Love That Makes a Difference

What is the greatest power in the world? Is it the military might of America, with all the technologically advanced weapons? Can such power truly change the world? Maybe it can force people into submission, or can temporarily control nations, but can it change the evil hearts of people?

I once attended an international conference in England with Archbishop Anastasios. The theme of the conference was “Problems of Development and Need Throughout the World.” This conference gathered World Religious Leaders – Christian, Muslims, Jews, Buddists, Hindus – together with the president of the World Bank, and with representatives of the United Nations. These leaders discussed the tragic problems of the world:

-          5 billion people live in the developing world, of which, 3 billion live on less than $2 per day

-          2 billion people have no access to electricity

-          80% of the world income is controlled by 15 % of world

-          70% of world is illiterate, and only 1% has a college education

-          52 million babies are killed in their mother’s womb through abortions every year

-          60 million people are infected with HIV, 95% in developing countries;

-          20 million have died from AIDS, which has left 30 million orphans

 

Such statistics can easily make one depressed, pessimistic, and even hopeless. We are tempted to think that these problems are too big, and that nothing, or no one, can really make a difference.

Why is there so much suffering, injustice and poverty in the world? Such statistics reflect the evil in the world – the evil in the hearts of people. People create unjust situations, take advantage of others, and then show indifference to their suffering.

Because these statistics are so mind-boggling, many people have adopted a closed mentality where they focus only on themselves and their own problems. They create a little world where they become the center, and everyone else is outside. This attitude of self-centered individualism is the new ideology of the modern world.

Is there any hope? Can there be any true change, or solution to this evil? Is there any power that can make a difference, and transform the world into a better place?

Aleksander Solzhenitzy, the great Russian intellectual and writer, once wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts.”

But what can change the evil within man? Surely the greatest military might in the world can do little to change the evil with the hearts of people. There must be something greater!

I want to tell a story which offers an answer:

 

STORY OF THE ROMANIAN PRIEST

Several years ago there was a 70 year old Romanian priest who was thrown into prison because of his faith.  However, before he was thrown into prison, he was tortured and beaten so badly that he was close to death.  As he laid in the prison dying, it so happened that his torturer, the man who had beaten him almost to death, had himself found disfavor with his superiors , was beaten very badly and then thrown into prison.  The witness of this story relates how he was sitting in this prison cell with the half-dead priest on his right side, and the half-dead torturer on his left.  As the hours went by and the torturer came closer to death, he kept crying out from his physical pain, but also loudly lamenting over all the evil which he had committed in his life.  He said that no one could forgive him for the terrible things he had done. 

Then the priest, who was listening, called over several young men to lift him up, because he was too weak to even walk. They carried him over to the man.  He sat beside his own torturer, hugged him, caressed his deformed face, and started to tell him about the love and mercy of God.  He told the man that He forgave him, even though he had done such evil.  He assured him that all the Christians this man tortured had forgiven him and even now loved him.  And then he said, “Imagine, if we love you and forgive you, how much more does God love you and long to hug you and comfort you.” 

The torturer was so moved by the actions and words of the priest, that he began crying harder and started to confess all his sins to this priest.  Imagine, a murdered man listening to the confession of his own murderer, and telling him of the great love and mercy of God.  This is a divine love which only comes from God.

The power of love which gives hope to others. The power of love which forgives the greatest evil. The power of love which can recreate people!

Is such love truly possible, or is it only a romantic dream?

The great American prophet of the 1960s, Martin Luther King, was a man who suffered greatly from those who hated him because he was black, and because he stood up for the oppressed. His house was bombed. His children were threatened. He was imprisoned. His friends were killed. And his own life was often threatened. But in response to all this hatred and evil, he said,

 “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, and violence multiplies violence in a descending spiral of destruction… Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Such divine love, which is able to transform enemies into friends, is the greatest power in the world because it can change human hearts. It can heal a conscience that has become twisted, and it can give a soul its original beauty. Love can forgive, heal and renew!

