Protoprestyter James Thornton is the author of what is written here.
“I`AM THE LORD THY GOD….THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME”
The first commandment is as follows: “I am the Lord thy God…. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” All that exists in the visible universe, every particle of matter, every rock, every drop of water, all of the soil, all of the chemical elements, all of the great heavenly bodies – the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars – , and all other things down to the tiniest atom, everything, everything finds its source in God and is part of His creation. Here on earth, all living things – bacteria and other tiny organisms, all plants, flowers, and trees, all fishes and other creatures of the sea, all animals of the ground and birds of the air, and, of course, man himself – all living things, in all of their immense complexity, find their source in God. He is Creator of the Universe, the Creator of all. God is likewise Creator of all that exists in the unseen world, the spiritual world, wherein lives His first creation, the hosts of Angels, from the ranks of which, sadly, the disobedient angels of the “outer darkness” (Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:6-7.) fell of their own free wills. Apart from the generosity of God, nothing would exist, not even time and space.
As He is Creator of all, He is the All-Powerful, the Lord, and King of all. Nothing happens without His knowledge. He knows all and sees all. He knows al that has happened, all that is happening, and all that will happen, to the end of time and throughout eternity. God has no origin, no source. He is the Eternal One. Nothing can be higher or greater than god. He is the Ultimate Master, the Ruler of All, the Pantocrator. We men, so tiny and apparently insignificant, are, despite our smallness, His finest creation. Unlike all of the remainder of creation, we are made in His image, an astonishing, wonderous fact. We share in certain of God`s Attributes, most especially in possessing immortality, the greatest of His gifts to us after life itself. We share in God`s Attributes also in such things as our intelligence and our reasoning faculties, and, especially consequential, our ability to create. We too are creators, like our Heavenly Father, albeit on a minute scale compared to Him. We have been given the ability to write beautiful literature, to compose beautiful music, and to create beautiful paintings, sculptures, and other works of art, all pouring forth from minds that are a reflection of the Mind of God. In our minds, we imagine great buildings and all the works of technology – automobiles, ships, airplanes, great bridges, and so forth – and transform these images of our minds into reality. Now, unlike God, we must work hard to do these things, and we must use materials, while God merely calls things into existence from nothingness. Nevertheless, we create. These gifts from God set us apart, dramatically so, from all else that God has created.
To this finest of God`s creations, mankind, God is generous in ways unaccounted and unaccountable, provided for us, nurturing us, granting us numberless gifts, loving us with His boundless love, and inviting us to enjoy eternity with Him. So much does He care for us that He became man, in the Person of Jesus Christ, and suffered, and died for us. It is abundantly evident that since God is all that we have just said, and infinitely more, and since we are indeed His finest creation, a truth to which the science of theology, the natural sciences correctly apprehended, and all of human history testify, then we owe Him our absolute, unwavering, unmitigated loyalty, devotion, and obedience. Thus, He is the Lord our God, and we must put no other gods before Him.
Primitive man speculated, from his ignorance, that the gods were many. He speculated, too, that these fictitious gods were anthropomorphic, that is, that they were manlike, made in the image of fallen man and afflicted with all of the passions of fallen man. The ordinary men of the Book of Exodus – also extraordinarily primitive men, truth to be told – had been granted the unique knowledge of the True God. Still, they were always tempted to follow their pagan neighbours in worshipping false gods, and they sometimes fell to that temptations, as they did, for example, when they made and worshipped the “modern calf.” (Exodus 32:4, 8; Deuteronomy 9:16; Nehemiah 9:18.) This kind of lapse was doubtless what the Almighty had in mind in addressing this First Commandment to the Hebrew people: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7.)
We are not so primitive as these primitives, and therefore rare indeed is the man, today, in Europe or North America, who would believe in a multiplicity of gods, or who would set up and worship, as the Hebrews people did, a golden calf. We are not so primitive – or perhaps we are. How many persons today make material things – opulent clothing, expensive automobiles, and grand houses – their gods? How many persons worship money, as if it were a golden calf, and worship as well luxurious living and fancy foods? How many persons make gods of their television sets, sitting before them in a trance, like a worshipper before a pagan idol, watching everything with little selectively, and thus feeding every debased passion, and permitting this electronic poison to contaminate and to kill their souls? Even our families and friends can become false gods, should our devotion to them exceed our devotion and obedience to God.
All of the things I have just mentioned are not necessarily evil in and of themselves. God gives us material things for our sustenance; He gives us the good things of the material world for our enjoyment; and He gives us family and friends so that we may share these good things, and our love, with them, since to do so is a delight, a prefiguring of the delight we will experience in the life to come. God begrudges us none of these things. Yet God comes first, and that is what He insists upon in His Commandment. Our adoration and our primary attention belong to Him alone.
We may ask ourselves, then, if we put God first and if we acknowledge Him as Lord and King of all. We may ask ourselves if we attend the Divine Services at Church as often as possible. We may ask ourselves if we are attentive during these services. We may ask ourselves if we confess to our spiritual Father regularly and receive Holy Communion frequently. We may ask ourselves if we try to read the Holy Scriptures, the lives of the Saints, and other spiritual literature, thereby giving our faith depth and substance. We may ask ourselves if we observe the prescribed fasting and festal periods of the Church Calendar. We may ask if we strive to rear our children to be mindful of God`s law and to be close to Christ Jesus and His Church. And we may ask ourselves if we struggle to avoid all that is contrary to God`s law and to embrace all that is spiritually wholesome. If we answer with an unqualified yes to these and to other related questions, then we are living in obedience to the First Commandment, we are confessing God is our Lord and Master, we are serving Him as faithful servants, and we are putting no other gods, false gods, before Him.
It has been written that within the First Commandment are contained all of the other commandments and precepts of God. This is true. He who obeys this one Commandment to the fullest obeys the others; he who obeys this one to the fullest achieves union with God.
We will end today with words, most a propos to our subjects, from the lips of a great Desert Father, Saint Moses (fl 4thcent.):
“When we reflect on the measurelessness of…[God`s] power and His unsleeping eye which looks upon the hidden things of the heart and which nothing can escape, we are filled with the deepest awe, marvelling at Him and adoring Him. When we consider that He numbers the raindrops, the sand of the sea and the stars of Heaven, we are amazed at the grandeur of His nature and His wisdom. When we think of His ineffable and inexplicable wisdom, His love for mankind, and His limitless long-suffering at man`s innumerable sins, we glorify Him. When we consider His great love for us, in that though we had done nothing good He, being God, deigned to become man in order to save us from delusion, we are aroused to longing for Him. When we reflect that He Himself has vanquished in us our adversary, the devil, and that He has given us eternal life if only we would choose and turn towards His goodness, then we venerate Him. There are many similar ways of seeing and apprehending God, which grow in us according to our labour and to the degree of our purification.” (St. John Cassian, “On the Holy Fathers of Sketis and on Discrimination, written for Abba Leontious.”
“THOU SHALT NOT MAKE UNTO THEE ANY GRAVEN IMAGE”
The Second Commandment of God is:
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. (Exodus 20: 4-5; Deuteronomy 5: 8-9.)
How does the Second Commandment of God, which seems to forbid all images, apply to Orthodox Christians?
To understand this, let us first delve into Holy Scripture. God gave the Ten Commandments to the Holy Prophet Moses, from atop Mount Sinai. The nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus describes the encounter with God in the following words:
” And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him in a voice. (Exodus 19:17-19.”
God, you will note, was not seen by anyone, but manifested Himself amid smoke and fire and the quaking of the ground. God was not seen because He could not be seen. (f. St. John 1:18; 1 St. Timothy 6:16; 1 St. John 4:12.) At this particular time in history, God had not yet manifested Himself in any way that could be perceived by man, and so manifested Himself indirectly, through the smoke, fire, quaking, and awe-inspiring sounds.
The Hebrew people, as we saw, were tempted on occasion to imitate their pagan neighbours in trying to portray God, to make, in other words, false images of Him. Thus, to forestall the making of false images, God forbade all images at that time. I said He forbade all images, but that is not quite correct. Even in Old Testament times, God commanded that certain images be made. A passage from Holy Scripture reads:
“And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold…. And thou shalt make two Cherubim of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one Cherub on the one end, and the other Cherub on the other end…. And the Cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another…. (Exodus 25:17-20.)”
This passage has to do with the construction of the sacred Ark of the Covenant, an object that received the highest forms of veneration, much like the veneration we show to Icons, the Holy Alter, and to the other holy things of the Church.
So, even at this early date, God commanded certain kinds of images to be made. Later, when God “came down from the Heavens and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Ever-Virgin Mary, and became Man” (Symbol of Faith) in the Person of Jesus Christ, it became licit, which means legal according to Divine Law, to portray Him, since He had them manifested Himself in a manner that could be portrayed. He had taken on flesh. He lived among men as a Man. He could have seen by the eyes of men. He could thus be represented visually. Moreover, by His saving mission amongst us, He ensured that other men and women could be so utterly transformed by the Grace of God and by their own strivings toward sanctity that they became themselves vessels of Divine Grace, infused with the power of the Holy Spirit. These men and women it became licit too to represent visually and to venerate, and, through this veneration, to draw inspiration so that we might become like them.
Saint John of Damascus (ca. 675-749) composed his writings defending sacred iconography from the onslaught of the Iconoclast heretics in the eight century. The Seventh OEcumenical Synod met in Nicea in 787 and declared to the world the Faith always taught by the Church, specifically declaring the making and the venerating of Icons of Jesus Christ, of His All-Holy Mother, and of the Saints to be licit and proper for Christians. Saint Thoedore the Studite (759-826) wrote similarly to Saint John during the second outbreak of Iconoclasm in the ninth century. Despite the temporary aberrations of the Iconoclasts, the Church has always conformed to these teachings, and, of course, since that time She continues to do so. We see, for example, in the ancient catacombs, where the early Christians celebrated the Divine Liturgy, countless painted images on the walls and ceilings of these underground rooms, paintings executed by early Christians – proof that Christianity and sacred iconography have always been intertwined. It is remarkable, then, that the matter could continue to stir controversy. I speak now of sectarian communities, which reject sacred iconography and which, though they regard themselves as Christians, brazenly reject the Seventh OEcumenical Synod.
