Guest Viewpoints

St. Porfyrios: Falling in Love in Christ

March 31, 2023
By Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis

For the Orthodox Church, the authenticity of human life is realized in a living relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit that enables humans to experience the fullness of their humanity in loving one another and serving those in need. Through their identification with Christ, Christians are signs of His living presence and action in the world. However, not all their actions reflect the presence of Christ in them. Evil and sin disrupt people’s unity and identification with Christ.

The consumerism mentality and the prevailing utilitarianism reduce relations to commodities people use for instant gratification, serving their self-interests. This mentality has influenced how some Christians understand their relation to Christ and others. They only refer to Christ if needed, and they selectively remember whatever from his teaching serves their self-interests. In the same spirit, others see Christ as an ethical teacher who taught us to love one another. While it is true that Christ, in his ministry, reveals through his pattern of life and his teaching the will of God, what Christ has granted to the world is much more than his ethical teaching. Still, others reduce their faith to an ideology that legitimizes their cultural identity, forgetting that Christ came to the world proclaiming the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, which is not of this world.

Although these understandings clarify aspects of Christ’s identity and relation to the world, they do not communicate the richness of the inexhaustible mystery of God’s involvement in the world’s life. Thus, reflecting on the relationship Christians should have with Christ, their Lord, and Savior is essential.

For Orthodoxy, Jesus Christ is the very presence of God in the world that has come to grant us the fullness of life, which is defined in Orthodoxy as a divine-human reality. He is not just the presence of God in the world but also the revelation of what it means to be fully human since the fullness of our humanity is a ‘theanthropic reality’, a divine and human event.

In this short article, I will present St. Porfyrios’s view that Christians should fall in love with Christ; their relationship with Him should be understood as erotic. “Our relation to Christ is love, eros, passion, enthusiasm, longing for the divine. Christ is everything. He is our love. He is the object of our desire.” St. Porfyrios elucidates the importance of this erotic love for Christ by describing the intensity of love a person has for his beloved. “If you are in love, you can live amid the hustle and bustle of the city center and not be aware that you are in the city center. You see neither cars nor people nor anything else. Within yourself, you are with the persons you love. Your experience her, you take delight in her, and she inspires you.” He then raises the question: “Are these things not true? Imagine that the person you love is Christ. Christ is in your mind; Christ is in your heart. Christ is in your whole being, Christ is everywhere.”

Falling in love with Christ means we seek His attention, however minimal it may seem to us in some instances. We must be thankful and appreciative of whatever blessings He bestows on us: “Let Him give us whatever He wishes…My Christ, whatever Your love dictates, it is sufficient  for me to live within Your love.” Those who live in and with Christ become divinely intoxicated. Joy fills their hearts since Christ is in himself joy. He is the “all joyful joy” that surpasses every joy. This joy never fades away; it lasts forever. It is a gift of Christ, “who desires and delights in enriching our lives with Joy.” We know Christ through the joy that He bestows on our lives. It is primarily a gift of His love for us that we graciously receive. Our life aim  is for the “soul to be awakened and love Christ, and become holy, to give herself over to divine eros.” In this way, we know Christ as we relate in love with Him.

St. Porfyrios insists that joy is characteristic of those who have Christ in their hearts. He believes Christians should be “joyful” in their spiritual practices: “Fast as much as you can, make as many prostrations as you can, attend as many vigils as you like, but be joyful.” Christians should strive not to practice the different customs, traditions, and discipline of the Church but, most importantly, to “find a way to enter into the light of Christ,” to allow the divine eros to touch their hearts and souls. This is, for him, a taste of Paradise: “What is Paradise? It is Christ. Paradise begins here and now. It is the same: those who experience Christ here on Earth experience paradise.” For St. Porfyrios, “hell is separation from Christ, the absence of love. In this world, we have a choice either to be with Christ and live with the joy of his presence in us, or live apart from Him and taste this life as hell.” Christians should strive to love Christ, their neighbor, and everyone, including their enemies. In his view, loving ourselves is realized by loving Christ and our neighbor. “That is Christianity: through love for our brother to arrive at love for God.”

St. Porfyrios recognizes the pervasiveness of sin and human weakness in the present world and exhorts Christians not to despair. Christians must live with hope: “It is bad to despair because someone who despairs becomes embittered and loses his willingness and strength. Someone who has hope, on the contrary, advances forward.” Amid the trials and tribulations that permeate life in the present world, Christians should unceasingly strive to advance and deepen their unity with Christ so they feel the joy of His presence in their lives. They should constantly explore ways to love Christ and be present in all their thoughts and actions. This intimate relationship with Christ gives them the grace to endure as they cope with the challenges of life.

Falling in love with Christ liberates Christians from loneliness. Those who have fallen in love with Christ are “peaceable, joyous, full.” They do not experience melancholy, illness, pressure, anxiety, depression, or hell. They endure injustices with joy. They can even suffer unjustly as Christ has unjustifiably suffered. If Christ has entered our hearts, we are unable to swear, hate, seek revenge, or have other passions. He questions: How could there be in our hearts hatred, dislikes, censure, egotism, anxiety, and depression? The joy of Christ’s presence liberates us from the passions that alienate us from our true nature, to be the visible presence of Christ in the world.

How does a Christian understand the inevitability of death, the physical separation of body and soul that all humans experience as mortal beings? St. Porfyrios confessed when he was seriously ill to the point of losing this life, his mind was set primarily on Christ’s love and inheritance of eternal life. This love made him think not about his sins but about the joy of meeting his beloved. It led him to believe that death is a bridge Christians will cross instantly to continue their life in Christ. Reflecting on the possibility of his imminent death, he confessed: “I didn’t want to feel fear. I wanted to go to the Lord and think about His goodness. His love.” St. Porfyrios desired to surrender wholeheartedly to Christ’s love and be happy where he would send him. He confessed that when the time comes to stand in the presence of Christ for judgment, he will bow his head and say to Him: “Whatever you want, my Lord, whatever your love desires. I know I am not worthy. Send me wherever your love wishes. I am fit for hell. And place me in hell as long as I am with You. There is one thing I want, one thing I desire, one thing I ask for, and that is to be with You, wherever and however You wish.”


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