The 10th National Youth Conference was held in Brisbane, QLD from the 29th of September until the 1st of October 2013. This conference is held every four years and this year’s theme was “The Terminology and Psychology of Socio-Political Developments in the Contemporary World”.
Upon arrival at Brisbane, the delegates made their way to the parish hall of the Dormition of the Theotokos for registrations, followed by a Doxology service and the official opening of the Conference. Later on that evening, all attended the formal Dinner at the Parish hall.
The following day the formalities of the conference began, with the keynote speakers addressing modern day challenges to youth, together with questions & answers in the format of a discussion panel which consisted of their Graces Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis, Bishop Seraphim of Apollonias and Bishop Nikandros of Dorileou, as well as Dr Philip Kariatlis and Presvytera Dr Thekla Kokkinos.
After Lunch the attendees were broken up into groups which took part in discussion workshops to cover the topics raised in more detail. Following this, each group presented their feedback and thoughts. Later on that evening, a Dinner Dance took place at The Greek Club, beside the Greek Orthodox Parish of St George.
On Tuesday morning, all attendees woke up nice and early and made their way to Bribie Island Retreat & Recreation Centre to take part in the Divine Liturgy followed by the official opening of the Retreat centre. Present at the official opening were federal, state and local dignitaries together with a range of youth, priests, doctors and bishops from all around Australia.
The conference officially concluded with lunch and then a visit to Woorim beach, only metres away where attendees had a chance to play some games, swim or just enjoy a walk along the beach.
Overall the Conference was a success and was well attended by delegates from almost all parishes in Australia. It had a good balance of practical, spiritual and social aspects which was well accepted by the youthful attendees. Well done to the organisers for putting it all together and providing a pleasant experience for all of us.
Speakers of the 10th National Youth Conference
The keynote speakers of the National Youth Conference were His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia (delivered by Dr Philip Kariatlis, Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology at St Andrew’s Theological College) and Presvytera Dr Thekla Kokkinos.
“THE TERMINOLOGY AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SOCIO-POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN MODERN TIMES”
*(A) A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
The previous National Youth Conference, which was also held here in Brisbane between 25th-28th of January, 2007, had the general topic “The responsibility of Youth in modern Society”. This year’s National Youth Conference likewise, as we shall see below, will attempt to offer deeper insight into the problem of the responsibility of Youth. Consequently, we will try to see how the ‘names’ and their corresponding ‘meanings’ are ‘differentiated’ (in various periods of time), in order for our current theme to arise: “The terminology and the psychology of socio-political developments in modern times”.
And it becomes apparent that the mentioned integrated theme should not be considered as a problem of Youth exclusively. This is because the twin terms ‘signifier’ (that is, the word as such) and ‘signified’ (that is, whatever the word refers to) had already occupied the thought of the ancients – especially Parmenides, in whose footsteps we must say that the renowned modern Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (with his unique dissertation Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) followed. Yet, the major characteristic features of Youth make them, in any historical period, the closest subject of thought, being the most vulnerable section of society, which undergoes the changes that occur in the twin terms ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’.
Let us then first see the major characteristic features of Youth, so that we can understand why young people should be considered a subject of terminology and psychology more than any other age group. However before mentioning the major features of Youth, we must define the age-bracket that normally corresponds to this term.
In today’s society, Youth are normally considered to be between 13 and 20 years of age, known internationally as ‘teenagers’. However, in our special Conferences, we consider Youth to include young people of 25 or 30 years of age, to ensure that they have the necessary maturity for a serious dialogue, which is the goal of all our Youth Conferences. The first and most likeable feature of Youth, in every historical period, is of course their honesty and unreserved manner when dealing with every situation.
A young person lacks the experience of life, but precisely for this reason he or she has not learnt to be hypocritical, and therefore speaks with optimism and enthusiasm and with the confidence of being capable of any task.
Another characteristic (closely related to the previous one) is the rush – or what we normally call ‘impatience’ – of young people to know and become ‘familiar’ with, or rather to ‘conquer’, everything around them. Deep down, this desire to rush ahead is really the boundless optimism of the age group to which the child or adolescent belongs within the miracle of life.
In most cases this self-confidence of the young person is neither ‘self-deception’ nor ‘audacity’. When biological reflexes are still fresh and in full strength, a person thinks that everything can be achieved in record time.