Divine love is the greatest power of life – a source for continual inspiration and change!

 

We all need a vision for your future.

  • What path will you take in your life?
  • Will it be a life of self-centeredness, a life focused on fulfilling your own pleasures and desires, a life where your ego controls your world?
  • Or will it be a life driven by divine love – a love that thinks of the other before oneself?

A love that overcomes all bitterness, anger, disappointment, negativity and hatred that exists deep with our soul.

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Archbishop Anastasios would often tell our students at the Theological Academy in Durres“We all need to ask ourselves the most important question in life. Why are we here? What does God seek from our lives during this short time on earth?”

The answer is love! We are called to be loved, and to love! To recognize our identity as God’s beloved children, and then share that love with others. This unconditional, sacrificial, divine love opens up an unending wellspring of power within our lives.

 

STORY OF HOLY MAN AND SCORPION

There is a story of a holy man who was saying his morning prayers under a tree whose roots stretched out over a river bank.  During his prayers he noticed that the river was rising and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown.  So the holy man reached down to try and free the scorpion.  But each time the man tried to help the scorpion, the scorpion responded by trying to sting the man.  An observer came along and said to the holy man, “Don’t you know that creature is a scorpion, and the nature of a scorpion is to sting?”  To which the holy man replied, “That may be true, but don’t you know that I am a Christian, and the nature of a child of God is to save.  Why should I change my nature simply because the scorpion does not change its nature?”

For example, whenever we come across a person who wishes us evil, we must ask ourselves, “Why should we let his actions and feelings control our own actions and feelings?”  If he wants to be angry and say evil things about us and hate us, we shouldn’t let that change the way we feel.  If we get angry with someone who is angry, his anger will simply increase.  If we hate someone who hates us, his hatred will simply increase.  But, if we respond to anger with peace; if we respond to hatred with love; if we respond to offense with mercy, then there is hope to transform our enemy into our friend.  We will begin to cultivate God’s divine love in our heart.

However, such divine love is not easy to obtain.  The truth is, it is difficult to love those who hate us, to forgive those who hurt us, or to have mercy on those who offend us.

But God is ready to give us this love, to fill our hearts with His divine love.  It is from the ocean of God's love that the tiny drops of our own ability to love come from. 

We receive the ability to love only through the grace that comes from Christ! He can help us overcome anger, bitterness, hatred, and evil so that they no longer have any control over our lives. Through divine love, we will find the freedom to discover our true nature – our identity as God’s beloved children.

 

FR. ARSENY

How many of you have read the book Fr. Arseny?

His love actually transformed those around him. This man was a Russian intellectual, art historian, and prolific writer. During the years of Stalin – a period of time when more than 600 bishops, 40,000 clergy and 120,000 monastics were killed – precisely during this time of persecution, this young man decided to become a priest. And as a result of his burning faith, he was arrested and imprisoned in the worst camps of Siberia.

But during his 25 years in prison, this priest called Fr. Arseny, became a blazing fire of love, shining in the darkness of hell! His love gave hope to others, and transformed the lives of those he met. There were strong communists, who saw his love and came to believe in a power greater than the party. There were numerous, ardent, atheist intellectuals, who came to believe in God through his life. Hardened criminals and murderers saw this man’s love for others, and changed their ways of life. And even the actual KGB spy who betrayed Fr. Arseny, eventually repented for what she did and became a spiritual child of this holy man.

How did these conversions occur?

Through Fr. Arseny’s constant communion with God. Through this union with the Divine, Fr. Arseny was able to radiate an unconditional, sacrificial love for the other.

He never saw someone as a sinner, but instead he looked at them as a child of God. One former atheist intellectual said,

“He helped so many people that we, looking at him, began helping others. How did I become a believer? After watching Fr. Arseny for a long time, how could I not become what he was! He was a light in unbearable darkness!”

