I would like to refer to Saint Philaret of Moscow, a well known 19th century hierarch and one of the greatest preachers of course, of the 19th century in the Russian empire.
He called Christ “love crucified,” “love crucified.”
Of course, he understood full well that we can’t understand what love is without Christ, so, which could explain why people don’t know what love is in our society because if you try to find out without Christ, you run up against a brick wall. Love can become preference, it can become feeling, it can become sexual attraction, it can become “I like this,” or “I enjoy that, I love it,”—“I love this restaurant.” Of course we don’t love restaurants really.
Anyway, what is love? We know love in Christ.
This is true of any of the virtues that don’t exist again as entities out there to be somehow integrated into someone’s life.
We know love by knowing Christ. This is the fullest disclosure of love. What St. Philaret also knew, and all of the people who practice the faith seriously know, is that love is intensely revealed on the Cross: Christ on the Cross teaches us what love is. There is no self-love there.
We could say in the negative sense, love is the state in which there is no self-love - that’s love. When love is become so pure and that we see in Christ.
Sometimes, people are very pragmatic about it and say love is wanting the very best for another person, praying for God’s mercy without reservation upon that person. That’s a pragmatic application of love. Love is Christ, Christ is love, God is love, but God is love not in some ethereal sense, God is love in the incarnation.
We know what love is through Christ. So when we see the Lord on the Cross forgiving the people who haveve crucified Him; when we see that His entire self consists in being selfless, that’s love. Obviously it is something which is acquired and in a certain sense, we were baptized into this crucified love by being baptized into Christ.
St. Philaret calls the Father “crucifying love,” and the Son, the Lord, “love crucified.” So we understand that God is love but we don’t understand what that might be, until we open the Gospel and read the Gospel about the crucifixion and the resurrection. Then we know love, we work out from there, that’s love.
We have to teach our children that this is love, so that they get the right reference point, because of course you see all of the problems if love equals attractions, then it’s going to send our children in many different directions—most of them wrong. It will result in the failure of many, many marriages. It will result in a lot of sin, if we don’t understand what love is.
Furthermore, since we’re all looking for love, if we don’t know what real love is, we can be easily manipulated. Some of the most devious people in the world pose as loving people. We know this, and they are true wolves in sheep’s clothing. We need to know what real love is so that we’re not fooled, so that we’re not gullible. Not everybody who says “I love you, I love you,” or gives you a hug, loves you. There’s the kind of love/hug that has a knife in the back, in the hand. So we need to know these things and we need to teach our children - that’s real love. Love exists when the self is selfless.