The Lord wants us to love each other; this is the essence of freedom—love for God and for your neighbor. This is both freedom and equality.
Love. Freedom. Equality. Is this not the language of our modern age? One needn’t turn very far to hear these words spoken or to see them emblazoned upon a shirt or a billboard. John Lennon famously sung, “All you need is love.” And he was right: all we need is love. So if love is all we need, then we must know the definition of love—God’s love.
The opening quote is not from the Beatles. It is from St. Silouan the Athonite. Though St. Silouan uses similar words to John Lennon’s, his life and his example to us could not be more different than the life and example of the Beatles.
St. Silouan was a Russian peasant, born to pious parents in 1866. He had virtually no formal education. As a young man, he got in a fight and nearly killed a man. He then had a spiritual crisis, which caused him to reject the drinking, socializing life he had led. He resolved to become a monk and to go to Mt. Athos, where he became an unknown monk—among 9,000 monks on Athos at that time—and remained there for the rest of his life.
St. Silouan’s education came through prayer, the liturgical services, and Holy Scripture. He was taught by God, such that he became a theologian, writing profound spiritual insights on little scraps of paper. These scraps were collected by Archimandrite Sophrony, his spiritual son, who exposed the world to this spiritual giant of our times. St. Silouan is commemorated on September 24 each year, and we will have Orthros and Divine Liturgy in his honor.
As you can see, St. Silouan is quite different from John Lennon; yet both of them spoke of love. What is love? In St. Silouan’s quote we can begin to see what love looks like. It has freedom and it brings about equality.
The freedom that St. Silouan speaks of is not the freedom so commonly promoted in America: freedom for me to do what I want. Rather it is the ultimate freedom from enslavement to our fallen self. As children of Adam and Eve, we are born under bondage, slaves of our passions and selfish desires. By denying these “masters” we become truly free. Contemporary notions of freedom promote the opposite: they glorify our selfish desires, further enslaving us. It is only when we can love our neighbor as ourselves, becoming selfless instead of selfish, that we can experience true freedom.
St. Silouan wrote extensively about love—a God-given love which spans all of mankind, embracing each person as our very self. Through his prayers, may we learn what love is and become truly free.