Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov) In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Brothers and sisters, we have entered the days of the strict Dormition fast. The Holy Church, in order to prepare us to worthily greet the great Christian feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, has especially instituted a fast. I would like to remind you of the words of the stichera, the hymns in which the Church teaches us what fasting is, and how we must spend the fast: Let us keep a pleasant fast pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is abstaining from all evil, restraint of the tongue, laying aside anger, cutting off lust, idle talk, lies, and oathbreaking. This is a true and pleasant fast. (2nd sticheron on Monday evening of the first week of the Great Fast). This is the true and pleasant fast for the Lord. Distancing ourselves from these vices, from our sinful state, is what comprises a true fast. And first of all, we have to pay attention to restraining and bridling our tongue. It is a small member, but if we do not bridle it, then it will drag us in the time of the fast through the brambles of all kinds of lies, slander, condemnation, and gossip. We must also attentively remove from our hearts all hatred, all negative feelings for our neighbors; to strive to be to all quiet, meek, wisely humble, kindly condescending, and loving. We must also acquire love as the mother of all the virtues. In another talk I spoke of how important this virtue is and how necessary it is for our salvation. Because love is the highest good in our Christian life, and without love all our pious deeds, such as fasting, prayer, abstinence, chastity, and charity, will have no moral value. None of this has true worth if there is no love for our neighbor. What distinguishes a Christian is love of neighbor. Without love, a Christian is not a Christian. And Christianity is not Christianity. Love is the law of the human heart, the law of every moral, rational being. This law unites everything living, all creatures into one integral harmony. And if mankind does not submit itself to this law, then it condemns its own self to suffering, error, and death. Why? Because God by His own nature and essence is a God of love and peace. The holy apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians sings a hymn of Christian love. He pointed to the grandeur of Christian love, to precisely those unearthly qualities of Christian love, which our Lord Jesus Christ gave the world as a commandment. In the epistle he writes, Charity [love] 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 (1 Cor. 13:4–7).
Love is longsuffering. That is, it magnanimously bears all unpleasantness, all insults, all false accusations, without giving in to the movement of anger and vengefulness. Longsuffering is the root of all wisdom. And thus, according to the words of the wise Solomon: He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly (Prov. 14:29). And continuing this thought, the wise one compares this virtue with a fortified city; he says that it is stronger than even the greatest stronghold. Love is merciful, endures much unpleasantness from others but will by no means commit them itself, does not cause any harm to a neighbor. To the contrary, it accepts all its neighbors’ sorrows as its own. And in co-suffering with its neighbor, it strives to comfort, to help in calamities. It pours itself out like oil on wounds in order to console, comfort a neighbor in woes and misfortunes. And it will not be comforted until it brings consolation to the sorrowing.
Love does not envy the gifts, outstanding characteristics, or success of a neighbor in his affairs, nor his external well-being. It does not envy any of its neighbors’ goods or perfections, because that is against its nature. To the contrary, the essence of love is to wish and do only good—good to all people. It doesn’t want that only it be happy, but strives, wishes that all people would be happy. This is the quality of true Christian love.
Love vaunteth not itself, that is, it isn’t arrogant, doesn’t boast. It is love that makes a person wise, well mannered, and decent. Arrogance and lightmindedness are characteristic only of those people who love others with fleshly love. But whoever loves with true spiritual love is free from those things.
Love is not puffed up. No matter how gifted a person may be, if he has true Christian love he will never dream about himself that he has something better in comparison with another living being. And no matter how many good deeds he’s done, he nevertheless considers that he’s done nothing special. This is the nature of true Christian love.
Love is not easily provoked, thinks no evil. That is, even if someone to whom the Christian is a benefactor does his benefactor wrong, Christian love does not get angry. It tries to do good deeds anyway, regardless of any possible bad behavior from the person to whom love was shown. Love does not even think evil. It doesn’t think evil even in evil. As love itself is alien to any deceit, any evil, it doesn’t see this evil in others. Others perhaps see this evil in a person, but love does not see it in him—because it loves. Love endures all things, covers all things, all inadequacies, all weaknesses and infirmities. A person may have to endure all sorts of unpleasantness, perhaps even insults and beatings. But a loving person covers it all. An example can be cited from the Old Testament, the life of the holy king and prophet David. David was a very loving man; he possessed the gift of love. And when his own son Absalom was enraged against him and thought to take over power and destroy his own father for the sake of his ambition, David endured all of this calmly. He never pronounced a single word of reproach against his son. And even after his military commander killed Absalom, Prophet David wept like a child for him: My son, Absalom! (2 Kings 18:33), not remembering the wrongs that his own son did to him.
