The Freedom of Morality (Contemporary Greek theologians series) Paperback – 1 Jan 1984
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Initially, secular morality is contrasted with its Orthodox counterpart, which is defined as a measure of the ongoing reaction of freedom to a person's unique hypostatic identity (i.e. his own expression of his Imago Dei). This freedom enables a twisting of man's ontological identity, a rejection of God, and a jeopardy of his salvation. And it is salvation that we crave through exercising our morality, not simply improvements in character.
The difference between person and individual, the latter as a portion of a humankind, the former as a unique, potentially limitless distinctiveness expressed through personal relationship, is emphasised, and underpins this work.
The trend of undervaluing personhood ensures that the Imago Dei becomes associated with the nature of mankind, reducing Christian morality to a legalistic external system of rules, whose non-adherence is taken as sin. But Sin is missing the mark, man's voluntarily restriction to the autonomy of his own nature. Satre summarizes this in one statement: "Hell is other people", meaning that one's individual nature, by definition in opposition to the natures of others, is a tormenting reminder of being condemned to individual autonomy.
It follows that the God of the Orthodox Church is not juridical or vengeful; He is judge because He is the possibility of true existence, and man, by sinning, is automatically judged.
Sinlessness is beyond fallen man, who is not asked to check boxes, but to trust God "from the depths of his (own) abyss". Thus it is the transfiguration of life that Church morality strives for, whilst striving for individual atonement leaves man recursively enslaved to his autonomous individuality.
Scripture alone is (literally) disembodied teaching, prone to heretical interpretation. For man can only truly comprehend scripture "as he descends into the depths of hell" so "the infinity of divine love is revealed" - a tone strikingly reminiscent of the Spiritual Life in the Theology of Elder Sophrony.
Gauging one's morality bars repentance - thus the toughest language in the Gospels is aimed at the religious; fools for Christ remind us that salvation cannot be linked to society's respect, and " fine actions may keep man from salvation, enslaving him to glory and praise". The fullness of the Church is only ever realized by the progress of the saints.
The Eucharist and the sacraments guide man's recovery through bodily ascetism, the path to theoretical knowledge that is unattainable through purely intellectual concepts.
The Church, downgraded by contemporary standards, often functions merely as an institution, and Pietism is rife, in which assessable results from individual morality are demanded. Yannaris convincingly describes this as the great heresy of our times.
In exploring historical and social dimensions of the Church's morality, intellectual types of obedience assume similar individuals, and totalitarianism arises. Totalitarianism is not limited to regimes - it is endemic to the fall, and is also the foundations of capitalism, whose ideology may be identified with pietistic demand.
Yannaris concludes that through a genuinely Eucharistic community, politics may serve the truth of man, science may give reason to man's relationship with the world, and economics may serve life. Though the true Church's influence has been bound with early urban and rural life, as a historical example of a Eucharistic community, we have only Byzantium.
We are left with the hope of the possibility of a future culture that serves man's personal distinctiveness through presupposing the "crucifixion of the body", and not a utopian "exaltation of the mind".
If you can grasp the gist of this book, then I'd suggest moving on to other Christian existentialist writers such as Berdyaev or Kierkegaard, in order to further develop one's concepts of personhood and individuality, a process that is necessarily highly demanding, but one that may reward greatly.
The only way for Man to live ethically (for Yannaras "life" and "Christian ethical living" are redundant) is for Man to exist in relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To imagine this to be an individual pursuit is to miss the point and to miss the mark. Man is created in community, and so the fulfillment of his ethical self is realized in a redeemed relationship with himself, the world and God.
This is not an easy book. However a thorough reading will change one's life and the way one thinks about life: it has mine. I especially appreciated the chapter on "pietism" and it as a heresy.
I thought this was a very strong and thought provoking work, and it would probably be very challenging to people who think of ethics in terms of objective rules, without thinking about how morality is rooted in the image God created us in. In a way, Yannaras' work reminds me of an Eastern Orthodox Stanley Hauerwas.
I would like to mention, though, in contrast to one of the other reviewers, that Yannaras' chapter on the 'Ecclessiological Heresy of Pietism' was his weakest, perhaps because he was writing as an outsider without much first-hand experience of Pietistic Christianity. His basic observation that Pietism tends to undermine the doctrine of the Church may be true in some cases, but seeing all the Pietistic mega-churches in Dallas, with 2000+ attendance every weekend, in comparison with the sparsely attended Orthodox churches I've been to, it would seem that Yannaras has his argument backwards, that Pietism reinforces Christian fellowship and devotion to God, even if it does not always rally its support to one monolithic institutional church. Miroslav Volf has wriiten a good exposition of free church ecclessiology that might interest some readers concerned with this question.
But that critique aside, I would highly reccommend this volume to people interested in reading a breath of fresh air - a genuinely unique perspective on ethics.
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