By Bishop John (Kallos) of Thermon
The first and great commandment of Christ was the commandment to love. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” Luke 10:27. This commandment of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ passed through my mind as I read the book “Why Pray” by Fr. Mark Gibbard. In the chapter entitled, ‘Praying is Exploration,’ he says, ‘Seldom in the history of mankind has there been such real concern for our fellow man, than there is today. There are the demands that poverty should be wiped out. There are the protests against the horror of war. There are the struggles against unjust racial discrimination. Concern about man and unconcern about God. Demand for action and disregard for prayer.’
How much truth there is indeed in this observation of Fr. Gibbard, for throughout the four corners of our nation we observe tremendous efforts being exerted for man and complete indifference shown for the person of God. There are many movements within this great nation of ours, but not one whose central theme is God. Oh, yes, there is one, a very negative one, of which you are all familiar. ‘The God is Dead’ movement which is dying very quickly itself.
Now that ‘man has come to age,’ he considers himself the measure of all things. There is no God for him, nor are there any values to be honored, except those which suit him. Everything is relative. No authority, be it ecclesiastical or civil, is respected, for man now considers himself to be the final authority in all things. Institutions of every shape and form are a threat to him, and should be undermined until their self-destruction is brought about, for they represent the authority of God.
Secular man today sees, and yet he does not see. Secular man today hears, and yet he does not hear. For all of creation speaks of the existence of God. They pretend to live in love, and yet they thrive on hate. In I John 4:16, we note, “he who lives in love, lives in God.” Secular man by ignoring all the moral values and institutions of mankind believes that he is living life to the fullest, yet that is the furthest from the truth. St. Paul says, “To me to live is Christ.” Philippians 1:21. A Christian, likewise, can only life if he, too, loves God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength and with all his mind. Man cannot serve two masters, for as St. Luke observes, “for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Luke 16:13. A choice has to be made.
As Nicholas Berdyaev, who was near enough to Marxism to be appointed to a chair of philosophy at Moscow University after the Russian Revolution, but who later returned to the Orthodox faith observes, “Man without God is no longer man.” St. Paul in Acts 17:28 is quoted as saying. “In God we live and move and have our being.” In this vein, we might also quote Albert Camus, the French existentialist who contended that “To understand the world, it is necessary sometimes to turn away from the world; to serve men better, it is necessary for a moment to keep them at a distance.”
It goes without saying, that all this talk about God to the secular man of our godless age sounds phony. For him the only reality is the ‘trip’ he takes into fantasy. Yet, St. Augustine wrote “Since nothing that is could exist without thee (meaning God), thou must in someway be in all that is.” Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote “For God is either the fullness of fullness, the value of all that is valuable, the wholeness of wholeness, the life of life, or he is nothing.”
St. John the Theologian states “Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God, but the unloving know nothing of God.” I John 4:7. Love is turning to the one loved — the beloved. If we love God, then we must turn to Him and allow His will to be done. In these times of accelerated change, it is not God and his Church that must change, but it is we, the Christians, the followers of Christ, in this secular and godless society, that must undergo a change — and change for the better. In order that we change, we must start where we are, with the real me, with all my faults and virtues, in relationship to who God is. For only out of understanding the theological issues of God, can we become what we ought to be as Christians. The criterian of what we ought to be and how we ought to live, is not to be found in the unstable pluralism of American society, but rather in the Orthodox Christian tradition which has preserved faithfully the faith and morals of Jesus Christ unaltered and unchanged throughout the history of Christianity.
Loving God with all one’s heart and soul and strength and mind is more than just hearing Christ’s call. It is responding to His calling. The call of Christ to worship Him on Sunday is more than just listening to prayers and hymns and watching the religious drama of Jesus Christ. The gathering of the faithful at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist should be doing what is being done, and not just thinking about it, otherwise, there can be no union with God. Maybe an encounter, but never a union with God. To love God is to be willing to do His will and not that of our selfish self. God wills that during the celebration of the Liturgy, we Orthodox Christians, clergy and laity alike, play our part, for each one of us has something to do and a role to play.
It is in the Temple of God that the ecclesia encounters God and enters into union with Him by the reception of the Holy Eucharist, thereby bearing witness to all that he is a Christian. Since the final end of love is the completest union possible, love exacts a communion of soul, heart, strength and mind. In the like manner, a faithful Orthodox Christian truly expresses his love for God whenever he enters into union with God through the reception of the Holy Eucharist, which is the sole purpose for the celebration of the Liturgy and the attendance of the faithful. A nominal Orthodox Christian displays lack of love for God when he looks upon the Temple of God as he would a business, a fraternal organization or a club. With such an attitude, he fails to recognize that the Church is a divine institution intended for the theosis of man by the impartation of Divine Grace through the Sacraments. Consequently, the respect displayed or lack of it in the Temple of God during liturgical services and otherwise is predetermined. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we possess the correct understanding of what the Church is, coupled with faith in God, in order to be able to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength and all our mind.