Today, with modern technology, especially with the means of digital communication and information, we see how quickly children and young people in particular familiarise themselves with it, as they always have greater flexibility in adapting to new situations.
A third basic, yet complex, feature of Youth, is their willingness to wake up to themselves and the speed with which they can rectify their former life which, due to superficiality, involved wasting valuable time and energy on ‘vain things’ or completely non-existent values – much like the Prodigal Son of the Gospel reading.
A classic example of youthful frivolity was the Youth Movement in France in 1968, under the fiery leadership of the anarchist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, which caused turmoil not only for Europe and America, but rather for the entire planet. Using surrealistic slogans such as “imagination in government” and “down with authority” together with other irresponsible expressions, they managed in just a few hours to set up roadblocks and to dissolve every notion of order or sense of responsibility throughout the entire terrified society of Paris.
The foolishness of such enthusiasm – coupled with the fear felt by the multitude of peace – loving citizens who were all very unjustly and demeaningly called names such as “compromised” or “sold out” or “slaves of the establishment” etc. – naturally gave rise to two diametrically opposed extremities, from which the modern world is yet to be redeemed. That is to say, on the one hand, movements under various names, that were usually leftist or anarchist, spread everywhere and grew. On the other hand, reactionary groups of excessive conservativeness and fear also sprung up, which even led to phenomena of unacceptable fascism.
It is at any rate noteworthy that many of the well-known instigators of that burst of anarchy in Paris were, only two decades later, appointed to positions of central power in public organisations, and they admitted their regrets in interviews. These are the fruits of maturity! Those who have responsibility for the upbringing of young people from childhood to advanced adolescent years must admit, then, that there are two areas that we should not overlook for the good of all humanity:
- On the one hand there are the studies in humanities, which can monitor and direct any progress made by science and technology
- On the other hand, equally necessary – if not more so – is the worship of the divine in general, regardless of which religious tradition the modern person belongs to. Otherwise, the ‘one-dimensional person’ inevitably arises. And whenever this kind of person speaks of ‘development’ and ‘progress’, he or she always means economic and technical comforts and ‘improvements’. But the human person is of course more than just the stomach!
Our observation concerning the ‘one-dimensional person’ leads us, already, to a few characteristic examples in which the ‘spoken words’ do not have a balanced analogy with ‘what is meant’. In such cases, the result is ironically the exact opposite of what was intended!
*(B) SEVERAL CHARACTERISTIC EXAMPLES OF THE ‘SIGNIFIER’ AND THE ‘SIGNIFIED’
Following the above introduction, which was so necessary for our topic, we shall attempt to present several characteristic instances of the signifier and signified, which clearly show how thinking has been decisively ‘steered’ in recent times.
- When this imbalance is striking, then we only use names euphemistically. A common example of this is the Black Sea, which in the Greek language is called the ‘friendly sea’ (εὔ-ξεινος πόντος) only with obvious irony, so as not to call it what it really is: an ‘unfriendly sea’ (ἄ-ξενος πόντος). We have the same situation with the Pacific Ocean, which is everything but pacific (i.e. peaceful).
- In political life, there is normally a Department that deals with the strategic relations between various countries. And while this has to do with matters of war, we do not call the relevant ‘portfolio’ the Department of War, but simply the Department of Defense!
- Similarly, in post-war Greece, when various political Parties were formed, the new Party of Andrew Papandreou used the emblem of a green sun (thereby monopolizing hope and optimism). And the Left which broke away from the Communist Party was called ‘The Coalition of the Left and of Progress’ (!), as if that Party had an exclusive hold on humanitarian sensitivities and progressiveness among all other Parties.
- Yet, despite all the ‘intrigues’ that politicians of so-called modernity engage in, so as not to be committed to all their statements towards their electorate, they were eventually obliged to invent in their vocabulary the term ‘politically correct’. This was in order to avoid any negative criticism in their discussions, something which undoubtedly comprises, to some degree, an element of sincerity.
