From The Blog

Mission Monthly – February 2010

“If we have true love with sympathy and patient labor, we shall not go about scrutinizing our neighbor’s shortcomings.”

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

True love? It’s probably easier to define true love by what it is not rather than by what it is. And while there is not
enough space on this page maybe I will try to sum up an explanation by simply saying that true love has absolutely nothing to do
with what one “feels.”

Great and Holy Lent is at our doorstep and I can think of no greater topics to meditate on than love, labor and non-judgment.
If our goal in life is to enter into the eternal life of holiness in the kingdom of God, then these three virtues should indeed
be the daily aim of all our activity and thought.

How do we develop “true love” in caring for others? Isn’t this something we possess by right of our very birth as enlightened
and civilized human beings? If it were only that simple! The unfortunate reality that we must face as fundamental to our fallen
nature is how much of every decision we make in life has to do with the way any given situation makes us feel and how
circumstances can be best manipulated to serve our self-interest. Every person who has reached the age of reason should be aware
of this, if not through mature self-examination then certainly by observation of the very fabric of our society of
self-interest. However, society’s struggle with self-interest is simply the individual’s struggle with self-interest: it is
my own struggle.

St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Save yourself and a thousand will be saved around you.” Do not misunderstand. “Saving oneself”
is not an act of self-interest based on feelings or manipulation, rather it is an act of faith in which one dies to himself for
the sake of the other. Others are saved around us by our living first for them. This is the irony of Christian self-interest: we
truly only receive by giving; as the old saying goes, “Love is the only treasure that increases the more it is given away.”

It would seem that the absence of “true love” would be very obvious, however, we understand from the spiritual teachings of
our Holy Church that more often than not this “absence” is very subtle and requires careful self-examination. Let us look
attentively into the inner depths of our hearts and see the many ways in which we are easily offended or are ready to see and to
judge the sins of others. As a priest there is a passage from the scripture I call to mind again and again. As members of the
priesthood of believers I believe this passage applies to all of us: “For every high priest chosen from among men is
appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the
ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness”
(Hebrews 5:1-2). Are we not all “beset with weakness?”
Should this not be the strongest of reasons for each of us to have “sympathy” for others rather than scrutinizing them, while we
patiently work out our own salvation “in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)?

“True love” requires only action and has nothing to do with what or how we feel. Anger, resentment, judgment, envy are all
feelings that result from another feeling: that of having been offended or provoked; and the truth of the matter is, if we truly
see ourselves (as we say in our pre-Communion prayers) as the “chief [first] among sinners,” is not the more serious sin that of
the offended rather than that of the offender? With the ease with which people are offended, believer and non-believer alike, it
is clear that “true love” is not as common as the world, and we ourselves, would like to think. Nevertheless let us be hopeful
and diligent as we embrace these true and precious teachings, especially now as we prepare to enter into the patient labor of
lent, confident that we will continue to be transformed by God’s grace and His “true love” for us.