By Deacon Daniel Malyon
“Great Lent is a journey in which we take take our full selves out of the busy modern life to seek the fullness of God once more.” Cultivating A Loving Heart | By Deacon Daniel Malyon.
The greatest virtue of the Christian faith is love, it is seen as the culmination of other virtues such as faith, hope, charity and humility. It is also the prime purpose of the law, as expressed by Christ in his dialogue surrounding the greatest commandment in Matthew 22.
However it is often one which is laid aside or not seen as a focus on our lives, with people striving for perfection and experience of God through simply studying their faith on a ‘letter of the law’ level or attempting to become the best chanter. However we often miss the point of the message surrounding love and its integral part, as stated by Paul in 1Corinthians 13:13, to, “abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Put simply, all other virtues should point to love.
This task is not simply one of recognition of love’s importance, or one of putting it into action, but one of cultivating love in one’s mind-set and heart, that loving action becomes part of our God given nature.
A Loving Heart | The Facts
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians | Cultivating A Loving Heart
A first example, one which demonstrates the importance of recognition of the vitality of love, is found through the discussion of the virtue of faith. Faith can mean many things to many different people, whether it be obedience to one’s spiritual father, dedication to the study of scripture, or promotion of the apostolic faith in a wider sense through education or evangelism.
However we are reminded by St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” The fact being that regardless of how we may strive I our lives to become greater in our faith, or to understand God, we cannot draw near to him without love, as he is himself love. This means we are to look to our own intentions and acts in our faith.
A Loving Heart | The Questions
Are we learning for a purely selfish goal? Or to be able to ‘correct’ others? Or seeking the Church due to our distain for a previous one? Or boastful in our own development in our understanding? If any of these then we are not doing so in love and so our efforts are for nothing. If education and growth in understanding is a priority for us, it must always be out of love for God and done so in silence or under the guidance of another so as to remain in a peaceful mind and to allow the cultivation of a loving heart through a growing love of God.
A Loving Heart | The Answers
Another instance, warning of the importance of cultivating a loving heart through loving action, is found in Christ’s warning regarding the virtue of hope. Hope alone is not the greatest of virtues but only becomes so when lived out in love.
Christ warns of this in Matthew 7 when he says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” In this we are reminded that faith in Christ and hope of salvation alone is not what the Lord seeks but someone who lives out this hope and expresses it in a loving manner, This same sentiment is echoed in Christ’s short analogy of the lamp under a bushel in Matthew 5, and James’ letter in which we are reminded that a faith without expression is dead.
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” [Matthew 7] | Cultivating A Loving Heart
Therefore we are called to develop both a hope in Christ above all things, and to live a life expressing this hope of salvation and recognition of this free gift through all we do. Such important reminders as the fact that this salvation is a gift given to all, and that Christ loved us in such a manner that he made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, should always ben in our hearts in all encounters, reminding us to live with compassion for all others and develop a living hope for ourselves and them as opposed to a silent or hidden one.
A Loving Heart | The Warning
This final discussion, that love is not simply about the external act of acting loving but of making love a second nature through metanoia, is one which we see throughout the Gospels and letters.
Going back to the first section of Chapter 13 in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we are given a stern warning how, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” This correlates perfectly once more with Christ’s discussion of hope in Matthew 7.
A Loving Heart | The Actions
Though we often attribute Christ’s message of ‘hearing his words and doing’ with simple action, he gives a clearly nuanced message here, stating, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
In this we see people who had hope in Christ’s name and acted in this manner but failed to fully embrace this to the point of it being the guiding aspect of their faith, despite prophesying in his name.
“abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” St Paul says | Cultivating A Loving Heart
St john Chrysostom explores this in his commentary on Matthew, stating how such gifts are not the only expression of faith, stating, “Many of them that believed received gifts such as He that was casting out devils, and was not with Him; such as Judas; for even he too, wicked as he was, had a gift.” In this we are reminded how being with Christ is not a matter of an outward faith or even simply one of capacity to express faith in love, but one of an inward change towards him in love.
Therefore, we discover through the messages of the Gospel and in Paul’s own discussion of love, that the love that we are called to recognise as the greatest of all virtues is not one of an external seeking of God, or one of capacity to do loving actions, but a love which cultivates our heart to turn to God and live in him as love itself.
As St Paul says, “abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” Therefore let us live a life of hope and faith, that we may gain the free gift of salvation through recognising and living a life of love for the Lord our God and all his creation.
By: Deacon Daniel Malyon | A Deacon of St Paul’s Ministry and St Mary & Pope Kyrillos VI Church. United Kingdom ~ Coptic Diocese of London.
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2021-03-19 from London, England
Columnists: COPTICNN™ award-winning columnists are a fundamental pillar of our coverage. They range in their interests from orthodoxy, faith, politics, to world affairs, to business, to the arts, to the way we live. No matter the issue, they are always in the middle of our Christian discourse. They are trusted by our readers and followed by many Coptic Orthodox Christians worldwide. Influential, provocative, and engaging, our columnists provide insights and analysis that can’t be found elsewhere, making them a prime destination for WORLD readers.