First we must be careful about the terminology.
In modern times when we talk about "free will" usually we mean a conscious dialectic decision shaped by syllogisms. Modern terminology defines "free will" as personal expression of a decision making process. That is, man has several options at hand and by exercising his "free will" he makes a free choice. Wikipedia rightly defines "free will" as the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors.
This modern concept of "free-will" has no place in the terminology used by the 6th Ecumenical Council and by Church Fathers. The "will" that the 6th Ecumenical Council talked about is arising from the nature and not from the person (likewise, energies are arising from the nature and not from the person).
I'm actually quite new to the Orthodox understanding of the will. I've been Orthodox for two years, having come from Calvinism, where "free will" is nearly all that's ever talked about. So I will assume that by "modern times" you probably include the Reformation, since it's quite "modern" from the perspective of St. Maximos?
Since coming to Orthdoxy I find few people (at the parish level, anyway) who've thought deeply about this, or are willing to discuss it. So I appreciate the opportunity here.
Orthodox and patristic terminology defines the "will" (the word free is missing) as an appetite and momentum of nature, as a physical movement of reason, as a self-determined movement of noetic soul, thus "will" is connected to nature and not to the person.
St Maximus the Confessor talks about "volition" ("προαίρεση" in greek) as distinct from the "will". Will is a physical appetite (desire, appeal, motion, momentum, mood) logical and vital, while volition is the outcome of cooperation between appetite, thinking and critical process. Modern terminology uses the word "will" in place of the patristic term of volition. Then, all misunderstandings start.
This is crucial, because in the patristic term "will" you can find no opposites, when in the term volition opposites are inherently present as dialectically contrary options which are at hand to choose one from them.
We must make clear that the Patristic term "will" is not about making a choice. It is about having an innate natural appetite. For example, St Maximus says that all saints have just one single "will" to be with God. This one "will", that all saints have in common, is a desire that is in man's nature - it not a choice they make. All humans have this "will" to be with God in their nature.
When I heard people discuss this in my "old circles," and when I read Calvin on the matter, or summaries of the Reformation thinking, they made a distinction between "desire" and "will." It sounds similar to what you describe. They stated that man always chooses according to his strongest desire at the time. So it wasn't that they taught that man's will is not free to operate, but rather that it is free to operate according only to its desires. So the problem, they said, was that man's desires were fallen into sin, and that man desires himself rather than God. Thus, until the desires are liberated from this sin, man cannot choose God because man cannot desire God. Stated differently, man will always freely use his will to choose against God. Nothing coerced, nothing forced. Man self-chooses, freely, his own destruction. Of course this leads to monergism, the idea that God chooses which individuals he will "regenerate" (think of flipping on a switch) so that they suddenly desire God, at which point they must struggle to overcome the remaining effects of sin, so that they no longer have to choose. In other words, when they are fully sanctified in the Spirit, they will always choose God because they will always desire God. At this point, it's unclear whether it still makes sense to speak of choice. There's nothing left to choose.
In some sense, this doesn't sound too far removed from what you've stated here. Except...
You may say, why are not all men saints? (since they have the same natural "will"). The answer is because men have also a "gnomic will", that is they make use of volition and start making choices. According to St Maximus, usually a person has to make a choice among alternatives (most of the times between opposites) .
Well, Christ had no gnomic will. Christ had just natural wills, that is two natural wills - one human and one divine. He had no gnomic will (volition).
I'm sticking my little toe into the vast, deep blue sea at this point...
So if the "gnomic will" is personal, whereas "natural will" is...well...natural...then how can Christ truly have been "a person" without having a gnomic will?
I'm not trying to trivialize things, but how could Christ have decided between two options on anything? If I have a gnomic will, and Christ does not, then is Christ still really a person as I'm a person?
Now, where "Augustinian" thinking (and Calvinistic and much that followed, by extension) would hold that the desires ("natural will?") are held in bondage to sin, and therefore a person can only exercises his freedom of choice, to choose from among Godless options...Orthodoxy would hold...what? That our "natural will" is still as it was before the fall, but that our volition, our "gnomic will" is what has become corrupt? Or at least, some combination of factors (intellect, emotions, etc.) that affect how we choose?
I will always say it bothered me when Calvinists spoke of our "sinful nature" being replaced (by God) with a "new nature." I always understood that, at least per the thinking of the pre-schism church, there was only one human nature. Christ assumed the very same nature that we all share. Thus, if "will" is proper to "nature" then our human will, and his human will, must be the same human will...or else he'd have become incarnate as something other than human.
defines "the logoi of a being" of St Maximus as its principle or its essential reason, the one that fundamentally defines and characterizes it, but also its finality, the purpose for which a being exists, briefly its reason of being in a double meaning of principle and end of its existence”.
In this context, saints cleansed their hearts, so then it becomes clear to them the "logoi of beings", they realized the real authentic "will" that is in their human nature. When, every other false version of "logoi of being" disappears from their view, there will be no option, because there will be no choice, and only remains the active mental appetite apply to those who are appetizing in nature to be with God. It is a situation analogues to a man that has in front of him a bread and a stone, his natural human appetite is to eat the bread, he makes no choice, there is no volition involved.
So is this something like saying that the saints are those who've chipped away all the filth that clung to their nature, to let the real "human will" shine through, thereby reaching the point at which there was no longer a choice to be made, because God was all they desired?
Luther once said that a human is a dunghill, and a Christian is a "dunghill covered in snow" (the idea that Christ's righteousness covers us like a garment). This sounds more like the Fathers would have seen a human as a gem covered in mud, a Christian as a gem being cleansed, and a saint as a gem restored to its original brilliance.
So, what st Maximus said and 6th Ecumenical Council accepted about Christ having two natural "wills" has nothing to do with modern "free-will" concept.
Thank you for clarifying this. I hope you're able to continue the discussion!!!