On the Law of God 17-19

On the Law of God by St. Philaret the Confessor

by St. Philaret the Confessor

XVII. Christian Justice

Up to this point, we have talked about the duties of a Christian in relation to himself. Now, let us examine his obligations in relation to others.

The first element for a proper relationship with other people is justice. Without this basic element, even one’s goodness can turn out to be useless–if partiality and one-sidedness appear in it instead of truth. There are, however, marked differences in the conditions of just relationships between people:

Legal or, loyal justice (from loi-law): This is the lowest form of just relationship, the most wide-spread in civil and state life. A loyal person strives to precisely fulfill state and civil laws which are mandatory for him and for others. In addition, he usually fulfils all his personal transactions and obligations exactly and punctually. He does not, however, go a step further than these legal norms and boundaries, to make concessions and condescensions. This type of person can be cold, unsympathetic and pitiless. Such a person of iniquity neither creates nor violates laws–but will take what is his own without concessions, even if his neighbor will suffer from this. Of course, in our time such legally just persons are comparatively orderly, since they fulfill their obligations honorably. For an Orthodox Christian, nevertheless, it is clear that such a relationship is insufficient, because it is not Christian but purely pagan.

Justice of Correctness: In the moral respect, this form of justice is significantly higher than the previous one. We refer to a person as correct who, in his relationships with those around him, strives to fulfill what is necessary not only according to external laws and customs, but also according to his conscience. Therefore, he treats everyone equally, and is peaceful, polite and careful with all. He willingly responds to a request for a service and tries to do everything that he has promised, often freeing other people from difficulties by this. In comparison to dryly-loyal people, it is easy and pleasant to live and work with such correct, conscientious people. Still, this is far from Christianity since such compassion and responsiveness is seldom constant and faithful to itself, and it reaches a point where it fades and dries up.

Christian justice: This is the complete type of justice–the justice of the Christian heart. Its basic, wise, clear and comprehensible principle is expressed in the Gospel by the words: “So then, whatever you wish that others would do to you, even so do you also to them ...(Mt.7:12). And the apostles’council repeated this in a negative form: “do not do to others what you do not wish done to yourself.And so, do not bring any falsehood or lie or offense or evil into life. All people are your neighbors; do not do to them what you do not wish for yourself. Moreover, not only must we do no evil, but we must do good, according to our conscience, from the heart, being motivated by the Gospel law of love, mercy and forgiveness. If you want people to treat you sincerely, then open your heart to your neighbors. Do not be an egoist, do not consider your rights as loyal and correct people do, rather place the welfare and good of your neighbors above all your rights, according to the law of Christian love.

It very often happens in life that we are too condescending to ourselves, but are too demanding and strict to neighbors. Christian justice speaks otherwise. The Lord said, “Why do you look at the twig in your brother’s eye, but you do not feel the beam in your own eye! Hypocrite, first remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see how to remove the twig from your brother’s eye.For this reason, ascetics of Christianity, while grieving so about their own sins, being almost pitilessly strict and demanding of themselves, were so all-forgiving and compassionate to others, covering the faults of their neighbors with kindness and love. In general, the Christian rule of life teaches us that, in such sorrowful events as arguments and misunderstanding, we must not seek to find guilt in others, but in ourselves, in our own lusts, obduracy, self-love and egoism. Thus, Christian justice demands from us condescension toward others. Even this, however, is not sufficient. It calls us to see, in every person, our own brother, a brother in Christ, a beloved creation and image of almighty God. And no matter how a man might fall, no matter how he darkens the image of God in himself by sins and vices, we must still seek the spark of God in his soul ... “Sins are sins, but the basis in man is God’s image ... Hate sin, but love the sinner,St. John of Kronstadt once said.

