Free to Love

September, 9 (O.S., August 27): 15th Sunday after Pentecost; Ven. Poemen the Great (450). St. Hosius (Osia) the Confessor, bishop of Cordova (4th c.). St. Liberius, pope of Rome (366). Ven. Poemen of Palestine (602). Martyr Anthusa. Hieromartyrs Pimen, Kuksha, of the Kyiv
Caves (1114).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI

Glory to Jesus Christ!

St Paul tells us that the God Who created the Universe has come to dwell in our hearts. This is what it means to be Orthodox Christians; we are the people in whom God dwells.

All of this reveals as well, the dignity of each and every single human being. To be human means to be a potential dwelling place for God.

Human dignity and the nobility of the Christian vocation are both revealed and accomplished through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. In the waters of Baptism, we discover what it means to be truly human. We are most fully ourselves when we are incorporated into the Church and so become each of us personally and all of us together, the dwelling place of God.

Because God has come to dwell in our hearts, we don’t need to look around us to find Him. He is not somewhere “outside” us. He is rather in our hearts and all we need to do to find God is to turn inward.

The problem is that when I turn inward and I look in my own heart, it isn’t just God that I find.

St. Macarius the Great says that while the human “heart itself is but a little vessel” it contains “dragons and … lions; … venomous beasts and all the treasures of wickedness.” He goes on to say that there are in my heart as well “rough and uneven ways” and dangerous “chasms.”

More importantly, however, is that in our hearts we find as well “God, … the angels, the life and the kingdom, there light and the apostles, there the heavenly cities, there the treasures” of grace. There is in each human heart all that is good and life-giving as well as all that is evil and death-dealing. There are in each of us “all things.”

We all know this about ourselves. Or at least, we know part of this.

We all know that our hearts contain ugly things and this is why we hesitate to turn inward.

I don’t want to see the ugliness in my own heart. And so to avoid seeing what I don’t want to see, I create an image of myself.

I build this self-image, idol really, from what others say about me and the bits and piece of everyday experience.

The problem is, this isn’t me. It is an idol of my own creation.

So what is the alternative? What are we, as Orthodox Christians to do?

We must look into our own hearts.

This turning inward to find God is hard. It requires a fair measure of courage because it means seeing the evil and shame I would prefer to forget. But if I can keep from turning away, I remain faithful in my inward turn, I will find God and experience His love for me.

On Holy Saturday while His body laid in the tomb, Jesus descends into Hell and takes it captive as we hear in the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom. We must never forget that Jesus reigns not only in Heaven but also in Hell.

In coming to dwell in our hearts, Jesus makes His throne in that hell we create in ourselves.

If we turn inward and look at those things that most shame us, that cause us the most pain, if we turn and look at our darkest secret and our most serious sins, we will find Jesus there waiting for us with His arms open to embrace us with love.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that it is just this love that sums up the whole of the law. As Jesus loves us, sacrificially and without reservation, we are called to love not only our brothers and sisters in Christ but all who we meet and even ourselves.

This love that God has called us to demonstrate begins in our love for God. To love others as Jesus loves me, I must give myself over to Him without reservation.

This is the great mystery of the Christian life.

To give myself over to God in love means that I must be willing to accept His love for me. When I refuse to acknowledge my own sinfulness when I turn a blind eye to the darkness in my own heart, I am in that moment turning away from God’s love for me, I am fleeing my King’s Throne.

And when I do this, what then? With what am I left with that false idol I created of myself.

And remember, like you, I built this idol.

And not only do I know it’s false, I also know that the more tenaciously I cling to it and the more this is the face I present to the world, the more I become a stranger to love.

As for the second of the commandments–that we love our neighbor as ourselves–this sums up the evangelical witness of the Church. Our calling is to smash idols not with violence but by seeing through them by our willingness to love people as they truly are.

Secure in God’s love for us, we are able to look fearless at the sin and darkness in not only own hearts but in our neighbor. And seeing this, we don’t turn away but reach out with the same love God has for us.

In doing so, we realize that our love for them isn’t ours alone but also God’s.

Though we add nothing to God’s love, nevertheless when we join ourselves to God we are able to lift, if only a little, the burden of shame that binds not only our neighbor but also ourselves.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Is there anyone you hate so much that you would see them enslaved by the same self-hatred that afflicts you? Longing as you do to be freed from the crippling burden of shame, would you deny such freedom to others?

Longing as you do, to love and to be loved, would you deny this to others?

Longing as you do to drop the mask you wear daily, would you deny this to others?

God has given us in baptism three great gifts. The first is to know that we are loved by the Creator of the Universe, that He has come to dwell in our hearts.

The second gift is like the first. To return that love to the God Who loves us.

Third but by no means least, the courage to love others as God loves us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

3 thoughts on “Free to Love

  1. I was also inspired by those words you quoted from St. Macarius the Great…

    Dragons and lion
    And venomous beasts

    All linger
    In the heart

    While the soul
    Longs to be purged

    Of all that keeps
    Holiness apart.

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