by Metropolitan Philaret (Voskresensky)
Translated by Hieromonk Varlaam Novakshonoff
Content: Conscience and moral responsibility. The nature of sin. Virtue. God's Law. Freedom of will. The Christian "I". Humility. Conversion of sinners. Grace and salvation. Learning and religion. Emotional development. On Christian hope. Education and development of the will. Strengthening the will with work and Vows. The struggle against lust. Other carnal problems; Christian death. Christian justice. Falsehood; Christian charity. Envy; cursing and anger. Insolvent ethical systems. Christian love as the basic principle of morality. The orthodox family. Family and society; patriotism. Christian service; war. Christianity and communism. The unity of love for God and neighbor. The Christian obligation to know God. The necessity of prayer. The model of Christian prayer. Prayer, feasts and fasts.
For many years now, during the era of our "youth cult," it has been popular to use the expression, "the future of our Church is our youth."
Few people seem to have paused to reflect on the meaninglessness of such a statement. For, the future of the Church, just as Her past and Her present, is Christ. The Holy Church is totally fulfilled and She offers this fullness to us. We, on the other hand, have absolutely nothing to bring to the Church except our sins. It is really correct to say that the future of our youth is the Church. With this in mind, and with a deep, sincere and unhypocritical love, Metropolitan Philaret has written this book for the benefit and guidance of our youth.
The Law of God was written primarily as a church-school text for intermediate students, but its value far exceeds that. Popadija Anna Krosnjar, a dedicated and outstanding church-school educator, has enhanced the value of this text by providing church-school lessons at the end of each chapter. This is of great assistance not only to local church-school teachers, but to parents who wish to use this book in the home.
We thank our Savior that He had given us such a holy and loving archpastor as Metropolitan Philaret to guide us along the dark and twisted path of these last days.
The translation and publication of this work is reverently dedicated to the memory of
Metropolitan Philaret of New York.
and Moral Responsibility
Of all the creatures on earth, only man has an understanding or morality. Every person is aware that his or her actions are either good or bad, kind or evil, morally positive or morally negative (immoral). By these concepts of morality, man differs immeasurably from all animals. Animals behave according to their natural characteristics or else, if they have been trained, in the way they have been taught. They have, however, no concept of morality-immorality, and so their behavior cannot be examined from the point of view of moral awareness.
By what means does one distinguish between the morally good and the morally bad? This differentiation is made by means of a special moral law given to man by God. This moral law, this voice of God in man's soul is felt in the depth of our consciousness: it is called conscience. This conscience is the basis of the morality common to man. A person who does not listen to his conscience but stifles it, suppresses its voice with falseness and the darkness of stubborn sin, is often called "unconscionable." The Holy Scripture refers to such stubborn sinners as people with a "seared" conscience. Their spiritual condition is extremely dangerous and ruinous for the soul.
When one listens to the voice of one's conscience, one sees that this conscience speaks in him first of all as a judge - strict and incorruptible, evaluating all one's actions and experiences. Often, it happens that some given action appears advantageous to a person, or has drawn approval from others, but in the depths of the soul this person hears the voice of conscience, "This is not good, this is a sin."
In a tight bond with this action of judging, the conscience also acts in one's soul as a legislator. All those moral demands which confront a person's soul in all his conscious actions (for example, be just, do not steal, etc), are norms, demands, prescriptions of this very conscience. Its voice teaches us how one must and must not behave. Finally, the conscience also acts in man as a rewarder. This happens when we, having acted well, experience peace and calm in the soul or, on the other hand, when we experience reproaches of the conscience after having sinned. These reproaches of the conscience sometimes pass over into terrible mental pain and torment. They can lead a person to despair or a loss of mental balance if one does not restore peace and calmness in the soul through deep and sincere repentance.
It is self-evident that man bears a moral responsibility only for those actions which he commits, in a conscious condition, being free in the carrying out of the actions. Only then can moral imputation be applied to these actions, and then they impute to the person either guilt, praise or judgment.
People who, on the other hand, are incapable of recognizing the character of their actions (babies, those deprived of reason, etc). or those who are forced against their will to commit such actions, do not bear responsibility for them. In the first epoch of persecution against Christianity, the pagan tormentors often placed incense in the hands of martyrs and then held their hands over the flame burning on their altar. The torturers supposed that the martyrs would jerk their hands back, dropping the incense into the fire. In fact, these confessors of the faith were usually so firm in spirit that they preferred to burn their hands and not drop the incense; but even had they dropped it, who would charge that they had brought sacrifice to the idols?
That the moral law must be acknowledged as innate to mankind, that is, fixed in the very nature of man, is indisputable. This is clearly seen from the fact that a concept of morality is universal in mankind. Of course, only the most basic moral requirements are innate - a sort of moral instinct - but not so with revealed and clear moral understandings and concepts. For, clear moral understandings and concepts developed in man in part through upbringing and influence from preceding generations, most of all on the basis of religious awareness. Therefore, coarse groups of people have moral norms lower, coarser, more malformed than Orthodox Christians who know and believe in the True God Who placed the moral law into man's soul and Who, through this law, guides all of his life and activities.
The Nature of Sin
All Orthodox Christians know from the Holy Scripture, and believe, that God created man in His own image and likeness. Therefore, in the creation man received a sinless nature, but not even the first man, Adam, remained sinless. He lost his original purity in the first fall into sin in paradise. The toxin of this sinfulness contaminated the entire human race, which descended from its forbears who had sinned - just as poison water flows from a poisoned spring. Acting upon the inclination to sin inherited from our ancestors, each person commits their own personal sins, as the Scriptural indictment says, "There is no one who will live for a single day and not sin." Only our Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely free from sin. Even the righteous, God's saints, bore sin within themselves and, although with God's help they struggled with it, yet they humbly acknowledged themselves to be sinners. So, without exception, all people are sinners, tainted with sin.
Sin is a spiritual leprosy, an illness and an ulcer which has stricken all mankind, both in his soul and his body. Sin has damaged all three of the basic abilities and powers of the soul; the mind, the heart and the will. Man's mind became darkened and inclined toward error, thus, man constantly errs - in science, in philosophy and in his practical activity.
What is even more harmed by sin is man's heart - the center of his experience of good and evil, as well as feelings of sorrow and joy. We see that our heart has been bound in the mire of sin; it has lost the ability to be pure, spiritual and Christian, to possess truly elevated feelings. Instead of this, it has become inclined toward pleasures of sensuality and earthly attachments. It is tainted with vainglory and often startles one with a complete absence of love and of the desire to do good toward one's neighbor.
What is harmed most of all, however, is the capability of our will to effect our intentions. Man proves to be without strength of will particularly when it is necessary to practice true Christian good - even though he might desire this good. The holy apostle Paul speaks of this weakness of will when he says: "For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds which I do not desire to do are what I am always doing." That is why Christ the Savior said of man the sinner, "Whoever practices sin is the slave of sin," although to the sinner, alas, serving sin often seems to be freedom while struggling to escape its net appears to be slavery.
How does a sin develop in one's soul? The holy fathers, strugglers of Christian asceticism and piety, knowing the sinful human soul, explain it far better than all the learned psychiatrists. They distinguish the following stages in sin: The first moment in sin is the suggestion, when some temptation becomes identified in a person's conscience - a sinful impression, an unclean thought or some other temptation. If, in this first moment, a person decisively and at once rejects the sin, he does not sin, but defeats sin and his soul will experience progress rather than degeneration. It is in the suggestion stage of sin that it is easiest of all to remove it. If the suggestion is not rejected, it passes over first into an ill-defined striving and then into a clear, conscious desire to sin. At this point, one already begins to be inclined to sin of a given type. Even at this point, however, without an especially difficult struggle, one can avoid giving in to sin and refrain from sinning. One will be helped by the clear voice of conscience and by God's aid if one will only turn to it.
