Without love I am incomprehensible

May 19, 2013

“Insofar as I am not loved, I am incomprehensible to myself.” These are the words of the late eminent Romanian theologian Dumitru Staniloae (1903-1993). Writing in the horrific twentieth century which saw the atrocities of communism, fascism, and world wars he was perhaps uniquely qualified to write about the overwhelming need for love in the world.  Writing in communist, war torn, Romania, an officially atheistic country, Father Dumitru understood that without love, there can be no whole person, no complete individual, no sense of humanity. Without love we are nothing (I Corinthians 13:2).   As Orthodox Christians we are grateful for the love God has for us. There is no person, no part of creation that is not loved by God. It is through creation that we are forever connected to God in His love. Through God’s creation we are also connected to one another. That is one of the ways that God’s love is manifested – through the words and actions of others. Without this love, it is impossible to fully be who God created us to be – we become unrecognizable. In Orthodox theology this idea is part of the difference between what is understood as the individual and what is understood as the person.

The Greek word atomon, the individual, is different from the Greek word for person, prosopon. In the words of Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia “Atomon, the individual, denotes the human being as unit – turned inward, self-contained, isolated…Prosopon, the person, denotes the human being as face – outward looking, in relationship, involved with others.”[1] One might say from this description that the person who lives life alone, in isolation is someone who is self-contained, self-absorbed, and egocentric even. Perhaps for this reason so few individuals are called by God to be alone.  Even most of those called to the monastic life are called to live in community among other individuals so that he or she might develop as a person. The individual on the other hand seeks others, friendships, and community to be strengthened, to be loved through others. For without love, without being loved, without expressing love, in words and deeds, we are indeed incomprehensible to ourselves.

Because it is impossible to fully understand ourselves without love, without others, without community, we are drawn to other people. For the heterosexual, according to the Church, marriage is the vehicle to reach our full potential.   In marriage we are drawn to another individual so that we might become a person. We are comprehensible in the love that we have for one other person as well as in the love that we receive from one other person. For this reason many of us are not called to be alone, we are called to grow in the image, likeness and love of God with the help of another person. In marriage the couple works, prays, loves, hopes, helps, and lives with and for the other in order to become a person who is comprehensible to themselves. For this reason Bishop Kallistos refers to the individual as competitor, but refers to the person as coworker.[2] Competitors are egotistical; an antithesis to what it means to be a Christian.  A coworker understands the idea of sacrifice. Why else would the Orthodox Church chant the hymn of martyrs during the marriage ceremony if not to recall to memory those who sacrificed?

The choice of a person, to be a coworker, is blessed by the Orthodox in the mystery of crowning or marriage as long as that person is of the opposite sex. For a gay man or lesbian, the Church does not offer this vehicle of grace and yet we are called by God to be coworkers and not competitors.  We are called by God to be persons and not individuals.  We are called by God to be comprehensible to ourselves which is achieved through the love of another. Yet our sacred choice to grow in the image and likeness of God through a holy relationship with one other person is not acknowledged or blessed by the Church. In fact, it is condemned as something that is unholy and immoral.

Gay men, lesbians, transgendered and bisexuals are part of God’s creation. As part of God’s creation striving to become persons, who are complete and comprehensible in the love of God and the love of others, and as faithful members of the Orthodox Church we pray and hope that we meet or have found that one person who can make us whole, make us persons, and love us so that we are comprehensible to ourselves. God has already blessed and sanctified our choice. Now the Church needs to respond not with “gongs or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1) but in love that is fully comprehensible. For without it, we are all nothing.



[1] Ware, Kallistos. “In the Image and Likeness: The Uniqueness of the Human Person
     .” Personhood. Orthodox Christianity and the Connection between body, mind
     and soul. Ed. John Chirban. Westport CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1996. 4. Print

[2] Ibid., p. 5

  1. Noel Warren Said,

    I have struggled with this one a lot. Do “I” actually exist outside a relationshp with others i.e. my significant other, my family includung my cat,my tribe,my nation,humanity,all life,the cosmos and ….God. I don’t think I do. What is astounding is that these “others” do not exist outside a relationship with “me” either. Ultimately I believe in and experience sometimes, an immanent and transcendant God. The thought of having to co-habit with evil in myself and the “others” is frightening but the most astounding radical, revolutionary thing to me is the Christian proposition that this “all and everything “is based on love! Without this love, redemption, forgiveness,courage and hope can only be an illusion that nature evolved in our species to improve the chances of our selfish genes surviving. Without this love the prodigal son is lost and has no home to return to. I hope this makes some sense. Or should I open another bottle of wine……

  2. andre Said,

    Good to hear from you. You do make sense and you raise interesting questions that need to be examined. I believe – perhaps I am wrong – that very few humans are called by God to complete solitude. Of course to some extent “we are who we are when no one is looking.” Are we different people in different settings and with different people – of course we are, but as competitors or coworkers? Hopefully more the latter. That love is frightening or perhaps the better word from the Greek is awesome is what binds us. For me, you and many others, it is God who is the generator of that love. Even when no one is there to greet us (your prodigal son reference) we are still greeted by our Creator and our Savior. In that sense we are never alone.

  3. stephen Said,

    Andre, I catch the spirit of your message, love. But here’s where precision is vital. Any feeling or desire is not a primary, but a secondary mental phenomenon, an automatic psychological response to an evaluation [cognitive psychology, Rand]. The evaluation that evokes a feeling or desire is always prior. Love is our response to the evaluation of a loved one perceived as valuable, someone to be esteemed, etc. You just don’t will a feeling into existence. You have to make a meaningful evaluation of the object loved first.

