St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Two Greatest Commandments

Sermon Preached by Fr Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 5, 2010

Matthew 22:35-46

There are two great commandments. Love God and love your neighbor.  But we shouldn’t see them as two separate commands.  To fulfill one is to fulfill the other.  Not to fulfill one is not to fulfill the other.  They are one and the same for us who follow Jesus Christ.

St. John in his first epistle says as much over and over again.  To say we love God and not practice love for one another makes us liars.  Those who excuse themselves from loving another human being for any reason and yet to say they love God are liars and do not have God in them.

There are too many examples to name of Christians who have do not follow these commandments.  I do not want to darken this Liturgy by recounting a list of them.  All you need to do is watch television, go on the internet, or read the papers to see them.  Fear is behind them all, fear, hatred, and anger.  What could be further from Christ-like compassion, from the two Greatest Commandments?  What do these evils win for us?  The kingdom of heaven?  A “well-done” from the Father on the Last Day?  No.  Only love obtains the blessings of God.  In the heat of debate is not the time to give ourselves over to fear, anger, and hatred.  It is the perfect time to place our them all at the foot of the Cross and kneel before our adversaries and wash their feet.

Allow me to relate to you a story from the days of the Ottoman Empire to illustrate the attitude of authentic, Christ-like Orthodox Christianity. We are in dire need of such examplse as we are threatened with being absorbed into something much different and unholy.  This story comes to us from the Turkish scholar Abdulbaki Golpinarli who published it in 1953 from an event he himself witnessed somewhere between 1915 and 1920.

One Thursday evening after the Sufi evening ritual the author and an older Sufi sat having coffee together. These two men were what are known today as Whirling Dervishes. The elder said, “Today is a feast day of the Orthodox Church. “Let’s take our friend, Hakki Dede, (another Dervish) and go to the church in Baliki (which was in Constantinople).”  When the three arrived wearing their Sufi clothing the service was in progress.  Each walked up to the icon of Christ crucified and gave reverence in the Sufi fashion and the priests sent out an assistant to bring them to a place close to them, probably on the solea, for the duration of the service.  They listened to the chanting in silence and pious reverence.  Then overcome with love and devotion, Hakki Dede began to whirl there on the solea.  The faithful Orthodox were not offended or horrified at all!   They made an area for him to whirl in peace and continued their worship.  The other two Sufis joined him and began to whirl in honor of and reverence to God in the midst of the Divine service.  So overcome with the beauty and solemnity of the chanting they could not stop themselves from expressing devotion in the way they were accustomed.  And the Orthodox faithful, so respectful of their guests, did not stop them.  The author says that what he remembers most was the joyful tears of the people around them.  Afterward they joined the crowd in reverencing the Gospel book and were treated to refreshments along with the clergy to end their mutual celebration.  That is the kind of love for our neighbors and for God Jesus meant.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the love of God knows no boundaries.  The boundaries to love are born in the darkness of our own hearts.  They are erected by us in our weakness and fear.  If Jesus had followed the advice of his disciples He would not have been crucified, but he did not. He followed the commandment of a much higher and transcendent order and went to the Cross, dying for those who loved Him and those who did not, those who agreed with him and those who did not, those who would follow him and those would not.

So must we walk according to the same high standard.  We must not align ourselves with those who follow a different and lesser path.