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.
ON LOVE (AGAPE)
By Geronda (Elder) Joseph the Hesychast, from Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Geronda (Elder) Joseph the Hesychast. An Epistle to a Hesychast Hermit, Chapter XII, pp. 384-389.
Since we have written about many and diverse things, my child, moved by your ardent faith and piety, I considered it good also to write a few things about love (agape) that I have learned from the Holy Fathers who lived before me and from reading the Holy Scripture. However, fearing the height of this supernatural grace, I am overcome by awe, lest I am unable to bring the discourse to an end. All the same, warmed by the hope of your holy prayers, I shall begin the discourse. For how can I, my child, with my own strength write about such a great charisma (gift) which exceeds my strength? And with what tongue can I tell of this heavenly delight and sustenance of the Holy Angels, Prophets, Apostles, Righteous, Martyrs, Monks, and every category of those listed in the heavens?
Truly, my child, even if I had all the tongues of men since Adam to help me, it still seems impossible to me that I would be able to extol love worthily. What am I saying, "worthily"? A mortal tongue is entirely incapable of even remotely expressing something concerning love, unless God, Who is Truth and Love itself, gives us the power of speech, wisdom, and knowledge. And through the human tongue, this God Himself, our sweet Jesus Christ is both called and praised as God. For love is nothing but the Father and the Savior Himself, our sweet Jesus, together with the Divine Spirit.
Of course, all the other divine gifts of the loving God, such as humility, meekness, abstinence, and so on, have divine sensation when they act upon us through Divine grace. For without the action of Divine grace all these, in general, are simply virtues that we keep to heal our passions because of the Commandment of the Lord.
Before we receive grace, we undergo changes all the time: towards humility and towards pride; towards love and towards hatred; towards abstinence and towards gluttony; towards meekness and towards anger; towards forbearance and towards indignation, etc. However, once we are acted upon by Divine grace, these continuous changes and alterations of the soul cease. Although the body continues to have its elemental and natural changes (namely: cold, heat, weight, fatigue, hunger, thirst, illness, and so on), the soul, fed the action of Divine grace, remains unchangeable in the natural, divine gifts it has been given.
What I mean by unchangeable is this: due to the grace abiding in us, the soul does not change in the divine gifts it has been given by God. Not that it does not change when grace withdraws, but it changes with difficulty due to the soul's firm resolution--it is not completely unchangeable, though.
For we have written also elsewhere in this epistle that as long as we carry about this earthen garment, no one should believe that there is an advanced spiritual state free from danger, except in the presence of Divine grace. Then one senses well every Divine gift and unerringly comprehends them. However, when he reaches the sensation of Divine Agape (Love)--which is God Himself, according to him who said, "God is agape (Love); and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16)--how can a tongue, which is mortal and has no divine action, suffices to converse about God and His Holy Gifts?
Today, many virtuous people who live good lives, who please God with their deeds and words, and who benefit their neighbor, think they have (and are thought of having) attained love through their insignificant work of mercy and compassion they show towards their neighbor. But this is not the truth. They are only fulfilling the Commandment of love for the Lord. Who said, "Who said, love one another" (St. John 13:34). He who keeps this Commandment is worthy of praise as a keeper of the Divine Commandments--but this is not an action of Divine Love. It is a road towards the fountain, but not the fountain. It is a royal garment, but not the King. It is a Commandment of God, but not God.
Therefore, he who wishes to speak about love must have revelation of the mystery of love. Only then, if the Fountain of Love, our sweet Jesus, permit, should he impart to others some of the fruit he received; then he shall surely benefit his neighbor. For there is a danger for us to speak erroneously, to think turbidly, and to believe we know things that we do not.
So then, my beloved child, know this for certain fulfilling the Commandments of love through works done for mutual brotherly love is one thing, and the action of Divine Love is another. All men are able to fulfill the Commandment of brotherly love if they want to and if they force themselves. Divine Love, though, neither results from our works, nor does it depend on our will--if we want, and how we want, when we want, and how we want. But it depends on the fountain of agape (love), our sweetest Jesus, Who gives us if He wants, how He wants, and whenever He wants.
When we walk in simplicity, keep the Commandments, and patiently and persistently seek Divine Love with tears and pain, guarding Jethro's sheep like Moses (vid. Exodus 3:1)--that is, guarding the good and spiritual movements and meditations of the nous during the heat of the day and the frost of the night of continuous battles and temptation, which we crush with our struggle and humility--then we are counted worthy of seeing God and the Bush in our hearts, burning with Divine fire of love, burning but not consumed. And having approached it through noetic prayer, we hear the Divine voice in a mystery of spiritual knowledge saying, "Put off thy sandals from thy feet!" (Exodus 3:5). That is, put off from yourself every self-will and worry for this age as well as all childish thoughts, and be subject to the Holy Spirit and His Divine Will, "For the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5).
"...So my child, blessed is the hour in which--if we are worthy--we present our soul clean to the Lord and rejoice together with all of those we mentioned, where for all, in all, and over all reigns Jesus Christ, the sweet Savior; God the Father; the Beloved, Holy, Good, Peaceful, Life-Giving, Life-creating Spirit--the Holy, Indivisible Trinity, now and ever, and unto the infinite ages of endless ages. Amen. (Source: Orthodox Heritage)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God