When we reach love, we have reached God

Today is the feast day of St Hierotheos, first Bishop of Athens.

He is said to have been converted by St Paul in his address to the lawmakers at the Areopagus (Mars’ Hill) in Athens, along with Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17:34).

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The Areopagus, viewed from the Acropolis in Athens (photo by ajbear AKA KiltBear, Wikimedia Commons)

The Areopagus, viewed from the Acropolis in Athens (photo by ajbear AKA KiltBear, Wikimedia Commons). St Paul spoke to the judges in the space down to the left, a spot marked today by a plaque with the speech on it.

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THEN Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.

Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;

And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Acts 17:22-28

Elder Vasileios (Gontikakis)

Elder Vasileios (Gontikakis). “You are flooded with inexhaustible longing to sing praises and give thanks to God who is love.”

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The following by Elder Vasileios, Abbot of the Iveron Monastery, encapsulates what I believe Paul was telling the learned lawyers of Athens.

FAITH is not a matter of mere understanding, so it is not cultivated and does not grow simply through investigation or through study.

Faith, as trust in God and abandonment of oneself to Him, is closely related to love, which is God Himself.

When you love, when you offer as much as you can to others, to your brother – to Christ – and end up by offering your very self to God, then you know Him: you believe.

Your faith increases. You are flooded with it, with its strange power which raises up lives.

Then you do not simply feel that there are no doubts in your mind about the Orthodox faith. You do not simply have an intellectual calm.

You feel that your whole being embraces an inexpressible exultation and blessing which is a spring of incorruption. A heavenly restfulness reaches into your innermost parts.

You are flooded with inexhaustible longing to sing praises and give thanks to God who is love, all-wise, all-powerful, eternal, inscrutable; to sing praises to God who “in the multitude of His mercy” has brought all things into being – and has breathed into man the breath of His life.

You know God through faith, not intellectually, but existentially and with the whole of your physical being. You perceive that the innermost structure of your being is that of God.

That is to say, you see that you are totally in the image of the Creator.

You do not just believe; you find Him within you, not like an idol produced by the logic of the present age, according to criteria which pass away, but as an image conceived and contemplated totally within the sacrifice of love: “No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:72).

In the words of St Isaac the Syrian, “when we reach love, we have reached God: our road is ended, and we have crossed to the island which is beyond the world, where is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

From “Hymn of Entry” (Amazon UK, US, Google Books), pp. 25-26, with my emphases. I can’t recommend this book too highly.

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St Hierotheos of Athens (fl. AD 50s)

St Hierotheos of Athens (fl. AD 50s). “Christ the well-spring of life rested upon thee, O Hierotheos.”

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AS if by streams of water thou didst irrigate the whole world with thy teachings, pouring forth the doctrines of true religion. For Christ the well-spring of life rested upon thee, O Hierotheos: O hallowed father, intercede with him earnestly, to bestow the Great Mercy upon us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Both now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion

HE was not divided from the divine Nature, when he took up the flesh in thy womb, but became man while perfectly remaining God. After the birth, he who alone is Lord preserved thee immaculate O Virgin Mother, just as before the birth. Intercede with him earnestly, to bestow the Great Mercy upon us.

Cross-Theotokion

THE unspotted ewe-lamb of the Word, the undefiled Virgin Mother, beheld hanging upon the Cross him that was brought forth from her without birthpangs; and she cried out in a song of lamentation fitting for a mother: Alas! my child, how thou sufferest thy Passion, desiring to deliver man from the dishonour of the passions!

Irmos

CLEANSE me, O Saviour: for many are my iniquities, and I beg thee, lead me up from the depths of evils. For unto thee have I cried, and hearken unto me, O God of my salvation.

Matins on the Feast. My non-expert translations, from Analogion.

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