In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“One of the Pharisees, a doctor of the Law, asked our Lord Jesus Christ a question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus said to him: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Math. 22)
We should love God as He Himself wants us to love Him. The Lord says: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14). I.e. to love God means to keep His commandments.
Thus the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour, in reality, constitute one commandment. That’s why the Lord says, that the second commandment is like the first one. The love of one’s neighbour is like the foundation of the house, while the love of God being the housetop. It is impossible to build the house from the roof; in the first place, one should put a solid foundation. As the Holy Fathers say, our neighbour is the foundation of the building of our salvation.
However in practice, we find that our heart is not inclined to love; our heart is selfish, indifferent to others, envious. That’s why we should always force ourselves to Christian love.
Christian love for one’s neighbour is the basis for the love of God. On the contrary, a passionate attachment to someone is inconsistent with the love of God. Christian love is pure and void of attachment to another person. Attachment is always rooted in self-love; it is a passion, an illness of the heart.
All love of our heart should be directed to God and to our neighbour for God’s sake. However, in a fallen state, man’s love turns in a wrong direction, – to self-love. Self-love manifests itself in three ways: love of possessions, love of pleasure, and vain glory. Self-love seeks only earthly goods and seeks them only for oneself.
Christian love, however, does not seek its own. Christian love urges us to prefer what is advantageous for our neighbour, rather than our own advantage.
St Dorotheos of Gaza teaches us:
“How can I love my neighbour as myself? …Take an example: Suppose there are two ladders, one going upwards to heaven and the other leading down to hell. You are standing on the earth between the two ladders. You would not say: ‘How can I fly from the earth and find myself on the top of the ladder?’ this is impossible and God does not ask it of us. But He does ask that we at least keep from going downwards and not harm our neighbour or offend him, nor slander him, nor scold him or humiliate him.
And so, at last, we begin to do a little good and are of help to him, and if he needs something we give it to him freely. So we go up one rung at a time until finally, with God’s help, we reach the top of the ladder. For this repeated coming to your neighbour’s rescue, you come to long for what is advantageous for him as much as if it were advantageous for yourself, and what is profitable to him as much as if it were profitable to yourself. This is ‘to love your neighbour as yourself.”
Bishop Andrei (Erastov)