Authority and Moral Life: An Orthodox Christian Perspective

Translation of the relics of St John Chrysostom the Archbishop of Constantinople

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

A PRAYER FOR REFUGE (Psalm 31:1-5)

In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness. Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your Name lead and guide me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. Into Your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of Truth.



On January 27th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers, and of every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: the recovery of the holy relics of our Father among the Saints John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople; Holy Empress Marciana; our Righteous Father Peter of Egypt; Holy New Martyr Demetrius was perfected in martyrdom in Constantinople by the sword in the year 1784; Holy Virgin Martyr Devota of Corsica, Patroness of Corsica and Monaco; Holy New Hieromartyr Peter, Archbishop of Voronezh.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Fathers, Holy Archbishops, Holy Hieromartyrs, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, the golden trumpet of Orthodoxy. The Church celebrates the memory of this Saint on November 13th and January 30th, but on this day is celebrated the translation of his honored relics from the Armenian village of Comana, where he died in exile in 407 AD, to Constantinople where earlier, as Patriarch Proclus made a speech in memory of his spiritual father and mentor, and by this speech so roused the love of the people and the Emperor, Theodosius the Younger, towards the great Saint that they all wanted the holy relics of St. John Chrysostom to be translated to Constantinople. It is related that the coffin containing the holy relics could not be shifted from its place until the Emperor wrote a letter to Saint John, begging his forgiveness (for Theodosius's mother, Evdoxia, was guilty of having persecuted the Saint) and appealing to him to return to Constantinople, his former residence. When this repentant letter was placed on the coffin, the latter became light in weight. Before the translation (Anakomedi), many of the sick, on touching the coffin, were healed. When the holy relics arrived at the capital, the Emperor again begged forgiveness over them in his mother's name, as though it were she herself speaking: 'While I lived in this temporal life, I acted in malice towards thee; but now that thou livest in eternal life, be thou of help to my soul. My glory passes and there is nought to help me; help me, Father, in thy glory; help me before I come to be condemned before the judgment of Christ.' When the Saint was carried into the Church of the Holy Apostles and placed on the patriarchal throne, the assembled throng heard these words from his mouth: 'Peace be with you all!' The translation of the holy relics of Saint John Chrysostom was carried out in the year 438 AD.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone

Grace shining forth from thy mouth like a beacon hath illumined the universe, and disclosed to the world treasures of uncovetousness, and shown us the heights of humility; but whilst instructing us by thy words, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede with the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.

Kontakion Hymn. First tone

The holy and august Church is mystically gladdened today on the translation of thy holy relics. And though she had kept them hid in concealment like precious gold, by thine intercessions she unceasingly granteth, unto them that praise thee, the divine grace of healing, O Father John Chrysostom.



Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 7:26-28; 8:1-2
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 10:9-16


"The Creator Logos (Word)...fashions man as a simple living being from both invisible and visible [nature]...and places him on earth as a kind of universe in miniature, another angel, a pilgrim blended of the two worlds, the overseer of the visible creation and the initiate of the spiritual, a king, ruling from above all things on animal, making its home here, yet translated elsewhere and - the goal of the whole mystery--by his yearning for God, he is made God." (Saint Gregory Nanzianzus)


By Rev. Dr. George C. Papademetriou

The teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles as well as those of the Holy Fathers of the Church are directly or indirectly related to moral issues and the way a Christian ought to live his or her life. From the Orthodox perspective, Christ is the final and absolute authority of morality in a Christian society. Even though tolerance and respect of other faiths are a necessity within a pluralistic society, Christ is the Supreme Authority for the particular Christian community.

The expression of Christ's authority within the world is that of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition as is manifested in the Church. According to Orthodoxy, the Law of God as applied to the authority for a moral life is manifested in three ways: first, as natural law (the inner conscience), second as the written law (the Old Testament), and third as spiritual, evangelical law (the Gospel of Christ). These three laws are not in conflict with each other, but rather have similar authority because all three have the same source, God, and the same goal, which is to guide man to attain moral perfection.

The question of authority is bound to revelation. Revelation as authority is a religious and theological matter before it becomes psychological, social and political. Revelation is that which makes authority authoritative without being authoritarian. It does not destroy the freedom but rather fulfills it. Religious authority must always be collaborated with personal consent before it can function otherwise it becomes coercion and an exercise of compulsion over human thought and action. For that reason, Christ's authority is that of a personal nature and is intended for a persona acceptance and established by faith. The Bible, Church and Tradition are witness to the authority of revelation of God's will for man. Authority in the Church is a spiritual bond uniting the present with the past and moves on with hope to the future.

The Orthodox Church accepts the Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, and Sacred Tradition as the basis for the moral life. In the Old Testament the foundation of moral life was laid in the creation of man according to God's image and likeness. Man was given a free will to choose between good and evil. God's purpose for man is to live a life of virtue in accordance to the Law of God. Contrary to virtue is sin. Sin of vice is para physis, that is, contrary to God's established moral order and, therefore, a parasite (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary to the Ephesians, Homily 2, PG 62 21A). The root of any virtue is love-love for God and love for neighbor. The source for all virtues is God and without love of God genuine love cannot be attained (St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 55, in George Mantzanides, Texts of Patristic Ethics. Thessaloniki, 1982, Pp. 78-79).

In Orthodoxy, when we speak of authority we point to Christ as the source of all teachings and doctrines including the ethical life. Christ is the absolute authority in regulating the life of the Christian. He said, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life…" (St. John 1:6) and He is the "Lord of the Sabbath" (St. Luke 6:1-5).

The authoritative basis of the Christian ethical life is Christ. The primacy of doing good is the expression of obeying the Divine Will and the moral commands of God (C. Androutsos, System of Ethics, in Greek, Athens, 1925, p. 25). For Orthodox Christianity the good is the primary motivation to attain moral life and provides the basis and foundation of Orthodox Christian ethics. To be sure, "Orthodox Theology identifies the good with God. The Triune God is not only good, but also the good. This fundamental theological affirmation is the foundation of Orthodox Christian ethics." (See Fr. Stanley Harakas, Towards Transfigured Life, Minneapolis, 1985, p. 19). The emphasis of the authority of Orthodox ethical life is God Himself.  The norm for the Christian ethical life is God and the basis for doing good is God Who is "goodness" and worthy of our love. By doing good or living an ethical life we express our love to God. Orthodoxy does not derive the moral norm from cannon law or other ethical legislation by Church officials. "There is no other norm for good than God Himself as known and understood" by His people. (See Paulos Gregoris, The Human Presence, Geneva, 1978, p. 98).

The values of civilization and cultures change depending on economic, political, racial, and rational conditions. The Christian understanding and authority of morality remains always true to Divine Revelation and the fullness of the God-given vocation is to practice the commandment of love. Again we return to Christ as the Source of Love and the only valid authority for the obedient soul. This does not enslave man but sets him free and opens up to a new life of freedom and love.

Where does this lead us who live in the American pluralistic society? I am confident that once people live according to the natural law of God, the written law of Moses and that of Christ's evangelical law of love, all of us would live together in harmony. Where we all fall short is the violation of God's law of love and tolerance, which is opposed by insisting on human arrogance of individualistic morality.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the law of God is the basis for the moral life according to the Orthodox Tradition. As Saint Gregory Palamas states, there is no conflict between the moral authority of the Decalogue of Moses and the Evangelical Law of Christ. I end my brief remarks with Saint Paul's words, "make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…" (1 Corinthians 1:1).