Protopresbyter Themistoklis Mourtzanos
‘When our conscience tells us to do something and we ignore it, and when it then tells us to do something else and we don’t do it, we steadily and relentlessly stamp upon it; we bury it and it can’t shout aloud within us any more, because of the weight that’s covering it’ (Abbas Dorotheos).
Nowadays, our conscience has been banished from the stage of upbringing, education, and our desire to identify with other people. The law has been transformed into social obligation, we ‘have’ to observe it to prevent society becoming a jungle and to ensure that there’ll be boundaries. But we don’t feel any chastisement from within us if we choose as our priority our own opinion and will. There’s no voice to urge us towards what’s good or to turn us away from what’s bad. In any case, good and bad have been relativized. The law is our own self-interest and self-justification. We punish our children for their misbehavior because they break rules which we set for them. The criterion for punishment is the power of authority, which is exercised for their own good, whatever that might be. In this way, children grow up in fear or with a disposition to try and get around authority where this can be done. They aren’t aware of what’s the truth and what isn’t. Justification comes easy to their lips and, in truth, they’re only mimicking us.
A defeat is a wound to our ego. It’s not easy for us to feel that sin can be a failure, can be disobedience to God’s will, denial of his love, and that of others, as deification of our opinion. If we tread the path of needing to be right, why shouldn’t we feel that we exist only for ourselves, with ourselves at the center; why should we attempt to change and if we did, in what direction would we go? A condition for change isn’t merely self-awareness with the aim of seeing where we’re lacking and which goals we can achieve. The main change is to make ourselves giving, loving, able to feel for others, able to see life through their eyes, to feel when we’re being a nuisance and tiresome, when we annoy people and make them angry with us because of the way we are.
Change comes when we take God’s commandments seriously, when we see that observation of them is the path to love, when we’re troubled by non-observance of them, precisely because we hear his voice within us. It tells us that we’re estranged from God and other people when we don’t love, when we accept the negative thought that agitates us, which goads our egotism, which makes us not want to listen to others. Then our conscience becomes the impetus for change: when we decide to do whatever it takes, with the aid and assistance of our spiritual fathers and those who really love us, to make progress towards the truth.
‘Listen to the voice within you’. Let’s say this to ourselves, our children, those who are close to us, especially when we’re on the point of doing what we want, without sparing a thought how much we might hurt someone, or how much we’re deifying our ego, as if nothing and nobody else existed, even God.