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Morality, freedom and way of existence
Protopresbyter Fr. Constantine Strategopoulos
5th educative Homily on “Orthodox Freedom”
Fr. Constantine Strategopoulos has for many years been the head of the Bureau for Overseas Mission of the Church of Greece. The text below from one of his homilies has preserved the immediacy of the spoken word, but in parallel, you will notice that he is expressing his thoughts in a manner that is somewhat complicated for presenting in a written article. Thus, when reading it, you should bear in mind that it is a live broadcast, in order to better perceive its nuances.
You all remember how the analysis we made this year had this general title, which at times may have also seemed unusual and overly idealistic; And yet, for the sphere of our lives – and not just the sphere of Orthodoxy – the matter of freedom is a huge one, because a perverted perception of “freedom” can lead to numerous side-effects – both personal and social.
After all, there isn’t a religion in the world, or an ideology or a philosophy, that hasn’t preoccupied itself one way or another with the issue of freedom. Some of them leaned towards an absolute, anarchic freedom and others leaned towards a constraint of freedom; Orthodoxy, however, provides those delicate balances which – in the end – are not mere theological formulations. Just as the topics I am analyzing here are not mere theological designations.
I am striving – as you will also see – to be entirely practical, by approaching certain matters with practical expressions also. Although, for something practical, even if practical replies are given, there can be no answers unless they contain theology. Likewise, a theology that doesn’t have a practical application is not a theology. This is always the case: a practice is ‘illuminated’ by a theology (and don’t let that word “scare” you); theology always has a practice as its result. This is why we study and we educate ourselves with theology, and this is why the Fathers of the Church placed so much emphasis officially on theological fermentations: i.e., they did not regard these things (theological analyses) as a “cultural thing”, which they “just felt like” dealing with, so that they too would be “doing something” within the sphere of the Church, and so that people wouldn’t say that the Fathers of our Church were lacking in philosophy. In other words, they remained uninfluenced by the contemporaneous mentality of the Pythagoreans, of the motto «let no-one enter who lacks geometry» (ìçäåßò áãåùìÝôñçôïò åéóåßôù), which meant that if one had no knowledge of geometry they could not enter the realm of Pythagorean philosophy. The Fathers did not strive, like others, (in order to attain a certain glory for their human thought, i.e., their philosophy), to proclaim that “we too are preoccupied with such matters”. To them, it was a necessity of life, and every necessity of life brings about results, for everything in our lives.
That is why, whatever occurs in our lives – in the practice of our lives – must essentially have a theological basis behind it. And if there are no theological roots to whatever goes on during general fermentations within the realm of the Church, of the world, then the answers will be incorrect, even to their everyday problems – to whatever you perceive people to be confronting.
I ventured some approaches in the past, even for that issue of the supposed “conflict” between the two Churches (Constantinople, etc.). But without theological prerequisites (just legal ones, or various kinds of social thoughts), solutions cannot be given to problems. To any problems.
So, what I am doing here is studying theology in depth, and giving practical answers. As we embark on this series of lessons, I want to go into a deeper and more detailed analysis of “freedom”. Again, it will be a practical application.
Let me begin backwards. When living in a society – in any society – the Hellenic one, or the European community, or in any other community that we might be living in : of the Asian kind, the African kind, or at any other level, any one inhabitant or participant of that community or country ‘carries’ upon himself certain impositions, from the moment he is born. There are some who even react to these pre-existent impositions.
There are the social impositions; that is, certain social ethics and customs. When one lives in his environment, one must accept impositions such as these. They may be wrong, but they also may be correct. They may be good, or they may be bad. But there are impositions – that is a fact. There are also legal impositions, which pertain to the Law. These impositions may be good or bad, and quite often they are well-meaning. Finally, there are the moral impositions. These are what we call “moral order”, “moral law”. And all three – the way that we define them for social matters – constitute a tragedy! Because they are impositions!
In other words, man is born into a society which has impositions and restrictions. Of course, I will venture to say (and you know this also), that if it wasn’t for the Fall of Man, there would have been no need for any kind of social imposition, any kind of moral imposition, any kind of legal imposition, and Man would have remained free, the way he was born to be, the way he exists. But now, there are all these impositions in his life.
However, as an Orthodox, I cannot regard these as a given beauty, or as something that will provide balance in my life. And not only are they not beauty, they sometimes even bring on negative things in my life. And they also bring on a few reactions. So: we have legal impositions, social impositions, which necessarily hold together “something”, but only according to the relativity pointed out in the words of Saint Maximus the Confessor, who says:
«What you call ‘good’- with what measure do you measure it, to call it ‘good’? It could very well be bad. And what you call ‘bad’ - with what measure do you measure it, to call it ‘bad’? Because it could very well be good ».
And so, Maximus the Confessor raises the matter of measure; because, with what measure do these impositions (moral, legal, social) evaluate what is bad or good? What does “moral” mean? With what measure do they measure morality? In other words, what is morality? With what measure does the Law evaluate ‘good’? This is of immense importance.
Maximus the Confessor plants a veritable bomb in this matter, by inserting the question of “what is good” and “what is bad”. If something does not have a “good” measure and you were to simply tell me that “There is no such thing as good, only hatred”, then it would be foolish… All these impositions are oppressive. In fact, Maximus the Confessor states this in his own words –but with a more general, Patristic mentality- by adding the tragedy of a fourth imposition: I mentioned moral, legal, and social impositions. The Fathers of the Church, however, point out –very strongly- the tragedy of another imposition, which is called religious imposition. A religion can determine your life. And that is where the tragedy of religion emerges from.
You see now, how I am creating speculations. In other words, I am blowing up the foundations of our society, right from the very start - the moral, the legislative, the social foundations - and I am also blowing up something else, by linking the word «tragedy» to the word «religion». Because a religion is also imposed upon you as something violent, and it determines your life. You are not free. And there have been very many thinkers who, in their religious seeking, have often perceived religion as a restriction of their freedom. And they are right!
So, what do we, as Orthodox, have? Listen up, and I will try to overcome this impasse.
Orthodoxy does not focus on whether something is “good” or not – i.e., according to what the imposition demands. Orthodoxy does not tell a mother that what she is doing to her child is “good”, whenever she imposes something on it in order to protect it from a side-effect. This happens because she has been influenced by a thought system, and the moral-legal-social impositions are a system, whose presuppositions you have accepted. Religious imposition is the same thing.
Listen now to my attempt to approach the matter Orthodoxically. It is of great importance that you comprehend the answer. It is a life-touching answer. It is an opportune answer. And it extracts us from that impasse, which many other societies had reached - especially when they had experienced a moralistic, legalistic and “socialistic” or (forcefully) imposed religious Christianity. All the forms of society which had experienced such a Christianity, now have an alternated Christianity; they have – I would say – a “fallen” Christianity. Or, a freakish version of Christianity.
Now listen to the course that leads towards the solution. All the above have only been a “prologue”. Look, a topmost issue for Orthodox theology is man’s way of living. The Fathers called it “man’s being”. This is of extreme importance.
Let me give you a “tiny” example, so that you will understand. To understand what God is, is something difficult and unapproachable. Can we ask what His way of existence is? He is inaccessible. And because it is such an important matter, Saint John the Theologian comes along and tells us that “God is Love” (John 1, 4:8). He is not defining God at that moment – in his first epistle – when he says that “God is Love”; he is only referring to His manner of existence; that is, “God exists as Love”.
