VI. Labour and its fruits

VI. 1. Labour is an organic element of human life. The Book of Genesis says that in the beginning “there was not a man to till the ground” (Gen. 2:5). Having created the Garden of Eden, God put man in it “to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Labour is the creative fulfilment of man who was called to be the co-creator and co-worker of the Lord by virtue of his original likeness of God. However, after man fell away from the Creator, the nature of his labour changed: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return into the ground” (Gen. 3:19). The creative component of labour weakened to become mostly a means of sustenance for the fallen man.

VI. 2. The word of God does not only draw people’s attention to the need of daily labour, but also sets a special rhythm for it. The fourth commandment reads: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord the God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, not thy maidservant, not thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Ex. 20:8-10). By this commandment of the Creator the human labour is compared to the divine creative work that made the beginning of the universe. Indeed, the commandment to observe the sabbath is substantiated by the fact that in the creation “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:3). This day should be dedicated to the Lord so that everyday chores may not divert man from the Creator. At the same time, the active manifestations of charity and selfless aid to one’s labours are not violations of the commandment: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). In Christian tradition, the first day of the week, the day of the Resurrection of Christ, has been a day of rest since the apostolic times.

VI. 3. The improvement of the tools and methods of labour, its division into professions and move to more complex forms contributes to better material living standards. However, people’s enticement with the achievements of the civilisation moves them away from the Creator and leads to an imaginary triumph of reason seeking to arrange earthly life without God. The realisation of these aspirations in human history has always ended in tragedy.

Holy Scriptures relates that the first builders of the earthly civilisation were Cain’s successors: Lamech and his children invented and made the first copper and iron tools, movable tents and various musical instruments; they were also the founders of many skills and arts (Gen. 4:22). However, they and many other people with them failed to avoid temptations: “all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (Gen. 6:12). Therefore, the Creator willed that the Cainite civilisation be ended with a flood. Among the most vivid biblical images of the failure of the fallen humanity to “to make a name for itself” is the construction of the Tower of Babel “whose top may reach unto heaven”. The Babel is presented as a symbol of people’s joining efforts to achieve an ungodly goal. The Lord punishes the arrogant men: by confusing their tongues He makes understanding among them impossible and scattered them throughout the earth.

VI. 4. From a Christian perspective, labour in itself is not an absolute value. It is blessed when it represents co-working with the Lord and contribution to the realisation of His design for the world and man. However, labour is not something pleasing to God if it is intended to serve the egoistic interests of individual or human communities and to meet the sinful needs of the spirit and flesh.

Holy Scriptures points to the two moral motives of labour: work to sustain oneself without being a burden for others and work to give to the needy. The apostle writes: “Let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). Such labour cultivates the soul and strengthens the body and enables the Christian to express his faith in God-pleasing works of charity and love of his neighbours (Mt. 5:16; James 2:17). Everyone remembers the words of St. Paul: “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10).

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church continuously stressed the moral meaning of labour. Thus, St. Clement of Alexandria described it as “a school of social justice”. St. Basil the Great argued that “a pious intention should not be a pretext for idleness and evasion from work, but rather an incentive for even more work”. St. John Chrysostom insisted that “not labour but idleness should be regarded as “dishonour”. Monks in many monasteries gave an example of laborious asceticism. Their economic activity was in many ways an example for emulation, while the founders of major monasteries were renowned not only as high spiritual authorities but also great toilers. Well known are such models of zealous work as the Venerable Theodoius of Pechery, Sergius of Radonezh, Cyril of White Lake, Joseph of Volotsk, Nil of Sora and other Russian ascetics.

VI. 5. The Church blesses every work aimed to benefit people. At the same time, she does not give preference to any form of human work if it conforms to Christian moral standards. In His parables, our Lord Jesus Christ keeps referring to various professions, without singling out any of them. He speaks of the work of a sower (Mk. 4:3-9), servants and the ruler of a household (Lk. 12:42-48), a merchant and fishermen (Mt. 13:45-48), the householder and labourers of a vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16). Modern times, however, have seen the emergence of a whole industry intended to propagate vice and sin and satisfy such baneful passions and addictions as drinking, drug-addiction, fornication and adultery. The Church testifies to the sin of being involved in such activities as they corrupt not only workers, but also society as a whole.

VI. 6. A worker has the right to use the fruits of his labour: “Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? He that ploweth should plow in hope; and he that threshesth in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Cor. 9:7, 10). The Church teaches that refusal to pay for honest work is not only a crime against man, but also a sin before God.

Holy Scriptures says: “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant At his day thou shalt give him his hire lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee” (Deut. 24:14-15); “Woe unto him that useth his neighbour’s services without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (Jer. 22:13); “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth” (James 5:4).

At the same time, by God’s commandment workers are ordered to take care of those who for various reasons cannot earn their living, such as the weak, the sick, strangers (refugees), orphans and widows. The worker should share the fruits of his work with them, “that the Lord may bless thee in all the work of thine hands” (Deut. 24:19-22).

Continuing on earth the service of Christ Who identified Himself with the destitute, the Church always comes out in defence of the voiceless and powerless. Therefore, she calls upon society to ensure the equitable distribution of the fruits of labour, in which the rich support the poor, the healthy the sick, the able-bodied the elderly. The spiritual welfare and survival of society are possible only if the effort to ensure life, health and minimal welfare for all citizens becomes an indisputable priority in distributing the material resources.

Continue on to VII. Property from The Orthodox Church and Society

VII. Property

VII. 1. Property is commonly understood as a socially recognised form of people’s relation to the fruits of labour and to natural resources. The basic powers of an owner normally include the right to own and use property, the right to control and collect income, the right to dispose of, lease, modify or liquidate property.

