Protopresbyter Themistoklis Mourtzanos
‘It’s important that we set boundaries, but they should be accompanied by a vision’ (Professor Vasilis Karapostolis).
We live in a time where everything’s allowed. Parents readily excuse their children for their missteps by saying ‘They’re children, what can you do?’. Love makes our heart tolerant, sometimes excessively so. Tolerance has nothing to do with the feeling that what other people do doesn’t matter because we’ll be patient anyway. In this way, the whole of the edifying character which accompanies any relationship is lost. If we don’t become better within a relationship, if, through an encounter with another person, we don’t find any new paths of creativity, improvement, transcendence of our self and of our mistakes and passions, then, in reality we’re functioning with the relationship as a prop for our egotism and we take nothing of importance from it. And showing the other person and ourselves the boundaries which will help us to proceed further isn’t a display of authority. We have to learn to tolerate, manage and be joyful in an authentic manner. It’s a matter of real love. I set boundaries because I love so that other people don’t risk losing my love; and also so that they can see the extent to which life can be their ally. If all I want is to please, then disaster awaits, sooner or later.
Boundaries work as a defence. But they should also be accompanied by a hope, a prospect. I know what’s not allowed for me. But I also need to have an aim. Otherwise, prohibitions by themselves aren’t going to get me anywhere. Because the ‘former person’ within me will rebel. And I’ll be so fed up with ‘no’ and ‘don’t’ that I won’t tolerate it. But if I’ve got hope and a prospect, whether this functions on the level of creativity, which requires preparation; or on the level of a self that loves, and rejoices precisely because it loves and has something to offer in its relationships with others; or also on the level of socialization, which is directly linked to people being able to co-exist, then boundaries are bearable and actually make our lives more wonderful. Parents, in the first place, and next, educators, should insist on boundaries, because without them children think that the whole world exists only for them- which they’ll soon learn isn’t the case. The adults will also show that love, which is where the boundaries have their origin and at which they aim, is joy, even if it takes effort.
According to our faith, our goal is clearly eschatological. It’s the experience of holiness in this present life. This is also why the faithful follow the commands of the Gospel, sensing that ‘their own will’ won’t automatically guide them towards what’s good, but will, instead, probably inject us with the prospect of self-deification, which means spiritual death. So ascetic endeavor, which is the supreme and sometimes self-imposed limitation of our being, functions not as deprivation or oppression, but as a starting-point for the experience of love. I fast, I pray, I abandon my dependence on material things not as self-torture or the remedy for guilt, but as joy that I can give myself to God and other people. That, in the end, is the vision of the Church, the kingdom of God, into which everyone can enter, if they live by ‘your will be done’.