Note carefully when we mention “the way of existence”; i.e., when asking “WHAT do you exist as”? One might say that his/her “way of existence” is the result of the communion between two parents. But that is not the meaning we seek! That reply only explains “HOW” my physical existence came to be: HOW I came to exist presently; HOW I was born here, in this world. In this context, no-one can reply to the question of “HOW God exists”, given that He is pre-eternal and un-manufactured. And yet, Orthodox theology actually speaks of God’s way of existence, by telling us that His way of existence is Love. Note here the use of the word “way”. The Fathers have said that it implies the fullness of the triadic, personal communion. This is what love is: it is a fullness of triadic and personal communion, which acts from within the freedom of Love. This is God’s “way”.
If, therefore, I am looking to find Man’s “way of existence”, then that would be my big question, i.e.: “HOW does Man exist?” Given that God has created Man in His image, I cannot but place myself within the concept of that image, and likewise say (without being unreasonable, and speaking strictly Orthodoxically) that Man’s way of existence is –as an image of God– also “his being”; that is, Man’s way of existence is also Love. No other way exists. Having created Man in His image, wouldn’t God endow Man with His par excellence element of existence also? In other words, Man exists as Love. Nothing else. This, you see, is why Saint Maximus the Confessor says (in another, parallel excerpt to the one I mentioned earlier on) that: «Ïýôå êáêüí ïýôå áãáèüí ç èåüôçò. Ôáýôá ãáñ ðÜèç Ý÷åé» [Godhood is neither ‘bad’ nor ‘good’; for, both these things are impassioned.] He is saying here that God is neither “good” nor “bad”…. See? What a beautiful expression this is, for overcoming the tragedy of “good” and “bad”! Because both these terms contain passions within them; after all, the “good” may not be perfect, and the “bad” may not be so bad…. You will find this in the amazing work by Saint Maximus: “On Divine Names”.
So, this is Man’s “way of existence”. Man was made to become a participant of this freedom of God’s Love. Just as God is free – since there is nothing that can determine Him – in the same way, because Man is in the image of God (and we need to understand this point), he too is free, by the Grace of God. You see, this is why it is so difficult to comprehend the Apostle Paul’s words, that “the Truth shall set you free” (John 8:32) and “in freedom have we been called ‘brethren’”. And yet we hear people say: “So, where is this freedom that you’re talking about? I’m subjugating myself to Christ here, and you call this ‘freedom’?”
Now, it’s possible that you are getting closer to these meanings; this means you will be entering a sphere that unlocks freedom for you. But, if you actually live in that sphere – if you actually live according to God (which is the per se triadic expression of the fullness of love) – then you will actually end up in freedom.
Listen to an example of a ‘provocation’ regarding freedom: You might say for example: “Where am I free? You are always telling me to do this or that!” Be careful, because even “how you say” something is important. If you say it with moralistic undertones, or haughtily, or punitively, or even with an ‘infernal’ perspective and viewpoint, then you will have barred every prospect of freedom, right from the beginning. One who feels threatened, that “if he doesn’t do what God says, he will go to Hell”, even if he doesn’t refute the Scriptures (because what is very important, is how this has been conveyed to him), then that person will have been conquered by a fear – a perfect fear – and he will not have any sense of what ‘freedom’ means – not even a tangible sense. What freedom? (he will ask). When you have just told him that “if you don’t do this, you will go to hell” and he is supposedly afraid of going to hell, he will do it, but only out of fear. But because of that fear, he will not be free to do something else!
Perhaps from within this Patristic pondering that I am presenting to you today, you might just be able to somewhat comprehend a concern of many people, i.e., someone might say: “I’m not free to do this or that, because I will go to Hell”. Because the manner that this is presented is a negative manner, (that IF you don’t do it, you WILL go to hell), it is an imposition on him. It is a religious imposition, which does not relate to Christianity, to Orthodoxy. It relates to other ‘versions’ of Christianity.
Man, therefore, begins with this presupposition: the presupposition that he is made out of Love, and that only when he lives that fullness of love, will he become free. And because he lives that fullness of Love, he resembles God, inasmuch as if God is free, Man is likewise free. Who can confine him? He is, after all, made to be Love! And nobody, absolutely nobody, can confine Love! Will God confine Love, Who is Himself Love? So, another answer must be found. Of course I can’t tell you right now that “if you enter Christianity, you are free” – you are full of passions and vices! But if you overcome those passions and vices – if you end up in the image of God, according to the fullness of Love, then you will become free. In other words, a struggle takes place for freedom. This is a struggle with ourselves eventually, and not with God. Without God, there is no Love, there is no freedom. In other words, without God, I cannot say “what Love is”. I am unable to speak of Love towards God, and of freedom. They are entirely relative and deteriorated notions.
Every single system, ideological, philosophical and religious, that speaks of Love and Freedom without including God, has no idea what it is talking about. If I were to take their views and study them, one by one, I will notice that they have tremendous gaps in them. What is this thing that people call “Love”? There are systems in which the word “Love” does not even exist. Let me give an example, so you can understand this better: It is my opinion that within the entire religious edifice of Islam, the word “Love” is nonexistent. There is no room for the word “Love”. Because they have a single God, and not a Triunal one. The Triunal God involves an “inter-embracing”. An “inter-embracing” between persons. The one God however, has no-one to “inter-embrace” with; he is a solitary lord, and he has nothing to Love (except only to concede certain possibilities to Man, such as breathing….). Thus you see how the perversion of Islam overall – on account of its inability to live that thing called “Love” and to comprehend the Triunal God – has placed Justice as its topmost virtue; a virtue that can, however, bring about catastrophic results. For example, a fanatic Muslim, in his desire to impose Justice, can kill many thousands of fellow-humans. This is a perverted notion of Justice, because it does not comprehend the meaning of Love.
Therefore, there cannot be any Love, or any Freedom, without this Triunal God. Because if God is not Love – if God cannot love – then He too is not free. Because, what is freedom judged by? It is judged by how much you love, how much you can “inter-embrace”. It is not a freedom of “I will do as I please”, but a freedom of “I can love”. Because if I want to, I am free to choose “I cannot love”. And this is where a very serious issue is judged.
Therefore, the words “Love” and “Freedom” are empty meanings, if they lack God. I could make hundreds of extensions on the topic: the fact remains, that any concept whatsoever, in any democratic system whatsoever, that pertains to a supposed “Freedom”, is shattered – to the point that I can positively assert that ANY social system whatsoever that has not become acquainted with God, is a system that truly lacks freedom. Either that, or it is merely a pseudo-liberal system that will bring on other perversions, or, it will not contain any freedom whatsoever and will be a downright, implanted, totalitarian system, or, it will be a system that merely plays with the word “freedom”. You see how the “liberal” systems of Western societies are quite frequently the ruin of society, because they only vaguely profess “certain” liberal systems? For example, the “liberal” financial model is a model that oppresses those who are not financially strong; therefore, the notion of “freedom” is negated from the very start here…..or any other form of provocation of freedom for that matter, through the implementation of oppressive measures (because I know for a fact that in this society, many people make mistakes) – in other words, when people’s freedom is confined even slightly, with the excuse that it is intended “for their protection”….. This too is disastrous!
