Sunday, October 4, 2015: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost & Second Sunday of Luke
Hieromartyr Hierotheos, bishop of Athens; Hieromartyr Peter of Capitolia in Syria; Martyrs Domnina and her daughters of Syria; Gurios, first archbishop of Kazan and Barsanouphios, bishop of Tver; and Martyrs Stephen (Stiljanovich) and Elizabeth of Serbia
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
Gospel: Luke 6:31-36
“But I say to you,” says the Lord, “love your enemies…do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Matt 5:44).
St Maximus the Confessor writes that Christ commands us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us so He can free us “from hatred, irritation, anger and rancor.” We are commanded to love Maximus says, so that love can free us from sin can make us worthy of “the supreme gift of perfect love.” We “cannot attain such love” unless we “imitate God and love all men equally” (First Century on Charity, 61).
Love then is both the cause and effect of our salvation.
At least in the material realm, cause and effect are generally clear. In the spiritual life, however, cause and effect travel together. As St Maximus tells us, love is both the goal of the spiritual life, and it’s only rule. We are called to love so that we can love; love is simultaneously the road we travel and the destination of our travels.
This means that we need to be attentive to our own experience. I need to ask myself, are my thoughts, words and deeds truly loving? In asking that question I need to pay special attention to the word “truly.” I need to have a standard to test my experience so that I don’t relay myself and my own limited understanding of whether or not what I’m doing is really and truly loving. Good intentions certainly matter but they aren’t enough. I must instead evaluate my experience in light of Holy Tradition; experience, like good intentions, is an insufficient standard for my life in Chirst.
Today we remember the hieromartyr Hierotheos the first bishop of Athens. Hierotheos received the Gospel from Apostle Paul when the latter preached at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34). But it’s the disciple of St Hierotheos, St Dionysius the Areopagite, who we turn to this morning to understand the place of love in the spiritual life.
St Dionysius says that creation is arranged hierarchically with some closer, others further, from God. And yet he says where ever we are in that hierarchy we are there as a vessel overflowing with divine love. The presence and the operation of God’s love is the very definition of who we are. This is why, and without prejudice to other biblical metaphors such as justification, the Church understands salvation as deification. This mean that we participate in the life of God; in St Peter’s words we have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Put another way, we become by grace what Christ is by nature.
Following from this, we talk about salvation as a therapeutic process. Not therapeutic in the medical or psychological sense . While healing through these means is also a gift from God. they are based on the cause and effect relationship appropriate to the material realm. No spiritual therapy transcends the processes of material causality.
As I said a moment ago, the overflowing presence of divine love is the very definition of who we each of us is personally. Sin is anything that would seek to constrain that love. It is important to keep in mind here I didn’t say reject that love or abolish that love but constrain it. God’s love can’t be undone but I can try to contain that love, to keep it from overflowing the vessel of my own heart. Hatred, irritation, anger, rancor and above all fear are the symptoms that I am doing just that—that I’m trying to keep God’s love to myself.
Seen in this light, Christ’s words in the Gospel—and the explanation of them offered by St Maximus—reveal an anthropological depth that we might have at first overlook.
To love our enemies, to do good to those who harm us and to lend without expectation of return, is simply to become who we are, the vessels of God’s overflowing love. To become who I am requires from me nothing else but that I remove the dams that I have placed around the love God continually pours into my heart.
The Apostle Paul’s words also now take on a new depth of meaning.
To sow sparingly, that is to try (however futilely) to constrain the love of God, means that I cripple myself. I don’t become, I can’t become, the person God has created me to be if I try to make God’s love as my exclusive possession.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God the Father has called us in His Son to be generous, cheerful, and even profligate in our love for Him and our neighbor. This can’t be forced—we are each of us only the size vessel that we are—but it is something that we can develop. What I mean by this is that when we love we grow in our ability to love. And through love, we can become more fully ourselves. You see as we give ourselves away in love, our hearts becomes more expansive, they become larger vessels for God’s love. And a the vessel grows, God fills it more and more to overflowing.
So here’ s the choice.
Will I embrace life as a vessel and channel of God’s superabundant love? To do so means that I must accept myself and the life God gives me. Do I do this or do I instead embrace the lie that God’s love is for me and me alone?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us become the cheerful givers of God’s love. It is only in this way that we are healed of every sin, freed from every compulsion and are “enriched in every way” because it is only, in by way of love, that we become the friends of God and apostles of His great and overflowing love.