February 5, 2024

On Spiritual Love (St. Theoleptos of Philadelphia)

 By St. Theoleptos, Metropolitan of Philadelphia (1250-1322)

1. I would like to praise the virtue of love, but its greatness cannot be described in words. Because this, the most important among all the other virtues, as the head of the good, can only be understood empirically, that is, when one operates it and experiences it as his personal possession. That is why this wonderful virtue of love is known to those who have been found worthy to walk its path.

Love is described by many in words, but only those who have made it the possession of their hearts, show it in their God-pleasing works. These latter are much more worthy of admiration. However, since the great value of the virtue of love exceeds the capacity of my speech, I will venture to extol it briefly, in order to motivate many to embrace it and practice it.

2. Love, my beloved sisters, is a work that takes place in the soul, it warms the heart, illuminates the nous, activates the intellect to study the word of God and stimulates all the psychosomatic forces to work on God's commandments.

God has given the gift of love to man since the moment of his creation. Man received it and wore it as a beautiful and dignified garment, but the robber of our souls, the devil, tore it and left man naked and ashamed.

3. Listen, however, how the cloak of love is torn, but also how it is preserved.

When man loves God with all his heart and does His will, then all the love of the soul remains undefiled, because all its loving power remains in God. Then the soul is resplendently clothed with the beauty of love, as if clothed in purple, and its sight resembles that of a golden-feathered dove.

But when a man begins to love gold and silver, precious stones and every other earthly treasure or even the variety of delectable foods, which is life in the service of mortal flesh and fleeting human glory, he thus surrenders to all these the loving power of his soul, then the cloak of love is torn and turns into a thousand pieces.

When the loving power of the soul is torn up and surrendered to the loves of this world, then man is stripped bare and becomes a pitiful sight. Just as when someone tears off someone's clothes, they leave him uncovered and exposed, so that his physical ugliness becomes obvious, so does the devil. He seizes the good desire that God has placed in man at his creation, tears it up and scatters it in the care of the things of this world, stripping the soul of the power of God-pleasing love and leaves it uncovered from the protection and help of God.

4. The truth that he who does not love God, also lacks His help, is made clear by a troparion that we chant in our Church. In this, the soul that feels that it is naked of virtues and poor in love, seeing its ugliness and lamenting its misery, says: "I see Your Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. O Giver of Light, make radiant the garment of my soul, and save me."

"I see, my Savior," says the hymnographer, "the bridal chamber of Your help full of blessing and everything good, but I do not have the garment of love to enter the fortress of help that You provide. Therefore, You who give light, illumine my intellect with the garment of Your love. And save me, so that now adorned with love I may be found worthy to achieve my salvation."

5. The Son of God wants to plant this love again in the hearts of people. That is why He came to earth and the soul, which the devil had torn to pieces in the loves and desires of the world, He gathered it and sewed it together. Thus, whole and perfect, He raised her to the love of God, put her first garment back on her and gave her her primordial beauty.

That is precisely why the Lord says: "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49). I think that the Lord with the word "fire" means love, which the devil had extinguished, but which Christ rekindled with His holy life and with His reverence-worthy commandments. Love is synonymous with Christ and is a characteristic of Him, Who said: "By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

6. The multitude of sins destroys love. "Because", says the Lord, "lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold." Just as the accumulation of water rots the fruits on the earth, so the multitude of sins wipes out the movements of love from the soul.

7. The great apostle Paul was wounded by this love and said: "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh." This is the nature and quality of love. As the candle melts from the fire and becomes a light that illuminates whoever keeps it lit, so is God's love. When it dwells in the soul and burns in the heart, it penetrates with its warmth the whole existence and inspires the body, so that it toils and risks for the sake of the salvation of people.

8. I found the spark of this love in my own soul. From that spark a fire was lit in me and I overlooked my own life. I crossed seas, rivers and steep mountains. The heavy winter tortured my body, but, in spite of all this, the love that sweetened my soul gave me strength and courage to endure all these sad and painful things. These, surely, were the achievement of my warm love for you, which alleviated the winter of temptations that awaited me during the journey. So what was I trying to offer you? I wanted to free you from the sorrows that were tormenting you and to assure you of my love for you, as well as my care and interest for your salvation.

9. Therefore, the fruit of each person is known from one's whole ethos and relations with his fellow human beings. "By their fruits," says the Lord, "you will know them." Because, just as, when we see the fruits, we recognize which are the good and which are the diseased trees, so we precisely recognize the philanthropic and God-loving souls and consider their words reliable and true, because they are based on the Holy Scriptures and are presented as the fruit of their personal experience.

10. Therefore, do not be carried away by the wind of the words of every false teacher, because in this way you expel the Grace of the Holy Spirit from your life, separating yourself from the Church and wasting your time in foolish and busy associations. With deep trust in one another, united and like-minded, do not fail to praise the Lord who loved us, bought us with His Precious Blood and united us all in one flock and one Church.

Because to Him is due all glory, honor and worship, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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