We must further refine our knowledge of this subject to appreciate fully what the Second Commandment forbids. Orthodox Christians offer true worship, or adoration, only to the Triune God, only to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To offer Divine worship or adoration to any other person or thing is forbidden by the First Commandment. We do not offer Divine worship or adoration to the Most Holy Theotokos, or to the Saints, or to any images or holy objects. To the Blessed Virgin Mother, to the Saints, and to sacred objects, we offer our veneration. We bow in veneration, that is, deep respect, before images of the Holy Ones, and we bow before the Holy Altar in Orthodox Churches and to the sacred objects used in the Divine Services. We bow, for example, before the Gospel Book at the Vigil Services and during the Small Entrance of the Divine Liturgy. During the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy, we bow in veneration before the Paten and the Chalice, containing the bread and wine that will shortly be consecrated and transmuted by a miracle of God through the words of the Priest or Hierarch. Note that we venerate the bread and wine during the Great Entrance. After the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine, during the Anaphora, the bread and wine have become the very body and Blood of Christ, and so, as such, deserve much more. Therefore, the Chalice is handled with the greatest dignity and care by the clergy, and all must show extreme care during the reception of Holy Communion.
The Iconoclasts of old accused, and the modern-day sectarian Iconoclasts accuse, the Orthodox of showing veneration to the ordinary wood and paints of Icons, an absurd accusation both then and now. For even the simplest. Most unlettered, most ignorant of believers know then, and know now, that it is not the wood and paint that they venerate, but the person depicted in the Icon. Patriotic-minded persons salute the flag of their country, and show reverence before a picture of a great hero of their country. If they live in a monarchy, such as Great Britain or the Netherlands, they show respect to images of their monarch. In these cases, persons are not showing respect to the cloth, or dyes, or paper, or ink, or whatever it is that comprises the material aspect of the flag or the picture. Our respect passes to what the flag symbolizes or to what the picture represents. So it is precisely with an Icon. When we venerate a Sacred Icon, that veneration passes to the person represented.
What was written earlier that it is the licit – which, remember, means “legal” in Divine Law – to venerate Holy Icons. It is that, but it is more. It is not simply allowed; rather, the veneration of Holy Icons is an intrinsic part of the fabric of Orthodoxy Christianity and so is a requirement of the Orthodox Faith. It is not an option. Saint John of Damascus writes:
“Let everyone know, therefore, that anyone who attempts to destroy an image brought into being out of divine longing and zeal for the glory and memorial of Christ, or of his Mother the holy Theotokos, or of one of the Saints, or yet for the disgrace of the devil and the defeat of him and his demons, and will not, out of longing for the one depicted, venerate or honour or greet it as a precious image and not as god, is an enemy of Christ and the holy Mother of God and the saints and a vindicator of the devil and his demons, and shows by his deed his sorrow that God and his saints are honoured and glorified, and the devil put to shame. For the image is a triumph and manifestation and inscribed tablet in memory of the victory of the bravest and most eminent and of the shame of those worsted and overthrown. (St. John of Damascus, Three treatises on the Divine Images.)
Therefore, we do not violate the Second Commandment in showing due reverence or veneration to Holy Icons and to the sacred things if the Church: the Gospel Book, the Holy Altar, the Paten, the Chalice, and so forth. These are not false gods, or false images, or implements used in the worship of false gods. They are representations of the (Theanthropos), the God-Man, the True God Who took flesh, Who came to earth, Who manifested Himself so that He may be seen and portrayed; or they are representations of the holy men and women of God, the Saints, who shaped their lives in total conformity to the Divine Will; or they are the holy implements whose shape and form have been given us by Holy Church Fathers acting under Divine inspiration. In short, they are sacred and are part of God`s truth, and have nothing to do with falsehood, false idols, or false worship.
Violations of the Second Commandment are much the same as violations of the First Commandment. If we make false things into graven images of falsehood, whatever these things may be, then we disobey the Second Commandment. If we worship or pay improper veneration to movie celebrities, or to popular music stars, or others among the rich and famous, whose opinions and ways of life are corrupting and unedifying, then we disobey the Second Commandment. If we idolize political figures, imagining them as political saviours of mankind, then we violate the Second Commandment.
May Christ God, His Most Holy Mother, and His Saints protect us from falsehood and false images, and guide us always to the worship of Truth.
“THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN”
The Third commandment of God is “Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy God in vain.” (Exodus 20:7. Deuteronomy 5:11.) The ward “vain” comes into our English language from the Latin “venus,” which means “empty” or “void of substance.” Thus, the commandment admonishes us not to use the Name of God in a way that is foolish or frivolous, or that is in any empty of the respect that is due the Creator and ruler of all.
Firstly, in this Commandment we are forbidden to blaspheme? The verb “blaspheme” comes to us from the Greek word (blasphemeo”) and means “to speak evil.” In English it specifically refers to speaking evil or speaking disrespectfully about God, or about holy things or holy people – the Most Holy Theotokos or the Saints, for example, or the Church. In Old Testament times, amongthe Hebrews, to blaspheme was a capital offence. In other words, one was executed, by stoning, if convicted of blasphemy. To blaspheme God, the God of the Hebrews nation, was to attack and undermine that nation and ring down God`s judgement.
In the Christian nations of old, when religion was taken seriously by rulers and by the majority of citizens, blasphemy was a serious crime indeed. Under Saint Justinian the Great (485-565), blasphemers who persisted in their crime could be sentenced to death, because insults to God were regarded as a danger to the Christian Empire, calling down upon it the wrath of God. Blasphemy was a crime as well throughout the nations of Europe and North America, including the United States, until relatively recently, when judges and other civil authorities imposed an unfortunate secularizing agendum, one that relegated the importance of religion to the realm of the private person instead of the whole community or nation. For example, in some of the states of the United States of America, one could be, and unlikely would be, prosecuted for speaking ill of God, of the Holy Trinity, of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit, or of Holy Scripture. As in the Old Testament and as in the days of Saint Justinian, blasphemy and its corrupting effects on morals were seen as a danger to the whole community and were thus, according to various court decisions, not protected under the freedom of speech provisions of the Constitution.
Such laws no longer exist in America or Europe, or else, where they do still exist, are ignored and not enforced. Nevertheless, we Orthodox Christians are forbidden to blaspheme against God and against that which the Holy church regards as sacred. This includes using God`s Name in cursing people or things. There may not be civil penalties attached to such words and deeds any longer, but one is still answerable for them before a much Higher Authority, the Court of Courts and the Judge of Judges.
Secondly, according to the Third Commandment, one does not treat God or the things of God disrespectfully or lightly. Stupid jokes and silly remarks about God or sacred things are forbidden by the Third Commandment. While we may treat the foibles and follies of men lightly, the sacred must always be approached with proper respect and with awe. If associates at our places of work, or friends, or companions speak of God disrespectfully, we should express our disapproval, asking them not to speak so in our presence, or, at least, we should turn and walk away as a demonstration of our disapproval. Modern-day Christians are, for the most part, not as rigorous about these things as the adherents to some non-Christian religions, and that is sad. Speak to a pious Muslim disrespectfully of any aspect of Islam, and one will likely be vigorously reminded, in no certain terms, of the inappropriateness of one`s statement. Pious Christians must defend their religion with no less vigour.
Thirdly, it is a violation of the Third Commandment to discuss God or the things of God in a shallow or superficial way, or to enter discussions or express opinions in theological matters about which we know little or nothing. In the past two decades, a new electronic medium has arisen which, like all inventions, is both useful and good when used properly, and an occasion for grave sin when used improperly. I speak now of the Internet. In many places on the Internet, one finds religious discussion groups – “forums” or “lists” they are often called – where anonymous participants post their statements, discussing religious matters and questions among themselves. Yet these are open forums and, as such, are displayed on the Internet for all the world to read, potentially to give scandal to all the world. The spiritual danger in this phenomenon are many. One danger is that the very anonymity allowed in these forums promotes irresponsibility, capriciousness, rudeness and judgemental statements and gossip about fellow Orthodox Christians and even about Orthodox clergy.
Where do violations of the Third commandment enter the picture? These appear in the form of casual, generally vacuous, and often ridiculous of the theological and ecclesiological issues on which even those with the necessary training and expertise are cautious and circumspect out f concern for the souls of others, as well as for their own souls. For men and women without the necessary training, to express opinions on extremely complex theological questions, in a medium which exposes their written statements to public view, is exceedingly presumptuous and spiritually perilous, in clear violation of the Third Commandment. In earlier ages, men and women unschooled in theology, fearing God, would not dared have enter such discussions and would have wisely left such matters to competent spiritual Fathers. In our time, when all opinions, however dubious or absurd, are regarded as equally valid, Orthodox Christians must strive to be separate and apart. They must walk in the footsteps of their spiritual ancestors, who knew that all opinions are not equal and that in every field of endeavour, one must bend the knee before one`s betters.
Fourthly, it is a violation of the Third Commandment to act in a disrespectful manner in Church. It is, for example, an affront to God to speak unnecessarily in Church during Divine Services, to chatter, to gossip, to tell jokes, to visit with one`s friends, or to be otherwise inattentive. It is an affront to God to receive Holy Communion unworthily, or without proper preparation, or in routine fashion. In doing so, we ignore or treat lightly the reality that we receive the true body and Blood of Christ.
