My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
GOD IS AGAPE (LOVE)
According to the Orthodox Christian faith "the greatest virtue is agape [love]" (I Corinthians 13:13) Agape in the "fulfilling of the law" of God (Romans 13:10). For God Himself is agape.
"Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His Only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the World. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us" (I John 4:7-19).
In these inspired words of the beloved holy Apostle John, one see that man's communion with God, his entire spiritual life, is expressed in love. Where there is no love, God is absent and there is no spiritual life. Where love is, God is, and all righteousness.
Man's love has its origin in God. God's love always comes first. Men are to love God and one another because God Himself has loved first. God's love is shown in the creation and salvation of the world in Christ and the Holy Spirit. All things were made by, in and for Jesus Christ, the Logos (Word) of God, and the "Son of His love" (Colossians 1: 13-17; John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:2).
When the world became sinful and dead, "God so loved the world that He sent His Only-begotten Son...not to condemn the world, but to save the world." (St. John 3:16; 12:47).
"But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). But when the goodness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that we might be made righteous by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life" (St. Titus 3:4-7).
In the spiritual Tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church, the aim of life as the "acquisition of the Holy Spirit" is expressed most perfectly in love (cf. Saint Macarius of Egypt, 4th century, Spiritual Homilies; Saint Seraphim of Sarov, 19th century, Conversation with N. Molovilov). Indeed, the Holy Spirit Himself is identified with God's love by the Saints, as witnessed in the writings of Saint Simeon the New Theologian.
"O Holy Love- i.e., the Holy Spirit of God-he who knows you not has never tasted the sweetness of Your mercies which only living experience can give us. But He who has known you, or who has been known by You, can never have even the smallest doubt. For You are the fulfillment of the law, You Who fills, burns, inflames, embraces my heart with a measureless love. You are the Teacher of the prophets, the offspring of the Apostles, the strength of the martyrs, the inspiration of the Fathers and Masters, the perfecting of all the Saints. Only You, O Love, prepare even me for the True Service of God (Saint Simeon the New Theologian, 11th century. Homily 53).
Thus God Who is Love enters into union with man through the Son of His love by the Spirit of love. To live in this divine love is the spiritual life.
The first definition of love as agape is love as the action of perfect goodness for the sake of the other. This is the most basic meaning of love: to do everything possible for the well-being of others. God Himself has this love as the very content of His being and life, for "God is agape." It is with this love that spiritual persons must love first of all.
The second definition of love as eros is love for the sake of union with the other. Erotic love is no sin when it is free from sinful passions. It can be the utterly pure desire for communion with the other, including God. All spiritual writers have insisted that such love should exist between God and man as the pattern for all erotic love in the world between husband and wife. Thus the mystical writers and spiritual Fathers have used the Old Testament's Son of Songs as the poetic image of God's love for man and man's love for God (Philo the Jew, St. Gregory of Nyssa). Indeed the prophets have used the image of the erotic love in explaining the Lord's relation with Israel (Isaiah 54; Jeremiah 2:3, 31; Ezekiel 16: Hosea). And Saint Paul uses this image for Christ's love of the Church (Ephesians 6). In the Holy Scriptures, the union of man with the Lord in the Kingdom of God is primarily revealed in the image of eros (St. Matthew 22, Revelation 19-22).
...for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure--for the fine lines is the righteous deeds of the saints." (Revelation 19:7-8).
"Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb" (Revelation 21:9).
The third type of love is friendship-philia. This also exists between man and God. Man has no greater friend than God, and God Himself wants to be man's friend. According to the Holy Scripture, the very purpose of the coming of Christ was to dispel all enmity between God and man, and to establish the co-working of Creator and creature in the fellowship of friendship.
"Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend." (Exodus 33:11).
"Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants (or slaves), for the servant does not know that his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you" (St. John 15: 13-15).
So it that love as goodness, love as union, love as friendship are all to be found in God and man, and between human beings. There is no form of True Love which lies outside the realm of the spiritual life.
Prayer is more than just our response to the way God loves us. It is part of how we love Him. Love breaks down separation because we want to be one with the person we love. If we love God, we want to become one with Him. Saint Dimitri of Rostov wrote, 'No unity with God is possible without an exceeding great love." Loving and joining go together.
Saint John the Theologian states, "Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God, but the unloving know nothing of God" (I John 4:7). Love is turning to the one loved--the beloved. If we love God, then we must turn to Him and allow His will to be done. In these times of accelerated change, it is not God and His Church that must change, but it is we, the Christians, the followers of Christ, in this secular and godless society, that we must undergo a change--and change for the better. In order that we change, we must start where we are, with the real me, with all my faults and virtues, in relationship to Who God is. For only out of understanding the theological issues of God, can we become what we ought to be as Christians. The criterion of what we ought to be and how we ought to live, is not in the unstable pluralism of American society, but rather in the Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition which has preserved faithfully the faith and morals of Jesus Christ unaltered and unchanged throughout the history of Christianity.
Loving God with all one's heart and soul and strength and mind is more than just hearing Christ's call. It is responding to His calling. The call of Christ to worship Him on the Lord's Day (Sunday) is more than just listening to prayers and hymns and watching the religious drama of Jesus Christ. The gathering of the Orthodox Christian faithful at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist should be doing what is being done, and not just thinking about it, otherwise, there can be no union with God. To love God is to be willing to do His will and not that of our selfish self. Let us not forget the Christians of the early Church when they assembled to worship and receive the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) it was called agape.
"Whoever will not love his enemies cannot know the Lord and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love our enemies in such way that we pity their souls as if they were out own children" (St. Silouan the Athonite).
(Source: Orthodox Church in America)
Please note: God is agape indeed! His Church is the Church of agape! Needless to say, you as Orthodox Christians, the children of God and of His Bride the Church, must always act as children of love. Love one another and think, feel and act always with Christian love. Your involvement in your church must be an expression of a heart-felt love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and for your brothers and sisters in Christ. If your actions do not reveal your love for God and your fellow servants, then you are in the wrong place and you are not a member of the Body of Christ, the Church.
MY BLESSING TO YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant