"After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways .... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church." St. Philaret of NY 1985

On the Law of God


On the Law of God
by Metropolitan Philaret (Voskresensky)
Translated by Hieromonk Varlaam Novakshonoff


For many years now, during the era of our "youth cult," it has been popular to use the expression, "the future of our Church is our youth."

Few people seem to have paused to reflect on the meaninglessness of such a statement. For, the future of the Church, just as Her past and Her present, is Christ. The Holy Church is totally fulfilled and She offers this fullness to us. We, on the other hand, have absolutely nothing to bring to the Church except our sins. It is really correct to say that the future of our youth is the Church. With this in mind, and with a deep, sincere and unhypocritical love, Metropolitan Philaret has written this book for the benefit and guidance of our youth.

The Law of God was written primarily as a church-school text for intermediate students, but its value far exceeds that. Popadija Anna Krosnjar, a dedicated and outstanding church-school educator, has enhanced the value of this text by providing church-school lessons at the end of each chapter. This is of great assistance not only to local church-school teachers, but to parents who wish to use this book in the home.
We thank our Savior that He had given us such a holy and loving archpastor as Metropolitan Philaret to guide us along the dark and twisted path of these last days.
The translation and publication of this work is reverently dedicated to the memory of
The Blessed Memory Metropolitan Philaret of New York.

Conscience and Moral Responsibility

Of all the creatures on earth, only man has an understanding or morality. Every person is aware that his or her actions are either good or bad, kind or evil, morally positive or morally negative (immoral). By these concepts of morality, man differs immeasurably from all animals. Animals behave according to their natural characteristics or else, if they have been trained, in the way they have been taught. They have, however, no concept of morality-immorality, and so their behavior cannot be examined from the point of view of moral awareness.

By what means does one distinguish between the morally good and the morally bad? This differentiation is made by means of a special moral law given to man by God. This moral law, this voice of God in man's soul is felt in the depth of our consciousness: it is called conscience. This conscience is the basis of the morality common to man. A person who does not listen to his conscience but stifles it, suppresses its voice with falseness and the darkness of stubborn sin, is often called "unconscionable." The Holy Scripture refers to such stubborn sinners as people with a "seared" conscience. Their spiritual condition is extremely dangerous and ruinous for the soul.

When one listens to the voice of one's conscience, one sees that this conscience speaks in him first of all as a judge - strict and incorruptible, evaluating all one's actions and experiences. Often, it happens that some given action appears advantageous to a person, or has drawn approval from others, but in the depths of the soul this person hears the voice of conscience, "This is not good, this is a sin."

In a tight bond with this action of judging, the conscience also acts in one's soul as a legislator. All those moral demands which confront a person's soul in all his conscious actions (for example, be just, do not steal, etc), are norms, demands, prescriptions of this very conscience. Its voice teaches us how one must and must not behave. Finally, the conscience also acts in man as a rewarder. This happens when we, having acted well, experience peace and calm in the soul or, on the other hand, when we experience reproaches of the conscience after having sinned. These reproaches of the conscience sometimes pass over into terrible mental pain and torment. They can lead a person to despair or a loss of mental balance if one does not restore peace and calmness in the soul through deep and sincere repentance.

It is self-evident that man bears a moral responsibility only for those actions which he commits, in a conscious condition, being free in the carrying out of the actions. Only then can moral imputation be applied to these actions, and then they impute to the person either guilt, praise or judgment.

People who, on the other hand, are incapable of recognizing the character of their actions (babies, those deprived of reason, etc). or those who are forced against their will to commit such actions, do not bear responsibility for them. In the first epoch of persecution against Christianity, the pagan tormentors often placed incense in the hands of martyrs and then held their hands over the flame burning on their altar. The torturers supposed that the martyrs would jerk their hands back, dropping the incense into the fire. In fact, these confessors of the faith were usually so firm in spirit that they preferred to burn their hands and not drop the incense; but even had they dropped it, who would charge that they had brought sacrifice to the idols?

That the moral law must be acknowledged as innate to mankind, that is, fixed in the very nature of man, is indisputable. This is clearly seen from the fact that a concept of morality is universal in mankind. Of course, only the most basic moral requirements are innate - a sort of moral instinct - but not so with revealed and clear moral understandings and concepts. For, clear moral understandings and concepts developed in man in part through upbringing and influence from preceding generations, most of all on the basis of religious awareness. Therefore, coarse groups of people have moral norms lower, coarser, more malformed than Orthodox Christians who know and believe in the True God Who placed the moral law into man's soul and Who, through this law, guides all of his life and activities.

