The Apostle Paul’s “Hymn of Love”


The Apostle Paul wrote what are the most sublime expressions regarding love. Chapter 13 of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is known as “The Hymn of Love.” That text is worth re-reading repeatedly:

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 suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

(Note: In Greek, there are several words that can be rendered in English as “love.” They include στοργή [friendship], φιλία [affection], έρως [romantic love] and αγάπη [expression of the unconditional love God has granted us]. In the above text, taken from the King James Version of the Holy Bible, the term “charity” is a translation of the Greek “αγάπη.” —Ed.)

There are sixteen properties of love, each worthy of separate analysis, described in this chapter. Let’s consider them from the point of view of psychology, as far as that is permissible in relation to the Holy Apostle Paul’s Epistle.

Charity suffereth long. Does that mean that love imparts strength to patience, and that love endures everything? Does it tolerate treason, betrayal,

humiliation, and so on? Yes and no. Love, indeed, sometimes compels a person, beyond all expectations, to continue a relationship with a loved one even after he has committed grave sins (this happens in the marriages of co- dependents, which includes marriage to alcoholics. What do their wives not tolerate! But this does not mean that love must endure violence, humiliation, abuse and lying! At the same time, here love is clearly mixed with addiction. If that patience should turn into patient agreement with sin, it stifles love.)

“Long-suffering” means capable of waiting for repentance and healing. To be long-suffering means to be patient, to expect that which is perfect, to be able to wait for ripening, growth to fullness, to behave as though what has been long-awaited is at hand. Was it about this that the Apostle Paul was writing? An example of such patient love is the love our Forefather and Patriarch Jacob showed towards his wife Rachel, with whom he fell in love immediately, but marriage to whom he delayed twice, for seven years at a time, while he continued to work for his uncle Laban (see Genesis 29: 27).

Charity is kind. It shows mercy, compassion, sympathy; it regrets, opens itself up to troubles, does not condemn, does not blame. Merciful kindness stems from the very essence of love—“to love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Mark 12:31). At another point, the Apostle Paul notes, So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man yet ever hateth his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church. The Apostle views love for one’s wife, for another person, as love for oneself, without distinction between “I” and “you.” At the same time, he emphasizes that this is like the attitude towards one’s own flesh, i.e. his body and his life, and that with its inner strength, love overcomes the abyss between individuals. (See: Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:71, Corinthians 6:16—“one flesh,” not symbiosis, not a merging of individuals, but the closest, most intimate union of two individuals, husband and wife).

Such is the merciful kindness inherent in one who loves, as it were including his/her beloved in his/her own body. Likewise, compassion towards others is also based on love, like unto one’s attitude towards one’s own body. My neighbor is included in the sphere of my existence, my cosmos; hence he is also someone “near and dear,” that is, someone who is kin, a blood relative. Does the Apostle perhaps see merciful kindness as the likening of neighbors to relatives? That would seem to be manifest in the merciful love shown by the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, by the “holy doctor” Haass,1 by Mother Teresa of Calcutta and by our contemporary, the physician Lisa Glinka.

Charity envieth not. As a rule, a person in love experiences such a surfeit of feelings that he cannot restrain himself from sharing with his beloved, and wants to talk about his feelings, to caress, to be caring and so on (this is especially evident while falling in love). Love seeks to express itself. This comes from being filled to the brim and more. There is no place for envy, because with a realization of completeness, there comes no need to desire more and to compare oneself with others. When there is no comparison, there is no envy! Love fills to the brim, leaving no room for anything else.

Charity vaunteth not itself. Love is the power of connecting with one another, sometimes even forgetting oneself, and mentally and sensorily “transferring” one person to another. Love causes the lover to happily raise up the other in his estimation, without suffering any self-humiliation. Here, the beloved’s rise is not the fruit of competition (e.g., who is greater than whom, smarter, more educated, more correct), but of joy for him, the desire for him to have even more. Quite often couples who come into counseling continue the arguments they started at home about who is the boss, who is right. Analysis reveals that the cause of frustration in the family is not love, but the lack thereof. Where a couple is deeply in love, there is no spirit of competition between them. And even if it is present to some degree, their rivalry is quickly covered through condescension and acquiescence. Intimacy is more valuable than self-affirmation. Self-elevation at the expense of others destroys love.

Charity is not puffed up. From a psychological point of view, pride is a person’s strong internal attitude, the purpose of which is compensation and self-protection. Pride arises out of years of passionate efforts at self- affirmation through rejection of co-existence; it creates the illusion of security and self-sufficiency, seeing in another a dangerous enemy capable of destroying his secluded world. On the other hand, one who loves humbly knows his own measure, and recognizes that he needs something else, needs to be involved in the event. Therefore, love does not build fortress walls between itself and others; it cannot remain isolated. Love does not lead to isolation in pride, and therefore is not proud.

Charity doth not behave unseemly. One who loves is not merely affectionate toward his beloved. He is also helpful, caring, and attentive. And as long as love reigns in the relationship, he avoids reproaches, pretensions, arguments and scandals/making a scene.

