On the Law of God 26-28

On the Law of God by St. Philaret the Confessor

by St. Philaret the Confessor

XXVI. The Unity of Love For God and For Neighbor

Ascending from our most simple obligations to our highest, we rise to their apex - our obligations in relationship to God.

According to the clear, precise directions of the Holy Scripture, our main obligation to God is to love Him. This commandment was expressed in the Old Testament with the words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ said of this command, “This is the first and greatest commandment.”

To this commandment of God’s law, our Saviour bound a second - love for neighbor. He said of this commandment that it is “like unto the first,” that is, love for neighbor is like love for God. The Holy Church, being founded on the words of the Lord, has always set forth the following order in the moral obligations of man: lowest of all are the obligations to oneself. Therefore, love for oneself must be sacrificed in the name of love for God and neighbor. Love for one’s neighbor takes precedence over love for oneself, but it is subject to the highest love - love for God Whom we must love most of all.

There is a contemporary theory that great love for God hinders one’s love for neighbors. The proponents of this theory claim that man must make the relationship with neighbors his primary concern. By this, they claim, one fulfils one’s obligation of love for God. People who advocate this theory are usually set against the struggles of the anchorite life. From their point of view, the anchorite’s mode of life is a manifestation of egoism and dislike for others. In their opinion, the anchorite is a person who is occupied exclusively with himself and the salvation of his own soul, and does not think about others at all.

No one will dispute the fact that in serving one’s neighbors, a Christian serves God. More than that, love for neighbor is the proof of love for God, as the Beloved Apostle says, “He who says: ‘I love God, but hate my brother,’is a liar; for if one does not love one’s brother whom one sees, how can one love God Whom one does not see?” In serving our neighbors, we serve God, for we fulfill His law of love.

Nevertheless, it is even more certain that our love for God can never hinder our love for neighbors. God is love (1 Jn.8:16). By loving God, we lift ourselves up to a higher spiritual atmosphere, an atmosphere of love and a new “inspiration of life.” The heart of an Orthodox Christian is filled with such divine love and radiates it everywhere and upon everyone. Thus, contrary to the novel opinion cited above, love for God does not obstruct love for neighbors, but on the contrary, strengthens and deepens it.

An excellent clarification of this bond between love for God and neighbor is given by one of the great Orthodox strugglers, Abba Dorotheos. He gave the illustration that mankind is like the rim of a wheel. God is the hub, and each person is like a spoke. If we look at a wheel, we notice that the closer the spokes come to the hub, the closer they come to one another. But man can come close to God and neighbor only through love. It is clear that if one loves God, one will inevitably love one’s neighbors.

In the history of Orthodox asceticism, we repeatedly see how strugglers, enflamed with love for God, left the world with its temptations. They did this according to the instructions of the apostle of love, John the Theologian, who said, “Do not love the world or the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn. 2:15). It is wrong to think that the ascetics renounced their love for people in the world. Not at all. They themselves constantly pointed out that they departed not from people, but from the sins available in the world, from the temptations of a sinful, worldly life. They love their brethren in this world incomparably more than those who have remained in this world and participated in its sins. It should not be forgotten that the solitude of these strugglers has always been filled with prayer - and Christian prayer is not merely about oneself, but also about others. History records for us the following incident in the life of St. Pachomios the Great, a native of Alexandria. Once, while living in the desert, he learned that the city of Alexandria was being ravaged by famine and epidemic. He spent several days in tears, not even eating the meager ration of food which he allowed himself. His novices begged him to eat and restore his strength but St. Pachomios replied, “How can I eat when my brethren do not have bread?” How far are even the best of us from such love and commiseration?

Such love for God is not only the summit of a Christian’s moral ascent, but it is also the basis of his spiritual existence. Without love there cannot be any spiritual life, struggle, virtue.

The highest service of Christian love is the pastor’s service, and it can be fulfilled only by one who can love Christ. This is the reason that our Saviour Himself, in calling Apostle Peter to pastorship, asked him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” Orthodoxy is a religion of love. “By this they will recognize you that you are My disciples, if you have love amongst you,” said the Lord. Here, His words are about the mutual Christian love of people for one another, and also about filial love, and child-like devotion to Him Whom the Gospel constantly calls, “Our Heavenly Father.” Therefore, the basis of a truly Christian life is a heart which believes in God and is devoted to Him in a child-like manner, and penetrated by a sincere gravitation to Him, as to the loving and beloved Father.


