Last Lord’s Day I introduced you to the Orthodox tradition of monasticism associated with Mount Athos in Greece (photo at left). I referenced the writings of Staretz Silouan (1866-1938), a monk whose writing has been particularly helpful to me. Today I return to Silouan and his amazing chapter on love (his words in italics):
At all times I beseech the Lord who is merciful to grant that I may love my enemies; and by the grace of God I have experienced that the love of God is, and what it is to love my neighbour; and day and night I pray the Lord for love, and the Lord gives me tears to weep for the whole world. But if I find faith with any man or look on him with an unkind eye my tears dry up and my soul sinks into despondency. Yet do I begin again to entreat forgiveness of the Lord, and the Lord in his mercy forgives me, a sinner.
No man of himself can know what is God’s love, unless he be taught of the Holy Spirit; but God’s love is known in our Church through the Holy Spirit, and so we speak of this love.
The Lord is not like us. He is passing meek, and merciful, and good; and when the soul knows Him she marvels greatly and exclaims: “O what a Lord is ours!'”
The Lord loves us, and gently and without reproach takes us to Himself, just as the father in the Gospel story did not reproach his prodigal son but called his servants to bring a new robe and put a precious ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and told them to kill the fatted calf, and be merry; and in nothing did he condemn his son.
“Did not our heart burn within us?” said the Apostles after Christ drew near them. So does the soul recognize and love her Lord, and the delight of His love is a burning delight.
In heaven there is one and the same love in the hearts of all, but on earth some there are that greatly love the Lord, others love Him in small degree, while still others love Him not at all.
I have known a man for some years who professed the Christian faith and did many acts of charity. Everyone believed him to be a truly pious man. He professed faith as a child and then lived a life of outward conformity to Christ, at least in so far as most knew him. He was a devoted leader in the Christian church, widely respected. But his life was an internal shambles. For many years he was mastered by adultery. When God wakened him from his spiritual death he fell in love with Christ. I asked him, some months ago, “All those years that you professed your faith in Christ and did all those good things you did in service of Christ did you love the Lord Jesus Christ from your heart?” His answer was as I expected. He calmly said, “No.” I asked him what had changed and he said, very simply, “I met him in the recesses of my own heart and now I know I love him and I know beyond any doubt that he loves me.”
This is why I do not ask people if they have experienced a conversion or accepted Jesus into their heart. I ask, “Do you love the Lord or not?” The apostle John says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world” (1 John 2:15). The world here refers to the fallen powers and reigning gods of this world. Do you live for yourself, your worldly pleasure, or for the Father? If you love God you will live for God. We know that we belong to God because we love. We love because he first loved us.