What is the most characteristic quality of love?

23 June 2022

The golden rule

‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’.

 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (Luke 6, 31-36).

Such simple words. So simple and so natural that when people hear for the first time that they should behave towards others as they would like others to behave towards them, they feel stunned. ‘Lord, why didn’t I think of that?’. All great, important things are simple and the whole of Christ’s teaching is astonishingly easy. It was directed at people with simple hearts. The simple fishermen from Galilee accepted it and became light for the whole world.

Those who sought Christ and then followed him were mostly simple people, because his delivery was simple and easily touched their hearts. The whole of his teaching is comprehensible, but our own reality is so far removed from it.

It’s rare for us to treat people as we would like them to treat us. We expect others to respect us, whereas we ourselves belittle them. We want them to help us when we need them, but never ourselves consider how we might help our neighbor. What does this mean? Why is this the way things are? Why don’t we treat others in the same way as we’d like them to behave towards us?

We don’t behave like this towards everyone. With our closest relatives, the people we love, our spouse, children, father and mother, we behave in the way Christ says in his commandments. We love them as ourselves and don’t do anything which we would find displeasing if somebody else did it to us. What mother who loves her child with all her heart doesn’t give it all the love and gentleness she has? Even her life. In this way, she’s following the law of Christ. But we don’t treat in the same way those whom we call neighbors, but in reality behave towards as if they were strangers.

What’s stopping us from treating them as we do those we love? Our egotism and selfishness, because we love only ourselves. This is why we’re good to our relations, because we love them; and cold towards others, because we don’t love them. We look after and love ourselves, but we don’t love and care for those around us. In fact, we often hurt and insult them. Yet what Christ asks of us is so natural, so pure and so sacred: ‘Treat others the way you would want them to treat you’. And he goes on to say: ‘And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?… But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High’.

Christ’s asking a difficult thing of us: to love our enemies. Is that an easy thing to do? No, it’s very difficult. The people who learn to love their enemies are those with a pure heart, who love God with all their heart and keep his commandments; those in whom dwells the Holy Spirit, the spirit of humility; those whose whole being is infused with love. Those who have learned to love their enemies and the people who hate them; who have overcome their opponents with love. With their love they’ve heaped coals of fire on the heads of their enemies: they have made their hearts burn and, in this way, have made friends of their enemies.

The Lord tells us not to expect repayment for any good we do to others, but does promise us a great reward. He promises us eternal joy and exultation and says we’ll become children of the Most High: ‘because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’. He sends rain down upon everyone, good and bad, and orders the sun to shine on the whole world.

Wherein lies the root of compassion? The root of compassion is empathy. Empathy is the most characteristic quality of love. Where there’s love you’ll also find empathy because you can’t love someone without empathizing with them. You can’t help assisting others in need. And you’ll do so without any expectation of recompense. Compassion flows from pure love. It’s this which makes us implement Christ’s commandments, to lend to those whom we don’t expect to be able to pay us back and to perform a variety of other works.

People who act in this way can expect great joy, and they’ll be called children of God. Do you know what the Lord Jesus Christ has to say about the dread judgement and why the righteous will be justified? Only because of their love and the works of love they’ve performed. They’ll be called children of the Most High and will shine like the stars in heaven. But those who don’t have love, who didn’t perform acts of charity, will be called children of the devil and will share eternal torments with him.

We’ve learned from Saint John the Theologian, the great apostle of love, that love is the fulfilment of the whole of the law. Compassion is also the whole of the law of Christ, because it flows from love. So what should we do to acquire love? That’s a huge question and is the aim of our existence, of the whole of our life. This is why God made us: so that we could approach him. This is why we live, so that we can become children of the Most High, can be perfected and can desire him.

What path should we follow? We should proceed through the narrow gate, along the thorny road of sorrows, without fearing sorrow and pain, because they’re the beginning of good. We should tread the path of sorrows, applying Christ’s commandments to our life. With tireless prayer and fasting, we should seek close contact with God. Those who have acquired love are like Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who prayed day and night and lived with self-control. The Lord cleanses the hearts of such people from every defilement, because the Holy Spirit can dwell  only in a humble heart. We must acquire meekness and humility, and divine love will come.

We need to ask many things when we repent and pray over our sins. But the first request should be this: that the Lord will rid our heart of wickedness and will grant us the virtues, meekness, humility and divine love. Let’s never forget that the most beneficial prayer is the one in which we request love.

Pray in your own words, in whatever way God enlightens you. You could, for example, pray in the following manner: ‘Lord, give me divine love. Teach me to love all people, the rude, the shameless, even the foolish and impious, just as you, Lord, love all of us accursed and sinful people’.