“Speaking the truth in love, may we grow up in all things into Him who is the head, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Truth and love may never be separated. “God is love” proclaims the holy theologian John (cf. 1 Jn. 4:8). Our Lord proclaims, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (cf. Jn. 14:6). Truth and love exist only in God. They are of Him, without Him there is neither truth nor love.
In our times, many people seek a truthless love. Such a thing is not love, it is an anti-love. St. Theophan the Recluse calls this pseudo-love “Indifferentism.” “Let us examine how contemporary wise men have made use of this teaching. They possess a special kind of vain wisdom called “Indifferentism” by which they reason and say: believe as you like, it makes no difference – just love everyone like brothers, be charitable to them, and have a good influence on them.”1 This indifferentism likes to clothe itself in “compassion” and “understanding.” Commonly, those embracing indifferentism like to label those who are not indifferent as “fundamentalists,” or some such thing.
Our Lord Jesus instructs us, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15). The commandments of the Lord are truth. Those who willfully break the commandments – truth – are not abiding in love; worse yet is when they teach others to do likewise! The commandments are alive and living, for they are the energy and life of God through which we are renewed and resurrected.
St. Theophan teaches us, “When someone begins to expound to you about love or fruitful action independent of true belief, tell him: Wait, first believe correctly. By faith acquire all the salvific precepts of Christianity. Through them be united with the Lord, make your life and strength depend on Him like you would on an injection for your health and then you will begin to act in a fruitful way. It is a fact that the witness to a righteous life is fruitful activity in love, but in order to attain it and to remain in it one must accept all of God’s Truth with faith and pass through all of God’s sanctifying actions [on one’s self]. Only under these conditions, i.e., by abiding in True Love, may we grow up into Him in all things, Who is the head, even Christ (Eph. 4,15).We could summarize thus: he who does not have the right Faith cannot enter into the proper state, and he who does not enter into the right state cannot properly act. Now do you see how one cannot say: Believe as you wish, only love?”2
We as Christians can love only in as much as we are actively and willfully abiding in God’s Truth, all of the sacred commandments. When we find ourselves not in harmony with the commandments, it is then that we must harmonize our wandering will to the Eternal Truth. Sadly, some called Christians prefer to twist the commandments to their own fallen reason and disposition.
St. Ignatius Brainchaninov preaches, “Truth Himself tells us, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ Study the Gospels, and He will tell you the unfeigned, holy Truth”3
And the holy hierarch Averky proclaims, “In His commandment on love as the basic law of the Gospel, the Lord connected it to the teaching about Himself as the Son of God … Without sanctification and illumination from above, our love – if it indeed is within us – lacks Gospel purity and holiness. It is poisoned by our own self-love and egotism, which is so subtle and hard to grasp that we do not even notice it.”4
The pseudo-love of our day is but a spineless acceptance of anything and everything as a “personal truth.” It does seem that it accepts everything except the Truth itself. It is in reality a callous indifference toward others. Under the guise of mercy and compassion, it seeks to justify sinful states.
Thus, as Christians, we must speak the truth. We must speak the truth in love. Both contain in themselves a longing that “all men would be saved and come to a full knowledge of the truth” (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). We know that the Lord does not will the death of the ungodly, or anyone, but that we all may repent and be saved (cf. Eze. 33:11).
The holy Apostle Paul earnestly desired that all his kinsmen of Israel would be saved. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God are for Israel, that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). He is speaking of the unbelieving Hebrews and the Judaizers who persecuted him from city to city and opposed the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, either outright or through preaching a “different gospel” (cf. Gal. 1:6). The Judaizers especially utilized subversive, dishonest, and mocking attacks on St. Paul in an attempt to undermine his Gospel work.
St. Paul, in his defense of the truth of the Gospel against these innovators and adversaries, writes some very strong words, “I wish that those who disturb you would emasculate themselves” (Gal. 5:12). So terrible is it to actively preach heresy that it is better, in the case of the Judaizers (a tenet of this heresy was that non-Jewish converts to Christianity must be circumcised according to the Law of Moses), to slip with the knife and cut off the privy parts.
