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. Demetrios)
My parents always told me that “hate” is a strong word. It is the opposite of love. Jesus told us to love one another, which is reinforced in John 15:17, the first verse of today’s Gospel. I suppose there are various degrees of not loving. There is liking (but not loving something or someone), there is neutrality, dislike, strong dislike, indifference, disdain and finally hate. I’m sure there are a few more that I left out. Suffice it to say, that in the very next verse, after reminding us to love one another, Jesus goes to the other extreme immediately. And He talks about hatred that will eventually be directed towards His followers.
In clamoring for His death on the cross, the crowd was not neutral, disliking, indifferent or disdaining. They were bloodthirsty and hateful. We read this Gospel on the feast of St. Demetrios (and on a few other days) not for us to meditate on hatred juxtaposed to love but to emphasize to us that our Christianity will not always make us popular, it will cause people to dislike or even hate us and that genuine Christianity comes with a price. It also comes with a reward.
The world today is really starting to hate Christians. In parts of the world, terrorists are actually killing Christians. They are doing the VERY thing Jesus talks about in John 16:2, they are thinking that their killing of Christians is offering some kind of service to their god.
In our country, Christians are looked upon with increasing disdain. In a politically correct society, it is becoming harder and harder to proclaim love for a God who is politically incorrect. People are trying to construct a god that fits their own beliefs and challenging those who won’t shift their beliefs in God to match into who they believe God should be.
I often wonder if they day is going to come when I walk around Tampa with my black shirt and collar and people will look at me as representing everything that is “wrong” with society. Since Christianity is now becoming synonymous with bigotry and narrow-mindedness.
I chose to write on this Gospel lesson not to make a political statement—I work hard to keep politics off the prayer team—but to point out that being an authentic Christian is hard. Never mind politics (like standing up for “traditional” marriage)—what kind of blow-back would the star athlete and his/her family get for skipping a game to attend church on a Sunday. Christ tells us that those who hated Him will hate us too. That being a Christian may result in persecution.
However, He also tells us that He will send us the Holy Spirit to be with us, to comfort and guide us, to keep us from falling away. Indeed the Lord tells us in Psalm 68:35, “The God of Israel, He gives power and strength to His people.”
A wise priest once told me, if you never get persecuted for your faith, you have to wonder how strong your faith or Christian witness is. Because there will come a moment (or probably more than one) where you’ll have to stand up for Christ and where being a Christian is going to cost you something. It cost Christ His life. It will cost each Christian something. The challenge is to remain authentic in the face of “persecution,” and to remain steadfast and faithful even when it’s not popular.
Being an authentic Christian won’t always make us friends. However, it will lead to an eternal reward—this is our hope!
Let us honor the man who by lances inherited the grace from the Savior’s side that was pierced by the lance, and from which the Savior pours out for us streams of life and incorruption; Demetrios, who was most wise in his teachings, and with the Martyrs wears a wreath of victory. He finished the course of his contest through blood, and through miracles he became illustrious throughout the world. He was zealous for the Master, and a compassionate lover of the poor; many a time the defender of the people of Thessalonika in many a dread danger. As we celebrate his yearly memorial, we glorify Christ God, who through him works healings for all.
(Doxastikon of Orthros, Feast of St. Demetrios, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Be faithful to your Christian call today, even if it’s unpopular!