Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
St. John the Little, a disciple of St. Pachomious the Great, said once “Nobody builds his house from the roof down but from the foundation up”. Asked what he meant by this he said “our foundation is our neighbor; to him I should tend first, because on him hang all the commandments of Christ.” The essence of Christianity is love, but love has to be directed to someone other than us, otherwise it becomes selfishness. Our relationship with God depends on our relationship with our brothers and sisters. If I don’t love my brother and do not want to be with him than how could I be with God that loves my brother?
The ancient Greeks had a real fondness for the concept of love and were very particular in describing it, employing several words to describe its different meanings. For this they had eros, which is the passionate love, more linked with the flesh in the modern understanding, but not necessarily the only meaning of it; they also used philia for the love toward our friends and the things we enjoy in life; storge represented the family love, like parents for their children; and finally they had agape.
Agape signifies a love that is unconditional, selfless, genuine, and cheerful. It is the type of love that never asks but always gives, is a love that does not bother to suspect anything but trusts, it is the love that does not talk bad about others, or ever gets upset, or yells or has swinging moods. It is how God love us and how we should love our neighbor.
On Easter day, the holiest day for Orthodox people, we hold a service that we also call “Agape” vespers. Maybe you have wondered where this name comes from. Its true meaning is linked with the Gospel of the day that according to Tradition is read in many different languages. The languages are a symbol of the love God has for all the people of this world, not just for the Israelites, but for all the gentiles that were all called to be a new holy nation under Christ, united into His holy body, the Church. This represents the real agape: the universal love of God, a perfect unity of persons that has all the love He needs and yet He creates the world and in it He puts Man so He can have other subjects that can partake in the perfect love of the Holy Trinity.
God did not needed this for Himself, He did not just wanted a partner to play with, but He, unselfishly, wanted someone to share with what He already had in abundance: love. He offered man the possibility to enter into a relationship of love with Him, a relationship wanted from both sides, a relationship of unbiased free choice. Any other solution beside the total freedom to join in or not, which also includes the risk of rejection, would have fallen into the category of arranged marriages.
God wanted however a true love, a love based on mutual understanding and informed consent: a simple choice and man would have had everything. Man however, we know the history by now, rejected this union initially and sold it for an immaterial dream of existence in creation without its Creator.
The day of the great fall was a sad day in the existence of Man but in the same time one that made possible the revelation of God’s supreme commitment to Man, a revelation of His profound love for mankind, a love that goes all the way to sacrifice. Not a sacrifice of animals: doves or lambs or goats, but a meaningful sacrifice, the sacrifice of the only Son of God, Who came down to give us another chance to be redeemed and to rejoin God in His plans for union with Mankind.
God emptied Himself of all His heavenly glory and from His greatness He made Himself small, one of us, so we can be made great; as St. Athanasius said: God became man so man can become, at his turn, god. This is the great mystery of love: one becoming small so the other could grow; one renouncing his will for the other’s will, one giving the other receiving, always cheerful, always joyful, always holding the other one in first regard.
We re-enact this great mystery every Sunday when during Liturgy we partake of the Eucharist. Christ makes Himself again small so we can take Him in our bodies and in turn we become big, we become one with God, as He always wanted. But through Him we also become one with all that partake with Him; through communion with Christ we actually become a Church. One becomes many and many become one. When one joins the church one ceased being alone, from one, living in isolation one becomes part of a community that shares everything in agape.
What unites the bricks of His Church, us, His people, is not mortar, but is Him, love incarnate, the genuine and original agape. His love however is one that compels us to imitation. If we want our church to be solid and last forever we should make sure we have enough of this special cement. Hear the words of the Holy Apostle Paul: “I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you [...] that [your] hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love.” (Col 2:1-2).
This is the only way: to love each other as Christ loves us. The bonds that form between people through unconditioned love, respect and consideration are the only ones that could last a life time and dare I say an eternity. A community of faith has to be first of all a community of love. We cannot be in communion with the love incarnate if we don’t share this sentiment among ourselves. We join the Church because we love God, but the expression of this love is made through our brothers and sisters. They are the true gate to paradise, our long waited ticket to heaven.
Only united in one holy body the building blocks we need for our Church will be brought together in an unbreakable bond. In love and unity our sacrifice and commitment will serve the holy purpose of living a true life in Christ.
Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom every building having been fitly framed together, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a dwelling place of God through the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)
Fr. Vasile Tudora