Beyond this point, one has fallen into sin. The reproaches of the conscience sound loudly and clearly, eliciting a revulsion to the sin. The former self-assurance disappears and the man is humbled (compare Apostle Peter before and after his denial of Christ). But even at this point, defeat of sin is not entirely difficult. This is shown by numerous examples, as in the lives of Peter, the holy prophet-king David and other repentant sinners.
It is more difficult to struggle with a sin when, through frequent repetition, it becomes a habit in one. After acquiring any kind of habit, the habitual actions are performed by the person very easily, almost unnoticed by himself, spontaneously. Thus, the struggle with sin which has become a habit for a person is very difficult since it is not only difficult to overcome, but is even difficult to detect in its approach and process.
An even more dangerous stage of sin is vice. In this condition, sin so rules a person that it forges his will in chains. Here, one is almost powerless to struggle against it. He is a slave to sin even though he may acknowledge its danger and, in lucid intervals, perhaps even hates it with all his soul (such is the vice of alcoholism, narcotic addiction, etc.). In this condition, one cannot deal with oneself without special mercy and help from God and one is in need of prayer and the spiritual support of others. One must bear in mind that even a seemingly minor sin such as gossiping, love of attire, empty diversions, etc. can become a vice in man if it possesses him entirely and fills his soul.
The lowest stage of sin, in which sin completely enslaves one to itself, is the passion of one or another type. In this condition, man can no longer hate his sin as he can with a vice (and this is the difference between them). Rather he submits to sin in all his experiences, actions and moods, as did Judas Iscariot. At this stage, one literally and directly lets Satan into his heart (as it is said of Judas in the Gospel) and in this condition, nothing will help him except Grace-filled Church prayers and other such actions.
There is yet another special, most terrible and destructive type of sin. This is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Even the prayers of the Church cannot help one who is found in this condition. The Apostle John the Theologian speaks of this directly when he entreats us to pray for a brother who has sinned, but points out the uselessness of prayer for the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself says that this sin - the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - is not forgiven and will not be forgiven either in this age or in the future. He pronounced these terrible words against the Pharisees who, though they clearly saw that he worked everything according to the will of God and by God's power, nevertheless distorted the truth. They perished in their own blasphemy and their example is instructive and urgent for all those who would sin mortal sin: by an obdurate and conscious adversity to the undoubted Truth and thereby blaspheming the Spirit of truth - God's Holy Spirit.
We must note that even blasphemy against the Lord Jesus Christ can be forgiven man (according to His own words) since it can be committed in ignorance or temporary blindness. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit could be forgiven, says St Athanasios the Great, only if a man ceased from it and became repentant. But the very nature of the sin is such that it makes it virtually impossible for a man to return to the truth. One who is blind can regain his sight and love the one who revealed the truth to him and one who is soiled with vices and passions can be cleansed by repentance and become a confessor of the Truth, but who and what can change a blasphemer who has seen and known the Truth and who has stubbornly refused and hated it? This horrible condition is similar to the condition of the devil himself who believes in God and trembles but who nevertheless hates Him, blasphemes Him and is in adversity to Him.
When a seduction, a temptation to sin, appears in man, it usually comes from three sources: from man's own flesh, from the world and from Satan.
Concerning man's flesh, there is absolutely no doubt that in many respects it is a den and source of anti-moral predisposition's, strivings and inclinations. The ancestral sin - this inclination towards sin, a heritage from the sin of our progenitors and our own personal sinful experiences: all this added up and each (experience) strengthening one another, creates in our flesh a source of temptations, sinful moods and acts.
More often, though, the source of seduction for us is the world around us which, according to the Apostle John the Theologian, "is under the power of the Evil-One" and friendship with which, according to another Apostle, is enmity with God. The milieu around us seduces us, the people around us do likewise (especially the willful, conscious seducers and corrupters of youth about whom the Lord said: "Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble and sin, it were better for that man that a millstone be tied around his neck and he be cast into the sea."
The enticers are also external goods, riches, comforts, immoral dances, dirty literature, shameless attire, etc. - all of this is undoubtedly a fetid source of sin and seduction.
But the main and root source of sin is, of course, the devil, as the Apostle John the Theologian says, "He who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning." In struggling with God and His Truth, the devil struggles with people, striving to destroy each of us. He struggles most intensely and with the most malice with the saints as we see in the Gospel and in the lives of the saints. We, sick and infirm, are specially defended by Christ against those fierce temptations to which God's saints, strong in spirit, are subjected. Nevertheless, Satan does not ignore us, acting through the enticements of the world and the flesh, making them stronger and more deceptive, and also tempting us by sinful suggestions of all kinds. It is because of this, that the Apostle Peter compares Satan with a "raging lion which stalks about seeking whom he might devour."
The complete opposite of sin is virtue. Its rudiments are found in every person, as remnants of that natural good which was placed into the nature of man by his Creator. It is found in a pure and complete form only in True Christianity, for Christ the Savior said: "Without Me ye can do nothing."
Christianity teaches us that man's earthly life is a time of moral struggle, a time of preparation for the future, eternal life. Consequently, the tasks of man's earthly life consist of correctly preparing for future eternity. The earthly life is brief and it does not repeat itself, for man lives but once on earth. Therefore, in this earthly life, one must work at virtue if one does not wish to destroy one's soul. For this is precisely what God's truth demands of one on the threshold of eternity.
Each Christian, with God's help, shapes his own earthly life, in the sense that he or she directs its course toward virtue. In order to be virtuous, however, one must not only do good for others, but work on oneself, struggling with his insufficiencies and vices, developing in himself a good, Christian-valued foundation. This work on oneself, this struggle toward moral perfection of man's earthly life is indispensable for every Christian. The Lord Himself said: "the kingdom of heaven has endured violent assault and violent men seize it by force" (Mt.11:12).
The moral character and features of each person are worked out in such a life-struggle. A Christian must, of course, be a Christian before all else, a person with an established, solid moral character and he must aim for the building of such a character. In other words, he must strive for progress in himself toward moral perfection.
Thus, from a Christian point of view, life is a moral struggle, a path of constant striving toward good and perfection. There can be no pause on this path, according to the law of the spiritual life. A man who stops working on himself will not remain the same as he was, but will inevitably become worse - like a stone which is thrown upwards and stops rising, it will not remain suspended in the air, but will fall downward.
We already know that our sins generally originate from three sources: from the devil, from the world around us lying in evil, and from our own sinful flesh. Since sin is the main enemy and obstacle of virtue, it is evident that a Christian who is striving towards virtue must, through God's mercy and help, struggle against sin in all its aspects. It is especially needful at this point to recall the Savior's words to the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Keep vigil and pray lest you fall into temptation." The words are directed not only at the Apostles but to all of us, indicating that the struggle with sinful temptations is possible only for one who is vigilant and who prays, standing on guard for his survival.
The task of man's earthly life is preparing himself for eternal salvation and beatitude. To attain this, a man must live in a holy and pure manner - that is, according to God's will.
How can one recognize this will of God? First of all, in one's conscience, which for this reason, is called God's voice in the soul of man. If the fall had not darkened the human soul, man would be able unerringly and firmly to direct the path of his life according to the dictates of his conscience, in which the inner moral law is expressed. We know, however, that in a sinful man, not only are the mind, heart and will damaged, but the conscience is also darkened and its judgment and voice have lost their firm clearness and strength. It is not without reason that some people are called unconscionable.
Therefore, conscience alone - the inner voice - became insufficient for man to live and act according to God's will. The need arose for an external guide, for a God-revealed law. Such a law was given by God to people in two aspects: first, the preparatory - the Old Testament law of Moses - then the full and perfect Gospel law.
