St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Love the Lord

Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 12, 2006

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen

Glory to Jesus Christ!

It is significant that when the lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to “inherit eternal life” he answers the question by removing the future emphasis. Life is to be lived now. Jesus says that if we want to live, that is, to be fully alive, then we must follow two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. His example of how to do this is the parable of the Good Samaritan. The future is one thing, the present is quite another. Do we have to wait until we die to truly live? If so, then we negate the power of the Gospel to effect life as it is in our waiting for something which we hope is to be. If so, then the poor man will lay by the side of the road until the Second Coming! To my mind Jesus uses the words “if you want to live” to emphasize this difference.

Loving the Lord completely is a thing both of faith and works, that is, the heart, soul and mind join together with the physical aspect, the body, to live in a way that knows nothing but love. Everything the lover of God thinks, says and does is governed by love and nothing else. The lover of God is like a mountain, solid and immovable when the storms of life come and when the weather is calm, when the sun is shining and when the rain is falling.

The Lover of God is flexible, able to roll with every punch and respond with equanimity to every situation. The Lover of God bases life on the the image within and is not ruled by the mind or by the emotions knowing that they are unstable, constantly changing and completely unreliable as a foundation for life. We are not our thoughts. We are not our emotions. They exist on the surface. We are the image of God, which is the ground, the root and the definition of what it means to be human. One mystic called it “the root of the root” of ourselves.

The Lover of God has learned that there is something deeper than the mind, something very real that in most of us is sleeping. It can be awakened by the Holy Spirit, by meditation, prayer and silence. The Orthodox Spiritual writers call it the nous, the “eye of the soul”. It is the organ, if you will, that if awakened makes us able to be fully alive and awake in each moment so that we can properly answer, as Bishop Kallistos pointed out on his recent visit to Boston, the three questions of Tolstoy:
What is the most important moment? Who is the most important person? What is the most important task? The answers are: the most important moment is now, the most important person is the one that is in front of me and the most important task is the one I am called to do right now.

These are the three questions the Good Samaritan answered properly when he saw the unfortunate man by the side of the road. On the one hand the priest and the levite could not answer these questions with wisdom, proud and ego-driven as they were. All those two could do was analyze the situation. In fact, they analyzed their way out of doing anything good. Their minds were using them rather than the other way around. The priest and levite were thinking too much to show compassion, “I have somewhere else to be, I have something more important to do, I have someone more interesting and more worthy of my attention to visit.” The priest and levite were asleep, the eye of their souls was closed. In spite of the frenetic activity of their minds, they were only dreaming. They were unenlightened. They lived not in the moment, but in the future. They were not lovers of God.

On the other hand the Samaritan was enlightened! While the priest and levite were blind to the needs of the other, the Samaritan was able to see. He perceived the situation and used his mind to come to a good conclusion. This means that he was not ruled by his mind, but by the deeper reality of his human nature, the image of God within. The Samaritan was awake. The eye of his soul was open. The Samaritan was not so busy thinking that he could not perceive the value of the moment at hand, “There is no place more important to be than here, no one more important than this poor man who is bleeding by the road and nothing more important for me to do than care for this one who is in need.”

By the Samaritan's gracious response we know what Christ intended to show us. The Good Samaritan had come to be a lover of God. He had learned how to be love. He was at peace within not tossed about by a flurry of unceasing and irrelevant thoughts, but grounded in contemplative silence. A mystic poet once wrote, “Your old life was a frantic running from silence.”

You see, the mind, if not watched, is always trapped in the past or the future, but the awakened eye of the soul perceives each moment and knows it to be the only thing that is real. We “run from silence” by refusing to live in the moment. The priest and the levite could not wait to be somewhere else, but the Samaritan knew there was no place else to be, in truth, than where he was. Bishop Kallistos told us that the way to recognize the voice of the devil and the voice of the Lord is this: the devil always says, “yesterday” or “tomorrow”, but the Lord Jesus always says “today”! The Bishop also writes that “the great tragedy of the fall is that we are not able to be fully present in the moment in which we live.”

To love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength it is necessary to be to fully awake to every moment, to be at peace within and to love silence.

It calls to mind the famous words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Make peace within and thousands around you will be saved.”