St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Do Unto Others

Do Unto Others

Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 2, 2005

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!

And just as you want men to do to you, do also to them. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you seek to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

The words of Jesus are so simple and plain. Perhaps that is why we cannot hear them.

Compassion knows no boundaries.
Mercy has no conditions.
Forgiveness knows no limitations.
The love of God is unconditional.

And so it should be with us, for those who love God have no enemies.

Orthodox Christians who pursue the spiritual life (and not everyone does) eventually discover what a great desert father discovered, "There is only one sin, that of despising anyone."

From where do you suppose the adage comes, "God helps those who help themselves"? I am not sure, but it was never spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ. That dubious quote has become part and parcel of Americana thanks, probably, to good Puritan stock, but in some respects it is very bad theology.

It appears, from reading the Gospels that God helps everyone, the good and the bad alike, those who love him and those who don't. How else could he command us to love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us, if He does not do so Himself? That would be hypocrisy. Who would ascribe hypocrisy to God?

Again I must quote Thomas Merton. He has such a way with words and such wisdom to share.

"When we love God's will we find Him and own His joy in all things. But when we are against God, that is when we love ourselves more than Him, all things become our enemies. They cannot help refusing us the lawless satisfaction our selfishness demands of them because the infinite unselfishness of God is the law of every created essence and is printed in everything He has made. His creatures can only be friends with His unselfishness."

The entire quote is worth a place on our refrigerators and in our hearts, but let me repeat just one sentence. ".when we are against God, that is when we love ourselves more than him, all
things become our enemies."

When we demand that others follow our will, we show that we love ourselves more than God and we make enemies of others.

When we are inflexible and hard of heart, we show that we love ourselves more than God and we make enemies of others.

When we pit our selfishness against the "infinite unselfishness of God" which is "imprinted in everything He has made" we cause suffering to ourselves and to others and this is not the will of God.

It reminds me of a harrowing quote from St. John of the Ladder, "An angry monk in his cell is a viper spitting poison on the world." A true Christian cannot be mistaken. They radiate the very peace, love and joy that emanate from God. The truest monks I have ever known were filled with joy, ever ready with a smile, and not afraid to laugh.

In my years as an Orthodox Christian and as a priest, I have noticed not a narrowing of perspective within myself, but a vast expansion. Surely, if we begin even a little to see as God sees, our vision becomes less and less limited by our selfishness and more and more open to a divine way of seeing; like St. Nonnos in the story of Pelagia the Harlot, who alone noticed her beauty and rejoiced while his brother monks and bishops hid their faces in judgment and horror. Why? Because only his heart among them was pure and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. "To the pure all things are pure." God sees the truth in all of us and rejoices even when we sin.

The goal is not closed-minds, but enlightened minds.

Is it so hard to understand that a healthy spiritual life does not constrict and narrow the heart and mind? Fundamentalism and extremism do that, but the Holy Spirit is not in those unbalanced expressions. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty," says the Lord Himself. Imitating Jesus, Fr. Elchaninov defines Orthodoxy like this, "Orthodoxy is the element of absolute freedom."

A healthy Christian life expands and broadens the mind and heart, it does not promote rigid or static thought, it does not promote inflexibility and close-mindedness; quite the opposite for God is not like that. The heart and mind of the disciple following Christ grows and expands forever, opening more and more to the divine nature thus embracing all things, all persons, all of creation. The heart of the Christian, as St. Isaac of Syria says in a veritable explosion of joy, weeps even for the demons.

Dear ones, let us rise above selfishness and love as God loves.