Monday, November 23, 2015

1. Praying Daily

Prayer is the foundation of the Orthodox way of life. What is Prayer? It is a dialogue between you and God. It unites your soul with God. It is through prayer that you unite with God and receive the gift of His grace to aid you in overcoming your passions and living life based on love. Through prayer you also learn to control the distractions of your mind, allowing you to become more watchful and focused in your daily activities. Prayer is the key to entering a life based on the virtues.

How do you pray? First, establish a regular time and a private place. You should have a specific rule for both morning and evening. Don’t try to “wing it.” This is not a relaxation exercise, but a path of communion with your God. You will benefit from having a specific set of guidelines that you follow each time with no excuses for shortcutting them. In your rule, incorporate standing, prostrations, kneeling, making the sign of the cross, reading, and at times singing. Use prayer books and written prayers. The Orthodox prayer books are filled with prayers that have been well-tested and used for hundreds of years. Prayer does not need to be a creative activity. Above all, you need to be sincere. Keep your awareness in your heart and concentrate on the words of the prayer. Once you establish a rule, always keep it. Work with your spiritual Father on this.
You begin praying by focusing your consciousness in your heart and forcibly gathering there all the powers of your soul and body. Before you start your prayers, take time to quiet yourself and to concentrate your energies in your heart. Christ says, “Enter into thy closet and ... shut thy door” (Mt 6:6). Remove all activities that could disrupt your inner descent. Set aside, to the best of your ability, all of your problems of the day and your worries for tomorrow. This is not a time for thinking or worrying. When you are preparing to pray, stand, sit or walk a few minutes and steady your mind to concentrate on God. Reflect on who it is that you will be addressing. Remember, it is God Himself, the Creator of All, with whom you are about to talk. Try to hold in your heart a feeling of humility and reverent awe. If you are able, make some prostrations before you begin.
As you begin to pray, enter into every word of the prayer. Bring the meaning of the words down into your heart. Do not rush through the prayers like you are in a hurry to finish them. Let the words of the prayer slowly drop into the depths of your heart with humility and awe of God. You need to slow your mind down so you can concentrate solely on your prayer. It’s somewhat like driving a car. When you are going 90 miles per hour down the highway, you may feel exhilarated, powerful and in control. But, at high speeds things can go wrong quickly. But, when you slow down and drive at a speed of twenty-five miles per hour, the car handles easily and if someone makes a dangerous maneuver you can easily avoid it. The mind works the same way. You want to train it to slow down so it will not cause you an unneeded accident and you can open your heart to God’s presence. So, in prayer say the words slowly so you can gain the full meaning of them and allow them to penetrate your consciousness and to bring to your heart feelings of love and reverence for God. Beware of the tendency to rush to complete them hurriedly. When this happens you have turned your prayer into an obligation, another task to complete, and it is no longer true prayer. Don’t worry if you catch yourself doing this. It is normal at first. Just stop, slow down, and then continue after asking God’s forgiveness and help. You will eventually find the right pace for yourself. Also, study the prayers before you use them so you know the meaning of each word. Eventually you will want to memorize them.
After you begin to recite your prayers, you will find that your mind will want to wander. This means you are still driving at a high speed. Don’t be concerned about this; it is natural due to our overactive minds. Work constantly to improve your ability to concentrate your attention on God and your prayer. When your mind does wander, be gentle with yourself. Think of God and how He loves you and go back to recite again what you said while your mind was elsewhere. Bring yourself back to concentrate on God and the words of the prayer. Sometimes it helps to say your prayers out loud for a while to help you concentrate. The mind is quite skilled at trying to do more than one thing at a time. But in reality, you only concentrate on one thing at a time. You can easily be deceived by the mind as it leaves prayer to focus on other matters. These wanderings of the mind show you the dimensions of your busy life and where you need to find ways to make it quieter so you can be always mindful of God. Prayer is NOT the time to focus on these worldly activities, because this will only further distract you from prayer. Work to concentrate your attention more and more each time you pray. Each day you will gain in your attentiveness during prayer.
When you finish your prayers, stand for a few moments. Consider to what your prayer life commits you. Try to hold in your heart what has been given to you. Treasure it for a few moments.
It is important to make your prayer life one that is a firm rule, a desired habit, and not something that is done occasionally, sporadically or casually. Pray each and every morning and evening for fifteen minutes at a minimum. Your prayer rule should include specific prayers (See the back of this booklet for an example of a beginning prayer rule). Commit to doing your rule each and every day, just like you are committed to daily personal hygiene tasks such as brushing your teeth. You don’t forget to do them each day. You need to make prayer a similar habit, one that you never forget. Just like brushing our teeth is essential for the health of our gums and teeth, prayer is essential for the health of our soul. Persistence and patience in prayer will prepare you for God’s grace to work within you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Orthodox Way of Life - An Introduction

