• Epistle Reading: Colossians 3:12-16
  • In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! In the middle verse of our Epistle reading this morning, St. Paul writes, “but above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). Above mercy and humility and even forgiveness, there is love. This is very reminiscent of what St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, where he says no matter what gifts we may possess, if we don’t have love then it’s all for nothing. We hear a lot about love in the Scriptures—both loving God and loving our fellow human being. Christ is constantly teaching the disciples to love one another, and to love their neighbor. And the Apostles then are constantly writing in the Epistles to the Christian Churches for the people to be filled with love for one another. But what does that mean? What does love look like? We’re so confused in our society over what genuine relationships with people look like. If love is the sign of perfection, how do we do that? And of course the whole topic of love gets even more complicated for us to consider when we remember that we’re not only called to love the people we know and like, but those we don’t even know, and those we don’t particularly care for. St. Silouan the Athonite says that the sign of Christian perfection is love for one’s enemies. But before we can love our enemies, we have to learn to love our families and our neighbors. We have to start at the beginning, with small steps. If we want to begin anything, we don’t jump to the most intense level. If we want to run a marathon we don’t start by trying to run 10 miles on the first day. We start by walking and jogging short distances, lifting some weights, eating right. We prepare ourselves for the task at hand. And of course, the same thing is true in the spiritual life. The Scriptures tell us a lot about what love looks like—patient, humble, kind, gentle, never judging, not envious, not boastful or proud or angered, keeping no records of wrongs (cf. 1 Cor 3:4-5). And all of that’s easy enough to say, but practically speaking, how do we begin to move in that direction? The Church offers us what we desperately need—advice on how to move from a place where our love is directed mostly toward ourselves, to having true Christ-like love for our brother. Firstly, obviously, comes prayer. Beseeching Christ for the gift of love, and praying for the people around us. We’ll never love people that we aren’t interceding for with God. And in addition to our prayer, there are some small things we can begin to do to soften our hearts. Rejoice for people we know when something good happens in their lives. And grieve for people when something evil happens in their lives. This is easiest to do for people we’re closest to, but with a little practice it’ll become much more natural to share in each other’s joys and sorrows. Make it a habit to only say good things about people—no slander, no gossip, no judgmental comments. This also helps us in not judging our brother, which is a necessary step in learning to love. We can’t love is we’re constantly evaluating and making judgments about everybody that we see. And we can speak up and defend people when they’re being harshly judged by others, or at least walk away and don’t participate in the conversation. We should be careful in our interactions with one another—courteous, kind, humble, attentive to not offend or tempt or be a stumbling block in any way to others. Another way to practice love for our neighbor is in almsgiving. Giving to those who are in physical need—whether it’s to organizations like MICA or the Salvation Army, or giving clothes or food to a neighbor we know has needs. And finally, to learn to love those we live with everyday, the Fathers recommend praying for those who have departed this life. They are just as alive in Christ as we are—and in the same way that the Saints continue to pray for us, we also should continue to supplicate for God’s mercies for everyone, even those who have already reposed. As we begin to take steps to try and love our brothers, then the grace of God can act. And when we read about the love of Christ that the Saints are filled with, we can catch a glimpse of the path that Christ would have all of us follow. For us as Christians, our starting point is always Christ. He is the image for us of love. Hanging on the Cross, pouring out His life for mankind. And it’s this total giving of ourselves to the other in love that we’re moving toward. When we never respond to the other with evil—no anger, no frustration, no hurt feelings, no grudges or crushed expectation. Where we fulfill the commandment of Christ, to love our neighbor as ourselves. As a recent Athonite Elder said—my brother is my life. We are of one body with all of mankind. But to begin to realize that existentially, and even more, to live that, we have to begin to learn to love all the people we’re surrounded by on a daily basis. Keeping in mind how important this endeavor really is—Christ tells us we can’t love God who we don’t see, if we can’t love our brothers who surround us every day. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!