The Church is not someone who defines the rights to property. However, the material side of human life is not outside her field of vision. While calling to seek first “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt. 6:33), the Church does not forget about people’s the need for “daily bread” (Mt. 6:11) and believes that every one should have resources sufficient for life in dignity. At the same time, the Church warns against the extreme attraction to wealth, denouncing those who are carried away by “cares and riches and pleasures of this life” (Lk. 8:14). The Church in her attitude to property does not ignore the material needs, nor does she praise the opposite extreme, the aspiration for wealth as the ultimate goal and value of life. The status of a person in itself cannot be seen as an indication as to whether God is pleased with him.

The attitude of Orthodox Christians to property should be based on the gospel’s principle of love of one’s neighbour, expressed in the words of the Saviour: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another” (Jn. 13:34). This commandment is the basis of Christian moral behaviour. For Christians and the Church believes for other people as well, it should be an imperative in regulating interpersonal relationships, including property relations.

According to the teaching of the Church, people receive all the earthly blessings from God who is the One who holds the absolute right to possess them. The Saviour repeatedly points to the relative nature of the right to property in His parables on a vineyard let out to be used (Mk. 12:1-9), on talents distributed among many (Mt. 25:14-30) and on an estate handed over for temporary management (Lk. 16:1-13). Expressing the idea inherent to the Church that God is the absolute owner of everything, St. Basil the Great asks: “Tell me, what do you have that is yours? Where from did you take it and bring to life?” The sinful attitude to property manifested in the conscious rejection of this spiritual principle generates division and alienation among people.

VII. 2. Wealth cannot make man happy. The Lord Jesus Christ warns: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Lk. 12:15). The pursuit of wealth makes a baneful impact on the spiritual condition of a person and can lead him to complete degradation. St. Paul points out that “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Tim. 6:9-11). In a talk to a young man the Lord said: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Mt. 19:21). Then He explained these words to His disciples: “A rich man shalt hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 19:23-24). St. Mark clarifies that it is difficult to enter the Kingdom of God precisely for those who trust not in God but in wealth, who “trust in riches” (Mk. 10:24). Only those who “trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever” (Ps.125:1).

However, a rich man can be saved as well, for “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Lk. 18:27). In Holy Scriptures there is no censure of richness as such. Abraham and the Old Testament patriarchs, the righteous Job, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were well-off people. An owner of a considerable wealth does not sin if he uses it in accordance with the will of God to Whom everything belongs and with the law of love; for the joy and fullness of life lie not in acquirement and possession but in giving and sacrifice. St. Paul calls people “to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). St. Basil the Great regards as thieves those who do not give away part of their property in donation to their neighbours. The same idea is stressed by St. John Chrysostom: “Failure to share one’s property is also theft”. The Church urges Christians to see in property a God’s gift given to be used for their own and their neighbours’ benefit.

At the same time, Holy Scripture recognises the human right to property and deplores any encroachment on it. In two out of its Ten Commandments, the Decalogue states clearly: “Thou shalt not steal Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Ex. 20:15, 17). In the New Testament, this attitude to property continues, acquiring a more profound ethical substantiation. The Gospel says: “Thou shalt not steal Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Rom. 13:9).

VII. 3. The Church recognises the existence of various forms of ownership. Public, corporate, private and mixed forms of property have taken different roots in the course of historical development in various countries. The Church does not give preference to any of these forms. Any of its forms can produce both sinful phenomena, such as theft, money-grubbing, unfair distribution of wealth, and the proper and morally justified use of wealth.

The intellectual property, such as scientific works and inventions, information technologies, works of art and other achievements of the creative thought acquires a growing significance. The Church welcomes the creative work aimed at benefitting society, and deplores the violation of copyright.

In general, the Church cannot approve the alienation and re-distribution of property with violations of the rights of its legitimate owners. An exception may be made only for the alienation of property based on the law, conditioned by the interest of the majority of people and accompanied by fair compensation. Russian history has shown that the violation of these principles has always resulted in social upheavals and people’s suffering.

In Christian history, many communities would pool property, abandoning personal proprietary aspirations. This kind of property relations contributed to the consolidation of the spiritual unity of the faithful and in many cases proved rather effective economically, as in the case of Orthodox monasteries. However, the repudiation of private property in the early apostolic community (Acts 4:32) and later in coenobite monasteries was exclusively a voluntary affair and a personal spiritual option.

VII. 4. The property of religious organisations is a special form of property. It is acquired in various ways, but the primary component of its formation is the voluntary donation of believers. According to Holy Scriptures, donation is sacred, that is, it belongs directly to God as a donator gives to God, not to a priest (Lev. 27:30; Ez. 8:28). Donation is a voluntary action made by the faithful for religious purposes (Neh. 10:32). Donation is called to support not only the servants of the Church, but also the whole people of God (Phil. 4:14-18). Being consecrated to God, donation is immune, and any one who has stolen it must return more than has been stolen (Lev. 5:14-15). Donation belongs to the basic commandments given by God to man (Sirach 7:30-34). As donation is a special case of economic and social relations, it should not be made automatically subject to the laws regulating finances and economy of a state, in particular, public taxation. The Church declares that the income drawn through entrepreneurial activity can be taxed, but any encroachment on the donations of believers is a crime before people and God.