Then there was the example of the military junta here in Greece, with the model that we came to know as “Papadopoulos’* plaster cast”; i.e.: “you (the people) must remain confined in this ‘plaster cast’, and your health will be restored eventually”. But the ‘plaster cast’ they refer to is actually Freedom! And that is precisely the trap implemented by all totalitarian systems - they all profess ‘freedom’! “Liberals” profess a freedom that doesn’t pertain to everyone and is a ‘freedom’ to conquer and exploit others, while to other “systems”, ‘freedom’ is a ‘freedom’ of….the future. The overall model – the overall social model of Marxism – is an example of this “promised freedom to come”; it is a society of the future, which will be led to an absolute freedom, by now confining itself in a ‘plaster cast’. This ‘plaster cast’ already exists, in various shapes and sizes….I think you understand what I mean by this…. The same applies to the notion of “Love”, and even more so…. Therefore, without the concept of the Triunal God, Love cannot exist…… Love – Friendship – Eros….. How can this model function? What is there, to “illuminate” it? What would the model be? We are talking about a way of existence here. Those German philosophers did so much in-depth searching on this matter and philosophized on the “zein”, and yet they never even touched on the “way of existence”….they sought it, but they only moved around its circumference… Later on, the existentialists in France took the matter further down, but I won’t go into the details of their positions for the time being. Thus, this factor of the Trinity is not only imperative – in fact, not even “inter-embracing” can exist, if Love and Freedom do not exist.
* George Papadopoulos: leader of the military coup and the pursuant 7-year reign of dictatorship.
Now let’s take a look at something equally important here. Quite often, irrationality has been observed in the understanding of certain things within Orthodoxy. We say that “Man is in the image of God”. But pay attention here: “Man” implies a whole entity – a body and a soul. This means that the term “image” pertains to both aspects of Man. Man is not just a “spiritual image”; it is not the soul only that bears the stamp of the “image”, whereas the body doesn’t – be careful here – make sure you don’t make this kind of mistake… we are not made ‘in the image’ through our hands, our eyes etc.; in other words, we do not bear a depiction of God on our person because of our hands or our eyes. When we read things like: “God saw” or “God touched”, or “God walked”, these are all expressions that are based on our physical senses. They are human-based expressions, and because God is also a Person, that is why Man likewise “speaks”, “touches”, and “listens”. But the “image” overall pertains to both body and soul.
I simply cannot autonomize any part of my self and focus on it separately. Because, if I claim that my body does not belong to the term “image”, then the body would necessarily have to live in a divine manner, in a loving manner. I repeat once again: The way of existence is what characterizes both Man and God. If I assert that the “way of existence” does not apply to the body, then I will be asserting that the body can no longer love, and that only the soul can love. And by doing this, I will have forced the body to be autonomous; I will have proceeded to impose a “guru-style” spiritual exercise on my self and “isolated” my body – a terrible mistake, which has been implemented in almost all the spheres of Western Christianity! And sometimes (through the moralistic and oppressed submission to influences from abroad), this notion has also infiltrated even our own (Orthodox, mainly) sphere; i.e., that the term “image” bears a spiritual-psychological inference only, and as for the body, the usual reaction is: “oh well, never mind” (implying that the body is “out of necessity sinful”, that it naturally tends to “get misled”, that “something needs to be done – we will need to keep a tight rein on it with fasting”, etc., etc…)
But it is imperative that the whole body depict something. Depict what? The way of existence, of course! When we say “I love”, what do we mean by that? Do we love only spiritually? Of course not! We love with our entire being! Otherwise, we would automatically be autonomizing our body and isolating it altogether. And that is precisely when autonomized survival begins! Autonomized sustenance, autonomized perpetuation, autonomized self-preservation… If these are not incorporated in the way of existence that I mentioned previously -i.e., in inter-embracing and love-, they (sustenance, perpetuation and self-preservation) are autonomized and thenceforth become passions/vices. And this is why we Christians continue to have passions, albeit living inside the Church: it is because we have autonomized these elements. And we are inclined to ask ourselves “shouldn’t I live?” - “shouldn’t I exist?” – “shouldn’t I preserve myself?”….. Well, the fact alone that I have isolated these factors from the element of Love, signifies that I have autonomized them.
Have you observed Western Christianity? It was the actual founder of Capitalism, which is a tragic, heretic phenomenon, preserved by the urge for self-preservation…. (Apparently, there is no way that one can exist in a society that isn’t Capitalist); well, perhaps this may the case for others, but for us, it is not an acceptable thing (to concede that our sole criterion should be how to achieve self-preservation). It would be a tragedy! A financial system expressed in that manner can in no way be aligned with the Faith; everyone knows this – it is impossible - because the emphasis has been placed on “self-preservation”.
Notice something intriguingly true that Jean-Paul Sartre had once said. Sometimes, we Christians hear the name “Sartre” and we hasten to say “oh, he was such a demonic personality”. Well, regardless whether he believed in God or not, and regardless how he ended up believing (or not believing) – as a child of a perverted Western society in these matters (in which case, we usually look at such individuals from another viewpoint) - he had in fact expressed certain stirring things. Listen to one such expression of his: “My original sin is the other’s existence”... He is actually voicing a shocking truth here! Where is his ‘original sin’ located? In autonomy. What is he relating the word ‘original’ to? To the autonomizing of his self - and he actually states this as being his sin. The other’s existence –he says- is now an obstacle to me; a trial, etc.. And he is absolutely correct! I don’t know if he was aware of what he was or wasn’t saying…but he is deep in the theology of Maximus the Confessor, on “any kind of autonomizing”. How amazing! You see? When the body is autonomized and is separated from everything spiritual, then whatever autonomy ensues is just a further accentuation of the original sin.
After all, isn’t that what the fallen angels did?
Autonomizing within the Church and the need for Theology in practice
You see, autonomy was the cause of the Angels’ fall. Autonomy is the fall of mankind also. Any kind of autonomy. If you will permit me, I would like to insert a small parenthesis here… not to induce laughter…. Perhaps to induce tears…
In this overall model of the “conflict” between the two Churches – of Greece and of Fanarion – there is an underlying temptation for a greater autonomy. At least that is what I am afraid of. You know, these matters aren’t solved with “legal” measures – with terminology such as: “the law forsees…”, or “by the decision of the authority…” etc… these don’t mean a thing. Nor are these matters solved with “gallantries” or “bravados”; not even with the profoundest thoughts of canonical law (which are indeed very admirable). Canonical law is the sum of the Church’s Canons, however, they all contain a theology inside them…They don’t just come along on their own, from “somewhere”.
One might say: “canonical law” – big deal!” But the fact is, that whatever the Church does, as a practice of life, as administration, must be the result of theology. In other words, we must always to go to the root of things; for example, to laws, to their interpretation, to the State Council etc… We must seek the disposition of the Fathers of the Church who set down conditions and canons…and their latent disposition is always theology. That is where they will always go towards. For such a long time now, I have been hearing scores of explanatory approaches, and yet, I have yet to hear any in-depth theological approach - the root per se of the matter – you must believe me. And that is where the danger lies: in that “I speak boldly and frankly”; that is the mistake of our local –and otherwise fully respected– (autocephalous) Church of Greece; i.e., its quest for even more autonomy….the tragedy of the primordial circumstances… That is supposedly its underlying “theology”… However, if theology doesn’t have any say, then what have we to say? You have seen the kind of replies that are given: “My original sin is the other’s existence”… the other’s…. the other neighbourhood’s… or even the other local Church’s, if you will….