Together with respect for the person of our neighbor, we must also exhibit trust in him. This is especially necessary when a person who has fallen into error comes forth with the Evangelical words, “I repentand promises correction. How often the good intention of such a repenting person is met with mistrust and coldness, and the good desire for correction disappears, being replaced by anger and a destructive decision ... Who answers for the destruction of this soul? A sincere, loving Christian, on the contrary, joyfully receives the good volition of the neighbor, emphasizing his full trust and respect toward the repenter and, by this, often supporting and strengthening on the right path one who is still weak and faltering. Of course, it sometimes happens that a person who has promised to correct himself will, either through weakness of will or through a conscious desire to deceive, misuse the trust of the neighbor. But can this crush the feeling of trust and good-will toward his neighbor in a believing Christian love, of that love about which the apostle said that it “covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing ...(1 Cor.13:7).


Using the chapter text, write a statement or two about the following terms.

Legal or, loyal justice –

Justice of Correctness -

Christian Justice -

Summarize in your own words what you have learned or gained from this lesson.

XVIII. Falsehood: Christian Charity

One of the most important defects of contemporary society is falsehood. It is made manifest in various forms, especially in the usual form of lying in general conversation and in the form of deceit in business life. It is extremely dangerous to view lightly this sin which is now encountered everywhere. It is considered quite usual to confirm something whether or not one knows it to be true; to say, “We will not be home” to avoid a guest or caller; to claim to be ill, while being healthy, etc. (to this we must add false “compliments, “flattery, praise, etc). People forget that falsehood is from the devil, of whom Christ the Saviour said, “He is a liar and the father of lies.” Thus, every liar is a co-worker and device of the devil. Already in the Old Testament we are told, “False lips are an abomination before the Lord...”

Especially dangerous are such types of falsehood as gossip and slander. Everyone knows what gossip is–a net of seduction and falsehood, woven by the devil, which entangles and darkens the good relationship of people among themselves. This gossip the child of falsehood and empty headedness–has become the favorite attribute of almost all conversation. Still worse and more dire is slander, that is, a conscious falsehood against a person with the aim of harming him. This type of falsehood is singularly devilish, for the very word “devil” means “slander.”

When our Lord Jesus Christ reproached the scribes and pharisees, He usually called them hypocrites, by this indicating that dire form of falsehood–hypocrisy–with which these so-called leaders of the people were filled. The pharisees were outwardly pretended saints, but in their hearts and souls, they were malicious haters of truth and good. For this reason, the Lord likened them to finely finished coffins which are beautiful on the outside, but within are full of dead bones and corruption ... The vice of hypocrisy is wide spread even now in the form of pretending and desiring to seem to be what one is not–not to be, but to seem. A Christian strives, of course, not to seem, but to be good. This is not easy, and often passes almost unnoticed by anyone, except for the All-seeing God. And many–especially among the youth–try to seem more clever, more beautiful, more gifted, more developed and more charitable than they are in reality. From this, they obtain that mortal deceit and insincerity which now so often destroys people and their happiness, which is clearly based on falsehood and not on truth.

We have already mentioned that the basis of a Christian’s relationship with his neighbors is love–and thus he strives to do good to and for them. One who does not do good is not a Christian. And this good, this love towards neighbors must definitely be expressed in works of mercy and good-will towards everyone. It is not without reason that the Saviour commanded us to love not only those who love us, but also those who hate us. Moreover, in His conversation about the Dread Judgment, He clearly indicated what it is that will be asked of us first and above all at the Judgment. Neither wealth, nor glory, nor education will have any significance there. The principle of the Dread Judgment will be the question, terrible and fateful for egoists and self-lovers: “How did you serve your neighbors?” Christ enumerates six particular forms of physical help. In His love, compassion, and mercy, He identifies Himself with every unfortunate person and with all those in need of help: “I was hungry and you fed Me; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was ill and you comforted Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.” And St. John Chrysostom pointedly says, “This image of love is manifold and this command is wide.” Indeed, the command concerning mercy encompasses the entirety of man’s life, and many times the Lord revealed to His Saints that deeds of mercy and compassion cover a person’s heaviest sins.

