15th Sunday After Pentecost
There is a story I would like to begin with: There was an Orthodox Priest, who was serving divine liturgy. When the time came for him to give a sermon, he came out and simply said: "Dear brothers and sisters: love one another" - and turned around and continued the service. The next week, when it was again time for the Priest to preach, he came out of the altar, and said: "Dear brothers and sisters: love one another", and again continued the liturgy. The third week, he came out again to give a sermon, and said: "Dear brothers and sisters: love one another'', and again went back to finish the liturgy. After the service, one of the parishioners came to this Priest and asked him: "Father, why are you telling us to love one another over and over each week?", and the Priest answered him saying: "Are you able to truly say that you love one another? People are unable to do this. So they need to hear this because this is all they need to do in order to attain salvation. " He preached exactly what the people needed to hear.
When we look at the Orthodox Church, many people theorize and theologize about God, and speak lofty words about how we should be and what we should do. But really, all of this is for naught. Because the Gospel of Christ is not one that is theorized, but one that is lived out. And the way we do it? This is what we hear in the Gospel today: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40). This Gospel story took place after Christ's entry into Jerusalem and before his Crucifixion. The Cross of Christ, which we celebrated this past week, exemplifies his love for us, the fallen human being. Christ, who was sinless, did not need to be crucified, he did so only for us: because he loved us.
So because Christ showed us what true perfect love is, we should do the same to those around us. On paper, it sounds so simple to love God and love our neighbor. But in reality it is very difficult. Most people have this attitude: "I love all people, all people around the world, but I can't stand my neighbor!" That's exactly the person we are called to love, the one we know, not those who we don't know personally. We are called to love those who drive us crazy at work. We are called to love those who persecute us and treat us poorly. We are especially called to love our spouses, children, brothers, sisters, sons-in-law, daughter-in-law, and especially our mother-in-law. Those are the people who try our patience. As we hear St. Anthony: "Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ."
So, as we remember this message, let us see the love of Christ in one another. In the people at work who don't do the work they should, let us look upon them with love. Those who cut us off in the car while we are driving, let us show the love of Christ upon them and pray for them. Our spouses, children, or those around us who try our patience, we should look upon them with love and offer a smile in return. This way we will soften their hearts and not add fire upon burning coals.
This is exactly what our faith tells us to do. Yes, we have fasting, we have prayers, but the goal of those is to attain love. If we fast without love we do nothing, if we pray without love it is for naught. We need to have love in our hearts above all else. So dear brothers and sisters! Love one another!