On the Law of God 20-22

On the Law of God by St. Philaret the Confessor

by St. Philaret the Confessor

XX. Insolvent Ethical Systems

All the qualities of a Christian relationship with neighbors–meekness, peacemaking, longsuffering, etc.–clearly lead us to one basic and fundamental virtue. This virtue is Christian love, and it is the root principle of Christian morality.

In addition to the moral system offered by Orthodox Christianity, there are also non-Christian, secular moral systems. While they agree in many points with the teaching of Christian morality, these systems nevertheless do not acknowledge the principle of Christian love as the basic teaching about morality. They seem to be frightened by the height of love willed by the Gospel, and they seek principles for themselves which are easier and more acceptable.

Of these secular systems of morality, the best known and most widely spread in practical life are eudemonism and utilitarianism.

For eudemonism (epicurianism), the basis of morality is the quest for that form of happiness which is native to mankind. Moreover, it understands happiness as the sum of the satisfactions and enjoyments from which one’s life becomes pleasant. Eudemonists, nevertheless, differ in their opinions of precisely what satisfactions one must seek in order to be happy. Some of them (if not the majority) speak almost exclusively of coarse, sensual satisfactions. Apostle Paul described the basic ideal of such eudemonism as, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall be dead.”

Other eudemonists, pointing out that enthusiasm for sensual satisfactions destroys one’s body and soul, recommend that one not be captivated by them. They advise that one ought rather to obtain satisfactions which are more stable and prolonged, and also more spiritualized. Such, for example, are music, poetry and various types of art and science in general.

Naturally, neither form of eudemonism is an acceptable principle of morality for Orthodox Christians. The fundamental question of morality is the difference between good and evil, between what is good and what is bad. Eudemonism, however, speaks of what is pleasant and what is unpleasant. No one could argue the point that these are far from being one and the same thing. Clearly, eudemonistic people will, in practical life, always be egoists who willfully demand and take what is pleasant for themselves, refusing what is unpleasant (even when acting otherwise might be pleasant and beneficial to others). Moreover, what morality can we speak of in a situation where all people are endeavoring to obtain only that which they like?

When viewed from the strictly Orthodox Christian point of view, eudemonism becomes even more insolvent and positively absurd. Orthodoxy constantly turns one’s thoughts to the immortality of the soul and to one’s account of one’s earthly life and behavior at the Judgment. What awaits the eudemonistic egoist at the judgment by Him Who will ask them about matters of love and help to their suffering brother? Their lot will be the fate of the rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It cannot be otherwise since a fundamental and well known principle in Christianity is: “Enter in at the strait* gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in there: Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14).

Utilitarianism (a philosophy of the common good) is a somewhat better system of non-Christian morality. This system enjoins one to do what is beneficial, rather than what is pleasant, for one. Even so, this moral system cannot be called solvent. The concept of “beneficial” seldom coincides with the concept of “good” as something absolutely good. Medicine, for example, is beneficial in restoring health, but at the same time, weapons–a revolver or a knife–are beneficial to a thief in the fulfillment of his evil intent. Thus, the principle of usefulness, or beneficialness, can not be established as a basis of morality. If we express this utilitarian principle in a concise form: “Act in a way that is beneficial (i.e., advantageous) to you,” then it is clear that here again we have the elevation of that same coarse egoism which we have already mentioned.

For this reason, some utilitarian philosophers strive to soften this ideal by recommending that one pursue not only one’s own personal advantage, but the common good, common benefit in which, they claim, the personal good of each individual is to be found. In this case, utilitarianism appears in a more ennobled and lofty form. It nevertheless retains its first basic insolvency: the fact that the concepts of “useful “and “good” do not necessarily coincide. Secondly, there are situations in practical life in which one can be restrained from crime by religious feelings–apprehension to violate the law of Highest Truth–but not by the dry rationale of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism cannot give one moral support when one is wavering on the edge of temptation...

