Archpastoral Message On Great Lent, Love And Salvation
Beloved Clergy and Monastics, Sons and Daughters,
Dear Spiritual Children,
"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (I Cor. 13:1-3)."
So often when we think of salvation, we drastically limit ourselves to the conventional, to living a good and simple, honourable and decent life. Essentially, this is true. Yet often times that which is so simple, so seemingly complete and therefore wholesome, can have so little or nothing to do with our salvation. What then constitutes following the straight and narrow path, if not observing the precepts and the letter of the law? Love!
What are we doing with our lives? Look, we are told that even persons who lead sinful lives will sooner inherit the kingdom, than those who blindly follow the letter of the law (see: Luke 7:36-50). How can this be? Their sin was clearly a perversion of love, yet the basis was love. They knew love. Compare this with the Pharisees and their "book purity" which was and remains false. Our Lord called it hypocrisy: hypocrites, Pharisees and scribes! (Matthew 23:13ff). How He would chastise them! There is no place in eternity for such empty formalists. Where is their love, if not centred only on themselves and on their own "perfection"? Their sin is an absence of love.
Suddenly, before us dawns a new and different reality in Christ. Why was John the Theologian the only disciple able to follow Christ to the Cross? Love! Was it not he who also leaned his head on our Lord's chest during the Last Supper? This was truly the disciple whom Christ loved (John 13:23). To the repentant Mary Magdalene, Christ showed Himself first, following His resurrection from the dead. We tend to destroy the purity of love for the sake of rules and regulations, thus rendering ourselves thoroughly incapable of love.
Preparation for Confession and Holy Eucharist or the lack thereof, is also a primary example. So much emphasis, especially during Great and Holy Lent, is rigidly placed on preparation. Indeed, preparation is necessary. However, do we forsake love, as fundamental requirement for drawing near to the Lord's Table, in favour of dietary regulations and formal absolution without repentance? What is Confession, if not an essential acknowledgment of our failure to love and then, turning towards love?! When questioned as to what is the greatest of all commandments, Christ responded with love. Pure and simple! Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).
Mere rules and regulations are proponents of religion. Orthodoxy is not a religion. Christ, our God Incarnate, did not deign to assume flesh in order to establish yet another religion. The Word became flesh to make a Way for us into eternity, into the Kingdom of Heaven. Orthodoxy is a faith and therefore a way of life, The Way of Life. In the Acts of the Apostles, no one ever spoke of a new religion rather they would refer to the Way (cf. 19:23, 24:22). Thereby it was on the way to Emmaus that Luke and Cleopas found the fulfilment of their hearts burning within them, as they encountered the Resurrected Lord in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:32).
Great Lent is a summons to constantly re-evaluate ourselves and our lives. Who are we? Where are we? Where have we been and where are we going? The command to love is not an invitation to licentiousness, but rather a drastic alarm. Are we capable of love?! If not, then eternity will never truly be ours. Love our enemies. Love those who hate us, for it profits us nothing to love only those who already love us (Luke 6:27ff). In the words of the St John the Baptist: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 3:2). Repent of everything that prevents us from coming to the Lord. Turn away from everything that is void of love.
"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Cor. 13:12-13)."
If we possess the faith to move mountains and abide in hope eternal, can we love? To know God is to love. In the end, only love can prepare us for repentance, to encounter the Resurrected Lord in the Eucharist and give us courage to come face to face with our Saviour on Judgement Day, for there is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear. Anyone who is afraid of God has not love, for fear is punishment (I John 4:16-18). A seemingly virtuous life, one without love, falls short of God. All virtues are most certainly attributes of the Divine. Yet love alone is Divine, for God is love (I John 4:8).
Given in Sydney at Great Lent in the Year 2013
Your earnest intercessor before our Long-suffering Lord,
Bishop of the Metropolitanate Australia and New Zealand
Source: Metropolitanate Australia and New Zealand