Personal Dimension of Orthodox Asceticism

In describing the process of the Orthodox ascetic practice in terms of relation between subject and object, we can say that it has its goal in maximal subordination of human nature as an object for Godlike personality presented as subject. Saving transfiguration of human nature as spiritual and bodily entity does not depend on its internal, unconscious "organic" processes but on the conscious, "super-organic" creative action of the personality. Of course, this transforming force of personality can not be considered as external to the transformed nature, since the personality itself never exists outside nature, but from a formal logical point of view it is necessary to distinguish the personality as active conscious origin in man from his nature as a passive unconscious origin. As a fundamental personality trait is its consciousness, the fundamental condition of ascetic transfiguration of human nature should be awareness and responsibility of every step along this difficult path, maintaining the necessary sober-mindedness, without which this path may turn in the opposite direction. In this regard the Orthodox asceticism is fundamentally different from many so-called oriental ascetic practices where not only specifically Christian idea of personality is absent, but the path of spiritual and bodily transfiguration involves the rejection of personal awareness and cultivation of unconsciousness, an analog to which can be regarded as the subordination of the personality to impersonal nature.

Personalism of Orthodox asceticism stems directly from the common personalistic ontology of Christianity, that is sufficient detailed in the writings of the leading Orthodox theologians of the era of ‘Cappadocian synthesis’ in 4th century until our times when personalism long outgrew the framework of a particular philosophical school and became a commonplace of Christian thought. However, this does not mean that in the secular world there is sufficient recognition of the personalistic nature of Christianity. It is quite possible to establish the fact that importance of the value of the human personality in Christianity remains either new or very questionable for a significant part of the secular world. It is especially true for the secular worldview, for which the idea of the value of the human person entitled to its rights and freedoms stems from philosophical and political manifestos of Modern Age (Modern), and for which it not only cannot be derived from Christianity but directly contradicts it. From this point of view, Christianity serves merely as a "reactionary," "conservative" movement from the medieval past, known only by their constant appeals to the prohibitions and restrictions, and in this context the concept of "Christian conservatism" seems as superfluous tautology. For the most modern secular people Christianity is, by definition, conservative, it is Christianity that can only prohibit but cannot permit. Accordingly, if a modern secular man knows something about Christianity for sure, it is its asceticism that restricts "natural" manifestations of human freedom and that becomes almost the only sign of a certain image of Church. That is mostly why anti-clerical critics pay so much attention to an imaginary "wealth" of Church, because its main message to the society seams to them as ascetic life understood as an end in itself. Therefore, the accusation of Church in "improper luxury" is the reverse of its accusation in excessive asceticism.

Meanwhile, the lack of understanding of the meaning of Christian asceticism on the part of the modern secular criticism is directly related to non-recognition of the very value of human personality which the secular worldview supposedly puts into the spotlight. In fact, as well as the ascetic imperatives of Christianity derive directly from its idea of the value of the personality, indifferent treatment of the ascetic issues by the secular worldview follows directly from its flawed understanding of the value that remains purely a convention for it. The fact is that in Christian worldview a personality is ontological, it exists as an objective reality rooted in the Lord. In Christianity the Holy Trinity reveals the unity of Three Persons who created man’s personality in His own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26). As, for example, Filaret, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, puts it: "Man was originally created in the image of God that should be identified with His personality, i. e.  with the hypostatic image of His being. Thus personality in Christianity is a basic ontological reality which exists a priori and is not derivable from any subjective processes. In Christianity, man is a person from the very beginning of his existence and keeps being him in all situations, even when he reaches the limit of mental and physical degradation. That's why man always have a relatively free choice between good and evil, between different ways of his existence, and therefore imputation is possible to him, that is why he can be judged both by temporal and divine justice. Therefore, the ability for ascetic self-restraint is not simply one of the desirable qualities of a Christian person, but it constitutes the very personality of man as the ontological basis on which all the other qualities are layered. Impersonal being is not capable of asceticism because it is not capable of free choice in principle, and only a person not only can but must reveal his ascetic power that he is capable to control one's own nature. At the same time, control of a person over his nature can not be reduced to the restrictions which human soul sets for flesh. In this connection it is necessary to make two principal reservations.

