The Greatest of These is Love

“God is Love. He who abides in love abides in God and God in him”(1 John 4:17), thunders Saint John, the Apostle of love. Love is the most beautiful flower within the garden of virtues. It is the most vivid color within the rainbow of Heaven. It is the most precious pearl on the crown of faith. It is the key that opens all the doors of human relations. It is the medicine that cures every illness. It is the national anthem of Paradise.

A certain Saint would pray with these words: “O Lord, allow me to help others, not for others to help me. Give me the strength to love, not to be loved. Give me the strength to be understanding, not to be understood .” Love – the way it was taught by our Lord Jesus Christ, not the way it is distorted by people – is an expression of sacrifice. It is a “sweet smelling, spiritual aroma.”(Eph. 4: 18)

Love is not measured by what you give, but according to how you give. Love is not stretching out your hand only, but giving your heart as well. If you know how to share with others, then you know how to love “For God loves a cheerful giver”( 2 Cor. 9:7). God loves the merciful person who gives eagerly, with a cheerful face, and on his own accord. The root of charity is found in the heart. It originates from our heart and ends in the palm of our hands. Alms without love is frigid and oppressive. It is a flower lacking beauty and fragrance. For what value does the most exquisite and expensive gift have when it is offered without a genuine smile?

A certain man of God stated, “Each soul who is overcome with love is already a reflection of God.” Love both contains and transmits light. It is simultaneously a carrier and an emitter of light.  “He who loves his brother abides in the light.”(1 John 2:10)

Truly, what good is it to conquer the universe if we cannot conquer our brothers with love. What good it is to explore and discover new galaxies if we do not succeed in finding the ‘Star‘ of Bethlehem, that is, the God of love. What new cosmos are we expecting the telescopes to show us if we remain ignorant of the “new commandment” of love? Without love, all things are pointless, ugly, and futile. “What a misfortune for us to lack love!” exclaims Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk. All of man’s works and achievements acquire value only when they are accompanied by love.

Love overlooks the flaws of our brother. It forgives mistakes. It tolerates bad habits. It gives way to obstinacy. It avoids criticism, it is oblivious to sarcasm. It disperses suspicions. It does not accept slander. It does not pass judgment or debase others publicly. It covers all shortcomings in a polite and brave manner. “Loves suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seeks its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil”(1 Cor. 13:46), thunders the Apostle Paul. Love, through its simplicity and sincerity, is unaware of evil. No fierce wave of evil or deceit can disturb it.

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The person who loves is the greatest victor in the spiritual battle. He wins using a smile and kindness. In other situations, to yield constitutes a defeat; however, concessions made on account of love are a victory. Saint Gregory the Theologian advises: “Let us win using compassion.” Let us not forget that every great love is a crucified love. It carefully walks up all the steps leading to Golgotha. It feels pain, just as Christ suffered while on the Cross. Each offering demands sacrifice, and every sacrifice is valuable.

“Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward”(Matt.10:42), promises the Lord. Love conducts itself with discretion and kindness toward the person who is hungry, who is thirsty, who is a stranger, who is neglected, who is imprisoned, toward every suffering soul. People who are in jail are also our brothers. This is why the divine Apostle Paul orders, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them”(Heb. 13:3).

Each nation has its own national anthem, and so does Christianity. It has the Anthem of Love. May this sweet and melodious hymn constantly be on our lips and in our soul.

~ Elder Ephraim of Arizona

Healing of the Soul

crossA true Christian is made by faith and love toward Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity, according to the word of the Saviour Himself. He deigned to say,”Not the righteous have I come to call, but sinners to salvation; there is more joy in heaven over one who repents then over ninety righteous ones. “Likewise concerning the sinful woman who touched His feet, He said to the Pharisee, “To one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, but from one who has no love, even a small debt will be demanded.” From these judgements a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy, and not in the least accept despair. Here one needs the shield of faith.

Sin, to one who loves God, is nothing other than an arrow from the enemy in battle. The true Christian is a warrior fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy to his heavenly homeland. According to the word of the Apostles. our homeland is in heaven; and about the warrior he says: “Our warfare is not against flesh and blood. but against principalities and powers of wickedness under heaven” (Ephesians 6: 12).

The vain desires of this world separate us from our homeland; love of them and habit clothe our soul in an unwelcome garment. We, traveling on the journey of this life and calling on God to help us, ought to be divesting ourselves of this garment and clothing ourselves in new desires, in a  new love of the age to come. But it is not possible to do this quickly;  rather one must follow the example of sick people, who, wishing the desired health, do not leave off seeking means to cure themselves.

~ Saint Herman of Alaska

Wisdom in Creation

Everywhere I look, I see and contemplate God’s wisdom and goodness. With what wisdom everything is created, and how harmonious is the whole earthly sphere! The Holy Church sings, ‘How marvelous are Thy works O Lord, in wisdom hast Thou made them all.’  Thy works are marvelous Lord, everywhere I see Thy creative hand.

