Love for our Neighbor: A Means of Attaining Love for God

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
      (St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807-1867), was a bishop of the Church of Russia. The present article is an excerpt from his chapter on Love as found in his classic work, "The Arena." Since the Lenten Season began with a strong liturgical emphasis on "the neighbor," the following may be seen as providing additional insights to this all important topic.)
      The Savior of the world summarized all His particular commands in two main, general commandments: "You are to love the Lord your God, He said, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You are to love your neighbor as yourself. The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments."
      Although the commandment of love for God is as far superior to the commandment of love for God's Image (man) as God is superior to His image, yet the commandment of love for our neighbor serves as a foundation for the commandment of love for God. He who has not laid the foundation labors in vain to construct a building: it cannot possibly stand without the foundation. By love for our neighbor we enter into love for God. A Christian's love for God is love for Christ, and love for our neighbor is love for Christ in our neighbor. By loving our neighbor -- by loving him in the Lord, that is, as the Lord command us -- we acquire love for Christ, and love for Christ is love for God.
      The union of love for God with love for our neighbor is superbly explained in the epistles of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian. It is impossible to love God, according to St. John's teaching, without first loving one's brother. And love for one's brother consists in carrying out the Lord's commandment in this regard. (2 John 1:6)
      The same teaching is given by the holy (fathers). Saint Anthony the Great said: "On our neighbor depends life and death (of the soul). By winning our brother we win God; by offending our brother we sin against Christ." St. John Kolovos, one of the greatest fathers of the Egyptian Skete, said: "It is not possible to build a house by beginning from the top, but the structure must be begun from the foundation and built up to the roof." When asked what the foundation meant, he replied, "The foundation is our neighbor. We must win him and begin with him. On him are based all the commandments of Christ." Saint Mark the Ascetic said: "It is impossible to be saved otherwise than through one's neighbor." This is what is held and taught by all the holy fathers; this is the general Christian teaching, the teaching of the Church, the teaching of Christ.
      Direct all your attention to the acquisition of love for your neighbor as the basis of your life...Love your neighbor according to the dictates of the commandments of the Gospel, not at all according to the dictates and impulses of your heart. The love planted by God in our nature was damaged by the fall and cannot act correctly...Love your neighbor in this way: Do not get angry with him and do not bear resentment or a grudge against him. Do not allow yourself to say to your neighbor any reproachful, abusive, sarcastic or caustic words. Maintain peace with him as far as possible. Humble yourself in his presence. Do not try to have your revenge on him either directly or indirectly. Whenever possible, yield to him. Get out of the habit of arguing and quarrelling, and reject it as a sign of pride and self love. Speak well of those who speak evil of you. Pay good for evil. Pray for those who cause you various offences, wrongs, temptations, persecutions (Matthew 5: 21-48). Whatever you do, on no account condemn anyone; do not even try to judge whether a person is good or bad, but keep your eyes on that one evil person for whom you must give an account before God: yourself (Matthew 7: 11).
      Treat your neighbors as you would like them to treat you (Matthew 7: 1-12). Forgive and pardon men their offences against you from the depth of your heart, so that your Heavenly Father may forgive you your countless offences, your terrible debt of sin that can easily cast you down and confine you for all eternity in the prisons of hell (Matthew 18: 23-25)...
      Finally, do not harm your brother by talkativeness, gossip, close acquaintance and familiar conduct with him. If you avoid these pitfalls in regard to your neighbor, you will show and acquire for him the love commanded by God and pleasing to God; thereby you will open the way for yourself to the love of God...