SLAVES AND THE LIBERATED

by Archbishop Stylianos of Australia

 

"Claiming to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22)

 

March is the month which each year arouses Greek people all over the world to celebrate the rebirth of modern Greece through independence, in conjunction with the Annunciation, the " commencement of our salvation". However, this month, which presents us twice with the issue of freedom, can for this reason be a 'trap' as well. And a trap is anything that can restrain our movement.

However, the topic of "freedom" — if examined with the sensitivity and wholeness dictated by its very nature — is connected automatically, and not only dialectically, to the topic of "slavery". That is why we are obliged to study it here, although briefly, within the parameters which have already been mentioned, or at least alluded to.

The basic main point that must be said right at the outset is that the topic of "freedom" can only be seen in two ways: on the one hand morally and philosophically (with or without foundation in, or reference to, religion) and, on the other, sociopolitically (with the appeal to external conditions and factors). This dual possibility of approaching the topic is equally valid whether we are speaking about the freedom of the individual or a social group of any size.

a) The moral and philosophical foundation of freedom unfortunately remains an open, uncertain and ultimately unclear "fabricated argument", regardless of how developed the conscience of the on-looker may be in terms of cognition, aesthetics or morals. And because this has to do with the judgement of the 'autonomous' person, it is only natural that we have as many views on freedom as there are philosophical or ethical systems. Such systems, as known, often conflict or refute one another, rather than being mutually complementary. Precisely on this point, then, we touch upon the most vital nerve of the problem: can someone who is permanently exposed to the tyranny of their own constantly changing will, or the will of someone else, speak about 'freedom'?

Given that personal conscience always remains confined to its limited horizon due to historical as well as unmeasurable psychological factors defining personal experience, it must be considered impossible to reach individually the boundaries and sheer perspective of the problem. That could only be achieved, and then evaluated accordingly, by a 'super-individual' or 'universal' conscience. However, this kind of conscience does not exist in human history. Nor can we take seriously the fantasies of romantic idealism regarding 'absolute spirit'. Our world, and all that is in it, is relative — not only in the sense of what has passed, but also in terms of continual correlations — and not absolute. Thus the concept of 'freedom' is from the outset to be seen in the context of relativity, namely historicity. Otherwise, it would not be a conducive and reliable moral and cultural value — for which humanity has justly fought with enormous sacrifices — but rather a 'figment of the imagination' and a 'utopia'. We therefore naturally reach the point of saying that, if freedom is the quintessence of human honour and dignity, it is not possible for any worldly authority (whether individual or collective) to define its respective individual presuppositions. Only God can have the final word on this. Since God alone knows, wills and is able (being Omniscient, All good and Omnipotent) to ensure the authentic specifications of freedom for the human person made in His 'image' and likeness. When put in those terms, it is only natural that the 'autonomous' moral and philosophical enquiry becomes theological, without freedom of thought being necessarily bound by relentless dogmatism.

We could say in summary that if one grounds personal freedom upon 'self-centred' rather than 'God-centred' reflection, then he or she remains bound by an individual and outmoded conscience. And since no single conscience can contain all possible versions and aspects of the truth about freedom, it is inevitable that the person who is bound by such narrowness would think and seem like a 'slave' rather than a free person.

From all the above, it can be seen that 'freedom' is, strictly speaking, an issue of metaphysical rather than natural order. It is a feat of perpetual self-transcendence and not an accomplishment as such, not even for a split second. Consequently, instead of speaking about a 'free' person, it would be more accurate to describe the person who continuously struggles for freedom as being 'made free'. And one is 'made free', according to the degree to which he or she is released from the confinement of individual conscience that is developed — through the 'communion' called for by interpersonal relations — 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Eph. 4:13). Yet, even then, man is not in essence 'free', according to the dictates of self-love belonging to the fallen human nature. Such a person is only 'made free' from the various bonds of sin, thereby 'binding' or making him or her a 'slave' of the one Lord of life and death, the God-Man Jesus Christ. Not withstanding the above, man is a 'political animal' according to Aristotle's definition, and for this reason there cannot be 'freedom' of the person which is not reflective in some way of the general conditions of life in society (which are mainly economic, ecological, cultural and political).

b) The social and political view of the topic of freedom perhaps gives priority to external conditions of social harmony and justice, rather than to moral principles that determine the honour and peaceful living of the person as such. In spite of the fact that it relates, as we have mentioned, to the freedom both of the individual and of society as a whole.

It could equally be said that it would be a rather ironic utopia for one to believe that any degree of inner freedom is attainable if the outer conditions did not have at least a minimum balance in the economic and political factors that were just mentioned. This at any rate is illustrated by Diogene's search for a 'human being' with a lamp in the middle of the day. Otherwise, that leading cynic philosopher would have remained inactive, satisfied in his personal 'bliss'.

This correlation and exchange between the two spheres in which human 'responsibility' is exercised — as the other side of the coin of 'freedom' — is the touchstone by which the relativity, on the one hand, and the authenticity, on the other, of freedom will always be measured. In conclusion, this means that no individual — not even the most isolated hermit — and no people or country, no matter how powerful they may appear to be in sociopolitical circumstances, can ever boast about absolute 'independence' or absolute 'freedom'. This is because it would not only be sacrilegious and a direct offence to God who 'spread out the earth on the waters' (Psalm 135:6), but also because the notion of absolute independence and freedom would be a rejection of the apparently God-given mutual dependence and 'solidarity' between all created beings. We are therefore justified in speaking about 'independence' and 'liberation' from any kind of harmful 'bonds' of vicious habit or tyrannical domination — but not from the organic bonds of global ecological balance and, most of all, from the greatest universal hope of the eschatological unity in Christ.

from Voice of Orthodoxy, vol 22/3, March 2000
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

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