In the messages to the angels of the seven churches, the Lord said: “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write … I know your works, your labor, your patience … and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name##s sake, and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent …” (Rev 2: 1- 5)
Here God blames His beloved, for unless He loves them He would not blame them but leave them to their end. In this message God mentions first the good works of that angel before the things against him which are evident in the decrease of his love. God did not mention to him particular faults but summarized them in one sentence: You have left your first love. These words may be addressed to you from God or from people or friends, as the Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you …” (Mt 5: 23) How amazing that these words the Lord speaks to a person of a high position! They are not said to a sinner, a lost person, or an ordinary person, but to an angel of a church who is in the Lord##s right hand, and who had struggled, endured with patience, labored for the sake of the Lord##s name without getting weary! Is it not strange that a person of such a type loses his love?! We are here taught to be on our guard however great we become. Although he is an angel he fell and needed to repent! Mere leaving his first love is considered a fall, for he did not deviate, but he left that first love which he began with. That is true, for many people started repentance with deep fervency, but by time they lost fervency. Others started ministry with holy zeal, which by time decreased. Others used to enter the church with a deep feeling of unworthiness to stand among the saints, their eyes filled with tears and their heart with humility and contrition. They began as repentant, then ministers, then leaders in the church. At this points they were lost, and deserved to hear the voice of the Lord, “you have left your first love”! It was better for such people to have kept their love as in the beginning. It is supposed that a person starts in a good way then grows step by step till the utmost possible perfection, but to start well then falls down step by step till the Lord says, “You have left your first love” is really a bad thing. Sometimes you blame someone for leaving his first love, but he says: ##How is that? Did I do you any wrong?## Actually, it is not a matter of wrong and right, but of feelings and emotions. Such are things to be felt, not to be discussed or need convincing. Such things can be felt when one greets us with less warmness, with less joy for the meeting, with less longing. There is no wrong done, but there is no love in the words, the voice, the eyes, the features, and the warmness. Love is felt not written or read. This applies likewise to our relationship with God. You may pray, but without longing to God, without emotions or desire to stay more with God, unlike David who said, “I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness.” “My soul thirsts for You in a dry and thirsty land.” “How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord.” You pray, but without contact with God; mere words uttered! It is as the Lord said, “These people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from me.” (Isa 29: 13; Mt 15: 8; Mk 7: 6) While you pray the Lord may say to you, “You have left your first love,” and you say to Him, ##did I fall short in my prayer? Are my psalms, meditations, or readings less? I keep the times of spiritual practices.## Then the Lord will say, “It is true that you pray, but not with the first love.” Another aspect of love is trust. It may happen that a friend says to you one day: ##In the past you trusted me, but now my actions and my relationship with you are an object of doubt. In the past you never suffered a word against me but defended me strongly, but now you may hear words against me and keep silent or even believe what is said and take the side of the adversaries.## The same may happen in our relationship with God. A person may start with full trust in God, in His promises, love, care, dealings, and will, saying even in tribulations, ##The myrrh which the Lord chooses for me is better than the honey I choose for myself!## But now a person starts to blame God for the way He deals with him, for not responding to his prayers, for not giving him what he made vows for or celebrated a holy mass for, or for not giving him the post or the promotion or the success he asked for. Such a person may one day say to God, “I have this against You; that You have left Your first love!!!” But God will say, “It is you who lost trust and faith in Me.” In your first love you gave priority to nothing else, but wholly to God. God was to you the First or rather everything. But now you say to Him, ##If I have time, I will pray, read, and meditate. If I have power and strength, I will fast and serve. If I have surplus after satisfying my needs, I will pay the tithes and the first fruits. Otherwise I will have my excuse; God has become last on the list! What happened? Where is God##s priority?! You have left your first love. You have changed, God says, ##this is not the person I knew for years ago.## ##You are not the person who loved Me and rejoiced in Me. Though you have labored for My name##s sake and did not get weary, yet your labor lacks love. It is like a person who has great activities in the ministry and in the church meetings and committees, but God is not in his heart! It is also like a wife who does not feel the love of her husband although he works hard and is always away from home in his work, and when she blames him for the lack of love, he says, ##I labor for your sake, to provide for the house.## This is like the case of the elder son in the story of the Lost Son. The elder son said to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time.” (Lk 15: 29) But his emotions were away from his father, and his will not in conformity. He refused to go into the house and share his father##s joy for the return of his brother. He even ascribed to his father avarice and oppression, saying, “You never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came …” He doubted his father##s love! Sometimes people have an outward relationship, not from the heart and the emotions. It is like a person who seeks to meet his friend not because he loves him but to keep his weak relationship with him going on even formally! It is like a person who goes to work just to sign the attendance sheet but with dislike to work, or a person who attends a party held for his colleague so that his colleague may not blame him, but without any emotions. Another person acts, even spiritually, in a routine way. Such a person may pray, fast, read, mediate, attend the church, confess, and partake of the Holy Communion, but without love for God in all these practices. It is mere fulfillment of duties so that his conscience may not brick him! He left his first love, while the Lord says, “My son, give Me your heart.” (Prov 23: 26) Where then is the old longing to God?! You are not the one I knew before! I knew you as a kindled fire, but now you are a mere running machine that can move by remote control without need for God##s Spirit to run it. The Bride of the Song representing the Church or the human soul in its relationship with God had such great love, but after some time God stood at her door knocking and saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is covered with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” But, alas, she said to Him, “I have taken off my robe; how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; how can I defile them?” (Song 5: 2, 3) Where is the first love? There is nothing now but excuses instead! We give ourselves excuses, present hindrances and justifications. When our love was fervent we did not care about hindrances, but we overcame them. Now when love decreased excuses appeared. When we were young we once went to visit a young man who had not come to the youths meeting for a long time, and we found that he had become a smoker. One of us began to indicate to him the harm of smoking, another told him about a good example, a third tried to convince him with verses and evidences, but one of us kept speaking to him in a spiritual way and said to him, ##I have one question to ask you: do you love God as you did before?## Indeed! When love decreases, man needs verses, convincing, and evidences. In the past you used to cast yourself before God, but now you argue and discuss every advice and every command. You want to be convinced, and you may refuse guidance. Actually it is not the guidance that is unacceptable, but the lack of love. Even the verses you want an explanation for them that suits your desires. In the past you did not only obey the commands, but also the mere signals. If you just felt that a certain act is unacceptable to Him you refrained from doing it, without need for convincing. You did not need to know the purpose of the commandment, but suffice that it is a commandment of God to obey it. Your heart led you to God, not your human wisdom or mind. Another excuse you give yourself is your involvements When your love decreases you will take your involvements as an excuse justifying your keeping away from God. You now are occupied with other things or other persons than Him, preferring them to Him. The fault is not with the involvements but with the decrease of love in your heart. There remains from your relationship with God faith alone, with mere formalities and outward practices, like one meeting a friend and exchanging kisses with him, but without love! This often happens in our meetings, our visits, and even in church. It is a mere formal kiss with no emotions! Another example is confession in the hearing of the father confessor: it may be without contrition, regret, or repentance. A person may also enter a monastery or a church without the feeling of awe, or under the pretext of holy zeal focuses there on keeping order among the congregation! Zeal should be for being attached to God, not for keeping order. At the beginning a person is occupied with God alone, but afterwards will be concerned about the sins of the others. The problem is not in judging others, but in leaving your first love and being involved with people even in church!