Many many thanks to all those who contributed to match a generous $3000 donation from an anonymous donor. The goal was attained this past weekend. It is because of people like you that the Mystagogy Resource Center can continue to offer unique material to all for free on a daily basis that I hope people find beneficial. For those who still wish to contribute, please do so, with much gratitude in return. God bless you all!

January 28, 2021

On Love (St. Ephraim the Syrian)

On Love

By St. Ephraim the Syrian

Rightly did the Lord say, ‘My burden is light’. For what sort of weight is it, what sort of toil is it to forgive one’s brother his offences, which are light and of no importance, and to be pardoned for one’s own, and immediately justified? He did not say, ‘Bring me money, or calves, or goats, or fasting, or vigils’, so that you could say, ‘I have none, I cannot’, but he ordered you to bring what is light and easy and immediate, saying, ‘Pardon your brother his offences, and I will pardon yours. You pardon small faults, a few halfpennies, or three pennies, while I give you the ten thousand talents. You only pardon without giving anything, I nevertheless both grant you pardon and give you healing and the Kingdom. And I accept your gift, when you are reconciled to the one who is your enemy, when you have enmity against no one, when the sun does not go down on your anger. When you have peace and love for all, then your prayer is acceptable, and your offering well-pleasing, and your house blessed and you blesséd. But if you are not reconciled with your brother, how can you seek pardon from me? You trample on my words, and do you demand pardon? I, your Master, demand, and you pay no attention, and do you, a slave, dare to offer me prayer, or sacrifice, or first fruits, while you have enmity against someone? Just as you turn your face from your brother, so I too turn my eyes from your gift and your prayer.’

Again I entreat you, brethren, since God is love, he is not well-pleased by things that take place without love. How would God accept prayer, or gifts, or first fruits, or offering from a murderer, unless they first repented in accordance with God’s word? But you will no doubt say to me, ‘I am not a murderer.’ And I will prove to you that you are, or rather John the Theologian will convict you, when he says, ‘Every one who hates their brother is a homicide.’

So then, my beloved brethren, let us not prefer anything, let us not hasten to obtain anything more than love. Let no one have anything against anyone, let no one repay evil for evil. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, but let us forgive our debtors everything and let us welcome love, because love covers a multitude of sins.

Because what gain is there, my children, if someone has everything, but does not have love which saves? For just as if someone were to make a great dinner in order to invite the King and the rulers, and were to prepare everything sumptuously, so that nothing might be lacking, but had no salt, would anyone be able to eat that dinner? Certainly not. But he would have lost everything he had spent and wasted all his hard work, and brought ridicule on himself from those he had invited. So it is in the present instance. For what advantage is there in toiling against winds, without love? For without it every deed, every action is unclean. Even if someone has attained complete chastity, or fasts, or keeps vigil; whether they pray or give banquets for the poor; even if they think of offering gifts, or first fruits, or offering; whether they build churches, or do anything else, without love all those things will be reckoned as nothing by God. For the Lord is not pleased by them. Listen to the Apostle when he says, ‘If I speak with the tongues of Angels and of humans; if I have prophecy and know all mysteries, and have complete knowledge, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I gain nothing’. For one who has enmity against their brother and thinks they offer something to God, will be as though they sacrificed a dog, and their offering will be reckoned as the wages of prostitution.

Therefore never want to do anything without love, because love covers a multitude of sins. What good we despise! Of how many good things, of what joy are we deprived when we have not acquired love! Judas did not wish to acquire it and went from the midst of the choir of the Apostles, abandoning the true Light, his own Teacher, and hating his own brothers he walked in darkness. And so Peter, the prince of the Apostles, said, ‘Judas transgressed and went to his own place.’ And again, John the Theologian says, ‘One who hates their brother is in darkness, and walks about in the dark, and does not know where they is going, because darkness has blinded their eyes.’

But if you say, ‘I may not love my brother, but I love God’, he convicts you when he says, ‘If someone says, "I love God" and hates his brother, he is a liar. For someone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God, whom he has not seen?’ Therefore one who has love for his brothers and has no enmity for anyone, who fulfils the word of the Master, ‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger’, truly loves God, is a disciple of Christ who says, ‘By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’.