In the last decade or so, cellular telephones have become ubiquitous, and they are a great convenience in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, to allow one`s cell phone to ring in Church disrupts the sacred words and music of the Divine Services and disturbs the concentration of others and is, therefore, a gross insult to God. We have six days of the week for mundane activities and are asked for only a few hours to converse spiritually with God in His House, the Church. During that time, we “lay aside all earthly care,” as we say in the Cherubic Hymn. To allow a cell phone to ring in Church is tantamount to saying that one`s private friends or business activities are much more important than God, or that one sees himself or herself as higher than God. Cellular telephones must therefore be left in one`s car or turned off when one is inside the Church building. There can be no exceptions for anyone. Be especially mindful of this, my children in Christ, for you will be held accountable for these things at the Judgement.
Fifthly, it is a violation of the Third Commandment to view films, to entertainment events or concerts, or to view television programs, where God or sacred things are ridiculed or dealt lightly or improperly. Sad to say, this has become a commonplace in contemporary society; yet, however commonplace it seems to be, we must, remain separate and apart from it. If one is attending some public event or is viewing some form of entertainment on television where God or sacred things are mocked or spoken of improperly, one must react immediately by leaving the public event or by turning off the program in question.
Lastly, it is a violation of the Third commandment to break sacred vows to God, for instance, monastic vows. This is evident by the very meaning of the words of the commandment. “Vain,” we remember, means “empty.” If we treat sacred vows to God, uttered in the Name of God, as if they were empty, hollow, or worthless words, than we have taken god`s Name in vain. One should also be aware that it is equally wrong to take oaths and make vows about trivial matters. One does not call upon God as one`s witness frivolously. Regarding the taking of oaths, it is an extremely serious violation of the Third Commandment to perjure oneself in court of law or elsewhere. To take an oath that God is one`s witness to the truth of one`s sworn statements when, in fact, one is being deliberately untruthful is to ascribe falsehood to God and to regard His resulting judgement as if it were of no consequence. God does not lie, and His judgement is most assuredly of consequence – eternal consequence.
With respect to God and the sacred, if we are at times filled with awe, if we are watchful over our conduct in Church or when we pray, if we remain cognizant of what God expects of us in all situations, especially in the world, if we at all times seek God with fear and trembling, as saint Nektarios of Aegina writes, then we remain obedient to the requirements of the Third Commandment of God.
“REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY, TO KEEP IT HOLY”
The Fourth Commandment of god is this: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” (Exodus 20:8-10; cf. Deuteronomy 5:12-14.) In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read the story of God`s creation of the universe; of the creation of day and night; of the division of the waters above and below; of the separation of the waters below from the dry land; of the creation of plants, herbs, and trees; of the creation and ordering of the heavenly bodies; of the creation of animal life in the seas and in the air; and the creation of animal life on dry land; and finally, the creation of man in God`s image. (See Genesis 1:1-31.)
These acts of creation were completed by God over a period of six days. There are those who interpret the six days in literal fashion, as spans of time of twenty-four hours, while others say that the “days” to which Genesis refers represent six vast epochs, or vast ages, each lasting millions of years. (f. Psalm 89:4; Ecclesiasticus 18:10; 11 St. Peter 3:8.) This difference of opinion is outside of the scope of our investigation, and so we shall not consider it at this time. The point, here, is that God`s labours, in His acts of creation, were divided into six periods of time that Holy Scripture calls “days.”
Then, as we pass from the first to the second chapter of Genesis, we read:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made.” (Genesis 2:1-3)
So, the concept of a seven-day span of time, comprised of six days of work and a sanctified day of rest, is set down for us in the first two chapters of the first book of Holy Scripture.
Now, the notion of a hebdomad, or a seven-day week, is so deeply rooted in our consciousness that it is difficult for us to imagine that it did not exist for many of the pagan peoples of antiquity. These peoples had their calendar of religious observances, but it did not en compass a sanctified day of the rest every seven day, or even a seven-day week. This system, inherited from the Jews, was established among the European peoples as they were Christianized. It is a curious thing that the French Revolutionaries, in their hatred of God and of Christianity, tried, in 1793, to destroy the sanctified day of rest by abolishing the seven-day week and replacing it with what they called ”decades,” a system of three ten-day “weeks” each month. The traditional Christian week returned to France by order of Emperor Napoleon I (1769-1821) in 1806, not long after his coronation; needless to say, this was one of his most popular decrees. Similarly, the atheistic Bolsheviks attempted to replace the traditional Christian week in Russia with the (pyatidnevka), “five-day week,” but this social experiment failed even more miserably than the French attempt.
The Fourth Commandment refers to the Sabbath, which in Judaism, is Saturday. How is it that among Christians the sanctified day of rest was transferred from Saturday to Sunday? The earliest Christians were, of course, the Jewish followers of Christ and the Holy Apostles and they continued to observe the Jewish day of rest, Saturday, along with the Holy Day of the Resurrection of Christ, Sunday. In time, with the influx of non-Jews into the early Church, men and women who had never observed the Jewish day of rest, Sunday came fully to supplant Saturday as the primary day of religious observance and rest. Some modern Christian sectarians – most notably, Seventh-day Adventists – insist that Saturday, following Jewish practice, is the proper day of weekly worship. However, the entire history of Christianity speaks of the contrary. The earliest Christians, even if they regarded the Sabbath as the day of rest since they were themselves of Jewish heritage, celebrated their weekly Divine Liturgy on Sunday, “the lord`s Day,” (Apocalpse 1-10) the day of Christ`s Resurrection. Therefore, Sunday almost immediately superseded Saturday and became, as it were, “the New Sabbath” of “the New Israel,” the “New Sabbath” of the Church founded by Christ.
Sunday being “the New Sabbath,” how are we commanded to keep it Holy, in accordance with the Fourth Commandment? First, we are obligated by the Fourth Commandment to attend the Divine Liturgy and, with the approval of our Confessor or spiritual Father, to receive Holy Communion. This is what sanctifies this sanctified day insofar as our individual lives are concerned. We refresh ourselves by breaking the six-day routine, by turning our attention away from making money, and earning our bread and various household duties, and instead focusing our minds on spiritual things, so that we begin the week renewed and cleansed, and closer to God. Can we accomplish the same thing by praying at home? Saint John Chrysostomos answers this question in these words:
“You cannot pray at home as at Church, where there is a great multitude of Fathers, where exclamations are sent to up God with one heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the Priests. (St. John Chrysostomos. “On the Incomprehensibility of God.”)
Sixty or seventy years ago, throughout the United States and much of Europe, few people worked on Sundays and nearly all business establishments were closed on that day. In many locales, laws forbade shops and stores to do business. Nearly everyone was thus free on Sundays to attend religious services, and an overwhelming majority did attend. Even then, of course, certain professions were exempt from the laws or customs: emergency medical personnel, doctors and nurses on duty in hospitals, policemen, firemen, and so forth. But these people usually rotated their schedules so that they remained free on many, or most, Sundays of the year to discharge their religious duties. Times have definitely changed, and so nearly all retail businesses are open on Sundays for the sake of feeding, clothing,and sheltering themselves and their families.
Orthodox Christians, if they find themselves in such a situation, should strive to find some alternative employment as soon as they can, employment that will allow them to attend the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. In the meantime, persons who must work Sundays should attend other Divine Services during the week, when they are not at work. And, when their Sunday workday is finished, they should try to turn their minds to some spiritual matters, prayer and spiritual reading, so that, at least to some extent, they have kept the day holy. After Sunday Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians should enjoy the remainder of the day at rest or in ways that uplift and cultivates the mind, both spiritually and culturally: for example, visits to museums, art galleries, or places where beautiful music is performed, or attendance at family or Church gatherings where a spiritual ambience, congenial fellowship, and Christian love prevail.
We violate the Fourth Commandment when we labour to earn money on Sundays (apart from exceptions we have already noted). We violate it when we are able to attend the Divine Liturgy but do not. We violate it when, on the Lord`d Day, we immerse ourselves in entertainment that is course, vulgar, or lewd, or in any way unseemly or improper for pious Christians. Since the commandment requires six days of work and a day of rest, we violate it when we are physically able to work, but refuse, out of laziness, to do so.
When confronted by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Christ Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (St. Mark 2:27.) Saint Theophylaktos of Ohrid writes that we must understand this passage spiritually, and his explication helps us to understand the whole idea of a sanctified day of rest. Six days of the week we must earn our bread, engrossed in the things of the world, beset by the war of the passions inherent in the things of the world. On Sunday, the Lord`s Day, we step away from this warfare and enter another “world, so to speak, a realm wherein we may find rest – for the very word (“Shabbat,” “Sabbath”) means “rest” – “rest from the passions”) and from the incessant warfare incited by our Ancient Adversary. And so, on the Lord`s Day, we give God that which belongs to Him. Yet, at the same time, if we “keep it holy,” the Lord`s Day affords us true rest and spiritual reanimation and invigoration.
Let us not rob God of His due. Let us not rob ourselves of spiritual rest, refreshment, and sustenance. Let us gratefully seize this gift of God and put it to use for our betterment.
“HONOUR THY FATHER AND MOTHER”
With the fifth Commandment. “Honour thy father and thy mother,” (Exodus 20:12) we enter into the commandments that deal with the social aspects of morality. The first four commandments, as we have seen, deal with man`s duties to God: we must put God first, we must not worship false gods, we must be absolutely reverential toward God and toward all of the things associated with Him, and we must give God His due in worship. The remaining six of the Old Testament commandments explain our duties to other men, to the family and to the community.
To understanding the Orthodox Christian view of the family, we turn to the writings of our own Saint Philaret of New York, the much-beloved First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad from 1964 until his repose in 1985, A true Holy Church Father of our own time and an archpastor of unparalled excellence, Saint Philaret first reminds us that family is “the primary unit in the structure of social life.” (Metropolitan Philaret, On the Law of God, p. 55.) Thus, healthy family life within a given society equals a healthy society and nation. The two are inextricably linked together. Allow family life to decay and crumble, and, almost simultaneously, the society and nation will decay and crumble too. As Saint Philaret putsit, “The strongest and most well-organized state will come to condition of decline and disintegration if its family unit falls apart and there are no bases of family life and upbringing.” (Ibid., p. 59)
We see clearly in the former Soviet Union, where the Communist Party and an all-powerful state sought to supplant family life with a political ideology. We see it in contemporary Russia and in contemporary America, where mercenary individualism and materialism hold sway, rejecting the loving sacrifice necessary for family life, and substituting individual self-gratification for family and community. The family as an enduring institution is in sharp decline, lawlessness is increasing, and the bonds that hold men together are dissolving.