I beseech you - when you wish to speak of such matters, there is no room for enthusiasms or inclinations towards political acquaintances that can support matters: “My friend”… “your friend”…. these are concepts that are alien to my thought… for example, a poll is taken, and they ask you things like “who is right?” This seems foolish. These aren’t the “big” issues… In fact, can I say something rather bold here? These issues aren’t solved with votes either… For huge issues, even if ballots are implemented but are lacking in theology, they will be meaningless. They will be nothing more than displays of pseudo-democracy. A ballot does not suffice for me. I am not content with democracy on its own. In this case, we will accept democracy, only if it bears theological seeds inside it.
But we need to be truthful, because this is the “beauty of life” that we are talking about! And the beauty of life is that which originated from our Christ! The Fathers delivered this to us as a way of life, and not as a series of canonical clauses and institutional factors. Furthermore, when we say that these institutions must be respected, the other might say “institutions? Big deal! Institutions can change!” But we are talking about dogmatic institutions here - Triadological institutions! It is the application of dogmas in practice, and yet, they lightly refer to them as “institutions”! These are theological institutions! We need to call them by their name, truthfully! I always dare to speak truthfully… I can voice any thought of mine… So I stress, and I cry out, that the issue is NOT to solve problems by voting…
We haphazardly resort to voting, in the belief that we have thus acquired that beauty – that we have located the truth – but the fact is, that voting only creates divisions. And what do we mean by “divisions”? They are the disintegration of our way of existence. In matters such as these, we need to be very firm. In minor decisions that pertained to practical issues and for the sake of operating smoothly, the Church always resorted to small-scale majority decisions. But not with such huge decisions that determine theological structures. The Church cannot decide in that manner; instead, She should resort to the patristic ethos of a unanimous and ‘in quorum’ expression of Her opinion, through extensive praying. This is of vital importance.
Last Sunday evening, when I encountered our Reverend Metropolitan prior to the meeting of the hierarchy, I ventured to express an opinion of mine (given that I am a priest, I must report to my Bishop, because what the Bishop does is to convey the opinions of his flock, for any hierarchal issue whatsoever). So I said to him “Your Reverence, dare I propose a solution on the matter that the Hierarchy will be discussing in a couple of days?” (without knowing whether my thought or my voice would be taken into consideration). “I am daring to suggest the following: should your voice be heeded there, please ask them to not rush into a decision right away – i.e., to not vote on something - but instead, to say something important, like: “we will pray extensively, and then we shall see what comes up.” That will comfort the people.
We have already begun to enter into theology now. Why should we pray? So that our mind may be illuminated of course! Beyond our agony for a solution to the issue or an acknowledgement in the area of justice, we firstly need the Holy Spirit to illuminate our mind and then embark on a theology. That is what “theology” means… And THAT is where the practice of our Church is found: What I said, I said to my Bishop openly. Because, if I didn’t tell him, then who was to let him know? He is the ecclesiastic link. I am not entitled to enter the Hierarchy – I cannot be a rebel. But I can convey my voice in this subtle manner. And that is the prerogative of the Orthodox – the freedom of the Orthodox: to deposit their views, with love and a differing opinion….especially if it is a theological opinion.
Dostoevsky somewhere says something overwhelming: «Hell is the torture of not loving» (Brothers Karamazov). A profound theological notion, equivalent to Sartre’s – Dostoevsky guided by the founts of the Orthodox Church, whereas Sartre guided by a reaction to the theology-less, unorthodox Western theology. This is exactly the point at which they meet. Can you see? In Sartre, there is the seminal word, which springs from within revolution and reaction.
Can you see how we should sometimes pay attention, even to the seminal words of certain people, whom we may otherwise not be very fond of? It is not possible for all of them to express the entire truth. The whole truth is Christ. A Christian may shudder at the sound of Sartre; he can say tens of non-Christian things, or, he might even react against Christianity. I would personally suggest that we hold on to those seminal elements, for the purpose of approaching all those communities with love; because it is quite possible that those precise seminal elements comprise the only point of contact with these people. This was the exact common point of reference that I had located in a student of Sartre, whom I had met at one time and had a discussion with, because it was obvious that we were two different worlds altogether, yet we were not of another world. So, I couldn’t very well embark on a conversation with her by saying “You know, the teacher that you had and whom you were an assistant to at his Seat, was a non-Christian, and he used to insult Christianity”. I had to begin from another basis: from the seminal word. That seminal word is of major importance!
Note something important here: ”Sin” –and you should hold on to this definition- is individuality. That’s what “sin” is; it is the non-attainment of this “way of existence” that I mentioned. It is the “autonomizing” that I spoke of. Every kind of autononomizing contains sin inside it – absolutely every kind of autonomizing…. Now let me return once again to Maximus the Confessor, in his work “On divine names”. In it, he says: “sin is that which removes me from my objective” (áìáñôßá ôï ðáñÜ ôïí óêïðüí âÜëëïí). And what is my objective? It is “to exist”. The loving expression “God is Love” is likewise His way of existence and my way of existence must also be “love”, which means “no more autonomizing”! Pay attention to this meaning of “love”: “No autonomizing”!
“Love” is not about uttering the words “I love you”. Love is expressed in a long-lasting relationship, where you will not have autonomized yourself from the one you love. If you have autonomized yourself, then there was no love; there was profit, or there was lust, or there was exploitation, or there was trampling under foot, or there were thousands of other things… But “the” element -which should exist- is the absence of autonomy. You see, that is why the Church regards the practical manifestation of autonomizing a tragedy – for example, divorce. However, the most tragic of all tragic phenomena is autonomy itself. As you know, it is within this same framework that another, equally tragic phenomenon exists - one that is morally exploited: i.e., pre marital sex. That too is a form of autonomy; it is the urge to pursue the needs of one’s own body.
What our Church does is not superficially moralistic. She actually implements a profound theology! Alas, this kind of morality is expressed by a Roman Catholic theologian: “…there is something else hidden behind it; it is not as though I am transgressing God’s will and God’s commandment!” There are some who ask: “where does it say this in the Bible?” But, even though it is apparent in the Bible, still, you might hear them say “…I don’t care, even if it doesn’t say so…” It is precisely because all of the Holy Bible clearly indicates that “God is Love” that it is expressed predominantly! For example, the Cross borne by Christ, by the Apostles, by the Martyrs of the Church – these are all expressions per se of “the way of life of love”! What sort of question is “where does it say this in the Bible?” Are they looking to discover it in a juridical form in the Bible? They might also declare: “Does it say so in the Bible? If it doesn’t, I don’t believe it!” But the ENTIRE Gospel, the ENTIRE Holy Bible says so! It clearly shows that this is the way of existence!