Continue on to VIII. War and Peace from The Orthodox Church and Society

VIII. War and peace

VIII. 1. War is a physical manifestation of the latent illness of humanity, which is fratricidal hatred (Gen. 4:3-12). Wars have accompanied human history since the fall and, according to the Gospel, will continue to accompany it: “And when ye hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be” (Mk. 13:7). This is also testified by the Apocalypse in its story of the last battle between good and evil at Mount Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Generated by pride and resistance to the will of God, earthly wars reflect in fact the heavenly battle. Corrupted by sin, man found himself involved in the turmoil of this battle. War is evil. Just as the evil in man in general, war is caused by the sinful abuse of the God-given freedom; “for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19).

Killing, without which wars cannot happen, was regarded as a grave crime before God as far back as the dawn of the holy history. “Thou shalt not kill”, the Mosaic law reads (Ex. 20:13). In the Old Testament, just as in all ancient religions, blood is sacred, since blood is life (Lev. 17:11-14). “Blood defiles the land”, says Holy Scriptures. But the same biblical text warns those who resort to violence: “The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it” (Num. 35:33).

VIII. 2. Bringing to people the good news of reconciliation (Rom, 10:15), but being in “this world” lying in evil (1 Jn. 5:19) and filled with violence, Christians involuntarily come to face the vital need to take part in various battles. While recognising war as evil, the Church does not prohibit her children from participating in hostilities if at stake is the security of their neighbours and the restoration of trampled justice. Then war is considered to be necessary though undesirable but means. In all times, Orthodoxy has had profound respect for soldiers who gave their lives to protect the life and security of their neighbours. The Holy Church has canonised many soldiers, taking into account their Christian virtues and applying to them Christ’s world: “Greater love hath no man but this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13).

When St. Cyril Equal-to-the-Apostles was sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople to preach the gospel among the Saracens, in their capital city he had to enter into a dispute about faith with Muhamaddan scholars. Among others, they asked him: “Your God is Christ. He commanded you to pray for enemies, to do good to those who hate and persecute you and to offer the other cheek to those who hit you, but what do you actually do? If anyone offends you, you sharpen your sword and go into battle and kill. Why do you not obey your Christ?” Having heard this, St. Cyril asked his fellow-polemists: “If there are two commandments written in one law, who will be its best respecter the one who obeys only one commandment or the one who obeys both?” When the Hagerenes said that the best respecter of law is the one who obeys both commandments, the holy preacher continued: “Christ is our God Who ordered us to pray for our offenders and to do good to them. He also said that no one of us can show greater love in life than he who gives his life for his friends (Jn. 15:3). That is why we generously endure offences caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbours, so that you, having taken our fellows prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds. Our Christ-loving soldiers protect our Holy Church with arms in their hands. They safeguard the sovereign in whose sacred person they respect the image of the rule of the Heavenly King. They safeguard their land because with its fall the home authority will inevitably fall too and the evangelical faith will be shaken. These are precious pledges for which soldiers should fight to the last. And if they give their lives in battlefield, the Church will include them in the community of the holy martyrs and call them intercessors before God”.

VIII. 3. “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Mt. 26:52). These words of the Saviour justify the idea of just war. From the Christian perspective, the conception of moral justice in international relations should be based on the following basic principles: love of one’s neighbours, people and Fatherland; understanding of the needs of other nations; conviction that it is impossible to serve one’s country by immoral means. These three principles defined the ethical limits of war established by Christendom in the Middle Ages when, adjusting to reality, people tried to curb the elements of military violence. Already at that time, people believed that war should be waged according to certain rules and that a fighting man should not lose his morality, forgetting that his enemy is a human being too.

The development of high moral standards in international relations would have impossible without that moral impact which Christianity made on people’s hearts and minds. The requirements of justice in war were often far from being complied with, but the very posing of the question of justice sometimes restrained warring people from extreme violence.

In defining just war, the Western Christian tradition, which goes back to St. Augustine, usually puts forward a number of conditions on which war in one’s own or others’ territory is admissible. They are as follows:

  • war is declared for the restoration of justice;
  • war is declared only by the legitimate authority;
  • force is used not by individuals or groups but by representatives of the civil authorities established from above;
  • war is declared only after all peaceful means have been used to negotiate with the opposite party and to restore the prior situation;
  • war is declared only if there are well-grounded expectations that the established goals will be achieved;
  • the planned military losses and destruction will correspond to the situation and the purposes of war (the principal of proportionate means);
  • during war civilians will be protected against direct hostilities;
  • war may be justified only by the desire to restore law and order.

In the present system of international relations, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish an aggressive war from a defensive war. The distinction between the two is especially subtle where one or two states or the world community initiate hostilities on the ground that it is necessary to protect the people who fell victim to an aggression (see XV. 1). In this regard, the question whether the Church should support or deplore the hostilities needs to be given a special consideration every time they are initiated or threaten to begin.

Among obvious signs pointing to the equity or inequity of a warring party are its war methods and attitude towards its war prisoners and the civilians of the opposite side, especially children, women and elderly. Even in the defence from an aggression, every kind of evil can be done, making one’s spiritual and moral stand not superior to that of the aggressor. War should be waged with righteous indignation, not maliciousness, greed and last (1 Jn. 2:16) and other fruits of hell. A war can be correctly assessed as a feat or a robbery only after an analysis is made of the moral state of the warring parties. “Rejoice not over thy greatest enemy being dead, but remember that we die all”, Holy Scriptures says (Sirach 8:8). Christian humane attitude to the wounded and war prisoners is based on the words of St. Paul: “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21-22).

VIII. 4. In the icons of St. George the Victor, the black dragon is trampled by the hoofs of a horse always painted brightly white. This vividly shows that evil and the struggle with it should be completely separated, for in struggling with sin it is important to avoid sharing in it. In all the vital situations where force needs to be used, the human heart should not be caught by bad feelings akin to evil spirits and their like. It is only the victory over evil in one’s heart that enables one to use force in justice. This view asserting love in human relations resolutely rejects the idea of non-resistance to evil by force. The Christian moral law deplores not the struggle with sin, not the use of force towards its bearer and not even taking another’s life in the last resort, but rather malice in the human heart and the desire to humiliate or destroy whosoever it may be.

