Why it matters.
We need to learn to live a life of love:
- Love is the basis of the universe and our highest calling as human beings.
- Orthodox Christianity has 2000 years of living experience in helping people learn to live a life of love.
God is love. And He gives Himself totally. He gives everything He is – His entire divine nature – to His Son and His Spirit, so that Father, Son, and Spirit exist eternally as persons in a communion of total, self-giving love.
The love of the Trinity overflows to create an entire universe to love – including other persons capable of total, self-giving love.
For us to be truly, fully human means for us to become like God (the Greek word for this process is theosis) – living a life of total, self-giving love.
We have all turned away from that total, self-giving love, preferring self-love and self-gratification.
Turning away from love means turning away from the source of life, which leads to death and decay.
God refused to abandon His creation to self-destruction, so He allowed His Son to take on our human nature. Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human form, taught and demonstrated a life of total, self-giving love.
Christ experienced all the effects of our refusal to love:
- Rejection by those He loved
- False accusation
- An unjust trial
- Abandonment by His friends
- Humiliation by His enemies
- The agony of an execution designed to be as slow and excruciating as possible
- And finally, death itself.
Because Christ is Love incarnate, His death was a victory of love. His rising from the dead transformed death. It is no longer the final consequence of the rejection of love; He made it the greatest manifestation of total, self-giving love, a path into the eternal love of the Trinity.
To give us the power to live the life of love, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to His followers.
We can choose to live the life of total, self-giving love with the help of the Holy Spirit. But we are continually tempted to return to a life of self-centered self-gratification. Because true love must be freely chosen, God cannot compel us to love.
Our conversion from a life of self-love to a life of self-giving love requires a total reorientation, a change of mindset (in Greek, metanoia, frequently translated as “repentance.”)
To live a life of total, self-giving love is a constant struggle (Greek askesis, from which comes the word “ascetic”) to conquer self-indulgence in order to be fully and truly human, in the likeness of God.
Orthodox Christianity has 2000 years of experience in this struggle:
- From Christ and His immediate followers,
- Through the men and women who laid down their lives as witnesses (in Greek, martyrs) for love in prison camps under the Nazis and Soviets,
- To those who today lead lives of self-conquest in the monasteries on Mount Athos, in Greece, in Eastern Europe and the Holy Land, and even here in America.
From them we can learn to live a life of love.