    So why is this an important distinction? Because what is of greatest value about any man is that which defines him as human, as a member of his species. What makes a human valuable is not the same thing as what makes a mackerel or a wombat valuable. The most fundamental aspect of any living entity’s identity is that which is the definition of the entity’s species.

    For those species who possess it their consciousness is what defines them. Man’s unique mode of cognition, his human mode, is rationality, his capacity for self-originated thought [Aristotle].

    This is pivotal to any argument for individualism, egoism, whatnot. For any living entity end, means, and its defining nature are conflated. In Aristotle’s lingo final, efficient, and formal causes are what’s conflated. So what’s the formal cause or defining nature of man that determines the nature of his ends and means? His mode of cognition, which is his first-cause or free-agency, his capacity for self-originated thought, with an emphasis on “self.”

    As Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself. Implied is that love of self is prior to love for others. That’s the message of the egoist ethics of Aristotle, too. Indeed, psychologists tell us that we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves first. They’ve found that people who harm others operate from a lack of love for themselves.

    I’m convinced that all the evildoers, e.g., Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Himmler, Roosevelt, Johnson, Carter, and Obama, are motivated by some form of self-hatred and self-alienation, which is why the harm they do to individuals means nothing to them. As the self-hating, and therefore power-lusting, Hillary Clinton replied to a reporter’s question about small businessmen complaining that the costs for them to comply with her proposed national health care scheme during her rapist husband’s tenure in the White House would bankrupt them, “I can’t be bothered about small businessmen who will go bankrupt because they’re under-capitalized.” A real charmer, she, such a paragon of Christian compassion. NOT.

    And that’s not the only instance her indifference to the harm she perpetrates on individuals has been on display. Remember her famous rejoinder to Republicans’ questioning her about the death of the Ambassador to Libya at the hands of Muslim terrorists because of her poor judgment in not sending more security personnel to protect him as he had requested? “At this point what difference does it make?” God Almighty, help us if that cold-blooded female is elected President to indifferently wreak suffering on others on a national scale.

    Love for and concern in promoting the interests of self, egoism, is not wrong. On the contrary, it’s the foundation of love for others. But don’t confuse rational egoism with self-indulgence. One’s true self-interest is not tantamount to indulging one’s desires willy-nilly, sacrificing others to one’s ambition, climbing to the top of the heap while stepping on others’ bodies. Authentic self-interest, as Aristotle points out, is actualizing one’s HUMAN nature, which means gaining values only by means that are human, that is, by exercising one’s own agency, not grabbing values from others, the whole point of the Tenth Commandment against covetousness. That means that it’s not in one’s human interest to act like a predator or a parasite vis-a-vis other people, whether as a mugger in a dark alley or a member of a voting majority electing politicians who promise to act like a mugger in a dark alley on a national scale by deploying the coercive power of the state as an expedient means of extorting wealth from the producers of society to be redistributed as largesse to the parasites, of course, in the name of compassion for “the poor.”

    Except the compassion-mongers on the Left haven’t a clue about authentic compassion, which is a free gift of the Spirit and eschews coercion. Indeed, if charity is a moral virtue, and moral virtue can only be achieved by a free will, by definition of morality, if coerced virtue is an oxymoron, then the “compassionate” service of distributing largesse to “the poor” by means of the coercive power of the state through one or another redistribution-of-wealth scheme can’t possibly be morally virtuous. So much for the Left’s social programs. Leftists are the most unChristian people on earth, all the while portraying themselves as the heirs of Christ because they’re all about “helping” the poor. Yeah, right.

    Wrapping up, a human’s authentic interest amounts to actualizing his human mode of cognition, his free-agency, all values gained only by means of its exercise, never gaining values by the means used by a predator or a parasite or a “progressive,” that is, by initiating the use of physical force against one’s victims. Love is our automatic psychological response to another who embodies what it is to be an actualized human, a rational, independent, autonomous agent who gains all his values by the exercise of his own agency and doesn’t act like a predator or a parasite or a “progressive.”

    It’s in one’s rational self-interest to love others. They are the reward for our efforts to actualize that which is the human in us, the companionship of others who share our viewpoint, our sense of life. It is a great value to have other in our lives who reflect our values. We only “see” ourselves by being reflected in the mirror of others’ love for us. What I’m trying to say is that we are invisible to ourselves without others’ love.

    But it does the heart no good to be around others who do not share our values, who do not see things the way we do in important matters. Get away from them. As the Bible says, “Separate yourself from your enemies.” In other words, keep your mental distance from and be on guard against another who has proven to be your enemy or your potential enemy at work, at church, in the neighborhood, in business, in politics, wherever you find them. We all are able to decipher who that is in our lives. Physical separation from your enemy is the best solution. But if it’s a co-worker and you can’t get away from them physically, you can distance yourself from them mentally, never making the mistake of letting your guard down. The voice of experience.

    Egoistical and egotistical are not tantamount. It’s an important distinction. The former refers merely to first focusing on becoming a person of value, that is, developing one’s human or species nature. The latter refers to over-compensating for feelings of inadequacy in some way by lording it over others. Egotistical people are invariably over-compensating for self-hatred at some level. This highlights what’s behind Jesus’ admonition to love ourselves first [egoism]. Then when we have achieved that, to love our neighbors.

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