Bishop Nectary (Kontsevich)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
On Love for God and Neighbor
by Bishop Nectary (Kontsevich) of Seattle
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In today's Gospel account, the highest law of love for God and neighbor is divulged to us with the utmost clarity, and a shining example of the interpretation of this law in life is given.
"A certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him, saying: 'Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" This is how the Gospel account begins. Jesus told him to look in the law and find for himself the answer to the question he posed; and the lawyer, quite rightly, quoted the principal commandments: to love God and neighbor. He then asked: "Who is my neighbor?" In answer to this question, the Lord told the wonderful parable of the merciful Samaritan: how a priest and a Levite passed by, without helping a man who had been robbed, beaten, wounded and left barely alive by brigands; only a Samaritan, a non-Jew despised by the Jews, showed him mercy, binding the poor man's wounds, putting him up at an inn, and seeing to his needs until he was finally able to leave.
Even though this parable is not a direct answer to the lawyer's question, "Who is my neighbor?," it gives him, and all of humanity, a divine lesson in love as the basic principle of life, and of how every man can and must become a neighbor to every person in need of mercy. "Go, and do thou likewise." The reading of the Gospel which we have listened to now ends with this instruction by the Savior.
How dear and how close to our heart is this Good Samaritan! How moving his love, sympathy, kindness and generosity. How compunctionate the sacrifice he shows to an stranger, one may even say an enemy, who had "fallen among thieves!"
On the other hand, how we condemn the priest and Levite of the parable, who saw their own countryman wounded and dying, yet declined to help the unfortunate man. We are truly appalled and troubled by their callousness and inhumanity. Pondering this parable, it seems to us most of all that we are convinced beyond any doubt that we would act just as the noble Samaritan acted. May God grant that it may be so. However, let us delve into our conscience and test and weigh our heart; more simply put, let us look back over the life we have lived. Then we will see how far we are from this ideal. How many times have we experienced the pricking of our conscience, which has reproached, and still reproaches us, for not helping and not sharing in any needed way in the woes or misfortunes of our neighbor, and perhaps, in certain cases, for even being the cause of his sufferings?...How can this be? We so sincerely desire to do good, but instead of good we more often than not do evil. We so sincerely desire to follow the example of the Samaritan with all our heart, yet in our life we walk in the footsteps of the heartless and callous priest and Levite. How can this be so?
The solution to this lies in the fact that not only do we fail to fulfill the highest commandments of love for God and neighbor, but even pervert them. The Lord says, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" [Jn. 14: 21]. This means that love for God is shown forth in the practical fulfillment of His commandments. According to these words of the Savior, which also forge a clear, full and unbreakable bond between all the commandments of God, one cannot fulfill the commandment of love for God while breaking any other commandment. And in reality, he who says that he loves God, but hates his brother, is a liar, according to the words of John the Theologian, the Apostle of love [see I Jn. 4: 30].
As concerns the second principal commandment, "Love thy neighbor as thyself," obviously, to carry out this commandment what is necessary first of all is to love oneself in the right way. Do we love ourselves? To this, at first seemingly naive and even strange question, most people will answer in the affirmative. But in reality who among us does not desire good for himself? Each desires for himself health, happiness, material prosperity, and success in all his endeavors, the satisfying of intellectual inquiries, and peace in his family, as well as peace, concord and love with all his neighbors. Most of all, each of us desires for himself salvation of soul, the beatific life in eternity. However, each of us, despite a constant and unsatisfied desire for what is good for himself, continually causes himself an unbelievable number of evils! Only think about how many evils, in the spiritual sense, we cause ourselves through pride, malice, envy, injustice and countless other sins, not to speak of our grievous and deadly sins and falls. Truly there is no such malefactor in the world who might cause us as much evil as each of us causes himself! And this happens because we have substituted for a real love for ourselves a self-love which inspires us to an unscrupulous fulfillment and satisfaction of all the sinful desires and lusts of our fallen will, which is guided by a false and wicked reason and a beclouded conscience. Thinking that we are satisfying love for ourselves, we are instead satisfying our self-love, and by this we do evil to ourselves, we destroy ourselves, we prepare for ourselves a grievous fate in eternity... Truly we have ourselves fallen among soul-destroying thieves and are in need of the lovingkindness of God!
Proper love for oneself, like love for God, lies in the labor of carrying out the commandments of Christ. If you bless those who curse you, you are loving yourself. If you do good to those who hate you, you are loving yourself. If you are meek and guileless, longsuffering toward your neighbor, and if in general you live by the commandments of God, you are properly loving yourself, and he who has properly loved himself can love his neighbor in a God-pleasing manner by fulfilling, in his regard, the all-holy commandments of the Lord.
However, the doing of good and the showing of love must be in Christ and for Christ's sake, i.e., we must look upon the love we show our neighbor as love given us by Christ, just as we must see Christ in our neighbor. Love is from Christ, through Christ and for Christ. But if we do good, even without hope of reward, merely for the sake of good, and are guided only by humanistic ideals, without Christ, this will, step by step, thought by thought, lead us to pernicious self-opinion and pride. Do we imagine that we are able to do anything without the help of Christ, given that He says "Without Me ye can do nothing" [Jn 15: 5]. This self-opinion and humanism divorced from Christ has already led the heterodox world to the dry, self-confident derangement of mind so fashionable in our times, which consists not only of a notorious co-existence with evil, but even of a collaboration, and perhaps even a concord, with it...This is why, already forty years from the time our homeland fell among cruel thieves, the whole world, having wrapped itself in the black shroud of humanism, in prideful self-intoxication, with icy indifference, like the priest and the Levite, passes by our homeland, which is wounded and suffering in body and soul, and does not want to deliver it from these inhuman sufferings, failing to understand that by this criminal indifference it is preparing destruction for itself.
And do not we, by our own indifference, to some degree share in this evil? Let us come to the sense that we are children of the Church of Christ and of our despised homeland! And if we find ourselves under conditions which do not now permit us to stand up for our homeland as we would like, still, within the realm of what is possible for us, we are obliged to reveal to the citizens of this country the holy truth of Holy Russia, as well as the wisdom, nobility and love for peace of the Orthodox Russian of the Tsars. We must pray for the deliverance of the Russian land from the yoke of those who fight against God, to pray as we pray for ourselves when we find ourselves in misfortune, to pray as ardently as we pray for our mother or our sick child in danger of dying. We are obligated also to lay bare the satanic essence of the Bolshevist regime which fights against God, under the yoke of which our homeland is oppressed, and to show clearly that it [that regime] by its demonic nature is able to make progress only in evil.
Within ourselves, in our hearts, let us preserve, cherish and strongly guard the only treasure left to us‹the Orthodox Faith and the Orthodox Church of Christ. Let us keep them pure, like the apple of our eye. Here and everywhere, in our personal, family and social life, let us be Orthodox and Russians, with capital letters. Let us labor in the doing of good deeds, in the light of the commandments of love, calling for help upon our Lord and Savior, and never forgetting His most sweet words: "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" [Jn 14: 21].
Sermon delivered in 1958, at the Cathedral of the All-holy Theotokos, the Joy of All Who Sorrow, in San Francisco. Bishop Nectary (Kontsevich) was a spiritual son of the venerable Elder Nektary of Optina, and occupied the see of Seattle. He reposed on the feast of the New Martyrs of Russia, in 1982.