|Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes - Spiritual Nourishment for the Soul - February 2009|
The Agape of the Church In Time of Crisis
By Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
We, as Christians, together comprise the Church - the great community which is the Body of Christ on this earth. As individuals, we are also organized into the temporal communities of our local churches - the regional diocese, the particular congregation, the specific "church family" to which we belong and contribute our support. As each of us navigates through the crises that inevitably arise in every life's journey, the love and the grace and, if we need it, the tangible support we receive from other members of our church family can make all the difference in our ability to get through adversity and heal.
Because the church family is Christ-centered, the assurance of His sustaining love is central to the support we receive as members of that family. Love is the cardinal Christian virtue. Because we acknowledge a God of love, a God Who IS love, then our love for one another - within our particular church family and also into the wider world beyond, even to those who don"t know us, who may hate us for what they think we are must be the first and foremost thing we offer others. The love of God in Christ must be the precious gift we freely share.
The Christian usage of the Greek word agape comes from the canonical Gospels' account of the teachings of Jesus. When asked, "Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied, "Thou shalt love (agapao) the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind.' This is the first and the great commandment. and the second is like unto this. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hangeth the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-41)
And in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, ,Thou shalt love (agapao) thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy., But I say unto you, Love (agapao) your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which hurt you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father that is in heaven; for He maketh His sun to arise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust. Fot if ye love them which love you, what reward shall you have? Do not the Publicans even the same? And if ye be friendly to your brethren only, what singular thing do ye? Do not even the Publicans likewise? Ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven, is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)
Indeed, agape, the love of God, is perfect love. As described and expounded on by Jesus, it is a love which is both unconditional and voluntary. Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus), ca.160 - ca.220 AD, was a prolific and controversial early Christian author, and the first to write Christian literature in Latin. Writing in defense of Christians in the 2nd century, he remarked on how Christian love attracted pagan notice: "What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness. 'Only look,' they say, 'look how they love one another'" (Tertullian: Apology 39)
The Orthodox Church emphasizes its teaching of agape-love. The Church is the new ark of salvation in which everyone and anyone can find love, respect, support and assistance in times of sorrow, need or crisis. The church assures us of God's offered salvation, that "amazing grace" which can lift us from despair. For no crisis we ever face can sever us from the unconditional love (agape) of God. Our Lord, in His love for us all, has made His Church available to all who will enter into it, today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.
The Church is like a great heavenly hospital open to anyone in need of healing. As the eternal Kingdom of God will be opened to ultimately receive all creation at the end of time when God fulfills His promise to "make all thing new," the Church in the earthly kingdom, that is, the Ecclesia, is available to those who toil in God's vineyard here and now. We glimpse the Heavenly Kingdom whenever we show our love for one another, serving our God and His Church by working within our own local, temporal churches to bring about the goodness and justice and peace that unites and lifts our earthly realm to the eternal Kingdom of God.
May the great love and peace of our Lord God be with you!
Humbly in Christ our Lord,
Content written/compiled by firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) Reverend Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes