Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
Sermon on Commandments
Sunday, 1st October 1989

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Christ gave us, or reminded us, of two basic commandments: that we should love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our strength, which means with all the power we have to love, and our neighbour as ourselves.

When we hear the word 'commandments' we always think of receiving orders what we should do, short of which we shall bear a punitive responsibility. But the word which is used has a wider connotation; it means that this is what God bequeathed to us, when having created us He launched us into freedom, into independence, gave us power to chose and gave us power to follow our vocation or to turn away from it. And so this is not an order which we receive from God; it is, as it were, the last words or a Will, in the sense in which a person who dies leaves a Will behind for his heirs to follow.

How much I wish I could love God with mind and heart, with all the power of love there may be in me; and yet I know that I don't even desire to love Him with such perfection, with such totality of giving. How strange, and how sad to be loved as God loves us and to respond so half-heartedly. He loves us to the point of calling us into existence - at a risk, because He gives His love to us and He knows that we may reject it. And we all know what it means to open our heart to a person and to be rejected, "I need you not; you may love me - what does it matter to me! I want to be free, I want to be myself, I care not for your love".

We can measure God's love for us by His gift of Himself in Christ. He became man, He became one of us, He calls us His brothers and sisters, He gives His life for us! If someone gives his, her life for a friend, for a person deeply loved, moreover for a person who is not even aware of this sacrifice, we would be startled, we would stop to think, we would ask ourselves questions: How is it that I have nothing, nothing to give in response to what is given - not only offered but given at such a cost. And yet, I am aware in myself, and I doubt that anyone of you is not aware that he has not truly even the desire to love God with all his mind, all his heart, all the power of love he has!

And then there is this word, this warning of St. John the Divine in one of his Epistles: One who says 'I love God' and does not love his neighbour is a liar; because who can love, speak of loving God Who is invisible, intangible when he cannot even love his neighbour who is concrete, real, whose need cries to him, or whose love is offered so generously at times, so timidly at other times?

And so, the second commandment of Christ, the second word of life He offers us is this, 'If you want to learn how to love God, however incipiently, learn to love your neighbour'; but how? We immediately in our arrogance think of loving our neighbour with great generosity, heroically, sacrificially; what He says to us is, 'Love your neighbour as you love yourself’. What does it mean?

It means first of all, on the simplest material level, that however much you possess, however much you can enjoy of life - make sure that at least one person receives from you as much as you are taking from life. That may lead us so far, so far, because we do not do any such thing. If we thought of the way in which we take, and take, and claim and claim again, and thought 'All right! Every claim of mine is a claim of my neighbour; everything I take is to be given in the same measure to my neighbour', at least one person! - how generous life would be! And if we learn to do this, then we might well learn how to love God.

And today's Gospel gives us an indication of it. What prevents me - and each of us - from loving our neighbour, from loving even the dearest of our neighbours wholeheartedly, generously, is our concentration on our own selves. There is no other way of learning to love anyone than letting go of self.

And this is what Christ says: Turn away from yourself! 'Renounce yourself’ means exactly this: it means, instead of living for yourself, looking at nothing else, concentrating on nothing else - turn away, see how vast life is, how deep, how rich! Turn away from yourself and look: look into human faces, look into human circumstances, into human needs, and indeed, into human joys! Look and see! Detach yourself from your own self; then you will be able to see others as they are, to see their need, to see their hunger, their joys, their misery - and you will be able to give. To give? to begin with, a little, and then the more you see, the more you will be able to give and to love as you love yourself, to the same measure; each of us wants fullness of life, fulfilment, the wonder of life - let us give to others.

When we have learned by turning away from ourselves to give to others, we shall discover that our heart has become capable of turning to God with openness, with love, with gratitude, with joy - this is the beginning. This commandment of Christ 'Love your neighbour as yourself' is given to the weakest of us, because each of us, ultimately, loves no-one better than himself. So we have a simple measure! We know what we have to do! We know how, how much, how completely - let us then do it. And then, having freed ourselves from enslavement to our own self, our own desire, our own greed, we will be able suddenly to see how vast our heart is, how much and how many we can love, and how we can begin to love God truly, with all our mind, with all our heart, with all the power of love in our frailty, because it is not strength which is the substance of love - it is the frailty of one who gives himself generously, shyly, joyfully. Amen.

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