There are two distinguishable parts in Moses' law: the religious-moral and the national-ceremonial which was closely tied with the history and way of life of the Jewish nation. The second aspect is gone into the past for Christians, that is, the national-ceremonial rules and laws, but the religious-moral laws preserve their force in Christianity. Therefore, all the ten commandments in the law of Moses are obligatory for Christians. Christianity has not altered them. On the contrary, Christianity has taught people to understand these commandments, not externally - literalistically, in the manner of blind, slavish obedience, and external fulfillment, but it has revealed the full spirit and taught the perfect and full understanding and fulfillment of them. For Christians, however, Moses' law has significance only because its central commandments (the ten which deal with love of God and neighbors) are accepted and shown forth by Christianity. We are guided in our life not by this preparatory and temporary law of Moses, but by the perfect and eternal law of Christ. St Basil the Great says, "If one who lights a lamp before himself in broad daylight seems strange, then how much stranger is one who remains in the shadow of the law of the Old Testament when the Gospel is being preached." The main distinction of the New Testament law from that of the Old Testament consists in that the Old Testament law looked at the exterior actions of man, while the New Testament law looks at the heart of man, at his inner motives. Under the Old Testament law, man submitted himself to God as a slave to his master, but under the New Testament, he strives toward submitting to Him as a son submits to a beloved father.
There is a tendency to regard the Old Testament law incorrectly. Some see no good in it, but only seek out features of coarseness and cruelty. This is a mistaken view. It is necessary to take into consideration the low level of spiritual development at which man then stood thousands of years ago. Under the conditions of the times, with truly coarse and cruel morals, those rules and norms of Moses' law which now seem cruel to us (e.g., "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," etc.) in reality were not such. They did not, of course, destroy human cruelty and vengeance (only the Gospel could do this), but they did restrain it and establish firm and strict limits upon it. Moreover, it must be remembered that those commandments about love toward God and neighbors, which the Lord indicated as the most important, are taken directly from the law of Moses (Mk. 12:29-31). The Holy Apostle Paul says of this law, "The law, therefore, is holy and each commandment is holy, just and good" (Rom. 7:12).
Freedom of Will
We realize that man bears the responsibility for his actions only when he is free in doing them. But does he have that spiritual freedom, a freedom of the will which is presupposed here? Recently, a teaching has spread, which is called determinism. The followers of this teaching - determinists - do not acknowledge freedom of will in man. They declare that in each separate action, man acts only in accordance with external causes. According to their teaching, man always acts only under the influence of motives and impulses which do not depend upon him, and usually submits himself to the strongest of these motives. The scholars say, "It only seems to us that we act freely. This is self-deceit."
The eminent 17th century philosopher Spinoza defends this opinion. As an example, he spoke of a stone that is thrown. If this stone could think and speak, it too would say that it is flying toward and falling upon the spot which it desires. But, in reality, it flies only because someone threw it and it falls under the action and power of gravity.
We will return to this example later, but meanwhile, let us note the following: The teaching which is opposite to determinism, and which acknowledges man's freedom of will is called indeterminism. This teaching is accepted by Christians, but it is necessary to remember that there are extreme indeterminists, whose teaching has a one-sided, false character. They claim that man's freedom is his full authority to act precisely as he desires. In their understanding, therefore, man's freedom is his complete free-will, authority to act upon his every desire or whim (the Holy Apostle Peter speaks concerning such "freedom" - l Pt. 2:15-16; 2 Pt. 2:19). This is not freedom, of course, this is an evil use of freedom, a distortion of it. Man does not have absolute, undoubted freedom; only Almighty God possesses the perfect and highest creative freedom.
In contrast to such false indeterminism, true indeterminism teaches correctly. Its teaching recognizes that man is undoubtedly under the influence of motives and impulses of the most varied types. For example, the surrounding milieu, conditions of life, the political situation, one's education, cultural development, etc., act upon him. All this is reflected in the features of his moral countenance. In this recognition of the action upon man - and sometimes very strongly - of various external motives and influences, the indeterminists are in accord with the determinists but, beyond this, there is a deep separation. While the determinists say that man acts one way or another only under the influences of the strongest motives, but does not have freedom, the indeterminists recognize that he is always free to choose any of the motives. This motive does not at all need to be the strongest. Moreover, man can even prefer a motive which, to other people, seems to be clearly disadvantageous and unprofitable. The zeal of the holy martyrs serves as an example of this. To their pagan persecutors, they seemed to be fools consciously destroying themselves. Thus, in the opinion of indeterminists, man's freedom is not an undoubted creative freedom, but a freedom of choice; the freedom of our will decides whether one acts one way or another. Christianity accepts precisely such an understanding of human freedom, agreeing with indeterminism. Applying it to the realm of morals, to the question of the struggle between good and evil, between virtue and sin, Christianity declares that man's freedom is his freedom of choice between good and evil. According to learned theological definition, "freedom of the will is our capability, independent of anyone and anything, of defining for ourselves concerning good and evil."
Now we can immediately set aside Spinoza's example of the falling stone. We realize that man possesses a free will in the sense of a choice of acting in one way or another. Spinoza considers the actions of the flying stone analogous with man's actions. This comparison could have been made only if the stone had a freedom of choice - to fly or not to fly, to fall or not to fall. But a stone, of course, has no such freedom and the given example is altogether unconvincing.
The insolvency of determinism, which negates the freedom of the will, is evident from the following. Firstly, not a single determinist effects his teaching in practical life. It is clear precisely why. For, if one is to look at life from a strictly deterministic point of view, there is no need to punish anyone - neither the thief for thievery, nor the murderer for murder, etc., since they did not act freely, but were slaves, unwilling fulfillers of whatever motives commanded them and which influenced them from without. This is an absurd but completely inevitable deduction from determinism. Secondly, proof of the freedom of the will is served by the fact of the experience of the soul which is called to repentance, an experience personally well-known to everyone. What is this feeling of repentance based upon? It is evident that it is based upon the fact that the repentant man returns in thought to the moment of the performance of his wrong action, and weeps over his sin, clearly acknowledging that he could have acted otherwise, could have done not evil, but good. Clearly, such repentance could not have had a place if man did not possess free will, but was an unwilling slave to external influences. In such a case he would not have answered for his action.
We Christians acknowledge man to be morally free and the guide of his own personal will and actions and responsible for them before God's truth. Such freedom is a most great gift to man from God, Who seeks from man not a mechanical submission, but a freely given filial obedience of love. The Lord Himself affirmed this freedom, "If anyone wishes to be My disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mt. 16:24). Again, in the Old Testament He said through the prophet:
"Behold, I have set before thee this day, life and death, good and evil. If thou wilt hearken to the commands of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to keep His ordinance, and His judgments; then ye shall live, and ... the Lord thy God shall bless thee ... but if thy heart change and thou wilt not hearken, and thou shalt go astray ... ye shall utterly perish ... I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: choose thou life ... to love the Lord thy God" (Deut. 30:15-19).
The Christian "I"
Living in this world, a Christian is in a constant, lively intercourse with God and with his neighbors. In addition to this, during the course of his whole life, he cares for himself, for his physical well-being and for the salvation of his soul. His moral obligations, therefore, can be divided into three groups: (1) concerning himself, (2) concerning neighbors, and (3) highest of all, concerning God.
The first, and the most important obligation which man has concerning himself, is the working out within oneself of a spiritual character, of our true Christian "I." The spiritual character of a Christian is not something given to him at first. No, it is something sought for, acquired and worked out by his personal toils and efforts (Lk. Ch.16). Neither the body of a Christian with its capabilities, powers and strivings, nor his soul itself - as an innate center of his conscious experiences and as a vital principle - are his spiritual personality, the spiritual "I." This spiritual character in an Orthodox Christian is what sharply differs him from every non-Christian. In the Holy Scripture it is not called a soul, but a spirit. This spirit is precisely the center, the concentration of the spiritual life; it strives toward God and the immortal, blessed, eternal life.
