Man's Conscience

Priestmartyr John Kochurov

Priestmartyr John Kochurov

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


"Rain cannot fall without a cloud, and we cannot please God without a good conscience."--Saint Mark the Ascetic

Conscience is indispensable for man and yet in today's society it is totally dismissed. "An Orthodox conscience is created by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ acting within us. It is difficult to form this conscience. But once a Christian acquires it, an alarm is sounded in his heart and mind whenever he comes close to improper actions, lack of charity toward others, false ideas, and deviation from the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church."

Father John Breck writes, "the conscience reflects the divine image in which we are created. It may be considered a function of our nature, which itself is good, even though, as "fallen," it is subject to the corrupting influence of sin. The conscience, nevertheless, is either developed or undeveloped, that is, it reflects the divine image with greater or lesser degrees of faithfulness and fullness."

Father Breck says, "used in a moral sense, "conscience" emerged in Greek philosophy during the first century before Christ. The noun is derived from a Greek verb to have common knowledge or "to know with" someone. This became associated with the idea of bearing witness with, for or about someone, but particularly the self.

The oldest witness in Judaism to the concept of conscience appears in The Wisdom of Solomon: "For wickedness is a cowardly thing, condemned by its own testimony; distressed by conscience, it has always exaggerated the difficulties" (17:11). Here conscience appears as a moral voice signaling disobedience to the Mosaic Law. Significantly, conscience functions here both as preceding the act and as judging and condemning it once it is committed. Conscience not only declares acts of wickedness to be "cowardly" and "condemned," but serves as a bulwark against the performance of further wicked deeds.

This same double emphasis occurs in the New Testament. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul, speaking about the natural law perceived by the Gentiles, declares: "They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:15-16). This passage suggests that the conscience is indeed an innate faculty that permits even the Gentiles to know the "natural" law or the will of God, and that same faculty also passes judgment on those acts and attitudes that contravene the divine law.

As Saint Paul's anguished reflection in Romans 7 makes clear, however, conscience does not automatically determine behavior. Even those who are baptized into the Body of Christ, whose lives are filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, experience an ongoing conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, between obedience to the will of God and enslavement to one's own will. Conscience nonetheless remains as an inner voice of discernment that judges our behavior, gradually guiding us toward a fuller acquisition of virtues: moral qualities that lead us to reflect in our day-today actions and motives the compassion, love and mercy of God. A further illustration is provided in chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians. Here conscience guides the strong toward edifying behavior that serves to upbuild the Church as community by both directing behavior away from scandalous actions and by condemning such actions once they have been formed.

Finally, Saint Paul also speaks of an aspect of conscience that confirms his judgment and feelings regarding the destiny of his "kinsmen by race" (Romans 9:1ff). Here he affirms that his conscience witnesses and confirms to him (and others) that the anguish and sorrow he feels over the rejection of Christ by his fellow Jews is authentic and unfeigned. Particularly significant in this passage is the fact that the Apostle's conscience bears its witness in the Holy Spirit, and the truth of that witness is grounded in the person of Christ...

The education of conscience is acquired in large measure through immersing ourselves in the ascetic tradition of the Church: its life of prayer, sacramental and liturgical celebration and Scripture study. The education of our conscience also depends upon our acquiring wisdom from those who are more advanced than we are in faith, love and knowledge of God. In our day there is a tragic lack of spiritual elders (such as the 19th century Russian startsi) whose own life and experience have brought them to a height of wisdom that is essential for the perfection of the conscience. For the most part, we have to rely upon the written tradition of the Church: Scriptures, Liturgy and lives of the Saints.

In this respect we have a great deal to learn from the writings of Saint Maximus the Confessor. In his "Third Century on Love," he declares: "Do not treat the conscience with contempt, for it always advises you to do what is best. It sets before you the will of God and the Angels; it frees you from the secret defilements of the heart; and when you depart this life, it grants you the gift of intimacy with God."

Saint Maximus depicts conscience as an intimate friend who advises us "to do what is best," reveals the will of God, and protects and liberates us from the corrupting influence of our own reasonings and our own feelings or "passions." More strikingly still, Saint Maximus depicts the conscience as an advocate, which defends and vindicates us before Divine judgment. At the same time, it lays the foundation for our eternal communion with God, insofar as it guides us to become "perfect" as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

Elsewhere Saint Maximus speaks of the education of our conscience as accomplish by the acquisition of virtues:

"He who has succeeded in attaining the virtues and is enriched with spiritual knowledge sees things clearly in their true nature. Consequently, he both acts and speaks with regard to all things in a manner which is fitting, and he is never deluded. For according to whether we use things rightly or wrongly we become either good or bad."

This assessment of the role of virtues in life, clearly based on Saint Maximus' personal experience, conforms to the Christian conviction that the conscience is educated and the person becomes "good" precisely by performing good actions. Virtue is acquired through the exercise of virtuous deeds. Although the conscience is inherently good, and in a sinless world would lead spontaneously and inevitably to righteous acts, in our fallen world conscience -- and with it the virtue of discernment--must be acquired through formative experience."

As a nobleman, says Saint John Chrysostom, who preserves order in his family, lets no day pass without calling his steward to an account, to prevent him from being careless and confused in it; even so it is good that we also daily make up our accounts, lest our negligence and forgetfulness should cause disorder in them. Saints Ephraim and Saint John Climacus add, that as merchants set down their gains and losses every day, and when they find they have suffered any loss, presently endeavor to repair it, so we must daily examine the gains and losses, we may prevent them from bringing on our total ruin. Saint Doretheos notices another very considerable advantage we drive from this exam: viz. that by accustoming ourselves to make it well every day, and by daily repenting of our faults, we hinder them from taking deeper root in our heart, and prevent our bad habits from growing stronger.

"The conscience of those who do not examine themselves is like a neglected vineyard, which, because it is not cultivated, is presently overgrown with thorns and brambles. For our corrupt nature is so bad a soil, that of itself it produces nothing but weeds; and therefore we must always have our pruning-hook in our hand, and employ ourselves in cutting or rooting them out. Now this is done by means of our examination; it is this cuts up vice effectually, that plucks up our bad inclinations as soon as they begin to appear, and hinders bad habits from taking root."

Living in a secular and Godless prone world, we must take charge of protecting ourselves and those whom we love. The blatant efforts to separate man from the Almighty God and Creator, destroy, to confuse, to deceive, to distort, to revise, to corrupt, to alienate, to violate, and to harm, the human being, the world uses every possible means to accomplish this. It is what our Holy Church says, "the unseen spiritual warfare." The evil one, who needs no sleep, no food, hates man and seeks the destruction both of his body and soul. As always, he targets and exploits the passions and weaknesses of man. The fight is fierce but cannot succeed without our surrender to him and to his evil temptations.

We are reminded by the Holy Apostle to, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Today the secular and Godless society condones every evil act and crime, i.e., abortion, murder, fornication, adultery, deception, immorality, dishonesty, abuse, pride, violence, hatred, division, war, greed, etc. etc. "The devil and his angels explore us individually, looking for our weaknesses. The enemy offers appealing visions to our eyes, music to our ears, to each of our senses setting forth whatever might tempt us to sin. He arouses our tongues to speak evil about others and urges our hands to injure them. He sets forth profits to be earned by shady and immoral means, and holds our earthly honors and base values to be preferred to heavenly ones. When he is unable to tempt us, he brings forth a threat of persecution so that fear may cause us to betray the faith. Thus we must always be alert for his many-faceted attacks, ready to resist him at every turn."



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George