It is clear then that the disciples of Christ are recognized by this, by true love. One who has hatred against his brother and thinks he loves Christ is a liar and deceives himself. For the Apostle John says, ‘We have this commandment from him, that one who loves God should love his brother.’ And again the Lord says, ‘You are to love the Lord your God, and your neighbour as yourself’. And he adds, wishing to show the power of love, ‘On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’

What a remarkable wonder, that one who has unfeigned love fulfils the whole of the Law. For the fulfilment of the Law is love, as the Apostle says . O unfathomable power of love! O infinite power of love! Nothing is more precious than love, neither in heaven nor on earth. That is why the Apostle Paul, having learned that nothing is worth as much as love, wrote and despatched to the ends of the inhabited world these words, ‘Brethren, owe no one anything, except to love one another, to lay down your lives for one another’. It is love that is the fulfilment of the Law. Love is unerring salvation. It dwelt from the beginning in Abel’s heart; it was Noë’s helmsman; it worked with the Patriarchs; rescued Moses; made David the dwelling of the Holy Spirit; made its tabernacle in the Prophets; gave strength to Job. And why should I not mention the greatest of all? It brought the Son of God from heaven down to us. Through love the One without flesh became flesh, the One without time entered time for us, the Son of God became son of man. Through love all things were ordered for our salvation; death was destroyed, Hell cast down, Adam recalled and Eve set free. Through love the curse was abolished, Paradise was opened, life was revealed, the Kingdom of heaven was promised. Love caught the fishers of fish in its net and made them fishers of men; competed alongside the Martyrs and gave them strength; turned the deserts into cities; filled mountains and caves with chanting; made mortals into angels; showed men and women how to tread the narrow and difficult way. But where should I stop pursuing what cannot be grasped? Who is capable of recounting the love’s achievements? I think even the Angels cannot recount them as they deserve.

O blessed love, giver of all good things! O blessed love, who make those who long for you blessed! Blessed and truly thrice blessed the one who has acquired love from a pure heart and conscience.

When you hear about love, you are not to understand worldly and carnal love, one concerned with taverns and drinking parties, whose belly and repute is their God, whose love is defined by the table, whose love is hostile to God. There they invite friends and not enemies, there the poor are not present, there are laughter, hand clapping and tumults, there drunkenness and disgraceful behaviour. Of this the Apostle said, ‘Whoever thinks they are a friend of the world, becomes an enemy of God.’ Of this love [agapi], or rather deception [apati], not to say more, where God does not visit, God said, ‘The heathen do the same. For if you love those who love you, what grace is that to you, or what reward do you have?’

We are not speaking of such love, we do not proclaim it or pursue it, but rather that which is without pretence, without blame, unspotted, incomparable, which holds all things and whose name is given to every good thing, which the Lord showed when he said, ‘That one should lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. And the Lord himself taught this and did it, and laid down his life, not only for his friends, but also for his enemies. For ‘this was how God loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son’ for us. Through this love the Apostle Paul, who had this divine love, said, ‘Love does not work evil for one’s neighbour, does not repay evil for evil, not insult for insult, but is always patient, is kind, is not jealous, is not provoked, does not reckon up evil, does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices with justice. It supports all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Such love as this never fails.’

One who has this is blessed both in the present age and in the one to come. One who has this blessed love is not proud, not envious, never hates anyone, does not ignore a pauper, does not turn away a beggar, does not neglect an orphan, a widow, a stranger. One who has this not only loves those who love them — for the heathen do this too — but also those who afflict them. Stephen, the first martyr, because he had this divine love, prayed for those who were stoning him and said, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’

Again I say, and I will not stop saying, ‘Blessed is one who has despised all earthly and perishable things and acquired love.’ Such a person’s reward increases every day. Such a person’s reward and crown has been prepared, the Kingdom of heaven has been given them. All the Angels call them blessed; all the Powers of heaven praise them; the choirs of the Archangels receive them with joy. For them the gates of heaven will be speedily opened, and they will enter with boldness1, take their stand by the throne of God, be crowned by God’s right hand, and will reign with him for endless ages.

Who is more blessed than this? Who higher than this? Who more honoured than this? See to what height love carries those who possess it. Rightly did the Apostle say that we should owe no one anything, except to love one another. For ‘God is love, and one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them’ to the ages. Amen.