What shall we say, did the apostle present a feigned love in his epistle to the Romans? Not at all. The apostle writes his strong statement in Galatians with the hope that it will bring at least some of the Judaizers to their sense – it is better to lose a body part than to be actively opposing the Truth; worse yet to be claiming to speak the truth while promoting a lie. He spoke zealously because he was not indifferent to the perilous state of the Judaizers, which would be damning if not repented of.
Indeed, the whole of the epistle to the Galatians is written to counter the heresy of the Judaizers. Truth and love.
He wrote from his earnest desire that they would see the truth, repent, and be saved. If he failed to speak against their destructive actions in the form of heresy, how could that be love? He would then leave the heretics in their terrible error and open the door for them to lead many astray.
It is of uttermost importance that we cultivate in our hearts the earnest desire that all be saved. We must not let our hearts grow cold and callous with the times. Yet, only the Truth will set men free (cf. Jn 8:32). Thus, a proclamation and defense of truth is the only true love. The blessed Archbishop Averky teaches the very principle exhibited in the Apostle Paul, “And nevertheless (let immoderate lovers of peace pay heed!), the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who said, Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart (Matt. 11:29), found it sometimes necessary to manifest great strictness and have recourse to severe measures, teaching us also by this very fact, that meekness and humility do not mean spinelessness and should not yield before manifest evil, and that a true Christian should be far from sugar-sweet sentimentality and should not step away in the face of evil which presumptuously raises its head, but should always be uncompromising towards evil, fighting with it by all measures and means available to him, in order decisively to cut off the spread and strengthening of evil among men”5
St. Paul was uncompromising in his stance with Judaizers, yet he earnestly prayed that the persons ensnared in the falsehood would be delivered and saved.
His stance against their false teaching was uncompromising and strict because it was not a personal assault against him but rather an assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Concerning personal insult and injury, we are called to forgive all and to “turn the other cheek” (cf. Matt. 5:38ff). The patristic-minded Archbishop Averky says, “To our personal enemies, according to Christ’s commandment, we must forgive everything, but with the enemies of God we cannot have peace! Friendship with the enemies of God makes us ourselves the enemies of God: this is a betrayal and treason towards God, under whatever well-seeming pretexts it might be done, and here no kind of cunning or skillful self-justification can help us!”6
We are called to pray for all men but we are not called to enter into communion with all. We cannot be friends (in the true sense of the word) with those who actively twist and pervert the truth.
Speaking against false teaching and anti-Gospel actions is not an ultimate condemnation of a person. Who knows, maybe the person who is currently spouting falsehood will repent? God knows. At one point, the great apostle Paul was a vicious persecutor of Christians; he encountered Christ in Truth and repented. Possibly, it was this personal experience of St. Paul that kindled in him a hope for the salvation of his unbelieving kinsmen; for he was once as they are.
Willful persistence in anti-truth and sin will lead only to the depths of hell. To warn a person of this ultimate end is most loving. Thus, we witness in the saints the fervent opposition and condemnation of falsehood while committing the persons to the hands of God alone. They urgently warned that destruction awaits at the end of the path of falsehood and sin. They warned because they were not indifferent to the fate of the persons. A Christian is called to make critical judgments concerning much of what he encounters in life according to the truth of Jesus Christ, while leaving the eternal Judgment of a person to God alone. He alone sees the final end of every person. St. Dimitry of Rostov teaches, “Do not pass a sentence of condemnation on anyone, and do not appoint the Lord’s authority to yourself, for there is one judge of the living and the dead – God.”7
The Lord’s forbearance of sin is never a condoning thereof, rather it is only so that we may have time to come to our senses and repent (cf. Rom. 2:4). Yet, the Lord’s forbearance does have an end (cf. 1 Pet. 3:20), at which point we will reap the fruit of our inner dispositions – for the Truth or against it.
