Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Divine Eros According to Saint John Chrysostom


By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The first and great commandment is love for God and the second is love for neighbor. It is not possible for someone to love God and not be concerned for their neighbor, nor to love our neighbor and ignore God. The life of a Christian is characterized from the vertical dimension towards God and horizontally with people. Concern for people does not come from some social or political ideology and a humanistic altruism, but it is an expression of our love for God and the feeling of God's love for man.

Love for God has great importance in the Christian life. Whoever loves God loves whatever God loves. The Holy Fathers call this love "eros", and to distinguish it from every false eros, they speak of "divine eros". This divine eros is mentioned several times by Saint John Chrysostom and he presents its various characteristics. We will make a short reference to this subject to show here an association between watchfulness and sociability that is observed in his teachings.

First he speaks of the love of God for man. One of his most characteristic passages refers to the work of Christ:

"I am father, I am brother, I am bridegroom, I am dwelling place, I am food, I am raiment, I am root, I am foundation: all whatsoever thou desirest, I am. Be thou in need of nothing. I will be even a servant, for I came to minister, not to be ministered unto; I am friend, and member, and head, and brother, and sister, and mother; I am all, only cling thou closely to Me. I was poor for thee, and a wanderer for thee, on the cross for thee, in the tomb for thee; above, I intercede for thee; on earth, I am come for thy sake an ambassador from My father. Thou art all things to Me: brother, and joint heir, and friend, and member. What more dost thou want?"

In another one of his homilies he speaks of the desire of God for us to be bound with Him, and he uses the image of a lover and calls God "lover". God is like "some ardent lover - or, rather, being more ardent than any lover". The Christian who acquires this sense of Christ's love loves God more, and this love is called eros.

In his homilies he speaks about eros for human things and he often compares and contrasts it with divine eros, eros for God.

Divine eros is not human in origin, but divine, which is why Saint John Chrysostom speaks of a wound of man from God: "I am wounded with longing for God...". Therefore, divine eros is not of psychological origin, nor is it to be mixed up with physical eros, but it is an energy of the Grace of God, it has another origin, it is the result of the purity of man and God grabbing his nous.

There are many ways in which the eros of man for God can be expressed. One such form is longing. Man feels unbearable longing for God and wants to unite with Him, as we saw in the passage just quoted: "I am wounded with longing for God...". This divine love is a "seizure", a conquest, out of longing for the heavenly Jerusalem and an eros for the eternal good things.

This longing is expressed as fire. A person who loves God feels a flame within them that entirely burns within their heart. He speaks of this reality in one of his homilies: "Whenever the flame of longing for God...". The words of the Psalm: "My soul has thirsted for You" are considered "words of a soul inflamed".

This spiritual fire of eros creates heat in the heart. "The heat of this fire in the soul" removes any dullness and makes people despise all worldly things. This person lives constantly with devotion and tears, for "the emitting of tears are a source of perpetual and fruitful pleasure". These fiery hot tears unite man with God, with the result that, although they dwell in the city, they feel like they are in the mountains "without being present on the mountains". Of course this is a personal experience.

Interpreting the passage of the Psalm: "I will say to God, Thou art my helper", he says that these words are words "of a soul that is hot, fervent and fully burning with longing".

This divine eros is continuous and uninterrupted, "it flourishes perpetually and blossoms" and does not know old age, nor does it know antiquity, nor change or ways of the future. The saints possessed this divine love which is why they didn't feel compunction for one, two or three days, "but continuously and every day like lovers they accomplish piety, and their love flourishes".

Such spiritual eros is not insubstantial and impersonal, but it is closely connected with the person of Christ. The one occupied by this longing sees no one else, "but continually imagines the one he longs for, both night and day, in sleep and when he arises". This divine eros does not have transitions, but it is "infinite, without end".

The love/eros for God has many implications for the lover, since it transforms their entire existence and brings it into a relationship and communion with God, and the same person becomes a temple of the All-Holy Spirit.

He who rejoices with God eliminates every "pleasure in life". Actually they exceed worldly pleasure with divine pleasure, and when they have this pleasure they do not want to feel any other physical or worldly pleasure. This divine pleasure makes a person "rise high above the world" and gives them "heavenly wings".

Then the one who understands this eros and is wounded with hopes of eternal good things is not attached onto anything of the present, nor are they blown off course by the sad things of this present life. The soul inflamed by divine fire does not desire anything worldly. "When a soul is inflamed with divine fire, it neither looks to the earth, nor towards glory, nor towards the shameful, but only towards one thing: the preservation of this flame." In another one of his homilies he speaks of how when the soul of the lover is strictly painted with divine eros, then "it never turns to present things".

Still, he who loves God keeps His commandments not out of fear and the threat of hell, nor because of the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven, but because of the love "of the Law-giver".

All these expressions used by Saint John Chrysostom and the analysis on divine eros, which he makes in his various homilies to his flock, shows that he was possessed with this divine longing and spiritual eros, his soul and his entire existence was burning with a spiritual and heavenly flame, and this explains all his activity, as well as his homilies which are a radiance of his heavenly longing. At the same time he shows that with this prism and this "spirit" he wanted to educate Christians, even those who dwelled in the cities and worked normal jobs, to whom he usually spoke. He knew that through divine eros he could address in the best way possible all personal and social problems.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ο Θείος έρως κατά τόν άγιο Ιωάννη τόν Χρυσόστομο", September 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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