When world-famous Greek poet George Seferis delivered his Nobel Lecture, he noted the following in his conclusion: “A great worker for our liberty, Rigas Feraios, has taught us: Free thoughts are good thoughts.’”
But I should like our youth to think at the same time of the saying engraved on the lintel above the gate of your university at Uppsala: “Free thoughts are good; just thoughts are better.”
Seferis’ selection of this motto is quite interesting, and also timely. The age in which we live provides ample opportunity for free thoughts – at least in theory. We have the luxury and privilege of living in a society where people are free to speak their mind and circulate their ideas, without fear of open repercussions.
This is an inalienable right, which is to be treasured. After all, there are people living in this world who are far less fortunate than we are, and who suffer persecution for their ideas.
For example, we cannot ignore the plight of many Christians around the planet who are persecuted for professing their faith in the Resurrected Savior.
But not all free thoughts are the same. The neptic tradition of the Orthodox Church, which has continually been practiced throughout the centuries and offers solutions to many of the problems plaguing modern man – from depression to open aggression – places a strong emphasis on discerning between just and unjust thoughts.
As Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos – a voluminous writer and author of the work Orthodox Psychotherapy – notes, “We may refer to the teaching of St. John Damascene on the distinction between blameless and blameful passions. Blameless passions, also called natural, are the ones related to hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc., while blameful passions are the ones that are evidence of man’s spiritual sickness. Both blameless and blameful passions refer to body and soul, because the soul expresses itself through the body.”
What is important is that blameless passions may easily turn into blameful ones; that is, hunger may turn to gluttony, thirst may turn to love of drinking, fatigue may turn to listlessness (acedia) etc.
Similarly, blameful passions may be transformed into blameless ones; that is, gluttony may be cured so that man eats to simply preserve the body; love of drinking may reject the impassioned element so as to only satisfy the need of thirst; acedia may be turned into vigor and fatigue so as to demonstrate love for God and for man, etc.
This work is done by the noetic energy – the power of the nous [the organ with which man communicates with God] – when it functions properly and is strengthened by the Grace of God.
That is, the noetic energy prevents blameless passions from turning into blameful ones, and also cures blameful passions turning them into blameless ones.” And thus, we are freed from the bondage of our ego and are able to enter into communion with God and our fellow men and women.
It is interesting to note that another prominent 20th Century theologian, Fr. John Romanides – who is author of the seminal text “Ancestral Sin,” among others – also penned the study Religion is a Neurobiological Illness and Orthodoxy is its Cure.
According to the Orthodox tradition, which clearly illustrated in this work, “Christianity is more than just a simple religion. It is a Church; the Body of Christ.” The Church – in its capacity as a spiritual hospital – is concerned with the healing of man, so he may behave correctly towards God and his fellow humans.
The topic for this column was chosen ahead of the Archdiocesan Clergy-Laity Congress, simply to point out just how much of an impact the Greek Orthodox perspective can leave on society at large and just how important a need there is in the world for this “evangelized Hellenized” viewpoint and tradition.
We live in a society whose GDP and per capita wealth are among the world’s highest, whose standard of living and educational opportunities are similarly envied by many, but where there remains great hunger and thirst: A hunger for spiritual nourishment and a thirst for the life-giving water that is drawn from the well-spring of the Church.
From the pursuits of higher education to the everyday problems confronting all citizens, our rich Orthodox tradition contains proposals and practices that can be implemented to readily address many of the problems confronting society in the 21st Century.
Its ageless viewpoints and perspectives remain more timely than ever before, and we must act as the ambassadors of this lasting legacy. As children of this tradition, there is so much that we have to be thankful for, but the best way of expressing our thankfulness is to share these blessings with those around us.
This is something that our clergy in particular should be mindful of above all during their sermons or outreach efforts. Whether out of extreme zeal or immersion in Western thinking, if they misrepresent the Church as the neurobiological illness of religion, they end up doing Orthodoxy a disservice.
After all, the West, which rejected the neptic and hesychastic tradition of Romanity and based its worldview on rationalism, moralism, and human authority, has created generations upon generations of people who require the help of psychologists and psychiatrists to solve their problems.
And while many disenchanted Westerners seek the sorcery and mysticism of the East – another two distinguishing traits of religious neurobiological illness – the Orthodox alternative remains as a remedy that has withstood the test of time.
As a Greek-American Community, an integral part of our modus operandi should revolve around our common struggle as Orthodox faithful, each exhorting the other in a spirit of love, to ensure that our good free thoughts will be made better by always being distinguished for their justness. In doing so, we can become exceptional ambassadors of our Hellenic Christian tradition.
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