II. 1. The image of God can be either darkened or illumined depending on the self-determination of a free individual, while the natural dignity becomes either more apparent in his life or obliterated by sin. The result is directly dependent on the self-determination of an individual.
Freedom is one of the manifestations of God in human nature. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, ‘Man became Godlike and blessed, being honoured with freedom (αὐτεξουσίῳ)’ (Sermon on the Dead). For this reason the Church in her pastoral practice and spiritual guidance takes so much care of the inner world of a person and his freedom of choice. Subjection of human will to any external authority through manipulation or violence is seen as a violation of the order established by God.
At the same time, freedom of choice is not an absolute or ultimate value. God has put it at the service of human well-being. Exercising it, a person should not harm either himself or those around him. But due to the power of sin inherent in the fallen human nature, no human effort is sufficient to achieve genuine goodness. By his own example St. Paul testifies to what is characteristic of every person:
‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me’ (Rom. 7:15, 17).
Therefore, a human being cannot dispense with God’s help and close cooperation with Him as He alone is the source of every good thing.
Having rejected God to rely only on themselves, the first people found themselves under the sway of the destructive forces of evil and death and handed down this dependence to their ancestors. Having abused the freedom of choice, human beings lost another freedom – ἐλευθερία, the freedom to live in goodness that they had had in their primordial state. It is this freedom that the Lord Jesus Christ restores to them: ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (ἐλευθεροι) (Jn. 8:36). It is impossible to find freedom from sin without the mysterious unity of man with the transfigured nature of Christ that takes place in the Sacrament of Baptism (cf. Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 3:10) and becomes ever stronger through life in the Church, the Body of Christ (cf. Col. 1:24).
Holy Scriptures speaks also of the need for a person to make his own efforts in order to be delivered from sin: ‘Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’ (Gal. 5:1). The same testimony is given by the practical experience of a great number of holy men and women who pursued spiritual feats and reconfirmed the possibility for every person to transform his life. The fruits of human spiritual efforts however will manifest themselves fully only in the universal resurrection when ‘our vile body’ will be fashioned ‘like unto his glorious body’ (Phil. 3:21).
II. 2. The Lord Jesus Christ says, ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free… Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin’ (Jn. 8:32, 34). This means that only those are truly free who take the path of righteous life and seek communion with God, the source of absolute truth. But the abuse of freedom and the choice of a false, immoral, way of life will ultimately destroy the very freedom of choice as it leads the will to slavery by sin. It is God alone as the source of freedom Who can maintain it in a human being. Those who do not wish to part with sin give away their freedom to the devil, the enemy of God and the father of evil and captivity. While recognizing the value of freedom of choice, the Church affirms that this freedom will inevitably disappear if the choice is made in favor of evil. Evil and freedom are incompatible.
In human history, the choice made by people and societies in favour of evil led to the loss of freedom and to the enormous loss of lives. And today humanity may follow the same path if such absolutely vicious things as abortion, suicide, lechery, perversion, destruction of the family, the worship of cruelty and violence are no longer given a proper moral assessment and justified by a distorted understanding of human freedom.
The weakness of the human rights institution lies in the fact that (?) while defending the freedom (αὐτεξουσίον) of choice, it tends to increasingly ignore the moral dimension of life and the freedom from sin (ἐλευθερία). The social system should be guided by both freedoms, harmonizing their exercise in the public sphere. One of these freedoms cannot be defended while the other is neglected. Free adherence to goodness and the truth is impossible without the freedom of choice, just as a free choice loses it value and meaning if it is made in favour of evil.