The final goal of man is communion with God. The path to this communion has been precisely defined: faith, and walking in the Commandments with the help of God’s grace.
Saint Theophan the Recluse
While it is true that the Orthodox way of life is not the normal way of life for most people in our society, it is a most practical life for married people with families faced with the challenges of careers. In fact, it is the way of living that will make your life less stressful and more meaningful.
The Orthodox Way of Life is NOT a monastic way of life. Even though monasticism was part of the early church, we are not required to live this most honored lifestyle. Only a few are called to this style of life. We do, however, have the same goals. Like the monks we seek holiness and union with God, but we are called to live in the world with our families. The principles of our spiritual growth are the same no matter which path we chose.
Most of us never take the time to reflect on the purpose of our lives. Often we don’t do this until someone we love departs from this life unexpectedly. During this moment of grief, our soul has our attention and we begin to think about what life is all about. In one way, life is about death. We all know this is where we are headed, but we too often refuse to think about this seriously because of the unknown and the fear it presents.
The purpose of life taught by the Apostles and the Church Fathers is one of finding union with God. Jesus came to save us and to open the gates of heaven for us. He showed us how to live through His teaching and example. He showed us that we have nothing to fear in death. 
To begin, you must have faith in God and accept His love for you. With a little faith, you can begin to live the Orthodox way of life outlined in this booklet. This way of life is given to us by Christ Himself through His Church. It is a proven way of life that WILL bring you closer to God. As you come closer to God, you increase your capability to deal with any difficulty you may face. You increase your ability to live according to the virtues.
These ten points presented here are only an outline on how to find union with God. However, if you follow them you will be led to everything you need to know.
Study each one of them and examine your current life. Then seek ways to make the necessary changes in your life to incorporate them. Always pray for God’s help in this.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Who Are the Peacemakers?

Today we struggle with the need for peace in the Middle East. The most recent effort has been the agreement to constrain Iran on the development of a nuclear weapon. This seems to have become controversial in the political sphere. Some wanting to hold out for everything even if it means more war. Others are satisfied with a path that constrains their ability to develop such a weapon. But what I wish to address is the idea of a peacemaker as taught by Jesus.  Who are the true peacemakers? What did Christ mean when He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall become sons of God"?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa gives us some insight in one of his sermons on the Beatitudes. In commenting on being a peacemaker he begins by reminding us how different we are from God. He is all powerful and we are just made from dust. Yet, God tells us, if we can become a peacemaker we will become His son. This can only mean that we become like Him.

What is a peacemaker? Saint Gregory puts it this way:
Now a peacemaker is a person who gives peace to another; but one cannot give to another what one does not possess oneself. Hence the Lord wants you first to be yourself filled with the blessing of peace, and then to communicate it to those who have need of it.
So being a peacemaker has to do with our own condition. Are we peaceful, do we have an inner peace to share? We can only give what we have to give.