In this regard, the Church has a special concern for the military, trying to educate them for the faithfulness to lofty moral ideals. The agreement concluded by the Russian Orthodox Church with the Armed Forces and law-enforcement agencies opens up considerable opportunities for overcoming the artificially created dividing walls, for bringing the military back to the established Orthodox traditions of service to the fatherland. Orthodox pastors, both those who perform special service in the army and those who serve in monasteries and parishes, are called to nourish the military strenuously, taking care of their moral condition.

VIII. 5. The Christian conception of peace is based on God’s promises recorded in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. These promises giving history a true meaning began to come true in Jesus Christ. For His followers, peace is a beneficial gift of God, for which we pray and solicit God for our own sake and the sake of all people. The biblical understanding of peace is much broader that the political. St. Paul points out that “the peace of God passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). It surpasses by far the peace that people are able to create through their own efforts. The peace of man with God, with himself and with other people are inseparable.

The Old Testament prophets describe peace as a state that crowns history: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cove the sea” (Is. 11:6-9). This eschatological idea is associated from the revelation of the Messiah Whose name is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). War and violence will disappear from the earth: “And they shall bet their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is. 2:4). However, peace is not only a gift of the Lord, but also a human task. The Bible holds out hope that peace will be established with God’s help already within the present earthly existence.

According to St. Isaiah, peace is a work of righteousness (Is. 32:17). Holy Scriptures also refers to the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man. Both are linked with the covenant that God made with the chosen people (Jer. 31:35). In this context, righteousness is understood as faithfulness to the covenant relations. To the same extent as people violate the covenant with God, that is, to the same extent as they are unrighteous, they are deprived of the fruit of righteousness, which is peace. At the same time, the Sinai law contains as one of its basic elements the requirement of justice towards one’s neighbour. The commandments of the law were aimed not to restrict onerously the individual freedom, but to build social life on the basis of justice for achieving relative peace, order and tranquillity. For Israel it meant that peace in social life was not to come by itself through some natural laws, but was possible, first, as a gift of God’s righteousness and, secondly, as a fruit of man’s religious efforts, that is, his faithfulness to God. Where people respond to God’s justice with gratitude, there “mercy and truth are met together; righteous and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). However, Old Testament history abounds in examples when the chosen people displayed unfaithfulness and sinful ingratitude. This gives the Prophet Jeremiah grounds to point to the reason for the absence of peace in Israel where people always said, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). The prophetic call to repentance resounds as a song of faithfulness to the truth of God. Despite people’s sins, God promises to make “a new covenant” with them (Jer. 31:31).

Peace in the New Testament, just as in the Old Testament, is viewed as a gift of God’s love. It is identified with the eschatological salvation. The timelessness of peace proclaimed by the prophets is especially vivid in the Gospel According to John. While sorrow continues to prevail in history, those who believe in Christ have peace (Jn. 14:2; 16:33). Peace in the New Testament is a normal grace-filled condition of the human soul liberated from the slavery to sin. This is what the wishes of “grace and peace” suggest in the beginning of the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. This peace is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13; Gal. 5:22). The state of reconciliation with God is the normal state of the creation, “for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33). Psychologically, this state is expressed in the inner order of the soul when joy and peace in believing (Rom. 15:13) become almost synonymous.

Peace by God’s grace characterises the life of the Church in its both internal and external dimensions. Certainly, the grace-filled gift of peace also depends on the human effort. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifested only there where the human heart moves, coming the other way in the repentant desire of the truth of God. The gift of peace is revealed when Christians seek it, “remembering without ceasing work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 1:3). Aspirations for peace by every individual member of the body of Christ should be independent of the time and living conditions. Pleasing to God (Mt. 5:9), they bring fruit wherever and whenever they are there. Peace as a gift of God, which transforms the inner man, should be also manifested outwardly. It should be cherished and stirred up (2 Tim. 1:6). Therefore, peacemaking becomes a task of the Church of Christ: “if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18) and seek “to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The New Testament call to peacemaking is based on the personal example of the Saviour and on His teaching. If the commandments of non-resistance to evil (Mt. 5:39), love of one’ enemies (Mt. 5:44) and forgiveness (Mt. 6:14-15) are addressed primarily to the individual, the commandment of peacemaking, “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God”, has the direct bearing on social ethics.

The Russian Orthodox Church seeks to carry out her peace service both on national and international scale, trying to help resolve various contradictions and bring nations, ethnic groups, governments and political forces to harmony. To this end, she makes appeals to the powers that be and other influential sections of society and takes efforts to organise negotiations between hostile parties and to give aid to those who suffer. The Church also opposes the propaganda of war and violence, as well as various manifestations of hatred capable of provoking fratricidal clashes.

Continue on to IX. Crime, Punishment, Reformation from The Orthodox Church and Society

Merciful stories

A Patriarch Calls on Soldiers in the Soviet Army Not to Shed Blood

On August 19, 1991, Soviet KGB and party hard-liners returned from their dachas and summer vacations to Moscow, determined to suppress the democratic movement born when Boris Yeltsin had been elected president of the Russian Republic just two months earlier…. The junta, led by Vladimir Kryuchkov, head of the KGB, seized television and radio stations and, with the majestic music of Swan Lake as background, announced on the airwaves that it had formed a “State Emergency Committee” and was “taking supreme power in the USSR.”