Where there isn’t enough love tension and aggression, which are always ready to attack, come to the fore. Love reconciles people to one another and rejects aggression and violence.

Charity seeketh not her own. “To seek one’s own” means to seek after one’s own benefit, to think only of oneself. Love is extremely rich, abounding in gifts, and therefore does not seek after something “of its own.” Rather, it is ready to generously share with its beloved, and with the entire world! It is precisely because of its fullness that love is sacrificial. If a person is empty, he has nothing to share, and his sacrifice is neurotic in nature (as a rule, this is how dependency manifests itself).

Charity is not easily provoked. Irritation is a sign of accumulating stress, primarily emotional stress. It appears when the feeling of love is not consonant with, does not resonate with, the activities of love (respect, attention, care, knowledge, responsibility). Then love is not realized and remains but a “vexation of spirit.” In active love, irritation does not require an aggressive release, as the energies of love (action) turn from one from tension to dynamic action. As soon as one who languishes in love is presented with an opportunity to do something for his beloved, he immediately becomes cheerful, and rushes to perform it. Fulfilled love is peaceful.

Charity thinketh no evil. One who “thinks evil” is a person in whom condemnation poisons the sprouts of love, who is in the grip of fear, cowardice, envy, shame and resentment. Love is generous; it does not know such feelings. It does not “think” with envious condemnation, with touchy resentment. A lover can always “think” with good: in his heart there are strength, time, suitable words, tenderness, and goodwill. In love, there is intimacy, and intimacy brings involvement in what is happening to the beloved. And if you do not wish harm to come upon yourself, you will not contemplate evil toward the one you love as yourself. Let us recall the Gospel words: Love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:39). If you love another as yourself, then it is appropriate to recall another Biblical reference: So ought men to love their wives as their bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself (Ephesians 5:28). This has a direct bearing on our topic. If you love, you will not wish evil on your beloved, as you would not wish upon yourself.

Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity. Alas, lies, deception, intrigue, and slander play a large role in our life. Those passions, fueled by fear, often flare up in unstable love, but love casts out fear. Therefore, love can become a field of truth, straightforwardness and simplicity, a space that does not allow the untruth of the world in from without. Love requires closeness and trust, openness and sincerity, and therefore does not believe in deception; it hopes for the best, even if it has experienced encounters with treachery. It is appropriate here to recall the biblical story of Samson and Delilah: And when Delilah saw that he had told all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. (Judges 16:18). This is usually taken as a story of betrayal. But you can look at her from the other side: Samson loved and opened his heart, but Delilah did not love, and she lied. Samson “did not rejoice,” that is, did not accept Delilah’s lies. Did he realize that she was deceiving him? Apparently so. Otherwise, why would he have twice hidden from her the true secret of his power? Love is longsuffering: Samson guessed that Delilah might once again betray him, but in return for her untruth he showed generosity, which, alas, resulted in destruction. One can regard his behavior either as dependence on passion, or as the generosity of love. Another example of love that “rejoiceth not in iniquity,” one of many in literature, is that of Sonya Marmeladova, the heroine in the novel Crime and Punishment. Her love for Raskolnikov does not fade even after she learns that he had murdered two defenseless women. Sonya neither justifies him nor calms him down, but only encourages him to repent.

Charity beareth all things. Just as a bird covers its brood [with its wings], love, through its power, through its light, can “cover” weaknesses, baseness and unworthy behavior. Love is protection, masking the actions and weaknesses of the personality that need such protection. To cover is as if to render something invisible, to render it as if it never was. But this does not mean to justify or shield, and does not mean to hide a sin, a mistake or a crime. To cover means to heal a wound with a doctor’s generosity, to feed the hungry, to warm one who is freezing. To cover with love means to supply what is lacking, the lack of mercy, piety, righteousness, truth, and goodness. And love does this voluntarily, albeit sometimes unconsciously, by its nature,

out of an overabundance of mercy and generosity. Where goodness diminishes, where sin reigns, there love can fill the gap.

Charity believeth all things. Here, once again the story of Samson comes to mind. He loved Delilah, and continued to believe her. Such faith in love is a risk, for in no way is it guaranteed, and it can have devastating consequences. Nonetheless, love believes, so as not to lose trust and closeness through mistrust. Unbelief removes and deprives one of strength, while faith in love grants strength and maintains closeness and love. At the same time, faith does not give any guarantee with respect to relationships. Here one seems to be on thin ice, when with one more step, he can fall into lying, blindness, and dependency. That is the risk! How does one stay in love, continue to believe, but not fall into destructive passions? That depends upon one’s maturity. For example, infantile love, such as the love children have for their parents, is blind; it is inexperienced, and does not yet know how to distinguish between feelings, motives, and intentions. Mature love believes, as it were, over and above experience and can allow for the possibility of deceit or betrayal. A mature individual may say to himself, “I know that he can deceive me, but I will once again believe him, as if he were faithful. I will believe him because I see in him the possibility of faithfulness. I love him as he is. I allow the sin and mistake of my beloved, and do not cease to love and believe in the better.” The dependent hides from the truth, while the lover sees the truth, and understands and believes in the possible. Therein lies the difference: The most important choice is the free choice to believe, despite anything and everything. However, without having love, making such a decision is extremely difficult.

