One day the Staretz [Silouan] had a conversation with a young student visiting Mt. Athos who talked a great deal about freedom. As always he listened gently to the ideas and experiences of his lively, nice but naïve visitor. Naturally, the latter’s conception of freedom meant political freedom on the one part and, for the other, being able to follow the dictates of one’s heart.
‘Who doesn’t want freedom?’ he said. ‘Everyone does, but few know what freedom consists of, and how to attain it... To become free, one must first of all “bind” oneself. The more you bind yourself, the more freedom your spirit will know... One must pinion the passions in oneself, so that they don’t get possession of you, restrain yourself so as not to harm your neighbor. People generally seek freedom in order to do what they like. But that is not freedom but the power of sin over you. Freedom to fornicate, overeat and get drunk, or be spiteful, use violence and kill, and so on, is certainly not freedom but, as the Lord said, “Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin”. One must pray hard to be delivered from such bondage.
‘We believe that true freedom means not sinning, in order to love God and one’s neighbor with our whole heart and our whole strength.
‘True freedom means constant dwelling in God.’
...The Staretz would pray, ‘Lord, people have forgotten You, their Creator, and they seek freedom for themselves. They do not realize that You are merciful and love the repentant sinner, and that You accord him the grace of the Holy Spirit.’
He was sparing of words in his prayer to the omniscient God and did not amplify his thoughts. ‘Men seek their own freedom,’ that is to say, freedom outside of God, outside of true life, in ‘outer darkness’ where there is, and can be, no freedom, for freedom can only exist where there is no death, where there is authentic eternal being – in God, that is.
‘You are merciful and You accord them the grace of the Holy Spirit.’ God gives the gift of the Holy Spirit and then man becomes free. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’
Ontological or, as the Staretz called it, experienced knowledge of human liberty is extraordinarily profound in the prayer of grace. With his whole soul he recognized that there is only one real servitude – the servitude of sin – and one real freedom, which is resurrection in God.
Until man attains his resurrection in Christ everything is him is disfigured by fear of death and, consequently, by servitude to sin, also; while of those who have not yet come to know the grace of the resurrection only the ‘blessed...that have not seen, and yet have believed’ escape such disfiguring.
+ + +
St. Silouan the Athonite, Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakhorov), St. John the Baptist, Essex, p. 65, 107-107.