When Moses says to God “what are You?”, he is actually asking about God’s manner of existence. And God replies: «I am the One Who Is» (Exodus 3: 14-15). God responds, with a way of existence! And this term - “the One Who Is” - is a monumental one. This Existence – this “One Who Is” – is something that loves and is loved, very deeply. In fact, both the translation of the Fathers, but also the Hebrew original form, had an immense significance for the Hebrews. This term of “being” is also referred to in Hebrew as “I am He who is”. And in Greek, in a hugely successful way, the Septuagint translators chose the expression “I am the existent One”, thus touching on the ontology of ancient Greek philosophy.
You should note that there, they had referred to the “being”, whereas here, it refers to “the One Who Is”. What a tremendous, approach this was by the Septuagint translators! In fact, I would even call it a prophetic approach. The Septuagint translation takes place years before the New Testament; by using the term “the One Who Is”, they disintegrated the entire philosophy of ancient Greek thought, which was centered on “the being” (the üí) – their so-called ontology. And that is what makes me insist and call out that even the translation is divinely inspired – even though it may not be of significance right now for you, that certain people disagree on this detail, i.e., both researchers and professors. But it doesn’t matter. The translation contains divinely-inspired perspectives within its very text; in fact, it is a translation that dared to surpass the text itself. It changed words, it discovered pluralism within the Greek language, and it translated in a divinely-inspired manner.
To “sin”, therefore, is to move away from your objective of “being love” – of being a way of existence. This is what we mean by “God judges”: it is not because He actually punishes; it is because of what He actually is… For example, if you see a person – a sanctified Elder – and you can see him “aglow” because he is a “light-bearer”, you will stop to think about it, and you will bring to mind your own, sinful condition and realize the state you are in, and you will have thus judged how your own self really is. But will the Elder himself have judged you? No! My example is a very poor one of course…. The point is, you yourselves will have thus been judged, in his presence…. This of course presupposes that you will have encountered such an Elder, and what is more, that you will have perceived who he is (because your ‘eyes’ were probably too blurry to discern)… We have several descriptions of this kind, from the lives of Saints – for example, there is that familiar incident where Saint Seraphim of Sarov was sitting next to someone, who was not telling him especially significant things, yet the Saint was deeply shaken by what that person was – by that person’s “being”, by his “way of existence” - because he had perceived that this person was seated near him with a disposition of love. And this is what shook the Saint: the fact that this person was sitting near him, but with feelings of love! He wasn’t uttering any words like “I love you”; he was “loving” the Saint in practice! That is what I mean by “way of existence”. God, therefore, does not punish; He is “what He is”.
This is why with Christ it is not a matter of choosing between good and evil. This is the mentality of ancient Greek philosophy. In Christianity, we do not choose between good and evil (and this is stressed so often in catechesis classes by the teachers, it is truly disappointing…); we choose between life and death. As Maximus the Confessor says: “What is simply named ‘evil’ is not necessarily all-evil, and what is simply named ‘good’ is not necessarily all-good” (this is from his work “On Various Queries” that I have mentioned before). It is not about comparing something good to something evil, like the story of Hercules who had to choose the “good” path or the path of “evil”. This doesn’t mean a thing to us. The words “good” and “evil” don’t mean a thing to me. The word “moral” doesn’t mean a thing to me. What I’m concerned with, is for the “way of life” to exist.
In the “Didache” of the Twelve Apostles – a later work which contains all the teachings of the Apostles in one single text – it says: “there are two ways;” (See? It uses the word “ways”); “the one is of life, and the other is of death.” It is no longer about the “good” and the “evil”. It is about the way that you choose. The Church liberates Man from all these conventional moralities, which contain things like “how you see God”, “how you understand God”, “how God judges you”, etc.. We should not concern ourselves with the improvement of moral standards, but the restoration of Man to the fullness of life – that is, to the state of love. That is what interests us! I am not interested in a person becoming “better”. I am truly not interested in him becoming a “better person”! Because “good” can deteriorate so easily! Anyway, who can say what “good” is? I am concerned for man to enter God’s fullness; in other words, for him to be able to love. That will be his way of existence; that will be your way of existence. And just what is meant by the expression “he is a good person”? It doesn’t mean anything to me.
So, make sure, in the course of your life - your spiritual course - that you move in that direction also. Don’t go looking for “what is good” and “what is evil”. Enter into that way of existence. In other words, we need to make a tangible change inside us – in our way of existence. This is where individualism is abolished; this is where we trace the history of our repentance…(even during confession, you do not enumerate sins that you have committed and feel regret for….)
There needs to be a change in our way of existence. Why did you sin? Why did we sin? Because we acted individualistically! Therefore this way of existence has to change, and this life of individualism must be abolished, to become a life of loving!
This is where I can sympathize with poor Freud, who had never become acquainted with this aspect. Freud too had injected an entire teaching and a critique into the Church – into Christianity – inasmuch as the Church had burdened him with guilt. He was right! Absolutely right! But then, he was merely trying to support his therapeutic method for ridding a person of those feelings of guilt, by using a different methodology. If approaching God burdens us with guilt, then we are achieving nothing whatsoever. The issue is not to be burdened; the issue is to change our manner of existence – our autonomistic and individualistic manner… Even Freud (who had provided us with a beautiful, correct, seminal truth and ascertainment), being of a Jewish background and not having this outlook, (I can’t imagine what he would have been, if he had become acquainted with Orthodoxy) eventually became acquainted with the western form of Christianity… I have no idea how he would have been, under different circumstances… but, he was what he was. And, lacking the ability to approach what I call a “therapeutic method” through a person’s ‘way of existence’, he strove to rid Man of his guilty feelings, but in what manner? Pay close attention to this: In the tragic manner that encases Man in individualism! That very therapy itself is a form of individualism – an individualistic isolation and a solitary researching of one’s self. Nothing could be more tragic, for healing a sick person! Because deep down, that person became sick from that very act of individualism and autonomizing of his self, and yet, the therapy being administered involves the further autonomizing of that person. Can you see the tragedy here?
This is one of the awesome elements that has made Orthodoxy incompatible, as compared to other therapeutic methods. Incompatible. Let them assert that “yes, Orthodoxy can be combined… add some elements from here, some from there…” What on earth are they talking about? We are staggered at the sound of such statements! We have nothing against the other branches or specialities; its just that ours is “an entirely other look” at the problem! We are talking about a manner of existence. And while we propose something existential, something loving, they propose “something isolated”, “something autonomized”! Their proposed therapy is to further autonomize the self, to internally isolate the person’s self even more, to urge him to retrograde back to his past and even worse, to induce him to put an end to his existence. This is another kind of inner searching – something like meditation – but with other standards and other coordinates. We need to be alert to such things! Then there are all those Christians who come forth and say that “we can assimilate some of the elements of these methods….” – well, on the contrary, there is nothing whatsoever that these methods can give us! What is there to take? Their methodology itself is a negation of the “way of existence” that we are talking about. You can’t borrow something from a place that speaks in an entirely different code.
