With its multiplicity of rules, canons, devotional and liturgical requirements, one may be led to believe that Orthodoxy is primarily about formality, the fear of breaking the rules followed by its punitive consequences. Orthodoxy therefore would then be a religion or Christian denomination primarily based on fear and its effects. — However, in spite of a structured church life, Holy Orthodoxy is not about rules and Canons, but about the Gospel truth, i.e. salvation, a life lived in love, peace and joy. That needs a fresh examination of what these words really mean.
Love is not to be confused with indulgence, which connotes more or less to accept whatever choices others make, while refusing to reject their word or action. Telling them that they are wrong and need to change would be somewhat socially unacceptable. The problem with indulgence is that it makes Jesus also unloving, for He began his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He continued His ministry by preaching that people needed to change, even labeling some of the Pharisees with adverse names in the process.
True love is beyond feeling and emotions. It is also an act of will by keeping in mind the highest good of one’s neighbor, his or her actual needs and salvation, insofar as we are able to help. For example, a drug addict may say what he needs is another hit of cocaine. What he actually needs is liberation from his addiction. Sometimes we know what we really need, while at other times we do not. Our essential needs are food when we get hungry, fluid when we are thirsty, warm clothing and shelter when it gets cold, but we need God at all times. We will always be aware of our want for food, drink, clothing and shelter, but we may not realize our desire for purpose in life.
God created the human heart to enter a relationship with Him. If we try to run our love on pleasure and self-will, naturally we will never be satisfied. Subsequently, society will be filled with violence, deception, crime, danger, war, exploitation of the weak and destruction of the environment. Holy Scriptures call this foolish substitution of replacing God with pleasure and self-will “idolatry”. The outcome of this substitution with its inevitable result is abundantly documented for us every night, when we watch the evening news or read the newspaper. It proves that every person needs not only food, drink and shelter but also a relationship with his or her creator.
To love people involves trying to give them whatever they truly need. A loving person will offer to others food, drink, shelter but also spirituality, so that they may connect with God and live as they were destined to live. For example, if someone is sleepwalking and heading over a cliff, a loving person will shout loudly enough trying to wake them up and thus save them from their doom, not just accepting their current state. Many people, some of them hungry, thirsty and cold, are heading towards such the cliff. To love them means attending to their highest good and safety. Social justice and meeting of physical needs must therefore be combined with Gospel truth for the good of both their bodies and souls.
As culture wars rage in this world, we may become tempted to pick sides and become angry. To love involves refusing to allow the violence of that war to enter into our hearts. It is not a matter of condemning others for their choices, but lovingly alerting them of the consequences.