Next he asks, What is peace? He writes:
Surely peace is nothing but a loving disposition towards one's neighbor. Now what is held to be the opposite of love? It is hate and wrath, anger and envy, harboring resentment as well as hypocrisy and the clarity of war.
It is easy to see that wrath is against goodness. No one who experiences the wrath of another person or another country sees this as good. If we can free ourselves from our own anger that leads to wrath we will move towards becoming a peacemaker. The passions that boil within ourselves are what need to be aimed first if we are to become like God.

In addition to wrath which we see externally, there is an inner disposition that may even be worse because it is hidden. That is envy and hypocrisy. Saint Gregory speaks of it this way:
Such is the disease of envy and hypocrisy; it is cherished secretly in the depth of the heart, like a hidden fire, while externally everything is made to look deceptively like  friendship. It is like a fire that is hidden under chaff. For a time is smolders inside and burns only what lies near; the flame does not flare up visibly, only biting smoke penetrates, because it is so vigorously compressed from within. But if it meets with some gust of wind, it is rekindled into a bright open flame.
We see this in the Biblical story of Cain and Able. Cain raved when Able was praised, but his envy lead him to killing Able. To become a peacemaker we must also rid ourselves of this hidden disease of envy. We cannot live with hypocrisy in ourselves and lead others to peace. We have a war going on within ourselves that can flare any time to warlike action. By becoming open and congruent with our feelings and actions we will receive God's grace to act with Divine power. Only then can we act with love and lead others towards peace. With any kind of malice hidden in our heart we will find ourselves separated from God and His love. We may even be contributing to the wrath we so much despise.

Not only are we asked to regard the needs of others by seeing their goodness, we need to address the war that Saint Gregory says is inherent in ourselves. He says:
I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind, but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.
This is our true challenge. The passions of our body too often dictate our actions. The mind may say one thing but the bodily passions take us in another direction. This is the aim of the Orthodox way of life, to lift our way of being so our higher nature is in control. Not only are we reconciled with God in repentance, prayer and the sacraments, but we discipline ourselves in these actions as well as fasting. It is the Orthodox way of life that will lead you to become a peacemaker and a son of God. This is the only way there will ever be peace in the world.

Ten Points on the Orthodox Way of life

Reference: Saint Gregory of Nyssa: The Lord's Prayer, The Beatitudes, Vol 18 Ancient Christian Writers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Flag and Christ's Teaching About Love

The recent discussion about the proper use of the Confederate flag raised for me important Christian issues. I start with the observation that many seem totally blind to the meaning this flag has to millions of Americans, especially Black Americans. I wondered why it is that so many, especially here in South Carolina, are so tied to the display of this flag on our Capital grounds where it offends so many.

I purposely entered into some of these discussion on Facebook to see what lay behind these objections to removing the flag from such a public space. I kept getting the same answer, "It's our pride in out Southern heritage and a way to honor those who died in the Confederate army during the Civil war." It was quickly clear that there was no way to engage in a true discussion with an alternative view as their view was so strong. This bothered me because for me the flag was a sign of hatred, especially now that it was linked with such a horrible crime as occurred in the massacre in Charleston where the Civil war began.

How does this all relate to the teachings of Christ? Christ tight us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies. To me the inability and unwillingness of those who defend the flying of the flag on the Capital grounds to see the perspective of Black Americans and many others was a sign of disrespect, a disregard for the hurt this symbol causes for so many others. The issue is about human dignity, about love of others who are different from us. Love demands an understanding of the perspective of those who have a different view from us.

We are all often blinded by our own perspective and the underlying assumptions that lie hidden behind it. Because of these hidden assumptions we find it difficult and fearful to understand what others perceive and uncover our hidden assumptions.

I was once involved in a PhD program made up of cohorts of mixed back and white students. We were engaged in a task of Synergy. The task was to take an issue and first clarify our own perspective and the assumptions that were behind it. Next was to investigate the perspective of others and its assumptions. Once the other perspective was gathered it had to presented to the other group to test it. Both sides did this. In our case we were divided into two groups, one all white and the other all black. The Black group had no difficulty in understanding the White groups perspective. But our White group had difficulty in expressing the Black view. When we tried to represent the Black group's perspective we failed to accurately represent it.  We had difficulty doing so after many interactions. The Black group was amazed at the difficulty we had. What this taught us is that when we are an advantaged group, it is very difficult to understand the view of a group that has historically been disadvantaged.