First, it is not soul which limits the human corporality, but the person controls his entire human nature, physical and mental, because the soul is part of human nature. This is a very important reservation, because restriction of emotional passions is incomparably more difficult than of carnal desire. Moreover, what we call carnal desires, in fact they are very often associated with specific mental experiences without which these desires could not be present. I give the most primitive but illustrative example: a propensity of man to any particular food forbidden to eat during Lent may be connected to certain associations and aesthetic experiences aroused from this food, but not to the body's need. In other words, this propensity is not due to the objective need of the flesh but the subjective need of the soul, often grown into a habit. In this sense, an ascetic calms and improves more his flesh than his soul which state affects his flesh to some extent as the external instrument of his soul. Otherwise, there is a risk of falling into overt Manichaeism, with its opposition of spiritual and material sides, and confusing cause and effect.

Secondly, ascetic control of a person over the nature is not limited to the function of restriction for spontaneous self-will of soul and flesh, but it also goes to a certain co-guidance, the direction of the mental and physical forces to those or other actions that contribute to the saving improvement of man. Otherwise, the ideal of asceticism would be a complete renunciation of all actions and thoughts, like the Buddhist ‘nirvana.’ And while following this way it becomes much more complicated and important to overcome mental vices than just bodily ones. By contrast to this, the popular view of Christian asceticism in the modern world sees it as nothing more than the forced restriction of a purely physical lust and inclination to be isolated from the outside world as much as possible rather than to participate in it. Therefore, modern uninformed people often do not see the difference between lay asceticism, on the one hand, and monastic one, on the other hand, or between the asceticism of the Orthodox monasticism, and the so-called Buddhist monasticism. This flaw in the view of Church connects to ignorance and incomprehension of personalistic basis of the Christian worldview.

The idea of the value of the human person is also present in modern European secular worldview, because this worldview inherits, to some extent, some ideas of the Christian worldview, but the very idea of "person" is deprived of its ontological status here and remains conditional collective designation of some human qualities, like the equally conventional notions as "soul," "spirit," "spirituality", etc. In the secular context, "personality" is not objective ontological reality but subjective psychological desire, it's not a fait accompli, but only initial process, ending with the death of every human being as the strange creature which is called "personality". In strict contrast to de-ontologized status of personality in the secular world view, if something exists objectively in it, it is nature, and therefore the phantom of "personality" can always be derived only from nature. Thus in the secular context, personality arises from impersonal formation, like the man himself do it from the development of animal species. Therefore, in a secular worldview, it is impossible in principle to call for austerity as the mortification of nature corrupted by sin. The very thesis of the imperfection of nature is absurd from the secular point of view, because nature can not be perfect or imperfect; it is "natural" and manifests itself as the source of any "naturalness", so any assessment of it from a perspective of some supernatural values is meaningless. Of course, in objection to this thesis, a variety of theories and practices within the Modern history can be exemplified, which call for self-restraint, and even for overcoming human nature. Just remember that the culture of Baroque and Classicism in XVII-XVIII centuries, which is based on the rationalist philosophy of Descartes and his followers, that is the classic Modern culture, perceived the natural state as sinful and calling for elevation from the perspective of the Spotless Mind. This contradiction is explained by the fact that the ideology of classical Modern age of the XVII-XVIII centuries differs from its radical variants of the XIX and XX centuries in the respect that it still retains a certain conception of God, which is increasingly reduced to the impersonal absolute, and hence the notion of personality that is increasingly deprived of its ontological foundation.

Secularism of the classic Modern Age is not so much a rejection of the Creator but of religion as a mystical system of mediation between the Creator and the creature, which means rejection of Church for the Christian culture. That is why the emergence of Protestantism was an essential step on the path from traditional Christianity to the secular "Enlightenment". On this path, it was not about the emancipation of nature but the emancipation of the Spotless Mind, a substitute for integral personality, so that nature keeps their subordinate position in the classical Modern age. This position most consistently manifested itself in deism with his refusal of the synergy between God and man, and hence of the very idea of Church. However, it must be kept in mind that the emancipation of the Spotless Mind was one of the pillars of secularism, but not the sole, and after it, as its principal competing alternative, the idea of the emancipation of nature comes out, the idea of liberation of natural origin from artificial layers, which manifested itself already during the Renaissance and constantly asserted itself during the Enlightenment. As the most striking expressions of this contradiction, the anthropological pessimism of Hobbes, with his condemnation of "state of nature" as savage and barbaric, and the anthropological optimism of Rousseau, with his apology for the "natural man" (l`homme naturel), can be called to memory.