The Nature of Sin

All Orthodox Christians know from the Holy Scripture, and believe, that God created man in His own image and likeness. Therefore, in the creation man received a sinless nature, but not even the first man, Adam, remained sinless. He lost his original purity in the first fall into sin in paradise. The toxin of this sinfulness contaminated the entire human race, which descended from its forbears who had sinned - just as poison water flows from a poisoned spring. Acting upon the inclination to sin inherited from our ancestors, each person commits their own personal sins, as the Scriptural indictment says, "There is no one who will live for a single day and not sin." Only our Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely free from sin. Even the righteous, God's saints, bore sin within themselves and, although with God's help they struggled with it, yet they humbly acknowledged themselves to be sinners. So, without exception, all people are sinners, tainted with sin.

Sin is a spiritual leprosy, an illness and an ulcer which has stricken all mankind, both in his soul and his body. Sin has damaged all three of the basic abilities and powers of the soul; the mind, the heart and the will. Man's mind became darkened and inclined toward error, thus, man constantly errs - in science, in philosophy and in his practical activity.
What is even more harmed by sin is man's heart - the center of his experience of good and evil, as well as feelings of sorrow and joy. We see that our heart has been bound in the mire of sin; it has lost the ability to be pure, spiritual and Christian, to possess truly elevated feelings. Instead of this, it has become inclined toward pleasures of sensuality and earthly attachments. It is tainted with vainglory and often startles one with a complete absence of love and of the desire to do good toward one's neighbor.

What is harmed most of all, however, is the capability of our will to effect our intentions. Man proves to be without strength of will particularly when it is necessary to practice true Christian good - even though he might desire this good. The holy apostle Paul speaks of this weakness of will when he says: "For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds which I do not desire to do are what I am always doing." That is why Christ the Savior said of man the sinner, "Whoever practices sin is the slave of sin," although to the sinner, alas, serving sin often seems to be freedom while struggling to escape its net appears to be slavery.

How does a sin develop in one's soul? The holy fathers, strugglers of Christian asceticism and piety, knowing the sinful human soul, explain it far better than all the learned psychiatrists. They distinguish the following stages in sin: The first moment in sin is the suggestion, when some temptation becomes identified in a person's conscience - a sinful impression, an unclean thought or some other temptation. If, in this first moment, a person decisively and at once rejects the sin, he does not sin, but defeats sin and his soul will experience progress rather than degeneration. It is in the suggestion stage of sin that it is easiest of all to remove it. If the suggestion is not rejected, it passes over first into an ill-defined striving and then into a clear, conscious desire to sin. At this point, one already begins to be inclined to sin of a given type. Even at this point, however, without an especially difficult struggle, one can avoid giving in to sin and refrain from sinning. One will be helped by the clear voice of conscience and by God's aid if one will only turn to it.

Beyond this point, one has fallen into sin. The reproaches of the conscience sound loudly and clearly, eliciting a revulsion to the sin. The former self-assurance disappears and the man is humbled (compare Apostle Peter before and after his denial of Christ). But even at this point, defeat of sin is not entirely difficult. This is shown by numerous examples, as in the lives of Peter, the holy prophet-king David and other repentant sinners.

It is more difficult to struggle with a sin when, through frequent repetition, it becomes a habit in one. After acquiring any kind of habit, the habitual actions are performed by the person very easily, almost unnoticed by himself, spontaneously. Thus, the struggle with sin which has become a habit for a person is very difficult since it is not only difficult to overcome, but is even difficult to detect in its approach and process.

An even more dangerous stage of sin is vice. In this condition, sin so rules a person that it forges his will in chains. Here, one is almost powerless to struggle against it. He is a slave to sin even though he may acknowledge its danger and, in lucid intervals, perhaps even hates it with all his soul (such is the vice of alcoholism, narcotic addiction, etc.). In this condition, one cannot deal with oneself without special mercy and help from God and one is in need of prayer and the spiritual support of others. One must bear in mind that even a seemingly minor sin such as gossiping, love of attire, empty diversions, etc. can become a vice in man if it possesses him entirely and fills his soul.

