Friday, September 18, 2015


The lawyer approached Jesus and asked Him, "Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?"  And our Lord replies, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.   And the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these  two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."  (The text implies that the commandments "hang" like a door upon its hinges).  It sounds simple: only two straightforward commandments to consider!  Yet in practice... how very difficult to fulfill!  For which one of us would be so bold as to claim we have done so?  Indeed, do we even have the slightest concept of what it would mean to love God and our neighbor with such absolute devotion?  Yet it is exactly to this level of devotion that we have been called, "that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (St. Paul).  For having once died with Christ in the waters of Baptism, we are destined to partake of His glorious Resurrection.

These two great commandments, you see, are not some new revelation added on to the Jewish religion: they are taken directly from the Old Testament itself.  Over the course of time, however, the Jews had added on so many additional commandments (213, if I'm not mistaken) that one could no longer see the forest for the trees.  That which is essential--to love God and neighbor--had become  obscured by a vast collection of rules and regulations that were never intended to be ends in themselves. 

Likewise, many sincere Orthodox Christians think that by literally and slavishly  following all the Canons, they shall be saved.  Yet if we keep all the Canons perfectly but have not love, we are like unto those "clashing cymbals" the Holy Apostle speaks of elsewhere.  Don't get me wrong: the Canons are indispensable guidelines for keeping us securely upon the path of salvation.  But we must never forget that our ultimate goal is to become partakers of the Divine Nature, and this can only come to pass when we are willing to die to our own self-centered thoughts and desires and to receive into our hearts the unconditional love of God.

But as St. Paul reminds us, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us."  We cannot lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps, nor can we achieve salvation by an act of sheer willpower.  It is, in fact, our own self-centered will that is our greatest obstacle on the path leading to the heavenly Kingdom.  "Who then can be saved?" as the Apostles once asked Jesus, and He replied: "With men this is impossible.  But with God, all things are possible."

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