The Meaning of the Word “Love”

The Meaning of the Word “Love”


When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”  A second time He said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.  John 21:15-17  (From the Eleventh Eothinon Gospel of Sunday Orthros) Sunday of the Paralytic


Good morning Prayer Team!

Christ is Risen!

One of the biggest drawbacks in the English language is that we have only one word for “love.”  With the same word that we use to say “I love my spouse,” we also say “I love pizza.” In the Greek language, there are many different words for “love.”  There is the word “agape,” which means “sacrificial love,” the kind of love that one has for a spouse, a child, a parent or a close friend.  This is the kind of love we are also supposed to have for God, and this is the kind of love God has for us.  This is the kind of love where one is willing to do anything, including dying, for someone else.

The word “eros” refers to romantic love.  This is where we get the word “erotic” from. The word “filia” refers to a more “friendship” love.  This is where we get the word “philanthropy” from.  And in case you were wondering how one talks about love for pizza in Greek, there is a phrase “mou aresi”, which means “pleasing to me.”  This is the phrase one uses when talking about his favorite sports team or a piece of pizza.  I certainly enjoy pizza and sports.  I am not willing to sacrifice my life for either of them.  Maybe a few dollars!

So, in today’s scripture reading, Jesus speaks with Peter and asks him “Do you love Me?”  They have this exchange three times.  After the third time, the Gospel says that “Peter was grieved” because Jesus asked Peter this basic question, “Do you love Me” three times.  Why three times?  Most people would guess because Peter denied Christ three times, so he was “restored” by saying three times “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Another reason might be the redundancy.  “Certainly I love You Lord and You know that, so why ask me three times?”

But the real reason has to do with the word “love” and what Jesus is asking Peter.  The first time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” He uses the Greek word “Agape” and asks “Agapas Me?”, “Do you love Me with Agape love, the kind of love that you would die for Me?”  Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You,” but uses the word “Filia”, meaning “I love You like a friend.”

So, Jesus asks a second time, “Agapas Me?”, “Do you love Me with Agape?”  And Peter answers a second time, “Yes Lord, You know that I love You like a friend.”  Again, Peter uses the word “Filia”

Jesus asks a third time “Filis Me?”  “Do you love Me like a friend?”  (Jesus uses the word “filia” the third time).  And then Peter is grieved because he realizes that Jesus has been asking him “Do you love Me to die for Me?” and he has been answering “I love You like a friend.”  And then Peter finally gets it right—He says that he loves Christ, and then Christ says that indeed Peter will die for Him.  (more on this in the next reflection)

If we are disciples of Christ, and all of us who have been baptized as His disciples, then Jesus asks the same question of us:  “Do you love Me with Agape love?”  “Do you love Me like you would die for me?”  What is our answer?  “I love you like a friend?”  Or “I love you with ‘Agape’, to die for You?”  Or, “I love You like I love football, I fit You into a compartment on Sundays”

When we use the word “love” to describe our relationship with family and also our relationship with the word “pizza”, it actually cheapens or “dumbs down” the concept of love.  While I am not a linguist, I would agree that our concepts of love should be guided by these Greek words.  We should not be giving “agape” to our favorite sports teams, and “filia” to our families and to the Lord.  Christ has given us “Agape” love in dying for us.  What kind of love do we have for Him?

Appearing after the Resurrection to Your disciples, o Savior, You gave Peter the tending of Your sheep as recompense for his love, asking him to tend them with care.  Therefore You said: If you love Me, o Peter, feed My sheep, tend My lambs.  He immediately displayed his affection and inquired about the other disciple.  By their prayers, O Christ, preserve Your flock from ravaging wolves.  (Doxastikon of the 11th Eothinon, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press) 

Meet Christ’s “Agape” with your “Agape.”


+Fr. Stavros

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About author

Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “ and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”