But I did mention the seminal word. I am not shunning the existence of the seminal word, in many such areas. One can, for example, detect selfishness as the motive of a psychological condition. This may be a seminal word, but it is not something therapeutic in itself! You see? I am not rejecting the seminal word in all these areas; however, as an overall expression of therapy, I am unable to approach it, or touch it, or create combined methods with it. This was just a minor parenthesis, but you see, this is how real life is… we encounter these things every day… Here it is, in practice:
In its Westernized theology, the West linked sin to a juridical transgression. They tended to assert that “such-and-such is a legal transgression”, or “you have broken God’s law”. And this is where I sympathize with Freud, who had said that “the Church has burdened me. It has burdened me with psychological complexes.” And he is actually telling the truth here; that in the environment which allowed him to observe it, the Church was in fact burdening people with psychological complexes! He was so correct! But he had no “escape route” to offer! And I again wonder, if Freud had read –for example- the Fathers of the Church, what he would have become… I cannot know… Therefore, I can’t condemn Freud either, but can only observe him, in his own framework. What interests me is what I am living here, right now; how I can experience it, and if I can transfuse these things into my life. In the West, all they focused on was legal transgressing, and then, after that story with Anselm, the tragedy of legalism appeared. And I cannot – in this Orthodox place – speak juristically on ANY topic. This is why earlier – when touching on the comparative theology underlying the dispute between Fanarion and the Church of Greece – I withdrew from the legalistic analysis of the subject. It does not concern us. Because we too would fall into legalism. What we don’t want now, is for someone to be burdened with psychological problems by the Church. We desire repentance, which is a change in one’s way of existence.
Observe a section of the following troparion, which you are all familiar with. It is the troparion of Kassiane, but just look at the awesome statement it contains. It says at the end:
“…Who can trace the multitudes of my sins and the abysses of Your judgments, my God, my soul-saving Saviour?”
It says here that “my sins are innumerable, but Your judgments (i.e., what He thinks of you, how He acts towards you… that is the meaning of ‘judgment’) are also an abyss. Who could ever track down these two magnitudes?”
So, we have something perceptible on the one hand (that the abyss of God’s love cannot be tracked down); then, on the other hand it juxtaposes as equally untraceable the multitudes of our sins. Film-maker Boris Pasternak provides an amazing hermeneutic approach to this comparison, in his famous film “Dr. Zhivago”. In it, he theologizes and coincidentally provides an understanding of this portion of the troparion. He says the following – it is amazing – he aligns, he places on an equal basis God and life, God and personality, God and woman. He says that to the degree that God is an abyss and unfathomable, our sins are even more unfathomable; and therefore, only the unfathomable God can understand Man, precisely because only He is unfathomable…
What Pasternak said is an amazing thing – beyond the remaining content of his book, which was a story on politics and love (which is not the area we are examining right now, so it doesn’t interest us). It’s amazing, how he chose to insert the comparison contained in this troparion… This comparison is an unprecedented one! It is unfathomable! It too refers to the “way of existence”, because love is likewise unfathomable and cannot be expressed. Therefore, the “morality” that we mentioned – any form of “morality” – is nothing more than a form of isolation. This is why the word “moral” cannot be found in the New Testament. Not even once. There is only the Gospel. Even the Old Testament is not about “morality”. All of the laws it contains are not moral laws. They are a revelation by God. There is no “morality” in the context of the Old Testament. That is why God responded to Moses with the words “the One Who Is”, when Moses had only asked for His name.
The upholding of the laws of the Old Testament did not aspire to an individualistic vindication; that is, by upholding those laws, a Jew was not interested in personal justification. Then what was the purpose? The upholding of the law served the purpose of ensuring that he would remain within the “chosen people”; that he would be saved, by staying within the community of God’s love. Some say “the Old Testament was all laws etc., and that each Jew possessed a morality”. But that description only applied to a typical Pharisee, who would single himself out from the remaining community and want to present himself as a “moral person”. See? “Morality” is nonexistent in the content of the Old Testament. Each Jew is called upon to safeguard those truths of God – those revelations of God’s love – in order to remain within the community of the “chosen people”.
The fullness of the law of love – the Apostle Paul had said – is love itself, and not any conventional sort of morality. Abba Isaac the Syrian in his “Ascetics” also says: “Love aspires to unity; that is, it thinks of the Holy Trinity as being its teacher”. Love, he says, has as its purpose the unity that has the Holy Trinity as its teacher. Love-unity-Holy Trinity. Jew-unity-chosen people, from within the love of the Holy Trinity. For the Christian, it is as I said before: the “way of existence”. And you should always keep in mind those ever-familiar words on unity, by our Christ Himself; that amazing expression found in John, 17:21 – “so that all may be one”. Unity is not reached (as I mentioned earlier) through majorities and minorities. Unity has to come first, then the decisions. Decisions do not preoccupy us. If a unity is ruptured, what use is there for any decision? I won’t have any need for it! In other words, the decision that was reached yesterday or the day before does not interest me. I am a clergyman; I live inside the Orthodox Church and I am in the midst of a conflict. I don’t care about any decision, just because it was the result of “a majority of 50” but without the presence of unity. If you have not understood what I am saying, you will be scandalized. But I don’t care. And all those triumphal statements, like: “the synodic system has won” don’t mean anything to me. No; what has actually won is a perishable democracy, nothing more. A perishable democracy. And it means absolutely nothing! And “50” means nothing also, when there is no overall unity. If there was a unity of love, then we could accept it.
Christ is a part of the Holy Trinity - Father-Son-Holy Spirit – but the Trinity is also of the same essence! Could the Trinity be expressed as an autonomized unit, if that “same essence” was broken up? Impossible. Then what would it have been? To us, nothing. What kind of a Christ would it be, if He did not obey the Father? Is there any meaning to a decision that lacks unity? It wouldn’t mean a thing. You might of course say “that’s democracy”. But I ask you: what democracy? There would be no triumphant synodicity in it; instead, it would just be a triumph of unorthodox, un-theologized thought! At most, it would be nothing more than talking politics. So, what do we do? We take these “democratic models”, we transfer them to our people for the purpose of convincing them. In this way, we can say to them “See? ‘X’ percent have voted in favour”. But we aren’t a decrepit system of democracy here; this is the Church.
My children, we do not have the need to be “wide-awake” characters, but profound theologians. In any era whatsoever. That is why I came to talk to you today – not with the intention to judge anything, but solely for the sake of the beauty of those things that shape our lives, because if we lose them, then what do I care about all the other things? What do I care about the “51st”? What would I care about the “74 to 1”? This would also have meant nothing to me, if there was no unity. The problem is how to ensure there is an underlying theology. Because, you know, it is easy to ensure unity. But theology? How do you ensure theology? This is my major query…
Before closing, I would like to bring to mind three Fathers of the Church: Makarius the Egyptian, Efstathios of Caesaria and Nikon of Sinai. All three of them had the exact same incident occur in their life. All three had been accused of sexual involvement with a woman, and in fact with women who had each given birth to a child. The three women involved presented their children and all of them confirmed “you were the one!” thus humiliating those men in the face of their own communities. And we are talking about Makarius the Egyptian here: a major personage! And yet, none of them said a word in their own defence. Instead, they stayed put for many years of their lives, even paying money to support the (anything but their own of course) offspring. They didn’t mind. They were more concerned with the ternary “inter-embracing” – the “way of existence”. Staggering, isn’t it? The epilogue to these incidents in all three cases was the same. It finally came to light that the accusations were a lie. The women themselves confessed everything after many years, when they could no longer bear that catalytic expression of the Trinitarian “way of existence”…. So much for the Fathers. This subject needs a lot of work....
