Facing Opposition

Holy Hieromartyr Haralambos
John 15:17-27; 16:1-2

In today’s Gospel we are once more reminded of the challenges that await those who seek to follow Jesus Christ. We are warned of hatred and persecution, and reminded that “the world” will turn against us. We need to understand that Scripture, and especially Saint John’s gospel, uses the word “world” in different ways. On the one hand, the world is created by God and is good. God “so loved the world that He gave His only Son” and He desires that the world should be saved. (John 3:16-17) But, on the other hand, “the world” is also used to signify opposition to Christ and can sometimes be a shorthand for the forces of evil.

Despite God’s overwhelming love for the world, which He calls us to share in, the reality remains that there are those who reject this love and choose to exclude themselves from it. Instead of aligning themselves with God, they choose (whether consciously or not) to side with the Evil One. And so the battle lines become drawn. Just as Jesus is rejected, so we too will face situations in which we must be prepared to be rejected if we are to be faithful to Him.

Yet we are not alone and we will not survive if we try to do it on our own. We are not simply isolated individuals, but are joined together in the Church, which is the living Body of Christ. Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, will be with us in all our trials and will strengthen us as we are called to witness to Him. Whether we face hostility or indifference, it is the Holy Spirit who binds the Church together in unity, enabling us to face whatever challenges we encounter. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons describes the Holy Spirit’s task:

The Lord promised to send the Comforter who would join us to God. For as a compacted lump of dough cannot be formed of dry wheat without liquid, nor can a loaf possess unity, so, in the same way, neither could we, being many, be made one in Christ Jesus without the water from heaven. And as dry earth does not produce fruit unless it receives moisture, in the same way we also, being originally a dry tree, could never have produced life-bearing fruit without the voluntary rain from above.

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The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 15:17-27; 16:1-2:
The Lord said to his disciples: “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 fulfill 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.”