What does this mean about love as Christ taught? To love our neighbor as ourselves we must be able to first understand the view of our neighbor as clearly as we understand our own perceptive if we are to love them. Without this deeper understanding of each other we cannot understand their actions or their needs. Our love is only superficial. It is nearly impossible to take actions of mutual love.

To address an issue such as the one that has risen over the Confederate flag, we can only deal with it if we are willing to sincerely explore the view of the others. Knowing this is difficult we need to actively seek out the other's view while we hold true to our own view.  Once we feel we have understood their view then we can hold both views together in our heart, in our love, and see what will emerge, how the Holy Spirit will guide as we hold these two truths together. Out of the love of Christ will emerge a third view, one that is bigger than either of the two, synergy, that will lead us to a creative resolution of the issue based on mutual love and respect.

I write this to encourage all of us as we deal with the explosive issue of racial discrimination, the aftermath of the history of brutal slavery, the years of discrimination and segregation that followed, and the modern cries of white supremacy, to take the time to first examine your own perspective and uncover some of its underlying assumptions. Then seek out to understand the others perspective and the assumptions underlying it. Finally, prayerfully hold both views and see what insights emerge that allow you to speak with love towards all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Only then will your actions be able to communicate the love of Christ.

Monday, June 15, 2015

What is the "Fire" that Torments?

How can a loving God be so cruel to allow any of his creatures to burn eternally? In Scripture we find numerous references to the fire of hell which we will endure if we are not united with God's love (see passages below).  What is really meant by this reference to fire?  Is it like a physical fire or is it something else?

Saint John of Damascus gives us some insight into these passages that are often used to instill fear rather than love of God. He explains this fire as a condition where we will not be able to satisfy the desires we carry with us into death, those desires that we have put above our desire to be united with  God out of love and to do His will. This absence of any satisfaction for these misguided desires leads us to the kind of suffering which is like being burned by fire. Isn't it the nature of suffering our inability to satisfy our desires?

He writes:
We say that the torment is nothing other than the fire of unsatisfied passion. For those who obtained changelessness in passion do not desire God but sin. But there in that place the commission of evil has no place. For we neither eat nor drink, nor get dressed, nor marry, nor gather wealth, nor does envy or another evil satisfy us. Therefore, by desiring and not partaking of the things desired, they are burned by passions as if by fire. But those who desire the good––namely God alone, Who is and exists eternally––and who partakes of Him rejoice according to the intensity of their desire according to which they also partake of the Desired One.
When we pass from this life to a heavenly life there will not be the means to satisfy those desires that we place such high priority on in our earthly life. We will not be able to find satisfaction in food, in fancy parties where we dress to look our best, in all the pleasures we can buy with money, in the superior status or power we have gained. Heaven strips us of what was pleasurable in our earthly life. There is only one desire that can be satisfied in this new life. That is our desire to be united with God in love. Without this as our overriding desire we will not find pleasure in heaven. There will  be no way to satisfy any other desire.

According to Orthodox teaching the fire that torments is not a physical fire, but is a torment that comes from the inability our soul to direct its desire towards communion with God. One who cannot do this is imprisoned by his own action and his passions strike him like poisonous serpents. He will be surrounded by those he hates and separated from those he loves and who love him. He will always be seeking what can never be satisfied. Dumitru Staniloae says, "He falls into a sort of dreamlike existence in which everything becomes chaotic in a senseless absurdity, without any consistency, without any search for an exit out of it, without any hope for an exit."