However, let us now speak of things as they should be. Families are necessarily arranged hierarchically, like every successful human organization. To our elders we properly pay special respect, since their experience and wisdom re to our benefit. Listening to their wise counsel, we are able to avoid dangers that we might otherwise plunge. This is doubly true in the family. Moreover, as Saint Philaret explains, the honouring of parents is a matter of elementary justice.
“Everyone knows the fifth commandment of God`s law, about honouring the parents. Apostle Paul enjoins children to `obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.` (Ephesians 6:1; cf. Colossins 3:20.) And, of course, this requirement is brought forth precisely by justice. For, children are obliged in all things to their parents who take care of them, loving, toiling, denying themselves in much, raising their children by their own love, often helping them even when they have already become adults and independent people.” (Metropolitan Philaret, On the Law of God, pp. 57-58.)
What does it mean to honour one`s father and mother? It means first, that during the time we are children, still in the home and dependent upon our parents, we love them, we listen attentively to their advice and demands, we obey them, we help them to the best of our abilities in their daily labours, and we strive not to bring needless difficulties into their lives. Saint Philater states that when we do not heed our parents, we fail to honour them. Should our parents tell us to do certain things and not to do other things, and should we fail to obey the, we do not honour them, and so violate the Firth Commandment. Doing this, being wilful, disobeying them, should we, as a consequence, bring hardship or heartbreak of some sort into their lives, we obviously do not honour our parents and we break the Fifth Commandment. And that form of honouring through heeding and obedience remains an obligation at least until one becomes wholly independent. Even then, however, it remains an obligation insofar as the advice of parents is sound and in conformity with Orthodox Christian teaching. Thus, we continue to honour them by carefully considering their judicious advice.
Parents endure tremendous hardships and make countless sacrifices in rearing their children. When parents have reached advanced age, it is often the case that children are asked to endure similar hardships and make similar sacrifices for the sake of their parents. It is unthinkable that adult children should live in comfort while their parents live in want. They must offer their assistance if they are in obedience to the Firth Commandment. But even if circumstances do not require hardships and sacrifices for parents, we have certain incumbencies, unavoidable if we obey God`s commandments. We must continue to love our parents; we must assist them in every way we can; we must, if possible, visit them and consol them in their old age through our attentiveness; if visits are not possible because of great distance or some other impediment, we must show our attentions in other ways, by telephone or by letter; we must look after them in their final days and hours; and we must always pray for them during their lives and, most importantly, after their repose.
All that has thus far been said, and all that we are about to contemplate assumes that one`s parents are spiritually healthy in their outlook and that they are discharging or have discharged their duties as parents in conformity with traditional Christian mores. We are not obliged to heed or to obey parents or any other figures of authority should they advise conduct that is not Christian, that is, conduct that is spiritually, psychologically, or physical harmful or morally reprehensible. In times past, an overwhelming majority of parents could be trusted to require only that which was spiritually and morally upright. They thus earned their children`s honour and esteem. In our age, with family life and society in a state of advanced decomposition, there are situations in which that is not always the case.
What else does the Fifth Commandment demand of us? Throughout our lives, there are persons other than our parents who act, so to speak, `in loco parentis,` that is, “in place of parents.” In school, we are under obligation to honour and obey teachers, just as if they were our parents. The same is true with temporary or permanent guardians. We are obliged to honour and obey civil authorities similarly, when their commands are lawful and morally correct. In the armed forces, we must honour and obey the lawful commands of our superiors.
Last, but certainly not least, we are obligated to obey our spiritual Fathers, most commonly our Priests, who, even more than the other figures of authority we have just mentioned, act `in loco parentis,` in the places of loving parents, guiding us along paths that are morally sound and striving to make our lives wholesome, productive, happy, and God-pleasing, both in the spiritual realm and otherwise. Saint Philaret reminds us that we have a special obligation with regard to our Hierarch, our Pastor, and our spiritual Father, because these men answer before God for the state of the souls in their charge. (See Metropolitan Philaret, On the Law of God, p. 58. In other words, they put their own souls at risk for the sake of the souls of those whom they lovingly guide. Furthermore, Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) reminds us that the honour we show our spiritual Fathers ascends to the Truine Godhead:
“You must….render all honour and love to your spiritual fathers, since the honour rendered to them rebounds to Christ and the all-holy Spirit, in whom you received adoption, and to the heavenly Father, `from whom derives all fatherhood in heaven and on earth.`” (Ephesians 3:15. & St. Gregory Palamas, “A New Testament Decalogue,” The Philokalia: The Complete Text, Vol. iv, p. 327.)
The Fifth Commandment also implicitly requires that we give all men their due. To each man we must give proper honour according to his rank and to his age. We must be respectful, kind, and helpful to all our elders, especially the infirm and those who have reached old age. The Book of Leviticus says, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God.” (Leviticus 19:32) I recall, when I was a youngster, the ideal, inculated in young people in those days, typified by the Boy Scout helping an elderly man or woman across a street, or the giving up of one`s seat in a bus to an old man or woman. Such behaviour is simply common decency, and it is painful to note that it is rapidly dying out. However, despite our drift into barbarism, the commandments remain the commandments. They are not optional. What the Fifth Commandment requires is also simply common decency.
Therefore, honour your father and your mother, love them, obey them comfort them in their old age; honour all those in lawful and God-pleasing authority; and show due respect to all your fellow men, even those who are helpless or who appear to be the lowliest. God expects it; God demands it.
“THOU SHALT NOT KILL”
The Sixth Commandment of God is “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13.) Inasmuch as God`s first and greatest gift to us is life, the Sixth Commandment requires that we show the utmost respect for it: for our own individual lives and for the lives of others. Let us be clear in our understanding of what this commandment forbids, since these four simple words are variously interpreted.
We will therefore turn once again to the great wisdom of the former First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Saint Philaret of New York. In his lecture on war, he states:
“It is quite correct to point out that war is a violation of the commandment, `Thos shalt not kill` (Ibid) No one will argue against that. Still, we see from Holy Scriptures that in that very same Old Testament time when this commandment was given, the Israelite people fought on command from God, and defeated its enemies with God`s help. Consequently, the meaning of the commandment, `Thou shalt not kill,` does not refer unconditionally to every act of removing a person`s life.” (Metropolitian Philaret, On the Law of God, p. 58.)
It is clear from the study of history that were God-fearing Christians forbidden unconditionally to take another man`s life, the rule of evil in this fallen world would be even more widespread than is currently the case, evil would control and dominate the lives of all people. Only the Godless, in those circumstances, could use deadly force, and so the God-fearing, and all the earth, would be totally subject to the force of evil.
So it is that a nation may rightly defend itself against aggressors, and that defence may include the use of lethal weapons to kill the soldiers of an enemy nation. A nation may also defend itself, if necessary by use of deadly force, to prevent espionage or sabotage. the fact that we venerate in the Orthodox Church the memory of quite large numbers of warrior Saints is proof that one may defend one`s nation in war without judgement form God. A community may, likewise, defend itself, by the use of deadly force, against criminals who threaten the lives, property, and wellbeing of peaceful citizens. Such deadly force may be used, if justified, to prevent a criminal act, or it may, in exceptional circumstances, be used in the punishment of particular heinous crimes. (However, it is noteworthy that several Orthodox rulers – among whom Saint Vladiir the Equal-to-be-Apostes [ca. 956-1015], Saint Tamara of Georgia [1166-1213], and Saint John III the Merciful [ca. 1192-1254] – abolished the death penalty during their reigns, while the widow of Saint Elias the Just [1837-1907], who had campaigned against capital punishment, successfully opposed the execution of her husband`s assassins.) And the individual Christian may defend himself and his loved ones, and the sanctity of his home, against attackers or intruders – burglars, thieves, murders, and other criminals – by use of deadly force, if necessary. The Sixth Commandment forbids none of the foregoing.
What the words of the sixth commandment specifically forbid is to commit the sin of murder, which is then unlawful and premeditated taking of a human life. Needless to say, this includes, in addition to the act of murder, plotting the death of another, even if one does not actually commit the crime itself; it includes acting in cooperation with a murderer, to facilitate the killing of someone; and it includes knowing that someone is about to be murdered and failing to act through lawful authorities to prevent this. Does the sixth commandment forbid anything else in addition to the unlawful and premeditated act to taking a human life? It does.
To take a human life without premeditation, in a fit of anger – voluntary manslaughter – or to cause the death of someone through carelessness – involuntary manslaughter – , are both violations of Sixth Commandment. Suicide is the taking of one`s own life, and it is certainly forbidden by the Sixth Commandment. The killing of an unborn child through abortion is an especially wicked violation of the sixth commandment. Where extremely rare exceptions to this rule exist, they must be undertaken only with the counsel of an especially wise and well-educated spiritual Father.
If one sees his neighbour in mortal danger but because of laziness or cowardice does nothing to save the endangered person, then that individual violates the Sixth Commandment. For example, if one detects that his neighbour`s house is on fire and does nothing; if one hears cries for help from a neighbour yet turns away; or if one is capable of first aid but ignores an individual in need of immediate medical assistance, possibly permitting a neighbour to die unnecessarily- these instances are all tantamount to unjustifiable killings. It must be said additionally, here, that in such instances, one`s own physical strength and health may, depending on the circumstances, mitigate one`s responsibility to assist a brother or sister in moral danger.