- A more recent example of our times, which shows how deep the connection between signifier and signified can be, is the term ‘same sex marriage’. Those who are attempting to impose the marriage of homosexuals within the various Parliaments of western nations, are really trying to force a change in the traditional definition of marriage, which has been in existence since the time of Roman Law. As we know, the definition of Marriage, according to Roman Law (which was also adopted by European systems of Law subsequently) was expressed as ‘‘the union of man and woman, for the sharing of their entire life’’.
In closing this exploration concerning the signifier and the signified in modern times, we should perhaps not overlook the philosophical irony with which the tragic English writer George Orwell made a sharp critique of such correlations, especially in his famous work ‘Animal Farm’.
As a summary of all that we have said thus far, what becomes clear is the value of Ethics – especially Christian Ethics. The foundation for this was of course proclaimed in the most categorical way, to both the wise and the unwise, through the famous command of God incarnate, who is Jesus Christ:
“Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’; for whatever is more than this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
PRESENTATION OF PRESVITERA THEKLA KOKKINOS
THE TERMINOLOGY AND PSYCHOLOGY OF SOCIO-POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD
Your Eminence, Your Graces, Reverend Fathers, Presviteras, distinguished guests, beloved youth of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
The TERMINOLOGY and PSYCHOLOGY of SOCIO-POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS in the CONTEMPORARY WORLD I have to confess that when I first heard this topic, I had no idea what to make of it. After meeting with His Eminence, it became a lot clearer, and over the subsequent month or two, the concept started growing on me, and I finally came to the realisation that His Eminence had, with much wisdom, chosen a very profound and important topic.
To quote a modern Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart: We all inhabit cultural and linguistic worlds that determine to a great extent what we think important, how we see reality, what fundamental premises we assume, and even what we deeply desire. We are not entirely confined to these worlds- we are living souls, not merely machines- but it requires considerable effort to see beyond their horizons. There is no such thing as a person who is completely unbiased, we are all affected by our culture, by social forces, and by the linguistic world we inhabit.
Τhe meaning we place on words, the connotations we place on words can deeply affect our worldview and our beliefs. Βefore I go on, let’s clarify what the word “connotation” means. Words have a literal meaning, and they can also have a connotation.
Τhe connotation of a word is the associated or secondary meaning of a word. For example, we all know what the word “home” means. Τhis word has a literal meaning, it can also have a connotation- for some, hopefully for many, the connotation of the word “home” is: “a place of warmth, comfort and affection”. The word as such, the “signifier”, is the word “home”, what this word refers to in our heart, the “signified”, goes beyond the exact literal meaning.
There are many words which in our modern world have changed in their connotation, the signified is not what it used to be. New words or terms or meanings have arisen. His Eminence, being a highly sincere person, seems bothered by the term “politically correct”, which seems to have been created to somehow cover up some lack of sincerity amongst some politicians.
The modern world is trying to change the definition of “marriage”- there are even children’s picture books out there showing children with 2 parents, but both are male or both are female. The meaning of the word “gay” has changed. I am not sure how many of you are following what we are saying. To make it easier, I thought I would say no more general things for the rest of this talk, but use as examples 4 words. I have chosen words that in the “contemporary world”, after its “socio-political development”, have become, in the eyes of the Church, adulterated. The connotations placed on these words has changed. For my talk, I decided to focus on the following 4 words: Faith, Humility, Purity, and Love.
Firstly, let’s look at the word “faith”. Many people living in our “contemporary world”, after its “socio-political development”, when they hear the word faith, have an image in their head of someone who is not bright intellectually, perhaps someone who is not intellectually honest, someone who has simply blindly accepted the beliefs of his or her parents, never daring to question, someone who is timid, perhaps someone who does not understand science, who is against progress.
Reason, science has high status in modern people’s perception, faith doesn’t. Sigmund Freud taught that what explains why some people have faith in religion is their psychological pathology. Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and others taught that religion has no credibility; there is a personal or institutional agenda behind the development of a religion.
The philosopher Emmanuel Kant preached: “Sapere Aude”- dare to know, this became the motto of the Enlightenment. What is implied is that “…. Just blindly accepting what your parents have handed down to you is cowardice, laziness, immaturity… We need intellectual self-liberation, the tool of which is reason.”
For over a hundred years now a very influential philosophical concept is what is called Evidentialism. William Kingdon Clifford who died in 1879 at an age of only 34, said something that became very famous. He said: “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.”