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I look at the sun and see it shedding light like a golden plate and warming the whole globe. And what numbers of animals abound in the forest, each with it own characteristics. The horse is so large and yet it obeys man; the Lord created it to help man. And the cow eats hay and makes nourishing milk for man. And the meek lamb, how much good it does for man. We get coats, socks, and much more. I look at the bird kingdom. it is simply marvelous, how decorative they are and what variety of species. And in the earth what a variety of worms and insects; there are even worms that shine at night like lights. I look at the ant and wonder at its labors, it exposes my laziness. And the wise bee gathers such sweet honey for man from the different flowers. And look in the water; there is the special kingdom of fish, how many different species; all live and move according to God’s purpose. I come into the forest and wonder at every tree and rise and I consider the Almighty Creator.

~ Father John of Valaamo

Grace is nothing less than the Divine Energies of God Himself. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” There is no existence that is not a grace-filled existence. Even the demons are sustained by the grace of God because nothing other than God has self-existence. Nothing could continue to exist if it were not maintained in that existence by God. It is maintained by nothing less than the grace of God.

When all is said and done, our salvation will be accomplished by the same grace that makes the grass grow and the sun to shine. That it does not immediately transform us into gods at this moment is simply the work of our own resistance to grace. One of the saints said, “If a man so willed it, he could be deified in a single day.” This, of course, would not be because of the force of the human will, but because of the super abundance of grace that is available to us at every moment.

~

Fr. Stephen Freeman

Disenchanted World

I don’t want to live in a disenchanted world!

Disenchanted is the word used by certain writers to describe that aspect of the modern world which is characterized by a sense of the absence of the sacred. Histories and cultures affirm that people of earlier eras and even some other present day cultures have experienced the world around them as charged with divine power. But the viewpoint conveyed to modern man seems to simply experience the world as inert. There is nothing there.

This experience was captured by the writer J .R.R Tolkien in his hints of the end of Middle Earth in his famous cycle of stories. The world is changing he says. The “Elves are heading West,” leaving the world of men behind. The Age of Elves and their companionship  w1th man is coming to an end and the Age of Men on their own is beginning. The idea is that with the departing Elves, the world of magic and mystery, perhaps even sacredness, is leaving as well. The forces at work in the world have now become those generated by man himself alone. This is, of course,Tolkien’s mythic tale, but still it echoes a sense of the world view we have inherited. And the forward march of disenchantment has not ceased.enchanted-wood

But I don’t want to live in a disenchanted world!

How do Christians living in the age of disenchantment begin again to see the world as sacrament? Can the world, once disenchanted ever be restored to its former wonder?

St. Philaret of Moscow describes the true enchantment well: All creatures are balanced upon the creative word of God, as if upon a bridge of diamond; above them is the abyss of the divine infinitude, below them that of their own nothingness.

In other words every existing element of creation shimmers with being, standing as sheer miracle in its very existence. The disenchantment of the world is a spiritual failure to see this truth of existence. Wonder has been exchanged for weariness and the mystical metamorphosed into the mundane. But who would characterize this as a good trade? The battle is not with our eyes but with our hearts. The failure of wonder hardens the heart, destroying our capacity for giving thanks. The desert father Saint Pambo said, “If you have a heart you can be saved.” The well known writer of our time, Father Alexander Schmemann, said, “Anyone capable of giving thanks is capable of salvation.” The giving of thanks, the eucharistic existence (because the word eucharist means thanksgiving) is at every moment the true apprehension of the universe and its relationship with God. And it is the wondrous, sustaining grace of God that is the ground of all thanksgiving. We can remember that “Everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator.” Such is the true nature of things; or, as an Orthodox hymn describes it, “the truth of things, if only we have the eyes of faith to see it.”(Patriarch Bartholomew)

We can follow the instructions of the saints. Saint Porphyrios for example says, “Take delight in the things that surround us. All things around us are droplets of the love of God, both things animate and inanimate. They are little loves through which we attain to the great Love that is Christ. We all walk past a flower at some point. Flowers have their own grace. They speak to us of the love of God. They scatter their fragrance and their beauty on sinners and on the righteous. Beautiful moments predispose the soul to prayer. When something lovely inspires you, don’t leave things at that, but go beyond this to give thanks and glory so that you experience Him who is Beauty. All things can enrich us, all can lead us to the great Love, all can lead us to Christ.”

Perhaps the Elves have left our world a long time ago. And perhaps from where any of us stand and live today our perceptions have been deeply damaged by the disenchantment of the age, still even now, even we, can begin again to catch the occasional glimpse of an Elven footprint.