Earlier on the previous evening of August 18, just before 5:00 p.m., it had taken captive, in the government dacha in Yalta on the Black Sea, the president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. His chief of staff played the Judas, accompanied by Politburo member Oleg Shenin and a small clutch of party myrmidons. They demanded he either sign a decree declaring a state of emergency or resign. Courageously, Gorbachev refused to do either. Nevertheless, the traitors confiscated the codes needed to launch the Soviet nuclear arsenal and confined him and his family to house arrest. He was now nowhere to be seen.

The KGB plotters made just one mistake: they missed taking prisoner Boris Yeltsin….

With Gorbachev safely tucked away at Yalta, the plotters wrestled with the problem of Yeltsin, now holed up in the Russian Parliament, a multistory office building called the “Russian White House.” He and his staff still had access to fax and telephone, and later to radio and television. He summoned the ordinary citizens of Moscow to defend the democracy that is, his election that had just been born. He stood on one of the tanks at 1:00 p.m., August 19, audaciously defying the junta. In a few hours, a loudspeaker announced to the Muscovites forming human shields around the building that ten of the tanks had gone over to the defenders of the Russian White House.

Yeltsin used the media to make a tough speech claiming that elements of three divisions of the troops sent to storm and occupy the Parliament had crossed over and were now supporting him. Then the elite Alpha Unit, paratroopers commanded by General Alexander Lebed, a hero of Afghanistan, refused to storm the White House. Yeltsin spoke from a podium where now Major General Kobiets stood in full uniform, acknowledging Yeltsin’s pronouncement that he had been appointed the new defense minister. The defection of just ten tanks had pulled the thumb out of the KGB’s dike, and the momentum was sucking others up the chain of command over to Yeltsin’s side.

But the outcome was still very much in doubt. Yes, the rings of human shields around the Russian Parliament were increasing by the hour. But the defenders had ten tanks, whereas the party and the KGB commanded whole armored divisions. If they attacked, thousands would die in the carnage.

Yeltsin fully expected a bloodbath and tried to get help….

Yeltisn appealed to the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the former Aleksey Ridiger, who had been elected in June the previous year by a meeting of bishops. He had taken the official name of Aleksy II. Yeltsin’s words went out over the national radio, defying the junta’s orders to silence him:

“The tragic events that have occurred throughout the night made me turn to you, to reach the nation through you.

“There is lawlessness inside the country a group of corrupt Party members has organized an anti-constitutional revolution. Essentially, a state of emergency has been declared inside the country due to the extreme gravity of the situation, and the laws and constitution of the USSR and of the sovereign republics of the Union have been grossly violated.

“It is no coincidence that these events have taken place on the eve of the signing of a new Union Treaty, which would have paved the way to freedom, democracy, and progress and a resolution of the recent crisis.

“Our State has been violated and along with it the newly emerging democracy, and freedom of choice for the electorate. There is once again the shadow of disorder and chaos hanging over our country.

“At this moment of tragedy for our Fatherland I turn to you, calling on your authority among all religious confessions and believers. The influence of the Church in our society is too great for the Church to stand aside during these events. This duty is directly related to the Church’s mission, to which you have dedicated your life: serving people, caring for their hearts and souls. The Church, which has suffered through the times of totalitarianism, may once again experience disorder and lawlessness.

“All believers, the Russian nation, and all Russia await your word!”

They did not have long to wait. Within hours of this appeal, the patriarch demonstrated that he would not remain a bystander but would throw the full weight of his position as patriarch against the coup.

On August 19, as the tanks moved ominously into their staging area in Red Square, Aleksy was physically only yards away (see figure 1.1). Inside the redbrick walls of the Kremlin, he was presiding at the liturgy of the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky Sobor), not only the oldest cathedral within the Kremlin but also the most important Orthodox church in Russia, having been begun in 1326-28 at the behest of Metropolitan Peter, whose move of the Orthodox see from Kiev to Moscow ended Kiev’s status as the center of the faith. Still unfinished, it collapsed in 1472. As with other Kremin cathedrals, architects imported from Italy, in part from the Ticino (an area in northern Italy and southern Switzerland), rebuilt it in its present form.

During the service Aleksy said nothing about the outside events but made an interesting change in the closing litany. Instead of remembering the “authorities” and “the army” as was customary, he prayed “for our country protected by God and its people.”

Then he took a momentous decision. On August 20, only a day after Yeltsin’s appeal to him, Aleksy faxed to the country and to selected sites around the world an “announcement” (zayavlenie), which challenged the junta’s legality. Aleksy had already identified this as the key weakness of the coup:

“This situation [i.e., the departure of Gorbachev from power, and his disappearance] is troubling the consciences of millions of our fellow citizens, who are concerned about the legality of the newly formed State Emergency Committee. . . . In this connection we declare that it is essential that we hear without delay the voice of President Gorbachev and learn his attitude toward the events that have just taken place.”

Notably, the patriarch made no mention of Yeltsin. Instead, he referred to Gorbachev, a reformer with whom he believed the church could do business, the same attitude once expressed by Margaret Thatcher. Now Aleksy repaid the ROC’s debts to Gorbachev’s reforms by calling for Gorbachev to be allowed to speak to the country. But this would not be the limit of his help.

The remainder of Aleksy’s “announcement” demonstrated his political savvy: “We hope that the Supreme Soviet of the USSR will give careful consideration to what has taken place and will take decisive measures to bring about the stabilization of the situation in the country.” That is, he called politely for action from the top government body in the country, notably not the party apparatus.