The ideas of Clifford and Evidentialism have had a huge influence on the contemporary world, but we need to point out that even philosophers who are not religious, even philosophers who are atheists, can see a problem with Evidentialism. To use the language of philosophy, “Evidentialism is a logically self-defeating position”. Evidentialism teaches that you only believe what you can prove, but where is the proof that Evidentialism is correct – how can you prove that the highest criterion by which to find truth is that you must have logical proof?
Another famous philosopher, William James, commenting on Clifford’s dictum, said the following: Believe nothing, he tells us, keep your mind in suspense forever, rather than closing it on insufficient evidence incur the awful risk of believing lies… Ηe who says, “Better go without belief for ever than believe a lie!” merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe. He may be critical of many of his desires and fears, but this fear he slavishly obeys. He cannot imagine anyone questioning its binding force. (In other words, the atheist prides himself in being intellectually honest and questioning everything, but he never even thinks to question the fact that you only accept what you can prove with logic.)
William James continues: For my own part, I have also a horror of being duped; but I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world: so Clifford’s exhortation has to my ears a thoroughly fantastic sound. It is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle for ever than risk a single wound. (Sometimes in life we need to take risks, there are some things we will never understand, until we throw ourselves in, some things, indeed many things, we can only understand after we have experienced them). James continues: Not so are victories either over enemies or over nature gained. Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf.
So William James concludes that it is healthier to not be so rigid and only believe what we can prove with science or logic. A general who tells his soldiers not to take any risks will not get very far. You can insist on staying an agnostic but you will end up on your death bed and still not know the answers to life’s really great questions. Of course we have to be diligent and careful that what we accept is not inconsistent with reason. But what is wrong with being aware that even the most intelligent person on earth is limited in their pursuit of truth and in their pursuit of our incomprehensible God. One can mature to a level that one accepts that one needs to try and transcend reason. The great mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons that reason knows not.”
My main message in this section of my talk is that Faith can be a very positive experience.
In Hebrews 11 verse 1 we read, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So faith is not a blind uncritical acceptance, but “the substance of things hoped for”- ελπιζομένων υπόστασις – we have not seen Jesus risen from the dead, we have not seen heaven, but through faith these “things not yet seen” acquire substance, and they govern and guide our lives.
The Orthodox Church fathers talk about 3 elements of man:
- We have a Body- that can come to know through the senses.
- We have a mind- it comes to know through intellectual reasoning.
- We also have a Spirit- our spirit is the highest faculty of man, it can come to know God, enter into communion with God, through a mystical perception that transcends man’s ordinary rational processes.
The following words of Jesus are extremely deep, indeed when you come to a deep understanding of such concepts you realise that philosophers like Clifford are indeed narrow-minded. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:24-26)
You start with faith. This is not unreasonable. I do not want to go beyond the scope of this talk, but can I just say that in my journeys through science and philosophy I have become convinced that you need more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. It is a lot harder to believe that there is no meaning to the universe, that this amazing world that we see and experience around us and within us got there by a fluke. I find it very hard to believe that I am just a machine, that I do not have a soul, and that my awareness of myself and other deep aspects of my mind are explainable only by the complex computer-like neural networks within my physical brain.
So you start with faith. You try and live by the ways of the Bible and the Church and you discover beauty. You struggle to clean yourself of the passions and you struggle to be humble. You meet holy people, you put yourself under the guidance of a spiritual father. One grows spiritually and you come to learn of the importance of Prayer, the Sacraments- Holy Communion, Confession etc, and of the Liturgy. You come to the understanding that those who say that the highest criterion is reason are, as I said before, narrow minded, and indeed quite junior in their thinking. You can, in the words of Dostoyevsky, “come to touch another world”.
You can come, through prayer, through the Sacraments, through the Liturgy, to experience, as we read before from the gospel, “the love of Christ”, and to “behold His glory”. Jesus said:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
The second word that I would like to discuss is the word “humility”. In the modern world the word “humility” is often used in a pejorative sense. Humility resonates with the state of being lowly, servile, insignificant. Nietzsche called humility “the great lie of the weak that cunningly transforms cowardice into apparent virtue” Freud said that humility is “a form of masochistic guilt complex” Modern psychology hardly ever emphasizes humility, what is extolled is assertiveness, confidence, self-esteem.
