In Orthodox spirituality the opposite of love is not really anger or hatred, but self-love. True love is relational and directed toward the good of another. “God is love” (1 John 4:8) we are taught. God’s goodness is other directed. First, within the Holy Trinity each of the Divine Persons, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, are eternally loving toward each other. They are not narcissistic or solipsistic. God eternally is love, which means each person of the Trinity always existed in relationship to each other and forever are directed in love toward each other. Theology would say if God is love, God could never be a monad as there then would be nothing to love but Himself. The Trinity reveals to us the manner in which God eternally is love: there always were other persons within the Godhead to love.
Second, God is love in relationship to creation. God has freely brought creation into existence in order to share the Trinitarian love with creatures beyond their mutually shared eternal and divine nature.
We are created in God’s image: we are created to be relational beings; we are created to love.
“An old man used to say, ‘If thou hast prayed for thy companion thou hast also prayed for thyself, but if thou hast prayed for thyself only thou has impoverished they petition…” (E. Wallis Budge, THE PARADISE OF THE HOLY FATHERS vol 2, p 229)
Praying for others enriches our prayer life, and generates love in us for our neighbor and even our enemies. This is not to say that we cannot pray for ourselves as well.
“While you can and should ask for the intercession of others, you must also pray yourself. This is how Chrysostom puts it:
‘Even if we be in sins, and unworthy of receiving, let us not despair; knowing, that by assiduity of soul we shall be able to become worthy of the request. Even if we be unaided by advocate and destitute, let us not faint; knowing that it is a strong advocacy, the coming to God one’s self by one’s self with much eagerness.’” (Stanley Harakas, OF LIFE AND SALVATION, p 126)
Praying for ourselves does serve to direct our thoughts and our hearts and minds to God. Thus even prayer for ourselves is relational and puts us into God’s presence. But our prayer if based in love will move beyond our self, to concern for those around us. Prayer helps us to get beyond the limit of self and to become part of something greater than an isolated and alienated being, and puts us in communion with our fellow human beings, with all of creation and with our Creator.
“It pleases the Lord, the common Father of all, when we pray for each other willingly with faith and love, for He is Love, ready to forgive all for their mutual love. The Holy Ghost said: ‘Pray one for another, that you may be healed.’ (James 5:16). You see how pleasing to God, and how efficacious, is the prayer for one another.” (St. John of Kronstadt – d. 1908AD, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 134)
Intercessory prayer flows from the love which we have received from God. Intercession is one way for us to fulfill Christ’s teaching that we are to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35). In ancient Christianity, “one Christian was no Christian” (Tertullian, d. ca 225AD) because to be a Christian meant to live in loving relationship with all other believers as to be a Christian by definition is to be baptized into Christ and to be a member of His Body, the Church. To be a Christian is to imitate Christ, which means washing the feet of fellow disciples – being a servant to others -as we witness Christ doing on the night of His betrayal and arrest (John 13:1-20).
“Our care and concerns for other people, for our country, for our planet, are not all empty, nor are they all selfish or egotistical. This is demonstrated in the very powerful experience of bringing concerns to God in prayer. This is not the intercession that starts out by pointing out what mistakes God is making in the running of the world, followed by a list of things we would like Him to do about it. That practice is simply another aspect of the ego’s desire to control, an empty soul-less activity which leads us further away from God, even while we think that because we are participating in something ‘religious’ we must be progressing in the other direction.
Intercession is not a matter of telling God what to do, even with the best of possible intentions. Nor is it a question of trying to change God’s mind about something. Intercession is simply a matter of bringing the concerns of our own lives – friends, relatives, but also enemies and competitors – to the throne of God and leaving them there. Any person and any subject can be brought to God. … We do not pray for specific outcomes, and we do not demand particular results, since to do so would place our own desires as the point of the prayer, whereas in reality the sole and entire aim of prayer is to discover the will of God. It may seem rather obvious to state that we do not discover the will of God by simply repeating our own demands over and over again.” (Archimandrite Meletios Webber, BREAD & WATER, WINE AND OIL , p 57)
Next: Intercessory Prayer (II)