Fr. Arseny allowed people to see a glimpse of heaven in the midst of hell. His love was a light that gave people hope in humanity, and hope in the future.

This is the power of love – a love that can change the world.

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We can look at many other examples. Take Mother Teresa, and think about what she has done in our world –

-          a humble little Albanian woman from Skopje,

-          becoming a nun in Calcutta, India,

-          touching the lives of tens of thousands of the poorest of the poor,

-          inspiring millions around the world

-          Creating the Missionaries of Charity, which now have 4800 nuns, 700 novices in 134 countries

-          Her motto is “God has created us for great things: to receive God’s love and to share His love with the world around us, esp. the poorest of the poor!”

Do you know the story of Corrie Ten Boom?

-          author of “The Hiding Place”

-          rescued Jews during WW2

-          imprisoned in concentration camp

-          her father, brother and sister die in camps

-          spends the rest of her life traveling the world over preaching a message of God’s forgiveness and love        

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In January 1990, the noted Romanian philosopher, Peter Sutea, was interviewed about the revolution in his country. When he was asked what he thought about the revolution, he responded,

 “What revolution? The fall of communism is no great revolution. There has been only one revolution in the history of humanity – the coming of God as a man, the incarnation of Divine Love in Jesus Christ!” Through this revolution, love has conquered hate, good has conquered evil, life has conquered death!

The greatest power of the world has been revealed to humanity. In Jesus Christ, we have seen love incarnate. And through faith in Christ, everyone and any one can become a new creation – a child who is loved by God, and who is called to love others. And through this divine love, true change begins to occur – change first in our own lives, then in the way we see the world around us, and then in the world itself!

Archbishop Anastasios has used a powerful phrase to describe the world today. He says that “the radioactivity of hatred” has poisoned the world. We must overcome this radioactivity of hatred by divine love. Only through love can we shine a light in a dark world!

And only through love can we see the world in a new way. With divine love, we no longer see enemies as something evil, but we view them like Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, who suffered in a Nazi concentration camp. He prayed:

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to the earth, enemies have loosed me from the earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it an driven me out. Truly enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment. Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore Lord, bless both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses his enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord, bless them and do not curse them 

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NIGHT AND DAY

One day, a holy man asked his disciples, “When do you know that the night has ended and the day has begun?” One student answered, “When you look in the distance and can distinguish between a fig tree and a palm tree.” Another said, “When you look in the distance and can distinguish between a dog and a sheep.” And others gave different such answers. But the holy father rejected each of these. Finally, his students asked, “When do we know that the night has ended and the day has begun?” And the holy man answered, “When we look in the distance, and see no difference between our enemy and our friend – we look at both each and every person with love, then we know that the night has ended and the day has begun.”

This is the power that can make a difference. This is the love that can change the world!

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Monthly Bulletin
Monthly Message
November 30, 2017 -
Christmas celebrates the moment in history when God acted in a particular and unique fashion. He decided to show His love by coming on earth as a human being, and revealing to the world what true humanity is all about. He incarnated divine agape love so that the world could better understand what true love means. And not only did he show the world what true humanity is, He offered His Spirit to live and dwell within us to help us. Christ came to renew that likeness of God within us which we had lost long ago!

 

Recent Sermons
December 10, 2017 -
The secular Christmas Spirit and the religious Christmas Spirit. Two different ways of approaching Christmas, and yet maybe both have something to help us prepare for this great feast of the Church.

 

November 20, 2017 -
Fr Luke asked me to speak about “What God and the Church mean to me and why I give back to the Church.” We know WHY we are here – we come to encounter God, to pray, to ask forgiveness, to seek spiritual guidance and inspiration, and for so many other things. But do we know WHAT we are supposed to do as followers of Jesus Christ?

 

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The Orthodox Church proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Greek language, the word for Gospel is Evangelion which means literally "the good news." Learn more»

 

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