St John of the Ladder says that pride is “the denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of criticizing others, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God’s help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall.
It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of lack of compassion, an ignorance of compassion. It is a bitter critic, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God, and the root of blasphemy”.
We read in spiritual books about people going to a holy elder and asking why they are not making spiritual progress. They complain and say that for years they have been diligent with their spiritual duties, with fasting, attending Church services, etc etc, and they do not understand why they are not progressing in prayer and in the spiritual life. The reply from the elders is often that their problem is that they lack humility. Love and humility are described by Church fathers as short-cuts to Heaven. Just as there are laws of physics, there are also spiritual laws. One of these laws is that the more humble one is, the more Grace one receives.
The Bible says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). The humble person is aware of his or her sinfulness and also of the nobility and forbearance of God, and becomes very grateful to God. Christ said, “Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat. 11:29). The Orthodox Church Fathers have taught us a truth that many famous contemporary professors of psychology have not discovered. This is that humility not only helps us get to Heaven, not only attracts the race of God, but even in this life brings us peace- “rest to our souls”.
And the opposite is true. If one has pride, if one is self-absorbed and self-centred, if whenever there is a difference of opinion you always believe you are right, if you care a lot about what people think of you, if you are prone to judge others and not yourself, if you are consumed with a sense of how important you are and deep down believe you have a lot of rights, and that others need to pamper you, then you will not find peace. Conflicts will arise with others around you, you will hurt others, and you will not end up happy, not even in this life.
St Dorotheos said that “Humility does not grow angry, and does not anger anyone. … for what is more grievous to a man than to grow angry and to anger his neighbour… Now do you not perceive the power of lowliness? … If a painful experience comes to a humble man, ….he does not set about accusing anyone or putting the blame on anyone else. For the rest, he goes on his way untroubled, undepressed, in complete peace of mind, and so he has no cause to get angry or to anger anyone else.” St Dorotheos of Gaza talked about humility being a state of being ready to listen whenever a word is said to us, and being able to say, “I submit”.
You can tell how humble you are by analysing how you deal with criticism from others. Imagine a person who is making big mistakes, mistakes that are leading him on a path of destruction, these mistakes are obvious to all around him. For example they may be very bossy, and it is obvious that this will risk destroying their marriage and other relationships.
You approach such a person in a nice way and try and guide him, offering constructive criticism. If this person has humility, he will accept the criticism and change, growing from the experience. If he has pride, he will be unable to accept the good advice, have no insight into his own faults, even though these are obvious to all, and no healing or progress can occur.
My dear friends, without humility we cannot grow spiritually- you see we all need to improve, we all have faults. Without humility we cannot find peace, not even in this world. Without humility we cannot experience Grace, true prayer, the peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
The third word I would like to talk about is “purity”. You do not need me to tell you that the word “purity” does not have a positive connotation amongst modern youth. Being pure is considered an oddity in anyone over 12. There is no doubt what the stance of the Bible and of the Church Fathers is:
- 1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.
- Romans 13:13-14 – Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness (the word lewdness means sexual depravity) and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
- Matthew 5:27-28 – You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Sex is not something to have hang-ups about. We should not see it as something filthy. Everything given by God is good, and has its place. Indeed whatever has been given by God is sacred. But…, the way of God, and of the Church, is that sex finds its place after a couple, who love each other, and respect each other, and communicate well, commit their lives to each other and get married in the Church. Those of you who have been heavily influenced by our contemporary world may find what I am about to say hard to swallow, but I have to say it. Sex without commitment is sin.
When the purpose of sex is for pleasure – “for fun and gratification” – with the focus on the self and one’s own needs and desires, then there is self-centredness, so spiritual growth cannot occur. Even when there is commitment, the couple’s love needs to be blessed by the Church. If a couple are together by just a legal type contract, then there is no beauty. If there is genuine love and respect and good honest communication then there is beauty. If as well as all this their life together, their union, has a spiritual dimension, if their mutual journey is a journey towards the Kingdom, then the beauty is immense!
During the Marriage Service the couple are crowned, symbolizing both the crowns of victory, but also the crowns of martyrdom. Christian couples are called to self-sacrifice. They enter marriage wanting only to serve and to love, expecting nothing in return. They strive to see things from the other’s perspective, to forgive, to not have grudges. Such love and self-denial is salvific.
