Life In Christ, he describes the Christian way of responding to those who hurt us. Hopefully you are not surprised that he does not advise you to get revenge or hurt your enemies. A key marker of Christian advancement is loving your enemies, which very few (myself included) are capable of doing. Maybe his words will convict you as they did me.
Do not be confused and angry when anybody lies to your face, or expresses any unjust grievances, or speaks offensively, or boldly detects any of your weakness or passions, the wrongfulness of which, through your self-love, you did not suspect. Always first calmly reflect over your opponent’s words, as well as your own words and conduct, and if, after an entirely impartial consideration of your own words and actions, you find them just, then let your conscience be at rest and do not heed the words of your accuser, either remaining silent before him, or indicating his error quietly, gently, in all kindness of heart. However, should you find yourself guilty of that which your adversary indicated in you, then, putting aside self-love and pride, ask pardon for your fault and endeavor to correct yourself in future. We are often angry with straightforward, frank people for openly disclosing our iniquities. Instead, we should value such people and forgive them, if by their bold speaking they offend our self-love. They are, in a moral sense, the surgeons who cut off the gangrene of the heart with a sharp word, and by arousing our self-love, they awaken a consciousness of sin and a vital response in the soul deadened by sin.
Brother, do you feel deadly anger in your heart against your neighbor, are you tormented by evil thoughts from the offenses he causes you? Here is a way to save yourself from this inner torment. Call to mind the countless multitude of your own sins, and vividly imagine how the Master of your life bears with you, how He daily, endlessly forgives you your sins if you pray to Him sincerely. And you do not wish to forgive your neighbor a few fits of passion excited in him by the devil! Sigh, weep if you can at your own foolishness, condemn yourself only, not your neighbor in any way, and the Lord will forgive you. Your inner constraint will vanish like smoke your thoughts will become clear, your heart will become calm, and you will again walk in freedom of heart. Train yourself to be so meek that you simply do not hear, reproaches, calumny, affronts, as if they were heard by somebody quite different, or by your shadow.
What a beautiful, peaceful, safe thing it is for us to forgive the sins of those who sin against us or offend us! As soon as we forgive, we feel at peace. You were offended? What of it? It is good to insult your old, carnal man, who is self-loving, proud, irritable, envious, lazy, avaricious, who greatly offends God.
Do not be irritated with him who holds grudges against you and repeatedly wounds you by finding fault with you, but be compassionate to him and love him, saying: It is not he or she that is so full of malice against me, but it is the devil who rages against me through them, and they themselves, poor creatures, are only tempted by him. As soon as this temptation ceases, they will be kind again.
We must love our neighbor even more when he sins against God or against ourselves, because then he is sick, because then he is in spiritual misfortune and danger, then, especially, we must have compassion upon him, pray for him, and apply to his heart a protective bandage—a word of kindness, instruction, reproval, consolation, forgiveness, love. “Forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32). All sins and passions, quarrels and disputes, are truly spiritual diseases—that is how we must look upon them. All passions are a fire of the soul, a great, raging internal fire, a fire coming from the abyss of hell. It must be extinguished by the water of love, which is strong enough to extinguish every diabolical flame of malice and other passions.
You’re no better than your enemy, who was made in the image of God
You say that your friend has sins and great defects? So do you. You say that you do not love him because of such and such sins and defects. Then you should stop loving yourself as well, because you have the same sins and defects as he has… you must be compassionate with Christian love in every possible way to the faults of your neighbor, you must cure him of his wickedness, his spiritual infirmity (for every coldness, every passion is an infirmity) with love, kindness, meekness, humility, as you yourself would wish to receive from others when you suffer from a similar infirmity. For who is not subject to infirmity?
When I look at the faces of others, I see my own face, for we are all one, created by God from one single man, from the same blood, and we are all made in the image of God. Therefore, we must look at all purely, without suspicion or hatred, with no anger or cunning or avarice, but with pure, godly love.
You are disfigured and impure
Pay no attention to the physical beauty of your face, but instead look attentively with your inner vision at the face of your soul. Is it disfigured by the passions? If it is, destroy this disfigurement through prayer and tearful repentance. Pay no attention to beautiful clothes. They are corruption! Instead, consider the incorruptible raiment of your soul, in what state it is. Is it hideous and impure, owing to frequent transgressions, both secret and evident? If so, strive to clothe your soul in the imperishable beautify of meekness, humility, chastity, purity, mercy, and righteousness.
Stop judging your brother
You become angry with your neighbor, your brother, and you say, “He is such a miser, malicious, proud,” or he has done this and that, and so on. What is that to you? He sins against God, not against you. God is his Judge, not you. He shall have to answer for himself before God, not to you. Know yourself, how sinful you are, what a beam you have in your own eye! Know how difficult it is for you to master your own sins, how afflicted you are by them, how they have ensnared you, how you wish for condescension from others toward your own infirmities.
People can feel it when you hate them
Our inward disposition, even when unexpressed by outward signs, strongly affects the inward disposition of others. This happens all the time, but not everyone notices it. Let us suppose that I am angry, or that I have unkind thoughts about someone; he feels it, and unwittingly begins to have unkind thoughts about me. There is a certain communication between our souls, separate from our physical senses.
Struggle against your irritation and anger
Anger or any other passion that takes root in the heart has a tendency, according to the inexorable law of evil, to discharge itself visibly. This is why it is usually said of an angry or irritated person that he has “taken it out” on someone. This is the problem with evil—it does not remain in the heart, but forces its way out. From this, it should be already obvious that the lord of evil is very powerful and has a wide domain over which he reigns.
…how many of us become irritated and lose our tempers when we are deprived, not of our last coin, but only of some small part of our property, nowhere near to total deprivation! How much agitation, anger, malice, bitter reproaches, complaints, sometimes even curses! Righteous God! Can this dross we call money, or this food and drink, produce such storms in our Christians souls, in us who know the words of our sweetest Saviour?
Anger is the devil. The instant you begin to feel angry with your neighbor, the devil is already in you, penetrating you like a needle, and striving to become a mountain inside you, so quickly does he spread, and so heavy is he! Therefore, love God and your neighbor constantly. Do not admit enmity into your heart, even for a single moment, considering it demonic delusion.
Never think of yourself as a good person
When the foolish thought of counting up any of your good works enters into your head, immediately correct your fault and rather count up your sins, your continual and innumerable offenses against the All-merciful and Righteous Master, and you will find that their number is as great as the number of grains of sand in the sea, while your virtues in comparison with them are as nothing.
If the above words from My Life In Christ came from a monk, some Christians would howl: “We can’t all be monks! Our Gospel is different!” But when it comes to loving our enemies, they would be incorrect, because nothing that Saint John taught is impossible for those living in the world with children, full-time jobs, and wireless internet. It’s a sign of our weakness that we are quick to dispel with edifying though difficult advice because we want to continue loving ourselves and our modern pleasures, but there is only one Gospel that we must all follow. While monks can adhere to it more intensely than those living in the world, Saint John was a married parish priest who lived in the city. What is my excuse for retaining my anger and self-love instead of doing what he prescribes?
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