Saint John the Beloved identifies Christian love by two essential descriptions: love must be both active and genuine. He said, “My little children, let’s not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
Christian Love Must Be Genuine, Proceeding From a Heart Free of Hypocrisy and Not Hiding Ulterior Motives
“Let love be without hypocrisy.” (Rom 12:9)
Although excessive praise may seem to be proceeding from a loving heart, yet in many instances when there are hidden ulterior motives behind it, it ends up hurting rather than benefiting. An example of this is what the people did to Herod the King when he was angry with the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon. Since their country was supplied with food by the king’s country, they came to him with one accord asking for peace. As Herod sat on his throne dressed in his royal garment, they came to meet him and praised him saying, “This is the voice of God and not of a man.” Poor Herod believed their praise and flattery! Because he did not glorify God, he was eaten by worms and died (Acts 12:20-23). We now pose this question: Were the people’s praises for Herod stemming from sincere or fearful hearts? The fact of the matter is they only wished to appease his anger by any means. In deifying the ruler, they ended up harming him and he died and perished.
I wish to indicate an important point, which is the way our Church teaches us to love in a genuine manner our fathers the metropolitans and bishops. The Church presents to us many hymns explicitly said for their honor. However, we should remember that although we address them by many honorary and descriptive titles, yet in fact we are honoring them for who they represent and not for their person. When the father the bishop is present in the Church, he is signifying the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ Therefore on Sundays and the regular week days, the Church receives him with the processional hymn “Blessed are You in truth with Your Good Fr. and the Holy Spirit for You have come and saved us.” This hymn is actually directed to Our Lord Jesus. During certain seasons and on feast days, the Church receives the father the bishop with the processional hymn “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna to the Son of David.” This hymn is also directed to Our Lord Jesus Christ and is taken from the cries of the people when Our Lord Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem. The same rationale applies to all the other hymns. In fact, the Church teaches us to show our personal love for our fathers the bishops by praying for them since they are in need of prayers.
True Love Must be Equitable, Prudent, and Fair
Jacob the Patriarch loved his son Joseph without prudence or fairness. The Holy Bible says that he loved Joseph more than the rest of his brothers because he was the son of his old age; he made him a tunic of many colors (Gen. 37:3). Jacob forgot that Joseph’s brothers were entitled to the same paternal love, and as a father he should have been more considerate of their feelings. Joseph cannot be credited for being born in Jacob’s old age, just as the rest of the brothers cannot be blamed for being born before their father’s old age. The result of this inequitable and unfair love is mentioned in the Book of Genesis as such, “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him” (Gen. 37:4). In the end, Joseph’s brothers conspired against him and sold him as a slave.
Our father Jacob’s love for Joseph is rooted in how his mother Rebecca loved him, which was also an imprudent and biased love. She favored him over his brother, Esau, and helped him deceive his father, Isaac, so he can receive the blessing. Jacob was afraid that Isaac might discover his deception and curse him. Yet she told him, “Let Your curse be on me, my son, only obey my voice.” (Gen. 27:13). Jacob listened to her, and in deceiving his father Isaac, he received the blessing. For this, he suffered greatly and had to flee from his brother Esau. In turn, he himself was deceived by his Uncle Laban (Gen. 29, 30) and later by his own sons when they brought him Joseph’s tunic dipped in blood claiming that a wild beast devoured him.
When Jacob married Leah and Rachel, he could not love both of them equally and fairly. He clearly loved Rachel more, which gave rise to the conflict between the two sisters, centered around obtaining their husband’s love and begetting more children.
Some families err when they distinguish between their love for their children as they might give their son more love and attention than their daughter. For example, in their happiness over their young son being ordained a deacon, they give him more attention and forget about the feelings of his sister(s). The young girl then comes to regard Sunday as the day of attention for her young brother since the entire family might talk only of how he responded in Church or how he held the candle or cross. As for her, she senses that nobody cares about her feelings. Again, when she becomes a teenager, she finds that her brother is given more freedom and trust She feels that the criteria and standards which the family sets in regards to friendships and curfew are not balanced, but always favor the son. Undoubtedly, love is the motive for doing this, but it is an inequitable love which could lead to emotionally harming the girl. It makes her feel that when it comes to the family’s attention, she is regarded at a lower level not through any fault of her own, but simply because she is a girl. The family needs to distinguish between traditions that are passed down and the Christian concept of offering their children genuine love without distinction. Yet this does not mean disregarding the natural physical differences that exist between the sexes.
Genuine Love Aspires for the Welfare of the Beloved
Here a disagreement might arise in understanding the concept of doing good. By that we mean a certain type of love offered by a person to his beloved one, thinking it is for his welfare when actually it will cause him harm.
Our Church gives us such an example in Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who was sent to Rome to be offered to the lions to devour him. When the Christians in Rome became aware of that, they wanted to save him from death by kidnapping him. He sent them a spiritual letter in which he stated, “I fear that your love will harm me.” They believed that by saving him from the hungry lions, they are doing what’s best for him. He, on the other hand, in the depth of his spiritual life, placed in front of himself the glory of martyrdom in the Name of Jesus Christ Preventing that would be spiritual harm since it would be preventing him from receiving the blessing of the crown of martyrdom.
Another example is a mother, who in her compassion, worries about her son’s health and prevents him from fasting, or worries about his future and places obstacles in the way of his consecration or becoming a monk. Although she believes that she is offering him love, she is in fact spiritually harming him.
Also, the shepherd, who out of courtesy, disregards the mistakes of his flock believing that he’s concerned about their feelings and their church attendance. Instead of pointing out their mistakes, he keeps them busy with easy services in the form of various functions, parties and humor which bring physical happiness, but do not lead to their spiritual improvement. He thus changes the church from a place of repentance to a social club. This is not genuine love, even it many feel comfortable with it.