There are so many books that are meant to be read over and over again, to continually learn and grow in there wisdom, of course the Bible is probably the most common, but the past few weeks I have read a book that I can not recommend enough and that I would like to read at least annually if not more often. Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios is a treasure of a book. Whether you are an Orthodox Christian or just looking for an engaging book you can not go wrong with this one.
People I know had been recommending this book to me for a long time and last year I finally picked up a copy, though it sat with the rest of my books until I watched a short video on the life of Saint Porphyrios, which reminded me, “Hey, I think I have a book about him.” The title both intrigued me and scared me. Anyone who has been grieved by a loved one can probably relate, however after reading, don’t be put off by the title. It’s not a sad book, nor will it reopen your personal wounds, in fact it may help you see things more clearly and heal.
The first half or so is the details of Saint Porphyrios’ life, told in a very easy conversational style as if you were sitting with this profound man listening to him talk about his journey. It is humbling to hear his struggles and how he stayed steadfast to God from a young age through everything. Born early in the 20th century Saint Porphyrios in sharing his own life gives insight to life in Greece through the various eras of modern history. From a small boy sent to herd sheep in his small village to a grown priest and confessor in the heart of Athens, it seems he remains unfazed by the upheaval his country has faced because of his closeness with God. In that alone there is much wisdom to gain, especially in the current state of our society.
However the second half of the book, shares the dear saint’s counsel. He covers innumerable topics from faith to family to sickness. Each chapter or maybe even each section of every chapter is filled with loving encouragement and grace. I know from this first reading not even a fraction of what I read was absorbed by my muddled mind, but what I did filled my heart with joy and also reminded me of areas I need to work on. Saint Porphyrios was clear in his points but for people of the world or have families or are always semi-distracted by things in life like me, it is unlikely we will attain all of the wisdom in this collection even after 10 readings.
Upon this reading one of the biggest take-aways I have is to love. I have learned over the years from my personal experiences that I have loved conditionally. I have believed in the give-and-take balance, and withheld love when I felt things were out of balance. I might have still cared for people offered up prayers and made small talk, but the love I gave was not equal to the love I would show if I felt things were in balance. This year Church services, books, scripture readings and just life are showing me that to be a Christian is to love without falter unconditionally. I know some would argue this makes one a doormat, but I would say no, because God will not give me more than I can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13) and also what is the alternative. I have returned hate for hate in the past and who did it benefit? Not me and not any one else involved. Another argument I have heard recently against love, is that some actions are unforgivable. There is some truth in that, however I am a mere mortal, so who am I to judge another? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone (John 8:7), I am certainly not without sin, so why should I harm my fallen brother or sister? We do not have to condemn a person because of their actions, we should love them and forgive them and pray for them, in the hope that they will do the same for our sinful selves.
Here is one small paragraph of Saint Porphyrios on the matter:
Above everything in love. The thing that must concern you, my children, is love for another person, for his soul. Whatever we do, whether it is prayer or advice giving or pointing out some error, let us do it with love. Without love prayer is of no benefit, advice is hurtful and pointing out errors is harmful and destructive to the other person who senses whether we love him or not and reacts accordingly. Love, love, love! Love for our brothers prepares us to love Christ more. Isn’t that perfect?
As much as I fail daily I do love you, my brothers and sisters and that is why I am recommending this book. That we may love each other more fully and grow closer to Christ together.
What is your favorite book to repeat? Talk to me about ways you have loved or not loved your neighbor? I always can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
*I want to be clear in that I do not endorse abuse or staying in abusive relationships, while forgiveness, love and prayer are important in those situations, staying is not typically the best option for anyone. If you feel you are being abused physically, sexually, verbally, or emotionally please seek help and let a skilled therapist or priest guide you to love safely.