‘Keep saying in your heart’24 July 2023
‘Keep saying in your heart, “Christ is love”. In this way, you’ll love all other people, sacrificing what you hold most precious, even your life, for the sake of this love’ (Saint John from Kronstadt, 1829-1908).
There are three main premises on which the great modern Russian saint bases the above saying.
The first is that Christ is God, who is love, as Saint John the Theologian points out: ‘God is love’ (1 Jn. 4, 8). God is love, Christ, as the second person of the Trinity, is love and, hence, every action of his is stamped with his love.
The second point is that we’re called upon to love, in accordance with the model of Christ, because we’ve been made in his ‘image and likeness’. Whatever Christ, the incarnate God, is, we people who believe in him should also be, if we want a relationship with him. ‘Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love’, he said. But for this to happen, people have to break free of their entrapment in sin, which isolates them from God, other people and from themselves. They have to be embodied in him through entering the Church by holy baptism, since he came into the world precisely to ‘gather together the scattered children of God into one’. In reality, what else is a conscious Christian other than another Christ, as an extension of him? ‘I am the vine and you are the branches’, to use his own irrefutable language. Saint John of the Ladder says that, ‘A Christian is an imitation of Christ, insofar as this is humanly possible’. So, there’s nothing more important for faithful Christians than engaging daily in the struggle to remain within Christ’s commandments, that is, in the commandment to love- ‘love one another’. This is the fundamental aim of the time that we’ve had allotted to us in this world by the Lord.
But there’s a third premise which Saint John touches on which reveals the extent of his knowledge of those fallen into sin, that is all of us. He urges us, ‘Keep saying in your heart’. He knew full well that believers may have been baptized, been chrismated with the holy myrrh of faith, may attend church regularly and partake of the spotless sacraments, but they nevertheless continue to dwell in this world of deceit, with its multifarious snares of the passions, and the wicked devil ever ready to attract them towards evil. Like Saint Paul, all Christians say: ‘I delight in God’s law, but I see another law within me, the law of sin, which drags me away from the will of God’. So, what more do believers need to do? To be always in a state of sobriety, vigilance, and readiness to observe God’s holy will. The faithful should repeat the words of holy scripture, the words of Christ, meaning that they should study them and, if possible, learn them by heart so that they’re always accessible in their mind and heart. This will keep them where they ought to be- at a point of coordination with the Lord himself. This is why the faithful are constantly in a state of inner tension, in case some passion can draw them away from God’s law, even though they ‘force’ themselves not to be led astray. If they are led astray, they lose God and literally step into quicksand, that is, they become entangled in the turmoil of this transient world.
Constant repetition within us of Christ’s name, his love, his central command ‘love one another’, is the most crucial thing for our spiritual life, especially at those difficult times when the passions are somewhat enflamed: by a hostile action on somebody else’s part, an abusive remark, an unexpected reaction on the part of our spouse or children. That’s when we must remain with Christ and he with us. Just as, when we’re driving, we press the accelerator to get up a hill, this is what we must do when faced with an uphill struggle in life: feed our will by ‘stepping on the gas’, recycling the all-powerful words of our God. This is what the great Saint John from Kronstadt reminds us to do.