Next, he sought to isolate the plotters from two other national institutions, the church and the army:

“We call upon all parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, the whole of our people, and particularly our army at this critical moment for our nation to show support and not to permit the shedding of fraternal blood. We raise the heartfelt prayer to our Lord and summon all true believers in our Church to join this prayer begging Him to dispense peace to the peoples of our land so that they can in future build their homeland in accordance with freedom of choice and the accepted norms of morality and law.”

Again, the patriarch touched delicately on the Achilles’ heel of the coup, as he alluded to the “accepted norms of morality and law.” Yeltsin had begun his radio appeal to the patriarch by referring to “lawlessness.” Now the patriarch was reiterating the same idea to the nation, but associating legality with a “heartfelt prayer to our Lord” studded with the familiar language of the peace campaign “peace” and “freedom” turned back on the KGB.

— an extract from the first chapter of Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia by John Garrard & Carol Garrard (Princeton Universoty Press)

* * *

St. Cosmas of Aetolia, who toured occupied Greece around 1750 establishing schools, gives us the price of heaven. Starting with perfect love, he says:

“If you want to find perfect love, go sell all your belongings, give them to the poor, go where you find a master and become a slave. Can you do this and be perfect?

“You say this is too heavy? Then do something else. Don’t sell yourself as a slave. Just sell your belongings and give them all to the poor. Can you do it? Or do you find this too heavy a task?”

“All right, you cannot give away all your belongings. Then give half, or a third, or a fifth. Is even this too heavy? Then give one tenth. Can you do that? Is it still too heavy?

“How about this. Don’t sell yourself as slave. Don’t give a penny to the poor. Only do this. Don’t take your poor brother’s coat, don’t take his bread, don’t persecute him, don’t eat him alive. If you don’t want to do him any good, at least do him no harm. Just leave him alone. Is this also too heavy?”

“You say you want to be saved. But how? How can we be saved if everything we are called to do is too heavy? We descend and descend until there is no place further down. God is merciful, yes, but he also has an iron rod.”

— St. Cosmas of Aetolia

The only prominent public figure to condemn the [anti-semetic] pogroms [during the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution] openly and unequivocally was the head of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Tikhon.

— Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (Harville Press, 1994)

“The Fools Theodore and Nicholas lived in Novgorod. A great bridge joined two sections of the city, Torgova and Sofia. On this bridge many horrible fights broke out between the rival families of either side of the river. The bishop often had to rush to the bridge and put a stop to the violence. Then the Holy Fools Theodore and Nicholas began to fight on the bridge, to demonstrate, as only Fools can, the stupidity of violence. Theodore would not let Nicholas cross over, and vice versa. Then a nobleman invited Theodore to cross over and visit him. And Theodore, after much begging, agreed. He crossed over, and suddenly Nicholas appeared. Nicholas chased Theodore along the bank of the Volkhov River, then Theodore ran right onto the river. Nicholas rushed into a nearby garden and grabbed a head of cabbage, and then he too ran onto the river. And Nick hurled the cabbage at Ted. Many people witnessed this event. And Blessed Nicholas was given the name ‘Kochanov’ meaning ‘cabbage head’.”

In 1944, the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s mother took him from Siberia to Moscow. They were among those who witnessed a procession of twenty-thousand German war prisoners marching through the streets of Moscow:

The pavements swarmed with onlookers, cordoned off by soldiers and police. The crowd was mostly women — Russian women with hands roughened by hard work, lips untouched by lipstick, and with thin hunched shoulders which had borne half of the burden of the war. Every one of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans. They gazed with hatred in the direction from which the column was to appear.

At last we saw it. The generals marched at the head, massive chins stuck out, lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanor meant to show superiority over their plebian victors.

“They smell of perfume, the bastards,” someone in the crowd said with hatred. The women were clenching their fists. The soldiers and policemen had all they could do to hold them back.

All at once something happened to them. They saw German soldiers, thin, unshaven, wearing dirty blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades; the soldiers walked with their heads down. The street became dead silent — the only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches.

Then I saw an elderly women in broken-down boots push herself forward and touch a policeman’s shoulder, saying, “Let me through.” There must have been something about her that made him step aside. She went up to the column, took from inside her coat something wrapped in a colored handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And now from every side women were running toward the soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had. The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people.

— A Precocious Autobiography, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Collins, London

IX. Crime, punishment, reformation

IX. 1. Christians are called to be law-abiding citizens of their homeland on earth, accepting that every soul should be “subject unto the higher powers” (Rom. 13:1) and at the same time remembering the commandment of Christ to render “unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Lk. 20:25). The human sinfulness, however, generates crime, which is violation of the limits established by law. At the same time, the conception of sin established by the Orthodox moral norms is broader than the idea of crime expressed in the secular law.

The primary cause of crime is the darkened state of the human heart: “for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19). It should be also admitted that sometimes crime is provoked by economic and social conditions, as well as the weak government and the absence of lawful order. Criminal communities may penetrate public institutions and use them for their own purposes. Finally, the authority itself may become a criminal by committing illegal actions. Especially dangerous is crime disguised under political and pseudo-religious motives, such as terrorism and the like.

To keep crime in check, the state establishes law-enforcement bodies. Their aim is to prevent and investigate crimes and to punish and reform criminals. However, the task of eradicating crime and reforming those who took a false step should be undertaken not only by the state, but all the people, and it means by the Church, too.

IX. 2. The prevention of crime is possible first of all through education and enlightenment aimed to assert in society the authentic spiritual and moral values. In this task the Orthodox Church is called to intensive co-operation with school, mass media and law-enforcement bodies. If the people lack a positive moral ideal, no measures of coercion, deterrence or punishment will be able to stop the evil will. That is why the best form of preventing crime is the preaching of the honest and proper way of life, especially among children and youth. In this effort, close attention should be given to the so-called risk-groups or those who have already committed first offences. These people need a special pastoral and educational care. The Orthodox clergy and laity are called to take part in the efforts to overcome the social causes of crime, showing concern for the just order in society and economy and for the self-fulfilment of every member of society in his profession and life.