We define the task of the entire life of man as the necessity to use the earthly, transitory life for preparation toward the eternal, spiritual life. In the present instance, this can be said in other words: the task of the earthly life of man consists in that he is able, in the course of this life, to build up, to work out his spiritual character, his true, living, eternal "I."
One can care about one's "I" in different ways. There are people who are called egoists and who cherish and are concerned very much with their "I." An egoist, however, thinks only of himself and about no one else. In his egoism, he strives to obtain his personal happiness by any useful means - even though at the cost of suffering and misfortune for neighbors. In his blindness, he does not realize that from the true point of view - in the sense of the Christian understanding of life - he only harms himself, his deathless "I."
And here is Orthodox Christianity (i.e., the Holy Church), calling upon man to create his spiritual character, directing one in the course of this creativity, to distinguish good and evil and the truly beneficial from the pretended beneficial and harmful. She (the Holy Church) teaches us that we cannot consider the things given us by God (ability, talents, etc.) to be our "I," rather we must consider them gifts of God. We must use these gifts (like materials in the construction of a building) for the building of our spirit. For this, we must use all these "talents" given by God, not for ourselves egoistically, but for others. For, the laws of Heaven's Truth are contradictory to the laws of earthly benefit. According to worldly understandings he who gathers for himself on earth, acquires, according to the teaching of God's Heavenly Truth, he who, in the earthly life gives away and does good, acquires (for eternity). In the well-known parable about the careless steward, the main thought and the key to the correct understanding of it is the principle of making a distinction by contrast between the understandings of earthly egoism and God's truth. In this parable, the Lord specifically called earthly wealth, gathered egoistically, for oneself, "unjust wealth" and ordered that it not be used for oneself, but for others, in order that the reward be received in the eternal home.
The ideal of Christian perfection is unattainably high. "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect," Christ the Savior said. Therefore, there can be no end to the work of a man on himself, on his spiritual character. The entire earthly life of a Christian is a constant struggle of moral self-perfection. Of course, Christian perfection is not given to a man at once, but gradually. To a Christian who, through his inexperience, thought that he could attain holiness at once, St Seraphim of Sarov said, "Do everything slowly, not suddenly; virtue is not a pear - you cannot eat it at once." Nor did the Apostle Paul in all his spiritual height and power consider himself as having reached perfection, but said that he was only striving toward such perfection, "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect; but I strive for, if haply I might apprehend, that for which I am apprehended by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not consider to have apprehended (perfection): but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12-14).
According to the teachings of our Holy and God-bearing Fathers - the athletes and lamps of Christian piety - the first of all Christian virtues is humility. Without this virtue, no other virtue can be acquired, and the spiritual perfection of a Christian is unthinkable. Christ the Savior begins His New Testament precepts of blessedness with the precept of humility. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of the Heavens!"
In the usual sense of the word, we consider a person poor who has nothing and must ask others for help. The Christian (whether materially rich or poor) must recognize that he is spiritually poor, that there is no good of his own within him. Everything good in us is from God. From our own selves, we add only evil - self-love, caprices of sensuality, and sinful pride. Each of us must remember this, for it is not in vain that the Holy Scripture says: "God opposes the proud and gives Grace to the humble."
As we have already said, without humility, no other virtue is possible, for if man does not fulfil virtue in a spirit of humility, he will inevitably fall into God-opposing pride, and will fall away from God's mercy.
Together with a true, deep humility, each Christian must have a spiritual approach such as that spoken of in the second precept of blessedness. We know that humility abases and judges one. Often, however, this is not a profound, constant frame of mind and experience of the soul, but a superficial, shallow feeling. The Holy Fathers indicated one manner by which the sincerity and depth of humility can be tested:
Begin to reproach a person to his face, for those very sins and in those very expressions in which he "humbly" judges himself. If his humility is sincere, he will hear out the reproaches without anger, and sometimes will thank you for the humbling instruction. If he does not have true humility, he will not endure the reproaches but will become angry, since his pride will rear up on its haunches from the reproaches and accusations.
The Lord says, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." In other words, blessed are they who not only sorrow over their own imperfection and unworthiness, but mourn over it. By mourning, we understand, first of all, spiritual mourning - weeping over sins and the resultant loss of God's Kingdom. Moreover, amidst ascetics of Christianity, there were many who, filled with love and compassion, wept over other people - over their sins, falls and sufferings. It is also in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel to account as mourners all those sorrowing and unfortunate people who accept their sorrow in a Christian way: humbly and submissively. They are truly blessed, for they shall be comforted by God, with love. And those who, on the contrary, seek to obtain only pleasure and enjoyment in the earthly life, are not at all blessed. Although they consider themselves fortunate, and others consider them as such, according to the spirit of the Gospel teaching, they are most unfortunate people. It is precisely to them that this threatening warning of the Lord is directed: "Woe unto you wealthy! For you have received your consolation. Woe unto you who are full! For you shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! For you shall mourn and weep."
When a man is filled with humility and sorrow about his sins, he cannot make peace with that evil of sin, which so stains both himself and other people. He strives to turn away from his sinful corruption and from the untruth of the surrounding life - to turn to God's truth, to holiness and purity. He seeks this truth of God and its triumph over human untruths and desires it more strongly than one who is hungry desires to eat, or one who is thirsty desires to drink.
The fourth precept, which is bound to the first two, tells us of this: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." When shall they be filled? In part, here in the earthly life, in which these faithful followers of God's truth already see, at times, the beginnings of its triumph and victory in the actions of God's Providence and in the manifestations of God's justice and omnipotence. But their spiritual hunger and thirst will be satisfied and quenched in full there, in blessed eternity, in the "new heaven and new earth, wherein righteousness lives."
Conversion of Sinners
We have discussed the subjects of man's free will and examined the first of virtues humility, spiritual mourning and striving toward God's Truth. Now, we must speak of the process of the conversion of an erring sinner to the path of righteousness.
The parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32) is the best example of this process. This parable tells us of a young son who is annoyed by the careful guardianship of his father. The son senselessly decided to betray his father, and came to him asking for his share of the inheritance. Having received it, he departed into a distant country. It is clear that this senseless son represents each sinner. Man's betrayal of God is usually manifested in this way: one receives everything that God has given one in life, and then ceases to have fervent faith in Him, ceases to think about Him and to love Him, and finally forgets about His law. Is this not like the life of many contemporary intellectuals? Overlooking what is truly essential, they live in remoteness from God.
In that far away land, so deceiving from a distance, the senseless son squandered and wasted his possessions, living dissolutely. Thus it is that the senseless sinner wastes his spiritual and physical strength in the pursuit of sensual enjoyments and in "burning through his life," and departs, in heart and soul, further and further from His Heavenly Father.
The prodigal son, having squandered his possessions, grew so hungry that he took a job as a swine-herd (a keeper of animals which, according to Mosaic law, were impure). He would have been glad to eat swine's food, but no one gave him any. Is it not so that a sinner, entangled finally in the nets of sin, hungers spiritually, suffers and languishes? He tries to fill his spiritual emptiness with a whirlpool of empty pleasures, which cannot drown the torment of hunger from which his deathless spirit grows weak.
The unfortunate-one would perish if it were not for help from God, Who Himself said that He "does not desire the death of the sinner, but that he should be converted and live." The prodigal son heard the call of God's Grace and he did not push it aside nor reject it, but accepted it. He accepted it and came to himself as one who is in comes to himself after a terrible nightmare. There was a saving thought: "How many of my father's hirelings abound in bread, but I, his son, am dying from hunger."
"I shall arise," he decides, "and go to my father and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am not worthy to be called your son. But accept me into the number of your hirelings." A firm intention, a decisive resolve - he arose, "and went to his father."