Of course, Christian help is not exhausted by deeds of physical help. Equally, there is spiritual help–which is often immeasurably more important and valuable. Sometimes, for a despondent person, a simple word of sincere compassion, comfort and understanding are dearer than any material support. Who would argue against the fact that one cannot value, in terms of money, the service of saving a person by means of sincere compassion and gentle words from, for example, the vice of drunkenness or the sin of suicide. The Apostle James wrote concerning such precious spiritual help, “He who converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death (both the sinner’s and his own) and will cover a multitude of sins. (Js.5:20).

In concluding these words about the duty of charity to neighbors, let us view the difference between personal charity and social charity. Examples of the first are the giving of alms to a blind person or to a beggar, adopting poor orphans, etc. Examples of the second are founding charitable societies, societies to aid education, refuges for children, the ill or the aged, etc. Without a doubt, charity is a pre-eminent virtue as our Lord made clear in the Gospel. Such personal help can create a highly Christian relationship of participation, gratitude and mutual love. This kind of direct charity can, however, run into people who misuse it by constantly begging or employing deceit and dishonorableness.

This does not occur in a social charity which is not administered by chance, but is planned and organized, bringing many substantial benefits. Of course, in this form of charity, there are far fewer of those vital bonds of personal love and trust such as are formed in cases of personal help; but then, each person who gives a donation here, knows that he is participating in a vital, Christian way in something truly serious and valuable.


Complete the following statements.

1. One of the most important defects ______________________________________.

2. It is extremely dangerous to ______________________________________.

3. Especially dangerous ______________________________________.

4. Gossip is ______________________________________.

5. Still worse ______________________________________.

6. A Christian strives ______________________________________.

XIX. Envy: Cursing and Anger

When the Lord talked with the Apostles about the last times, He said that, then, “because of the multiplication of lawlessness, love will grow cold in many.” It would seem that this prophecy is being fulfilled already in our days–days of mutual alienation and coldness of relationships. This is especially noticeable now that the enemies of Christ’s faith are planting envy and ill-will in the masses, in place of Christ’s love and good-will. And our Saviour included envy in the category of heavy sins. By its very essence, envy is impossible in people who are of a Christian disposition. For, in every good family, envy is impossible as all members of the family rejoice over (rather than envy) the success of any one of its members. This must be the case in the relationships of all Orthodox Christians–a family, as children of one loving Heavenly Father. Therefore, Apostle Paul calls upon us not only to commiserate with those who are weeping, but also to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, as opposed to those who envy the successes of others. In order to free oneself from feelings of envy, one must recall that one’s own vanity and egoistic competitiveness are at the basis of this sinful feeling. In their egoism, people usually fear that they will not be recognized, will not be given their “due,” others will be placed higher than they, etc. The Christian fears the reverse–he fears being placed higher than others and offending them.

Together with envy, a strong enemy of good relationships between people is evil speaking at various times–speaking falsely, argumentativeness, abusive speech. How strange it is: people have become so benumbed and blind that they consider all these sins as nothing and do not even take notice of the constant sinning in evil-speaking. But here is what the Apostle James says of these “sins of the tongue.”“See how great a blaze a tiny spark can kindle. And the tongue is a fire, a boundless iniquity ... an unruly member, evil, full of deadly poison...” And again he says that “If one considers oneself to be pious but does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, is vain.” The Lord, moreover, pointedly said, “By your words you shall be judged, and by your words you shall be condemned.” So dangerous are the sins of the word!

The most repulsive of these sins of evil-speaking is, undoubtedly, the sordid and repulsive habit of unprintable swearing–to which so many are now subject. What a shame this is, what sordidness, what an insult to the purity and chastity which the Lord expects of us and has commended to us. Yet, many people think that all this is “nonsense,”“of no consequence,” forgetting about those fearsome words: “You will be judged by your words and will be condemned by your words,” which we have already cited. The Apostle James asks, “Can salty and sweet water both run from the same spring?” But we, nevertheless, profane our lips with this repulsive swearing and imagine that fragrant words of pure prayer to God will flow through these very same lips; and with these profaned and dirtied lips we accept the holiest of all holy things–the most pure Mysteries of Christ. No, “put away everything now: rage, evilness, evil-speaking, the obscenity of your lips”–whoever has ears to listen, hear this!