The idea of the emancipation of the natural breaks through in the romantic reaction to the primacy of the artificial in classic Modern age, but this idea seems very ambiguous, because on the one hand, the romantics try to rehabilitate the "medieval" religious mysticism, but, on the other hand, they proclaim the primacy of the natural origin over the artificial form, up to the apology of savagery and barbarism. This is often overlooked by contemporary Christian conservatives who ascend their roots to the Romantic reaction in the beginning of the XIX century. They are impressed by the mystical mood of romanticism, but they do not consider heterodox nature of this mysticism. Movement towards each other by mysticism and naturalism found himself in a overt pantheistic spirit of romantic synthesis which replaced the rationalistic deism. In pantheism, which has become a generic disease of many mystics of Modern Age, personality disappears completely as unnecessary and any man is only seen as part of the "divine nature" enslaved by the rational formal civilization. If following this path it is possible to speak of "austerity", it is only in the sense opposite to the Christian one – not as overcoming the imperfect nature, but as overcoming all the non-natural: from social conventions and pretensions of reason up to the idea of God the Creator, and creationist and personalistic worldview in general.

To a greater extent, romantic reaction was not so much a step toward Christianity, but more a step towards the return of paganism. It is interesting to note that, initially acting as a fierce enemy of the rational-bourgeois civilization of the Enlightenment, Romanticism gave only unnecessary revolutionary power to the formation of this civilization, because the pathos of "exceptional man in exceptional circumstances", eventually was directed not so much to destruction of the secular world as to the final destruction of the "old world". In other words, "super activists", full of reactionary romantic pathos, went to the barricades against the "soulless" authorities, and only contributed post factum to the formation of the national-bourgeois secular republics. The known use of soil and conservative, and religious and sectarian sentiments in the secular movement of the Russian Revolution of the early twentieth century can be regarded as a special case of this European process. As a result of this controversial romantic symbiosis of the XIX century the problem of ascetic transfiguration of man in Christianity have been either synthesized or tampered with openly neo-pagan idea of "return to nature" which was often understood as "nature" of a particular nation as the "blood and soil", fettered by conventions of the cosmopolitan civilization. If during the classic Modern era nationalist movements went hand in hand with the processes of secularization, during the romantic reaction nationalism suddenly appears in a religious guise, where the mystical nature of a nation serves as an extension of the pantheistic nature of the world. An appeal to Christ here is replaced by an appeal to national myths, reconstructed or even re-invented by contemporaries, and this implies a distorted interpretation of Christian asceticism, when, for example, fasts during many days are explained by some "natural cycles”, which also are especially attributed to a particular national territory. The very orientation towards "the revival of national tradition" skips its Christian meaning and turns into the revival of pre-Christian, pagan forms. The idea, known in the Neo-pagan context, that Christianity is supposed seeking to tame the "national elements" by imposing ascetic self-restraint and defeatist mentality on "the healthy forces of the nation" has become the apotheosis of this trend. The logic of this thesis is quite consistent: if every person primarily is a representative of a particular "national element", he is intended to represent this element, like sparks of flame represent the fire and sea drops represent the water, and thus setting limits for this elementality is unnatural. At first glance, this position seems more or less marginal in today's world, but it is the most consistent ontological justification for any ethnic nationalism. The official ideology of the modern secular national-states not only does not share this position, but did not answer the question about the ontological basis of the concept of "Nation" or "State". In itself this position could be considered as extreme, but the problem is that any alternative to it within the secular worldview also reduces man to his nature and does not provide an ontological justification of his personality.  By analyzing the history of development of modern ideologies of XIX-XX centuries, one can distinguish four main thought movements, all of them reducing human personality to his impersonal origin, although explaining this reduction in different ways.

