When we examine ourselves closely, we may be imprisoned in many intangible ways. How are you imprisoned and what can you do about it?
My favorite prison movie is “Shawshank Redemption”, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. In the film, the main character Andy Dufresne, is a banker who is accused of murdering his cheating wife. After a swift trial, Dufresne is found guilty, given a life sentence and put into prison. While in the prison yard, Morgan Freeman (known as Red in the movie), asks Andy why he is in prison and Andy’s answer is that he did not do it. He claims he’s innocent of his crime. To prove a point Red shouts out to other prisoners in the prison yard, “Why are you in here?” And they all respond, one by one, “Didn’t do it”, making the point that all those in prison proclaim their innocence.
Most of the time when we think of prisons, we visualize tall barbed wired walls; however, there are many other prisons beyond the typical correctional facilities. Brave men and women are captured by enemy troops and are held in prisons. Captive people have been confined to prison camps. There are locked doors for those with severe mental disorders. A prison, however, does not need to be a building. We can be confined without being behind bars. There are people who confine themselves and are imprisoned by bars of their own making. They wear invisible chains which they have forged themselves.
When we examine ourselves more closely, we may be imprisoned in many intangible ways both from dwelling on mistakes from our past and by becoming slaves to our own passions.
Dwelling on our past mistakes has the potential to imprison us.
Unresolved guilt becomes the road map to our future. We may even become comfortable with our prison-like setting, never being able to confess our mistakes, never pursuing forgiveness or reconciliation.
We create our own prisons, locking ourselves out from a healthy recovery that our faith can provide. We just cannot seem to let go of our past mistakes and so their impact is multiplied as they burden us and seep into other areas of our lives.
We can become slaves to our own passions.
We can become prisoners of our appetites, prisoners of lust, prisoners of greed, prisoners of our fears, prisoners of our inferiority feelings, prisoners of our anxieties, prisoners of tobacco, alcohol, drugs and gambling and prisoners of despair. These walls of the invisible prisons we create can be more devastating than an actual prison. Becoming slaves or prisoners to our own passions is an area in which our Orthodox Faith provides us with the weapons needed to fight the battle.
Many of us think of passion as something that we should desire. If we are passionate about something, it means that we are driven with desire to fulfill the task at hand. The meaning of the word “passion” in the early Church meant “to suffer.” When we speak of Christ’s passion, we speak of his suffering during the events of his crucifixion.
Living with the consequences of the Fall of man, many of the passions feel natural and pleasurable to us, like gluttony, pride, lust, anger, and materialism. However, in reality, these things cause us to suffer and pull us away from God. Christ teaches us that we cannot serve two masters. (Matt. 6:24)
The Fathers of our Church recognize our daily struggles with our passions and the church offers hope to us in our struggles.
St. John of the Ladder provides the following soothing words, “Do not be surprised that you fall every day, do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honor your patience. While a wound is still fresh and warm, it is easy to heal; but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable, but with God all things are possible.”
Fr. George Florovsky, 20th Century Orthodox Theologian also addresses the albatross of our passions. He says, “Passions are the place, the seat of evil in the human person. The impassioned man…does not act on his own, but is rather acted upon…he loses his personality and his personal identity. He becomes chaotic, with multiple faces or masks. The “man of passions” is not at all free, although he can give an impression of activity and energy.”
We are so easily tempted to start doing something and then we exercise our freedom of choice, however oftentimes we make the wrong choice. Once enslaved by our decision, it finally masters us and we feel overwhelmed and trapped. The person who is addicted to drugs, would give anything to be set free, but their need has overtaken their mind and body and the risk of severe harm is waiting. In sober moments the alcoholic hates him/herself for the hell they create in their own home, but the bottle is like a chain and they know that they cannot break away. So it is with any of us who are living in the prisons we have created. We need to be liberated. It is not by accident that in the petitions of our Divine Services that we always pray for the “captives and for their salvation”. We may think that this only applies to those in prisons, but it actually is our constant petition to our Lord to be free us as “captives” of our passions and guilt.
Jesus came to set prisoners free. He came to “preach deliverance to captives.” He alone is the one who can break the invisible chains with which we bind ourselves.
As pleasurable and deceptive as the passions are, we can be healed from them and find the eternal happiness that is in Christ. This process is often painful, but as St. Paul writes, “for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory, which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18)
The Shawshank prisoner Andy Dufresne says something very profound before he escapes from prison. He says, “When we are imprisoned, we have two choices, we can either get busy living or get busy dying.” As Orthodox Christians striving to live our faith in this world today, we also have two choices; we can get busy to struggling with God’s help to overcome our passions, or we get busy succumbing to the debilitating prisons we create. Let’s all choose the first option!
What is imprisoning you today?
What steps can you take with God’s help towards freedom?
Our Guest Author is Rev. Fr. Paul A. Kaplanis, Dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, Atlanta, Georgia. This post was edited from a sermon given by Father Paul on July 28, 2013.