Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Freedom Comes from Within

Fr. Vasile Catalin Tudora

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If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36).

Many nations of the world look at America today to study freedom and democracy. We are blessed to live in a free country that preserves through its Constitution our basic human rights and liberties. We have the freedom of speech, the freedom to gather, the freedom to vote and so much more.

Unfortunately, the more freedom we enjoy in a society, the more of a challenge it is to also uphold a certain standard of morality in the same time. The liberties we enjoy are many times misunderstood and misused, leading to a severe deconstruction of the notion of freedom itself.

The idea of freedom of our current generation is different than that of the previous one. Many things we see now regularly in the media or in the public life, were considered totally inappropriate in a not so distant past. This is only possible because the very notion of freedom in its current understanding is intimately embedded in the society we live in, shifting at par with the cultural context that prevails at a certain time and place. In other words we are free as much as the society is allowing us to be; and since our society and culture evolves toward universalism and globalization, the people are starting to take liberties that they should not.

Let's take the topic of same sex marriages, that is filling today's headlines. The promoters of the legal recognition of this type of union are invoking the right to expression, assembly and association in the name of liberty and nondiscrimination. Some of them are even calling themselves Christians. Yet in the name of freedom and in the name of Christ they are taking the liberty to ask from the society a universal acceptance of their personal sin while challenging the very institution of marriage.

We all know and understand that the human nature is weak, that we are all sinners and we are not called to judge the speck in our brother's eye while forgetting about the log in our own. What we do in our personal life is a matter of personal choice for which we will each give account in front of the Great Judge; each person deals with sin personally. But one cannot take a personal sin and project it openly over an entire society, elevating that which is wrong and against the nature to a universal recognition as good and wonderful and more than this, trying to restrict the right of others to call it sin. This is taking too much liberty.

This state of affairs leads to a gross misunderstanding of the notion of freedom itself as it was given to us by God at our creation. The freedom we have planted in us is not the freedom to choose our sexual orientation, nor to decide what the Church should teach on Sundays, but is an existential gift that deeply affects our evolution as persons. For, brothers, you were called to liberty. Only do not use the liberty for an opening to the flesh, but by love serve one another (Gal 5:13).

The creation of man is an act of sublime love, a wish of bringing to life a free and rational being that can evolve toward an eternal relationship of love with its Creator. No relationship is durable however if it is forced, pushed from outside. One has to freely choose to enter into a relationship if the relationship is to last.

Social or religious freedom are neither durable nor effective if they impose on people values that are foreign to them, that are hard-pressed on them from outside. Any man that has his liberties restricted through a moral that is alien to him will behave like a chained beast that once freed bites back its master.

In order to be accepted, all morality has to come from within, not from the outside. One cannot force love on anyone. Even if man conforms to the ethical standards imposed by the society or religion, as a consequence of the fear of punishment, if these standards are not understood and internalized, if they don't become part of his moral fiber, sooner rather than later he will rebel against them. This is why we see the perpetual conflict among generations.

In traditional Eastern Christianity the freedom of a person is not a gift from the society that can be changed and restricted along with the social and cultural evolution. Freedom as we understand it is part of man's being, is the image that is planted in us by a free God and lover of mankind. Nobody forced God to create man so he can enter into a relationship with Him and in the same way God does not forces man to develop such a relationship. Man has the freedom to choose for himself his place into eternity; man is predestined to live eternally with God or apart from Him — the choice is his.

The tragedy of man is the rejection of this opportunity and the usage of the freedom to move further away from God through sin. This is why Adam and Eve, although they had eternity laying at their feet, they chose to sin and die. The original Greek word for sinning in translation means to miss the target but also not to partake in something. Sin is therefore, in a way, an action and a consequence. Action in the sense that we miss the target, which is to get closer to God, and consequence because through our moving away from Him we do not participate in the Kingdom.

Through sin man receives the illusion of freedom which is actually an enslaving of the senses and addiction to pleasure, for by whom anyone has been overcome, even to this one he has been enslaved (2Pet 2:19). Choosing a sin instead of virtue, having an open license to kill, lie, steel, commit adultery and so on is not actual freedom, but is the premeditated choice to refuse to live in the proximity of God and a passage from life into death. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23). Sin's consequence is death not as a punishment, but as a natural progression of moving further away from the source of life, which is God, and refusing to allow the grace of the Holy Spirit to perfect our imperfect human existence.

To leave in the true spirit of freedom is to cleave to God with all your being, to unconditionally choose the way of the Cross that inverts the course of our lives, taking us paradoxically through death into life. I am the Resurrection and the Life! He who believes in Me, though he die, yet he shall live (John 11:25).

On a superficial level and from the perspective of a libertarian society, the traditional Christian is living restricted by the principle of an antiquated and difficult to follow morality, expressed through the canons and the dogmas of Church. However, if we go beyond the exterior shell we understand that these standards are not imposed from outside but they are originating in man's personal choice to freely be one with God in the quest for genuine freedom for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2Cor 3:17).

Man lives free only when he is close to God, one with Him, when the Holy Spirit permeates his whole being leveling all his imperfection and guiding him toward the eternity of life. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not again be held with the yoke of bondage (Gal 5:1)."

Fr. Vasile Tudora pastors St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Euless, Texas, and edits the Gladsome Light Dialogues blog

Posted: 31-Jan-2009

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