He went, all penetrated with repentance, burning with the consciousness of his guilt and unworthiness - and with hope on the father's mercy. His way was not easy, but when he was yet far off, his father saw him (it means that the father was waiting and was perhaps looking every day to see if the son was returning). He saw and took pity, and running out, threw his arms around his shoulders and kissed him. The son was about to begin his confession: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am unworthy to be called your son." But the father did not allow him to finish. He had already forgiven and forgotten all, and accepted the dissolute and hungry swine-herd as a beloved son. The Lord said, "There is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not have need of repentance" (Lk. 15:7).
So gradually the process of falling away and conversion to God occurs in one. One is, as it were, lowered and then elevated by steps. At first, betrayal of God, going away from Him to a "distant country." In this alienation from God, there is a complete serving of sin and passions. Finally, there is a full spiritual bankruptcy, a spiritual hunger and darkness - the person has reached the depth of falling. Here, however, according to the words of Apostle Paul, where sin has multiplied, an abundance of Grace appears to instruct man. The sinner accepts the saving, Graceful appeal (or rejects it and perishes - and alas, this happens). He accepts it, and comes to himself, and firmly decides to part with sin and go with repentance to the Heavenly Father. He goes along the path of repentance, and the Father comes out to meet him and accepts him, all-forgiven and with as much love as ever.
Grace and Salvation
Speaking about every truly good, Christian activity, the Lord Jesus Christ said, "Without Me, you can do nothing." Therefore, when the matter of salvation is being considered, the Orthodox Christian must remember that the beginning of that truly Christian life which saves us, comes only from Christ the Savior, and is given to us in the mystery of baptism.
In his conversation with Nikodemos about how one enters into God's kingdom, our Savior replied, "Amen, amen, I tell you, except one be born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God." Further, He clarified this saying, "except one be born of water and of the Spirit, one cannot enter into the Kingdom of God"(Jn. 3:34). Baptism is, therefore, that only door through which one can enter into the Church of those being saved (Mk. 16:16).
Baptism washes away the corruption of the ancestral sin, and it washes away the guilt of all sins previously committed by the one being baptized. Nevertheless, the seeds of sin - sinful habits and desires toward sin - remain in one and are overcome by means of life-long moral struggle (man's efforts in cooperation with God's Grace). For, as we already know, God's Kingdom is acquired by effort, and only those who use effort attain it. Other holy mysteries of the Church - repentance, Holy Communion, anointing and various prayers and divine services are moments and means of the consecrating of a Christian. According to the measure of his faith, a Christian receives divine Grace in them, which facilitates his salvation. Without this Grace, according to apostolic teaching, we not only cannot do good, but we cannot even wish to do it (Phil. 2:13).
If, however, the help of God's Grace has such immense significance in the matter of our salvation, then what do our personal efforts mean? Perhaps the entire matter of salvation is done for us by God and we only have to "sit with arms folded" and await God's mercy? In the history of the Church, this question was clearly and decisively settled in the fifth century. A strict and learned monk, Pelagius, began to teach that man is saved by himself - by his own strength, without God's Grace. Developing his idea, he finally reached a point at which, in essence, he began to negate the necessity itself of redemption and salvation in Christ. The teacher Augustine [of Hippo] stepped forth against this teaching, and demonstrated the necessity of the Lord's Grace for salvation. While refuting Pelagius, however, Augustine fell into the opposite extreme. According to his teaching, everything in the matter of salvation is done for man by God's Grace, and man has only to accept this salvation with gratitude.
As usual, the truth is between these two extremes. It was expressed by the fifth century ascetic, Righteous St John Cassian, whose explanation is called synergism (cooperating). According to this teaching, man is saved only in Christ, and God's Grace is the main acting strength in this salvation. Nevertheless, besides the action of God's Grace for salvation, the personal efforts of man himself are also necessary. Man's personal efforts alone are insufficient for his salvation - but they are necessary, for without them, God's Grace will not begin to work out the matter of his salvation.
Thus, man's salvation is worked out simultaneously through the action of God's saving Grace, and through the personal efforts of man himself. According to the profound expression of certain of the Fathers of the Church, God created man without the participation of man himself - but He does not save him without his agreement and desire, for He created him unfettered. Man is free to choose good or evil, salvation or ruin - and God does not impede his freedom, although He constantly summons him to salvation.
Learning And Religion
Psychologists recognize three basic powers or capabilities in man's soul: mind, emotion (heart) and will. Through his mind, man acquires knowledge of the surrounding world and its life, and also of all the conscious experiences of his personal soul. Through his emotions (heart), man responds to the effects and impressions from the external world and from his own experiences. Some of them are pleasant for him and he likes them, others are unpleasant and he does not like them. Moreover, one person's concepts of "pleasant" and "unpleasant" do not coincide with those of another. What one person likes is not always liked by another and vice versa (from this fact, we derive the saying, "In matters of taste there can be no dispute"). Finally, man's will is that strength of soul through which he enters into the world and acts in it. Man's moral character depends very strongly upon the character and direction of his will.
Returning to the question of a person's development of his or her spiritual personality, we must note that in working on his "I," man must develop those capabilities of his soul - mind, heart and will - correctly and in a Christian way.
Man's mind develops most rapidly of the three, primarily through the study of the sciences, and through education. It is not correct to think that Christianity considers the so-called "worldly" sciences or education as unnecessary (or even harmful). The whole history of the Church in the ancient centuries speaks against this erroneous view. It is sufficient just to look at the three great teachers and hierarchs, Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. They were among the most highly educated people of their time, having learned well, the purely worldly science of their era. The science of that era bore a definite pagan cast, but they were able to master what was necessary and useful in this learning and to discard what was useless and unnecessary. Moreover, we must value learned worldly education now, when past pagan admixtures have disappeared from learning and it strives for a comprehension of pure truth. It is true that even now many scholars erroneously assume that science contradicts religion and they add their anti-religious views to scientific truths. But pure science is not at fault in this and Christianity always greets and blesses serious worldly education in which the thinking powers and capabilities of man are formed and strengthened.
It is self-understood that a Christian, while accepting worldly education, places an even greater significance upon religious education (and up-bringing). One must remember that Christianity is not solely and exclusively a sphere of experiences and feelings. No, Christianity is a completely finished cycle, a system of corresponding knowledge, of the most varied data relating not only to the religious, but also to the scientific area. To begin with, how could we Christians fail to know the life of the Savior, His miracles and teaching? How, moreover, could we fail to know the history of our Holy Church and its divine services which must be known and understood: and for this, learning is necessary.
The significance of Christianity as an all-sided and finished system of learning is particularly clearly seen in the courses in Christian morality and doctrine (formerly taught in Russian secondary schools). In these, Christianity is seen to be a very rich system of learning, encompassing and explaining to man the whole world, himself, and showing the true sense and aim of his earthly life.
But this too must be remembered: having received the learning of a religious education, the fullness of knowledge about God's Truth, man, knowing truth, must serve it and heed its voice. The Lord Himself said, "He who is not with Me is against Me." And in relation to Him and His holy will and law, indifference, coldness and failure to fulfil this law are disastrous for the soul and make man an enemy of Christ and His Truth. Thus, one must never forget His Words: "Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and yet not do what I say?" Similarly, His Apostle says, "Not the hearers of the law, but the fulfillers of the law will be made righteous."
Let us now turn to the matter of the development of man's heart. Under the category of the heart we understand the capability of pleasant and unpleasant sensations. These sensations are of different sorts - from the lowest organic sensations up to the highest aesthetic, moral and religious feelings. The higher feelings are also called emotions. The education of man's heart consists in the development of these emotions in it.
