Over the past few decades the American society has been rocked by the revelation of corruption and immorality in our leaders on both the state and national levels. This has all reflected on the moral fiber of our society and how we view morals and ethics. The moral impropriety of our political leaders has not only shattered our confidence in our elected officials, but has flowed into the private lives of individuals. Of course, wrong actions can not be condoned. However, we must admit that there is a certain satisfaction in criticizing our superiors, whether they are political or religious leaders.
As Christians, we are the first to admit that no one is perfect or guiltless, except the All-Holy God. But the danger lies in the fact that the average decent person has begun to accept the fact that dishonesty, duplicity, and immoralities are part of our every day life. People don’t dwell on the moral quality of life as much as the “bread and butter” issues of life, i.e. inflation, jobs, taxes, recession, etc. But something fundamental is changing. Moral values are under attack. Today’s motto is “do your own thing”, and our consumer society fosters the principle of “instant gratification.” The two basic building blocks of any society, the family and the church, are being undermined and suffer unrelenting attack.
What is the answer?
The answer lies in revitalizing the Christian morals and values. As children of God, we have significant duties towards the manifestation of the true meaning of what it is to be a human being.
To be truly human is to be righteous, pure, truthful, and good. Simply stated, it is to become by grace what God is by nature. In other words, it is to struggle to grow towards the infinite perfection of our Creator. We are called to “be perfect, just as your Fr. in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48). This is attained by eagerly experiencing the life of prayer, studying God’s Word, and basing our decisions and actions on the Gospel. Additionally, we must have full involvement in the liturgical life of the Church.
Some may argue that Christian virtues are not limited to Christianity, but have been taught by all great teachers. But in fact this proves what Orthodox tradition teaches that sin is not a natural or normal part of human life. Rather, it is a condition brought about by the distortion and loss of the goodness, which was originally present. It proves that man is in a never-ending search towards the core of his existence, which is to be in communion with God. While Christian ethical teaching seems similar to other religions, the basis of Christian ethics is unique. Christians are not good merely because of obedience to the law or being in harmony with society. Rather, they are righteous in anticipation of the age to come in the Heavenly Jerusalem. The rule of the life of the ages to come requires our determination and active participation in this age, by the Grace of God. To be in communion with God is a blessed and victorious struggle. We can not participate in the age to come, unless we start now in this age and in this life.
The doctrine we use for our behavior and Christian ethics is our Lord Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7; Luke 6:17-49). In the Sermon our Lord introduces us to the kind of life that will lead us to the Kingdom of God and how to practice a life of righteousness. For us as Christians, not merely our actions are important, but every thought, every word, and every deed. This means that everything a person thinks is just as important as what he does or says, for “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)
Another handbook on ethics is the Epistle of St. James. He shows us that true Christianity is faith that is translated into actions. We are plagued by the classic sin of hypocrisy, because of disunity between faith and works. We can not “put on a show” for people, because God is neither impressed by what other people think of us nor of our opinion of ourselves. He sees who we really are and He knows our motives as well as our deeds. When the inner and outer person is conformed and transformed into the divine image and likeness for which we have been created, then the Kingdom of God comes into being in us. Our Christianity is a way of life and a mental perspective, which involves love for God and fellow man, and requires faithful and self-sacrificing commitment. What is important is not just being “conservative” or “liberal.” Our faith must be a “living faith”, which is translated into actions and mirrored in our values and morals.
Living according to the Gospel will help us bear good works. Righteousness is not just proper behavior, but it centers on our relationship with God through purity of heart. Sin does not come out of nowhere, but comes out of internal self-indulgence. Thoughts, which enter the mind involuntarily, are temptations. However, when they are held on to, entertained, and enjoyed, they become sins. Christian virtues require involvement of our human freedom, self-determination, and transformation by the power of God’s grace to bring our personal lives into public action. The Scriptures teach us that a tree is known by its fruit. Whatever is found in us that is good, true, and beautiful is there because of God and from God. Whether we realize it or not “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Fr. of lights.” (James 1:17) In all our actions we have to use St. Paul’s advice as our guidance, “Finally, brethren, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about those things.” (Phil. 4:8)
Every one of us will stand judgment before God for our life in this world and will be judged according to our words and actions in this life. We will be judged on how we served Him on the basis of how we served others. This is clearly stated by Christ Himself for He said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did to one of my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:45) The essence of all our morals, which guide our actions and thoughts, is love for God shown by striving for purity of heart and by love for our fellow man. Our life-long struggle for perfection and good morals is not just for the sake of etiquette, politeness, and good manners. It is required if we desire to be citizens in the Kingdom of God. “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:18) Through the prayers of the saints, may our Lord sustain us in our struggle to attain perfection in Him, in which our outer actions and morals become a natural consequence of the purity of our inner being.