And now, in closing, as an epilogue, I will tell you about two persons whom you may have never heard of. They are mentioned in certain narrations – I think it was in a “Gerontikon” anthology – by a certain John of Ephesus if I’m not mistaken, and it is about two youngsters who lived in the 6th century. It was a betrothed couple – two young people – Theophilos and Maria. You have probably never heard of them. They were betrothed to each other, and they would always walk together through the streets of their town. Theophilos would jump about like a jester – a mad jester – while Maria pretended to be a prostitute. They were always together, and they remained together, throughout their entire life. They never married; and - according to the bios of their lives - (I don’t even know if they have become Saints, as I have never found them mentioned in any book of Saints, however they are mentioned by John of Ephesus), this was their way of reacting against the conventionality in the Christians’ manner of existence, inasmuch as they had all become moralistic and had no love whatsoever around them. The couple maintained this behavior, up to the day they died! Their virtue was discovered, at a later date. Keep their names in mind! It was their chosen way of existence! And they remained that way, preserving the infinite love they had for each other, without ever disclosing it to anyone, and keeping it safely hidden from view.
You see, the Church has other standards. And from this entire homily, you should hold on to what I have stressed: the way of existence. Everything else is just philosophy. Psychology, the imposition of rules, etc. are all wonderful things – fasting, prostrations, night-vigils, prayers… They are all beautiful – they are all therapeutic, marvellous medications – but, without that “way of existence”, why bother to fast? Why bother to pray? Where are all those things that you do? What are all those things that you do? What are all those things that you are reading? What is the purpose of all those rosary prayers? Where is that “way of existence” – that loving “inter-embracing” that doesn’t autonomize Man? That is our major problem: our everyday stance and autonomy.
These are the things that I wanted to say, during this course on matters of freedom, and as you can see, I have set only one topic this year. However, I am touching on it as best I can, in an attempt to also be practical. And I will stress this: that theology is above everything else. You have a free will and can be opposed to whatever I have said – I don’t mind – but – please - try to have some theology in mind. And try to think, not with a para-ecclesiastic or with a political party mentality; or one based on friendships; first think theologically. And, there can be no friendship without theology. Nothing can be “ours” without theology…
Question: I would like to say that I liked everything that you told us; you clarified quite a few thoughts that I had inside me, however, I would like to pose a question regarding Maximus. You spoke of autonomizing. I would like to ask if perhaps this autonomizing reaction is a necessity – a prerequisite that a person or a team chooses, that will eventually lead them to a complete autonomy. I am saying this, because I believe that a person needs to remove from inside himself all the views that were imposed on him, as you have said (that is, the social, religious and legal views) and be free – in other words, not be afraid to remain free – and not search within himself to find supports, but consciously select the path that he wants to follow.
Answer: He won’t achieve anything, because he has tried everything and cannot love. That’s what I was trying to say: from the moment that you set others apart in order to start a revolution, the revolution has already collapsed, before it has even begun. And from the moment that you spurn your enemies in order to start a revolution, the revolution is already a failure, even if it is successful in the secular sense. That is the big deal. And in every instance, the results of autonomizing are always tragic – terribly tragic… at every level, and especially for our lives. If you happened to bring to mind the Gospel, with Lazarus and the wealthy man, you would understand how that was a problem of autonomizing. The problem of the damned wealthy man was the autonomizing of himself. The problem per se was not his being rich. He may have been rich for that very reason: because he had autonomized himself and had not given anything to others.
Or, there was the other instance of the foolish rich man, with his “eat and drink, my soul…”. That too was an autonomizing action, as he thought only of himself. There is no Gospel narration touching on such topics that doesn’t include the core of autonomizing. The tragedy of Judas is likewise his autonomizing action... There is no root that doesn’t hide the autonomizing that I have been telling you about, or the loss of that “way of existence” which is God – the God of love. There is nothing else.
A: In every case, the notions of “hiding” hide inside them the temptation of autonomy. In other words, these notions - of imagining that you are not able to even touch something of the other’s - have no meaning whatsoever. This is why the Church “smashes” this entire notion. When our Church offers a communal – a social – magnitude when She is functioning, when She is at prayer, She takes you out of the autonomizing habit; and when John the Chrysostom says that “prayer, in the community of the Church, is far greater than the prayer that you say in your room”, his intention is not the comparison of those prayers. What he is trying to say is that everything communal (non-autonomized) is precisely that which contains the “way of existence”. It cries out an entirely different thing. Nobody forbids you to say a prayer at home; but, if you do it because you are unable to be in communion with others, then you have failed. You see, there are tens of tracts - in fact the entire Holy Bible – that are based on this theology of autonomizing! That is what our fall was attributed to – that invitation to autonomy. Autonomy! As I said, God’s love will judge him!
A: It would no longer be Orthodoxy; it would have another name. Call it something different; call it whatever you like. It would not be Orthodoxy as an expression of God’s love and truth. It would not mean Orthodoxy. Autonomizing always leads to an apostasy. But you know, even the state of a heretic is judged over time, and not in a flash.
We all have downfalls, don’t we? There are even Fathers of the Church who in some of their teachings say non-Orthodox things. They are not infallible. Lengthy “fermentation periods” are required, for all things to be restored. Even when the Church of Greece was excommunicated from the Patriarchate in 1833 because of the familiar autocephalous issue, the matter was restored in repentance, after seventeen years… Lengthy theological fermentations are a necessary thing. No situation is ever definitized. That’s how things are in Orthodoxy. You see? Even the Fathers had said incorrect things. However, there is a Father of the Church (I won’t mention his name; I am not scandalized, but others are) who had included a heresy in his teaching. He said it only once and never said it again. And the Church never made it Her teaching – full stop. Did anyone call him a heretic? No. Even Saint Augustine had expressed three major heresies and yet he is a Saint of our Church. That’s because he wasn’t aware that they were heresies. Nobody confronted him, saying “Hey, what are you talking about?” See? The Church’s measures are entirely different. They require an extensive fermentation period.
Q: “Hell” is to “not love” because you can’t, or because you are deceased?
A: Both. Autonomizing is, that’s for sure. And “Hell” is not just “not loving”, but also not being able to bear God’s love. That’s basically the reason you don’t love anyway. Because if you did bear His love…….
A: Yes, of course. It is self-evident. It is in fact comprised of very good Christians too. Very good people, exceptional… usually very virtuous that is… however, it is a heretic teaching, because it expresses par excellence the magnitudes of isolation and illiberality and self-vindication. It is a heretic church. I shouldn’t be referring to it as a ‘church’, but a ‘heretic confession’ – that would be a better term – thus not condemning any of the people who participate in it. We are not here to judge who is to be saved and who will be lost. From the aspect of teaching, it is heretic. As for the other aspects, God will judge the individuals from within His love (as far as how aware they were, or how unaware etc….). In Germany I had met amazing people, who confessed Protestantism. Exceptional people of their kind. But who ever spoke to them about Orthodoxy? Nobody. So how could I judge things there? According to the dogma of our Church, their teaching is heretic. They knew nothing else; they weren’t aware of anything else! I had actually met so-called Traditional Protestants - let’s say “orthodox Protestants”… There must have been people there who would have been open to hearing something! But the measures of God are different. We do not enter into judgments. . We simply say “this is a heretic confession” and do not judge individuals.