Christ expanded the meaning of the sixth Commandment when he said:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, `Thou shalt not kill; (Exodus 20:13.) and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement`: but I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement.” (St. Matthew 5:21-22.)
In other words, needless anger and hatred, of the sort that incites in one`s heart the wish for evil to befall another person, is contrary to the Sixth Commandment? It is so because if nurtured, anger and hatred corrode the heart, mind, and soul, and cause spiritual and psychological injury, sometimes permanent, to the person who is angry or who hates, and undermines all striving for virtue. Anger and hatred also present ongoing temptations to actualize one`s inward inclinations by committing some act of violence, if offered the opportunity. It is not for nothing that Saint John the Theologian (ca. 7-ca. 101) writes, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye knows that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” (I St. John 3:15.)
Let us note one final form of murder, the worst of all forms and one that doubtless brings the harshest of judgements from God. What we speak of is spiritual murder, the number of another person`s faith, virtue, or innocence. If one leads another to abandon the True Faith, that is faith in Christ, or if one tempts another into serious sin, then one threatens to kill that person`s soul. Imagine, if one is guilty of such acts, standing before the Dread Judgement Seat and having to answer for them! Christ Jesus threatened one who subverts the virtue of the innocent that “it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” (St. Matthew 18:6 St. Mark 9:42; St. Luke 17:2.)
Few of us here – probably none of us, I would venture to guess – will ever be guilty of the crime of murder, as defined in criminal law. But all of us, since we are fallen creatures, have difficulties with anger, and perhaps with hatred. Some of us, too, may be tempted to tempt another person into sin, and thus to compromise and damage that person`s faith or inclination to virtue. The answer to such possibilities is spiritual watchfulness. Anger and hatred are passions, and other sins are either passions or involve the passions. We know that we must avoid, and we know what the commandments forbid and condemn, and being conscious of that, we assiduously banish such thoughts and deeds from our lives, cutting them off in our minds the instant they appear.
Our Holy Father Hesychios of Sinai as follows concerning watchfulness:
“Watchfulness is a spiritual method which, if sedulously practiced over a long period, completely frees us with God`s help from impassioned thoughts, impassioned words and evil actions. It leads, in so far as this is possible, to a sure knowledge of the inapprehensible God, and helps us to penetrate the divine and hidden mysteries. It enables us to fulfil every divine commandment in the Old and New Testaments and bestows upon us every blessing of the age to come.” (St. Hesychios the Priest. `On Watchfulness and Holiness, Written for the odoulos,` The Philokalia: The Complete Text, Vol. I, p. 162.)
“THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY”
We now come to God`s Seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” (Exodus 20:14.) another of those last six commandments that seek to establish Godly order within human societies. By strict definition, the word “adultery” refers to intimate carnal relations between a person who is married and a person who is not the married person`s spouse. There is no difficulty in seeing God`s purpose here. His primary purpose is to protect the family – a husband, a wife, their children, and other close kin – is the fundamental building block of the community, insofar as the family as an institution is healthy, so too will the larger community be healthy. Likewise, insofar as the family as an institution is unhealthy, is in disarray, or is in danger of disintegration, then precisely the same will be true of the larger community. In the whole record of history, one cannot find a single example that contradicts the model I have just set forth.
In their book `The Lessons of History,` historians Will Durant (1885-1981) and Ariel Durant (1898-1981) caution:
“No man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one life-time to such fullness of understanding as to judge and dismiss the customs and institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history. A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.”
Traditional morality serves to establish a framework of order without which there can be no healthy family life, no functioning society, no possibility for betterment of conditions, no harmony, no common goals, and no community spirit. Without these, peace and concord vanish and bedlam triumphs, and in such a poisonous atmosphere, quite clearly there can be little chance of spiritual development, of finding and following the path to union with God. People living in such decaying societies become like stray dogs running loose across the landscape, to borrow a phrase from Robert Alexander Nisbet (1913-1996), a renowned sociologist. This comparison is an apt one, apt in terms of sociology, morality, and spirituality – stray dogs, without homes, without masters, without direction, without purpose.
At the level of the individual, the traditional morality set down in the Ten Commandments and in Christian teaching, especially that connected to sexuality, provides a structure within which each man may build a personal life in which he might reach some satisfactory level of fulfilment, achievement, contentment, and inner peace, both in the earthly and the spiritual realms, and in which he may pass on this healthy way of life to his children. This is the reason why marriage was created and why God sanctifies and protects it as an institution. The first aim is a spiritually ordered life in this world, which, in turn, allows the fulfilment of the ultimate aim of everlasting life with God.
Now, we began by mentioning that adultery, which the Seventh Commandment forbids, is intimate carnal relations involving a married person and another person who is not the married person`s spouse. Yet, in the Old Testament period, and throughout the Christian Era, it has been understood plainly that the Seventh Commandment forbids not only adultery but all sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage. There are no exceptions to this prohibition. None. The primary purpose of human sexuality is procreation. God commands man: “Be fruitful, and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28, 9:1.) The secondary purpose is to create indissoluble bonds of love and partnership between husband and wife. Outside of those two purposes, and outside of marriage, no sexual activity whatsoever is licit.
Moreover, Christ Jesus taught us that we must not only guard our physical bodies from all that is impure, we must also guard our minds, for with respect to the Seventh Commandment, we can sin in our deeds, in our words, and in out thoughts. In the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew, the lord declares:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, `Thou shalt not commit adultery`: (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18.) but I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (St. Matthew 5:27-28.)
Why, one may ask, are we forbidden to entertain these kinds of thoughts? We are so forbidden for the reason that it is destructive to both spiritual and psychological well-being. For one to permit one`s mind to dwell on carnal thoughts, to immerse one`s mind in such things, is to introduce a kind of spiritual and psychological sickness into the mind and heart, a sickness that, if nurtured, becomes deeply rooted, becomes an obsession, a mania, a kind of dementia, that will attack and undermine one`s spiritual life. Saint John Chrysostomos states that “[Christ]…came to set free from all evil deeds not the body only, but the soul too before the body. Thus, because in the heart we receive the grace of the Spirit, He cleanses it out first. “(The homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Canstantinople, on the Gospel of St. Matthew,” p. 116.)
From a psychological standpoint, this obsession has the power to impair the healthy aspect of our sexual natures necessary for successful marriage. Additionally, that which is entertained so vividly in the mind is an ongoing form of temptation that, sooner or later, will become irresistible and will lead one from thoughts to actual deeds. To quote Saint John Chrysostomos again: “…[I]f thou art continually doing this, and kindling the furnace, thou wilt assuredly be taken…” (Ibid) And he writes also that “he who gathers in lust unto himself…brings in the wild beast upon his thoughts…” (Ibid)
What else can we say about the Seventh Commandment? Our ancestors understood human psychology so much better than does contemporary man. They relied on “the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history,” (Will Durant and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of history, pp. 35-36.) as the Durants put it so well. Contemporary commentators often denigrate our ancestors, ridiculing them for a “repressive” attitude toward sexuality. Yet our ancestors enjoyed enduring marriages, large families, and strong and orderly communities that lasted and prospered for centuries. They grasped that sexuality had its proper place in life, a private place, that is not paraded about shamelessly. Thus, in their manner of dress, in their sense of decorum, and in their public behaviour, decency and morality were uppermost in their minds. To be sure, they were not perfect, and, occasionally, a mask of public decorum concealed private depravity. But the ideal was upheld, and most men and women adhered to it. Nowadays, we have by and large, lost “the wisdom of generations” (Ibid) and that ideal. And so, we must be continuously reminded about how we violate God`s intentions regarding His Seventh Commandment.
Apart from all sexual activity outside marriage and sins of impure thoughts, of what else must we beware? We violate the Seventh Commandment if we dress ourselves in ways that are indecent or suggestive and therefore incite others to sin in their hearts. We violate it when we read literature that is impure, or when we attend movies or plays or view television programs that are indecent. We violate it if we listen to indecent stories or jokes or repeat these ourselves. And the Seventh Commandment violated when those who are married fail to take marriage seriously and do not attend to its success.
The sexual impulse is one of the most powerful in our fallen natures: powerful, relentless, difficult to control. Nevertheless, we are under obligation to control it. Saint Paul declares “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” (I Corinthians 3:16-17.) We must therefore protect ourselves from all influences that strive to lead us away from God. We must place ourselves in absolute control of our thoughts, words, and deeds. This we do first through prayer, and then by staying close to the Church, so that the Grace of God will assist us in our efforts. We do it as well by following the Church`s prescribed fasts, which are prescribed precisely to assuage the passions. Finally, we do it through the exercise of our will, putting our minds in control of our bodily impulses, and not, as in the lower animals, the other way round. To some, this kind of self control is considered a battle lost before it begins. But that opinion is mistaken. The battle can be won, for it has been won by many.Saint Gregory of Nyssa instructs us:
“There is in you, human beings, a desire to contemplate the true good. But when you hear that the Divine Majesty is exalted above the heavens, that Its glory is inexpressible, Its beauty ineffable, and Its Nature inaccessible, do not despair of ever beholding what you desire. It is indeed within your reach; you have within yourselves the standard by which to apprehend the Divine. For He who made you did at the same time endow your nature with this wonderful quality. For God imprinted on it the likeness of the glories of His own Nature, as if moulding the form of a carving into wax. But the evil that has been poured all around the nature bearing the Divine Image has rendered useless to you this wonderful thing, that lies hidden under vile coverings. If, therefore, you wash off by a good life the filth that has been stuck on your heart like a plaster, the Divine Beauty will again shine forth in you.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord`s Prayer/The Beatitudes, pp. 148-149.)
“THOU SHALT NOT STEAL”
You will remember that with the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” God`s purpose is to protect life. With the Fourth Commandment, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” and with the Seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” He aims to protect the integrity of the family. With the commandment that we will today discuss, the Eight Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” (Exodus 20:15.) He seeks to protect the security of property. The protection of life, of the family, and of property are absolutely essential for peaceable, orderly, and fruitful communities.