The first ideology can be called liberal and individualistic, and today it is actually the leading ideology of the West, although it suffers a significant crisis for internal and external reasons. The philosophical basis of this ideology is mostly neo-positivism which sees the very category of "personality" as pseudo concept along with "spirit", "soul", "substance", etc.  From the liberal and positivist point of view, every person is an atomic individual, who represents a sort of "atom" of human nature, which, in turn, is part of the entire animated nature. Positivism not only does not explain the ontological uniqueness of man, but not even bother about the uniqueness, emphasizing the general biological regularities of homo sapiens as an organism. Moreover, if the positivists of the 19th century can make quite particularistic conclusions in a spirit of frank and social eugenics from these regularities, the neo-positivism of twentieth century derives the need for ethical and political universalism from the same ground: if all human beings belong to the same biological species, then they should be given equal rights, and all the differences between people – from biological to cultural – are not principle and should not affect their equal political and economic rights. From this point of view, the human species is a specific link in the overall evolution of the species, and it is unacceptable to insist on keeping any of its biological and cultural attributes as immutable values. The ideas of transhumanism and transsexualism are the last word in the development of this concept, they eventually erode the notion of man as an ontological constant. But only because liberalism after all is a political ideology rather than an ontological worldview, it is more interested in man as an atom of human society rather than an atom of human nature. In this sense, the liberal concept of man is trans-biological, but also trans-ontological, and it does not consider the ontological status of the human person. Unfortunately, the political elite of modern liberal states rarely think about the philosophical premises and axiological consequences of the default secular and liberal ideology, while these consequences constantly affect public life. Under this ideology, every person defines their moral values for themselves and should be limited only by the external formal law being understood as a convention ("a social contract") of all other atomic individuals. Of course, no ascetic challenges are set by the liberal and individualist ideology for "an atomic individual", which desire to meet their own psycho-physical needs, regardless of their content, perceived by this ideology as the norm. Despite the fact that liberalism looks as the most politically correct and less aggressive of all modern ideologies, the Orthodox Church has to deal with it in the modern West in most cases, so the supporters of Orthodoxy should be aware of the deep philosophical basis of this ideology. It should be understood that the popularization of the notorious homosexuality and other perversions in modern society is related not only to the ill will of some dark forces, but, above all, to the dominant ideology, which is established in the secular democracies of the last century.

The second modern ideology can be collectively called the "left" or "left-liberal," and though it has common roots with the liberal individualism, its approach to human being is fundamentally different. Despite the fact that the left ideology has evolved in the twentieth century, its philosophical basis is still Marxism, heavily flavored with ideas of "cultural revolution" (A. Gramsci) and psychoanalysis. It is worth noting that the communist regimes, due to their party dogmatism, directly have the smallest bearing on the development of left-wing ideology, and the main evolution of this ideology was held in the liberal West, where an ideological revolution of the New Left actually occurred at the end of 1960s, which defines the face of Western culture until today. Unlike liberal individualism, left ideology recognizes the value of social solidarity and social justice, and is ready to justify the violence of any scope in the name of that same justice. Like liberalism, left-wing ideology sees a man not so much a natural phenomenon as a social one, but sees it also not as an "atomic individual" who needs to be left alone, but as "the totality of all social relations" (Marx) that constitutes its humanity only in its social manifestations. Hence, there is a compulsive social holism of the left ideology, gradually turning into a plain totalitarianism. One of the few Soviet philosophers who sought to creatively transform the official Marxism-Leninism, E. Ilyenkov (1924-1979), tried to justify the concept of human personality, but did not come to anything new in relation to the old Marxist concept of personality as "an ensemble of social relations”, which should manifest and develop its sociality ("What is personality?", 1984). It can be said that the left ideology recognizes human person insofar as he is involved in social development, and, just as it is understood by the left ideologues themselves. As for the rest, left-wing ideology completely sympathizes with liberalism: man as a species evolves and therefore temporal properties of his nature and culture can not be assigned to him as permanent. Therefore, in regard to the problem of transhumanism or transsexualism most radical liberals and the most radical lefts will always be on one side, which is quite logical. Moreover, if Western liberalism itself rather allows the ideas of all kinds of nihilistic emancipation than establishes them, it is the left movement acted as their main conductor in the 60s of the twentieth century. For example, liberalism itself does not raise any special treatment to gay marriages, but only allows them, while the left ideology establishes homosexual relationships as a value indicating emancipation of "a person”, understood as an agent of general social emancipation.  If a person insists on maintaining some standards of so-called traditional society, it seems as if he betrays his purpose of liberating the society from all its traditions in the name of infinite "progress". So, by establishing the evolution of the human species, the left ideology establishes the evolution of his values and eventually comes to the real nihilism, which in fact makes human existence meaningless. In this perspective, human control over its own nature is perceived as the violence caused by the maintenance of class-hierarchical relationships in the society, one part of which is constantly exploiting another. Here, Marxism merges with psychoanalysis and generates Freido-Marxist synthesis of the philosophy of the Frankfurt School (Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse and others) and post-structuralism (M.Foucault, G.Deleuze and others), which became the basis of ideology of the New Left. Any social norms and taboos are seen in this context as inspired by specific social forces for the suppression of other forces, and in this sense, every culture, as "a system of norms and prohibitions" according to Y. M. Lotman, is potentially repressive. Unlike liberalism, the "new left" ideology has not received yet his incarnation as a public regime, perhaps because of its anarchic nature, but it has a decisive influence on the minds of European intellectuals of the late XX – early XXI century, and it heats the liberal sentiments of Western politicians much more than liberalism itself.

