Posted by: Shawn Ragan | November 23, 2008

“Christian Love” with Dcn. Justin, Pt.1

While love is the greatest commandment, and Scripture says “God is love,” it is often not the center or the focus of churches or the lives of many who profess Christ.  As a pastor, this was one of my greatest sources of struggle, both with the faith I saw and with my own life.  Love just did not seem to be all that important.  It really was not the center of what we did and were doing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, people loved other people, but often it did not seem to be the same thing as what I saw in Holy Scripture.  Much of the gap I saw and struggled with between the Scriptures I studied each week and the faith I saw each week had to do with this single idea – Christian love.

I cannot speak for others, and I cannot say what they felt or saw or how they experienced things…I can say what I felt and experienced, what others shared with me about what they felt, and what I saw in myself.  In each of these three areas, throughout my time as a pastor, love was not central.  That is a sad thing for me, as I reflect on my pastorship.  I loved the people I pastored, and I still do, but that love was guarded and protected.  It was not the center of my faith, even though I intellectually knew it was important and I taught about it often.  Nor was it the center of what I saw.  Love was there, certainly, but it was not the “greatest commandment.”

When I first began to look at Orthodoxy, both in relationship to the people I met and the Faith I read about and would begin to experience, I actually was surprised ~ and I vividly remember the confusion when I saw it ~ that love was held up as important as it was.  What got me was not the “love is important” thing, but how that love is to be lived – what it really is – how it truly impacts how we relate to our neighbor and our enemy – this “Christian love,” this deeper thing I had been searching for, but never thought I would find.  It has still been a struggle for me, even as I have journeyed into Orthodoxy.  Those who are Orthodox would reply, “Of course, that is the whole point.”  Those who are not, may not understand…I still struggle to.

Last Friday night, Fr. Dcn. Justin from Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City (I posted pictures of this incredibly beautiful church in an earlier post) came to Boise to speak to us about this “Christian Love.”  It was a wonderful spiritual talk and exhortation, and I have to admit I am still processing it, thinking about it, and trying to adjust my thinking to it.  I labelled this part one, because I hope to write about some of what he shared, but for now I am still processing it internally.

What I do want to bring out at this point was something a little different, though connected.  Fr. Dcn. Justin spoke about humility being an integral part of love.  If you are ever in Salt Lake, stop by the church there and meet Dcn. Justin (soon to be ordained to the Holy Priesthood (in December), so by then maybe Fr. Justin).  I know that others may have had different experiences, but I have to say that there has been a characteristic of the priests and bishops and deacons that I have met…something I am still incredibly lacking, but I see in these men and it speaks to me about the truth of the Faith…something that my lacking of really makes me unqualified to talk about Orthodox Christianity…that is a deep sense of humilty…grounded securely in love.  I always feel inadequate talking to people about this Faith, because it is so much more than intellectual teachings, or some sort of academic thought – it is so much more than me trying to “prove” the doctrines, which often is just a product of my Protestant zeal – it is about love and humility.  One can have all of the doctrines correct, and if they do not have love, what does it matter?  Isn’t that the teaching of St. Paul, that we can have “all knowledge” and even understand “all mysteries,” but without love it profits us nothing.  So often we argue about “A” or “B,” and we can even say it is out of love, but truthfully it is usually just our pride – the opposite of humility.

Lord, help me to love, and to take the opportunities to love each day that you lay before me.  Help me to see You in each person I meet, to not judge, nor condemn, nor think of myself as higher than they.

Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on me.

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Responses

  1. are you going to be at his ordination? perhaps we can see each other!


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