By guiding us through acceptance of, and even gratitude for, suffering, in the previous pages, St. Maximos leads us to the ultimate destination, love.
Love is the consummation of all blessings, since all who walk in it love leads and guides towards God, the supreme blessing and cause of every blessing and unites them with Him.
As in the last step of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, divine love here is also coupled with faith and hope. It cannot exist unless it is built on a foundation of faith and enabled by hope. For it is hope, St. Maximos tells us, that “gives us glimpses both of that in which we believe and of that for which we long.”
A life of patient acceptance of suffering, then, is not one bereft of hope, joy, passion and desire as critics of Christianity often paint it. A life lived in love, in fact, is a life…
…embracing entirely the entire desire of all desires and satisfying the yearning of our faith and hope for it; for that which we believe to be and which we hope will come to pass, love enables us to enjoy as a present reality.
Desire, like intelligence or passion, are potentially positive powers within us. They become sinful only when misused through “ignorance, self-love and tyranny,” which are “instigators” of evil:
The devil establishes these in us when we misuse our own powers, namely our intelligence, our desire and our incensive power.
For St. Maximos, love, like knowledge, is participatory rather than solitary; interactive rather than one-directional.
The most perfect work of love, and the fulfillment of its activity, is to effect an exchange between those it joins together, which in some measure unites their distinctive characteristics and adapts their respective conditions to each other.
Divine love is also synergistic, bringing together human and divine will.
Love is a great blessing and of all blessings the first and supreme, since it joins God and men together around him who has love…
Beyond participation and interactivity, love is transformative and always in motion. Love, St. Maximos says, “makes man god, and reveals and manifests God as man, through the single and identical purpose and activity of the will of both.”
By becoming gods, we emulate God’s image but cannot share in His essence. Rather we uncover and restore our true, God-given selves —”receiving from God our existence as gods” — so that we may be enabled to come into communion with Him.
Let us become the image both of ourselves and of God; or rather let us all become the image of the one whole God, bearing nothing earthly in ourselves, so that we may consort with God and become gods, receiving from God our existence as gods.
St. Maximos clarifies the nature of our union with God as well as the separation from Him. “The Creator of men manifest Himself as man through the exact likeness of the deified man to God” but only “in so far as this is possible for man.”
“This,” Maximos says, “is what I take to be the actualization of the commandment, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might, and your neighbour as yourself’ (cf. Iev. 1 9: 1 8; Deut. 6: 5; Matt. 2 2: 3 7-39)·”
Though love brings humans together with each other and with God, there is never a complete blending of entities that abrogates personhood. And while the journey toward glorification is one of increasing union with God, the divine and human natures are synergistic rather than interchangeable with each other.