Why does God leave a person in such a condition?  Why doesn't he show himself with His divine light so one can see and depart from such darkness? The answer is that God is not an external reality that imposes itself but is offered to us out of love. This cannot be perceived except through an openness to love that is humble and full of desire for Him. It is based on a relationship. He who is bound up in lesser desires will not admit that such love is possible when he cannot offer such love in return. God therefore cannot make Himself evident as a loving Person in this case. Saint Isaac the Syrian says that hell is a punishment of love.

Satin John of Damascus writes:
He who desires receives. He who is good receives good things ... The righteous, by desiring and having God, rejoice forever; but the sinners, by desiring sin and not possessing objects of sin, are tormented as if eaten by the worm and consumed by fire, with no consolation; for what is suffering if not the absence of that which is desired? According to the intensity of desire, those who desire God rejoice, and those who desire sin are tormented.
Here on earth when we incline our desire toward other things and obtain them even partially, we find pleasure in them. Over there, however, when "God will be all in all" (1Cor 15:28) and there will be neither food, nor drink, nor any bodily pleasure nor any injustice, those who possess neither common pleasures nor anything from God will suffer great pain that is not produced by God, but that we prepare for ourselves.
We cannot say that God punishes us with fire, but that it is our own misdirected desires that lead us to suffering that is like being burt by fire. To avoid the fire our primary desire has to be directed toward our love of God.

We must remember that Jesus, God incarnate, came for our benefit. He came out of God's love for all mankind to save us from the fallen condition we are in. He did not come to punish us. He came to transform us and to teach us that our earthly desires are misguided when substituted for our love of God our Creator. He loves us so much that He sacrificed His own life on the Cross to free us from our sinfulness, showing us the way through His Resurrection to be joined with Him in His kingdom with eternal life, and then sends the Holy Spirit to establish His Church on earth for our perfection in love. He is a God of love and only calls us to return that love. We can enjoy the pleasures of this world, all He created is Good, but only if we always give priority to our desire for His love and give thanks to Him for what we enjoy. If we replace this supreme desire with earthy desires, these will not be fulfilled when we enter into the heavenly realm. Lacking a desire for union with God, we will find ourselves separated eternally from His love, the only desire that can be satisfied after our bodily death.

Remember that Christ is within each of us. He resides in our heart. Make His love your desire.

New Testament references to the fire of damnation:
"every tree that does not bear good fruit is thrown into the fire" (Matt 3:10, Lk 3:9)
"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threading floor, and gather His seat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matt 3:12, Lk 3:17)
"Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in their, so it will be at the end of the age.... Will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be ailing and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 13:40, 42, 50)
"It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, than to be cast into hell fire." (Matt 18:9, Mark 9:47)
"If Your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched." (Mark 9:45)
"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, they are burned." (John 15:6)
"The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." (Rev 20:10)
"Anyone not found in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." (Rev 20:15)
"The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murders, sexually immoral,sorcerers, idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone..." (Rev 21:8)

Reference: The Experience of God, vol 6, by Dumitru Staniloae, pp 43-47

Saturday, May 30, 2015

True Nature of the Church and the Holy Spirit

The true nature of the Church is revealed at Pentecost. The Church is totally Christ centered and it is through our relationship with Christ that we are united with Him forever. How is it then that the decent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost reveals the true nature of the Church?

Fr. Staniloae writes,
Our salvation is achieved only through Christ, who comes to dwell within us with the body He bore––a body that has risen, ascended, and been made fully spiritual, that is, has been filled with the Holy Spirit and thus has become totally transparent.
Christ had been made fully spiritual, which means He is filled with the Holy Spirit. His body is no longer physical, but spiritual and transparent. He now works through us by the Holy Spirit. He dwells within us mystically.

His indwelling in each of us is what produces the Church. The Greek word is "ekklecia," or gathering.  The Church is the gathering of those who have within them Christ Himself. It is through the Church that we received this indwelling at our Baptism. The Church is where the Holy Spirit works for our salvation given to us through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. We can think of this as a process initiated by God involving the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and then the formation of the Church. His Body and the seed of our resurrection is planted in believers during our baptism and we are then are nurtured spiritually by our ongoing cooperation with Christ in His Holy Church.

