Thursday, October 9, 2014

And your neighbor as yourself

In debates, if you say a few words about religion you will prevail. Let the person who has a different opinion give free rein to his thoughts and speak as much as he likes. Let him sense that he is addressing himself to a calm and uncontentious person. Influence him through your graciousness and prayer and then speak briefly. You achieve nothing if you speak heatedly and tell him, for example, ‘What you’re saying is untrue, a downright lie!’ What will you achieve? Be as sheep among wolves. What should you do? Show indifference outwardly, but be praying inwardly. Be prepared, know what you are talking about and speak boldly and to the point, but with saintliness, meekness and prayer. But in order to be able to do this, you must become saints.

Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 188

These words of our beloved elder certainly strike us as true, but let's not make the mistake of thinking they only apply to religious discussions with others of different viewpoints or beliefs. No, brethren. His advice is universally applicable to every exchange we have with others. We have personally known people who follow the way that the elder describes. We consider them to be saints and excuse ourselves for not being able to do likewise. We are too weak, too human, to be able to be so self-effacing. But when we see others acting this way, we know we have seen and experienced a glimpse of true Orthodoxy, that way of life which is gentle though firm, loving though unindulgent, forgiving though not abandoning the truth. We call this 'the Orthodox way,' and are proud that we have such people among us.

Yet, it isn't 'the Orthodox way' though it is in fact what makes Orthodoxy so attractive. Where else can you find an environment where judgment is minimal, mercy abundant, knowledge humble, wisdom silent and profound? Yes, this is 'Orthodoxy at its best' but we cannot claim it as exclusive to ourselves. And this behavior is not universally applicable or always applied. Where would the Christian faith be if the Fathers of the ecumenical councils had exercised such meekness with heretics? Read the transcripts of some of the councils and you will be shocked by the violence of their arguments and personal attacks, as they winnowed for truth upon the threshing-floor of doctrine. They had to do what was indicated by the moment, and God made use of their weaknesses as well as their strengths to safeguard us.

Back to the virtue of which the elder speaks, to be silent out of strength, powerful through prayer, untroubled by opposition because of irreversible certainty, and trusting of the Lord who giving us free choice yet protects, preserves and saves all who turn to Him. Yes, as Christ teaches, 'be as sheep among wolves,' or in another place, 'be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.' What all this is leading us to, ever so gently by the meek Lord Himself, is to make us understand that there really is no 'us and them,' that 'what the Lord has joined together, let no man tear asunder.' We think this phrase applies only to marriage, but then, what is marriage if not a special instance of the unity that underlies all our being? Marriage, and the life of the Church, are both examples of the life of the Holy Trinity, 'one in essence and undivided.'

Christ prays the Father—not just in the gospel according to John, but throughout all time and in every place, unceasingly—'that they all may be one, even as You and I are One.' What He is doing is not asking the Father to bestow upon us something that is alien to our nature—our true and original nature, that is—but to open our eyes to see the Divine Image which we in fact are, the unbroken, undivided, Image of God, that which He became a human being to reveal to us. He says, 'If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father,' but also to see Christ is to see Adam before the Fall. Everything that Jesus teaches us about ourselves leads us to only one conclusion: our neighbor is our brother, is our other self, and no one hates himself, no one considers himself his enemy, but he loves him and seeks his good. This is where the elder's words also take us.

The human race is a single organism, united in essence and undivided, as God sees us. How else can He love each of us as though we were His only creature? The universe's Divine Spouse loves His Bride and in the tunnel of time is perfecting her, preparing her for Himself, making her also Divine. Though the tunnel can pass through deep darkness, at its end is Light, and that Light can be reached by no other way than that which He has revealed to us—the Cross. Let's take up that Cross, brethren, because it's not heavy like His earthly cross was, nor are we mocked and despised on our way as He was, nor do we bear it, nor will we die on it, as He did, and does, for the sins of the world. No, my brethren. He has done the hard part, ours is the easy. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

And your neighbor as yourself.'

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