“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God: and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8
“God is love.” This is the one and only confession about the nature of God in the Holy Scriptures. It is also clear, from the Scriptures and from simply observing the wonder of creation that the motivation for God behind creation and redemption is Love. God creates everything visible and invisible out of nothing (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:3) and this, so the Holy Fathers taught was out of his love for all things, and not by any provocation or necessity. There was no motivation as to why He created, except love, and precisely love for humankind, ‘for whom he created the world’ (Liturgy of St Basil). And the only condition or expectation that God has from human beings is our love (Deut 6:5). From the very beginning, God reveals his Love as a Communion of Persons (Gen 1:26 Let Us make man in our image, according to Our Likeness…) The human person is also created in the image of God (Gen 1:26), and thus according to the Holy Fathers is the only creature called to be like God by grace, and therefore capable of knowing and sharing the love of God.
After the Fall, humankind lost this love and fell out of communion with God. The Prophet Jeremiah, lamenting the faithlessness of Israel, after experiencing the darkest hour of his people with the destruction of the Holy City, nevertheless hoped for salvation. He was convinced of God’s faithful love, “Thus says the Lord… “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jer 31:3). This love, spoken of by the prophet culminated and reached its fullest expression through the sending of God’s Son to save the world through the Cross on Golgotha;
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)
This mystery reveals God’s love for humankind in a most radical way through the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is a practical, concrete expression of love, through which human beings encounter the mystery of God the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. (cf. Rev 1:4-6)
“Commemorating, the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day.” (Anamnesis of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom), Christians are called to offer themselves in reasonable worship to God who ‘empties himself’ (Phil 2:5-8) for our salvation, and to offer themselves to their fellow human beings in imitation of this love which bears no expectation on the one who receives this love. To communicate this mystery St Paul, preached the ‘foolishness of the Cross’ (1 Cor 1:18) which reveals God’s radical love or man and salvation by Grace, of every human person, through faith (Rm 3:24): this saving faith being lived out and fulfilled through works of love (Gal 5:6)
Of this knowledge of God through this otherworldly love, Elder Porphyrios wrote;
“Love for Christ is something else. It is without end, without satiety. It gives life; it gives strength; it gives health; it gives, gives, gives. And the more it gives, the more the person wishes to fall in love.”
Shortly before his death, the Lord also gave this injunction to His Disciples; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Just before his death, Jesus forgave the penitent thief at his dying confession (cf. Lk 23:39-43) thus demonstrating the unconditional love of God for even the worst penitent sinner.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent upon the Church to guide her by making the love of the Lord present through the ages. (cf. Jn 16:13-14), and visibly throughout the Holy Sacraments. The same elder Porphyrios said that our relation to Christ is through love, and it is through love that we approach the Sacraments.
One way in which the Church describes this relationship, through her liturgy and spirituality is through the New Testament metaphor of marriage. Christ is the Bridegroom. The Church is His Bride.
With Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom, at the centre, the life of the Christian changes. He enters into the mystery of death and resurrection of Christ, through Baptism and becomes one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17). St Paul said, “It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)
God’s love is revealed to all who are willing to accept it, through His Word, through His Creation, through the Church, as a gift. We are called to imitate this love in our life.
Rev. Stavros Karvelas
Parish Priest of St. Therapon – Thornleigh (NSW)