“Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
The well known Russian priest, Fr. Andrey Tkachev, comments, “Christians have two commandments, the first is to love God and the second is love for neighbor. It is essential to love God first. Primary is love for God. We start from love for God. It is not love for neighbor that is first but love for God. What is Communism? It is the full liquidation of the first commandment. They say, ‘you don’t have to love God but you must love your neighbor. We will do away with the first commandment and yet leave the second and thereby we will build paradise on earth. Yet, in reality, all you ever get from this is the gulag.”
Secularism is an inversion of Christianity. It seeks to deny Divine revelation while retaining principles and paradigms that are firmly contingent thereon. Mankind may only find fullness and purpose when it is first and foremost setting the things of God as primary and of most importance.
Nothing of benefit can come when the holy things are sacrificed in the name of care for neighbor. True Christian love for neighbor is to love God and His Kingdom above all else.
Our physical existence is fleeting. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, every person will depart this physical life and enter more completely into eternity. Thus, true Christian love is to hold fast to the clear revelation of Truth whereby persons may be above all else, “born from above.” If we as Christians are living in this rebirth then, whatever our current physical state, we will inherit eternal life. This Life is not dependent on this passing corruptible existence. In fact, Christians are called to be ready and willing to lose this life for the sake of Christ and so to find true life (cf. Matt. 16:24ff). That is, if we must sacrifice health and monetary stability for the things of God, it is well worth it. And yes, even expected of a Christian.
Always that which is of God, and love for it, is set as the uttermost vocation of Mankind.
For, even if all the ills of this world were eradicated in this passing existence, what good would that be if we lose the Kingdom of Heaven? But we know men will never create “paradise,” though they labor to do so. As stated above man’s attempt to build a paradise without God ends in a gulag.
As Fr. Tkachev warns, when we accept the secular inversion of putting physical well-being above spiritual, we are accepting the anti-logic of this age.
Many holy men and women who suffered in the past century under the various secular “paradises” warn Christians, us, of the perils of placing purported “love for neighbor,” above “love for God.”
Such a voice is Archbishop Andrey of Novo-Diveyevo, of blessed memory. He was born in Russian and at some point fled after the Communist take over in the early 20th century. He eventually came to America where he passed away. He has these sober words to say, we would do well to listen. Although he is addressing “Russian” Orthodox in America, the principles he elaborates apply to all.
“In America there is no Stalin, no Communism, no persecutions against the Church. Therefore, emigrants who do not know actual spiritual life might think that Orthodox life in America should be an ideal of Orthodox life and that one should live just as the old Russian emigrants live here. But have our Russian emigrants found here what is the true ideal of the Christian—godliness, the acquisition of peace of heart through repentance? Have they found that elemental reality which the Church should be and with which a man departs into eternal life—sanctity, purity, sobriety?
Alas, it seems to me that the life not only of non-Orthodox Americans, but of Orthodox Russians as well, proceeds not according to the laws of the Church, but according to the principles of humanism. Very many of those who consider themselves Orthodox are actually Christians only in form, but they live according to their own understanding, complying only with the commands of their flesh. American life, with its satiety and comfort, acts extraordinarily in favor of the acceptance of humanism. And therefore it is not astonishing that laymen often make demands to their pastors to go “in step with the times,” and the pastors often fulfill these demands ….”
Humanism, sets as primary physical existence. It will do anything to preserve it. Sadly, even in the Blessed Archbishop’s time, many Orthodox were willing to compromise the Holy things of God so as to preserve fleshly comforts and well-being.
He continues, “But the religious-moral foundations do not change; why, then, should priests change? Against contemporary man the same temptations, the same passions and seductions battle that tempted men a thousand years ago. Sin remains sin forever, and not a jot or tittle of the law of Christ changes: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all else will be added unto you.’ The most important thing is to create a pure heart and keep it that way.”
And he makes this sobering observation, “Our church life proceeds for the most part outwardly; inward life is being forgotten. The slogan of humanism in our times is again: ‘Appear to be a Christian, but live according to the laws of the flesh.'”
How then do we guard our hearts from the counterfeit “love of neighbor” (which many times is just a pretty mask to cover our self-love) that secular humanism promotes as the new gospel? A “love” which asks, and justifies, that the things of God be sacrificed for the “well-being” of humanity.
The Godly Archbishop has this advice for us, “The dogmas of faith, faith itself is revealed to us, and none of us doubts it; but the confession of faith must be in godliness. ‘No one is good save God alone’—this is to hold what is God’s in honor. It is the Divine that must be our concern; it must enter into all sides of our life—personal, family, public … Live in such away that what is God’s will be in honor; and the first, the chief thing is your mind, which must be in God.”
To truly love our neighbor we must first and foremost guard and hold fast to that which is God’s. When we love Him above all else and hold what is of Him in the highest honor, then we will truly love our neighbor. But never can we say we love our neighbor by compromising the things that are of God. For by doing so we are in reality hating our neighbor. For without deep faith in God and His holy things, how can men be saved?