Christ has made us free (Galatians 5:1)
St Paul’s invocation “Christ has made us free” invites us to reflect on what it really means to be free as Orthodox Christians living in a modern world.
Freedom is commonly thought of as the ability to choose between right or wrong, good or bad. The word in Greek eleftheria (ελευθερία) is made up of two roots – eleftho (ἐλεύθω) meaning “to come towards” or “to approach”, and eros (ερώς), meaning “love” or “desire.” “Freedom” (ελευθερία) is taken to mean “being able to live consistent with that which we desire.”
What is it that prevents us from reaching this state? Simply, the effect of sin. As the passions develop within, we become less able to exercise our freedom correctly. As St Paul says to the Romans, we become slaves to sin, and sinful desires becomes our master. We simply, effortlessly, and mindlessly, tend toward sin, neither appreciating where we are going, nor that we have lost our freedom along the way.
St Paul continues “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not do; but for what I hate, that I do.” We might find ourselves in a state where we know what is right, know what temptations to avoid or which sensations trigger the passions within. But, tied down to our senses and seeking easy pleasures, we give in and misuse the same gifts that God gave us for freedom, in slavery.
Modern society holds that almost every level of our existence is a matter of our ‘choosing’ – our careers, our social and economic status, our sexuality, our family, perhaps our death. Together with this, is the emphasis of the individual “As long as I’m not hurting anyone, I should be free to act and believe in whatever I like.”
The beauty of the Orthodox Church is that each of us are individuals, and dependent on others, in our journey toward God. We may lead a life of obedience, say to our Spiritual Father, but even in that state we do not lose our freedom or our individuality.
The more we allow ourselves to live by God’s will, and not our own, the greater will be our experience of Him. St Paul, again to the Romans, says “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and in the end, everlasting life.”
Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, describing the state when someone lets go of their own will in obedience to a spiritual father, says “Now I can live as an autonomous person, because I’ve freed myself from the greatest force there is: my own wilfulness. Now there’s nothing to stop my free and independent progress. I have to be ready to walk on the road that God will show me.”
Our Orthodox Faith emphasises a unique and fulfilling approach to being free in the modern age. Our aim is to be free from the turbulence of our own thoughts or passions. The free person is one who simply, humbly, and quietly seeks to be close to God, managing their own wilfulness and passions, and in that way allows themselves to become the person they were meant to be.
Source: Lychnos February – March 2021