Answer the following questions.

1. What is “apex”?

2. What is our main obligation to God?

3. What is the heart of an Orthodox Christian filled with?

4. Clarify the bond between love for God and neighbor.

5. What is missing without love?

6. What is the highest service of Christian love?

7. What is the basis of Christian life?

XXVII. The Christian Obligation to Know God

If our first and basic obligation to God is to love Him, then it follows naturally that we must know Him. Man will not and cannot love one whom he does not know.

We must observe that the necessity to know God is one of the least fulfilled of our obligations. How different it was in former times when interest in theological matters and religious knowledge was deeply felt by Orthodox souls. St. Gregory the Theologian testifies that in his time even merchants in the market place turned from their business affairs to discuss the coessentiality of the Son of God.

Now, many intelligent people, sometimes even those who write and speak on various purely Christian themes, positively fear all theology. They tend to consider all its explanations and questions as somehow remote from life.

Because of this, an oppressive religious ignorance has appeared - a lack of acquaintance with the basic truths of the faith. Take, for example, the masses of intelligent, educated Russian people. They will enumerate for you, without error, all the tsars of the house of Romanov, or the main Russian writers, etc. It is considered a disgrace for an educated person not to know this. Ask them, however, the main dogmas of the Christian faith, or to name the twelve apostles of Christ (people who did immeasurably more for mankind than any tsar or writer), and in nine of ten cases, the result will be lamentable. Even worse is the fact that no one considers this ignorance to be a disgrace, and people even admit it lightheartedly.

It is absolutely necessary that each Orthodox Christian have a knowledge of the content of his faith and of its basic truths - the dogma of the Trinity, of Divine Love, the Incarnation, the saving death and Resurrection of the Saviour, and the future destiny of the world and of mankind, etc. These questions are not something distant and insignificant, rather they are vital and important to us, for the whole meaning of life hangs upon their answers.

All these questions coalesce in one: is there a God, and Who is He? These are questions of singular importance even for people who barely believe. For truly believing people, to know about God is to know what He means to us and what His will is concerning all of us. This is the basic, most important and precious knowledge in life. In fact, Orthodox life itself is defined first of all by the knowledge of God. The Lord Himself, while praying to His Father, said: “This is eternal life, that they know You, the One True God and the One Whom You sent...”

From all this, we see that the knowledge of God is our direct Christian duty, and the way to it, in addition to the study of theology, is the contemplation of God. Contemplation of God is the description of the spiritual mood in which man intentionally introduces into and maintains in his conscience, the thought of God, of His highest properties, the matter of our salvation and of our eternal future, etc. Such contemplation of God is especially loved by our Orthodox ascetics, but, unfortunately, it is not even familiar to most of us.

The knowledge of God is not, however, the mere rational acceptance and remembrance of our Orthodox Christian teaching of faith and life. Christianity is a living life, an experience of the human heart, and therefore it is accepted by people unequally. The more a person has experienced the truths and commandments of his faith in his personal life, in the inner experience of inner struggle and striving to live according to Christ’s Gospel, the deeper does he assimilate Christianity. Conversely, if a person treats his faith dryly, with external formalism, and is not guided by the appeals of Christ’s Gospel in his personal life, he will not accept Christianity into his soul and heart, and the profound content of the truths of Christ’s faith will remain alien to him.


Answer the following questions.

1. What must we do besides love God?

2. What is the oppressive religious ignorance?

3. What is absolutely necessary for each Orthodox Christian?

4. What is our direct Christian duty?

5. What is Contemplation of God?

6. How is Christianity in the last paragraph?

XXVIII. The Necessity of Prayer

The knowledge of God is obviously based on faith. This faith is the first response of the human heart to the content of religious truths, an agreement with and acceptance of them. As it strengthens and becomes deeper, this faith eventually brings one’s heart to peace in God, to a Christian hope on God. On the other hand, Orthodoxy teaches us that the Christian faith is inseparably bound to love for God. And love always demands a living, personal relationship with the one we love. In our relationship with God, this love is first of all made manifest in prayer.

One who does not pray is not a Christian... Prayer is the first and most essential element in our spiritual life. It is the breath of our soul, and without it, the soul dies, just as the body dies without air. All the vital functions of the body depend upon its breathing. In exactly the same way, one’s spiritual life depends on prayer, and a person who does not pray to God is spiritually dead.

