When offering a teaching on the importance of love of neighbor to his monastic community, Dorotheos of Gaza spoke thus:
Suppose that there is a circle of the earth, as if drawn by a compass. The centre is exactly the middle of the circle. Take care to understand what I mean. Let us suppose that this circle is the world and God is the centre. The straight lines drawn from the circumference to the centre are the lives of men. As far as the saints, desiring to approach God, move inward, they become near God and near each other and as far as they approach God, they approach each other. As far as they approach each other, they approach God. You should understand separation in the same way. When they move away from God and follow external things, it is evident that as far as they move away and become distant from God, they distance themselves from each other, and as they distance themselves from each other, they distance themselves from God. This is the very nature of love. In as far as we are outside and do not love God, each one of us is also distanced from his neighbor, but if we love God, the more we approach Him through love for Him, the more we are united to our neighbor through love, and as much as we are united to our neighbor, we are united to God.
His illustration is profound, yet simple and pragmatic – the more you love God, the more you will love your neighbor and vice versus. His teaching isn’t unique though. We are continually admonished by godly men and women of Christendom to love our neighbor. In the most simple of terms, Father Paisios of blessed memory taught: “By truly pleasing our neighbor we also please Christ.”
Saint John of Krostadt suggests that we inscribe the love of neighbor upon our hearts. He writes:
It is necessary that the following words should be engraved indelibly upon our hearts: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. These words must guide our heart upon meeting with any one, at any time, whether he comes to us, or we go to him; whether we have to do some work for him, or to give him anything, or simply to converse with him. Bear in your heart the words love him as thyself, and carry on a perpetual war with yourself for the observance of these living words of our Lord. Force yourself to love.
But how do we know if we truly love our neighbor? Saint John suggests:
In order to find out whether you love your neighbor in accordance with the gospel, take note of yourself when others offend you, abuse you, mock you, or do render you the respect due to you, or which is customary, or when your subordinates err and are negligent. If you remain calm on such occasions, are not filled with a spirit of enmity, hatred, impatience; if you continue to love these persons as much as previously, then you do love your neighbor in accordance with the gospel; but if you become irritable, angry, agitated, then you do not. If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?
With a similar voice, Elder Thaddeus teaches:
We are usually angered when someone insults us or ridicules us, until Divine Grace comes upon us. When we receive Grace, we no longer feel hurt when others insult us but remain quiet and peaceful, as though the insult was not directed at us at all.
Love though, is not simply tolerating what we perceive as injustices directed toward us. Love of neighbor is doing nothing to trouble, anger, find fault with, or judge another. Dorotheos of Gaza suggests:
To respect our conscience towards our neighbor means not to do anything that we think may trouble or harm our neighbor in deed, or word, or gesture or look. For there are gestures, as I very often tell you, which hurt our neighbors and there are looks capable of wounding him and to speak plainly, whatever a man does readily, knowing it gives his neighbor a bad thought and stains his own conscience because it means that he is ready to harm or trouble his neighbor – and this is the sort of thing I mean by keeping a good conscience towards our neighbor.
“We must be gentle with our brother and encourage him with a loving word when we see him getting into trouble,” says St. Seraphim of Sarov. He continues:
We should never judge him, even if we have seen him committing a fault, because we do not know how often we ourselves will be enabled to preserve purity of soul. ‘If you see your brother committing a fault’, says St. Isaac the Syrian again, ‘cast your cloak over it.’
Similarly, Dorotheos asks:
How can we put up with these things unless it is because we have no true love? If we have true love with sympathy and patient labor, we shall not go about scrutinizing our neighbor’s shortcomings. As it is said, ‘Love covers up a multitude of sins’, and again ‘Love thinks no evil…hides everything,’ etc. As I said, if we have true love, that very love should screen anything of this kind, as did the saints when they saw the shortcomings of men. Were they blind? Not at all! But they simply would not let their eyes dwell on sins. Who hated sin more than the saints? But they did not hate the sinners all the same time, nor condemn them, nor turn away from them, but they suffered with them, admonished them, comforted them, gave them remedies as sickly members, and did all they could to heal them.
Although lengthy, I close with a beautiful teaching on love of neighbors by St. Tikon of Zadaonsk:
Christians, we all acknowledge our one forefather, Adam. We all have a kindred nature, and we are called men, and so we are. Let us, therefore, love one another. We are all created by the one God, we are created according to the image and likeness of God. Let us, therefore, love one another.
All we who have fallen are redeemed by the blood of Christ, the Son of God, Who loved us and gave Himself for us. Let us, therefore, love one another. God so loved us all, that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (Jn. 3:16). Let us, therefore, love one another, as God has loved us.
God gave us all His holy word as a lamp shining in a dark place, which teaches us to love one another and to do good to one another out of love. Let us, therefore, love one another. We all hear the same word of Good. Let us, therefore, love one another. We are all called to one holy faith and we believe in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one Tri-hypostatic God who loves us. Let us, therefore, love one another.
We all call on one God, we pray to Him and worship Him, we hymn and glorify Him. Let us, therefore, love one another as He has loved us. We are all called Christians after Christ. Let us, therefore, love one another as He has loved us. We all have one Baptism, we were all baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Let us, therefore, love one another.
In Baptism we all renounced Satan and all his evil works, pride, hate, and all other evil, and we promised to love Christ and each other. Let us, therefore, love other. We are all called to eternal life and we say in the holy Symbol of Faith, “I await the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come” (Nicene Creed, Articles XI and XII). Let us, therefore, love one another. We all approach one Holy Table, and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. O what a great thing! O God’s incomprehensible love for man! Let us, therefore, love one another.
Christians, we are all brethren, and we have one Father, God, to Whom we pray and say, Our Father, Who art in heaven, (Mt. 6:9) and the rest. Let us, therefore, love one another as brethren. Our Heavenly Father, out of His love, gives us all food, clothing, a home and other good things. Let us also, therefore, love one another. The Christian has sufficient reasons, then, to love his neighbor, but the main reason is this, that God loves man. What, then, O Christian, would you hate God’s beloved creature, man? Would you hate him who is a man like yourself? Would you hate him who has created, like you, after the image and likeness of God? Would you hate him who God loves? Would you hate him who was redeemed with the Blood of Christ, as you were? Would you hate him for whom Christ suffered and died? Would you hate him who has been washed in the laver of holy Baptism, as you were? Would you wish to hate him who has called to eternal life, as you were? Would you hate him whom God command you to love as yourself? Would you hate him who approaches the most holy Eucharist, as do you? Would you do evil to him to whom God, out of His love alone did good? Would you dishonor and abuse him whom God honored? Would you curse him whom God blesses?
Christians! It is a fearful thing, and a very fearful thing to hate him whom God has loved, for whom Christ suffered and died. It is dangerous, yea even very dangerous, to do evil to him to whom God does good, to dishonor him whom God honored, to curse him whom God blessed. Let us, therefore, love one another, Christians, as God has loved us all.