“Thou shalt not steal.” What does this commandment require of us and what does it prohibit? According to the Holy Church Fathers, al property, personal, familial, and communal, belongs ultimately to God. God loans material things to man for his use during this life, for our own benefit, for the benefit of the people around us, and for the benefit of the community in which we live. When I refer to “benefit,” I speak of God-pleasing benefit, both in the spiritual and the earthly sense. To those whom God has given more, God requires more; (Ibid.) to those whom God has given less, He requires less. Nevertheless, He requires something of us all and will judge those who have used these gifts of God improperly. This, in a nutshell, is the Orthodox Christian view of property.
God confers material things on individual persons. That is His right, as our Creator and the Creator of all that exists. It is not for us arbitrarily to contradict what God has ordained. We must be heedful of the division of property among men, however unfair it mat superficially seem, as part of God`s ultimate plan. From the societal point of view, when respect for one`s own property and the property of others is weakened, law and order soon break down and anarchy results. Societies in those circumstances are ruled by the law of the jungle, the law of the savage beast, the law of brute force. We see examples of this in certain places in the world today, where chaos reigns. And it is much more difficult for men to work out their salvation in the midst of the chaos, which is why God abhors chaos and loves order.
In an ideal social setting, each person or family unit possesses the necessities of life. And, as was already noted, some may have more and some less, depending upon status, class, and other factors, but all have that which is necessary. All have that which is necessary, and all are respectful of the property of others. This is an ideal that, sadly, exists perfectly nowhere in the world. Some societies have gone far in that direction, but, because of man`s fallen nature, none have achieved it completely. Yet, it is an ideal toward which we must strive, because God`s justice demands it.
Man`s fallen nature expresses itself in many ways. One of those ways is our avariciousness. We are greedy creatures, if left to our own devices, ever wanting more and more. And, as with all of the passions, greed must be restrained. Thus, our material needs in life are legitimately satisfied only through our labour. Speaking to the fallen Adam, God said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” (Genesis 3:19.) That is to say, “If you wish food and other material things, you must earn it by work.” Saint Paul writes: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” (Ephesians 4:28.)
“Thou shalt not steal.” Obviously, thievery is forbidden by the Eighth Commandment. One may not take that which belongs to another without permission or legal right. One may not deliberately cause the destruction of another`s property or damage to it, since that deprives the owner of the use of that which belongs to him. One may not use artifice, that is, chicanery or cunning, to deprive another of their property, though the circumvention of the spirit of the law. In other words, one may not acquire property by means that may be technically legal but are morally despicable. One may not use lawsuits for personal gain, when no real loss has been suffered. It is stealing to plagiarize, that is, to use the intellectual property of others without proper attribution. It is stealing to cheat in school assignments and on tests.
If one owns a shop or a business, it is a violation of the Eighth Commandment to cheat one`s customers, whatever the circumstances. This is true whether one is the owner or an employee of the owner. One must at all times be honest, open, and just in business dealings. If one must be completely aboveboard with one`s customers, one must also be the same with one`s business partners and one`s employees. Cheating in any way is simply theft. With regard to business owners who have employees, one must pay liveable wages. If the employees in a particular business live in conditions of poverty and the families of one`s employee are in desperate want for life`s necessities, then the business owner is wholly responsible before God for that situation. The Christian employer is rather like a father to his employees, and watches over their needs. Employees have a right to elementary social justice, to be able to earn the necessities of life, and to live with some measure of dignity. To allow any less is to steal from one`s employees and so to violate the Eighth Commandment.
Conversely, employees owe their employer honest labour for honest pay. To malinger, to shirk one`s duties, to cheat on one`s time, to take things that belong to one`s employer, to sabotage or bring any harm to the business of one`s employer, or to gain in any way that is not honest, is a violation of the Eighth Commandment. The Orthodox Christian`s business or work ethic, with regard to one`s customers, to one`s employee, or to one`s employer, must be, in Christ`s Own words, “There all things whatever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (St. Matthew 7:12.)
What else constitutes forms of theft? It is blatant thievery to demand a bribe, to take money or property from someone by threat of violence or harm, or to lend money at usurious (excessive or unjust) rates of interest. It is thievery to obtain goods or services on credit and to fail to pay that which one rightfully owes. Regarding credit dealings, one must be responsible and avoid unnecessary debts so as not to run the risk of being unable to pay them. Saint Paul the Apostle counselled, “Owe no man anything”; (Romans 13:8.) in other words, avoid needless debt. It is a violation of the Eighth Commandment to treat the property of others in a malicious or negative manner. Damaging public or private property intentionally or through carelessness is a kind of stealing. To write graffiti on the walls of buildings or other structures, for instance, is to damage property that belongs to other, and so is sinful. Carelessly to drop a lighted cigarette in a place where fire is likely – in the woods, or in a brushy area, or in a place where flammable chemicals are stored, to give three example – is a species of theft. (Needless to say, an Orthodox Christian has no business smoking, for as Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite [1749-1809] says, “The use of tobacco is contrary to propriety, which is an eminent moral virtue…[a]nd it is detrimental to the health of the body.”) (Smoking and the Orthodox Christian, Quoted in Constantine Cavarnos) And if such conduct puts human life at risk, it is also a violation of the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill. (Exodus 20:13)
Finally, it is a kind of stealing, a kind of thievery, to be miserly and selfish, and therefore to be uncharitable to those in need. To look askance at the beggar and arrogantly ignore his needs is to steal that which rightfully belongs to him. Exactly the same is true of our responsibility to the Church, since it is a voluntary organization supported by the freewill contributions of its members. We must not stingy toward God. Remember, God owns everything and loans it to us in order to do good, we have cheated both God and man, we have failed to discharge our part of the unwritten bargain with God by which we came to possess our wealth. Saint Basil the Great (ca 329-379.) admonishes the selfish and greedy in the following words:
“Surely what ails [your] soul is much what ails the glutton, who would burst with cramming rather than give the poor any of his leftovers. Remember Who gives you these goods! And remember yourself who you are, what you are steward of, from Whom you receive these things, and why you have been so favoured. You have been made the minister of a gracious God and the steward of your fellow servants. Do not imagine that all these goods have been given just for your own belly. The wealthy you handle belongs to others; consider it accordingly.” (St. Basil the Great, “Homily on `I Will Pull Down My Barns.”)
If we are just, honest, and charitable in everything we do with respect to money and other material things, we have fulfilled the requirements of the Eighth Commandment.
“THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOUR.”
We are at the ninth in our series of discussions on the commandments of God. Today`s subject, the Ninth Commandment, is especially useful for us because we live in a world that is utterly immersed in lies, perhaps more so than at any other time in history. Yet, God commands us to be truthful at all times. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 18:20.) In their narrow sense, these words refer to speaking a falsehood about another person. To accuse another falsely, to perjure one self, to slander, to gossip – these are most specifically violations of the Ninth Commandment. Yet, as with the other commandments, it is clear that much more is suggested by these words than is evident from a more narrow understanding of them. Let us examine some of the ramifications of the Ninth Commandment.
The Ninth Commandment of God deals with falsehood, forbidding the speaking of falsehood, of lies. Since Adam`s fall from God`s Grace, mankind is inclined toward the doing of evil. Let us recall that the Fall of Man resulted, in the first place, from the lie of the Evil One, viz., that disobedience to God would bring about beneficial things, which it did not. The inclination to evil manifests itself in myriad ways, but certainly one of these is man`s proclivity to lie, to serve or to enhance his own interests through the use of falsehood. As we already noted, we live in a veritable Age of Lies. Men today lie about things both great and small. Rare indeed is the politician who does not lie, and lie often. Rare indeed is the advertiser who does not lie about the products he promotes, exaggerating their benefits and ignoring their limitations and deficiencies, while at the same time, doing the opposite with regard to the products of rivals. Turn on the television or read through daily newspapers, and one is inundated with lies, gossip, and rumours.
There was a time, not too long ago, when fear of God excluded, in most cases, the possibility of lying under oath. No longer is that true, perjury having nearly become the rule rather than the exception. Judges – in the past mostly God-fearing, upstanding, Christian men- today more commonly sneer at Christ and the things of God, making their rulings in accord with their career objectives or some ideological or anti-religious bias. Love for the law and love for truth, so cherished by our forebears, are rapidly disappearing. In contrast to the Zeitgeist, to what is nowadays called “political correctness,” men who fearlessly speak the truth are denounced and ridiculed, and usually driven quickly from public life. Most men and women today eschew unvarnished truth, finding it discomfiting, inconvenient. For the nave, contemporary public life is thus akin to entering a house of mirrors, where nothing appears as, in fact, really is.
God is Truth and, therefore, hates the lie above all else. Listen to Christ`s words when speaking to the Pharisees:
“Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe Me not. (St. John 8:44-45.)
The Devil, Christ says, is “the father of lies,” without a particle of truth within himself. And so it is that Christ God, the speaker of truth alone, was, and is, hated by the enemies of truth. As Christians, as witnesses of truth, as truth-bearers, we are expected and required to uphold truth, at all times and in all places, without exception. Saint Paul writes: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak e very man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25.) To bear false witness against another man, to accuse him falsely or testify against him falsely, is a most grievous offence against God, one which, unless sincerely repented of, must spell everlasting catastrophe for the liar.