Thus, Orthodox Christians can in no way view either eudemonism or utilitarianism as solvent systems of morality. These systems are now very widely developed, but we must note nevertheless that their adherents are often completely orderly people. Why? Because much of social morality and opinion still bear the imprint of the influence of Christianity... It is only because of this that people who consider themselves to be eudemonists or utilitarians can, in real life, be honorable and orderly. Because of this Christian moral influence, utilitarian and eudemonistic ideas are often cloaked in a mantle of Christian idealism.

*strait: Tight. narrow, strict, rigorous: a narrow, difficult place of passage.


Answer the following questions:

1.What is the virtue of Christian morality?

2. How do non-Christian, secular moral systems differ from Orthodox Christianity?

3. What is endemonism? (explain)

4. What does Apostle Paul say of endemonism?

5. What is the fundamental question of morality?

6. What is utilitarianism?

7. What do some utilitarian philosophers strive to soften?

XXI. Christian Love as the Basic Principle of Morality

We have observed that those systems of morality which do not found themselves upon the Gospel teaching of love are insolvent. We have also observed that Christian morality is completely established on the law of love; this law is the basis and summit of it.

What, exactly, is this Christian love? In its fully developed state, it is the most elevated, powerful and radiant of all human feelings. It is manifested as an experience of special spiritual and moral nearness, of a most strong inner gravitation of one person to another. The heart of a loving person is open to the one who is loved, and is ready to receive him to itself–and ready to give itself to the other. “You Corinthians,” Apostle Paul wrote to his beloved spiritual children, “Our heart is enlarged for you . . . there is room for you in us...” “Thus all will know that you are my disciples if you will have love among you,” (Jn. 13:39) said the Lord Jesus Christ to His Apostles (and through them to all of us).

Christian love is a special feeling which draws one near to God Who is Love Itself, in the words of His beloved Apostle (1 Jn. 4:8). In the sphere of earthly feelings, there is none higher than a love which is ready for self-sacrifice. And the whole history of God’s relationship to man is a continuous history of the self-sacrifice of Heavenly love. The Heavenly King leads the sinner–the one who has opposed and betrayed Him–by the hand to salvation, and for the sake of the sinner’s salvation, He does not spare even His Only Begotten Son. The Son of God came down from heaven, was made Incarnate, suffered and died so that He, through the Resurrection, could give the sinner that blessed eternity which he had lost by his own betrayal. Before His sufferings, moreover, He gave His faithful a bequeath, a commandment and ideal of love: “As I loved you, so you too love one another.”

Such is the ideal of self-less Christian love. It embraces everyone, not just friends, but also enemies. In the Gospel, the Lord pointedly says: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even the sinners love those who love them.” (Lk. 6:32) By these words, the Lord warns us against the egoistically selfish character of non-Christian, pagan love. In such egoistic love, the main element is our personal “I”, our self-gratification which we receive from this feeling. The Lord commanded something else of Christians: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who offend and persecute you.” Thus, a Christian loves other people, not for their good or obliging disposition, but for themselves; they are dear to him in themselves and the Christian’s love seeks their salvation, even if they treat him as an enemy.

Perhaps nowhere in the Holy Scripture is the essence and nature of Christian love so clearly revealed as in chapter thirteen of Apostle Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. This chapter is appropriately called “the hymn of Christian love.” Here, the Apostle compares Christian love with various spiritual gifts and virtues. He calls love the most excellent path (at the end of chapter twelve), and then explains, with unshakeable conviction, how much higher it is than all the gifts and experiences of man.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love,” the Apostle says, “then I am as clanging brass and a tinkling cymbal” (like spiritless objects which act only on the external senses of man and not on his heart). And all the higher gifts and virtues–prophecy, understanding of all mysteries, wonder-working, faith and even struggles of self-denial and martyrdom: without love they are nothing, and only from love do they acquire their worth.

“Love is longsuffering and merciful, does not envy or exalt itself, is not proud nor unseemly of conduct.” It makes one patient, meek, humble and of good-will toward everyone.

“Love does not seek its own, is not easily angered, does not think evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth.”