St. Cyprian teaches, “While God is provoked with frequent, yea, with continual offenses, He softens His indignation, and in patience waits for the day of retribution, once for all determined … [St. Paul] says that God’s judgment is just [cf. Rom. 2:4], because it is tardy, because it is so long and greatly deferred, so that by the long patience of God, man may be benefited for eternal life. Punishment is then executed on the impious and the sinner, when repentance for the sin can no longer avail.”8
While leaving the final judgment of every person to God, we Christians are called to firmly speak the truth in love, resisting steadfastly, most of all, those who seek to introduce innovations into the Holy Faith.
It is therefore imperative that we follow steadfastly the way of the holy Fathers. St. Ignatius instructs, “Acquire for yourself the thought and spirit of the Holy Fathers through the reading of their works. The Holy Fathers have attained the ultimate goal – they have been saved. You also will achieve this aim according to the natural way of things. As someone who is one in mind and heart with the Holy Fathers, you will be saved.”9
The spirit of false love is actively seeking to undermine the truth. Even from those who claim to be Orthodox, the call to indifferentism rings out. St. Ignatius, speaking with a complete understanding of the spirit of our times, says, “As a result of the dearth of spirit-bearing guides in our times, the Holy Fathers have become the most dependable guides for those who desire salvation and Christian perfection.”10 My dear readers, cling to the holy Fathers.
Be courageous, speak the truth in love, judging everything by the standard of Christ in His Holy Church. Stand strong and steadfast in the Faith, striving to make no compromise with the spirit of the times. Leave all persons to God, He alone is the Judge of persons. Pray for the salvation of every person, cultivate a longing for it as did St. Paul, by the grace of God.
“Brethren, having understood this, let us guard ourselves from the evil reasoning of this world. Only those who have never tasted the Truth can waver in it. Let us fulfill with humility and in the spirit of truth all that our holy Faith demands. Then we will have, and carry within, a witness which will bring to naught all false arguments from without. May the Lord illumine us by His Truth. Amen.”11
1 On Truth and Love in the writings of St. John the Evangelist
3The Field, Jordanville, pg. 48
4The Struggle for Virtue, Asceticism in a Modern Secular Society. Jordanville, pg. 34, 35
5 Holy Zeal. Orthodox Word, May-June, 1975
7 Instructions on the Path of Virtue. pg. 42
8 As quoted in, St. Paul’s Epistle to Romans, Archbishop Dimitry Royster, pg. 52
9 The Field, pg. 26
10 Ibid, pg. 27
11 St. Theophan the Recluse, On Truth and Love in the writings of St. John the Evangelist
3 thoughts on “On Truth, Love, and Judgment”
Your blessing, Father! Thank you and glory to God for such a cogent and Patristic piece. Do you have any particular recommendations for Holy Fathers a still fairly-recent (6 year) convert from Protestantism ought to read, in view of our particular times?
May the Lord bless! If you have yet to read “How to read the Holy Fathers” by Seraphim Rose, it is an important piece, http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/rose_mind1.aspx
St. Theophan, On the Spiritual Life and how to be attuned to it.
The writings of St. Justin Popovich are very important.
Archbp. Averky’s book that I reference in the article is great.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Field.
Writings and lives of the New Martyrs of the Communist yoke.
St. Paisios the New of Mt. Athos
This is just a basic list of simple suggestions, you may have already read some of them.
St. Ignatius recommends, “Let everyone choose for himself the Fathers whose writings most correspond to his way of life … Let the Christian in the world read those Fathers who wrote for the benefit of all Christians … It is absolutely necessary that the reading correspond to one’s way of life. Otherwise, you will be filled with thoughts that may be holy, but may also be impossible to achieve in action, given your situation.”
Your blessing, Fr +
Wonderful Patristic exhortation for our time! Glory to God for all things +