And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)
Saint Porphyrios (d. 1991) tells the story of an elder hermit who had two disciples who lived with him. They planned to attend a vigil at a neighboring monastery that was quite a distance across the desert. The elder sent his two disciples ahead to help prepare the church and planned to follow them later in the day. Porphyrios picks up the story:
The monks had covered some considerable distance when suddenly they heard a groaning noise. A man was lying badly injured and was crying for assistance.
‘Take me with you, please,’ he implored. ‘Here in the desert no one else is going to pass by and who will help me? There are two of you. Lift me up and take me to the nearest village.’
‘There’s no way we can do that,’ they replied. ‘We’re in a hurry to go to a vigil and we’ve got instructions to prepare everything.’
‘Please take me with you! If you leave me, I’ll die. I’ll be eaten by the wild beasts.’
‘We can’t do it. We’ve got to do what we’ve been told to.’
And they walked on.
In the afternoon the elder set out along the same road to go to the vigil. He came to the spot where the injured man was lying. He saw him and went up to him and said, ‘What’s happened to you, good man of God? How long have you been lying here? Did no one see you?’
‘Two monks passed by in the morning and I asked them to help me, but they were in a hurry to go to the vigil.’
‘Don’t worry. I’ll carry you along,’ said the elder.
‘You won’t be able to,’ said the injured man. ‘You’re an old man and there is no way that you’ll be able to lift me up.’
‘Not at all, you’ll see I’ll manage. I can’t leave you here. I’ll bend down and you will grab hold of me and I’ll carry you along until we get to the nearest village. A little today and a little tomorrow, but I’ll get you there.’
With great difficulty he hoisted the man onto his back and set off. Walking in the sand with such a great weight was nearly impossible. Sweat was pouring from him in rivers. He thought to himself, ‘It will take three days, but I’ll get there.’ As he continued on his way, however, he felt his burden getting lighter and lighter until he felt that he was carrying nothing at all. He turned round to see what was happening and was astonished to see an angel on his back. The angel said to him, ‘God sent me to inform you that your two monks are not worthy of the Kingdom of God because they don’t love.” (WOUNDED BY LOVE, p 189)
St Porphyrios says, “Love towards Christ is without limits, and the same is true of love towards our neighbor. It should radiate everywhere, to the ends of the earth, to every single person.” Thinking of Christ’s question after telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, which man proved to be neighbor to the man in need (Luke 10:36)? The monks who faithfully and obediently attended and prayed at the vigil or the one who didn’t even attend?