This is a victorious force, the power of humble love, which destroys the egoism and evil which nest in man’s heart. This true love always seeks truth and verity and not falsehood and obligingness. Finally, “Love covers all things, believes all things, hopes in all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

Truly, never. Nothing will break it, neither trials nor torments, nor sorrow, nor deprivations, nor disenchantment. And it will go with a Christian to a new and better world where it will blossom out in all its fullness when all other gifts have disappeared, and faith and hope have already ceased. Faith will be replaced by the sight of the reality, “face to face” and hope will come to realization; love alone will reign “unto ages of ages, forever.” And thus, the same Apostle says, “Love is the fulfillment of the law...” (Rm. 12:10).


Complete the following statements.

1. We have also observed

2. What, exactly, is this Christian love? In its

3. Christian love is

4. It embraces

5. Lk. 6:32

6. Love is

7. Love does not

8. This is a victorious force

9. Love covers

10. Love never

11. Nothing will break

XXII. The Orthodox Family

The basic task of Orthodox Christianity is to teach people to live according to God’s will so that, through it, they will be brought to eternal blessedness. Some people vainly wish to reduce Christianity to a mere narrowly–individualized sphere or religious experiences. Christianity, however, is life; it is a new seal on all the vital relationships of people. And no impartial person would doubt or contradict the fact of its influence on life. It is sufficient to point out that even though life and the behavior of people on earth have not strayed far from Christian ideals, nevertheless, their concepts and views were formulated on the Christian type. The work of many of the best artists and scientists bears a clearly Christian imprint upon them. Further, such consoling phenomena as the disappearance of slavery, the appearance of a whole series of institutions of charity and enlightenment, and much else, are undoubtedly obligated to Christianity for their beginnings. But perhaps, the transforming and elevating influence of Christianity has been experienced most of all by the first cell of the order of social life –the family.

The great responsibility for an Orthodox Christian person is to choose a friend for life. God’s word says of the Christian marriage, “be two in one flesh,” that is, in marriage, two people form one organism, one common life. An Orthodox Christian wife thinks first of all about her husband, and then about herself. Likewise, the husband first cares for his wife, then for himself. The Lord tempered such a Christian marital union by His Divine word, “What God unites, let man not separate.” It is noteworthy that in such a Christian marriage, the love of the partners has that very same selfless, self–denying character by which purely Christian love is distinguished. With good reason, Apostle Paul compares the marital union with the union of Christ and the Church, and he says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” In Christian marriage, the unification of loving personalities becomes so all–comprehensive and full, the mutual dedication of the spouses so deep and absolute, that they resemble each other in everything, and sometimes (in old age) they even come to resemble each other externally. And their life passes in full accord, in full dedication to the will of Christ the Saviour and His Holy Church.

But it becomes so heavy in our own days to see the precipitous, unthinkingly careless and completely un–Christian disposition of contemporary youth to this most serious question. One must now repeatedly observe how marriages are concluded not through a serious, deep, examined feeling of love, but through enamorousness, a feeling which is not deep, and is very low in moral relationship. Often, the content of such an enamoured state is, alas, in essence only animal passions, only an “agitation of young blood” (and sometimes not young, but old and dirty). Together with this, in the pre–wedding time of such marriages, one constantly observes deceit and self–embellishing of both body and soul, a hypocritical desire not to be, but to seem to be better and more beautiful. Life, however, can be built only on truth; it cannot survive on falsehood. From this, there ensues the disenchantment of spouses with each other and the aberration of divorces.

Christian marriage is a single life lived by two in unification. With the years, marital life only strengthens, becomes deeper, more spiritual. Of course, passionate love, connected with each person’s natural sexual inclination and purely physical attraction also enters into Christian marital love. In a truly Christian marriage, however, such passionate love enters into the attachment only incidentally, and never has such a significance and strength as in non–Christian marital unions. In the lives of Saints, we see a multitude of examples in which Christian spouses, through mutual agreement, renounced sexual life, either from the very beginning of the marriage or even after forty years. It is noteworthy that in such a marriage, when the ascetic–spouses live “as brother and sister,” their mutual love is distinguished by a special strength of devotion, all–embracing fidelity and mutual respect. Thus does Christianity consecrate, elevate and transform a marriage union.

