My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Of all the virtues the greatest and highest is love, and one who has love keeps the Lord’s commandments; as our Lord Himself says, “He who loveth Me keepeth My commandments;” and likewise, “This is My commandment, that ye love one another.”
Thus, one who does not love his neighbour, does not keep the commandments; and one who does not keep the commandments cannot love God. Clearly, one who truly loves God will love his neighbour also.
Love in action, or the work of love, is to do that which is good to one’s neighbour, to be well-disposed towards him and to be patient, acting in all these things from the volition of the heart.
One who genuinely loves God offends no one and does not take offence at any one on account of transitory and corruptible things; rather, he leads a blessed life on earth, fasting, keeping vigil, chanting, praying, and always thinking good of everyone.
Love is the fulfilling of the law. All the commandments are encompassed by the one commandment of love; love is the beginning and the end of the commandments; for love confers the avoidance of evil and the performance of good deeds. As the Apostle Saint Paul says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity is indeed the foundation and the crown of all the virtues. Just before where we pick up in today’s Holy Gospel, we see that our Lord was explicitly teaching His disciples this very truth, saying to them: Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
All these things the Lord proposes and enjoins in order to liberate us from hatred, from wrath, from bitterness and remembering wrongs, and to make us worthy of acquiring love, which it is impossible to acquire unless one loves all men, as does God, Whose will is to have all men saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
Our Lord further told His disciples: And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.“
Wishing to keep us free from anger, misery and disturbance, and also to teach those who assail and trouble us a lesson by our gentleness, and to harness both us and them with the yoke of love, the Lord has commanded all these things. So it is that we keep these commandments in mind as we hear from today’s holy Gospel, as our Lord says:
“As you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner.”
If we do not wish to hear evil things, let us neither do nor speak evil to others. If we wish ourselves to be praiseworthy, let us also find all that which is praiseworthy in others. If we wish to obtain mercy, let us be merciful to others. If we wish to receive forgiveness, let us, then, grant forgiveness to others. If we wish not to be wronged, let us not wrong others. Let us behave towards our neighbours in such a way as we would have them behave towards us.
The Gospel continues: And if you love them that love you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them. And if you do good to them who do good to you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also do this. And if you lend to them of whom you hope to receive, what thanks are to you? For sinners also lend to sinners, for to receive as much. But love ye your enemies: do good, and lend, hoping for nothing thereby: and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the sons of the Highest; for He is kind to the unthankful, and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
The Saviour wished to send forth the disciples to preach, but many perfidious persecutors and tormentors awaited them. In order that the Apostles, being offended and saddened by persecutions and trials, might not desire to take revenge against their oppressors; and that they might not fall silent, no longer wishing to teach the good news, here the Lord teaches them beforehand, and instructs them to strive not for revenge and harm upon their enemies, but to bear bravely all that may befall them. And if certain men trouble them, murmur against them, plot against them unjustly, if they even hate and slander them, they should not become upset or troubled; rather, they should be free from malice, show love towards their enemies and pray for them.
Further, the Lord demonstrates to them from the natural consequences that there is nothing here that is impossible or burdensome. All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, He says, do ye even so to them. That which we wish to be done to us is what we should do to others; we should behave towards others as we wish them to behave towards us. If we wish others to be harsh, merciless, unforgiving and malevolent, let us be the same; but if we wish our enemies to be kind and merciful and not to hold grudges, let us not think that it is impossible for us to be the same to others.
Thus, if we wish to receive good things from others, let us also give good things to others, according to our ability, and not only to those who love us, but also to those who treat us as enemies. To love and to do good only to those who love us and do good to us is no virtue, no accomplishment.
And if we do love those close to us, our friends and acquaintances, this is a good thing! But consider, my friends: what sort of people would we be if we did not love our friends and acquaintances, but instead hated them, rejected them, slandered them and used every method and device to injure and abuse them, all in order to accomplish our own will. We would rightly be considered most wicked.
But God, in His desire for all humanity to be joined by mutual bonds, has made it necessary for us to derive our own welfare from the welfare of our neighbours. The farmer does not sow only so much grain as will be sufficient for himself, but enough to feed many others as well. The soldier does not take up arms and stand guard in order to save himself alone, but to keep whole populations safe. Likewise, the merchant does not bring only enough for himself to market, but enough for many others also.
Thus God has linked these two things together, and He does not allow men to secure their own welfare unless and until they have done something for the welfare of others. The same goes in the economy of grace. It is impossible to be saved without this. Indeed, if a man be schooled in great wisdom, yet despise other brethren who are perishing, he will not find favour before God. It is no crime that we need others, or that we seek what is good for one another; it is the work of God’s ineffable wisdom that all people need one another.
And yet, even with this truth before us, we still raise enmity among ourselves. It behooves us to display towards one another such neighbourliness and friendship, not merely as of one friend to another, but as of one member to another; as the Apostle Saint Paul says, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
Let us, then, be submissive and in unity with one another. Even if someone else should wish to depart, let us not be torn away ourselves. Let us have the attitude that if someone loves me, then I love that person; if someone does not love me, well then neither do I love that person. Rather, when someone is unwilling to love, show that person greater love, in order to bring him in, because he, too, is a member, even if presently sickened with sin.
Do not say, I have no use for him, because he is a sickly member; for to despise one who is ill shows a lack of genuine love. Instead, warm that love within that which has grown cold.
The law of the Gospel says, Love your enemies, and ye shall be the children of the Most High.
If we love our enemies, then truly we will be like unto God. What, then, do we wish: to be like sinners, or to be like God? For if we love only them who love us, sinners also do even the same; and thus we become like sinners, and because of our foolishness we lose the benefit and blessing of being childre of the Most High God. Let us be merciful, therefore, even as our heavenly Father is merciful, and let us show great love, even towards our enemies.
For to love those who love us is merely human and common to all, whereast to love enemies is a virtuous and a divine act. Let us love our enemies, even as we have been loved; for while we were yet enemies, God loved us, and gave His Son over to death for us. Let us become like unto God, and let us be merciful, even as we ourselves have obtained mercy.
For in such a way is true love recognized, love which is according to God: when We not only love those who love us and give them of the good things which we have from God, but when we even give to those who hate us, asking nothing in return. Let us avoid cruelty and hatred of our fellow man. Let us flee from usury and profiteering; let us love God and neighbour rather than money, that We may have a share in the kingdom of God.
It must be stated time and time again, my friends, that usury is like a brood of vipers; it is a loss to those who exact it, in that they shut the doors of the kingdom and block the way to life; they obtain a little pleasure, but assure eternal woe for themselves. On account of his poverty the debtor falls down and begs us to be his helpers, but we become his adversaries, and add loss to his poverty, as if trying to quench fire with oil. We do not alleviate poverty by lending, but we add to it, and we seek to increase our neighbours’ misfortunes with the evil designs of usury, which is another form of robbery, and bloodshed, and murder, and which the Law and the Prophets condemn.
My friends, for the love of God, let us give to them of whom we do not hope to receive, as Christ has commanded, that we may receive from Him a very great reward in repayment, and may be heirs of eternal good things and the heavenly kingdom, in the same Christ our Lord.