A Deeper Morality
Excerpt of an article by Fr. Stephen Freeman.
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:3–4)
The self and the soul are not objects of our own creation. However they may be understood, they exist as a gift to be received, something to be welcomed.
In Romans 7, St. Paul wrestles with the “moral” problem. He wants to do good, but fails. He wonders, then, who is doing the “wanting” within him. He posits something of a problematic existence:
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (Romans 7:19–20)
St. Paul’s thoughts belong to a conversation within Judaism that had already been taking place for some hundreds of years. There was a discussion of what was known as the yetzer ha ra and the yetzer ha tov (the bad impulse and the good impulse). Thoughts on their origins were all over the map. In time, within the Christian tradition, something of a settled understanding was formed, though it is less settled than many imagine. In that all of this describes an experience that is dynamic and changing, it is difficult to formulate fixed terms. By the same token, it is problematic to reduce our spiritual life to the sort of moral nostrums common in our culture.
A story related in the life of St. Paisios is very helpful for thinking about this:
There was once a monk who lived on Mount Athos, in Karyes. He was drinking and getting drunk every day, scandalizing the pilgrims. After a while he died and this relieved some of the believers who went and told elder Paisios they were pleased that finally this huge problem was resolved.
Father Paisios replied that he knew about the monk’s death, because he saw a whole battalion of angels who came to pick up his soul. Pilgrims were amazed, and some protested and tried to better explain to the elder who this person was, thinking that he did not understand.
But elder Paisios explained: This monk was born in Asia Minor, during the time when the Turks were still gathering all the boys as slaves in the lands under their occupation. To avoid being taken by the Turks, his parents took him with them during the harvesting season, and in order to stop the crying and let them work, they put some plum brandy in his milk for him to fall sleep. Consequently, he grew up and became an alcoholic without his permission. At one point he found an elder who told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and implore the Virgin Mary to help him to reduce a glass from his daily alcohol intake.
After a year he succeeded, with repentance and struggle, to go from 20 to 19 drink glasses. Fighting continued throughout the years and finally reached 2-3 glasses, which still caused drunkenness.
The world has seen, over time, a monk alcoholic who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a warrior who fought a long battle to reduce a passion.
This “dynamic” account of the monk’s life stands as a contradiction to modernity’s common approach to morality. Indeed, the “morality” of those who saw the monk condemned him. The holy elder saw the dynamic of a soul being revealed as a champion.
How should we then live?
Give attention to the goal of your life as measured by your desire for God. No matter how many times you fall, get back up. Faith, in large part, can be understood as loyalty. Choose sides (choose God). Every time you fail, call out for God who alone can save us. For the most part, heroes of the faith will not be seen until all things are revealed. As much as possible, refrain from judging others. Assume that they are struggling secretly as well.
Remember that our battle is with the passions. They are defeated and healed through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. It is this that saves the souls around us.
Sometimes in retrospect I see my lack of patience with some people is equally, if not more sinful, or self-righteous, than her overly religious comments. There is such a deeper morality as the post says above, that of truly loving others and "in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself"--and not judging them! Philippians 2:3. You would think I would gotten a handle on this by now, but this has been a life long struggle for me, learning patience and having more love! Thank God for Jesus!