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
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.
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