The Rev. Stanley S. Harakas is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is Archbishop lakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Emeritus in the field of Orthodox Christian Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Fr. Harakas is the author of five pamphlets and fifteen books, both scholarly and popular, and over one hundred thirty published scholarly articles and book contributions. For twenty-one years (1980-2000), he was a weekly columnist in the national Greek-American newspaper, The Hellenic Chronicle. He is a beloved teacher to generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in America, thanks to his many years as a professor and his prolific writings.
Yes, indeed, what does it mean to love God? We understand to love to mean many things. It is, in truth, as the poet says, “a many splendored thing.”
The question is very real for Christians because the leader of our Faith, Jesus Christ, commanded us to love God. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37).
Yet, we hear so often that people “fall in love,” suggesting that love for God is not something that can be commanded. It should just “happen,” they think.
Nevertheless, the Church speaks to believers in God and tells them that they are commanded to love God. St. John of Damascus, the great 8th century Church Father, gives us an insight into this in his famous book, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. He says, “We believe in one God . . . being Himself the fountain of being to all that is, of life to the living, of reason to those who have reason; to all the cause of every good.”
For the believing Christian, God is the source of everything he or she is –God is “the fountain of being to all that is,” including the life we have, the intelligence we exercise, and every good thing we experience.
This points us to the calling all human beings have, to become the image and the likeness of God. Well, what does it mean to be “like God?” Is it surprising to learn that “God is love?” (1 John). God is love because in the first place, the three Persons of the Holy Trinity –the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit- abide in a loving communion with each other. If we are going to be “like God”, we need to be in loving communion with God.
But God’s love also reaches out to the creation for its benefit. He especially loves us human beings for whose salvation He sent His Son into the world. To be like God is also to love others.
You see, we can’t really fulfill our humanity as the image and likeness of God if we don’t will and act in ways that unite our own lives with the loving communion of the Holy Trinity, or if we don’t reach out to others with love for them.
This is how St. John describes the kind of relationship with God that allows for us to become “like God”: “So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16). He also says, “He who does not love does not know God; for God is love (1 John 4:8).
To love God is to choose to be in communion with God completely and to follow His example of outreaching love. Then, and only then can we fulfill our humanity.
This article originally appeared in The National Herald and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
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