Let us pause on one such emotion - the aesthetic feeling. Aesthetic feeling is the term which signifies the sense of the beautiful - the ability of man to behold and understand, to enjoy and be enthralled by any beauty, by all things beautiful no matter where or how they appear to us. Such delight in beauty can either reach a turbulent, fiery ecstasy or a quiet, calm, profound feeling. Thus, the aesthetic feeling is indissolubley tied with the idea of the beautiful, with the concept of beauty.
"But," one asks, "what is beauty?"
This question may have different answers. The best is this: beauty is the full harmony between the content and form of a given idea. The purer, the more salient and more perfect the form in which this idea is transferred, the more there will be beauty present, the more beautiful the phenomenon will be. Of course, Orthodox Christianity sees the highest beauty in God, in Whom there is the fullness of all beauty and perfection.
Aesthetic feeling of one degree or another is inherent in every person, but is far from being developed correctly, in full measure, in every case. Its proper development and direction are brought about by uncovering the person's ability to correctly evaluate one or another phenomenon, or work of art. An aesthetically educated person is able to find features of perfection and beauty in a good picture, composition or literary work. He can himself understand and evaluate it and can explain to another, what precisely, is beautiful in a given work of art, what its content is and in what form it is transferred.
Orthodox Christianity knows how to evaluate and love beauty, and we see beauty in Orthodoxy everywhere - in church architecture, in the divine services, in the music of church singing and in iconography. It is notable that beauty in nature was loved and valued by the strictest of our ascetics, who had completely renounced the world. The leading monasteries of Russia were founded in localities distinguished by their beauty.
In this, the bright spirit of Orthodoxy is manifested in its relationship to everything truly beautiful. In the Gospel, we see how Christ our Savior tenderly and lovingly regarded lilies of the field, birds, fig trees and grape vines. Even in the Old Testament times the prophet-king David, contemplating the beauty and majesty of God's creation, exclaimed, "In wisdom hast Thou made them all ... glory to Thee O Lord Who has created all things..." In another psalm, he addresses nature as if it were conscious, saying, "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord ... Praise Him sun and moon, praise Him stars and lights..."
Orthodox Christianity cannot limit its concept of the truly beautiful only to what pleases our sense of beauty by the elegance of its form, but must see as truly beautiful all that is morally valuable. True beauty always elevates, ennobles, enlightens man's soul and sets before it the ideals of truth and good. An Orthodox Christian never acknowledges as beautiful that phenomenon or work of art, which even though it be of perfect execution, does not purify and enlighten man's soul but rather debases and soils it.
Emotional Development in Children;
On Christian Hope
The aesthetic feeling which we examined in the preceding chapter is but one of the emotions of the human heart. Understandably, many other emotions have a greater significance for the Christian. For example, the elevated feelings of sympathy, mercy, compassion, etc. must be developed in the heart of the Orthodox Christian - if possible, from the very earliest years.
Alas, all too often this does not happen. Unfortunately, in many good Orthodox Christian families, life is arranged in such a way that the parents consciously guard their children from contact with human need, sorrow, heavy difficulties and trials. Such an excessive protection of children from sober reality brings only negative results. Children who have grown up under greenhouse conditions, separated from life, grow up soft, spoiled and not well adjusted for life, often thick-skinned egoists, accustomed only to demanding and receiving and not knowing how to yield, to serve or to be useful to others. Life can break such people cruelly and sometimes punishes them unbearably, often from their early school years. It is necessary, therefore, for those who love their children to temper them. Above all, there must always be one definite Orthodox Christian aim set before both parents and children: that children, while growing and developing physically, must also grow and develop spiritually, that they become better, kinder, more pious and more sympathetic.
In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to allow children to come into contact with people's needs and wants, and to give them the opportunity to help. Then children themselves will strive for goodness and truth, for everything that is pure, good and bright is especially near to the soul of the unspoiled child.
These emotions about which we have spoken, including the highest of them - mercy and compassion - are met within all people. Speaking now of feelings of a purely Christian kind, we pause on the feeling of Christian hope. Christian hope can be defined as a sincere, vivid remembrance of God, inseparably tied with the assurance of His Fatherly love and help. A man who has such hope always and everywhere feels himself under the Father's protection just as he everywhere and always sees the infinite vault of heaven above him in the physical world. Therefore, an Orthodox Christian having hope in God will never come to despair, will never feel himself hopelessly alone.
A situation can seem hopeless only to an unbeliever. A believer, one who hopes in God, knows His nearness to the sorrowing human heart and will find comfort, courage and help in Him.
Of course, the crown and summit of Christian hope is in the future. We Orthodox Christians know that our Symbol of Faith, in which all the basic truths of Christianity are gathered, ends with the words, "I await (expect and earnestly long for) the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen."
So a full realization of the bright Christian hope will arrive when life finally triumphs over death and God's truth over worldly untruth. Then every woe will be healed, for "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish nor grief nor pain anymore..." "And eternal joy will be in their hands" (Rev. 21:4; Is. 35:10).
Here is the summit, crown and full realization of Orthodox Christian hope and the triumph of those, who in this earthly life, were persecuted and oppressed and banished for Christ's truth.
The Education And Development
Of Man's Will
We must now examine the question of the training and development of man's will. The moral character and moral value of man's personality depends most of all on the direction and strength of the will. Of course, everyone understands that for a Christian it is necessary to have: first, a strong and decisive will, and second, a will which is firmly directed toward the good of the neighbor, toward the side of good and not evil.
How is one to develop a strong will? The answer is simple - above all through the exercise of the will. To do this, as with a bodily exercise, it is necessary to begin slowly, little by little. Having begun to exercise one's will in anything (e.g., in a constant struggle with one's sinful habits or whims) this work on oneself must never cease. A Christian who wishes to strengthen his will, his character, must from the very beginning avoid all dissipation, disorder and inconsistency of behavior, otherwise, he will be a characterless person, not presenting himself as anything definite. Neither other people nor even the person himself can rely on such an individual. In the Holy Scripture such a person is called a reed shaking in the wind.
Discipline is necessary for everyone of us. It has such vital significance that without it, a correct, normal order and success in work is impossible. In the life of each individual it is of primary importance, for inner self-discipline takes the place of external school or military discipline here. Man must place himself in definite frame-works, having created definite conditions and an order of life - and not depart from this.
Let us note this, too: man's habits have a large significance in the matter of strengthening the will. We have already seen that bad, sinful habits are a great obstacle for a Christian, moral life. On the other hand, good habits are a valuable acquisition for the soul and, therefore, man must teach himself much good so that what is good becomes his own - habitual. This is especially important in early years, when man's character is still forming. It is not in vain that we say that the second half of man's earthly life is formed from habits acquired in the first half of this life.
Probably no one would argue against the fact that man needs a strong will. In life we meet people with various degrees of strength of will. It often happens that a person who is very gifted, talented, with a strong mind and a profound good heart, turns out to be weak-willed and cannot carry out his plans in life, no matter how good and valuable they might be. On the contrary, it happens that a less talented and gifted person, but one with a greater strength of will, stronger in character, succeeds in life.
A more important quality of the human will however, is its correct direction to the side of good and not evil. If a good but weak-willed person can turn out to be of little use to society, then a person with a strong, but evil, destructive will is dangerous; and the stronger his evil will, the more dangerous he is. From this, it is clear how extremely important are those principles, those basic foundations and rules by which man's will is guided. An unprincipled man is a moral nonentity, having no moral foundations, and dangerous for those around him.
From what source can man's will draw for itself these principles in order to act according to them? For an unbelieving person, an answer to this is extremely difficult and essentially impossible. Are they to be drawn from science? But science, in the first place, is interested primarily in questions of knowledge and not morals, and secondly, it does not contain anything solid and constant in principles, since it ceaselessly widens, deepens and changes much. From philosophy? But philosophy itself teaches that its "truths" are relative, and not unconditional or authentic. From practical life? Even less. This life itself is in need of positive principles which can purge it of unruly, unprincipled conditions.
