God does not want our sacrifices if there is no love

A homily by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania, given on the feast of St. George the Great Martyr, at Divine Liturgy in Rajčica Monastery on May 6th in the year of Our Lord 2022.

Bishop Partenij, Abbot of Bigorski

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

Today, my beloved, by the grace of God we have been made worthy to hear the Gospel that is always read on feasts of Martyrs. It begins with the words of Christ: “This commandment I give unto you, that you love one another” (John 15:17). This is how the Lord began his teaching when He told His disciples about the troubles and sufferings they would have in this world. “If the world hates you,” continues the Savior, “you know that the world hated Me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-19). After our Lord Jesus Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, His disciples, with crowns of Divine love, would truly endure all the torments of this world.

Notice that Christ addresses His followers as a small flock. “Do not fear, little flock” (Luke 12:32). But if we look at all of human history, we see that those who will be crowned with boundless Divine Love are indeed a small flock compared to the vast multitudes of this world. The world often talks about love, togetherness, connection, and communication. However, it is more than clear that without God there can be no real self-sacrificing love, but only “love” that is sensual, animalistic, superficial, and selfish. Christ showed us on the Cross what God’s love is, a love that only He has and gives: He spread His arms in a self-sacrificing embrace for the salvation of the world and became the First Martyr and Bridegroom of the Church. He founded the Church on His Own Holy Blood and then built it with the blood of the Holy Martyrs. After Him, first His Apostles also suffered, confirming the Resurrection with their martyrs’ crowns and their sacrificial love, and forever sealing the truth about Him. After them, many other followers of Christ suffered as martyrs, building up the Church’s glory and spreading the truth of the Resurrection.

We are joyfully gathered here today to celebrate the memory of the Great Martyr of the Church of God, Saint George the Victorious, who with his self-sacrifice, his suffering, and his heroic Christ-like victory defeated the world and all the evil in it, testifying that Christ’s Resurrection is an indisputable fact with his blood, life, and death.

With Christ’s words about love in mind, the Great George knew that only Divine love is the seal of faith in Christ. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:35) says the Lord. It is the password, the identification sign for those who are Christ’s. Likewise, wherever hatred and envy are present, you can be sure to find the seal of the Antichrist there too. It goes for all of us in the Church that if we do not fight against the passions of envy and hatred, we take part in the lot of Cain, we commit fratricide, and God’s grace withdraws from us. We lose our relationship with God and have nothing in common with our Savior, we fall away from the God-revealed faith. Instead of being children of Christ, we, unfortunately, become children of the Antichrist. Instead of being witnesses of love and the Resurrection, we become the image of darkness and bearers of evil. We can even talk about Christ and yet remain very far from Him; we can even be His enemies. We all see the paradoxical phenomena going on all around us. Some people use church rules and even the Gospels to condemn and even kill their brothers. They reveal the weaknesses of others instead of covering their brother’s nakedness with love and helping him heal.

I wonder what that has to do with Christ? What example did He leave us in His Gospel? He covered sinners with mercy and generosity. He protected the harlot who was about to be stoned. He did not condemn her, but saved her, covered her with His Divine love, and gave her the opportunity to change: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He also allowed another repentant sinful woman to anoint His feet and head and thus prepare His body for burial. He gave her a chance to become better, and even praised her love: “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Matthew 26:13). She then became a fervent disciple of Christ and was saved. The same thing happened with Zacchaeus the tax collector. Everyone condemned him and hated him, but not God. Quite the contrary, Christ went to his house and encouraged him to repent, saying: “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

Do you see how many beautiful examples Christ left us? That’s why even when He was foretelling torment and suffering for us in this world that is far from God and breathes with hatred for truth and light, He began with the words: “This commandment I give you, that you love one another.” So, my beloved, let’s adorn ourselves with this love and then everything else in our lives will fall into place. You should know, however, that if you don’t have mercy and love, God will not accept even martyrdom. Nor will one’s monastic life be accepted as a sacrifice if the monk or nun does not have love. A monk who does not have enough love for his brothers and neighbors will not be able to endure to the end.

There is a very good example from the period of the persecution of Christians in the 4th century. A priest and a deacon in a certain church had a very big argument with each other. For a long time, they hated each other and did not speak to each other, but they also served the Divine Liturgy. However, after a while, the deacon sincerely repented and asked the priest for forgiveness. But the priest did not want to forgive him and instead became even angrier with his brother. Then, their church community was discovered by the Roman authorities and all the Christians, both laypeople and clergy, were sentenced to death. At the time, the Romans often had the practice of executing the laypeople first in front of the clergy, in order to frighten them and make them deny Christ, thus embarrassing the Church. Consequently, when they were led together to the place of execution, the deacon once again begged the priest to forgive him, because now they would have to lay down their lives for their Savior. But the priest was so cruel in his heart that even now, before his death, he did not want to forgive the deacon. It was the deacon’s turn to be executed and he courageously remained faithful to Christ and was crowned with a martyr’s wreath. The Lord accepted his repentance and suffering and received him as a holy martyr in His Kingdom. When it was the priest’s turn, although he had been confident in himself beforehand that he would not waver and that he would proudly suffer for the Lord, before the very end he shouted: “Stop! I don’t believe in Christ anymore, spare me!” His cruelty towards his brother did not allow him to offer a God-pleasing sacrifice. God did not accept his sacrifice because he had no love. He did not want to forgive or imitate his Savior by forgiving. This is why He did not receive him into the Kingdom of Heaven as there is no place there for people who do not have love.

So, my beloved, let’s try to have the love of Christ in ourselves and among each other, because otherwise, God will not accept our sacrifices, no matter how great they are. Let us ask the Holy Great Martyr George the Victorious to grant us the victory of love over hatred, the victory of good over evil, the victory of kindness and mercy over egoism, hard-heartedness, and judgment. Let’s keep and develop the Divine Love of Christ in our hearts. Amen!

Christ is risen!