Every night, as part of compline in the Byzantine rite, we pray for those who hate us and those who love us.
I find that it’s easy to pray for those who love me, although because the list is so short it’s extremely humbling. Extending the list by praying for friends, family members, and those who have been kind to me at least gives me more than a few for whom to pray.
Praying for those who hate me, however, is another matter.
You may think that no one actually hates you, but if you examine your life carefully you will find, as I have, that there are plenty of persons out there with reason to feel animosity and hostility toward you, who may detest you, or who at the very least dislike you, perhaps intensely.
I divide the camp of those who hate me into two. One consists of those who have reason to hate me because I truly have caused them harm in some way. The other consists of those who hate me wrongly and who, as a result, actually have harmed me in some way.
As with those who love me, it’s relatively easy, although often painful, to pray for those who have reason to hate me. This list of persons is very long. The length is disheartening, and the reasons for the hatred of these persons painful.
Without even giving much thought to it, I could list at least fifty persons I believe I’ve harmed in my life, with most on this list from my twenties to forties, and this would merely be a start. Angry outbursts, arguments, selfishness on my part, unkind words are the least of my sins against these persons.
I pray for God’s forgiveness and pray that they have forgiven my sin or offense, even if they do not specifically remember me or it.
Praying for those who hate me wrongly, however, is far more difficult and truly a struggle. When I was an English professor, my very existence caused some to be hostile toward me. This was especially true of students.
I began teaching in the 1980s and taught my last class about five years ago. Something changed in the 1990s. During that decade I began to encounter a greater number of students who believed that they deserved an “A” just because they came to class and turned in work, regardless of the quality of their work and whether or not they had actually done the work. If you challenged them, some became angry, some hostile, and others vindictive. Over the years this became more prevalent.
Students weren’t the only problem. Some professors were so eager to be liked by students that they did all the could to denigrate and disparage colleagues.
Some days I have to pray intensely to quell the anger I feel toward these students and professors. I do this by recalling my own sins against others, seeking to remove the plank in my eye rather than complaining of the splinter in theirs. I remind myself that while I might be wrongly hated by some, plenty of others in the world have cause to hate me.
The Lord instructs: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). The apostles clearly had enemies who sought to persecute them, and this may be true for some of us as Christians. Each of us, however, does have someone who dislikes us, or hates us. They are, in that sense, our enemies.
“The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned of God’s grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every living thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us.”
I believe that this extends to those who hate or dislike us. And so, with the help of God’s grace, we must pray for them. Better, though, if our prayer leads to our loving them. As St. Silouan writes:
“If you pray for your enemies, peace will come to you, but when you can love your enemies – know that a great measure of the grace of God dwells in you, though I do not say perfect grace as yet, but sufficient for salvation.”