How do you define love? Some would say it’s a feeling that one experiences. Others would say it describes a relationship with a partner, family member, or friend. The New Testament has a lot to say about love: see Mark 12:30, John 3:16, John 15:10, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, and much more. Famously, as the First Epistle of John in chapter 4 says, “God is love.” Therefore, if we know something about love, it helps us know God better. Conversely, if we know something about God, it helps us understand love better.
The revered theologian of the Armenian Church, Gregory of Tatev, had something to say on the topic.
Չի՞նչ է սիրելն:
Կամելն այլում բարի: Եւ դարձեալ՝սկիզբն սիրոյն կամքն է, եւ կատարումն՝բարի առնելն, եւ մէջն՝սէրն, զի կամքն առ մեզէ, եւ բարին՝առ այլս, եւ սէրն՝ի մէջն:
Did you catch that? If not, don’t worry. Not only is it written in classical Armenian, but also structured in the beautiful but difficult-to-parse way that you would expect from a 14th-century theologian. A direct translation wouldn’t serve us well, but a rough translation would be:
What does it mean to love?
It is to want good for another. And yet the beginning of love is the will, and the fulfillment of it is in doing good, and within this is found love.
What I find so profound about this explanation is that Tatevatsi presents love neither as a feeling or a relationship but a movement of the heart and soul, by which love is manifested. We desire good for someone else; our desire fuels our willpower, which stirs us to action, and this repeating process is a spiritual furnace that radiates love.
God is the primary example of this. His compassion for mankind is evident in that He cares about our fate at all. His love, however, is witnessed when we apply the above equation. He desired good for mankind, and by His divine will He chose to send His Son Jesus Christ, and the fulfillment of this is His love for us.
God’s rescue plan for mankind is his greatest act of love, and an essential model for Christians. If love is a furnace, compassion is the pilot light. Compassion is the root of the desire of good for others.
In a recent report prepared by the Armenia-based Aurora Prize for Awaking Humanity, they state that many developed nations are experiencing something called the Compassion Gap, or “a large imbalance between what people say and feel versus what they would be willing to do.” Their research was primarily focused on attitudes regarding the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which is a topic that near to the hearts of many Armenians.
How often does your compassion ignite your love, and compel you to do something good? If you feel compassion for others in your life, community, or the world in general, but fail to act upon it, you’re in the compassion gap. More vitally, you aren’t allowing yourself to experience the love that was exemplified by Christ’s life. As often as possible, let’s invite this love into our lives by “doing good” for someone else, as Gregory of Tatev would say.
Fr. Mesrop Ash