St Ignatius (Brianchaninov). "On Prelest". On Loving God.
Love God in the way that He commanded us to love Him, not in the way that the deluded dreamers think to love Him.
Do not invent ecstasies for yourself, do not agitate your nerves, do not inflame yourself with a sensual fire, a fire of your blood. The sacrifice that pleases God is humility of heart, compunction of soul. God angrily turns away from a sacrifice brought with self-assurance and proud arrogance, even if it were a whole-burnt offering.
Pride agitates the nerves, inflames the blood, awakens the imagination, and stimulates a fallen life. Humility calms the nerves, cools the blood, destroys imagination, eradicates the fallen life, and awakens life in Jesus Christ.
"To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rums," said the prophet to the king of Israel, who dared to offer God an unlawful sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22). If you desire to bring God a sacrifice of love, do not bring it willingly, without preparing it thoughtfully. Bring it with humility, in the time and place that God Himself commanded.
The spiritual place where God commanded us to bring spiritual sacrifices is humility (Alphabetical Patericon. About Abba Poemen the Great).
The Lord gave exact and accurate signs by which one can distinguish the one who loves from one who hates. He said, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. He who does not love Me does not keep My words" (John 14:23-24).
Do you want to learn to love God? Separate yourself from any word, deed, thought, and feeling forbidden by the Gospels. Through your battle with sin, which is so loathed by God, show and prove your love for God. If you should fall into sin because of your spiritual sickness, immediately find healing in repentance. But it is even better to try not to fall into sin in the first place by strict watchfulness over yourself.
Do you want to learn to love God? Carefully study the commandments of the Lord in the Gospels and try to fulfill them in deed, trying to make the virtues of the Gospel into habitual characteristics of your nature. It is typical of the lover to completely fulfill the will of the beloved.
"Therefore have I loved Thy commandments more than gold and topaz. Therefore have I held straight to all Thy commandments; I have hated every wrong way," said the Prophet (Psalm 118:127-128 LXX). Such behaviour is necessary to remain faithful to God. Faithfulness is inevitably linked to love. Without this faithfulness, love falls apart.
We attain the love of God through constantly turning away from evil and fulfilling the virtues of the Gospel (which contains the entirety of the Gospel's moral teaching). Through this process, we remain in love for God; "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love," said the Saviour (John 15:10).
Perfection in love is found in union with God; success in love is connected with incomprehensible spiritual comfort, joy, and illumination. But in the beginning of our efforts, the disciple of love must withstand a terrible war with himself, with his deeply damaged nature. Evil, which has become natural through sin, has become a law for him, which fights and rebels against the Law of God, against the Law of holy love.
The love for God is based on love for one’s neighbour. When you have no trace of vindictiveness any longer, then you have come closer to love. When a gentle glow of holy, graceful peace for the whole humankind kindles in your heart, you are at the very door of the love.
Only Holy Spirit can open this door. The love for God is a gift of God to a man who has prepared himself to accept this gift in the purity of the heart, mind and body. The degree of this gift corresponds to the degree of preparation as God is just in His mercy.
Love for God is completely spiritual: "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6): carnal love, the product of flesh and blood, has sensual, impermanent qualities. It is inconstant, fickle; its love depends completely on wordly things.
When you hear in the Scriptures that our God is fire (Hebrew 12:29), that love is fire, and when you feel in yourself the fire of carnal love, do not think that this fire is one and the same. No! These fires are at war with each other, and each puts out the other (Ladder, Homily 3; Homily 15). Whereby “we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Natural, fallen love inflames human blood, agitates the nerves, and awakens fantasy; holy love cools the blood, calms both the soul and the body, inspires prayerful silence inside a person, and submerges him into the fullness of humility and spiritual joy.
Many ascetics, having assuming natural love to be divine, inflamed their blood and their fantasy as well. This condition of inner warmth very easily transforms into a trans-like state. Those who are in such an inflamed trance state often consider themselves full of grace and holiness, while they are only the unfortunate victims of self-delusion.
There were many zealots in the Western Church - especially from the time it fell into papism - who blasphemously ascribed to themselves qualities proper only to God, and venerated man in a way only appropriate to God Himself. Many of these zealots wrote books in their deluded state, in which they imagined their insane self-deception to be divine love, in which their shattered imagination created many visions that only added to their self-love and pride.
Son of the Eastern Orthodox Church! Turn away from reading such books, turn away from following the teaching of the deceived. Be guided by the Gospels and the Holy Fathers of the true Church, and ascend with humility to the spiritual height of divine love through the keeping of Christ's commandments.
Be assured that love for God is the highest gift of the Holy Spirit, and a person can prepare himself to accept this great gift that changes mind and heart and body only through purity and humility.
Useless, fruitless, and dangerous is any effort that tries prematurely to uncover inner spiritual gifts. God gives them mercifully in His own time, and only to the constant, patient, humble doers of the commandments of the Gospel. Amen.