By Fr. Panagiotis Rodis
"Whoever says they love God yet hates their brother is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother, whom they can see, cannot love God, whom they cannot see. And this is the command He has given us: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother." - 1 Jn. 4:20-21
"This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands." - 1 Jn. 5:2
With these words the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, whom the Church honors today, gives us the two dimensions of love, and urges us to be characterized by these two forms of love: love for God and love for neighbor.
Love for God is an expression of thanksgiving by creation towards their Creator, and love for neighbor is a practical manifestation of love for God. To only have one of these types of love is spurious, hypocritical, incomplete and false. These two dimensions of love are interdependent: our love for God depends on our love for people, and our love for people depends on our love for God. One cannot stand without the other. People are called to be "like God", and this is achieved when we cultivate both dimensions of love: both towards God and towards our neighbor.
This is because according to the teachings of our faith, reality is twofold: God exists and the created world exists, and the latter has a different nature from God, although it was created out of God's love. The preference for one dimension of love over another leads to divisions, theories about the cosmos, theories about life and concepts that deny the reality of the world, or reject God, or identify God with the cosmos. In this way God closes in on Himself and does not communicate with people, or people deny God and become enclosed within the vicious cycle of birth and death, with no hope of meeting with God, that is, of salvation.
Thus when a person denies the dual commandment of love, they condemn themselves to the hell of their narcissism, to the worship of their EGO. And at the same time they condemn the entire cosmos to corruption and death. With the contemporary degenerative phenomena in society and the multiform problems of our natural environment, what else does this reveal, but the denial or rejection of peoples reference to the God of love, and the greedy and insatiable worship of the EGO!
Usually people, who ever since the fall select lifestyles which suit them as individuals, prefer either love for God or love for people, but never both. Because both dimensions entail the Cross. And people today more and more deny the Cross. They prefer to load it on others. The unilateral choosing of one or the other love constitutes idolatry. The main feature of idolatry is the satisfaction of the aspirations of an egomaniac.
We cannot love God unless we see His face in our brothers and sisters. "If you have seen your brother, you have seen the Lord your God," said a certain abba in the Gerontikon.
And one cannot love their brother, unless they see in them the image of God. Otherwise, the "other" becomes our hell. "Hell is other people," said Sartre. Or Homo hominis lupus ("Man is a wolf to man"), says the ancient Latin pessimistic saying.
People who deny God or aren't interested in God say: "I love people, which is a particular thing, and this is enough." Dostoevsky, who was a great man and a great Christian, a crucified Christian, experienced love very much, and in his works he emphasizes how love must indeed be twofold, and it is based on two dimensions: love for God and love for neighbor. And he testifies how eventually love only for people will be twisted and exhausted, and perhaps even change to hate, if it remains this way to the end.
Love only for our neighbor, no matter how sincere it may be, is always incomplete, and directly or indirectly seeks recognition, reward, reciprocation. These reveal the psychic gaps of the one who loves, as well as their inability to open up this love to the dimension of eternity. Love is eternal, immortal, and it claims immortality. The Marxist thinker Herbert Marcuse, in his sincere attempt to explain and give some meaning to life ends up with love. However, there remains a big problem: DEATH, which cuts off love. And he frankly admits that love claims immortality, because what we create we want to remain for eternity. And death is nothing more than the tragedy of the interruption of relations that are created by love. Therefore there are eternal relations. And if love is immortal, it is so because it comes from God, who is love.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that love "does not seek its own." It merely offers. It gives and it is inexhaustible because it believes, lives and experiences the power of the infinite, and there is no one that can change it or disrupt it. Chrysostom says: "The nature of love is such that it knows no satisfaction, but, while still enjoying the people it loves, its flame increases more."
Love is the only force that can face death and respect peoples freedom. And they face the destruction of death by offering themselves as a sacrifice. And it respects freedom because it does not force, it does not enslave, it does not have requirements, but it is offered selflessly.
The leading action of such love is the sacrifice on the Cross by the God-man, who as man experienced all the consequences of the fall of man, and by His love, which is sacrificed, He descends to the ultimate human tragedy, namely death, in order to lead humanity and all creation to the Kingdom of God.
It is this love of the God-man that exceeds time and space, and removes every obstacle. "Such is the power of love," says the divine Chrysostom, "in that it does not embrace, unite and connect only those who are located near us, that we can see, but also those who have moved away from us. And neither the length of time nor the distance of roads or anything similar could cut off or separate this psychic bond."
Love begins with the observance of God's commandments. Keeping God's commandments means abandoning our selfishness and treating our passions. And if people are healed from their passions in Christ, they are victors over the world of corruption and death and in their face is revealed the truth and grandeur of their faith, and they confess with the Apostle and Evangelist John: "And this is the victory which conquers the world: our faith."
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.