In a Christian family, not only the relationship of husband and wife is considered, but also that of children and parents. Christianity again places its imprint on this interrelationship.

In each good family there must, without fail, be a single family life. “Our” must always take precedence to the personal “my” in such a relationship. It is not in vain that all members of the family bear one common surname, for they must live a common, cordial life. The head of the family is the husband. The well–being of the family is formed on him and on his toils. The family is his first duty. Of those who do not look after their own family, Apostle Paul says bluntly and quite clearly: “If anyone does not care for his own, and especially for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tm.5:8).

It often happens that, in directing their children to one or another path, parents act so strongly against the will of a child’s inclinations and heart’s desire that they are generally unjust. Apostle Paul speaks against this, pointedly saying: “Parents, do not anger your children so that they do not despair, but raise them in the Lord’s teaching and instruction” (Col.3:21; Eph.6:4). To demand of children what exceeds their strength only plunges them into despondency. There is an even greater injustice: for a child, the father is the highest authority, and woe if their authority betrays that feeling of trust, a feeling which is far stronger in a child than in an adult. This is followed by a situation which is simply inescapable for the child. It is even worse, however, when the parents spoil their children too much, are too condescending toward them and often leave them without supervision. The child can receive a great moral ruin from this; as we have seen, God’s word orders parents to raise and instruct children in the Lord’s law...

The matter of raising children falls primarily on the mother. This is natural, since no one is so close to the soul and heart of the child as its mother. It is not without reason that a child runs directly to its mother, crying “Mama” when it is hurt. There is a great task before the mother: to raise a son or daughter as a believing Christian, good, responsive, work-loving, useful to the Church and to society, and to raise the child thus byword and example and love and strictness. This is the sanctuary of her service to the Lord; her work is no less important than the husband’s work for the family. Shame and dishonor to those mothers who shirk from the raising of their children and give them over to be cared for by hired persons, forgetting that it is so easy to ruin or soil the child’s soul. Moreover, can anyone really replace a child’s mother?

But children must understand their responsibilities no less than the parents. Everyone knows the fifth commandment of God’s law, about honoring the parents. Apostle Paul enjoins children to “submit to your parents in the Lord, for justice requires this.” And, of course, this requirement is brought forth precisely by justice. For, children are obligated in all things to their parents who take care of them, loving, toiling, denying themselves in much, raising their children by their own love, often helping them even when they have already become adults and independent people.

How often, though, is the fifth commandment violated among us! Even those children who are convinced that they sincerely and deeply love their parents, often do not heed them, which means that they do not honor them. Love is always united with obedience. And the older children become, the more self–willed they become, alas, affronting their parents, reproaching them to their face for their “backwardness” and not considering their authority in anything. Is this respect for parents?.

Thus, in its basic sense, the fifth commandment speaks of honoring parents. Nevertheless, it also speaks in consideration of all those who occupy similar positions for a Christian: teachers, educators, etc.; and especially, the representatives of lawful authority who preserve the order of society. Apostle Paul directed us to pray: “for rulers and all those in authority,” and in many places in his epistles, he taught to submit to the authorities. More important, of course, for the Christian, is the honoring of Church authorities –the pastors of the Church, especially the bishops, and also the pastor who is his spiritual father and answers before God for his soul. Apostle Paul says, “Submit yourselves (to your spiritual instructors,) for they watch over your souls and must give account...” And the Lord Himself said to His apostles, and in their persons to the pastors of the Church, “Whoever listens to you, listens to Me, but whoever does not listen to you, does not listen to Me.”


Summarize the following terms using the text of this chapter.

Orthodox Christianity –

Christianity –

Orthodox Christian (wife) –

Orthodox Christian (husband) –

Christian marriage –

Christian family –

Apostle Paul (on this subject) –

5th Commandment –

Summarize Chapter 22 in your own words.