Freedom in Obedience

Fragment of a meeting of the Sisterhood on July 14, 2013

Priest Andrew Malakhovsky: I would like to read aloud the questions for our today’s discussion. How can we be free doing our obedience and at the same time avoid willfulness and pride? How can we perceive freedom in such a way that we could submit ourselves to being obedient both from the outside and deep inside our hearts?

Nun Anastasia (Lashuk): I have been thinking about obedience often lately. As you live, you come to the conclusion that you are unable to listen to what other people tell you because you see things in your own way, which is invisible yet powerful enough to suppress everything they say. Right now, I would like to learn to listen attentively and to do what I am told to do. For instance, sometimes I am told that I have to travel somewhere but I think, “No, I can’t because I am too busy right now. I will send someone else.” In fact, I have to get up and go where I am told. In other words, when you make even the smallest effort to obey, you start to feel free. Such experiments show that I have to work over it but this is possible only with God’s help. Without God, I will follow my own opinion.

I also think that my own opinion is always making me nervous. I would like to live with God and I struggle in order to regain the peace of my soul. What do I want to achieve with this opinion? The only possible outcome will be lack of inner peace both for me and my neighbour. The most important thing of all is unity and love. If you humble yourself down, the Lord will comfort you. It is through these small occasions that you see God´s mercy and the freedom that lies in humility. However, this only happens when the Lord allows this to happen and when you force yourself into being obedient.

Monk Demetrios (Kozyrev): As far as my understanding of freedom is concerned, I believe that if you entrust your life to God, the Lord will act in you, and you will be able to find out what freedom from sin means. Nevertheless, things often go in the opposite direction: you prefer to trust yourself, to overestimate your own power, to facilitate your past experience, and then you fall prey to your own “I”. On the contrary, if you manage not to trust yourself and to put all your trust on God, not to spare yourself and not to overestimate your own abilities, this may be called true freedom. 

Well, in fact, my personal perception of freedom is sometimes distorted because I want to feel easy and comfortable, like a bird in the sky, whereas true freedom is, perhaps, something different. Sometimes you have to be patient and make effort in order to be free. There is nothing more absurd than a pipe dream of freedom. There is, of course, a nifty expression, “Love God and do whatever you want.” When you love God, this is real freedom. But... do you really love God? If you look at yourself closely, you would doubt it, so these words are inappropriate for you. On the other hand, the phrase “All things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify” is a more sober one. We should allow ourselves less.

Priest Andrew Malakhovsky: We should use our freedom in the right way.

Monk Demetrios (Kozyrev): I think that if you follow God, you will use the freedom that God gives in the right way. Without God, you are sure to fall so you have got to be watchful.

Novice Barbara (Vassilyeva): I would like to add a couple of words about freedom and obedience to God. Freedom is when you simply receive everything that God sends you. Real freedom is when you are grateful to God no matter what.

I used to be ill and pity myself (before I came to the Convent), and it was hard for me. I simply started saying “Thy will be done,” and this prayer filled my soul with peace. I recall reading the Bible at that time. The fact I liked most was that the people in the Bible did not have strong emotional outbursts and cares. It seems to me that my Guardian Angel showed me how a person could live with God and keep his heart free.

I remember the words I read… in James, if I remember correctly. The words were: ponder upon God. It appeared to me that the people who lived at those times and had a living memory of God were able to live simple lives before Him, and their hearts were open towards Him, and even the rhythm of their lives was different.

I would like to say that, maybe, we sometimes get lost in our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and fears so much that we forget about God and the fact that everything is guided by His Divine Providence.

Not long ago, I started to think that for some reason it was hard for me to read akathists. For instance, when I read a canon or penitential prayers with some petitions, it is easier because everything I ask for is focused on myself. However, when I read an akathist, I have to forget about myself and to praise the saint I am reading about. I have to be happy that he is in heaven, that he is with God; I have to unite with him in the spirit. You receive help when you try to forget about yourself during prayer.

You may spend an hour or two at the service and think that you pray but in fact you simply speak vain words in your thoughts, and this is far from a prayer. It turns out that I deceive myself because it is very difficult to say a living word to the living God. So I try to give thanks to the Lord, saying, “Thank you, Lord, for creating me and for all this world, for everything.”

Even when I am unable to pray because I am tired, I try to recall God’s love revealed to me in His Providence, and this really helps me, not just during church services but in my everyday life…