The word of the day is “blameless.” In our reading of 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, St. Paul prays that God would enable his congregation at Thessalonica to grow in their love for one another. He writes, “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you” (vs. 12). He adds the prayer that the result of this growth would be that God may “establish their hearts, blameless in holiness…” (vs. 13).
To be found without fault before God is the goal that our reading suggests as we begin our Nativity Fast. We are setting our sights on the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all the saints” (vs. 13). This “coming” is his parousia or appearing in glory. Then Christ will raise us from the grave to stand “before our God and Father” (vs. 13). Paul prays that when we appear before our Creator and God, our hearts will be “faultless” (Strong’s #237, 16). That means that they will be “beyond reproach (Strong’s #237, 16). We will be like Zachariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptism, who “in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord [were] blameless” (Luke 1:7).
Hearts Abounding in Love
How can God make our hearts to be without defect, holy, and pure? The Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament distinguishes “establish” with “stablish.” To “establish” something, one works from the outside. To “stablish” something, one works from the inside. (Strong’s # 4741, 234). Accordingly, the Holy Spirit works within our hearts to “stablish” them so that they are flawless. Thus, Paul writes, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
What must we do to cooperate with God as He does this internal work in our hearts? Paul prays that his flock “abound in love for one another and to all” (vs. 12). A heart that “abounds in love” is so full of love that it cannot contain anything else. St. Porphyrios teaches that we in the Body of Christ are to become one by the grace of Christ. He goes on, “…in this unity, in this love in Christ, there is no room here for any separation or any fear. Neither death, nor devil, nor hell. Only love, joy, peace, and the worship of God” (Porphyrios, 180).
Hearts Perfected by the Love of God and Neighbor
In the heart that knows nothing but love, there is no distinction between the love of God and the love of neighbor. The Apostle writes in 1 John that we cannot love God without loving our neighbor (4:20). And St. Porphyrios writes, “Love towards one’s brother cultivates love toward God (Porphyrios, 181). The two loves are bound together so tightly that the Apostle teaches that in each of them, love is “perfected,” that is, made complete (1 John 4:12 and 4:16) (Strong’s #5048).
In summary, as we continue our Nativity Fast, let us pray that God would fill our hearts to the brim with love for Him and our neighbor. May that fullness allow nothing else to find a place there. Then indeed, our love will come to perfection. By God’s grace, we will stand before our God and Creator with boldness and without fear (1 John 4:16).
Matthew the Poor writes, “What succinctly is purity? It is a heart that shows mercy to all created nature… And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing, and by the recollection and the sight of them, the eyes of merciful men pour forth abundant tears” (Matthew the Poor, 139). In this way, we follow Paul’s teaching to “abound in love for one another—and to all” (vs. 12).
Matthew-the-Poor. 2003. Orthodox Prayer Life. Translated by Wadi El-Natroun The Monastery of St. Macarius the Great, Egypt. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Porphyrios, St. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Translated by John Raffan. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, Publisher