“If we burnish the wires, the sinful man can become a good conductor, and then the Grace of God will be transmitted to provide the divine light of Grace. Otherwise, the system is short-circuited and Grace cannot enter. The basic thing is for man to take care not to lose the Grace of God, so as to have divine enlightenment. For everything is in vain if there is no divine enlightenment … The electrical outlet is now permanently in place. Now it is we who are interrupting the passage of divine Grace, and this is because we let the wires get rusty,” St. Paisios of Mt Athos.1
Love for God frees the Christian from enslavement to this fallen world. It calls us into participation with God; it binds us to Him in a mystical way; God, who is Love, pours Himself into the heart of the believer who seeks Him. Without holy love, there is no indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Without divine love, we remain in the body of dead works. St. Symeon adds: “Unless someone loves God first of all with all his soul and proves his love for Him by denying both himself and the world, he is unworthy mystically of God’s manifestation in the revelation of the Holy Spirit, nor does he possess Him as head, but is instead a dead body in spiritual works, is deprived of Christ, the life of all.”2
In proportion to the love energizing within the inner man, the Christian participates in Christ: “The greater the love, the greater the sufferings of the soul. The fuller the love, the fuller the knowledge of God. The more ardent the love, the more fervent the prayer. The more perfect the love, the holier the life.”3 The more one draws near to Christ, the more he comprehends how much he needs Christ. The more the divine light illumines the soul, the more it perceives just how great is the darkness in which it dwelt.
Divine love infuses in man new life in the Spirit, for love is experience and knowledge that transcends the limits of this age. It is in light of love for God that St. John the Theologian writes, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him … Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”4 The person professing Christ and still actively and willingly choosing sin has yet to love God truly and does not have the Spirit indwelling his life.5 For, to abide in love is to abide in Christ, and to abide in Christ is to abide in holiness. The conscious choice of sin and the fallen world is the willful desire of that which is devoid of holy love. St. Justin Popovich comments: “’Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not’ because he is given divine powers which protect him from sin. He did not come into our world to be alone in His righteousness and holiness but, rather, to share and impart them unto us … In Him abide those who abide in Divine Love, in Divine goodness = in His Gospel.”6
The believer is joined by love to the divine life. Life in the Spirit is being bound with all our love to Christ the Lord. Thus, the believer uses every means possible to acquire the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Spirit teaches the soul to love only Christ, as St. Macarius the Great teaches: The souls who seek the sanctification of the Spirit, which is a thing that lies beyond natural power, are completely bound with their whole love to the Lord. There they walk; there they pray; there they focus their thoughts, ignoring all other things. For this reason they are considered worthy to receive the oil of divine grace and without any failure they succeed in passing to life for they have been accepted by and found greatly pleasing to the spiritual Bridegroom.7
Most importantly, the Holy Fathers see love as God Himself. By acquiring and dwelling in love, we acquire and dwell in God. Of all the virtues, love is directly identified with God. Of all the virtues, love is participation in the divine life, through which we become children of God. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: And … love, the head of all the virtues, is Christ and God. For this reason He descended to earth and, becoming man, partook of our earthly fleshly: in order that he might impart in turn of His essential divinity to us … This is the love which the Apostle says has been richly poured out in our hearts, that is, participation and sharing in His divinity by virtue of which we are made one with God. St. John the Theologian … says … ‘See what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God’ (1 Jn. 3: 1). Here he calls love the Holy Spirit, through Whom we also receive adoption to sonship.8
Love arouses the soul; love is the energizing movement by which the believer participates and progresses in the divine life. Love is the mystical call of God to the soul and the response of the soul to God. St. Maximos the Confessor teaches: “For what is worthy of love and truly desirable is God Himself. Because loving desire is poured out from Him, He Himself, as its begetter, is said to be in movement, while because He is what is truly longed for, loved, desired and chosen, He stirs into motion the things that turn to Him, and which possess the power of desiring each in the degree appropriate to it.”9 Thus, the soul that has acquired the Holy Spirit, is ever-acquiring; having loved it is ever-loving and having entered it is always in movement.
The soul wounded by love for Christ is ever-growing in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Love is infinite for God is infinite. Love imparted by the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is so intense, so acute, so real for the one who experiences it, that it is described as a wound: ‘I am wounded by love.’ St. Gregory of Nyssa proclaims, “With her veil now removed, the bride [i.e. the soul] sees with pure eyes the ineffable beauty of her spouse and is wounded by a spiritual, fiery shaft of desire (eros). For love (agape) which is aroused is called desire (eros). There is no shame present because the arrow is not from the flesh but from God … the bride boasts of her wound when she receives the point of spiritual desire in the depths of her heart. She makes known … I am wounded by love.”10
This ‘wound of love’ becomes for the soul the fragrance of divine life, the mark of union with Christ.11 The wounded soul always looks to the great Healer, receiving Him into her depths. Nothing else will satisfy the profound longing of the soul. The Spirit thus grants the true Christian to wear Himself as a seal upon the heart, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.”12 Love both purifies and perfects us. According to St. Diodochus of Photiki: “Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13: 10). In this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love, and in the perfection of love it finds its own fulfillment.”13
To be sealed is to be set apart. Thus, the believer who cultivates, as is commanded, the grace of the Holy Spirit in his life bears the mark of a person not of this world – for such a one is set apart for the Lord. The believer receives into his inner man the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit; he is sealed with Christ Himself Who is the Seal of the very likeness of the Father.14 On the Last Day the Christian will give an account of what he has done with this seal set in his inner man.
