While our recent celebration of the birth of the Christ Child continues and mingles now with hints of the Great Lent to come, it is no secret that profound and complex challenges confront us every day in this Pandemic time. As pastors and teachers and facilitators on the front line of Christian service, we often find ourselves discerning the issues confounding our society with painfully compelling insight. Yet, in the midst of all this chaos and suffering, the Church has kept us spiritually safe, with the assurance of God’s lovingkindness and presence among us.
As we navigate facets of our Pandemic experience, then, our efforts to understand and to help one another heal surely inspire us to offer grateful and repentant prayer for the mercy of God. Is it not the assurance of the presence of God in this time of Pandemic which has fashioned for us a kind of “Ark of Safety” where we are abiding together until the virus trouble passes, each family within the protection of quarantine and, in the tender mercy of our God present among us, are we not endeavoring, like those couples sequestered in the Ancient of Days, to live together in careful peace and harmony during this critical time?
When we try to be virtuous, what are we trying to do? People have different ideas about what the virtues are, and some virtues even seem to contradict each other. Some people consider justice to be a virtue, but, as St Isaac the Syrian points out in his Homily 51, isn’t mercy also a virtue, and how can you be merciful while trying to dispense justice? How do we decide which virtues we ought to live by and how they ought to be interpreted?
St Maximus the Confessor (580-662AD) answers a similar question put to him by a monk, in his Ascetic Life. The monk asks “And who, Father, can do all the commandments? There are so many.” Maximus responds:
This is the sign of our love for God, as the Lord Himself shows in the Gospels: He that loves me, He says, will keep my commandments. And what this commandment is, which if we keep we love Him, hear Him tell: This is my commandment, that you love one another. Do you see that this love for one another makes firm the love for God? (The Ascetic Life, 107; PG90 917A.)
This passage tells us something interesting. It tells us that all the ethical directives we’ve got, be they the commandments, the virtues, or any other parts of Scripture, all conform to love. They are all a kind of love. We are not being asked to do a hundred different things, we are being asked to do one thing, which is to love. Continue reading →