The third modern ideology, resisting to Christian personalism, can be most accurately called organicism, and it includes a whole scope of all sorts of nationalistic, racist and soil ideas, which perceive human person as the embodiment of impersonal collective "body." As we have already noted, this ideology goes back to the Romantic reaction of the beginning of the XIX century, and in this respect it claims to be the "right-wing" and "conservative" because its direct opposites are the liberal and leftist ideas of the Enlightenment. But we also noticed that the soil and reactionary views often come in resonance with the secular-revolutionary ideas, and even turn into a bizarre, at first glance, symbiosis, of which the idea of so-called "Conservative Revolution" of 20s-30s can be considered as a notable example. Twentieth century and the European "New Right" of 70-90-ies. Here, man is called to fully manifest the impersonal spontaneous nature of his "blood and soil", and this alone determines his personality, which, in turn, remains an empty metaphor from the humanistic vocabulary despised by organicists. Of course, in the modern world organicistic ideas are considered marginal and extremist up to a certain time, though they have a very large influence wherever seek for ontological rationale for the "anti-globalization" demands, but, most importantly, they are quite common among Christian conservatives who are trying to equally combine universalism of the New Testament and the explicit "zoological" particularism. All the conceptual contradictions of the modern Christian conservatism lie in this attempt, "unsteady in all his ways" (James 1:8). If Christianity requires making an unambiguous moral evaluation of each historical event and being ready to condemn the crimes of the past, the conservative organicism certainly justifies every historic steps of the nation as manifestation of collective will, recognized as the greatest ontological value. In this sense, organicism merges directly with the ideas of Nietzsche (Genealogy of Morals, 1987), and through Nietzscheanism – with the philosophy of New Left (Genealogy of Power by Foucault). Any "universal values" in this context are interpreted as false phantoms invented by "the biologically weak" to tame "the biologically strong", just like in Marxism they only manifest the claim of one class to exploit another endlessly. It is important to note that any person in this perspective remains a helpless hostage of "organic” origin and can gain power only by cultivation of this origin. Against this background, Christian asceticism seems like totally senseless practice, at least, because it has no relation to the health of the collective body of the nation, ethnicity, race, etc., and serves the purpose of personal salvation, regardless of the condition of the collective body.

The fourth modern ideology can be directly called spiritualist or even more frankly – Neo-pagan. In the same way as left ideology forms the conceptual pair to a liberal one, spiritualistic ideology is also a parallel alternative to organicism, but with the difference that while the liberal and left ideologies are based on the common ontological assumptions, and then come to somewhat different conclusions, organicist and spiritualistic ideologies proceed from fundamentally different ontologies but then come to the almost same ethical and political conclusions. Where organicism treats every person as an individual embodiment of the common "collective body", spiritualism puts overall "team spirit" in its place. Philosophical mind inevitably wonders about what is the ontological structure of the "spirit" – whether it exists as the highest super value, as an impersonal pantheistic god, or whether it represents an intermediate body between the pantheistic God and man, whether it exists in itself regardless of people or he is "bottled" in humans and found only in them – but all these valid questions are not principal in this case. It is easy to see, unlike the first three directions, Spiritualism is not a secular but religious ideology, and it remains the common denominator for many neo-pagan ideas and movements of our time. Along with this, spiritualism is not necessarily limited to particularistic models, sometimes it arrives at "globalistic" conclusions, if only instead of the "national spirit" it refers to "the spirit/soul" of humanity, world, space, Earth, etc. An immediate consequence of this ideology is relatively popular occultist and cosmic doctrines, which often try to combine religious and mythological worldview with scientific one. And then pan-spiritualism in the tradition of Schelling or Soloviev is suddenly combined with evolutionism of Darwin or Lorenz. It is worth noting that cosmic synthesis is quite widespread in Russia, where independent "Russian cosmism" appears, while the pantheistic ideas of "total unity" were very characteristic for Russian religious philosophy.

