For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:13-15)
The above words from St Paul are the basis for the condemnation by St John Chrysostom and other saints that people think they are pious by not eating meat during a fast but are still willing to “bite and devour” people they don’t like. We consume one another in vitriolic attacks, apparently assuming God won’t notice that, but then believe God will for some reason pay attention to our not eating meat, as if that does something for God. Our anger never brings about the righteousness of God (James 1:20). All we do is to be done in love for others (1 Corinthians 16:14). Any action we take not done in love for others fails to fulfill God’s commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
All of God’s commandments can be summed up in two laws: love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). All the other laws of Torah are meant to show the way to accomplish God’s will that we love Him and each other. When we reduce God’s commandments to petty, ritual activities, we lose sight of what God wants from us. St Gregory the Great comments:
When our hearts are reluctant, we often have to compel ourselves to pray for our enemies, to pour out prayer for those who are against us. Would that our hearts were filled with love! How frequently we offer a prayer for our enemies, but do it because we are commanded to, not out of love for them. We ask the gift of life for them, even while we are afraid that our prayer may be heard. The judge of our soul considers our hearts rather than our words. Those who do not pray for their enemies out of love are not asking anything for their benefit.
Jesus, our Advocate, has composed a prayer for our case. And our advocate is also our judge. He has inserted a condition in the prayer that reads: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Matthew 6:12). Sometimes we say these words without carrying them out. Thus, our words bind us more tightly.
What are we to do then, my friends? We must bestow our love on our brothers and sisters. We must not allow any malice at all to remain in our hearts. May almighty God have regard for our love of our neighbor, so that He may pardon our iniquities! Remember what He taught us: Forgive, and you will be forgiven. People are in debt to us, and us to them. Let us forgive them their debts, so that what we owe may be forgiven. (FOR THE PEACE FROM ABOVE, pp 115-116)