AND the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.
In the passage below, Elder Joseph Vatopaidinos (+2009) explains how these two commandments underpin the monastic life.
The monk makes a free choice for God, a choice which demands renunciation of competing loves, but one from which grace upon grace flows out.
RENUNCIATION is the foundation of monasticism.
When the monk begins with freedom of renunciation, with the mind not bound to anything, he turns the mind completely to God, because the first and principal commandment is to love God “with the whole heart, with the whole soul, with the whole strength, and with the whole mind” (Mt 12:30).
And second commandment “to love his neighbor as himself” (Mt 12:31).
So the first and principal commandment, which will carry us up to the divine promises is love, the love of God.
But for someone to love God it is necessary for him to detach slowly from on top of him everything that occupies him.
The Fathers even reached the point where they denied biological subsistence, a thing which today approaches the unbelievable. But it is a fact.
With that absolute renunciation and absolute sense of obedience to the divine will, divine Grace, which is within us, begins to get to work.
Divine grace is in us, but has no power unless freedom of personhood comes first; if the freedom of personhood is not moved, divine Grace, even though it is present, does not work.
A man must demonstrate willingly what his preference is.
Is his preference for loving God, and showing it in action?
Then divine Grace gets to work, which destroys the old man, “the scoundrel”,* and creates what is fresh, what is new, what is according to Christ, in whom sanctification takes place.
* Elder Joseph plays on two similar-sounding phrases, τον παλαιό άνθρωπο (“the old [i.e. of past times] man”), and «τον παλιάνθρωπο» (“the scoundrel”).
Today is the Feast of St Silouan of Mount Athos (+1938).
A key influence in the renewal of monasticism on Mount Athos, he exemplified so much of what Elder Joseph is saying here.
In particular, he exemplified how an intense love for God abundantly spills over into a love for one’s neighbour of surpassing sweetness, in the image of Jesus.
BINDING was the love for God that welled forth, O Silouan supreme and wise; plainly thou seized its very Rock, and dost supply abundantly unto thy fellows that haste unto thee.
Beholding thy yearning soul, Christ filled it with the water of his affection, shewing clearly unto thee by his Spirit a mystery of his incarnation.
Jesus poureth forth love for all, as many as with faith seek out his divine love and cleave like men drawn to him, for God is most loving to man.
HE that looketh upon thy height, O mother of God, is drawn without compulsion by the Spirit unto God, and he pleadeth that the people should come to know the imperial power of him that fashioned them.
Matins on the Feast of St Silouan. My non-expert translations, from Analogion.