Q: I would like for us to clarify at this point that the autonomizing we are talking about is different to the autonomizing of a monk, or of someone who withdraws from a corrupt society, where that same, corrupt society seeks unity. And it seeks unity because it is observing that precise autonomy. And in the western world, the fact that certain theologians isolated themselves, which then gave rise to the thousands of denominations, is, I think, a “healthy” indication, precisely because the proper prerequisites for unity were missing. Distancing would therefore be a natural consequence.
A: Allow me to say – even though you are a theologian – that what you said about a monk autonomizing himself is incorrect. If the monk is predisposed to autonomizing himself because he can’t bear society, fatigue, exhaust fumes, sweat, running, etc., then it is just as you say. But a true monk is not like that.
Q: I said that, in the sense that corruption happens in society because of sin. And in that way, it also “took with it” all the joys.
A: We all autonomize ourselves in that sense! Not only the monk, but all of us autonomize ourselves through sin. Your definition is wrong. We do not partake of sin in order to be free! Because a monk does not depart from the Church. But he does commune with the Church. That’s what “communing” means! It is in this context that we refer to autonomizing; i.e., autonomizing oneself from the realm of this unity. That’s what autonomizing is. Therefore we likewise, by living within the community (albeit not being monks externally or ethically) repulse the region of sin, but by partaking –non-autonomized- in the realm of God’s love. And also by attaining a “way of existence” that becomes apparent when we love even those who are sinners! When we love! Christ loved sinners. He just didn’t participate in their actions!
Q: We say that ‘God is love’ and that we should love sinners and everything else that Christ taught us. What does He teach about those who have been hurt? How does one act, when he has been hurt? Should he pray for the one who hurt him and forgive him?
A: Aren’t you the one that was “hurt”? Then you are the one who had the inclination to autonomize himself! You were the one who couldn’t bear those who hurt you, and you thus lost the “way of existence” with them. You have to love them, to “inter-embrace” with them and pray for them. That’s what Christ did: He loved his persecutors. Anyway, after being hurt and autonomizing yourself (I’m not referring to you personally of course), the same model is always to be expected: you will hurt others around you. This story is like a ping-pong movement. First you are hurt, then you (without knowing it) hurt others.
Q: Two questions:
a) There is a person inside a house that is about to be blown up. But that person doesn’t want to come out. However, I pull him out forcefully. Am I violating his freedom?
b) God is almighty and He looks upon the post-Fall person, or the person who is tortured on account of the Fall and sin, with love. If He is almighty, why can’t He correct things and save us from all the sufferings?
A: God is almighty and His almightiness is expressed by … “not being expressed”! His almightiness lies in the fact that His almightiness is not expressed... “Strong” is someone who is indeed strong, but doesn’t need to show that he is strong – like in the instance of Theophilos and Maria that I mentioned. Also, God’s almightiness is in the fact that He does not pressure us and He doesn’t force us to acknowledge it. You must be very strong in order to express your strength in weakness: “for my strength is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), and “you are strong…and we are inglorious” (1 Cor. 6:10), and “… we are as ones who have nothing and yet possess everything” (2 Cor. 6:10), as Paul says. This is a totally “illogical” thought for theology! But, if whoever is strong in any area expresses himself like a weak person, he will be understood. God was strong and yet He contained Himself inside human nature! We say “in human nature”… but can grass truly hold fire? No...
Now I don’t know why the first question was posed, but again, it has prerequisites. You will do whatever you can to pull him out of the house. He might be foolish, or he might have a low IQ, he might…. who knows…. Because, if he wants to commit suicide, I will do whatever I can to deter him from killing himself; I will not leave him in there. If he persistently refuses to budge and then jumps from a window, then it is he who will have jumped. I will have done whatever I could, in this extreme situation. Because the example is an extreme one. God also does whatever He can, so that we don’t jump out of windows! What did you think? Just because you open a window and kill yourself, God hasn’t done everything for you? He has done thousands of things!
Everything is possible for God. Because God is almighty, He remains “hidden”; However, He does many more things than you could ever imagine, because you cannot perceive the thousands of assorted ways that God enters our life to change the kind of “freedom” that we have, without destroying the “being” of our freedom. You have no idea what God does; you don’t know His secrets, nor do you know His expressions. You might come close to how God “speaks” to people by reading certain Patristic texts, but no-one has been actually deprived of God’s infinite love! As the Apostle Paul had said: “Many-sided and of many kinds, from long ago, is God…” (Hebr.1:1) How can you know the mystery of God? How can you know the inscrutable abysses of His love? You don’t. That’s why you posed the question. If you did know them, you wouldn’t be asking. I don’t know them either, but I am sure that that’s how things are. And I accept them, in freedom.
I could, again in freedom, say that “I don’t know them”. Even if Christ did present me with thousands of miracles, my answer would be “He didn’t”. Christ Himself said in the Gospel of the rich and the poor Lazarus: “not even the resurrection of a dead person is convincing enough for one to believe” (Luke 16:31). Imagine that! You see a dead person rise from the dead, and Christ Himself tells you that it is not evidence that will make you believe! Isn’t that madness? Christ Himself says so – to NOT believe in a resurrected person! See how He smashes that institutionalized mindset of ours? And it was Abraham who had said so, to the rich man who was in that difficult position: “even if they see a resurrection, they won’t believe.”
Try penetrating the deeper perspective of the abyss of God’s love. I don’t know it either, and, because I’m not God’s advocate, I cannot describe His love. The rest are things that relate to the expression of your personal “way of existence”. Do you know when you will perceive the answer to what you are asking? It is when you attain absolutely that “way of existence". Attain the way that I am telling you – that way of existence which is the loving inter-embracing – and you will understand what I was telling you. Because right now, we are only uttering words and this thing cannot be described with words. Even I, while trying to approach you with words in order to convince you, don’t actually seek to convince you! Leave it to the love of God. Do it, and you will see it. “Come, and see” (John 1:47)
Q: In my opinion, God deprives Man of his freedom. This question may appear selfish, but then, someone might say “and who do you think you are?’ With Judas – who was going to collect the “big money” – it’s more like Jesus allowed him to commit that “microscopic” deed, and it also appears as though God wanted to save him. On the other hand, He was already in the grip of the enemy and He could have said “why bother to save Judas from sin?”
A: I will insist on stressing the mystery of God’s love, and will give you a simple example. God did everything to avert Judas from committing suicide; even to the very last moment, He had alerted him, by saying: “the one who places his hand together with mine in the cup is the one who will betray Me” (Luke 22:21), (Matth. 26:23). And we have mentioned only whatever we have knowledge of! If we were to attain that “way of existence”, then we would have a far better comprehension of such things.
A: I have already replied to that. They too are within God’s love. The Scripture also gives its reply, with the Apostle Paul who says that all the nations which have not been acquainted with the Christian Gospel will be judged “in accordance to the law of the heart”. (Rom.25:27) Every person usually has a law embedded inside him; for example the love of his children, the aversion to kill someone… Again, God will judge them; We don’t. judge anyone – just let it go.
See also : Why Morality is not Christian
Article published in English on: 3-7-2008.
Last update: 21-12-2014.