Thirty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – Saint Maximus – 2019

My dear friends in our Lord, Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

This Sunday, we celebrate the remembrance of the Saint Maximus the Confessor, the epistle and the gospel lessons being taken from the Menaion for his feast.

While much could be said, and countless instructions could be given regarding the scriptures we hear today, I myself came to the realization in my preparation for this Lord’s Day that nothing I could say could compare with an instruction given by Saint Maximus himself. His words ring as true today as they did when he wrote them in the seventh century. I found that as he addressed his own readers, I wanted him to address all of you, too. So today I lend him my voice and my words. Let us hear his instruction on divine love:

“You, the God-protected ones, cleave by grace to holy love towards God and your neighbour and care about appropriate ways of practising it. Already when I was present with you I had learnt, and even now that I am absent it is no less true, that you suffer those things that are done, and that are said, in order to belong to divine love, in order to possess this divine thing, which in its power is beyond circumscription or definition. For you not only do good to those who are present, but you long to do good to those who are absent, however great the distance in space, and thus on each occasion I learn of the greatness of the largesse of your love – both from what has come to pass amongst you, and also from your honoured words, in which I can see the form of the divine grace that has been imprinted in you, as in a mirror, so that I am gladdened and rejoice.

And I give thanks for you to God, the giver of good things, and I do not cease to cry out with the Apostle, Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). For I know quite certainly that your holy soul is indissolubly bound to my wretchedness in the spirit through love, having the law of grace as a bond of friendship, in accordance with which you invisibly embrace me, making my sinful shamefulness vanish in comparison with your own excellence. For nothing is more truly Godlike than divine love, nothing more mysterious, nothing more apt to raise up human beings to deification…

For what form of good things does love not possess? Neither faith, the first premisе in matters concerning true religion, assuring the one who possesses it of the existence of God and of divine matters, and that much more surely than the eye by attending to the appearances of sensible things furnishes an opinion concerning them for those who see; nor hope, which establishes the truly subsisting good, and that much more effectively than the hand does to even the most solid of material things that fall beneath its touch. For does not love grant enjoyment of those things believed in and hoped for, by itself making present the things to come? And what about humility, the first foundation of the virtues, by which we come to know ourselves and are able to throw off the vain tumour of pride? Or meekness, through which we… drive away distress? Or gentleness, by which, when suffering, we remain unaltered towards those who do evil to us, not at all becoming disposed to hostility? Or mercy, by which we willingly make our own the misfortunes of others, and extend to them kinship and fellow-feeling? What about self-control and patience, longsuffering and kindness, peace and joy… [L]ove is the goal of every good, being the highest of goods with God, and source of every good. It leads forward those who walk in it…

For faith is the foundation of everything that comes after it, I mean hope and love, for faith firmly establishes what is true. Hope is the strength of the extremes, I mean faith and love, for it appears as faithful by itself and loved by both, and teaches through itself to make it to the end of the course. Love is the fulfilment of these, wholly embraced as the final last desire, and furnishes them rest from their movement. For love gives faith the reality of what it believes and hope the presence of what it hopes for, and the enjoyment of what is present. Love alone, properly speaking, proves that the human person is in the image of the Creator, by making his self-determination submit to reason, not bending reason under it, and persuading the inclination to follow nature and not in any way to be at variance with the logos of nature. In this way we are all, as it were, one nature, so that we are able to have one inclination and one will with God and with one another, not having any discord with God or one another, whenever by the law of grace, through which by our inclination the law of nature is renewed, we choose what is ultimate. For it is impossible for those who do not cleave first to God through concord to be able to agree with others in their inclination.

Love is therefore a great good, and of goods the first and most excellent good, since through it God and man are drawn together in a single embrace, and the creator of mankind appears as human, through the undeviating likeness of the deified to God in the good so far as is possible to mankind. And the interpretation of love is this: to love the Lord God with all the heart and soul and power, and the neighbour as oneself. Which is, if I might express it in a definition, the inward universal relationship to the first good connected with the universal purpose of our natural kind. Other than this there is nothing that can make the human being who loves God ascend any higher, for all other ways of true religion are subordinate to it. This we know as love and so we call it, not divisively assigning one form of love to God and another to human beings, for it is one and the same and universal: owed to God and attaching human beings one to another. For the activity and clear proof of perfect love towards God is a genuine disposition of voluntary goodwill towards one’s neighbour. For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, says the divine Apostle John, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20). This is the way of truth, as the Word of God calls himself, that leads those who walk in it, pure of all passions, to God the Father. This is the door, through which the one who enters finds himself in the Holy of Holies, and is made worthy to behold the unapproachable beauty of the holy and royal Trinity. This is the true vine, in which he who is firmly rooted is made worthy of becoming a partaker of the divine quality. Through this love, all the teaching of the law and the prophets and the Gospel both is – and is proclaimed, so that we who have a desire for ineffable goods may confirm our longing in these ways…

Because of this, the Creator of nature himself – who has ever heard of anything so truly awesome! – has clothed himself with our nature, without change uniting it hypostatically to himself, in order to check what has been borne away, and gather it to himself, so that, gathered to himself, our nature may no longer have any difference from him in its inclination. In this way he clearly establishes the all-glorious way of love, which is truly divine and deifying and leads to God. Indeed, love is said to be God himself, which from the beginning the thorns of self-love have covered up: in this, prefiguring the passions that have overwhelmed us, and from which obstacles he has granted us freedom. He has also through his apostles scattered the stones that lay in our way… In this he persuades us to cling to himself and to one another, as he has set before us himself as an example when he accepted to suffer for our sake. For the sake of love the saints all resist sin continually, finding no meaning in this present life, and enduring many forms of death, that they may be gathered to themselves from this world to God, and unite in themselves the torn fragments of nature. This is the true and blameless divine wisdom of the faithful, the goal of which is the good and the truth. For it is good to love mankind and right to love God in accordance with faith. These are the marks of love, which binds human beings to God and to one another, and therefore possesses an unfailing continuance of good things.

You, who have become blessed and most genuine lovers of this divine and blessed way, fight the good fight until you reach the end, clinging fast to those qualities that will assure your passage to love’s goal. And what are the qualities that will assure your passage to love’s goal? Quite simply: love of mankind, brotherly and sisterly love, hospitality, love of the poor, compassion, mercy, humility, meekness, gentleness, patience, freedom from anger, long-suffering, perseverance, kindness, forbearance, goodwill, peace towards all. Out of these and through these the grace of love is fashioned, which leads one to God who deifies the human being that he himself fashioned… Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4–8), since it possesses God who is alone unfailing and unalterable…All who hold her fast will live, and those who forsake her will die. Take her, my children, and walk towards the shining of her light. Do not give your glory to another, or your advantages to an alien people. Blessed are you, because you know what is pleasing to God.

And I, rejoicing at your goodness, dare to say with God, in the words of the great Jeremias, Blessed are you, because you have taken off the garment of your sorrow and affliction… and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God…

I have no more words to manifest the secret disposition of your soul. For I have nothing worth mentioning alongside your good things that I can offer to God and to you, except to wonder mightily at you, and approve your good deeds, and rejoice that your good works draw down the mercy of God, and through you praise virtue, and through virtue hymn God, for virtue has united you to God…

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