by Fr. Nicholas Loudovikos
If there is no love for God there cannot be any theology; there can be legalism, there can be justice, there can be….. but there can’t be theology. One must love God in order to theologize properly, because if one doesn’t love God, his theology will be hostile to man and to God – regardless if that person realizes this and regardless if he is seated “upon a lofty theological throne”.
“Said the Lord to His disciples: thus I command you, to love one another” it says in here. The only commandment that I give you is to love one another. Of course we all know just how weighty this commandment is, and that it is essentially the point where all of Christian reality converges – all struggles, all ascetic labours.
The purpose of ascesis in the Orthodox Church is not the acquisition of charismas; it is not about acquiring virtues – no, not even virtues – but to attain love. It is a struggle that is undertaken, because I am aware that I do not love. And he is fortunate, who has perceived that he cannot love. He is fortunate, who can perceive that his true illness lies in the fact that he cannot love – to love sincerely, in the manner that love truly is. When you see a couple that claims they love each other and remains the same for entire decades, while they are each essentially confined to themselves, what kind of love is that? Love is that which Abba Isaac describes as “I love to love”… I want to love, I enjoy loving… but, unfortunately, it is not an easy thing to do!
Now this thing, love: how does one go about learning how to love? What is this thing, this vast lesson about? The vast lesson is to firstly love, and afterwards, when I have learnt to love, the charismas will come; otherwise, charismas are catastrophic. No matter what charisma I may receive, if I haven’t learnt to move a little in the direction of love (even if by falling and getting up again), that charisma – whatever charisma it may be – will destroy me. And it will also be used by me to destroy others, inadvertently.
Thus, the acquisition of ascesis is the acquisition of love; Orthodox asceticism is a social asceticism. Ascetics and monks don’t head for the mountains because they hate their fellow-man. If one does this, he will be deluded as a monk. An ascetic goes out to learn – to somehow depart from the turbulence, to sequester himself in his inner cell, to remain carefree for a while, to become indifferent, to relax a little from the cares of the world and to observe his own weakness and seek the appropriate medicines.
That is what monasticism is about. It is not an indication of automatic sanctity; it is however indicative of a person who understands what he has to do. Because unless we too who live in the world become likewise carefree, unless we too become less preoccupied, unless we too discard cares and cease working for a little while, unless we too don’t confine ourselves to our spiritual matters and our selves, we won’t be able to figure things out for ourselves.
So, when a monk realizes that that’s how things are, he immediately takes the next big step. This step is an eschatological one. I can praise monks, because I’m not a monk myself. If I was a monk, you would say that I’m praising myself. But I am not a monk, so I can say these things.
Anyway, that’s how one moves on, and that’s where he realizes his huge deficiency; in other words, one realizes that God – for some reason that we can’t know and can’t imagine – is Love… and in fact an ineffable love – a tremendously humble one… a love that is inconceivably noble. In this way, I begin to become aware of my own illness. And by understanding my weakness, I embark on ascesis in order to move towards where the Lord is calling me.
That is why a monk relinquishes all ownership of things… we here don’t have that; instead, we have the law of needs, don’t we? In other words, what do we need? That’s what we should seek. To possess things, as though we don’t have them, right? So, why does a monk do it (relinquish ownership)? So that he can focus his mind constantly on this matter: to follow the One Who shows you the inner light and Who offers you the Kingdom – the path leading to the Kingdom.