The Choice of Inner Freedom: Sophrony

From his book, His Life is Mine, chapter #9

In life we have become skilled in hiding our dark thoughts and deeds, even from ourselves. In fact, as the early fathers tell us, we have so justified, misinterpreted or concealed our sins that even distinguishing evil from good is extremely difficult.

Upon our death, however, our entire earthly life will be entirely visible and concise. No dark corner, no matter how small, will be hidden.

Hence, we must see our lives as preparation for that moment of complete nakedness; journeys in which we must gradually excise darkness from within us, so that we can stand before God without fear.

While we cannot enter God’s presence with the burden of our sins, He has given us the precious gift of confession and repentance. All sins will be forgiven in the face of true repentance.

To avail oneself of God’s gifts requires more than mere acceptance. It requires cooperation.

Though God grants us opportunities for repentance, we can only avail of them through the exercise of our free will. We must freely choose spiritual warfare over consent to sin, repentance over justification of, or indulgence in, it.

God does nothing with man without man’s cooperation.

The spiritual warfare required to clear our inner darkness and replace it with light is enormous. Sophrony, like a skilled behavioral therapist, lays out a battle strategy that targets our motivation and creates new habits of thought and action.

Straight forward resistance is not always the most successful way of trying to defeat wicked or simply idle thoughts,” he tells us.

Instead of only resisting, he suggests, try being inspired. For example, we are unmotivated when we are unable to see in ourselves “permanent virtue.” We give up all too easily, justify sins with the thought that it is only “human to sin,” and behave toward each other like “jungle beasts.”

What if we kept at the forefront of our conscience a higher goal to work toward?

When we are faced with various possibilities our choice should be conditioned by the final aim that we have in view: the kingdom of the father.

What if we always kept alive in our memory that God meant the world “to be perfect?”

We would derive encouragement and inspiration from the realization that permanent virtue within us is the natural mode of being.

To belittle God’s initial idea for us is not just mistaken: it is a sin.

Repentance from sin is not the same as paying a traffic fine and being relieved of the penalty. We must remember that sin is not a transgression to be punished by law but the distance from God that brings about the death of our soul. Conversely, abstinence from sin or repentance is not a transaction through which we reserve a seat in Paradise. It brings about profound transformation, the pinnacle of which is deep, inner stillness and peace.

The first sign of emancipation,” Sophrony tells us, “is a disinclination to impose one’s will on others.”

This sentence stopped me in my tracks. How many times have I patted myself on the back for my spiritual progress, when my behavior toward others remained the same? How profound is our need to control others and how often do we use euphemisms to disguise it?

It’s not control! It is my duty as a parent to guide my children and their choices.

I am not trying to manipulate others’ impressions of me. I am only stating facts when I list the names of all the important people I met.

I had to try to change his mind. His politics are dangerous and misguided.

If my sister made the right choices, I wouldn’t need to send her articles and clippings every day, trying to make her change her behavior.

The other side of the same coin — what Sophrony calls the second sign of emancipation — is “an inner release from the hold of others on oneself.” If you are constantly under pressure to impress, direct and force the outside world to conform to the narrative you constructed about it, it means that you are dependent on this world for your life to feel worth living. You are, thus caught in an endless up-and-down course that is determined by others.

Those who are possessed by the lust for power cloud the image of God in themselves. When the Holy Spirit by its gentle presence in our soul enables us to master our passions, we realize that to look down on others is contrary to the spirit of love.

The ultimate purpose of repentance is not entrance to an elite group in Paradise but the achievement of true spiritual freedom that will enable us to unite with God.

Spiritual freedom is a sublime grace. Without it there is no salvation…

In us lies the freedom of choice to let our soul die or accept God’s gift of life:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

One thought on “The Choice of Inner Freedom: Sophrony”

  1. This is what I have found, though I have much further to go, and my journey is outside the Christian arena. Such a good post, and I am so grateful to find this connection with someone from another time and another faith.

    Like

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