Prayer is the conversation of man with God. One who remembers, knows and loves God will unfailingly turn to Him in prayer. There is a seriously erroneous view of prayer now becoming wide spread. Some say, “One must not force oneself to pray. If I desire to pray, I will pray. If there is no desire, there is no need to pray.”

This is a complete lack of understanding of the matter, “What would one accomplish in one’s worldly activity if one did not force oneself to do anything, but only did what was desired? More so in spiritual life, where everything that is precious and meaningful is acquired by force, by the struggle of work on oneself. Let us again recall that according to our Saviour, the Kingdom of God (and everything pertaining to it) is attained by force. So, it is indispensable for a Christian to firmly accept in his heart that he must pray no matter what, regardless of his desire or lack of desire. If you have a good desire to pray, thank God from Whom everything good comes, and do not lose the chance to pray from the soul. If you do not have this desire, and the time for prayer arrives, then it is necessary to force yourself, encouraging your lethargic and lazy spirit by reminding it that prayer (like every good deed) is all the more precious in God’s eyes when it is given with difficulty. The Lord does not disdain any prayer if one prays sincerely, as best as he knows how, even though he has not developed the habit of praying fully and with unweakening fervor.

One who lives even a partial spiritual Christian life will always find something about which to pray to Him, because for such a person, God is a loving Father, a Mighty Protector and an unending Spring of help and strength. The Christian hurries to Him in need and in woe, as a child to its parent...

In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, our Lord declared that, “True worshippers worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.” This is the basic principle of Christian prayer. It must be fulfilled in spirit and truth, and in praying, a Christian must gather all his spiritual strengths into one deep, concentrated effort in himself, in his soul and contemplate the words of the prayer. Obviously, when one has such a correct view of prayer one understands that it is impossible to give the name “prayer” to the act of merely being present at prayer, or reading it with the tongue while one’s thoughts are far from it. St. John Chrysostom says of such “prayers,”“Your body is inside the church, but your thoughts have flown to who knows where. The lips pronounce prayers, but the mind counts income, crops, real estate and friends...You do not hear your own prayers –how do you expect that God will hear them?...” A Christian must not pray in such a manner. He prays in “spirit and truth.” He prays in spirit, concentrated in the depth of his “I,” through profound experiences of the heart. He prays in truth –not hypocritically, but in a sincere frame of mind, in true supplication to the Incarnate Truth–to Christ the Saviour.

Of course, this does not (in spite of Protestant error) abrogate the necessity of external prayer, but only requires its union with internal prayer. Man is not an angel; his soul does not live without the body just as the body does not live without the soul. Apostle Paul says, “Glorify God in your bodies also, and in your souls, which are God’s.” Therefore, the most basic and complete view of prayer is that in which both the internal and external are present. They tightly unite with each other: both inner experience, man’s supplication to God, and outer activity–prostrations, standing at prayer, crossing oneself and various actions in the Divine Services.

Ordinarily, there are three distinctive types of prayer: petitioning, glorifying and thanksgiving. In our prayerbooks and Divine Services, all these three types are applied, mutually complementing one another...

A person who prays to God must remember that prayer cannot go unheard if it is sincere and breathes of living faith. The Lord Himself said, “Everything is possible to one who believes.” Apostle James, however, explains how destructive is doubt in prayer, saying that one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, tossed to and fro by the wind. Such a person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. In the Holy Gospel, moreover, we often read how the Lord, in healing those who came to Him, told them, “Let it be according to your faith... Your faith has made you whole.” But firmly believing in God’s strength, mercy and help, a Christian must not forget that every petition for his desires must submit to the all-good will of the Heavenly Father, Who knows what we need. In such a state of faith and dedication to God’s will, one will thank God equally whether or not the Lord fulfils one’s request. This is quite natural, since such a person believes absolutely that God’s wisdom and love directs everything to the benefit and good of man. With good reason, we sing in the Church prayer:

“O Thou Who, with wisdom profound, mercifully orders all things, and gives that which is expedient unto all men...”


Summarize the following phrases.

Knowledge of God –

Christian Faith –

Prayer –

Partial Spiritual Christian Life –

St. John Chrysostom –

Three types of prayer –