The first catholic epistle of the Holy Apostle Peter instructs the faithful to “Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), and it is true that we must love one another. In fact, St. John records it in his Gospel as nothing short of a commandment from the Lord, who said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). It is imperative, then, that we love one another. It is not optional. The loveless life is a graceless life, one that is unredeemed and ultimately unchristian. However, when we talk about loving one another, we often forget that love is often called upon to make sacrifices peculiar to itself; by this I mean that love, by its nature, desires closeness, joy, happiness, filial feeling, loyalty, devotion…but in fulfilling these (and by no means is this an exhaustive list), love sometimes has to rebuke, reprove, and correct. Did St. Paul love the Thessalonians any less for having to reprove them? In the Apocalypse, does not Jesus himself reprove the Churches? And who would suggest that He does so out of malice or maliciousness, and not out of his deep and abiding love for the sheep of His fold?

So the commandment to love one another, even as He loves us, must be remembered in this light; often we hear that we need to “speak the truth in love” and that is absolutely so. However, very often, this is just an excuse to avoid confrontation, possible hurt feelings, and as an excuse to keep from exercising our responsibility to love in this way. And so it is that sometimes, lest we be accounted puffed up and prideful, we will avoid these situations entirely, saying that it would be judgmental or uncharitable to say clearly what is the truth. But let us take a lesson from the Desert Fathers:

It was said concerning Abba  Agathon that some monks came  to find him  having
heard tell  of his great  discernment.  Wanting to  see  if he would  lose his
temper they  said  to him  'Aren't  you that   Agathon who is   said to  be  a
fornicator and a proud man?' 'Yes, it  is very true,'  he  answered. They
resumed, 'Aren't you  that Agothon who is always talking  nonsense?' 'I am."
Again they said 'Aren't you Agothon the heretic?' But at that he replied 'I am
not a heretic.' So they asked him, 'Tell us why  you accepted everything we
cast you, but repudiated this last insult.' He replied 'The first accusations
I take to myself for that is  good for my soul. But  heresy is separation from
God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.' At  this saying they were
astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.

The great desert father, Agathon, would not consent to being called a heretic; heresy, he says, is separation from God. Even though he showed mercy to others and accused only himself of great sins, he nevertheless took heresy and heretical teaching very, very seriously.  Abba Agathon understood that the slightest deflection of the truth would lead one into a plentitude of errors. And so we must also understand this, and not shrink away from making out boast in the Lord and His Church and its eternal truth–which is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Let us be unafraid to love our fellow Christians enough to reprove them in their errors…not in some kind of crusading, arrogant, condescending way, but honestly, frankly, and without compromising the Truth for the sake of appearing charitable. Because charity that doesn’t hurt a little, that doesn’t cost us anything, isn’t charity at all.

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How strange it is that we hardly ever think about Christ’s human family.  We Orthodox acknowledge that He took on flesh for our sake from the Theotokos, and respect her accordingly–but what of her mother? Her father? Her family…which is, in a very real and literally human way, the family of God Himself, chose by Him outside of time?

Today, the Church celebrates the Conception of the Theotokos, and honors her mother, St. Anna, who is the grandmother of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.  Even in contemplating this, it seems strange to me, that God has a grandmother, just as I do.  And if the Theotokos becomes our mother through adoption when we join the Church, being identified with her son and our God, then in some sense, St. Anna becomes our grandmother.  Perhaps that is why she is so faithful to hear and answer the prayers and petitions given her–particularly about healing.

St. Gregory Palamas says this of the ancestors of God, of whom He is descended through His mother:

This is why the Lord God said on that occasion of the rejected ones, “My Spirit shall not abide with these men, for they are flesh.” Although the Virgin, of whom Christ was born according to the flesh, came from Adam’s flesh and seed, yet, because of this flesh had been cleansed in many different ways by the Holy Spirit from the start, she was descended from those who had been chosen from every generation for their excellence. Noah, too, “a just man and perfect in his generation,” as the Scriptures say of him, was found worthy of this election.

Observe also that the Holy Spirit makes it clear to such as have understanding that the whole of divinely inspired Scripture was written because of the Virgin Mother of God. It relates in detail the entire line of her ancestry, which begins with Adam, then Zerubbabel, those in between them and their ancestors, and goes up to the time of the Virgin Mother of God. By contrast, Scripture does not touch upon some races at all, and in the case of others, it makes a start at tracing their descent, then soon abandons them, leaving them in the depths of oblivion.  Above all, it commemorates those of the Mother of God’s forebears who, in their own lives and the deeds wrought by them, prefigured Christ, who was to be born of the Virgin.

And so it is that today, we celebrate the most immediate of the forebears of the Theotokos, her mother, the righteous St. Anna, and her conception by God’s grace and mercy of the Theotokos–for our salvation and the restoration of mankind.

Troparion of St Anna    Tone 4
Today the bonds of barrenness are loosed;/ for God listened to Joachim and Anna./ He promised them – although it was beyond hope -/ that they should bear a divine child./ From this child was born incarnate the Infinite God,/ Who told the Angel to cry to her:/ Rejoice, full of grace; the Lord is with thee.

Kontakion of St Anna    Tone 4
Today creation celebrates Anna’s conception which was effected by God./ For she conceived the Maiden who conceived the Word/ Who is beyond all words.