What is love?
With all of the talk these days about love, I have been pondering this term a bit. We hear these phrases: “Love Wins”, “Love conquers all,” “God is love,” and “Make love, not war!” What do any of these mean?
In this world where even the idea of love has been twisted and used as a tool to manipulate people into accepting a certain lifestyle, creed or agenda, how do we show true love to our children, our spouse and those around us? How do we reflect the true love of Christ to our neighbor? How do we unwrap the spin on love and love the way Christ loved us?
I’ve been struggling with these and many other questions about love. Then, I discovered Saint Justin Popovich.
St. Justin was a Serbian theologian, a writer and a lover of Jesus Christ. He, like so many Christian scholars today, found himself increasingly hedged in by atheists and communists in the universities. By 1945, he was driven out of the University of Belgrade and went on to serve Christ in the Monastery Ćelije for 31 years under the watchful eye of communist police.
I love this icon of St. Justin! You can certainly tell that his focus is always directed to Jesus. Saint Justin reminds me that I need to be looking to Christ to understand love, not to this world and certainly not to the twisted way that love has become portrayed in media and contemporary culture.
“Love for Christ,” says St. Justin, “overflows into love for one’s neighbor, love for truth, love for holiness, for the world, for purity, for everything divine, for everything deathless and eternal… All these forms of love are natural manifestations of love for Christ.”
I can see through St. Justin that when I have ordered my life properly, loving Christ and His church first, that love will pour over into a love for all people, even the ones that are hard to love. This Christ – love will flow out into a love of all that is divine and pure. I can think of people around me that are hard to love. I know I must be hard to love at times, probably more often that I am willing to admit. Yet, my family loves me! How does one put that kind of love into words?
“When we love Christ God,” reminds St. Justin, “we love all that is divine, immortal and Christ-like in people. We can’t truly love people if we do not love them for the sake of these causes.” This seems logical to me, but how does it happen? How can we love Christ that much?
Recently, I came across some pictures of our priest, Father Jacob Myers, who reposed in the Lord in early 2013. Father Jacob loved people with that kind of Christ-love that overflows from the depths of divine goodness. He loved people where they were in life, not where he wanted them to be. Out of that love he started a homeless ministry in Atlanta which continues to feed hundreds of destitute street people every year. This is one of the men he ministered to in his program called Loaves and Fishes.
Out of that love, he baptized little babies, one of which was my own dear youngest.
When I began to look closely at this last photo, I saw something striking. Look at the children in the picture. They are all looking up toward the child being baptized, just as Saint Justin is looking up toward the risen Christ in his icon. As Father Jacob blesses the water and prepares the child for baptism through the holy prayers, Christ is in their midst. His love is pouring out through Father Jacob and through the baptism and all the children see it. They are riveted!
This is true love: That we love Christ first! It is really that simple. There can be no warping of that divine design. When we love Christ, we begin to love everyone around us with a love that is real and personal and pure. I can see that reality in the children as they gaze up at the newly illumined baby. I can see this love played out in the lives of St. Justin and Father Jacob, who served others so obediently for years.
“True love for man comes from love for God, and love for God grows in accordance with the keeping of the commandments.” St. Justin Popovich
Thanks to St. Justin and Father Jacob, I’ve got a clearer picture of how love should begin and how it grows and pours out when my focus in on Jesus.