On Earth As It Is In Heaven!
In the Orthodox faith, it is important for our faith to involve both our soul (heart, motive, etc) and our actions. We are committed to a holistic faith that involves both the spiritual as well as the material. This is why, for instance, our worship is so involved and has so many different facets of tradition.
Much of our faith begins within our worship. But if our worship in our temple does not lead us to worship in our lives and in our worldview, then are we really living the Orthodox faith as we are called by Christ? If what we do with the richness of our worship is simply apply it to living the same sort of hedonistic and luxurious life as the rest of the world, then are we even grasping the message of the Gospel? Below is a quote from St John in regards to the love of God and just what it looks like from a communal and philanthropic perspective:
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18
The above statement from Saint John is very clear and very straightforward. He, like Saint James, gets right to the point regarding the very thrust of the Gospel, to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” There are so many statements by the Saints and from Christ himself on how the very kingdom of God revolves around serving humanity, that there simply is not enough space in this article.
Matthew 25:41-45 says this in regards to us loving others:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.”
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
I have seen it a number of times where this topic is brought up and someone says “yes, but Paul says good deeds without love is worthless.” Quoting this statement by Saint Paul when referring to praxis is a feeble attempt to narrow the meaning of love into an intellectual and emotional category; not that love does not involve these things; it does but it can also be said that love without works is dead! You cannot love people by living a life of hedonism and general selfishness, as the Saints have been saying through the Scripture and throughout the ages. And likewise, you cannot love by working outside of Christ, as Saint Paul suggests.
Here is the common problem: The very small amount of statement made by Saint Paul – who, btw, is cutting deep in the soul of humanity – is now being used for a new teaching that redefines love, placing it outside of the many statements of Christ and Apostles. Never mind the fact that we should not do good work without right motives. No one is arguing against that. Saint Paul himself tells us not to let our hearts deceive us, and all throughout the Scripture we see how the human condition is ill and we should be careful when trusting our own will. But if we think we do not have good motives, should we cease to work? Absolutely not! No Saint teaches that we should wait for our “hearts to be right” to do good works. What we should do is confess and continue to serve God.
So What Is Love?
An argument stating that love is only “spiritual” simply cannot stand the test of the Saints and of Christ. It simply is heretical to say that love is only spiritual and does not involve creation…humanity, what God has given us to care for. Orthodox spirituality involves the creative order, including God’s law, and to say otherwise is to embark on the Protestant teaching of what is called in Greek, anti-nomianism.
Love is what Christ states it is. Love is also what Saint Paul states, and his perspective is primarily demonstrated in Galatians with “the fruit of the Spirit.” But here is the catch, Saint Paul is not speaking of what modern psychology refers to as “attitude,” Saint Paul is referring how to actually perform the works that Christ is speaking of. Saint Paul is not the new Christ, he is the teacher of Christ’s teaching; He is expounding on Christ’s teaching, not replacing His teachings. The “fruit of the Spirit” that Saint Paul speaks of was also a polemic to heretical Jewish sects that had no idea what true works are all about. Many of them believed that their works, regardless of what they were about, were leading them to God, as long as they came from their priests. What they should have done, of course, was listen to their prophets, who prophesied the coming of Christ and the very expansion of His kingdom. They would have then known that proper works involves a proper soul.
Love is Not mere Attitude
We should all be striving toward sainthood, and we need to look at the lives of the saints in order to see what this looks like. The modern spiritual standard of “attitude” amounts to pure liberalism. The saints do not teach us to be humble for our own gratification or to demonstrate to others that we have an easy personality, for instance, but they tell us to be humble for good works.
Saint NIkolao Velimirovic says this,
“Our religion is founded on spiritual experience, seen and heard surely as any physical fact in this world. Not theory, not philosophy, not human emotions, but experience.”