To quote Fr John Breck: For the sacrament of marriage, like that of the priesthood, initiates committed persons into a life of loving commitment and sacrificial service, and it does so both in and for the life and ministry of the Church as a whole. Just as one cannot authentically participate in Holy Communion without being baptized, and the priest cannot celebrate a true Liturgy without being ordained, so a couple cannot enjoy the Grace God offers through sexual union unless their relationship is blessed by Him in a way prescribed and traditionally practiced by the Church. Their love may be deep and their commitment to one another genuine. But without the Grace conferred through the Sacrament of Marriage, there can be no true communion between the two. Their sexual relations simply feed “the desires and pleasures of the flesh,” and they are unable to attain the eternal communion and ineffable joy of divinely bestowed, self-transcending eros that unites them with God as well as with one another.
Now I think I know what some of you are thinking. You are thinking, “All this is very well and good, but in this day and age, it is not possible to stay pure. There are so many temptations, it is just not possible.” Well, to respond to this, I would like to be very practical. Firstly, of course if one gives in to lesser things, to having certain friends, to watching inappropriate things on TV or on the internet, if one gives in to pornography, if we go to certain places, in general if we are not careful with what we call in Greek αφορμές – then of course it is very very hard to stay pure.
A “slippery slope” is set up, and one thing leads to another. Secondly, if as well as being diligent with avoiding what can tempt us, we strive to be more spiritual, if we truly pray, fervently participate in the Liturgy, if we live the life of the Church, have a spiritual father, go to him regularly for Confession and spiritual guidance, if we read spiritual books, if we are an active member of a parish, a Youth Group, a Fellowship, if we keep company with the devout, then we get strength and support. We can become overwhelmed by the Church, we come to a spiritual maturity and an understanding that the joys of this world and carnal joys are nothing compared with the joy of Christ.
The final word I thought I would use as an example is the word “love”. In our contemporary world, love is often associated with romance, or with a natural love between parents and children, friends, etc. Many in our contemporary world do not understand the word the way Jesus understood it and preached it. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34). Many religions and ethical teachings talk about love, so why did Jesus say that His commandment to love is new?
Firstly, Christian love includes the love of enemies. Many of us have certain people in our lives that we do not like, we have grudges, we have trouble forgiving. I think that anyone who is a deep thinker will agree that one of the most difficult things of all is to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective. Grudges can be worse than cancer. The person most harmed by grudges is the person who has the grudge. Such a person has no peace. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, to want to love, even our enemies, and expect nothing in return. Most cannot understand this, and they definitely do not understand that by loving and expecting nothing in return, through self-sacrifice, we actually end up happier, not only in the next life but in this one as well. Jesus promised it- “whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
True Christian love is not the same as worldly love. St Paul put it very beautifully: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Secondly, in Christ we are not only asked to love, but we are granted the strength to love. This was expressed well by Fr Alexander Schmemann: How can we fulfil this Commandment? How can we love those whom we do not love? There can be only one answer to this question. Yes, this commandment would actually be impossible and, consequently, monstrous if Christianity consisted only in the commandment to love. But Christianity is not only the commandment but also the revelation and the gift of love.
In this is the staggering newness of Christian love- that in the New Testament man is called to love with divine love. The newness of Christianity lies not in the commandment to love, but in the fact that it has become possible to fulfil the commandment. In union with Christ we receive His love and can love with it and grow in it. “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5), and through Christ we have been commanded to abide in Him and in His love:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me… He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing… abide in my love” (John 15:4,5,9).
Brothers and sisters, one of the main effects of sin is to divide people from one another, you know as well as I do that society is full of feuds and divisions and grudges. Again quoting Fr Schmemann: The essence of the fallen world is that division, the separation of each from all, reigns in it… The mission of the Church, as salvation, is to manifest the world as regenerated by Christ. Fulfilling herself in love, she witnesses in the world to this love.
The fallen world tries to influence us, it even tries to change the meanings of words in an effort to pull us away from Christ. I feel the need to close my talk the same way that His Eminence closed it, by quoting the words of Christ: “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your
‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).