This wound of love, this seal if the Spirit in the inner man is what fundamentally sets a Christian apart as “not of this world.” To be truly free from the tyranny of this fallen world, we must be renewed ever more in our love for the Lord as Christians. St. Macarius the Great teaches, It is not in a form or in outward appearances that the distinguishing mark of a Christian exists. Most Christians think that the difference which distinguishes themselves from the world consists in an external sign. And in their nous and their mindset, alas, they are like the rest of the world, undergoing the same shaking and inconstancy of thoughts and unbelief and confusion, and they find themselves ransacked as all other men. In outward form and appearance and in a few points of religious observance they differ from the world, but in the heart and nous they are bound with earthly bonds.15
The outward must be firmly rooted in the internal, without which it could possibly become but a “whitewashed tomb.” The prerogative of a Christian is to be truly transformed and recreated, a new creation,16 whose citizenship is in the heavens.17 The inner man is reborn in the fire of love for God. St. Macarius continues, For it is in the renewing of their nous and the peace of their thoughts and their love and heavenly passion for the Lord that the new creation of Christians is distinguished from all the men of this world. This was the purpose of the Lord’s coming, to grant these spiritual blessings to those who truly believe in Him, Christians have a glory and a beauty and a heavenly wealth which is beyond words, and it is won with pain and sweat and trials and conflicts, and all by the grace of God.18
We must allow the Lord access to the deep regions of our heart, there through the crucible of suffering it will learn true love for God, and then we will begin to become those who are no longer of this fallen world. Let us be vigilant in our love of God, from which every freedom flows. Christians are called upon to be vigilant. The world needs Christ, faith, and genuine Christianity, as the new-martyr Valeriu Gafencu said. There are no other Christians in our times but us to rise to the profound vigilance of true love for our Lord. If we do not, who will?
(This is part two of a three-part series. Part one, This World is Not Our Home. Part three, The Seal of the Lord)
1Elder Paisios, Spiritual Awakening, p. 95, 96.
2St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life, vol. 2, p. 30.
3Elder Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite,pp. 365-366.
41 John 3: 6, 9.
5Cf. John 8: 34.
6St. Justin Popovich, Commentary on the Epistles of St. John the Theologian, p. 41.
7St. Macarius the Great, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 4. 6, pp. 52-53.
8St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life vol. 2, p. 29. C.f. St. Maximos the Confessor, “He who possesses love possesses God Himself, for ‘God is love’ (1 Jn. 4: 8).” Fourth Century on Love, 100, in The Philokalia, vol. 2, p. 113. St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic, “If God is love, he who has love has God within himself.” A Century on Spiritual Texts, 83, in The Philokalia, vol. 2, p. 32.
9St. Maximos the Confessor, Fifth Century on Various Texts, 84. in The Philokalia, vol. 2, pp. 281-282.
10 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs, p. 234. Cf. Song of Songs 5: 8b.
11 C.f. 2 Corinthians 2: 15-16. Also, St. Macarius the Great, Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 4. 16, p. 57.
12 Song of Songs 8: 6.
13 St. Diodochus of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge, 89, in The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 288.
14 Cf. Anaphora prayer of St. Basil the Great. The Service Books of the Orthodox Church, Large Format Edition, South Canaan, 2010, p. 139. John 6: 27.
15St. Macarius the Great, Fifty Spiritual Homilies, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery Press. 2020. pg 50.
16Cf. 2 Cor. 5:17
17Cf. Phil. 3:20
18St. Macarius the Great, Fifty Spiritual Homilies, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery Press. 2020. pg 50.
9 thoughts on “Without Christ, Everything is in Vain”
Bless, Father. Thank you for this post. How can we help the double-minded? Those who agree with the divine imperative to love, but are deluded into thinking that they can’t?
These ones can get into a depressive spiral when they feel exhorted to do something they think is beyond them.
What is the best pastoral approach to this delusion?
Asking your holy prayers,
I wish I had a very good answer. To some degree, I think love is learned, that is – we start small and tend it so that it grows. Love for God is built daily. So, let us at least begin to love God a little bit! And then we may expand our hearts to love even more. We must also pray for the grace of the Spirit to give us love. But we will never love greatly if we cannot love a little bit.
It would seem some feel because they do not yet love greatly they do not love God, and therefore can’t. It may be like a beginner saying, “since I can’t play the guitar exquisitely on the first few tries, I’ll never be able to!” To play with talent takes many long years of dedication and practice.
To love truly does so also. May the Lord help us.
Concerning those who only align with Christ with external signs, and whose nous and mind is apart from Him; I thought of those who are bound up in covidism. Perhaps now as in no other age we are able to see a persons mind and nous, and it does not matter the external signs they exhibit, because the covidism exposes them.
Excellent Father, as always! This reminded by of Bishop Avery Teshlove’s chapter 3 on in his The Struggle for Virtue book which distinguishes Christian love from humanistic love, so frequently being preached these days by the covidites. Perhaps you could do a commentary on this text for us, and tie it into today’s covidism?
Yes, that chapter in the book, “The Struggle for Virtue” is so pertinent for our times! Humanistic “love” is being hailed as the greater love! It is so important that we soak ourselves in the Scriptures and the mind of the Fathers.
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