The words of Father Zossima in “The Brothers Karamzov,”
“The world has proclaimed the reign of freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs? Nothing but slavery and self-destruction! For the world says:
‘You have desires and so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most rich and powerful. Don’t be afraid of satisfying them and even multiply your desires.’ That is the modern doctrine of the world…Interpreting freedom as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual envy, for luxury and ostentation. To have dinners, visits, carriages, rank and slaves to wait on one is looked upon as a necessity, for which life, honour and human feeling are sacrificed, and men even commit suicide if they are unable to satisfy it…I ask you is such a man free? I knew of one ‘champion of freedom’ who told me himself that, when he was deprived of tobacco in prison, he was so wretched at the privation that he almost went and betrayed his cause for the sake of getting tobacco again! And such a man says, ‘I am fighting for the cause of humanity.’
How can such a one fight, what is he fit for? He is capable of some action quickly over, but he cannot hold out long. And it’s no wonder that instead of gaining freedom they have sunk into slavery, and instead of serving the cause of brotherly love and the union of humanity have fallen, on the contrary, into dissension and isolation…And therefore the idea of the service of humanity, of brotherly love and the solidarity of mankind, is more and more dying out in the world, and indeed this idea is sometimes treated with derision.. For how can a man shake off his habits, what can become of him if he is in such bondage to the habit of satisfying the innumerable desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and what concern has he with the rest of humanity? They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.
The monastic way is different. Obedience, fasting and prayer are laughed at, yet only through them lies the way to real, true freedom. I cut off my superfluous and unnecessary desires, I subdue my proud and wanton will and chastise it with obedience, and with God’s help I attain freedom of spirit and with it spiritual joy.”
Most of this sounds like it could have been written in the West in the last 50 years instead of being written in Russia in the 1880s. There is truly nothing new under the sun, the underlying dis-ease adopts and adapts new symptoms in a new day and time but what underlies our feeling that something isn’t right is the same root cause across time and culture. We struggle with selfishness, with our fleshy-ness, blocking out our connection with the Spirit. Desires pile on top of desires and those who have been tasked with the divine mission of spreading the Gospel to all creatures lack fortitude and endurance because we have become so soft and so accustomed to quick and easy faux-satiation that really never fills us and leaves us feeling more and more empty. I will repeat Zossima’s question, “I ask you is such a man free?” We have ministers struggling with addiction, gluttony, and critical/bitter spirits (I know these things well enough myself…ministers are people too in need of grace as much as anyone). Can such a person “fight for the cause of humanity?” It is time that we get serious about our faith and our calling. When we confess our God-substitutes and submit ourselves to the Lord we will “attain freedom of spirit” and “spiritual joy” like never before. We will be free.