Love Archive

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“…AND THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE”

The above quotation is from 1st Corinthians, chapter 13, the beautiful chapter on agape love. The last two days of June and the first day of July, we commemorate in order, Sts. Peter and Paul, the Holy Apostles and the healing unmercenary saints, Cosmas and Damian. These saints are amongst the greatest examples in Christianity, for all times, of love. Two of my personal favorite saints are Sts. Cosmas and Damian. There were two and maybe three sets of saints who were brothers with the names Cosmas and Damian, all of whom were physicians from wealthy families, who healed, receiving no pay. The main reason that they are amongst my favorite saints is because they are the Patron Saints of the Athenagoras National Retreat Center near Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Center is presently in the process of closing. However, when it opened in the summer of 1978, I was a camp counselor in the first summer camp. Fr. Dean Talagan and others began the Center that year and he ran the first camp, only weeks after Presbytera Marsha and I were married. I had just completed my first year at seminary and Marsha worked as the church secretary in Cheyenne that summer. We had nearly 100 campers from throughout the Diocese and the country that year. Our arts and crafts project was to make an icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, which I still have.

The epistle reading on their feast days (July 1 and November 1) is from 1st Corinthians chapter 12 and 13, focusing on agape or unconditional love. Do you realize that there are four words for love in Greek? They are: ‘eros”; “storgefilia”; and “agape”. Now, the English word, ‘love’, can be applied to almost anything. In English, one can ‘love’ a house, a car, a hairstyle, a good juicy steak, a piece of cheesecake or baklava, and one’s spouse. The same word can be used for all. It is not so, however with the language of the New Testament. In fact, one would not use any of the four Greek words for love for anything inanimate. They are words of interpersonal relationship appropriate for God, human relationships and perhaps, our pets. ‘Eros’ is often associated with a sexual attraction love. It is a love whereby one’s loved one becomes the object of focus. ‘Storge’ is a natural love, say between a parent and their child. ‘Filia” is a friendship love where the sharing of common interests and focuses bring people together. ‘Agape’ is an unconditional love, where one gives freely without expecting anything in return. It is referred to by the famous English author of blessed memory, C.S. Lewis as the ‘Queen of loves’, a divine gift love. It is divine as it is from God and concerned with giving rather than with receiving. This is the love of 1st Corinthians and the main love focused upon throughout the New Testament. This is the love expressed by the incarnation, as, in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, God becomes a man. This is the love of the Trinity, at once interpersonal amongst the three Persons of the Godhead, and between Creator and creature. This is the love of the greatest of commandments: “… You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (MT 22:37-40).

As we remember the great saints, Peter and Paul, the Holy Apostles and Cosmas and Damian, let us honor them by loving our Lord and one another with the agape love of our Lord Jesus. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (JN 3:16).

With our Lord’s blessings,
Fr. Lou

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Humility and Childlikeness

What does it mean to be a devout and committed Christian?  What is at the very core of our approach to and relationship with God?  Allow me to answer these questions with a quotation from our Lord.  “ At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, ‘Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’  Then Jesus called a child to Him, set him in the midst of them and said, ‘Assuredly I say to you unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Mt.18:1-5).

Who do we honor in this life?  Typically we honor entertainers, athletes, the wealthy, politicians, CEO’s of corporations, successful, accomplished men and women.  They are often motivated, hard working, self-sufficient, and articulate.

Who do we honor in our Orthodox faith?  We hold up as examples and honor after our Lord, the saints.  Without a doubt, many of the saints were gifted with similar qualities as those possessed by the “idols” of our times.  However, the saints accomplished something that few have.  They were “converted” and became as little children.  Now, that does not mean that they were childish, with the immaturities of childhood.  What it does mean is that they were childlike, with a purity of faith, trust and love for God.  It means that they were humble and always ready to learn, never looking at themselves as better than another, seeing that anything good that they did was as a result of God’s Grace and not their own.  This childlikeness was something that they, through humility had to re-learn.  They were “converted” to this attitude of life.  Since after the Fall of humankind our tendency is to rely on our self and not God.  Most of the “great ones” honored in our world, with our fallen tendencies focus on their accomplishments and possessions.  A “converted one” learns to direct any good away from self and towards God.  The truth is that in my experience, even within the Church this is not easily accomplished.  More times than not our attitudes are not “converted”.  This is the main reason why petty differences and power struggles occur everywhere.  Our own egos keep us from this childlikeness and humility.  In our circles, this applies to clergy and laity a like.

Our Lord tells us, “…it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  (Mt. 19:24).  This reference specifically is towards wealthy people.  However in principle “wealth” can refer to anyone who thinks of him or herself as great or at least greater than another, when essentially we are nothing without God.  Tito Colliander in his book, Way of the Ascetics, says, “The holy Fathers say with one voice: the first thing to keep in mind is never in any respect to rely on yourself…This decision not to rely on self is for most people a severe obstacle at the very outset…For how can a human being receive advice, instruction and help if he believes that he knows and can do anything and needs no directions?” (pg. 4).

How then can we “convert” to this childlikeness?  Step I is to, in humility recognize in our heart’s depths God’s incredible love for us.  “ God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (Jn 3:16).  He loved and loves us even though we are not perfect.  Step II is to strive to love God as first and foremost in our lives—above self, parents, spouse, children—everyone.  We have a challenge in our maturation process to learn to depend on God attitudinally as a child depends upon a parent.  I emphasize maturation because this assumes adult responsibility to do things that we ourselves can do and to not wait on our parent (God) to do them for us.  When we do them, however we do them for His Glory and not for our own satisfaction and glory.  Step III is to love others and learn to not focus on their limitations but rather to focus on God’s grace within them.  After all, if God loves us in our imperfection, it stands to reason He loves others as well.   Step IV is to be ever vigilant and not let one’s guard down.  Our fallen tendency is always there until our final breath with temptation lurking in the shadows wanting us to rely on self, thus judging others and even God as inadequate to direct or guide us.

In Humility and like a little child, let us submit to our Lord and God and Savior Jesus our whole life so that through God’s Grace and Strength we may live in His Presence and enter into the kingdom of heaven.

In Christ,

Fr. Lou