The Love of God

A series of texts which is held in reverence in The Orthodox Church are the monastic constitutions or ‘rules’. On first glance a ‘set of rules’ may not seem like edifying literature but only if we think of ‘rule’ in the modern sense of ‘something we shouldn’t break’. kanon or rule in Greek (where we get the word for The Biblical Canon) denotes more of a standard, something which we can measure ourselves by, hence a ruler in English.

“The love of God is not something that is taught, for we do not learn from another to rejoice in the light or to desire life, nor has anyone taught us to love our parents or nurses [ie those who raised us]. In the same way and even to a far greater degree is it true that instruction in divine law is not from without, but, simultaneously with the formation of the creature man, I mean a kind of rational force was implanted in us like a seed, which, by an inherent tendency, impels us toward love. This germ is then received into account in the school of God’s commandments, where it is wont to be carefully cultivated and skillfully nurtured and thus, by the grace of God, brought to its full perfection…

Having received, therefore, a command to love God, we have possessed the innate power of loving from the first moment of our creation. Of this, no external proof is required, since anyone can discover it of himself and within himself. We are by nature desirous of the beautiful, even though individual conceptions of the beautiful differ widely. Furthermore, we possess without being taught a love for those who are near and dear to us, and we spontaneously render to our benefactors a full measure of good will. Now, what is more admirable than Divine Beauty? What reflection is sweeter than the thought of the magnificence of God? What desire of the soul is so poignant and so intolerably keen as that desire implanted by God in a soul purified from all vice and affirming with sincerity, ‘I languish with love (Song of Songs 2.5)’. Totally ineffable and indescribable are the lightning flashes of Divine Beauty. Words do not adequately convey nor is the ear capable of receiving [knowledge of them]. The rays of the morning star, or the brightness of the moon, or the light of the sun all are more unworthy to be mentioned in comparison with that splendor and these heavenly bodies are more inferior to the true light than is the deep darkness of night, gloomy and moonless, to brightest noonday. This Beauty, invisible to the eyes of the flesh, is apprehended by the mind and soul alone. Whenever it cast its light upon any of the saints, it left them with an intolerable pain of longing, and they would say, weary of life on earth : ‘Woe is me that my sojourning is prolonged,’ ‘when shall I come and appear before the face of God?’; and again: ‘to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far better (Phil 1.23); also: ‘My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God (Ps 41.3) and ‘Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord (Luke 2.29).’ Since they felt the burden of this present life as an imprisonment, they were scarcely able to contain themselves under the impulses which the touch of Divine Love had made to stir within their souls. Indeed, by reason of their insatiable eagerness to enjoy the vision of Divine Beauty, they prayed that contemplation of the joy of the Lord would last as long as the whole of eternal life. Men are by nature, then, desirous of the beautiful. But, that which is truly beautiful and desirable is the good. Now, the good is God, and, since all creatures desire good, therefore, all creatures desire God.

So then, whatever is rightly done of free choice is also in us naturally, at least, in the case of those who have not perverted their rational faculty by iniquity. The love of God is, therefore, demanded of us as a strict obligation, and for a soul to fail in this is the most unendurable of all evils. Separation and estrangement from God are more unbearable than the punishment reserved for hell and more oppressive to the sufferer than the being deprived of light is to the eye, even if there be no pain in addition, or than the loss of its life is to an animal. If, moreover, the love of children for their parents is a natural endowment and if this love is noticeable in the behavior even of brute beasts, as well as in the affection of human beings in early infancy for their mothers, let us not appear to be less rational than infants or more savage than wild beasts by alienating ourselves from Him who made us and by being unloving toward Him. Even if we did not know what He is from His goodness, yet, from the very fact that we are made by Him, we ought to feel an extraordinary affection for Him and cling to a constant remembrance of Him, as infants do to their mothers. Furthermore, he who is our benefactor is foremost among those whom we naturally love. This gratitude is characteristic not of men only, but it is also felt by almost all animals, so that they attach themselves to those who have conferred some good upon them. ‘The ox  knoweth his owner,’ says the Prophet, ‘and the ass his master’s crib (Is 1.3).  God forbid that what follows these words should be said of us: ‘but Israel hath not known me and my people hath not understood (Isaiah 1.3).’ As for the dog and many other animals, I need not speak of the great affection they show toward those who rear them. Now, if we bear a natural love and good will toward our benefactors and undergo any kind of hardship to make a return for what was first rendered to us, what words can fitly treat of the gifts of God?” St. Basil the Great, Long Rules, Question 2, as in Wagner, M. (1950). Saint Basil: Ascetical Works. The Fathers of the Church, 9. Pg 233-236 Ascetical Works

May God grant that we not blunt that natural faculty within us. As God is Love and we are made in His Image and Likeness, the love of God is, in a sense, the most natural thing to us. As a baby is soothed by the embrace of his mother, so too we seek out Him Who made us. Let us not pervert this and direct this love to everything else which will never satisfy it. In a world starving for God, we are ready to constantly pursue new evils thinking that in them we will find solace.

 

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