Love Thy Neighbour

  • What can be sweeter and more beautiful than the love of a neighbour? Love is bliss, and hatred - torment. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments: Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and love thy neighbour as thyself (Mt 22:40). Love for one's neighbour is the road that leads to God, for Christ, in His mercy, mysteriously came in the flesh of every one of our neighbours, and in Christ, God (1 Jn). Do not think, beloved brother, that the commandment of love is as close to our fallen heart as it should be, for the commandment is of the Spirit, while our heart is of flesh and blood; the commandment is new, while our heart is old. Our fall harmed our inborn love. Christ tells us to kill it and find a sacred love for our neighbour - the love in Christ.
  • Find it we shall in the Gospel. New man ought to have all his qualities new. No old qualities become him. The love that comes of blood and carnal sensations has no value before the Gospel. Can it have any value if, when our blood is hot, we swear to give our soul for the Lord, and several hours later, in cool blood, we swear that we know Him not (Mt 26:33, 35, 74)? The Gospel rejects the love that comes with the current of blood and the feelings of our fleshly heart. It says: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household (Mt 10:34-36). The fall subdued our heart to our blood and, through blood, to the Evil One. The Gospel frees our heart from this bondage and brings it to the Holy Ghost to guide it. The Holy Ghost teaches us to love our neighbour with a sacred love. The love lit and kindled by the Holy Ghost is a fire. This fire extinguishes the fire of carnal love, made sinful by our fall (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Pt. XV, Ch. 3). "He who says that he can have both loves is lying to himself," says St. John Climacus (Ladder, Pt. III, Ch. 16). Our nature is fallen, so he who is capable of ardent love for his neighbour must make the utmost effort to love him the way the Gospel tells us to love. The strongest carnal love may easily turn into violent abhorrence and hatred (2 Sam 13:15). Carnal love may find its expression in a dagger blow. Wounds cover our carnal love. The most painful of these wounds is prejudice, for a prejudiced heart is capable of any act of injustice and violation of the law - everything to satisfy its morbid love. A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is His delight (Prov 11:1). Carnal love brings only earthly boons to the beloved. The sacred is none of its concern. It rebels against heaven and the Holy Ghost, for the Spirit demands the mortification of the flesh. It rebels against heaven and the Holy Ghost, for the Evil One guides it.
  • Open the Gospel, my beloved brother, and look in it as in a mirror. Look and take off the tattered garments which the fall has put on you. Put on the new attire prepared for you by the Lord! Christ is this new attire. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3:27). The Holy Ghost is this new attire. Ye be endued with power from on high, the Lord says of it (Lk 24:49). Christians put on the qualities of Christ by the mercy of the Spirit. This attire is offered to all Christians. Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, says the Apostle (Rom 13:14). Let the Gospel guide you and put off hostility, rancour, wrath, evil judgment and everything else hostile to love. The Gospel tells us to pray for our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good unto those who hate us, and forgive whatever is done against us. If to imitate Christ is your goal, try to follow these commandments in deed. It does not suffice to read the Gospel with delight, and become amazed at the lofty morals that you find in its commandments. We can only regret that too many think this sufficient. When you follow the Gospel commandments, the rulers of your heart will resist with desperation. These rulers are your carnal self, which leaves you in the subjection of your flesh and blood, and the fallen spirits who hold sway over man in his carnal state. Your fleshly reason with its truth, and the truth of the fallen spirits will tell you that you should not scorn your honour and other temporal benefits but defend them. But, guided by the Gospel, by the Lord Himself, you will come out victorious from this unseen combat. Sacrifice your all to follow the Gospel commandments. You will be unable to follow them unless you make this sacrifice. Said the Lord to His disciples: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself (Mt 16:24). When God is with you, hope for victory: the Lord can never be vanquished.
