The Struggle of the Person


I have begun to touch on issues of the “false self” and the “true self” for which we could find other language, a number of different metaphors. Theologically all this is grounded in the proper understanding of what it means to exist as a person. Of course, it means to exist in a completely unrepeatable, unique existence. There will never be another you. It also does not mean to exist in isolation – a person always exists in a relation. Thus our existence as persons is predicated on relations to others.

Equally important are the critical aspects of love and freedom, without which the person cannot exist in its proper fulfillment. The life of the Holy Trinity is our model for what human life should be – for this is the image in which we were created.

But before we get too abstract – the Trinity has its most complete revelation to us in the Cross of Christ. It is the self-emptying love of Christ, in an act of total freedom that manifests for us both what love means and what freedom means. We do not engage in abstract speculations about the Trinity and then move to consider our life with one another. We examine the testimony of Christ and from that can speak of Trinity, and from that can see how it is that we are to live.

Overcoming the fears that each of us has – fears that laying down my life for you will mean that I will no longer be – or fears that freedom will destroy everything around us – is an essential part of the struggle to be a person.  Such fears have driven mankind to attempt any number of well-ordered societies, even uptopias. Inevitably, both freedom and love are compromised in these efforts. The self subsumed by the state is a demonic notion. Human beings in a relation that is not love is a construction point for hell.

As strangely philosophical as all these things sound, they are simply another way to describe the life we live in the Church, as we properly live it in the Church. Here we learn to love: learning to forgive frequently so that those around me are not bound by the past and by the debt they owe me, but have been set free in the loving act of forgiveness that I freely give them. We also learn freedom – not utter self-centered autonomy – but the freedom that comes from saying yes and no to God. He will not leave us or forsake us. If we say no to Him, He still says yes to us. We learn that the offering we make to God is indeed an act of freedom. I did not have to make it – I could have done otherwise.

It is like a marriage. I have said yes to my wife and to laying down my life for her and for my children. This is love and it is my freedom. I find that as I lose myself in my beloved I find myself and am renewed. Marriage is a sacrament, a mystery of the Church. All mysteries are centered in the great mystery of our salvation, our union with Christ in the fullness of ourselves as persons. I am a more whole man after 31 years of marriage. I have found a freedom greater than anything I knew before.

We struggle daily to rise to the level of person – something that is the highest form of our humanity. To live fully as a human person is to rise to the level of union with God, for to be fully human is to be fully conformed to His image. What joy awaits us each day. Each opportunity to love, to use our freedom rightly.

It is no wonder that tyrants always oppose the life of the Church. It is antithetical to their existence. May God free us from the tyranny of the false self and bring us into the glorious liberty of the Sons of Light.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


5 responses to “The Struggle of the Person”

  1. November In My Soul Avatar


    You seem to swimming into deeper water. I had to read this post several times to be sure I understood (as if I ever really could).

    A long time ago in a different life I had someone tell me that love was not an emotion, it was a decision. The older I get the more I see the wisdom of these words. By choosing to love (when we could have chosen to hold a grudge or to hate) we free ourselves and allow ourselves to conform to His image. You seem to be saying that when we love we also set the object of our love and forgiveness free. I’ll admit I never really thought about it this way.

    I realize now though that this has happened with my mother. For years I thought I had forgiven her for some things from my childhood when in reality I was still hoarding them. When I really let them go and started treating her like I should have been all along our relationship immediately changed. She responded to the change in me. My growing up set her free. Love healed both of us. Now we have a proper mother-son relationship.

    Thanks once again for your words of wisdom.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    For what it’s worth, when I finished writing this I had to ask my wife to listen. Does this make sense or have I gone off the deep end. I trust her when she said it made sense. But I allowed myself to get “out there” with it. There are deep mysteries involved in healing of the true self. Only God can do such a thing, and mostly we can marvel.

  3. The Scylding Avatar

    If this is the result of going deep – continue. What you said here has resonated with me strongly – thank you. As is often the case with these things, I found myself writing something similar on my own blog yesterday – “Often in defeat, victory is won”.

  4. Archistrategos Avatar

    Hello Father,

    This is my first trip to your blog, and I must say, it has been an illuminating read so far. Although I am Catholic, I find myself agreeing more and more with what you say. Anyway, some two or three years ago, the father of a friend of mine met a horrible accident, and died in the process. My friend had a particular animosity for his dad– the father had abandoned him and his mother immediately after he was born, and he eventually grew to hate him. Sadly, his mother had already died some years even before the incident after a long bout with cancer.

    When his father was finally buried, that friend told me how he burst into tears at the sight of the coffin being lowered into the ground. He coult not explain it then; only after the span of a few months, when I again had the opportunity to talk to him, did he gave an explanation as to why. When his mother was alive, they were always close– but he never saw his father. So when his father died, it seemed as if his hatred had finally lost its purpose. To this day, I still can’t fathom the profundity of this statement, and I probably never will. I definitely agree with you when you say that God often uses the condition of despair to reveal to us the reality and proof of His love for us. Perhaps my friend didn’t really lose a father, but on the contrary, gained one. God uses life to teach us valuable lessons, and this is one such case. I am glad that he has found his true self.

  5. Fatherstephen Avatar

    This is a very interesting story. Anger and hatred can mask as well as poison our souls. Prayer for his departed father is doubtless important as well. May God give him grace in this work of salvation!

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