The Orthodox tended to focus on love as the highest good, and saw Christ’s teachings as primarily a reaction against the world’s desire for human justice. The questions presented to Christ, “Who is my neighbor?” or “how many times do I have to forgive my brother?” or about tithing, are viewed as questions of justice which try to quantify love and thus limit it. But the Gospel love of Christ is not limited by a human sense of justice – love even your enemies, give expecting nothing in return, sell all you have and give it away, forgive without constraint if you want to be forgiven, give to those who cannot repay and to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters not to those most important or influential or who will offer handsome rewards. The emphasis is not on sacrifice in order to suffer like Christ suffered, but rather to sacrifice in order to love others like Christ love us.
The Orthodox tended to view Eve and Adam’s sin as one of selfish rebellion against God. The antidote to this rebellion being to find a way to submit your own selfish will to the loving will of God. Fasting was seen as the corrective for Eve’s own taking of the forbidden fruit in the garden when there was only one rule from God. Learning to distrust one’s own desires and emotions because they are selfish was to be accomplished by forcing oneself for the sake of love to consider the good of the other first. This was often advocated through some form of obedience to others – one’s parents, one’s spouse, one’s priest or bishop or spiritual father or confessor.
The way to see the world as it was originally intended by God to be – life-giving and a way to further inter-communion and loving relationships – was offered to the faithful in and through the liturgical and sacramental life. In worship, at least according to the Orthodox, people best experience the loving life between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. In worship, humans learn again of their unique role between God and the rest of the created order. For in worship the humans acknowledge that they are in fact not God, and they experience an equality of all humans as they stand in relationship to the Holy Trinity. In worship, the created and physical world also is restored to its proper life-giving role. Water becomes life-giving, taking away sin, washing one’s eyes so that they can see again, and cleansing one’s soul so that one can again experience the divine life. Bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ – a food that is not dead or dying like the meat and cooked vegetables we eat – but now capable of putting us in communion with God and giving us eternal life. In worship we overcome our self-centered thinking by listening to the word of God in community, realizing that we as people need a common understanding of God’s will in order for us to truly love one another.