  • Pray God for victory with prayers constant and tearful - and grace will descend unto your heart all of a sudden. You will feel the inimitable sweetness of spiritual love for your enemies. Another combat awaits you. You will need all your courage for it. Look at the things you love - do you like and admire them? Is your heart attached to them? Then, renounce them! The Lord, the Maker of the law of love, demands this renunciation - not to deprive you of love and your loved ones, but for you to renounce carnal love, to which sin is admixed, and be open to spiritual love, pure and holy. No other bliss is comparable to that which it gives. He who knows the love of the Spirit, will abhor carnal love - a love disfigured. To renounce the things you love, which have become part of your heart, say to the Lord: "They are yours, O Lord. Who am I? A feeble creature of no importance. "I am a wanderer on this earth today, and I can be of use to my loved ones. Tomorrow I may disappear from its face, and I shall be as nothing unto them. "Death comes whether I like it or not. Other things may come to tear me off from those I considered my own - and they are no longer mine. In essence, they were never mine. There was a connection between us. Deluded by it, I thought and called them mine, while, if they were really mine, they would stay with me forever. "Creatures belong to the Creator alone; He is their Lord and Master. I give thine own unto Thee, O Lord. I was wrong to call them mine." It is safer for them to be the Lord's.
  • The Lord is eternal, omnipotent and omnipresent, and boundless is His mercy. To those who belong to Him He is the truest and the best Helper and Protector. In His mercy, God gives to man out of His own, and man grows attached to other men and women - in the flesh for a time, in the Spirit for ever and ever. True love for one's neighbour rests on belief in God. It is in God. That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us, said the Saviour to His Father (Jn 17:21).
  • Humility and devotion to God kill carnal love - which means that it lives on disbelief and pride. Do to your loved ones whatever good deeds you can and what the law allows you, but always entrust them to God. So your blind fleshly love will, step by step, turn into a prudent and spiritual love - the holy love. But if your love is illicit, renounce it for the abomination it is. If your heart is fettered, this is the sign of prejudice. If your heart is in bondage, this is the sign of a passion sinful and insane. Holy love is free and pure. It is wholly in God. It is made by the Holy Ghost, who takes hold of your heart as it is purified. Renounce enmity, prejudice and carnal love to attain spiritual love; depart from evil, and do good (Ps 34:14). Revere your neighbour as the image of God. This reverence of your soul will be invisible to others, and known to your conscience alone. Let your deeds secretly follow the laws of your soul. Treat your neighbour with respect, age, sex and estate notwithstanding - and holy love will dawn on your heart. Not flesh and blood and feeling but God is the source of this love. Those deprived of the glory of Christianity at birth are not deprived of the other glory, received during Creation: they are made in the image and likeness of God. If the image of God is thrown into the flames of hell, even there shall I revere him. What do I care of hell, with its flames! Cast into it was an image of God - cast there on God's judgment. My duty is to preserve my reverence of His image and so preserve myself from hell. Be full of reverence whomever you see - a blind man, a leper, a madman, a baby, a criminal, a pagan. They all are images of God. What do you care of their vice and affliction! Be on your guard so that you were not found wanting of love. In a Christian, revere Christ, Who said: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me (Mt 25:40). Remember these words when you communicate with your neighbour, and you will have the love of your neighbour.
  • He who is endowed with this love finds love of God. But if you think that you love God, while enmity at least to one man or woman lives in your heart, you are deplorably deluded. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. ...And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 Jn 4:20-21). Spiritual love of one's neighbour is the sign of a soul revived by the Holy Ghost: We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death (1 Jn 3:14). The perfection of Christianity lies in the perfect love of one's neighbour. The perfect love of one's neighbour is in the love of God - a love which knows no perfection and no end. The road to perfect love of God is endless, for God is love (1 Jn 4:16), and God is infinite. The love for one's neighbour is the foundation stone of the mansion of love.
  • My beloved brother, seek spiritual love for your neighbour within yourself. When you enter it, you will enter the love of God, the gates of the Resurrection, the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

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    St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas