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.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.
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.
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.