A few weeks back, we were in Serbia and visited the Monastery of the Great Martyr St. Demetrius in Velika Remeta. At the entrance, were greeted by a nun who talked to us about the various icons and saints as we looked through their books. Before we entered the monastery courtyard, she gave us a candle and told us to pray for our enemies. Lenuța said that we don’t have any enemies because when we love our enemies, they are no longer enemies. The nun responded without hesitation with a wisdom that is forged not in academia or in places of power or influence, but rather in prayer and in a secluded monastery – a setting which itself speaks as an act of faith that it is not humanity but God who redeems the world. The nun said, “You may not have enemies, but there may be others who see you as their enemy. Pray for them.” The monastery was beautiful and the monks hospitable, but it was through the words of this nun that God spoke to me and inspired me that day.
It is not easy to pray for our enemies as Jesus calls his followers to do. We are forced to uncomfortable introspection, asking, “Why do we hate another?” But the other side of this question, the one that this nun raised is even more disturbing and even subversive: “Why do they hate us?”
Remember, I was visiting a monastery in Serbia, a country recently wracked by the Balkan war and with a long history of violence. On our drive to the monastery, we passed a church that is crowned by a cross standing on top of a crescent – an image that even today evokes the slaughter of the Ottoman Muslims by the Serbian Christians. On the drive out of the monastery, we passed a communication tower that was devastated by NATO’s precision bombing. This was a place where enemies are real and where the scars of violence are deep and readily visible. This was a place where justifying the hating and killing of enemies is not difficult but even expected. Here, the nun’s words are all the more powerful: “Pray for those who see us as their enemy.”