“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)
Address by His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, to the participants in the International Orthodox Youth Meeting in Iaşi, 1–4 September 2017.
1. Freedom – a constant concern of humankind
Freedom has preoccupied some philosophers such as Plato or Socrates in ancient times, but also such as Immanuel Kant, Nikolai Berdyaev, Jean Paul Sartre and many others in modern times. Furthermore, freedom has preoccupied several intellectuals who reflected on the relationship between individual freedom and social order, based on laws, rights and obligations.
In today’s capitalist context of new secularist ideologies, priority is given to individual rights or freedoms, without any reference to the values of the faith in God and to the human vocation to live an eternal life.
Although the theme of freedom, as a permanent aspiration of persons and nations, has preoccupied humankind over the time, there is no common definition of freedom, since its essence is difficult to define. However, often a distinction is made between man’s natural freedom, as a free will to choose between good and evil, and social freedom, as the freedom conferred to the individual by the society in which he or she lives.
Certainly, natural freedom and social freedom have a certain value for all people, but for Christians they do not represent full spiritual freedom or the freedom revealed to the world by Jesus Christ and granted to those who believe in Him.
2. Man’s freedom has deteriorated (perverted) through his fall from the living communion with God, the creator of Universe and of man
The freedom man has as a person created in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26-27) was severely deteriorated or corrupted by the disobedience of our first parents Adam and Eve, when man wanted to be like God, but in disregard and separation from God (see Genesis 2). Since all humans have inherited the nature of the old Adam (Romans 5:12), man’s freedom on earth is perverted by sin understood as a selfish and possessive way of existence, which prevents man from fully and permanently loving God and his fellow people. (For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing, says Saint Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to Romans 7:19).
Moreover, man’s freedom is also perverted by the spiritual forces of evil (demonic powers), which often mislead man to unbelief and disobedience to God, as well as to hatred towards others. That is why, a Christian struggles “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Finally, the greatest obstacle to human freedom is death, as it opposes man’s desire to live his life in a permanent relation to the visible world (to people and nature). For this reason, the Holy Scripture says that man’s “last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
3. Jesus Christ – the New Adam – has conquered sin, hades and death, thus giving humans full freedom to love God and their neighbours
God’s eternal Son Jesus Christ became Man precisely to free humans from sin, from the spiritual forces of evil and from death, because these are major obstacles to their spiritual freedom. In this regard, Saint Paul says that the Son of God has become Man “so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). More precisely, through his humble obedience to God unto death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ, the New Adam, frees humans from sin, from evil spirits and from death, elevating them to the state of “glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). As a fruit of Christ’s saving and liberating action, Christians receive through Holy Baptism the forgiveness of sins, the adoption by grace and the resurrection from death, which is a new spiritual life, according to the promise of Jesus Christ, Who said “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). The new life of those who believe in Christ is cultivated in Christ’s Church through the grace of the Holy Spirit for the acquisition of eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
Therefore, man’s total spiritual freedom in Christ is actually the full freedom to love God and people in time and in eternity.
Referring to this freedom, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). The truth here is His own divine-human Person, Who accomplishes in Himself the communion of eternal love between God and humankind. That is why, Christ says later that “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This means that Christ is the Way to the Truth, while the ultimate Truth is the eternal Life in the Kingdom of the All-Holy Trinity. Since the Spirit of Truth is the Holy Spirit (see John 14:26; 15:26; 6:13-14), Apostle Paul stresses that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (1 Corinthians 3:17). On the other hand, Saint Peter cautions that the freedom granted by the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Christ is not the freedom to commit evil, but the freedom to perform good: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16).This spiritual freedom of man to perform good as an expression of humble love towards God and merciful (generous) love towards people is actually the total freedom that Saints have acquired after long struggles against selfish passions, against evil spirits and the fear of death, by praying, repenting and fasting. These Saints were not only monastics, but also many lay people who have founded families, gave birth to children and educated them in the faith and in the love of God and their neighbours. Wherefore, this full freedom is God’s gift that we receive through the Baptism with water and Spirit, but it is also a permanent spiritual struggle of the believer against his or her own selfishness, in order to remain permanently in a state of humble love of God, and of merciful, generous love of fellow people.
4. The freedom to be in a permanent communion of love with God and with our fellow people is cultivated in the Church
The concrete environment where this spiritual freedom given by Christ can be cultivated is the Church or the spiritual dwelling place of the Holy Trinity. From this reason, the Church most joyfully welcomes all young people in search for true freedom and communicates to them through the Holy Mysteries and the Liturgical Feast the paternal love of the Heavenly Father, Who rejoices in the devoted spiritual sons and daughters, but also in the repenting “prodigal son”. The Church communicates to young people the healing and liberating love of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Physician of our souls and bodies, as well as the sanctifying love of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life.
The spiritual freedom that we receive through the faith in Christ and cultivate in a prayerful communion of fraternal love becomes a source of peace, joy and gladness. In this regard, Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae notes that “the freedom that the Holy Spirit gives us goes hand in hand with the spiritual life and increases therewith. He is the Spirit of freedom, because He is the Spirit of life and, by calling us to freedom and by helping us to increase in it, He becomes a source of life.”1
Today, we note that in the family, during religion education classes, in the parish, in a pilgrimage to a monastery, in Theology schools, in Orthodox educational and cultural centres, young people rejoice greatly when they are loved by God and by people, but also when they are encouraged in their turn to love God in prayer, and their fellows through acts of generous love.
When Orthodox Christian youth carry in their souls the love, peace and joy granted by Christ, they are able to become witnesses and missionaries of Christ’s love to the world in relation to other young people in difficulty (those abandoned by their family or friends, those who experience poverty, unemployment, loneliness, disorientation and other difficulties). In this respect, the Church greatly appreciates the spiritual activities of youth, their humanitarian actions and their mission.
After searching for freedom in many stages of life, every man on earth, the young or less young, should ask the following essential question about life: What have I done with the freedom that I have found? If this freedom allowed me to love God and my fellows more, then I have found true freedom. If the freedom I found has estranged me even more from God, from others and from myself, then it means I am not truly free.
Here is an example: although tortured in prison during the atheistic communist regime, many young people, especially clerics and lay intellectuals, through suffering and much prayer have acquired a great spiritual freedom to confess the faith and to forgive their persecutors, like the martyrs in the early Christian ages. This represents the freedom and peace granted to them by the crucified and risen Jesus Christ Himself, which reflects the soul’s freedom to love God and people not only in a favourable context, but also in a hostile or oppressive environment. This is the freedom of the soul, which through God’s grace turns the suffering of the cross into the joy of resurrection.
Finally, we congratulate His Eminence Teofan, Metropolitan of Moldavia and Bukovina, and all those who organised in Iaşi this International Meeting of Orthodox Youth.
Dear young people, we wish you to spend these days in fraternal communion and in friendship. In addition, we pray to the Holy Trinity, the Source of life and eternal joy, to bless you with peace, light and love!
Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church
English translation by basilica.ro.