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The Gospel and the Orthodox Family: The Christian Meaning of Love

By Fr. George Shalhoub, pastor of The Basilica of St. Mary, Livonia, MI
February 14, 2016

As our nation celebrates the feast of love, Valentine’s Day, it brings with it the measures of marketing and the things that most of us have come to believe will make the wrong right, and the right better. Valentine’s Day will be celebrated by the exchanging of love with flowers, candy, dinner or surprise trips. It has become one more thing to do because others are doing it, and many find it is easier to purchase something than act.

Our Holy Church teaches us that we are not loved just once a year on Valentine’s Day, but every day of our lives. The Gospel reminds every one that “God is love and those who live in God’s love live in God.” (I John 4:16) In other words, we may not be complete, but God loves us all. We know that family is not perfect and that we all have family members we can only love from a distance, but God loves His family perfectly.

Love can only flow from the foundation of your soul. And if it flows from your soul, it becomes energy. Therefore, love must be taught at home, not only by words, but by example, not only by expressions, but by value. Love must be taught, not only with words, but with deeds. It must be facilitated through expression. We all want to fall in love, not knowing the cost, but yet, all of us are filled with potential and capacity to love unconditionally. Love matters. It matters to all of us because family matters, spouses matter, children matter. And without it, we extend into a state of depression, loneliness, and despair.

We as an Orthodox Christian family should keep in mind that we are nurtured by God’s love – fed by His love – renewed by His love – strengthened by His love and above all forgiving by His love. In short, we are made by His love to others. Love in not exclusive to romantic relationships. Love is made in order for us to share with family, friends, community and co-workers; and in return, to be loved by others. Love keeps us alive on a cloudy day; for love is not only based on feelings, but on commitment. “Wherever you go, I will go,” said Ruth of old. (Ruth 1:16)

Love can only be expressed towards another human being, and is not limited only to romantic feelings. Love is also expressed in the feeling a mother has for her daughter or a father has for his son or friends have for each other. Love is not found in a car or a home or a career, because only in others can we truly receive back a measure of love that inspires us to grow and face the world. Love is what fuels us to change for the sake of whom we love, to grow, to fight well, and to discover who we are. Love is the instrument of our lives that is given to all in order to celebrate family and relationship between parents and children. 

Our society today has necessitated two income households. All of our energy as working couples today is based on an idea that is never fulfilled; to keep the children busy, off the streets and to grow up balanced. With the need for daycare and the countless extra curricular activities such as sports, music, dance, and learning centers, many of us miss out on the gift that will enable our children to grow and face the world – Love. Unless a child is loved, they will never know how to love and the greatest love is an unconditional love. There is a cost to love and to be loved. That cost is fidelity to those whom we are in the circle of their love so we can laugh, cry, give and accept, and sacrifice and deserve. It is here where love crowns our lives with confidence and loyalty. And with unconditional love comes the boundaries of accountability, responsibility, self-control, humility and charity along with the boundary of love to say no.           

Even though many of us are flawed, rejected, sorrowful or broken, God’s love never ceases. When we accept His love, we are healed physically and spiritually; for the Sacraments of our Church are an outward expression of His love. Therefore, we are to love, not only life, but those who surround us: our family. When we make choices in our relationships, based on love, we attract others who embody love, which is based also in their soul. 

If we are to do something different this Valentine’s Day, we need to become aware of our souls and ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Can I value others while constantly evaluating them?
  2. Am I a forgiving person if I constantly remind a loved one the wrong they have done?
  3. Am I a helpful person while my intentions are self-serving?
  4. Is the compassion I express to others based on the intention to manipulate?
  5. Is the love I express always a condemning one?

Today and every day, as we make the sign of the cross, we need to remind ourselves that love taught by Christ is slow to lose patience, always true, and always looking for a constructive way and not a destructive way. The love we inherit from our Lord is not touchy or nervous, not to impress others or pursue selfish advantage, but always has good manners and never gloats over the imperfections of other people, because love is stronger than death.

True love is free, but it requires a lifetime of work and it is usually the toughest work we face. Love is more than a feeling. It is a conscience choice to engage not only the human mind and body, but also the soul.