I am reading a new, and so far very interesting, book called “The Freedom of Morality” by the Greek lay theologian Christos Yannaras. In it, the author lays out the Orthodox understanding of morality as the evaluation of man’s striving to become complete by fulfilling his potential as an image of God. Though I have only read the forward and the first chapter so far, this somewhat philosophically dense book like it will be very beneficial to me in acquiring a true Orthodox mindset. I hope to share here quotes from the book and my own thoughts that they raise, as well as hopefully pique the interest of you, the reader, to explore this area of theology which is intrinsically important to an understand of Orthodox theology and the salvation which we are offered.
Both the forward and in the first chapter it is made clear that the author is very hesitant to use word the “ethics.” This is because ‘ethics,’ as it is commonly understood, refers to a system of objective rules, laws or guidelines which determine how a person ought or ought not to act. Orthodox morality on the other hand is the expression of person’s free will and the relationship of that with the proper thusness of the person.
From the forward:
In the book’s title, The Freedom of Morality, the Greek word translated as “morality” is ithos, a term signifying “ethics,” but also meaning “ethos,” distinctive character, the “thusness” or the “Ah!’ of a person or thing. When using ithos, the author has in view both these senses. Morality, “theics” is nothing more or less than the expression of the person’s proper “ethos.” It is not to obey external rules but to become as person that which one truly is. By the same token, sin is not the transgression of some impersonal law, but “missing the mark,” the failure to become oneself.
It is this understanding of morality and sin that sets the Christian East and West apart in their theology. Where in the West, and exemplified in the lists of “mortal” and “venial” sins of the Roman Catholic Church, human behaviour has been relegated to a list of “do and do nots,” Orthodoxy in the East has retained a view of human beings as persons, rather than individuals, who share a common nature but who, by virtue of our freedom, have a certain distinctiveness which is apart from their nature.
The person is the hypostasis of the human essence or nature. He sums up in his existence the universality of human nature, but at the same time surpasses it, because his mode of existence is freedom and distinctiveness. This mode of existence which is personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man, making man a partaker in being. It is not as nature that man constitutes an image of God: it is not because he has natural attributes in common with God, or analogous to His. Man constitutes an image of God as an ontological hypostatsis free from space, time and necessity.
It will be fun to see how Yannaras further develops this line of thinking, and fun to acquaint myself with this ancient and Orthodox understanding of morality.