May 21, 2024

True Orthodox Diocese of Western Europe

Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC)

Saint Philaret as an Archimandrite in Harbin, 1939

Man’s primary responsibility in relation to God is love for Him. This love was commanded in the Old Testament where it was said: “Love the Lord, thy God, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5). In the New Testament, the ford Jesus Christ said that “this is the first and greatest commandment.”     The Saviour united a second commandment to this primary commandment of God’s Law, which is to love our brother as ourselves. He said that this commandment “resembles” the first. The Holy Church, basing itself upon these words of the Lord, always established the following order in the moral responsibilities of man: the responsibility of man towards himself stands lowest of all. Man should sacrifice self-love for the sake of love towards God and his brother. Love for one’s brother occupies a middle position. It rules over man’s love for himself but in its turn submits to the highest love which is the love of man for God Whom he must love above all.    There are those who would say that a strong love for God hinders and disturbs man’s love for his neighbor. Following this opinion, man must think and care most of all about his responsibilities towards his neighbors, and thereby he will fulfill his obligations in relation to God. People thinking and speaking from this point of view do not see the value of the hermitical life which they consider to be egocentric. A hermit, in their opinion, is a man occupied exclusively with himself and his own salvation and does not think about others at all.    According to the teaching of the Apostle of love, St. John the Theologian, love towards one’s neighbor is an indicator of love for God. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, Whom he hath not seen?” No Christian would deny that in being charitable towards our brother, we serve God by fulfilling His commandment of love. Even less reason is there to think that love for one’s neighbor could suffer through “excessive” love for God. God is love(I John 18:16). Loving God, we transfer ourselves into a higher spiritual atmosphere–an atmosphere of love and a new “breath of life” . The heart of a Christian, filled with such divine love, sends love everywhere, turns its rays of Christian love upon everyone. In this way, contrary to the opinion cited above, man’s love for God not only does not hinder his love for his neighbor but quite the contrary, it confirms and deepens it,    A wonderful explanation of the bond between love for God and love for neighbor is given by Abba Dorotheos, a desert ascetic and Holy Father of the Orthodox Church. It is illustrated in the following manner:

The center of the circle is God, and the points on the circumference are people. The radii connect them with God, and the arcs connect them with each other, As people move towards the center, towards God, they come closer to one another, just as the distance between the radii grows shorter as they approach the center. Man can come closer to God and others only through love. It follows that in loving God, man will certainly also love his neighbor, The same diagram shows that in drawing close to his neighbor, man naturally draws closer to God. Thus, there are these two kinds of Christian love which are indissolubly and intimately tied to each other.

   In the history of Christian ascetics, we constantly read of men and women ablaze with love for God, who left the world with its temptations. They did this by the command of the Apostle of Love who said, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). It is wrong to think that they renounced love for people in the world. No, they themselves repeatedly indicated that they did not run away from people but from the sin spilling over the world, from the temptations of a sinful worldly life. They love their brothers who remained in the world immeasurably more than those living in the world who participated in its sins. We must not forget that the seclusion of these ascetics was always filled with prayer and that Christian prayer is not only for oneself but also for others. From the life of St. Pachomius the Great, born in the city of Alexandria, we have the following incident. While in the desert he learned that his homeland was plagued by famine and epidemics. The Saint spent three days in tears and did not eat even that meager food he usually allowed himself. His disciples pleaded with him to fortify himself by partaking of some food, but St. Pachomius replied: “How can I eat when my brothers do not have bread!” What a sign of co-suffering love. How far from his example are even the best of us!    The love of a Christian for God is not only the height of his moral ascension but also the foundation of his spiritual being. Without love, there can be no spiritual life, no virtue, and all spiritual struggles are useless. The highest service of Christian love, the service of the priesthood, can only exist in one who loves Christ. Not without reason did the Saviour, in summoning Apostle Peter to preach, ask him, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” (John 21:15). Christianity is a religion of love: “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples if ye have love one to another,” said the Lord. Here, the discussion is not only about mutual Christian love of people for each other, but even more, about filial love and a child’s devotion to Him, Whom the Holy Gospel constantly calls “Our Heavenly Father”. That is why the basis of a genuinely Christian life in man is a heart not only having faith in God but also a child’s devotion to Him, penetrated by a sincere attraction to Him as towards a loving and dearly beloved Father.

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