This is quite a different view than found in most Protestant churches. There the emphasis is on the Word of God and not on the indwelling of Christ. The role of the Holy Spirit is minimized and the church is simply an assembly hall where prayers are given and people hear a lecture on the Holy Scripture. For Orthodox Christians the physical place where the faithful gather is seen as a holy place, a place where the Holy Spirit is very much present and where it actively works through the sacraments offered to the faithful during each service.

The descent of the Holy Spirit gives the Church it’s purpose and existence and initiates the indwelling of the resurrected Body of Christ in us. Through the Holy Spirit we attain this indwelling and therefore the Church. It is through the descent of the Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost that Christ is able to work through us, that we are able to be in an intimate relationship with Him, enabling us to do His will and to act with love towards others.

It was at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit first shone forth from human beings. On this day Christ sent the Holy Spirit as he promised the Apostles. It descended on them, filling them with Christ’s glory, making them the first members of the Church. After the descent they were filled with Christ and His powers were extended to them. They were able to now go to all nations without fear and spread the Good News, baptizing thousands and growing the Church. 

The Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son. It must always be considered as the Spirit of Christ. It is not something that should ever be thought of as separate from Christ. God is three persons in One. Where one is you will find the others. Being different persons they act with perfect knowledge of each other and exist in perfect love.

Fr. Staniloae says,
The image of Christ in heaven and of the Holly Spirit in the Church is false, because such a vision does not take the Trinitarian Persons’ unity seriously. This in turn leads to either rationalism or to sentimentalism, or even to both.
It is through the Holy Spirit that Christ penetrates our hearts. The Holy Spirit works to form us progressively into the image of the Son. As we acquire the Holy Spirit in our sacramental life in the Church, Christ imprints Himself more clearly in us, nurtures our love for Him, leading us to follow His will. It is by the Spirit that Christ becomes more evident to us and we receive more and more of His powers. With Him present with us the Holy Spirit penetrates us with His full presence.

It is the miracle of Pentecost that Christ descends for the first time into human hearts. The Church is created and is now maintained by Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is continually available for our benefit in the Church. Through Spirit we are united with Him. The Church is therefore necessary for our salvation.

Fr. Staniloae writes,
The work of salvation, whose foundation was laid in Christ’s human nature, is being fulfilled in the form of the Church, which is our union with God and among ourselves. Only within the harmony between human beings in God is it shown that they have abandoned egoism as a general image of sin, or of their confinement in themselves as narrow monads. That is why the state of salvation is equivalent to belonging to the Church, or to the gathering of those who are saved into the Church with their common participation in the Body that Christ raised up––beyond any self-preoccupation––to the sacrificial state that was made permanent in Him.
On this day of Pentecost we can renew our spiritual understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit. Let us remember to seek Christ within us, not just as a figure described in the Scripture. We need to purify our hearts so that the Holy Spirit and God’s grace can work through us and we can become more and more like Christ. We need to remember the importance of the sacraments of the Church, especially Holy Communion where through the Holy Spirit we are able partake of the Body and Blood of Christ regularly to give us renewed spiritual strength so we can live as He taught us. Let's remember to give thanks for all Christ does for us through the Holy Spirit. Pray for the Holy Spirit to act within you.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov writes,

Acquiring the Spirit of God is the true aim of our Christian life, while prayer, fasting, almsgiving and other good works done for Christ's sake are merely means for acquiring the Spirit of God.

Reference:The Experience of God by Dimitru Staniloae. Vol 4, pp 1--11 

Monday, May 25, 2015

What is True Love?

