Protopresbyter fr.Constantine Strategopoulos
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: «Ούτε κακόνούτε αγαθόν η θεότης. Ταύτα γαρ πάθη έχει» [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 animposition 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.
(see more at http://www.oodegr.com/english/dogma/eleftheria/stratigopoulos1.htm)