Love believes all things. Love trusts any person, no matter what he says, not suspecting that there might be some deceit in his words. But love believes all things, endures all things, and hopes all things. These briefly are the qualities of true Christian love, which the Lord left to us as a commandment. We must strive to acquire it and love our neighbor with this love. And by neighbor we mean every person, no matter who he is.
I have already said that all our works of outward piety—fasting, prayer, chastity, almsgiving—will have no moral value if they are not combined with love of neighbor. In the order of these works of piety, prayer is in first place. But even prayer is only pleasing to God when it is combined with love. But if to the contrary in our hearts live hatred, remembrance of wrongs, and ill will towards our neighbor, then although we may pray much and be devout, God will not accept our prayer. God our Father is a God of peace. Therefore, those who are foreign to love and peace only insult God with their prayers. They should not even go to church until they’ve made peace with their neighbor. And how can they ask God for forgiveness and remission of sins and debts if they have not yet forgiven their neighbor! And until they have forgiven their neighbors’ sins and made peace with them, the Lord will not forgive them or accept their prayers.
Not only prayer, but even suffering for the faith is not pleasing to God if the sufferer does not forgive his neighbor’s sin. The history of the Christian Church knows many such examples. One of them is the example of the priest Sapricius. In the first centuries of Christianity, during the times of persecution against Christians, he endured many tortures and suffering for the Christian faith. And a martyr’s crown was already being prepared for him. But before the very execution, his friend Niceforus came to ask his forgiveness for some quarrel they had. But Sapricius did not forgive him, and God’s grace immediately departed from him. He then became afraid of execution, renounced his cross, and lost his martyr’s crown, which that same Niceforus then received, confessing himself a Christian and being executed right then and there. Our chastity, fasting, and ascetic labors will be of no value in God’s eyes if they are not bound and connected with love of neighbor.
Let’s look again at a Gospel story. A rich young man asked the Savior, What must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mk. 10:17). The Savior said he must keep the commandments. The youth replied that he fulfills these commandments. The Savior, Who could see in the young man’s soul that he was greedy and had a passion for riches, said, Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me (Lk. 18:22). The youth was greedy, had a passion for riches, and greed can in no way be combined with love of neighbor. A mercenary man to the contrary often acts unjustly in order to acquire his unlawful riches at the expense of righteousness and love of neighbor. Therefore the youth left sad, and was deprived of eternal life, even though he as if fulfilled all the other commandments. The main commandment was and remains love of neighbor. And so we must remember that in Christianity there exist two main commandments: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your being, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (cf. Mt. 22:37–40; Mk. 12:28–32; Lk. 10:25–27). There is no commandment greater than these. Thus, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do I remind you in these beginning days of the Dormition fast that beyond zeal for outward, bodily fasting and abstinence it is necessary to turn our attention to our inner state, to the uprooting of all vice in our souls, so that we would crucify in ourselves all vainglory, arrogance, ambition, egoism, and pride, and strive to acquire condescension, mercy, and love of neighbor. Without this, our fast will not bring us any success. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (Jn. 13:34–35). So let us try to spend the days of the fast, according to our strength, in abstinence and Christian perfection, purity and piety, trying not to hurt our neighbor, not in word or in deed, and striving to acquire love for each other. Let us emulate the first Christians, who as I said, although they endured terrible persecutions—they were robbed, their possessions confiscated, and Christian blood flowed—they were united by such strong bonds of love that they were of one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32). And so they were able to bear all kinds of attacks and persecutions from the pagan world. May the Lord help us to spend these days as it be pleasing to Him, our God. To our God be glory forever! Amen.