To bear false witness by attempting to damage the reputation and good name of another through slander and gossip is equally evil and, in the spiritual realm, infinitely more injurious to the liar than the victim, for it will place the liar in company with the father of lies for all eternity. As Saint John Chrysostomos reminds us, “Wherefore not those that are slandered, but the slanderers, have need to be anxious and to tremble.” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos.) To speak lies through gossip and slander in a casual manner, murdering another`s reputation thoughtlessly, without concern for the injury done, is also an extremely serious evil, one which soon becomes a terrible and soul-destroying habit, broadcasting, as it does, destruction, hatred, and strife in every direction. Even worse. Once spoken, the gossip and slander take on, so to speak, a life of their own, becoming uncontrollable and unstoppable, like a runaway nuclear chain reaction, annihilating truth as an atomic explosion annihilates life. For all of this, for all of this, for the engulfing disaster that gossip and slander inevitably become, the foul tongue of the initial speaker is wholly responsible, and will be judged by God. Saint John Crysostomos writes that, “mouths made bloody with human flesh are not so shocking as tongues like these.” (Ibid.)
And let it not be thought that gossip is permissible if we imagine the accusations to be true. Unless there are sound reasons for speaking to someone of some unpleasantness about another person – for example, to protect oneself or others against serious danger or some criminal activity – , we should mind our own business and say nothing harmful against any man. It is not our place to judge others. Christ admonished us, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” (St. Luke 6:37.) He further warns us, “Bit I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgement. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (St. Matthew 12:36-37.) We do not judge others because, as Saint Dorotheos of Gaza (ca 506-ca 570) states, “You may well know about the sin, but you do not know about the repentance.” (St. Dorotheos of Gaza, `Discourses and Sayings.`) Lastly, listening to gossip and slander is also reprehensible, sanctioning the evil by our attentiveness to it. To those who gossip, the Christian response should be, at the minimum, “Gossiping is a sin, and I do not wish to hear it.”
Two things must the Christian man or woman bear in mind at all times with regard to the Ninth Commandment. The first of these is always to speak truthfully, never to lie. We read in Holy Scripture, “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are His delight.” (Proverbs 12:22) Let us always deal truly with everyone, with all of our brothers and sisters. If some petty situations requires that we avoid giving offense in speaking the truth, let us rather say nothing. The second thing to bear in mind is that we must always guard our tongues. If we were to gather together all of the sins of the world and categorize them, perhaps the greatest number of sins would fall under the label “sins of the tongue.” Guard your tongue, lest, as Saint John Chrysostomos writes, you make “the judgement-seat dreadful to thyself…” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, on the Gospel of St. Matthew. P.158) By our words, we will be judged on Judgement Day; by our words we will be saved, or by our words we will be condemned. Let us always be mindful of our words.
“THOU SHALT NOT COVET…ANY THING THAT IS THY NEIGHBOUR`S”
We now come to the last of the Commandments of God as set forth in the Old Testament: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour`s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour`s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour`s,” (Exodus 20:17) The first nine of the Ten Commandment deals primarily with our actions, whereas this Tenth Commandment deals with and attempts to govern our internal disposition, our psychological outlook. Thus, the sins treated by this commandment are sins of the heart and of the mind.
We begin by defining our terminology. If it is a sin to cover, what meaning does the word “covet” express? You may recall that we examined the nature of the sin of covetousness briefly when we discussed the Beatitudes. But let us explore it in more depth. The English word “covet” is rooted ultimately in the Latin word “cupiditas.” The meaning of this Latin word is preserved most precisely in the English derivative “cupidity.” Which means “greed,” “avarice.” And so, to covet, in the sense in which the word is used in the Holy Bible, means to be deeply envious of that which one`s neighbour possesses, to be so deeply envious that the envy is an obsession, an idée fixe, something all-consuming, or, as the Holy Fathers would put it, a passion. This becomes especially clear when we reflect on the fact that the original Hebrew expression (“Lo tahmond”) is somewhat stronger than “Thou shalt not covet”; (Ibid) if translated literally, it conveys the notion of being lustful. It is forbidden to lust after the things belonging to another person, to allow the desire for the things possessed by another person to become an obsession.
Now, there are some nuances of meaning here, so let us note briefly what this commandment does not forbid. To admire the beauty of a neighbour`s fine home or new automobile, or to say to someone that a neighbour`s spouse is beautiful, or that she dresses elegantly, or that she has excellent taste and manners, is not, by itself, sinful. It is not even sinful to admire these things and to say to oneself, “Someday, if I work hard, I too may have a lovely wife and a fine home,” or, “Wouldn`t it be nice if I too owned such a large house?” Such thoughts, f they are fleeting and if they do not consume one with envy, are harmless. In modern English, we also use the word “covet” to express ideas that are not sinful. We refer, for instance, to a prize or an award as “coveted?”: “Samuel Barber [1910-1981] was twice awarded the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Music, for his compositions Vanessa and Piano Concerto No 1,” or, “Mary Pickford [1893-1979] won the coveted Oscar Award for Best Actress for her role in Coquette.” This obviously does not refer to anything that the Tenth Commandment forbids. If, on the other hand we said, “Doctor Smith is in a black depression of jealousy because the coveted Professor of the Year Award he was expecting was given instead to his rival, Doctor Jones,” this indeed would refer to a sinful response, inasmuch as Doctor Smith, by allowing jealousy to consume him, is being spiritually and psychologically harmed by the sin of covetousness.
Let us define another of our terms: “neighbour.” We are not to cover our neighbour`s spouses or goods. “And who is my neighbour?” (St. Luke 1:29 At the time the Ten Commandments were given by God, the Hebrew people were a collection of nomadic tribes, and in subsequent centuries they became a primarily agricultural people. In these sorts of rather primitive societies, with extremely limited communication and travel, the world “neighbours” encompassed people who lived close by or, at the most, fellow tribal members. But Christ, in His immortal Parable of the Good Samaritan, taught us that all men and women are our neighbours. (St. Luke 1:25-37). Therefore, the Tenth Commandment forbids covetousness in all circumstances. We sin against the Tenth Commandment when we permit sinful obsessions related to covetousness – envy, hatred, lust, greed, and jealously – to gnaw away at the goodness and love of goodness that God implants in our minds, and hearts, and our souls. To cover a neighbour`s spouse, to lust after him or her, is a deadly violation of the Tenth Commandment. It is, as was discussed before, also a violation of the Seventh Commandment, because, as the Lord explained, to lust in the heart is spiritually the same as to commit adultery. (St. Matthew 5:28). To covet, to lust after, a neighbour`s goods, or property, or station in life is also a deadly sin, since it makes genuine spirituality and a genuine spiritual sobriety impossible. And, as we noted in some of the earlier lessons, passions of the heart very often compel those seized by them to transform desires into reality, to convert evil thoughts into evil deeds.
Saint Paul the Apostle teaches us:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out; and having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the Faith and pierced themselves through with many arrows.” (St. Timothy 6:6-10.)
Saint Paul is saying that Christians must not be preoccupied with materialism. Rather, we must nurture contentment with our place in life, insofar as our material possessions are concerned, and concentrate our attention on our spiritual state and spiritual riches. Assuming we have the basic necessities of life, let us thank God for this and covet no more. Those who hanker after ever greater riches, so that they are never satisfied, “fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts,” (St. Timothy 6:9), which, he says, nearly always bring destruction and God`s condemnation. If we are wholly obsessed with the love of money, if we are greedy, we fall into error, we fall into sin, and we are “pierced…through with many sorrows,” (I St. Timothy6:10), since “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (Ibid). These sorrows are both earthly and spiritual.
Do riches bring happiness and contentment in our earthly life? A thousand and more examples from contemporary life teach us that riches do not bring happiness, but only more temptations, more worries, and more sorrows. Reading the lives of many of the “rich and famous” is convincing evidence of that. Do riches bring happiness in the life to come? Firstly, as the Holy Apostle Paul warns, “it is certain we can carry nothing out” ( I St. Timothy 6:7) when we depart this world. And this life is short. Saint James the Brother of the Lord in his Epistle declares:
“Go to now, ye that say, `Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain`; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (St. James 4:13-14).
And, secondly, since riches offer nearly irresistible temptations to sin in numberless ways, and since merely to accumulate and to retain great riches often require sinful actions, the answer is plainly, no, that riches, of themselves and without the most careful handling, cannot assist us in winning eternal happiness.
So, we are not to covet. We are not to allow obsessions about possessing another`s spouse or goods, or obsessions about possessing wealth or material things in general, to take possession of us. Envy, jealousy, lust, greed, and covetousness and major sins and, therefore, forbidden to Christians. We are Christ`s “rational sheep” and not “ravening wolves,” (St. Matthew 7:15) seeking to satisfy our base appetites at all cost.
Saint Cyril of Alexandra writes:
“[Christ] showed us that pitful of the devil, covetousness, a thing hateful to God…It is a snare of evil spirits, by which they drag man`s soul to the meshes of hell. For this reason, He says very justly…, Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness; ( St. Luke 12:15). That is, from great and small, and from defrauding any one, whoever he may be. …For who does not flee from him who uses violence, and is rapacious and greedy, and ready for iniquity in those things to which he has no right, and who with avaricious hand gathers that which is not his? What beast of prey does not such a man surpass in savageness? Then what rocks is he not more hard? For the heart of him who is defrauded is torn, and even melted sometimes by the penetrating pain as it were by fire: but he takes pleasure therein, and is merry, and makes the pains of them that suffer a cause of rejoicing. For the wronged man is sure generally to be one without power, who can but raise his eyes to [God] who alone is able to be angry for what he has suffered. And [God], because He is just and good, accepts his supplication, and pities the tears of the sufferer, and brings punishment on those who have done the wrong. (St. Cyril of Alexandra, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, p. 360.)
“THOU SHALT LOVE THE LORD THY GOD WITH ALL THY HEART, AND WITH ALL THY SOUL, AND WITH ALL THY MIND”
In our last discussion, we completely our study of the Ten Commandments of God. However, our consideration of the commandments is not complete without an understanding of the words of Christ on the commandments, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. (St. Matthew 22:35) Today, we shall rely on Saint Matthew`s account, although the three accounts are the same in essence.