In contradiction to all these sources of mutual anger and arguments, Christianity calls us to be peace loving and forgiving of all offenses. Again we turn to the commandments of blessedness: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth ... Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” A meek person is above all, an unmalicious and simple person and an unwavering opponent of all egoism. There is within him no self-satisfying or self-interest. On the contrary, he seeks first of all what is beneficial for others, not for himself. While the most of egoists usually appear as a pack of hungry wolves, outbidding one another in efforts to seize upon the prey, snatching it away from one another, meek people yield to everyone and help in everything. It is worthy of note that, according to the Gospel, this line of meek behavior is the straightest and most solid; for it is no one else but they, the meek, who will inherit the earth, even though they pass through this life like sheep amongst wolves, according to the clear image of our Saviour.

Still more exalted is the virtue of peace-making. And the reward for it is higher, Divine: “for they shall be called the sons of God.” The Christian peace-maker is, by this deed, like the first “Peace-maker”–the Son of God, during Whose birth the angels sang: “And on earth, peace ... “The meek person creates an atmosphere of comfort and peace around himself and does not anger others. The peace-maker strives to spread this atmosphere of peace and good relationships as widely as possible, and he strives to reconcile others. Such a struggle demands great spiritual exertion, patience and a preparedness to meet cold lack of understanding, derision, enmity and counteraction. A Christian peace-maker, however, is always ready for all this, since he knows that every Christian struggle of good deeds is higher and of greater value the more it encounters difficulties and counteraction.

The Gospel virtue of long-suffering is organically bound with meekness and peace-making, and must be a distinguishing feature of every Christian. It is manifested most of all in the forgiveness of personal offenses and insults, as the Saviour commanded us, saying: “If anyone strikes your right cheek, turn your left one to him also.” In other words, do not respond to violence with violence, but respond to evil with good. And Apostle Paul explains: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he thirsts, give him drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And the reverse: if a person responds to evil with evil, then he has evidently become a prisoner of this evil and is defeated by it (of course, we are speaking of personal offenses).

In life, we repeatedly observe that a person who is offended by someone becomes angry and even takes revenge. But revenge is, beyond doubt, a sin and, for a Christian, it is unacceptable. “Do not revenge yourselves beloved,” appeals Apostle Paul. Revenge is a complete betrayal of the Christian spirit of meekness and forgiveness and it shows the absence of Christian love in a person.

The situation is somewhat different in the matter of anger. The Lord did not forbid it as a sin except for anger in vain.” And the Apostle says, “Be angry and sin not,” thus indicating that anger can also be unsinful. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself was angered by the falseness and stubbornness of the Pharisees (Mk.3:5). Thus anger can be naturally lawful and just. It was with such anger that St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was aroused when, at the First Ecumenical Council, he struck the blasphemous heretic Arius on the cheek. This anger came from a pure source, fervent zealousness about God’s glory. Anger is sinful when, firstly, it is unjust and vain. This often happens when one is faced with the truth and it strikes one’s egoism and self-love. St. John of Kronstadt advises us not only not to be angry at those who offend our self-love, but to value them as spiritual doctors who reveal the sores of our proud and vainglorious soul. Still, anger which has a just beginning can become sinful when a person intentionally utilizes it with an unkind heart. Then a person attunes his own heart to anger and by this he undoubtedly sins. Speaking against this, the Apostle says: “Do not let the sun set on your anger.” Consciously thought out and retained anger can pass over into spitefulness–which is so opposed to the spirit of Christian love...


Define the following terms using the text of Chapter 19.

Envy -

Tongue (is a fire)-

Swearing -

Meek Person -

Peace-making -

Long-suffering -

Revenge -

Anger (&& in vain) -

In your own words tell what you have learned from this lesson.