In the history of Orthodox theology there have been attempts to classify modern types of social teachings, depending on their view of the dichotomy of personality and nature. In his article, Personality and the thought of His Holiness Patriarch Sergius (MPM, 1984, No 11) Vladimir Lossky proposed his own classification, worthy of special attention. The first teaching subordinates personality to nature and turns into "totalitarianism of supra myth", with whom we met in case of organicism and spiritualism. The second doctrine identifies person with the private nature of man and take shape in "the individualism of the spiritual philistinism, with whom we deal in the case of liberalism. The third teaching in the classification of V. Lossky is more complicated and less easily recognizable: it completely separates person from nature and brings down the latter in "the lower spheres of existence”. Lossky defines this false teaching as "personalism, peculiar to certain representatives of existential philosophy, born in the Protestant world," which prefers "person with no life, consciousness in a void, freedom without content," and he projects it to the "rootlessness of perpetual revolution. In fact, here we are talking about left-wing ideology, but from our point of view, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by Vladimir Lossky under its philosophical roots. The fact is that the term "personalism" in the 30-50-ies was closely associated, if not directly identified, with existentialism, because both thought movements were actually closely intertwined. The idea of "existence" as an autonomous entity which can not be reduced to the essence (essentia) was the closest correlate of personality as a hypostasis (substantia), which is also irreducible to nature essence. But the existence is impersonal and even unconscious, while the hypostasis of Christian theology is personal and conscious, and therefore the proper personalism begins where existentialism ends. If existentialism is quite compatible with a variety of social teachings and totalitarian ideologies from the extreme left-wing ones (eg, Sartre) to the extreme right-wing ones (eg, Heidegger), the true personalism is anti-totalitarian from beginning to end. It is very important to note this distinction, because existentialism is still very popular philosophical setting and is often seen as a panacea for impersonalistic ideologies. We also note that anti-naturalistic existentialism, Vladimir Lossky is referring to, is Sartre's existentialism, of which indeed we can draw conclusions about the need for "perpetual revolution" in the spirit of the New Left, while the Protestant existentialism (Tillich, and others) has no relation to left-wing ideologies. So, the classification of V. Lossky needs significant clarification. Difference in classification we proposed is that, firstly, person is understood by the left-wing ideology not as an autonomous reality, but as "a set of social relationships", and secondly, that the ideology of the “totalitarian supra myth” according to Lossky’s definition, is principally divided into organicistic ("materialistic") and spiritualistic ("idealistic") variants.

All four ideologies of today’s world: liberalism and the left-wing ideology, organicism and spiritualism, all represent four different worlds of the non-Christian modern consciousness, apparently contradicting each other, but united in denying the ontological status of the human person, and therefore they are deaf and indifferent to the problems of Christian asceticism.

In order to perceive the ascetic path not as "gymnastics of the soul and body," but as a necessary condition for the transfiguration of the person, understanding of the personality as an ontological entity is needed. Neither secular nor spiritualist types of worldview do not recognize the ontological status of the personality, and therefore pointless to call their supporters on the ascetic self-conquest without abandoning their ideological setting.

However, the decisive importance in understanding the meaning of Christian asceticism has not only ideological, but also a psychological aspect. As long as the problem of Christian asceticism in the mass perception will be identified solely with the forced self-restriction and, as a rule, the restriction of bodily needs, adequate understanding of the ascetic asceticism is impossible. People exterior to Church have a right to ask why they should abandon sensual and psychical pleasures in Orthodoxy, if exactly the same thing, in their view, is required by so-called Eastern "spiritual practices" from them? And Orthodox missionaries should give them a clear answer to this question. In turn, the Orthodox Christianity would be also very poorly perceived, if it would be associated exclusively with the ascetic self-restraint, as if it is not a means but the purpose and main contents of Church life. So, an unpleasant paradox can be acknowledged in the mutual perception of Church and secular medium. On the one hand, the modern secular society formally declares the value of human person, but does not make demands on any ascetic requirements because it denies his ontological status. On the other hand, Church recognizes the ontological reality of the human person and that's why it makes ascetic demands to it, but the recognition of personality in Church is not quite obvious to the outside secular world, while these demands are quite obvious.  An explanation of the necessity of these requirements from the Christian view is possible only if we can first prove objective, existential value of the free and conscious personality to which they relate.

By Arkadiy Maler

Source: http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/1243180.html