The lowest stage of sin, in which sin completely enslaves one to itself, is the passion of one or another type. In this condition, man can no longer hate his sin as he can with a vice (and this is the difference between them). Rather he submits to sin in all his experiences, actions and moods, as did Judas Iscariot. At this stage, one literally and directly lets Satan into his heart (as it is said of Judas in the Gospel) and in this condition, nothing will help him except Grace-filled Church prayers and other such actions.

There is yet another special, most terrible and destructive type of sin. This is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Even the prayers of the Church cannot help one who is found in this condition. The Apostle John the Theologian speaks of this directly when he entreats us to pray for a brother who has sinned, but points out the uselessness of prayer for the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself says that this sin - the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - is not forgiven and will not be forgiven either in this age or in the future. He pronounced these terrible words against the Pharisees who, though they clearly saw that he worked everything according to the will of God and by God's power, nevertheless distorted the truth. They perished in their own blasphemy and their example is instructive and urgent for all those who would sin mortal sin: by an obdurate and conscious adversity to the undoubted Truth and thereby blaspheming the Spirit of truth - God's Holy Spirit.

We must note that even blasphemy against the Lord Jesus Christ can be forgiven man (according to His own words) since it can be committed in ignorance or temporary blindness. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit could be forgiven, says St Athanasios the Great, only if a man ceased from it and became repentant. But the very nature of the sin is such that it makes it virtually impossible for a man to return to the truth. One who is blind can regain his sight and love the one who revealed the truth to him and one who is soiled with vices and passions can be cleansed by repentance and become a confessor of the Truth, but who and what can change a blasphemer who has seen and known the Truth and who has stubbornly refused and hated it? This horrible condition is similar to the condition of the devil himself who believes in God and trembles but who nevertheless hates Him, blasphemes Him and is in adversity to Him.

When a seduction, a temptation to sin, appears in man, it usually comes from three sources: from man's own flesh, from the world and from Satan.

Concerning man's flesh, there is absolutely no doubt that in many respects it is a den and source of anti-moral predisposition's, strivings and inclinations. The ancestral sin - this inclination towards sin, a heritage from the sin of our progenitors and our own personal sinful experiences: all this added up and each (experience) strengthening one another, creates in our flesh a source of temptations, sinful moods and acts.

More often, though, the source of seduction for us is the world around us which, according to the Apostle John the Theologian, "is under the power of the Evil-One" and friendship with which, according to another Apostle, is enmity with God. The milieu around us seduces us, the people around us do likewise (especially the willful, conscious seducers and corrupters of youth about whom the Lord said: "Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble and sin, it were better for that man that a millstone be tied around his neck and he be cast into the sea."

The enticers are also external goods, riches, comforts, immoral dances, dirty literature, shameless attire, etc. - all of this is undoubtedly a fetid source of sin and seduction.
But the main and root source of sin is, of course, the devil, as the Apostle John the Theologian says, "He who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning." In struggling with God and His Truth, the devil struggles with people, striving to destroy each of us. He struggles most intensely and with the most malice with the saints as we see in the Gospel and in the lives of the saints. We, sick and infirm, are specially defended by Christ against those fierce temptations to which God's saints, strong in spirit, are subjected. Nevertheless, Satan does not ignore us, acting through the enticements of the world and the flesh, making them stronger and more deceptive, and also tempting us by sinful suggestions of all kinds. It is because of this, that the Apostle Peter compares Satan with a "raging lion which stalks about seeking whom he might devour."


The complete opposite of sin is virtue. Its rudiments are found in every person, as remnants of that natural good which was placed into the nature of man by his Creator. It is found in a pure and complete form only in True Christianity, for Christ the Savior said: "Without Me ye can do nothing."

Christianity teaches us that man's earthly life is a time of moral struggle, a time of preparation for the future, eternal life. Consequently, the tasks of man's earthly life consist of correctly preparing for future eternity. The earthly life is brief and it does not repeat itself, for man lives but once on earth. Therefore, in this earthly life, one must work at virtue if one does not wish to destroy one's soul. For this is precisely what God's truth demands of one on the threshold of eternity.