The Holy Scripture relates, who sought to enmesh Christ`s encounter with the Pharisees, who sought to enmesh Him in their hair-splitting scrupulosity about the letter of God`s Law and so to discredit Him. The Pharisees, of course, emphasized a piety and way of life that were centred almost exclusively on externality, on outward appearances, which is why the Lord so often condemned them as hypocrites. In contrast, Christ sought to teach a piety and way of life that encompassed both the external and the internal Saint Mathew writes:
“Then of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, `Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?` Jesus said unto him, `Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.` (Deuteronomy 6:5.) This is the first and the great commandment. And the second is like unto it, `Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.` (Leviticus 19:18.) On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.`” (St. Matthew 22: 35-40.).
Saint Jerome of Bethlehem points out that the lawyer
“…asks not about the commandments, but which is the first and great commandment: so that, since all the commandments God commanded are great, whatever He answers the Pharisees may have a pretext to attack Him.” (The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol, iv, p. 155.)
Since Christ drew these two great commandments straight from the Mosaic Law, the Pharisees were thrown into confusion and sought to debate with Christ no more. As Saint Matthew says, “And no man was able to answer Him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions.” (St. Matthew 22:46.)
We will examine the first of these two commandments. What does it mean to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”? (Deuteronomy 6:5.) The dictionary definition of “love” states “[T]he attraction, desire, or affection felt for a person who arouses delight or admiration or elicits tenderness, sympathetic interest, or benevolence; …warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion….” To grasp the notion of love in hman trems, one might cite the feelings of a parent for his child, or of a child for his parents. A parent`s love of child, or achild`s love of parents, is comprised of a feeling of deep affection, an enjoyment of being or a desire to be in the loved one`s presence, and a delight in the sharing of life`s goodness with the beloved.
For the sake of one`s love for another, one is willing to make the greatest sacrifices, if called upon; one is prepared to take great risks or even to sacrifice one`s life, again if called upon by circumstances. What father or mother would not take the greatest of pains to provide a child with the basic necessities of life, food, or shelter, for example? What father or mother would not rush into a burning building or leap in front of a speeding automobile to save the life of a son or of a daughter? Even close friendship often calls forth such willingness to sacrifice. Many friends have sacrificed their lives out of love for friends in danger, and many soldiers have gladly given their lives to save the lives of their comrades. Christ Himself said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (St. John 15:13.)
God`s love for man is infinite and unconditional. He indeed suffered pain, sorrow, and death for His love of man – not only for “man” in the collective sense, but for each individual human being. He loves each of us as if we were the only extant man or woman. Our love for Him must be no less, insofar as this is allowed by human limitations. We are commanded to love God with our hearts, souls, and minds. We can better apprehend the distinction, here, if we think of these three aspects of our existence as physical, spiritual, and intellectual. (Saint Theophylaktos of Ohrid describes them as “the vegetative, the animal, and the rational.”)
We love God wish all of our hearts when we place our love of Him ahead of everything else. Holy Martyrs, celebrated so highly by the Church, have done this throughout the past two thousand years, putting love of God even above their instinctive love of physical life. God can become the focal point of our love with our hearts when we have banished from our hearts the love of luxury, of material comforts, of material things, and most especially, any attachment to evil inclinations. Saint Maximos the Confessor (580-662) declares.
“Love of God…is a virtuous tendency of the soul, and he who has it desires nothing of created things over the love of God. However it is impossible to maintain such love when one feels even the slightest inclination toward worldly things.” (quoted in Bishop Chrysostomos of Oreoi & Rev James Thornton. Love, pp. 55-56.)
We love God with all of our souls when love of Him becomes persistent and habitual, and when we grasp fully that God represents everlasting life, and our desire, growing out of our love, to share eternity with Him impels us to be absolutely faithful to Him. In his series of homilies known by the name “On the Statues,” Saint John Chrysostomos writes:
“For it is a sufficient reward, and compensation to the Saints, that they are serving God; since this indeed to the lover is reward enough, to love the object of his love; and he seeks nothing besides, not accounts anything greater than this.” (The Homiles on theStatues, to the People of Antioch. Rev. W. R. Stephens.)
We love God with all our minds when we devote the gifts that God has bestowed upon us to His honour and glory, when we seek to emulate, most particularly, the sublime humility that is an attribute of His Nature, as demonstrated in Christ`s life. We have been given intellects by God, and these allow us rational thought and speech. One who loves another takes great enjoyment in that person`s company. Saint Theodore of Edessa (ca. 825) refers to such love when he writes:
“It is clear therefore that he who loves God also desires always to be with Him and to converse with Him. This comes to pass in us through pure prayer. Accordingly, let us apply ourselves to prayer with all our power; for it enables us to become akin to God.” (St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic, `A century of Spiritual Texts.`)
And so, we unite ourselves to the Lord our God through our love of Him with all of our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. That is a commandment of God. Saint John the theologian proclaims, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (St. John 4:8) Keep this commandment, as the Saints kept it, and your eternal future is assured. For as Saint Paul affirms, “But as it is written, `Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.`” (I Corinthians 2:9.)
“THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR AS THYSELF”
The First Commandment of Christ, as already discussed, which is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” The Second Commandment of Christ is “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
What has already been said about how we love God. We love Him by making our love for Him supreme and higher than our love for anyone or anything else. We love Him by our fidelity to Him in all circumstances. We love Him when we demonstrate our devotion to Him through our obedience to His commandments and by a life of prayer. This love of God thus forms a foundation for our way of life. It is the support; it is the fulcrum; it is the centre of our lives, this love of God. But there is another aspect to love of God, an essential aspect. That additional aspect is love of neighbour. Man was made by God to be a social creature, and so, man lives in community. A close relationship between God and an individual man or woman, manifested through that man`s or woman`s sacrifice, obedience, fidelity, devotion, and so forth, is a spiritually beautiful thing, but it is incomplete. Man is a social creature – hence the Church, wherein brothers and sisters share, in communion with God, all of the joys and sorrows of life and the whole of their struggle for everlasting life. We are saved in the Community of Love that is the Church. Man is a social creature – hence this Second Commandment of Christ to love our neighbour as ourselves.
We have noted before, in prior sermons, the teaching of the Holy Fathers and Orthodox Christian theologians that God is Absolute Perfection. While mankind is rife with imperfections, with deficiencies, with failings, with needs, and with desires, God is perfect, total, and complete, and is without needs or desires. We can do nothing to add to God`s Perfection, we can do nothing to “better” Him. He has no need of anything that we possess. We exist because “God is love” (I St. John 4:8) itself, and this pure love of His He chooses to share with us. The love of God, the sacrifice, obedience, fidelity, and singular devotion, better us, not God, and shape us spiritually to achieve, divinization, deification, union with Him. When we use the term “God-pleasing,” we refer to that which brings our nature closer to the Nature of God.
Christ said, when He spoke His Two Commandments to the Pharisees, that the Second Commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” (Leviticus 19:18) is “like” (St. Matthew 22:39) the First Commandment, that we love God. It is like unto the first because the two are, in fact, completely interwoven. Saint John Chrysostomos tells us that one “makes the way” (The Homilies of St. John Chrysostomos, Gospel of St. Matthew, p. 431.) for the other. Saint Philaret of New York says that the Two Commandments are bound to each other. (see Metropolitian Philaret, On the Law of God, p. 67.) Since God needs nothing of ours to make Himself “more perfect,” how do we demonstrate in a positive manner our love of God?
To this question, Christ repeatedly gives the answer with reference to acts of love toward the needy – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and clothing the naked: “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” St. Matthew 25:40) when we love our neighbour with selfless love, we bring to reality, we truly demonstrate, our love of God. Should we turn away from love of neighbour by ignoring human suffering or need, then, plainly, we cannot love God. And so, Christ teaches us that such people will receive eternal condemnation. Saint John of Kronstadt writes:
“Love for God begins to manifest itself, and to act in us, when we begin to love our neighbour as ourselves, and not to spare ourselves or anything belonging to us our Him, as he is the image of God: `For he whom loveth not his brothers, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen? (St. John 4:20)
The last sentence, a quotation from the First Epistle of Saint John, is preceded by the sentence, “If a man says, `I love God,` and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” (St. John 4:20). We cannot love God if we hate another man or woman. We cannot love our neighbour if we hate another man or woman. We cannot choose to love some and to hate others. The command to love is categorical, is unequivocal, is absolute. To love God and our fellow man are commandments without qualification; they are the very essence of Christianity; they are the unique qualities that make Christians Christian, that truly make us followers of Christ. Consequently, in the hierarchy of love established by Christ, love of God is first, love of neighbour is second, and love ourselves is last.
Now, this has been mentioned before, in other sermons, that to like and to love are different from one another. One is dependent upon our innate personalities, our personal backgrounds and interests, our God-given gift, and our life`s experiences. The other is an act of our will. We are not commanded to like, that is, to enjoy the company of, to admire, to esteem, or to be fond of all other persons. We possess individual personalities and so all persons do not, and probably can never, enjoy the company of, or be fond of, every other man or woman. Therefore, we are not commandedto like all other people.
However, we are commanded to love them: kinfolk, friends, acquaintances, neighbours, enemies, and all other men and women. To love them means that we wish them well; that we do not harbour desires to harm anymore; that we do not nurse grudges; that we do not allow ourselves to poison our lives with bitterness toward others; that we are merciful, kind, charitable, patient, and forgiving to every other man and woman; that we serve our neighbour when he is in need; that we honour everyone with the dignity due to a child of God; and that we treat others as we would have them treat us. This is what it means to love thy neighbour.
Let us end today with a quotation from the beloved Saint Philaret of New York:
“An excellent clarification of this bond between love for God and neighbour is given by one of the great Orthodox ascetics, Abba Dorotheus [of Gaza]. He gave the illustration that mankind is like the rim of a wheel. God is the hub, and each person is like a spoke comes to the hub, the closer they come to one another. But the man can come close to God and neighbour only through love. It is clear that if one loves God, one will inevitably love one`s neighbour. (Metropolitan Philaret, On the Law of God, p. 68.