The will is a natural faculty that carries its own desires. This is why asceticism cultivates above all else the renouncing of self-will, the release from all necessities that come from nature. Freedom, on the other hand, springs from the person and makes of him the master of all passions and of all natural necessity. "God has honored man by granting him freedom so that the good belongs in its own right to him who chooses it," St Gregory of Nyssa declares. St Maximus the Confessor goes farther. To him even the need to choose lacks something; the perfect one has moved beyond choice and creates the good. He produces his own reasons, instead of submitting to them. Thus the freest acts and the most perfect are those in which there is no longer a choice.
This freedom is protected in its entirety even by grace, which touches the soul in secret without ever forcing it. "The Spirit begets no will that resists Him. He transfigures by deification [theosis] only the will that desires it." A living project of God, man is called to decipher and, in this sense, freely to create his destiny. "Man was begotten according to freedom by the Spirit, in order to be able to be self-moving."
St Antony differentiates the three wills that confront one another in man: divine, human, and demonic. Human autonomy "encloses" man within himself; it is unstable and uncertain. Heteronomy is the demonic will, hostile to man. Theonomy is not a mere dependence or submission, but synergism, communion, friendship: "No longer do I call you servants... but I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15). Beyond the slave and the mercenary ethic, the Gospel proposes the ethic of the friends of God. It is precisely when our freedom and our way of acting are ensconced within the actions of God that they find the only condition in which they can fully blossom. Faith is never mere intellectual assent or blind submission, but fidelity of a person to the Person. These are the relationships of marriage and of its epithalamium; the Bible turns to these each time it deals with the question of the relations between God and man.
By declaring a fiat to the will of God, I identify myself with the desires of the beloved Being, and the will of God becomes mine: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." God asks man to fulfill the will of the Father as if it were his own. This is the meaning of the word, "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect." "God has first loved us" for no reason, and already in this love He has used us to understand something of His divine freedom. He loves us freely, without any merit, and, by that, His love already a gift that inspires and stirs up the freedom of our own response. Sophia (the Wisdom of God), in her awesome imaginings, the delights of the "divine play" (cf. Pr 8:31) with the children of men, can "imagine" only beings of her race, the gods: "You too are gods, sons of the Most-High," says the Lord. This is why, according to St Symeon the New Theologian, "God unites Himself only with gods." They have received as a gift something of their own, something that only comes from the free motion of their heart. Only this freedom, only this free love clothes man with the "wedding garment" of the divine espousals. At the height of his amazement, St Gregory of Nazianzus cries out: "In truth man is the play of God."
It is because we are able to say, "Thy will be not done," that we can say Yes. But this Yes must be brought forth in silence and at the source of our being. She who pronounced it on behalf of all is the Virgin, the Mother of all the living, the life-giving Source. Her fiat does not only come from the pure and simple submission of her will; it is pronounced with her entire being as the expression of her thirst and the fruit of her prayer.
God does not give orders; He issues invitations and calls out, "Hear, O Israel." The decrees of tyrants are answered by secret resistance; the invitation by the Master of the banquet is answered with the joyous acceptance of "those who have ears." The elect is the one who freely opens his hand and receives the gift. "They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over... the grain and the wine... their life shall be like a watered garden" (Jr 31:12).
God has breathed freedom into these "earthen vessels," and has situated them in time. Unfinished created being presupposes a temporal margin where it can become and discover itself in the image of the free Existent. And if failure is possible, if the possibility of refusal is implied in the creative act of God, this is because the freedom of the "gods," their free love, constitutes the essence of the human person: "I will betrothe you to myself forever... and you will know Yahweh. I have loved you with an everlasting love, virgin of Israel" (Jr 31:1). And even in the utterance, "Be fruitful and multiply," one hears the call to the bursting forth of the new creature.
The Latin word persona, as well as the Greek prosopon signifies "mask." Consequently, this term contains in itself an entire philosophy of the human person. It clearly demonstrates that an autonomous human order does not exist, since to exist is to participate in being or in nothingness. While participating, man can make of himself an "icon of God," or he can become a demonical grimace, an ape of God. Man’s face possesses an orientation that determines him. In the Incarnation, God is no longer only God, He is God-man. Man too, is no longer only man, but man-god, a deified being. Gregory of Nyssa clearly states it: "Humanity is composed of men with the face of angels and of men wearing the mask of the beast." "Until the end of his life" the spiritual man "does not cease to add fire to fire." Thus man can revive the flame of love and exhibit the likeness; he can also light the fire of Gehenna, erect the place of unlikeness, hell. He can by a No break his being into infernal fragmentations and solitudes, and he can convert his Yes into an infinity of unions.
Source: Paul Evdokimov, 1985, The Sacrament of Love, SVS Press, New York, pp. 55-58.