Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ handed down to us the perfect teaching on salvation. And he himself was the first to implement what he taught. It is he who ‘practices and teaches’ (Matth. 5, 19). He also gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of real love. But the most outstanding Good Samaritan is Christ himself, who took upon himself our nature tortured by robbers, that is the demons, the passions, and human wickedness, then raised it and gave it life through his death on the Cross and his resurrection.
We all know now that perfect Christian love is universal; it’s love for everyone, even for our enemies. This is something we all know but find it difficult to live. Even among those closest to us, in our families, at work, there are people we don’t much like. Sometimes this is the case even though they’ve done nothing to us, or something very small, or something we think they may have done. It’s enough for us to feel cold and sometimes actually hostile towards them. But where’s the Christian love in such cases? We have to struggle really hard to break free of such antipathies, which rob us of Christ’s love and don’t help us to be his true disciples.
Saint Paul teaches that this perfect love of Christ can’t be achieved merely through our own powers, because all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, are sick, spiritually unwell. Our will is feeble and our mind is darkened. It needs the illumination of the Holy Spirit. You will recall that this is why, in his Epistle to the Galatians, Saint Paul includes love among the greatest of the virtues: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Gal. 5, 22-23).
So we will try, then, we’ll strive to acquire love, but it’s necessary that we also request the grace of the Holy Spirit: to enlighten us, to cleanse us of the passions and lack of love and to give us the gift of love. Then, when the Holy Spirit responds to our request, to our prayer, to our desire and to our efforts, he will give us the gift of real love. Then we’ll be proper and good disciples of the teacher of love, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ll just tell you a story I remember then I’ll finish. It’s about a little Orthodox Greek boy who lived in Alexandria, in Egypt. When he played with other children, little Muslims, if they hit him, he didn’t hit them back, he didn’t respond in kind. The other children, his friends, once asked him: ‘If people hit us, we hit them back. But we’ve noticed that when you get hit, you don’t strike back, you don’t give as good as you get’. And this blessed and enlightened child replied: ‘I’m a disciple of Christ. Christ told us not to strike back. So I don’t’. One of the other children, a Muslim, heard this and it moved him. When he grew up he came to know Christ and became Christian. He was baptized and became Christian.
That’s what disciples of Christ should be like. We should imitate him in all things and in love. We should always cultivate this spirit of real love towards all people, particularly those for whom we feel coolness and towards whom we have negative feelings. There’s no need for us to go looking for enemies to love, because often enough we can’t even love the people we live with, who are in our home, among our relatives, sometimes in our community.
So this is why, fathers and Christian brothers who are here now*, let’s all begin to make a sincere effort to accept every person, whoever they are, as our brother or sister and to love them as we should love Christ himself.
May we therefore be blessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit in this matter, which is the be all and end all of the Christian life. As I’ve said, without love we can’t be true disciples of Christ.
This is a talk delivered at a meal in the refectory of the Monastery of Grigoriou
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