The Balance of Fear and Love in the Christian Life

“’A monk must love God as a son and fear him as a slave.’ says Evagrius. In fact, this is so of every Christian, even if he is not a monk. It is a great art to unite love for God to fear of Him. Many other of the Holy Fathers also, when they speak of love for God, speak at the same time of fear of Him- and vice versa…the greatest love towards God of which man is capable can be turned into pride if it is not accompanied by a sense of fear- and great fear without love leads to despair.” – St. Nikolai Velimirovic

Comments

  1. This reminds of the sayings of St. Anthony the Great:

    Saying 32 Abba Anthony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (1 Jn. 4:18)

    Then his very next saying says this:

    Saying 33 He also said, “Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember Him who gives death and life…”

    This is yet another aspect of the one Royal Path we must tread to to live a balanced spiritual life: inordinate fear leads to hate and love with no fear leads to complacency and sin. Lord have mercy on us.

  2. Yes, St. Anthony the Great could say that he loved God and no longer feared Him. St. Maximus the Confessor and others explain that those who reach the heights of passionlessness and virtue finally reach real “love” (this is why it is the final step of the Ladder of Divine Ascent also). The fear that is extinguished is the fear of punishment that our sins and passions naturally bring with them.

    However, there is another kind of fear that never goes away, which is why it is even said in the 33rd Psalm, “O fear the Lord all ye His saints…” And this is why even the Cherubim and awesome Seraphim minister before the Lord of Glory with covered faces and in trembling because of His awesome might. This fear never leaves us, because unlike the other kind of fear it is not about who we are but about Who He Is.

    You will find on some occasions various folks of the Paris School variety quoting the famous, “I no longer fear God, I love Him.” But this is because their understanding is carnal and superficial. They want a teddy bear in the sky to never demand repentance or conformity to his will, or even sound theology. It is good to remind them that the Scriptures say it is only “perfect love” that casts out fear. We reach perfect love through the ascetical struggle with our passions and the acquiring in the Holy Spirit of the virtues. Only then can we say that the first kind of fear has been cast out.

    Fear is so crucial. In fact, it is required for Holy Communion: “With the fear of God, and with faith, draw near.”

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