In today's active worldly life we tend to experience a life filled with anxiety and concern. We all want to be loved but deep down we feel something is lacking. Subconsciously we are tormented and seek through external actions to eliminate this source of anxiety. Not experiencing true love based on the Gospel, we seek substitutes in self-help programs, yoga, eastern meditation, various philosophical, political or economic teachings, place our faith and hope in a particular leader or in an ideal like democracy. We may seek friendship by aligning ourselves with a particular political party that proclaims our current political views. We seek to be accepted, filling an inner void. But none of our external actions will give us what we seek.

What we truly seek is spiritual, it is the Gospel love. The whole essence of the Gospel is a teaching about love that was brought to us through the Incarnation Son of God. It is about God's love for us, our need to return this love to Him and to love our fellow man. When we accept His love and then act like Him, we find that no matter what is happening externally we find peace in a heart filled with love.  Unfortunately, today we see too many whose heart is filled with what appears to be hatred. We only have to look as far as the current political dialogue that is amplified by TV commentators and other media.

How do we acquire this true Gospel love? Archbishop Averky writes,
In order to acquire the Gospel love in one's heart, it is necessary to ardently and wholeheartedly come to believe in God as our Creator and Benefactor, to contemplate God's magnificent works, to envision and be profoundly amazed by God's majesty and wisdom as reflected in His creation, and by His inexpressible love towards His creation. If we become aware of how God cares for us like an all-loving Father, and even more gently, like an adoring mother, then our hearts will be filled to overflowing with ardent and reverent love for Him.
Further if we reflect that God is not only our Creator and Benefactor, but also our Savior; that He did not reject fallen Man who in return for all of God's beneficence, repaid Him with base ingratitude, but for our sake did not spare His Only-Begotten Son, delivering Him to shameful sufferings and painful death, so that He can reunite us to Himself, we would have to be as insensitive as stones if we did not answer God's love with love.
But it seems all to prevalent that many people only love their own desires. It appears that they love themselves more than anything. This includes people who even say they love God.

Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov says, "Love God as He commanded you to love Him, and not as the self-deluded daydreamers think they love Him."

Self-love will not lead us to the peace that comes with accepting and returning God's love. It will not fill this deep inner void we subconsciously seek to fill. This true love must be spiritual. It must be free from our self-centered wants and desires. To love God we must be humble. We cannot express our love when we act like we are god, the center of everything.

The criterion for authentic and spiritual love is given in a few passages of Scripture. Jesus says, If you love Me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). He who does not love Me does not keep My words (John 14:24)To love God therefore means we must struggle with our whole being to live what He has taught and shown us.

What does this imply? That we must study the Gospel. Studying with an open heart, taking His words as our most important teacher, we can learn how to love God. As we begin to put what He has taught into practice, we will begin to overcome our self-centeredness. He leads us to a state of Love. Not just love of God, but of love of others, including our perceived enemies. We will all become beacons of His light and preachers of the Gospel.

Archbishop Averky writes,
The basis of everything is pure and genuine love for God, which is proved by sincere desire and earnest effort to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. This love for God naturally generates in us feelings of love towards our neighbor. Love for others is so closely connected with love for God that Scripture considers it as a measure of our love for God. "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar" (1John 4:20), claims the Apostle.
This is the purpose of an Orthodox Christian way of life. Following the Gospel and nurtured in the Church, we seek to get rid of all our egoism and fill our hearts with love of God and others. All self-love, our selfish desires and wants, our external efforts to find acceptance by others, all such ways that most commonly dominate our heart must be purged. When our hearts are filled with true love, our world changes. We will then find the peace that we in error seek through external actions.

Archbiship Averky says,
Without Christ, peace is inconceivable, for only Christ's Gospel love can give reliable and enduring peace. "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you: not as the world gives do I give to you," said Christ Himself to His disciples during the Mystical Supper (John 14:27). Whoever wants to achieve true peace on earth must approach it not through world peace conferences, where everything is based on lies and dishonesty, but through the peace of Christ, through implanting Christ's Gospel love in human hearts.
Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

Reference: The Struggle for Virtue by Archbishop Averky (Taushev), pp 48 - 60.