“This I command you, to love one another. If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It is to fulfil the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’ But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
John 15: 17-27: 16:1-2 (Gospel from the Feast of St. Panteleimon)
Perhaps the most prominent trait of the devout Christian is how he or she handles hate. Everyone who is a genuine Christian at some point will not only be disliked, or tolerated. Genuine Christians, Christ tells us, will actually be hated for their faith. I know that over the course of my life, there are people who have actually hated me. And I also know that I haven’t always met hate with love. Every time I have felt “hated” I have felt the urge to hate back. And I confess, that in certain instances, I have hated back. It is one of my struggles.
I am happy to say that as I get older, I don’t feel as hated as often for my Christianity. I remember two instances in college when I felt hated because of the choice I made to follow Christ. I remember two “friends” who were close to the president of the small college I attended. Their parents were friends with him and he promised to look out for them, even giving them keys to his guest house. These two “friends” suggested that we go to the president’s house while he was out of town, and enjoy his pool table and also his bar. I didn’t want to go. I was at that college on scholarship, given personally by the president to me. I wasn’t about to risk my scholarship to have a little fun. I knew what they were asking me to do was wrong, and went against what I believed was honorable and decent. When I said I wasn’t going to participate, they pulled over the car we were riding in and dropped me off on the curb. I had to walk back to campus. They never spoke to me again. At the time, that hurt. Now, I could care less. Losing two “friends” who ended up not being great friends, was better than losing my scholarship and losing my dignity.
The second instance when standing up for Christ cost me dearly was when I actually made the decision to go to the seminary and answer God’s call to the priesthood. I thought for sure that my friends and my professors would rejoice with me in the important and exciting decision I had made. In short order, many of those professors criticized this decision and many of my friends decided they couldn’t be my friends any more. Thankfully, I have made many other friends and answered God’s call for my life, even though it has come at a steep price at times.
Again, I am by no means perfect in returning love for hate. It takes great spiritual maturity to do that each time out, and there are definitely times when I could be more spiritually mature. During those times when I feel hated and alone, today’s Gospel passage give me great comfort. In it Christ reminds us that if He was persecuted, then any and all of His followers will be persecuted. If He was hated, His followers will be as well. He reminds us in John 15:25, that we will be hated, even “without a cause.”
Christ comforts us with words about the “Counselor”, the Holy Spirit, Who will help us in times of persecution, Who will give us the grace to meet hate with love, to meet disappointment with hope, to meet persecution with strength.
Finally, Christ reminds us of the ultimate irony—that there will be instances where people will kill Christ’s followers and think this is actually “offering service to God.” (16:2) In today’s world there have been many attacks against Christians by Muslims who have invoked the name of “Allah” (God) in murdering innocent people. Indeed, killing in the name of God has happened in every generation since the time of Christ.
Saint Panteleimon, who we commemorated yesterday, gave away everything he had for Christ. He gave away all of his wealth to the poor. He gave away all of his time to heal those who were sick. And he gave away his life, choosing to die as a martyr than renounce his faith. We recognize him as a saint because of these sacrifices. He reminds us that we are to freely and joyfully give of what we have. And if called upon to give up our lives for Christ, to be willing to do that as well. Hopefully this is not something that any of us will be called to do. However, it is a certainty that all of us will be hated at some point. We are called at these moments to return love in the face of hate. No, we aren’t likely to be called upon to give up our lives. But we will all be called upon many times to give up our desire to hate and replace it with the challenge to love.
Today, the memorial of the Trophy-bearer has dawned! Come, faithful, let us celebrate it spiritually, and let us crown him with songs. By the power of the Cross, he manfully defeated the invisible enemy. Being unafraid of the boundless torments of the tyrants, he rightly received the prize of his calling from above. Now and forever he rejoices with the angels. O Martyr of Christ, Panteleimon, healer of the sick and harbor in the storm, do not cease to intercede to our merciful God, that He grant salvation to our souls. (Doxastikon of St. Panteleimon, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Say something pleasant to everyone you meet today, even those who hate or are indifferent to you! Say something pleasant to everyone you meet today!