Though the answer to the present question is so difficult for unbelievers, for a believing Christian the answer is simple and clear. The source of good principles is God's will. It is revealed to us in the Savior's teaching, in His Holy Gospel. It alone has an unconditionally steadfast authority in this area; and only it has taught us self-sacrifice and Christian freedom, Christian equality and brotherhood (an understanding stolen from it by those not of the faith). The Lord Himself said of true Christians, "not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven" (Mt.7:21).
Strengthening The Will
With Works And Vows
Work is an indispensable characteristic of every virtue of man which strengthens his will. It is an obedience placed by God upon sinful man when he lost paradise. "In the sweat of your brow you will eat your food." Therefore, each one of us must work.
In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Apostle Paul wrote about the necessity of work: "We beg you, brethren ... to go about your own business and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you" (4:11). In the Second Epistle, he sharply rebuked those who act indecently and are superstitious, and he precisely sets forth his appeal to work: "He who will not work, will not eat." We must note here that Orthodoxy never divides work into "white collar" and "blue collar" work. Such divisions are accepted in contemporary society which (although less so now) has tended to regard physical labor disdainfully. Orthodoxy requires only that a person's work be honorable and bring corresponding benefit. From an Orthodox Christian point of view, a person who treats his obligations disdainfully, though he be in a high and responsible post, is far lower than the most insignificant of his subordinates who fulfil their obligations conscientiously, in an Orthodox Christian manner. Moreover, one can easily discover through personal experience what a fulfilling satisfaction is felt by one who works honorably and well, and what a squalid sediment remains in the soul after time spent in thoughtless emptiness.
A false and sinful view of work and amusement is becoming widespread in contemporary society. People look upon work as something very unpleasant, like a heavy, subjecting yoke, and they strive to remove themselves from it as quickly as possible. All their efforts are directed toward "rest" (from what?) and toward being amused ... Rest and amusement are pleasant and enjoyable only when they are earned by previous work. In order to prevent that emptiness and diffuseness in the soul which are so common now in our nervous, restless, vain times, an Orthodox Christian must learn to concentrate, to gather himself together. One must observe oneself in all respects and give oneself an account of one's moods and longings. One must also consider what must be done at any given moment and the aim toward which to direct one's efforts.
Speaking of strengthening the will, we must also remember those instances when a person feels his will to be powerless to withstand some temptation or sinful habit which has taken root. In such a case, one must remember that the first and basic means at such times is prayer, a humble prayer of faith and hope. More will be said about prayer further on. In the meantime, let us recall that even such a spiritually strong person as the Apostle Paul spoke of his impotence to struggle with sin and do good: "The good which I desire to do, I do not, but the evil I do not want to do, I do." How much more is it so with us then, who are ill and weak! But prayer can help us, since through it we receive God's almighty strength to help our powerlessness.
In addition to prayers, vows and pledges have great significance in the strengthening of the will in the struggle with sin. A vow is a personal promise to do any good, beneficial deed, for example, to help a person in poverty, to build a church or public institution, to adopt an orphan, to make a pilgrimage, etc. When applied to our personal lives, such vows can consist of the following: if a person notices himself deficient in any way - not helpful to others, lazy, having little concern for the family, etc., he must select a definite, constant good deed in this area and make himself fulfil it unfailingly, as his obligation. Pledges are negative vows. One gives a pledge not to commit one or another sin, to struggle in the most resolute manner with one or another sinful habit (for example, to cease drinking, smoking, swearing, etc.)... It is obvious that a person must give vows or pledges only after having assessed his strength and resolved that with God's help he will fulfil them no matter what. The Savior warns us against vows which are made carelessly, without thought and not according to our strength, in the parable about the unwise builder. In the parable, the man began grandly to build a tower, but could not complete it and his neighbors, laughed at him, saying, "This man began to build and could not finish."
If you have made a vow, then having called upon God's help, set yourself to fulfil it unwaveringly.
The Struggle Against Lust
Man consists of soul and body. Many ancient religions and philosophical teachings spoke of man's soul being created by God, while the body supposedly came from the evil principle from the devil. Orthodoxy teaches otherwise. Both the soul and body of man are created by God. According to Apostolic teaching, after the mystery of baptism, man's body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and the members of the body - through union with Christ in the mystery of Holy Communion - are members of Christ. Therefore, man will pass over into the future eternal blessedness (or into eternal torment) with his entire being - both the deathless soul and the body which will be resurrected and reunited with the soul before Christ's judgment. This means that, while caring about one's soul, an Orthodox Christian must not leave the body without attention. One must guard it - guard it in an Orthodox way - not only from illnesses, but also from sins which corrupt, defile and weaken it. Among such sins, the most dangerous and harmful is licentiousness - the loss of chastity and bodily purity.
It gives us no particular joy to bring up this subject ... but it is impossible not to mention it, since without a doubt it is the sin most dangerous for youth.
We are speaking of fornication, of corruption and sexual degeneracy which are without a doubt the most terrible wounds of contemporary mankind. It is difficult to enumerate the terrible consequences which follow after this sin, like an inseparable shadow. We will not speak of specific illnesses which so often result from a disordered life, but most to be feared is the final judgment of Him, Who commanded us to lead a pure and undefiled life...
How is one who wishes to preserve oneself pure and chaste to struggle with the temptation of this sin? The answer is simple: first of all by purity of thought and imagination. It is often claimed that sexual need acts with such insurmountable strength that man is powerless to withstand it. This is a falsehood! This is not a matter of "need" but of depravity and lechery and results from a person's unrestrained provoking of himself with thoughts and desires. Of course such a person builds upon the natural sexual inclination to an excessive degree and this brings him to sin. An Orthodox Christian, however, who is God-loving and strict with himself will never allow, never permit that bad desires and thoughts possess his mind and heart. In order to accomplish this, he will call upon God's help in prayer and by the sign of the Cross and struggle against such thoughts the instant they appear. By effort of the will one will bring one's thoughts over to prayer or at least to other more edifying subjects. If one allows oneself to be inflamed by impure imagination, it means that one has depraved and ruined oneself. In order to struggle with bad thoughts, an Orthodox person must firmly turn away from and quickly depart from all that can elicit these bad thoughts. Our Savior was not speaking in vain when He so strictly warns us of the impure, lecherous gaze - and the gaze Christ warned us about went no further than looking. So dangerous is mental temptation.
There are many temptations: a general degeneration of morals and a departure from a pure, ordered Orthodox life, a disturbed and harmful relationship to marriage and married life these cannot help but act upon the young soul. Added to this, there are motion pictures and literature vying with each other in praising sin and describing it in the most alluring colors, with complete shamelessness. Contrived music, dances and entertainments so blind contemporary paganized "Christian" society that it no longer perceives their sin and harmfulness. Various types of obscene humor are now quite acceptable in society. All this is a spiritual rottenness and pestilence, corrupting and killing the mind and heart of man - this cloud of temptations moves upon the young, developing soul of humanity.
Blessed is the one who from youth to the end of ones days has remained pure in body and soul. Blessed is the one who is brought with the fragrant freshness, strength of untouched power of the soul and body, into a bright wedded union consecrated by God through the Church, or who preserves all this to the grave in the radiant purity of virginity and chastity! God blesses only two paths for man on earth: either the holy path of Christian marriage, an indissoluble union of two hearts, or else a higher and holier path, a path of virginity, a consecration of oneself to God and neighbors, - holy monasticism.
Terrible is the end of the path of him who disdains, ignores and stubbornly violates the laws of Orthodox purity and truth given by God, thus killing the soul.
