In defining love in Christ St. Maximos distinguishes it from many of the things we have come to associate with love in popular culture: sentimentality, passion, sexuality, “feel-good” experiences, possessiveness etc.
For St. Maximos “Love of God is opposed to desire, for it persuades the intellect to control itself with regard to sensual pleasures.”
How’s that for disruptive thinking?
Love is manifested only through control rather than passion, he says. It is one thing to love when we are loved, filled with passion for a lover or overcome with feeling of love as we gaze at our newborn baby. But what about the moments when we are insulted or betrayed; are overcome with envy, scorn or outrage? These are the moments that one-by-one fill ort days. They slowly creep up to dominate our perception and color the fabric of daily life. This is why St. Maximos asks:
Cleanse your intellect from anger, rancor and shameful thoughts, and you will be able to perceive the indwelling of Christ.
Bridle your soul’s incensive power with love, quench its desire with self-control, give wings to its intelligence with prayer, and the light of your intellect will never be darkened.
Unless we can exert control to stem anger the minute it occurs, we cannot recover the love that lays dormant in our soul.
Love, however, is not simply a feeling one has for another person but a state of the soul. It is achieved only after you have cleansed yourself from passions and entered “the higher forms of the contemplation of divine realities.” However, what is significant is not only that true love can only dwell in a clean heart, and a mind capable of the “the higher forms of the contemplation. It is also that the highest forms of contemplation are not ends by themselves but gateways to love which completes them. When you have reached such spiritual state, St. Maximos advises,
“…give your utmost attention to love and self-control, so that you may keep your soul’s passible aspect undisturbed and preserve the light of your soul in undiminished splendor.”
And so, love is the light of our souls rather than limited to specific occasions and one on one relationships. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise of “eternal blessings” and “the pledge of the Spirit in your hearts (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22).” Making love the center of your soul requires that we lead a different lifestyle, centered on love and driven by constant alertness:
“…God commanded you to pay attention to how you live, so that the inner man may be freed from the passions and begin here and now to enjoy these blessings.”
It is easy to allow “disgrace, injury, slander either against one’s faith or one’s manner of life, beatings, blows and so on” to “dissolve love,” St. Maximos says. But “he who loses his love because of these things has not yet understood the purpose of Christ’s commandments.” Paying attention to how we live means recognizing the onset of passion; understanding that the danger of losing the love within us is far greater than the danger of the disgrace or injury to ourselves; and taking action through self control.
“Many of us are talkers, few are doers,” St. Maximos says. To achieve and maintain love calls for us to shift from words to action and become doers.