Thursday, July 8, 2010

Perfection - The Steps of Love - The Path to Union

Fr Dimitru Stanloae begins his discussion about the final stage of Orthodox Spirituality, Perfection by Union with God or by Deification, with a discussion on Love and Dispassion. To understand union with God it is first necessary to understand love.  It is with love that we attain union with God.

What is love? What are its characteristics? Love involves an eradication of ego, the development of selflessness. Our self-centered actions come from the passions. These we first have to overcome. Love is about giving totally of oneself to another. We can't be preoccupied with our own needs and love others. Love only fully develops after we have freed ourselves of the control of passions and reached dispassion. 

Love is central to our finding union with God.

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae says,
We can't turn exclusively to God, as long as we are preoccupied in an egoistic way with ourselves.
Saint Diadochos writes,
He who loves himself, cannot love God.  But he who doesn't love himself because of he overwhelming richness of the love of God, loves God, for such a person never seeks his own glory, but that of God.  Because he who loves himself seeks his own glory, but he who loves God, loves the glory of Him who made him. since it is proper to the sensitive soul to always seek first the glory of God in all the commandments which he is carrying out, and secondly, to enjoy himself in his humility.
Saint John the Evangelist says,
"He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20)
Fr. Dimitru outlines three steps in love:
a) The tendency of natural sympathy from the state of nature fallen from grace. [This we all have as a seed within ourselves from our birth.]
b) Christian love, which uses this tendency and grows by divine grace and by self-efforts; this grows and becomes firm. It brings nature to a kind of fulfillment. [This we develop as we follow the Orthodox Way of Life.]
c) Finally, there is love as ecstasy or as a gift exclusively from above.  This comes after a long preparation through the second and last for moments, that from the second it might gain new force and continue its growth. [This comes with pure prayer.]
Full love means a man's complete victory over himself.  
Divine love is a total victory of egotism.  It is gained through prayer after preparation through the activities of purification to rid ourselves of the passions. It is what we begin to experience as we are able to transcend reason and all concepts.  We discover God's love within our hearts and this helps us develop our capacity for love of God and for our neighbor. 

Saint Diadochos says,
When someone begins to richly feel the love of God, then he begins to love his neighbor too, with spiritual feeling.
Saint Diadochos adds an important adjective to our love of other, "with spiritual feeling." When we love another with "spiritual feeling" there is no separation between us.  All our thoughts are about the other person. And the one loved has all their thoughts directed toward us. We are joined in selfless union.  There is no separation. This is how we attain theosis.  It is based on our love of God and His love for us.  As we give up ourselves for Him, we find ourselves embraced in His divine love. We find the union we seek.

Fr Dimitru says of divine love,
Divine love is a drink, because it floods with its enthusiasm the worldly judgment of the mind and the feeling of the body.  It moves the one who participates in it to another plane of reality.  He sees another world, whose logic darkens the logic of everyday life; he receives the sense of other states, which overwhelm the feeling of bodily pains and pleasures.  
It is through this divine love that the Apostles received on that day of Pentecost. With the descent of the Hoy spirit filling them with divine love based on their total love of Jesus Christ, they were able to spread the Word throughout the world while suffering rejection, imprisonment and torture. All the troubles they endured never weakened their effort because of the union they had with God.  It was through divine love that they were able to bear all. This is the focus of the final stage of Orthodox Spirituality: Perfection.

More on love...

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 303 - 309

See Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

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