From The Blog

Mission Monthly – December 2006

“But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself”

C.S. Lewis, A Horse and His Boy (from “The Chronicles of Narnia”)

There are many tragic consequences to the violent and dehumanizing practice of slavery. One need not look far to see its lasting effects. In our own nation people of color are still healing from this terrible history which inflicted upon an entire people a state of generational dependence and entitlement.

The opposite of slavery is, of course, freedom. Freedom is THE concept which is so tightly woven into the very identifying fabric of what it means to be “American.” Every war fought by our country, whether justified or not, is claimed to have been fought in the name of freedom. Ultimately freedom is a right which men, when necessary, must fight for. As Orthodox Christians, however, freedom must first be seen as a concept of correct faith. In this light, a deeper look at freedom, and slavery for that matter, may not be seen in the same way.

Jesus offered a very significant clue about the state of man when he said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Here we see an ultimate purpose of our God’s Gospel, and it has very little to do with whether we are slaves or free. In the first words of Jesus’ public ministry He announced His intentions for freedom, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19). But what is the meaning of this “liberty” and from what has the Lord proclaimed “release” to the captive? This is a very important question to answer if we ever hope to understand, as C.S. Lewis infers above, the paralyzing consequences of slavery. Our bodies and souls are connected, and it is how we respond to the state of our bodies that determines our soul’s ability to live, and to live free.

Plainly stated, the freedom we enjoy as citizens of this country is not the freedom imparted by our Lord, and the slavery from which He came to set men free has little to do with forced labor. Man has been enslaved to the fallen nature ever since the fall of Adam. It is an oppression hardly noticed in modern times where comfort and convenience mask our fallen ways with all kinds of distracting and alluring temptations. The disquieting traffic of modern society, in my view, has further enslaved men beyond comprehension. So much so that most do not even realize their subjugation. The trickery and lies of worldly interests have led men to believe they are free when they really are not. A deeply honest look at social norms today should reveal just how significantly man is subject to, “The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). a’s Secret isn’t a secret any more! The Apostle Peter tells us, “[False prophets] promise [men] freedom, but they themselves are subject to corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). The false prophets of today are those who promise men freedom when fulfilling their worldly desires, be it the pursuit of wealth and comfort, the pursuit of pleasure, or simply one’s own will. It is to these things that man is enslaved and it is from these things that our Lord came to set us free.

Herein lies the difficulty. If we have been such willing participants in this slavery how are we ever to embrace true freedom when we lack the knowledge or the will to pursue it? Do you ever wonder why it is so difficult to fast, or to resist anger when we feel justified, or to forgive, or to pray, or simply to submit our lives to the will of God and to the life of the Church? At least partially it is because no one is forcing us! AND because we do not (or just do not want to) recognize just how relentlessly the life-draining lifestyle of growing materialism and continuous gratification is being formed in us.

This has been a challenging meditation. I see in myself only a weak desire for true freedom, knowing that I am the only one who can assert any force in making daily choices for myself to submit to the law of God. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). “Emmanuel, God with us,”—how thankful we should be that the One Who would restore freedom and the “force” to seek it has come! Christ is born, and our slavery is no more. The Gospel is our true Emancipation Proclamation and we as former slaves need now only learn to live as free men, no longer subject to the will of the flesh but rather dependent on the grace of the Spirit. This is the only war of independence that ever need be fought, that in becoming dependent on the Spirit we may become truly free in Christ!