At the same time, the Church insists on the need of humane attitude towards suspects, persons under investigation and those caught in criminal intent. The crude and improper treatment of these people can either fortify them on the wrong track or push them on it. For this reason, those awaiting a verdict should not be disfranchised even in custody. They should be guaranteed advocacy and impartial justice. The Church condemns torture and indignities towards persons under investigation. The priest, even with a view to assist law-enforcement, cannot violate the secrecy of confession and other secrecy safeguarded by law (for instance, the secrecy of adoption). In their care of those who went astray and were convicted, pastors, on learning anything that was concealed from investigation and justice, shall be guided by the secrecy of confession.

The norm providing for the secrecy of confession is included in the legislation of many states today, including the Constitution of the Russian Federation and Russia’s Law on the Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations.

The priest is called to show special pastoral sensitivity in case of a confession revealing a criminal intent. While keeping sacred the secrecy of confession without any exceptions and in any circumstances, the pastor is obliged to make all possible efforts to prevent a criminal intent from being realised. First of all it concerns threats of homicide, especially the massacre possible in the acts of terrorism or execution of a criminal order during war. Remembering that the souls of a potential criminal and his intended victim have equal value, the priest should call the penitent to make authentic repentance, that is, to abandon his evil intent. If this call is not effective, the pastor, keeping secret the penitent’s name and other circumstances which can help identify him, may give a warning to those whose life is threatened. In difficult cases, the priest should apply to the diocesan bishop.

IX. 3. Any crime committed and condemned by law presupposes a fair punishment. Its meaning is to reform an infringer, to protect society from a criminal and to stop his illegal activity. The Church, without taking upon herself to judge an infringer, is called to take care of his soul. That is why she understands punishment not as revenge, but a means of the inner purification of a sinner.

Establishing punishment for culprits, the Creator says to Israel: “Thou shalt put evil away from among you” (Deut. 21:21). Punishment for crime serves to teach people. Thus, establishing punishment for false prophesy, God says to Moses: “All Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you” (Deut. 13:11). We read in the Proverbs of Solomon: “Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge” (Prov. 19:25). The Old Testament tradition knows of several forms of punishment including the death penalty, banishment, restriction of freedom, corporal punishment and fine or order to make a donation for religious purposes.

Confinement, banishment (exile), reformatory labour and fines continue as punishments in the contemporary world. All these penalties are relevant not only in protecting society from the evil will of a criminal, but are also called to help in reforming him. Thus, confinement or restriction of freedom gives a person who outlawed himself an opportunity to reflect on his life in order to come back to liberty internally purified. Labour helps educate a person for creativity and helps him to acquire useful skills. In the process of reformatory labour, the sinful element deep in the soul should give place to creative endeavour, order and spiritual peace. It is important at the same time to ensure that inmates are not subjected to inhumane treatment, that the conditions of confinement do not threaten their life and health and that their moral condition is not influenced by the pernicious example of other inmates. To this end the state is called to take care of convicts, while society and the Church to help them in it.

In Christianity, kindness towards prisoners for the sake of their reformation has deep roots. The Lord Jesus compares charity towards prisoners to the service of Himself: “I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Mt. 25:36). History remembers many men of God who helped those in prisons. The Russian Orthodox tradition has implied charity toward those fallen from old times. St. Innocent, Archbishop of Kherson, addressed these words to inmates in a prison church in Vologda: “We have come here not to condemn you, but to give you consolation and edification. You can see for yourselves how the Holy Church has come to you with all her Sacraments. So you, too, move not away from her, but approach her with faith, repentance and your ways reformed The Saviour is even now holding out his hands from the cross to all the repentant; so you, too, repent and you will come from death to life!”

In her ministry in penitentiaries, the Church should arrange churches and prayer rooms in them, administer Sacraments and celebrate, hold pastoral talks with inmates and distribute religious literature. Especially important is the personal contact with inmates including visiting them in cells. Every encouragement should be given to correspondence with convicts and collection and distribution of clothes, medicines and other necessities. These efforts should be aimed not only to relieve the heavy lot of prisoners, but also to help in the moral healing of their crippled souls. Their pain is the pain of the whole Mother Church who rejoices with heavenly joy when even “one sinner repentieth” (Lk. 15:10). The revival of the care for prisoners has become an important field of pastoral and missionary work, which needs to be supported and developed.

The death penalty as a special punishment was recognised in the Old Testament. There are no indications to the need to abolish it in the New Testament or in the Tradition or in the historical legacy of the Orthodox Church either. At the same time, the Church has often assumed the duty of interceding before the secular authority for those condemned to death, asking it show mercy for them and commute their punishment. Moreover, under Christian moral influence, the negative attitude to the death penalty has been cultivated in people’s consciousness. Thus, in the period from the mid-18th century to the 1905 Revolution in Russia, it was applied on very rare occasions. For the Orthodox church consciousness, the life of a person does not end with his bodily death, therefore the Church continues her care for those condemned to capital punishment.

The abolition of death penalty would give more opportunities for pastoral work with those who have stumbled and for the latter to repent. It is also evident that punishment by death cannot be reformatory; it also makes misjudgement irreparable and provokes ambiguous feelings among people. Today many states have either abolished the death penalty by law or stopped practicing it. Keeping in mind that mercy toward a fallen man is always more preferable than revenge, the Church welcomes these steps by state authorities. At the same time, she believes that the decision to abolish or not to apply death penalty should be made by society freely, considering the rate of crime and the state of law-enforcement and judiciary, and even more so, the need to protect the life of its well-intentioned members.