Charity hopeth all. Hope is a bond of faith and love. Love chooses what is best in a partner: his potential stamina, faithfulness, and responsibility, and it strives after these qualities; that is, it hopes. To hope means not just to receive and accept them, but to expect and prepare for them. So, the wife, having learned that a long-absent husband is already close and will soon arrive, prepares to receive him into the house. She does not just assume the possible, she does not just wait; she is already preparing. Hope is active expectation; it is the energy of preparation and fulfillment. “Blessed is the servant, whom He shall find watching” [from the Matins troparion on Great Monday].

Charity endureth all things. There is no limit to love’s patience; that is well known. But “endures everything” does not also mean endures “without knowing WHAT it endures.” It does not mean submission and recklessness. What should be tolerated? Betrayal, treason, violence? Responsibility and experience both dictate that sometimes [some things] can no longer be tolerated. If in a relationship, patience becomes indulgence towards sin and decay, love is destroyed. At that point, [love] can choose to make a break, to refuse, to exercise responsibility, with the healing word, “no.” Mature love can endure anything, for it has a great deal of strength; but in addition to strength, it has responsibility.

Charity never faileth. In these words, by the Apostle Paul, we can perceive two equally valuable meanings—one in terms of time and one in terms of activity. The first meaning is that love is the very virtue that will remain not only here on earth, but also beyond the grave, in life in heaven. To those who love, it is a source of great happiness to know and believe that their love has an enduring meaning; that love is not “hormones,” not flesh, but is spirit; that love is of the highest value, and that the one who loves is touching eternity. Vladyka Anthony of Sourozh liked to quote a certain French author, who said, “To say to a person: ‘I love you’ is the same as saying to him: ‘You will live forever, you will never die...’” (Anthony, Metropolitan of Sourozh. The Sacrament of Love : A Conversation on Christian Marriage).

The second meaning is in the never-ending action of love. It always creates, it acts vigilantly and unceasingly, and never tires. Love continues to act even when strength has gone, and when no way out [of a situation] is apparent. Yet a solution is found, because man’s likeness to the Creator is manifested most of all in active, effective love, and the Lord does not abandon those who love.

These “definitions” listed by the apostle Paul help distinguish love from dependence. For example, “love beareth all things” and “believeth all things.” How can dependence accomplish those? To the contrary, it is often accompanied by suspiciousness and mistrust; dependence needs to be controlled by the other, because it does not trust. In love, trust—and with it freedom—is born. After all, love imposes responsibility, and mutual obligations, which can grow into a lack of freedom. It is particularly important not to bind a loved one, but to “grant freedom,” and to respect the freedom given by God. Metropolitan Anthony, speaking of dependence, notes, “Does it not happen all too often that if the victim of our love would dare to speak out, it would implore, ‘Please love me less, but give me a bit of freedom!’ So it is that freedom proceeds from love and trust, not connivance or indifference—but the distance I can step away from my beloved, respecting and trusting his personal space.

Archpriest Andrey Largus
Translation from: Parish Life, January 2020
St. John the Baptist Church, Washington, DC


1 Dr. Friedrich Joseph Haass (1780–1853) was a German Catholic doctor who lived and worked in Moscow. He is revered by Russians for his work to make the Russian penal system more humane, and the hospital he founded and ran for the homeless—supported by own personal funds. Dr. Haass left an indelible mark on the Russian medical system. He died nearly penniless because he spent all his personal wealth on his charitable work—OC.

See also
Faith—the Key to God’s Treasury. Part 2 Faith—the Key to God’s Treasury. Part 2
Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
At difficult moments only faith can give a person the necessary spiritual strength. When a person with a weak faith despairs during misfortunes, feels defeated and complains bitterly, the believing person more strongly turns to God for help.
A Word from the Patriarch. A Word from the Patriarch. "Love is the most important thing in life"
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill
A Word from the Patriarch. A Word from the Patriarch. "Love is the most important thing in life"
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill
The Apostle says, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… Then he pronounces these words of great power and importance: by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14). What do these words of the apostle mean? They mean only one thing—that the cross is placed upon the whole world as a kind of measuring-stick of Divine righteousness and Divine truth…
The Law of Love The Law of Love
St. John of Kronstadt
The Law of Love The Law of Love
St. John of Kronstadt
Thus, the measuring stick of relationships to others is simplicity and sincerity, good will, and love for all—this is the best side of relationships to others. But not rarely, the nature of relationships to others is cunning, suspicion, dislike, rudeness, envy, extreme selfishness, self-seeking, partiality, vanity, ambition, vainglory, sensuality, or extreme haughtiness; that is, a high opinion of one's self, which seeks to humiliate others.
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 4000 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 4000

to our mailing list

* indicates required