April 15, 2022

An Interpretation of the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: On Love (9)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

"Lord and Master of my life, bestow on Your servant a spirit of love."*

We now ask for love, which is the fulfillment of the whole law. If we do not have love, then, according to the words of the holy Apostle Paul, we are like "ringing brass or a sounding cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).

If we have the gift of prophecy and great knowledge, and have faith that moves mountains, but do not have love, we are nothing. If we distribute all our property to the poor and give the body to be burned, but we do not have love, we are nothing. That's what love is. If there is no love, no matter how perfect we may be, we are nothing.

Love is everything, for everything that the Lord Jesus Christ said, that He accomplished during the days of His earthly life, and above all, that He revealed on Golgotha, is a continuous great sermon about love. This means that love is something that must always be asked for, persistently, constantly. Love is that which to acquire is the greatest and main task of our life, for our task is to draw us closer to God, to become perfect, just as our Heavenly Father is perfect. How to approach God without love? Without it, we are infinitely far from God.

Love is what all the saints cultivated in their hearts, what is given from God as the greatest gift of God's grace for the fulfillment of Christ's commandments.

There are happy people who are born with a soft, meek, loving heart; it is easier for them to achieve Christian love in their life than for everyone else, especially for those unfortunate ones who are born with a rough, cruel heart, little capable of love.

If a person was born with a meek heart, he still has to endure a lot, go through the path of suffering on the Cross, so that the love of Christ flares up in his heart with a bright flame; he must multiply this love that is given to him.

Christian love filled the hearts of people in ancient times, especially in the time of the apostles, when people loved each other like siblings, fulfilling the commandment of Christ. The Lord could say about them: “By this they will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

And now, where is love now, who will find it by day with fire? A terrible time will come, about which the Lord speaks, indicating the signs of His second coming. He said, among other things: “Then many will be offended, and betray each other, and hate each other, and, because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:10, 12).

We see this in our time, this is what torments, tears our hearts. We see many people who hate each other, betray each other, in whose hearts love has grown cold, and there are no traces of it left.

It is hard, unbearably hard to live, to see that instead of the love of Christ, mutual hatred rages. What a horror, an unspeakable horror we experienced so recently, when a people professing Christ, in alliance with other Christian peoples - the German people - committed such atrocities, such abuses of the law of love, such as the world has not seen.

What is left of the law of love in those villains who buried children and the elderly alive in the ground, smashed the heads of newborns on stones, exterminated tens of millions of people? Where is love? There was no trace of her, love is forgotten.

Instead of the law of Christ's love, the world lives by the law of universal enmity. Whoever follows the newspapers of what is happening in the world shudders when he sees how the most satanic untruth triumphs, how the great powers encourage political violence that deserves deep condemnation.

And around us? Living in a city is more dangerous than in a dense forest, because there are many bandits in the city, full of malice and hatred. For the people in the city - baptized people who were once Christians - have become more evil, more dangerous than animals. Holy love is trampled on, trampled on with dirty boots, the gospel of Christ is trampled on, no one wants to hear about love.

What should we do, how should we be? Shall we also become wolves, of which there are so many around? Of course not. The love of Christ must be preserved until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of Christ must be preserved in the hearts of Christ's small flock, and those horrors of life, the horrors of unrighteousness, of trampled love, which we see daily and hourly, should encourage us to kindle in our hearts the holy love of Christ.

How are we to do it? To whom is love given? Only to those who fulfill the commandments of Christ, who follow the narrow path of suffering, without turning off this path, no matter what suffering and persecution threatens. Go, go, go endlessly along this way of the cross, go without looking back, go to the light of Christ. If we stubbornly and unceasingly move towards the light, then we will come to it.

How can you love people who torture us: thieves, bandits, rapists who do us great harm? This is possible, perhaps not completely, but at least to a small extent. Think on what pity is? This is one of the forms of the love of a saint. Shouldn't we feel sorry with all our hearts for people who have rejected Christ, who are walking the path of perdition, who are going to their father, the devil? Shouldn't you feel sorry for them? It is impossible to love them with pure, complete love, but it is possible to pity them, lamenting in your heart that these unfortunate people are on the path of death. If we do not curse these people, we will fulfill the law of Christ even in relation to them.

Do you know that the great Saint Seraphim of Sarov was attacked by robbers, several peasants from a village neighboring the monastery, beat him with mortal combat, crushed his skull, broke his ribs so that he lost consciousness and lay in the monastery hospital for several months until the Most Holy Mother of God came to heal him. How did he react to the robbers? They were caught, handed over to the court, and the Monk Seraphim begged with tears not to punish them, but to let them go. He wept, he pitied them, and therefore loved them.

Such pity was shown by quite a few other saints. This is how the saints treated those who did them great evil. So also God Himself tolerates sinners, even endured such a terrible robber as Barbarus, who killed three hundred people, then repented, offering God such repentance as cannot be imagined, and was forgiven by God, was loved by God, even received from Him the gift of miracles.

The Lord Himself is so long-suffering towards grave sinners, how dare we hate and curse them? We should feel sorry for them, and pity, as I said, is one of the forms of love.

If one can even pity the murderers, the villains, then what shall we say about the less serious sinners - about the unfortunate thieves, about all those who perish in sins? They must be pitied even more than the Monk Seraphim pitied his murderers. Let no one say: “How can I love these people who are poisoning our lives and disgracing the Russian people?” Let everyone not curse, but pity them, and then the love of Christ will dwell in our hearts. The love of Christ imperceptibly, day by day, penetrates into the heart of a person who tries to please God, always prays, humbles his flesh by fasting, and tries to help the people around him.

The love of Christ pours out into the heart of such a person, fills it to the brim and it overflows, as it poured out for the Monk Seraphim on sinners who came to him by the thousands. Pray to God for such love with the words of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: “Lord and Master of my life, bestow on Your servant a spirit of love!” And God will give you the spirit of love. Amen.
* On the day I happened to translate this, which is Good Friday in the West, The New York Times published an opinion piece titled "In This Time of War, I Propose We Give Up God". I think this sermon by St. Luke is an excellent response to it. [J.S.]