Each Christian, with God's help, shapes his own earthly life, in the sense that he or she directs its course toward virtue. In order to be virtuous, however, one must not only do good for others, but work on oneself, struggling with his insufficiencies and vices, developing in himself a good, Christian-valued foundation. This work on oneself, this struggle toward moral perfection of man's earthly life is indispensable for every Christian. The Lord Himself said: "the kingdom of heaven has endured violent assault and violent men seize it by force" (Mt.11:12).

The moral character and features of each person are worked out in such a life-struggle. A Christian must, of course, be a Christian before all else, a person with an established, solid moral character and he must aim for the building of such a character. In other words, he must strive for progress in himself toward moral perfection.

Thus, from a Christian point of view, life is a moral struggle, a path of constant striving toward good and perfection. There can be no pause on this path, according to the law of the spiritual life. A man who stops working on himself will not remain the same as he was, but will inevitably become worse - like a stone which is thrown upwards and stops rising, it will not remain suspended in the air, but will fall downward.

We already know that our sins generally originate from three sources: from the devil, from the world around us lying in evil, and from our own sinful flesh. Since sin is the main enemy and obstacle of virtue, it is evident that a Christian who is striving towards virtue must, through God's mercy and help, struggle against sin in all its aspects. It is especially needful at this point to recall the Savior's words to the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Keep vigil and pray lest you fall into temptation." The words are directed not only at the Apostles but to all of us, indicating that the struggle with sinful temptations is possible only for one who is vigilant and who prays, standing on guard for his survival.

God's Law

The task of man's earthly life is preparing himself for eternal salvation and beatitude. To attain this, a man must live in a holy and pure manner - that is, according to God's will.

How can one recognize this will of God? First of all, in one's conscience, which for this reason, is called God's voice in the soul of man. If the fall had not darkened the human soul, man would be able unerringly and firmly to direct the path of his life according to the dictates of his conscience, in which the inner moral law is expressed. We know, however, that in a sinful man, not only are the mind, heart and will damaged, but the conscience is also darkened and its judgment and voice have lost their firm clearness and strength. It is not without reason that some people are called unconscionable.
Therefore, conscience alone - the inner voice - became insufficient for man to live and act according to God's will. The need arose for an external guide, for a God-revealed law. Such a law was given by God to people in two aspects: first, the preparatory - the Old Testament law of Moses - then the full and perfect Gospel law.

There are two distinguishable parts in Moses' law: the religious-moral and the national-ceremonial which was closely tied with the history and way of life of the Jewish nation. The second aspect is gone into the past for Christians, that is, the national-ceremonial rules and laws, but the religious-moral laws preserve their force in Christianity. 

Therefore, all the ten commandments in the law of Moses are obligatory for Christians. Christianity has not altered them. On the contrary, Christianity has taught people to understand these commandments, not externally - literalistically, in the manner of blind, slavish obedience, and external fulfillment, but it has revealed the full spirit and taught the perfect and full understanding and fulfillment of them. For Christians, however, Moses' law has significance only because its central commandments (the ten which deal with love of God and neighbors) are accepted and shown forth by Christianity. We are guided in our life not by this preparatory and temporary law of Moses, but by the perfect and eternal law of Christ. St Basil the Great says, "If one who lights a lamp before himself in broad daylight seems strange, then how much stranger is one who remains in the shadow of the law of the Old Testament when the Gospel is being preached." The main distinction of the New Testament law from that of the Old Testament consists in that the Old Testament law looked at the exterior actions of man, while the New Testament law looks at the heart of man, at his inner motives. Under the Old Testament law, man submitted himself to God as a slave to his master, but under the New Testament, he strives toward submitting to Him as a son submits to a beloved father.

There is a tendency to regard the Old Testament law incorrectly. Some see no good in it, but only seek out features of coarseness and cruelty. This is a mistaken view. It is necessary to take into consideration the low level of spiritual development at which man then stood thousands of years ago. Under the conditions of the times, with truly coarse and cruel morals, those rules and norms of Moses' law which now seem cruel to us (e.g., "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," etc.) in reality were not such. They did not, of course, destroy human cruelty and vengeance (only the Gospel could do this), but they did restrain it and establish firm and strict limits upon it. Moreover, it must be remembered that those commandments about love toward God and neighbors, which the Lord indicated as the most important, are taken directly from the law of Moses (Mk. 12:29-31). The Holy Apostle Paul says of this law, "The law, therefore, is holy and each commandment is holy, just and good" (Rom. 7:12).