Metropolitan Anthony Bloom †
In the person of the old Adam, the human race fell, when it sinned against love; and God’s dread judgement will be a crisis (i.e. judgement) for human love.
Humankind was called to total unity of the whole of our lives with God, through love, but fell because it wanted to learn the secret of being through cold logic and the blind perception of the flesh. And it became flesh, the spirit was extinguished and the physical triumphed. It became what we know ourselves to be: possessors of an uncertain, artificial kind of understanding, through the brain and an inebriating kind of perception through the body.
But the knowledge that humankind had been called upon to acquire through union with God, by gazing on the mysteries of life and existence in the depths of God, was lost- as we lose it today- when it sinned against love.
Last week’s Gospel was about the coming judgement. That judgement was based exclusively on the question of whether we were able to love when we lived on earth: “Did you feed the hungry, did you suffer with those who were cold, clothe the naked, have the courage to visit those in prison, show mercy and love?”. That’s the only judgement the Lord talks about. He asks only what kind of heart we had, whether, on earth, we were able to love with all the breadth of earthly love and with a vibrant, human heart full of sympathy, affection and empathy. The dread judgment is terrifying because nothing will be demanded of us. We’ll simply stand before the face of God and there, in the face of divine love, in a locus where there will be only love, where love expresses the whole meaning of being, then what is good within us will mourn because we never set it free, we never let it express itself fully, since we killed love for the sake of cold logic and the temptations of the flesh.
So today, recalling the fall of Adam, it’s not difficult to image how he shed bitter tears outside the gates of Paradise. Those gates are the ones which are closed to people who have failed in love. We often feel the same: a family breaks up and somebody mourns outside the closed gates of Paradise because love wasn’t able to last and triumph, because nothing’s left except aloofness and detachment. Perhaps a friendship dies and a person stands in the frozen world of lost love and a closed heart.
Don’t we know the desire of Adam, concerning which the Church sings with such pain? Isn’t our soul drawn towards God, the people we love, and isn’t the door slammed in our face because our love’s not sufficient, because the coolness and petrification of our hearts and minds are so strong.
But what shall we do? How can we escape from this horror? The answer’s given in today’s Gospel. Learning to love spontaneously, unreservedly, to open our hearts, open our lives and souls, to God as well as to other people, is beyond our powers, but we can start with little things- as Saint Paul tells us, (Rom. 14, 1) we can begin by accepting each other as “ill”, because that is really and truly what we are. That’s the beginning of forgiveness.
We’re unable to forgive to the extent that no pain or horror remains, but we can begin to forgive, we can say: I accept you as you are; despite all your lack of warmth and your resentment, your unpleasantness and ugly behaviour, I won’t turn you away: you’re my brother, my sister, my mother, my father, my friend. I’ll put up with your coldness, with everything, I’ll suffer it. For the moment, that’s all I can do- I’m not able to love you, but I can accept you. I can accept you as Christ accepted the cross, the compassionate, horrible cross and I can carry you, on my shoulder, in pain and sorrow.
Of course, we don’t need to carry everybody with such pain and sadness. There are plenty that we can carry with joy. And, all those who’ve carried us with affection, empathy and love, let us not forget them.
Even if we can’t forgive perfectly, at least let’s feel sorry for people who are sinners, just as we are, who are just as sickly and feeble as we are, just as incapable of loving and living. Let’s accept other people with the love of the cross, and let’s enter Great Lent rejoicing that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk together towards salvation, towards the day when, by God’s grace and power, His affection, love and consolation, we too will be able to become well and to know what complete forgiveness is, perfect love, and then we’ll have reached the strait gates in the Kingdom of God.