Personhood and Love


I have written several times recently about the understanding of personhood – particularly as found in the writings of St. Silouan and the Elder Sophrony. They push the envelope of our understanding to the edge and then beyond. For many their work is difficult to understand – both because of vocabularly and because what they are saying in their writngs is simply hard to grasp. And yet, what they have to say is easily the most central part of their teaching – it is at the very heart of the “word” St. Silouan believed he had received from God for those of us of this generation. Thus I offer another post on the subject. After some reflection, I’ve thought about another way to approach their teaching.

We exist as persons solely by love. It is something that separates us as “individuals” from “persons.” An individual need love no one or no thing. An individual exists like a rock (forgive me Paul Simon). It is not the proper mode of existence for a human being created in God’s image – but it is a mode of existence that sin has birthed in us. Love is a struggle.

To exist as a person, however, is to exist by love. Thus, there must be others to love. For this reason it is said that we cannot exist as a person by ourselves alone. It is also the reason that ultimately we must love our enemies and all who exist – for to not love someone is to deny our own true existence. When sin entered the world, among its first results was murder, and necessarily so. Cain did not kill his brother – he couldn’t even see Abel as his brother. Before God he renounced any responsibility for his brother.

Since love is a gift from God and not something we create ourselves (at least the love by which we truly exist as persons) it is without limit. Every act of love extends the very fabric of our being.

I can recall in the early years of my marriage having conversations with my wife as our family grew. Having the first two children was a relatively “easy” decision. However there were and are many subtle cultural pressures to stop at two. Nevertheless we had four (thank God!). One of the absurd thoughts that crossed my mind during that time was, “Will I be able to love more children if we have them?” The thought is rooted in a concept of love as a limited commodity and the heart as unable to grow. Quite the opposite is true. The more we love the greater our capacity for yet more love. It is possible to love, even on the personal level, the entire universe (and not as a mere abstraction).

When you read the life of St. Silouan you realize that his love for all is also a love for each. He exists in something approaching the fullness of personhood.

My enemy is not only someone whom I am commanded to forgive and to love – he is also the means of my existence. The commandment to love your enemies is a word in the darkness crying, “Let there be light.”

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





10 responses to “Personhood and Love”

  1. Anastasia Theodoridis Avatar

    “…his love for all is also a love for each.”

    This reminds me of a “Peanuts” comic strip in which Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “I have no problem loving my fellow man. It’s PEOPLE I can’t stand!”

    Thanks, as always, for this.

  2. KM Avatar

    My circle of friends has been discussing several of these ideas over the last few months, and so I’m pleasantly tickled to see you address them here.

    I’ve not visited your blog for a little while, but I always value your contributions when I do.

    Thank you.

  3. Epiphanist Avatar

    I love, therefore I am. (forgive me Rene Descartes)

  4. fatherstephen Avatar


    This is precisely the title of Elder Sophrony’s nephew’s book on the life and thought of the Elder. Rene was close but no cigar.

  5. […] can be better understood in context of the posts Father Stephen has been writing on the subject of Personhood and Love, in which he explains the meaning of Saint Silouan and Archimandrite Sophrony’s writings on […]

  6. Katia Avatar

    Father Bless,

    “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your
    neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39).

    “… The following example by Abba Dorotheos illustrates the interrelationship of love for God and love for people: “Let us imagine,” says he, “a large circle. Let us suppose that this circle is our world and the center of it is God and the dots on its periphery are people. Some are closer to the center, i.e., to God; others are further away from Him. They draw closer to the center through the measure of their love for God, and through this same measure they draw near to one another, while in contrast their animosity draws them further away from one another and simultaneously distances them away from God. Such is the nature of love: The measure of our unity to those close to us determines our closeness to God….” – Love queen of virtue

    “…To exist as a person, however, is to exist by love.”- towards God.

    Thank you, now i will go and learn to struggle with joy.

  7. Darla Avatar

    Father, my husband and I have seven children and are trying to adopt an eighth (a 17 year old girl, actually). When you get this high in number, the “cultural pressures” (which is a nice way of saying “the naysayers” isn’t it?) aren’t always so subtle! 🙂

    My husband used to voice the same concern you mentioned — when we married he just wanted two or three children because he was concerned about his ability to love more. But it just keeps getting better! He loves our life style as a large family, as do I. God is good!

  8. […] from fr stephen’s post on personhood and love. read it. […]

  9. Meg Avatar

    Just got to read this, and every time I read something about wondering if one has the capacity to love one more child, I think of a Jewish woman who was writing about her nephew, a newly-minted and apprehensive older brother, who wondered if his parents’ love for him would diminish. It was the season of Hanukkah, and she chose a menorah to illustrate love: “See how we light one candle, and then the next? And the next? Does the flame lessen? No, the flame is the same, but the room grows brighter. And that’s how it is with new babies. Our parents don’t love us less, but the world grows brighter.” Wish someone had said that to me when I was little — I’m the oldest of five. 😉

  10. Andrew Avatar

    Personhood and Love. The summation of Pascha. The α and Ώ. Many years, Fr. Stephen & Matushka Freeman!

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