All too often, we Christians are characterized by what we stand against. We expect others to hold to our religious and moral standards and when they don't, we gossip about them or we boycott their businesses or introduce legislation to trample their rights. THAT IS NOT CHRISTIANITY. That is not Jesus Christ.
I heard some quotes today from St. Maximus the Confessor that I had to put down before I forgot:
“The one who loves God cannot help but love also every man as himself even though he is displeased by the passions of those who are not yet purified” (CL 1:13). “Love for God in no way admits of hatred for man” (CL 1:15).
“The one who does not love his neighbor [as the Lord commands as a proof of our love for Him] …is not able to love the Lord” (CL 1:16).
“Blessed is the man who has learned to love all men equally” (CL 1:17; 2:10).
“The one who loves God surely loves his neighbor as well” (CL 1:23).
“The work of love is the deliberate doing of good to one‟s neighbor…” (CL 1:40).
“The one who leads an angelic life on earth…[is] always thinking good of everyone” (CL 1:42).
“Perfect love does not split up the one nature of men on the basis of their various dispositions but ever looking steadfastly at it loves all men equally…It ever manifests the fruits of love equally for all men…” (CL 1:71; cf. 2:30).
“The one who has come to understand the weakness of human nature…never looks down on anyone” (CL 2:39).
“The one who does not love anything human loves all men…” (CL 3:37).
“Love of neighbor prepares the mind to think always well of him” (CL 4:40).
“The one who loves Christ thoroughly imitates Him as much as he can. Treated ungratefully and blasphemed, He was patient; beaten and put to death by them, He endured, not thinking ill of anyone at all. These three are the works of love of neighbor in the absence of which a person who says he loves Christ or possesses His Kingdom deceives himself” (CL 4:55).
“Be as eager as you can to love every man, but if you cannot do this, at least do not hate anyone [which] you cannot do unless you scorn the things of this world” (CL 4:82).
“You are to love every man from your soul…” (CL 4:95).
“The friends of Christ love everyone sincerely [and] maintain the continuity of their love till the end” (CL 4:98).
I know of people who are leaving the Faith, in part, because of the way American Christians are living out their lives in battle against those with whom they disagree. They are known by what they stand against rather than what they are for. Again, let me say, those people do not represent Jesus Christ any more then the 9/11 hijackers represent Islam. May the world know that we are Christians by the love we show to one another, even those who appear to be our enemies. Loving people does not mean we have to agree with everything they stand for. But it does mean extending KINDNESS, assistance when needed, mercy, friendship, and a constant recognition of my own faults and not my neighbors'. My sins are great enough!
Molly Sabourin wrote a FANTASTIC piece about this issue last year. In it, she states:
What does it mean to believe boldly? To take a stand against ___________? Well, just fill in the blank. There’s no shortage of un-Christian attitudes, legislation, opinions to disagree with. Christians oppose Yoga, I read on the front page of the Yahoo website last week. We oppose, we oppose, we’re against, we’re fighting back, we followers of Christ have exchanged our feet washing rags for cold and metal suits of armor. And how approachable does that make us, I wonder? I mean, I understand the concern that befriending, without an agenda, individuals with moral standards, political opinions, or theological principles not in compliance with our own could be misconstrued as acceptance of what we would consider to be sinful and foolish behavior. I’m not proposing, at all, that we compromise our beliefs or blend seamlessly into our secular surroundings. I think we absolutely should stand-out, like light, like salt, like a meager meal of fish and bread shared miraculously with the multitudes, but not because of what we oppose, rather because of what we’re for: a Christ-like love that defies logic, fear, racism, selfishness, self-consciousness, condemnation, rejection, negativity.
This last part really resonates with me because this IS Christianity. This isn't what I've decided I like about Christianity... this is what was taught by Christ and the Apostles and established as the NORM in the Orthodox Church. Christ-like love. May that be what characterizes MY life, even when people do or say things I don't like.
O Lord and Master of my Life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk
But a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love, bestow upon me, Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults, and not to condem my brother
For Blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.
I started thinking about this while listening to a podcast by Father Thomas Hopko, theologian extraordinaire, on Ancient Faith Radio: