St. Amvrossy of Optina Letter 31

Letter 31 An explanation of the Irmos of the Canon of the Meeting: “Thy virtue hath covered the heavens, O Christ”.

As is my custom, for the benefit of your souls, I set forth for your consideration the Irmos from the Meeting of the Lord:

Thy virtue hath covered the heavens, O Christ, for coming forth from the Ark of Thy holiness, Thine undefiled Mother, Thou hast appeared in the Temple of Thy glory as an infant borne in arms, and all things have been filled with Thy praise.

What virtue is that which covered the heavens? The unlimited love of the Son of God towards the fallen human race; because of which, being God, He was well-pleased to become man and to be born from the Virgin in the poor cave. On the fortieth day He was brought to the Temple. He fled from the inhuman Herod with His Mother and Joseph to Egypt. He was raised in the home of a simple carpenter. Then, for their salvation and to deliver His people from the power of the devil, He endured spitting and buffeting upon the face, and all sorts of disparagement, and the most shameful death upon the Cross. After the three day burial, He resurrected from the dead by the power of His Divinity and the glory of the Father; and trampling on all the forces of the enemy and demolishing the gates and prisons of hell, He brought out into freedom the souls which were held captive there who believe and have faith in His second coming.

It was for love of man and his salvation that He suffered, being the only-begotten Son of God, Who resurrected in three days. He founded His law upon two commandments–love for God and neighbors and neither can be fulfilled without the other. The holy Apostle John the Theologian says: “If anyone says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar” (IJohn 4:20). Also love for neighbor, if it is not for God’s sake, but for some human cause not only produces no profit, but often it harms the soul. And the signs of true Christian love the Apostle Paul sets forth as follows: “Love is longsuffering, and is kind; love envieth not; love exalteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil [and it does not remember evil]; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; It covers all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth” (ICor. 13:4-8). Without such love no prophecy, or faith which moves mountains, nor even martyrdom itself, brings any benefit at all. “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing” (ICor. 13:3).

But one must know that if every virtue cannot be acquired on a moment’s notice, but gradually with work and forcing one’s self, then how much more love, as the beginning and end of all the virtues? It demands time to acquire it and great force, inner struggle, prayer, and above all else it requires a depth of humility before God and man. Humility and sincere acknowledgement of our unworthiness is a sure safeguard of all the virtues, likewise it is so with the acquisition of love. And so, let us each begin with the degree of love one has and God will help us. One who is burdened with sins, let him think that “love covers a multitude of sins.” He whose conscience is muddled up by many acts of lawlessness, let him think that love is the fulfillment of the law. “For love of neighbor”, says the Apostle, “is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8). Even if we do not attain to the aforesaid perfect love, at least let us not have envy and hatred or remembrance of wrongs. “For the path of he who remembers evils is in death” (Proverbs 12:28 [Septuagint]), and “jealousy will take hold of an uninstructed people” (Isa. 26: 11 [Sept.), that is, people who are not instructed and do not understand Christian life as they should. And, ” he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth” (IJohn 2:11).

Let us pray to the One Who suffered and resurrected on the third day with the prayer of St. Ephraim: “O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not. But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not to condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages”. Amen!!!