agape

icicles Loving humility is a terrible force: whenever we give up anything or suffer anything, not with a sense of rebellious bitterness, but willingly and out of love, this makes us not weaker but stronger. So it is, above all, in the case of Jesus Christ. ‘His weakness was of strength’, says St Augstine. The power of God is shown, not so much in his creation of the world or in any of his miracles, but rather in the fact that out of love God has ’emptied himself’ (Phil. 2:7), has poured himself out in generous self-giving, by his own free choice consenting to suffer and to die. And this self-emptying is a self-fulfillment: kenosis is plerosis. God is never so strong as when he is most weak.

Love and hatred are not merely subjective feelings, affecting the inward universe of those who experience them, but they are also objective forces, altering the world outside ourselves. By loving or hating another, I cause the other in some measure to become that which I see in him or her. Not for myself alone, but for the lives of all around me, my love is creative, just as my hatred is destructive. And if this is true of my love, it is true to an incomparably greater extent of Christ’s love. The victory of his suffering love upon the Cross does not merely set me an example, showing me what I myself may achieve if  by my own efforts I imitate him. Much more than this, his suffering love has a creative effect upon me, transforming my own heart and will, releasing me from bondage, making me whole, rendering it possible for me to love in a way that would lie altogether beyond my powers, had I not first been loved by him. Because in love he has identified himself with me, his victory is my victory. And so Christ’s death upon the Cross is truly, as the Liturgy of St Basil describes it, a ‘life-creating death’.

Christ’s suffering and death have, then, an objective call: he has done for us something we should be altogether incapable of doing without him. At the same time, we should not say that Christ has suffered ‘instead of us’, but rather that he has suffered on our behalf. The Son of God suffered ‘unto death’, not that we might be exempt from suffering, but that our suffering might be like his. Christ offers us, not a way round suffering, but a way through it; not substitution, but saving companionship.

~ Bishop Kallistos Ware

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