Other Carnal Problems;
Of the other "conditions of the flesh," i.e., sins which have taken deep root in the very nature of man, perhaps the most dangerous is drunkenness and drug addiction. This sin is very wide-spread now. Let everyone remember that one must not wait until this ruinous passion has already developed, but one must guard oneself against it before it develops, when it is significantly easier. For, no one was born into God's world already addicted to alcohol or other drugs. We already know how much easier it is for a person to struggle with the temptation of sin when it has not yet become, through repetition, a lasting habit. It is better not to drink at all, from youth on. Youth has much vivacity and sufficient energy without it, and to "warm oneself with vodka" is so unnecessary. A proverb says, "Give the demon a finger and it will take the whole hand." Young will is not yet strong but the temptations of drink or drugs are numerous.
Many are ruined in early years by a special type of "courage," a type of sportive passion wherein a person wants to "prove" his strength and steadiness in the use of alcoholic drinks. Of course, one would show far greater steadiness and strength - real, moral strength - if he could really control himself and not yield to this evil temptation. An Orthodox person must, by all measures, draw away from sinful seductions and remove them from himself, remembering how the apostle warns that bad associations deprave good morals.
There is another carnal sin which, at first glance, does not seem as ruinous as drunkenness and depravity, but which is, nevertheless, extremely dangerous. This is the sin of love of money. The apostle says literally that "the root of all evils is the love of money." The first danger for a person who has egoistically acquired wealth is that this very wealth opens the access to all other seductions of the world. Moreover, the wealth itself becomes that idol (exactly as the golden idol) to which man adheres with all his soul and heart, becoming unable to tear himself away from service to it. We see an example of this in the Gospel story about the rich young man who could not follow the Savior because his life was bound to his wealth. In this regard, Christ said, "It is difficult for a rich man to enter God's kingdom." Thus does wealth blind a man and make him its slave? This danger threatens everyone who becomes addicted to "acquiring," to seeking gain and aiming for it.
In order to prevent this vice of loving money from developing in a person, it is necessary to teach him Orthodox disinterestedness in his early years. All the works of an Orthodox Christian must be done disinterestedly or, as the Gospel says it, "for Christ's sake." As we mentioned earlier, according to Divine truth, the Gospel truth, it is not the person that saves possessions for himself who acquires, but rather it is the one who gives to others in the struggle of mercy and concern for neighbors who makes gains. The one who serves others in the struggle of good not only shows them Orthodox Christian help, but also benefits his own soul, acquiring for himself a true treasure - in heaven.
A person who is seeking to lead an Orthodox life should not be negligent about his health. Health is a valuable gift from God and should be guarded. It is foolish to assume that a Christian should not seek to be cured by doctors. Doctors and medicines exist by God's will. We read in the Scripture that the Lord created certain things for curative use. Orthodoxy, however, sees in illness the direct consequences of our sinfulness. For this reason, a believing person begins his treatment first of all with prayer, with the purification and strengthening of the soul, with the Holy Mysteries. Then he follows the treatment of the body prescribed by a doctor. We can see this pattern in the Gospel, where before healing a person from his physical illness, Christ healed his soul with the forgiveness of sins. To one, the Savior said, "You have been made well - see that you sin no more so that nothing worse will happen to you."
While giving attention to his health, an Orthodox person must not fear death. We are not speaking of the martyr's death for Christ's sake - which every believer desires with joy, but simply of the end of our earthly life. True Orthodox Christians in general do not fear death, but even await it hopefully. Apostle Paul, for example, says directly, "I desire to die and be with Christ, because it is incomparably better" (than remaining on earth). In another place he says, "Our home is in heaven," teaching us that our true native land is there, while on earth, we are only temporary exiles.
That longed for "Christian end of our life" is not always without illness, but in any case is "blameless and peaceful." One prepares for such an end by prayer, contemplation and partaking of the Holy Mysteries.
A shameful, non-Christian death, on the other hand, is a terrible thing, e.g., a criminal dying in the middle of a crime, etc. At this point, we must mention suicide. It is well-known that the Holy Church by its canons, withholds a Christian burial to those who consciously (without mental impairment) take their own lives. Suicide is a complete betrayal of the very spirit of Christianity, a refusal to bear one's cross, a rejection of God and hope on Him. Suicide is a sordid death of the complete egoist ... One who commits suicide ceases to be a faithful son of the Holy Church, and thus deprives himself of his burial. And how could the Church bury a suicide according to Her service? The main thought of this burial service is "Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Your servant, for he placed his hope on You..." But these words will ring with untruth in the case of a suicide. How could the Holy Church affirm the untruth?
Up to this point, we have talked about the duties of a Christian in relation to himself. Now, let us examine his obligations in relation to others.
The first element for a proper relationship with other people is justice. Without this basic element, even one's goodness can turn out to be useless - if partiality and one-sidedness appear in it instead of truth. There are, however, marked differences in the conditions of just relationships between people.
Legal or, loyal justice (from loi-law): This is the lowest form of just relationship, the most wide-spread in civil and state life. A loyal person strives to precisely fulfil state and civil laws which are mandatory for him and for others. In addition, he usually fulfils all his personal transactions and obligations exactly and punctually. He does not, however, go a step further than these legal norms and boundaries, to make concessions and condescensions. This type of person can be cold, unsympathetic and pitiless. Such a person of iniquity neither creates nor violates laws - but will take what is his own without concessions, even if his neighbor will suffer from this. Of course, in our time such legally just persons are comparatively orderly, since they fulfil their obligations honorably. For an Orthodox Christian, nevertheless, it is clear that such a relationship is insufficient, because it is not Christian but purely pagan.
Justice of Correctness: In the moral respect, this form of justice is significantly higher than the previous one. We refer to a person as correct, who in his relationships with those around him, strives to fulfil what is necessary not only according to external laws and customs, but also according to his conscience. Therefore, he treats everyone equally, and is peaceful, polite and careful with all. He willingly responds to a request for a service and tries to do everything that he has promised, often freeing other people from difficulties by this. In comparison to dryly loyal people, it is easy and pleasant to live and work with such correct, conscientious people. Still, this is far from Christianity since such compassion and responsiveness is seldom constant and faithful to itself, and it reaches a point where it fades and dries up.
Christian justice: This is the complete type of justice - the justice of the Christian heart. Its basic, wise, clear and comprehensible principle is expressed in the Gospel by the words: "So then, whatever you wish that others would do to you, even so do you also to them." (Mt.7:12). The apostles' council repeated this in a negative form: "do not do to others what you do not wish done to yourself." And so, do not bring any falsehood or lie or offense or evil into life. All people are your neighbors; do not do to them what you do not wish for yourself. Moreover, not only must we do no evil, but we must do good, according to our conscience, from the heart, being motivated by the Gospel law of love, mercy and forgiveness. If you want people to treat you sincerely, then open your heart to your neighbors. Do not be an egoist, do not consider your rights as loyal and correct people do, rather place the welfare and good of your neighbor above all your rights, according to the law of Christian love.
It very often happens in life that we are too condescending to ourselves, but are too demanding and strict to our neighbors. Christian justice speaks otherwise. The Lord said, "Why do you look at the twig in your brother's eye, but you do not feel the beam in your own eye? Hypocrite, first remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see how to remove the twig from your brother's eye." For this reason, ascetics of Christianity, while grieving so about their own sins, being almost pitilessly strict and demanding of themselves, were so all-forgiving and compassionate to others, covering the faults of their neighbors, with kindness and love. In general, the Christian rule of life teaches us that, in such sorrowful events as arguments and misunderstandings, we must not seek to find guilt in others, but in ourselves, in our own lusts, obduracy, self-love and egoism. Thus, Christian justice demands from us condescension towards others. Even this, however, is not sufficient. It calls us to see, in every person, our own brother, a brother in Christ, a beloved creation and image of almighty God. And no matter how a man might fall, no matter how he darkens the image of God in himself by sins and vices, we must still seek the spark of God in his soul... "Sins are sins, but the basis in man