'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.'
(1 John 4:7-8)
' Agape is the mother of every good..and the bond which holds together our whole condition.'
St John Chrysostom.
'Love is the original image of God in us restored from within by the express image of God Himself, Jesus Christ.'
Love of God - Agape ( Αγάπη )
Agapic love of God, is the true end ( what we should strive for ) of humanity, from which love of neighbour follows. Love is not a feeling or sentiment, but Christ Himself - and through the incarnation, this end is revealed to us. Christ is the true way of love because He is the Incarnate God. This is pure and divine love, as 'He committed no sin.'(1 Peter 2:22) The Lord is not only the perfect model of our humanity, but also its goal. The Incarnation of Christ, 'was the ultimate strategy of divine love' Guroian writes, because by God becoming a Human being, this replaces the law as command, with a personal 'invitation for human beings to achieve the full potentialities of their nature and fulfil their vocation of man-godhood.' So the Lord becomes flesh, in order for us to share in His unconditional and divine love. Christ as the God-man, being the Archetype of the image of God, enables us to evoke His virtues and achieve and partake in His abounding love. With Christ connecting divinity with humanity, the virtues are, as St John of Damascus says, 'naturally inherent in all men, even though all of us do not act naturally.' Therefore all human beings have the opportunity to act out of the true virtues, out of our natural love, as we are all created 'according to His image and likeness.'( Gen 1.26 ) St Gregory of Nyssa tells us that through acting out of this love that Christ shares with us, and by exercising the natural virtues, we grow into freedom. This is where we find freedom says St Gregory - through the practice of virtue, which leads to fulfilling our potential which is to be completely restored in the image and likeness of Christ.
St Gregory of Sinai highlights that the origin and basis of all virtues is Christ. Blessedness and perfection is attained when we are one with Him ( as He is perfect ). St Paul writes 'be imitators of me as I am of Christ.'(1 Cor.11.1) Guroian emphasises that one of the main ways that a Christian can be transformed into acting out of agape and out of the Lord's virtues, is through the Divine Liturgy. Divine love is present in the Liturgy, and it is at this Eucharistic celebration that we should share this love with one another. 'Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess' is what we say before reading the Creed, and Father Vassilios Papavassiliou writes ' it is significant that we hear this command..because in the Church, there is no discrepancy between dogma and love, between faith and works.' Saint John the Evangelist tells us that whoever loves God will not hate his brother - so it is impossible to confess our Christian faith without having a loving communion with the Lord and one another. Perhaps this is where the Christian definition of 'what and who God is' differs from the definition in Judaism and Islam - or any other monotheistic faith.
Fr Vassilios interestingly writes ' if you ask a Jew or a Muslim, 'who is God?' their answer may be a variety of names for God, but all of them would be the equivalent of what Christians know as the Father. For the Christian, this is only part of the truth, and does not reveal the fulness of the Godhead.' I began this piece of writing with a rather short extract from the Gospel, however it is so significant and fulfilling. It tells us that God is love - and that is how most Christians would respond to the question 'what is God?' Fr Vassilios writes 'God is love because God is more than one person. Only a person can love. Many like to think of God as an impersonal, mystical force, but then we cannot speak of a God who loves and forgives - only a person can love and forgive.' This is a simple, but yet moving and a beautiful way of explaining the Trinitarian reflection and revelation of what love exactly is. We have said that God is love, however at the same time love cannot exist on its own accord - without more than one person. True divine love is certainly not self-love, it is the love of another. God is love because He is Trinity : three persons in one Godhead - 'an eternal relationship of love.' Furthermore, we can partake in this eternal relationship of love in this world and in the next. Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share eternal love in unity, we are also asked to 'love one another' and with one mind we must therefore 'confess: Father Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.'
The Rich Young Man (Matt.19:16-22)
The young man asks Christ, 'what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?' The Lord says that he should keep all the commandments, to which the man replies 'which?' Christ then tells him various commandments that he should keep, and the young man tells Him 'all these I have observed; what do I still lack?'
'Go sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow me' Christ replies ! This is the very definition of sacrificial and selfless love. The young man simply thinks that by observing the 'rules and regulations' of the commandments, that He will achieve salvation. He doesn't recognise that what matters is not so much the law, but love. Guroian highlights that all the virtuous deeds are in a person's inherent qualities and overall nature when the image of God is being fulfilled and restored, and therefore they are united with the true love of the Triune Creator. The virtues are only present because of divine love. As Guroian writes 'in Christ all the virtues turn out to be one complete character of kenotic and agapeistic love.' St Symeon the Theologian also says that 'love supplies perfect discernment.' Laws and commandments do not fulfil us in the same way, nor do they guarantee us the same discernment that love does.
Extract from V. Guroian's passage 'The Character of Love' - from which I have based much of this piece of writing on :
No distinction should be made 'between the activity of worship and morality because the two amount to the same loving service toward and identification and union with ones brethren. The final criterion of how and when such loving service and union are accomplished is not any general or universalizable principle of right conduct but the Spirit Himself communicating to each member of the Body of Christ' ( the Church)
As Christ prays to the Father for His disciples and for all those who believe in Him, He asks that 'they all may be one as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.' ( Jn 17:21) The Lord is asking us to be unified in His divine Love - Love is His presence on earth, and it is our aim and goal - leading to a full eternal communion with Him - the very source and meaning of Love.
Love 'is the first and great commandment' (Mt 22:38)