Protopresbyter Themistoklis Mourtzanos
‘People beyond the passions are revolted with excessive hatred by evil; those who have progressed even further beyond the passions are voracious for the riches of the virtues’ (Saint John of the Ladder)
These days we’ve identified wickedness only with whatever conflicts with secular laws. Anything that hursts another person or creates bodily or spiritual wounds to ourselves is wicked only insofar as it contravenes another person’s right to life, liberty and property. Other than that, there’s great tolerance, with the result that we treat evil as a relative category. Good is seen as being self-evident and is not generally acknowledged. News is only what’s deviant, what provokes fear. News is the satisfaction of the desires of famous people. News is showing off bodies. There’s rarely a good news bulletin.
This outlook arose as a counter-balance to a religious culture which functioned on the ethos of punishment, guilt and sin, with the result that people felt deprived of the ‘joy’ that a desire can bring, without being able to discern that joy is one thing and pleasure another. This way of thinking doesn’t allow us to understand that we have our conscience within us as the voice of God. The good and bad aren’t defined on the basis of the circumstances of any particular era, but have to do with whatever helps us to love, whatever it is that shows us truth, whatever leads to or prevents our separation from God and from other people. The voice of God doesn’t change depending on social factors. Nowadays we’ve stifled our conscience, so how can we explain to others, particularly those younger than us, what’s good and what’s evil?
We experience this both in the upbringing of our children and in the education system. Nothing’s self-evident any more. We’re bringing up children who want an explanation about how a particular thought or action can bring a person to wickedness. But we grown-ups have no thought for anything except satisfying our desires. ‘At most’, we think, ‘we should hide our actions, but not be ashamed of them. If we take pleasure in sin, well, it doesn’t matter’. In this way we become people bound to death, the only inevitable event in our life.
In the spiritual tradition of our faith there are two paths which lead to resurrection and real life: one is turning away from evil because it doesn’t befit us, because we weren’t created for it, even though it’s a temptation for us from the very beginning of our existence in the world. Given that, in God, we’re free, we can choose the path of avoidance [of evil], of rejecting the mindset of the triumph of ‘every man for himself’, of the refusal to see life through the eyes of other people. The second way is to strive for virtue, for the fruits of the Holy Spirit, love, faith goodness, asceticism, and above all the joy which transcends the satisfaction of the moment. Virtue is to feel that we’re members of a body, a totality. That we share. That we care. That we’ve found a balance. That we see our life through the perspective of grace.
Both paths require a relationship with Christ and start from the family. From the relationship between the couple which they pass on to their children. This can’t be achieved, however, unless the family functions within the perspective of the Church. We need to understand this.