IX. 4. Seeking to help overcome crime, the Church enters into co-operation with law-enforcement agencies. Respecting the efforts of their workers, aimed to protect the citizens and the country from criminal designs and to reform those who have stumbled, the Church lends them a helping hand. This assistance may be realised in various joint educational efforts for preventing offences, in scientific and cultural work and in the pastoral care of the law-enforcers themselves. Co-operation between the Church and the law-enforcement is based on the church statutes and special agreements concluded with the leadership of law-enforcement departments.

However, it is the pastoral care of the Church, given especially in the Sacrament of Repentance, that is called to be the most effective means in overcoming crime. To any repentant of an offence the priest should resolutely offer to abandon in the Face of God any attempt to continue his criminal activity as an indispensable condition for the absolution from his sin. Only in this way a person will be compelled to abandon the way of lawlessness and to return to the life of virtue.

Continue on to X. Personal, Family and Public Morality from The Orthodox Church and Society

X. Personal, family and public morality

X. 1. The difference between the sexes is a special gift of the Creator to human beings He created. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he man; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27). As equal bearers of the divine image and human dignity, man and woman are created to be completely united in love: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Fulfilling the Lord’s original will for the creation, the marital union becomes a means of continuing and multiplying the human race: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). The sexual distinctions are not limited to the difference in constitution. Man and woman are two different modes of existence in one humanity. They need communication and complementation. However, in the fallen world, relationships between the sexes can be perverted, ceasing to be an expression of God-given love and degenerating into the sinful passion of the fallen man for his ego.

While appreciating deeply the feat of voluntary virginal celibacy assumed for the sake of Christ and the Gospel and recognising the special role of monasticism in the past and the present, the Church has never disparaged marriage, but denounced those who abased matrimonial relations out of wrongly understood purity.

St. Paul, who personally chose celibacy and called people to emulate him in it (1 Cor. 7:8), still denounces those who speak “lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry” (1 Tim. 4:2-3). Apostolic Canon 51 reads: “If any one abstains from marriage not by way of religious restraint, but as abhorring them, forgetting that God made all things very good, and that he made man male and female, and blaspheming the work of creation, let him be corrected, or else be deposed, and cast out of the Church”. This rule is developed in Canons 1, 9 and 10 of the Council of Gangra: “If any one shall condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom [of heaven], let him be anathema. If any one shall remain virgin, or observe continence, abstaining from marriage because he abhors it, and not on account of the beauty and holiness of virginity itself, let him be anathema. If any one of those who are living a virgin life for the Lord’s sake shall treat arrogantly the married, let him be anathema”. Referring to these Canons, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in its decision of December 28, 1998, pointed to “the inadmissibility of the negative or arrogant attitude to marriage”.

X. 2. According to the Roman law, which was put in the basis of the civil codes in most of the contemporary states, marriage is an agreement between two parties free in their choice. The Church has accepted this definition, interpreting it on the basis of testimonies found in Holy Scriptures.

The Roman jurist Modestinus gave this definition to marriage: “Marriage is the union of man and woman, communion of life, participation together in the divine and human law”. Almost unchanged, this definition was included in the canonical books of the Orthodox Church, such as the Nomocanon by Patriarch Photius (9th century), the Syntagma by Matthew Vlastar (14th century) and the Procheron by Basil the Macedonian (9th century) included in the Slavonic Kormchaya Kniga. The early Christian fathers and teachers of the Church also leaned on the Roman idea of marriage. Thus, Athenagoras in his Apology addressed to Emperor Marcus Aurelius (2nd century) writes: “Every one of us considers the woman he married by law to be his wife”. The Apostolic Constitutions, a monument of the 4th century, exhorts Christians to “to contract marriage by law”.

Christianity replenished the heathen and Old Testament ideas of marriage with the sublime union of Christ and the Church: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing: but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph. 5:22-33).

For Christians, marriage has become not simply a legal contract, a means of reproduction and satisfaction of temporal natural needs, but, according to St. John Chrysostom, “a mystery of love”, an eternal union of spouses in Christ. From the beginning, Christians sealed marriage through the Church’s blessing and sharing in the Eucharist, which was the oldest form of the administration of the Sacrament of Matrimony.

“Those who marry should ally themselves with the consent of a bishop, so that the marriage might be in the Lord, not for lust”, wrote the Protomartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer. According to Tertullian, marriage “sealed by the Church and confirmed by sacrifice (the Eucharist) is stamped by blessing and recorded by the angels in heaven”. St. John Chrysostom said, “Priests should be urged to confirm spouses in common life by prayers and blessings, so that spouses may lead their life in joy, united by God’s help”. St. Ambrose of Milan pointed out that “marriage should be sanctified by the priestly intercession and blessing”.

In the period of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, marriage continued to be validated by civil registration. Consecrating matrimonial unions by prayer and blessing, the Church still recognised a common-law marriage as valid in cases where the church marriage was impossible and did not subject the spouses thus married to canonical prohibitions. Today the Russian Orthodox Church upholds the same practice. In doing so, she cannot approve and bless the matrimonial unions which, while being concluded in accordance with the existing law, violate the canonical prescriptions, such as a fourth and subsequent marriages, marriages in the inadmissible degrees of blood or spiritual affinity.

According to the 74th Novella of Justinian (538), a lawful marriage could be sealed by either an ecdicus (a church notary) or a priest. This rule was included in the eclogue of Emperor Leo III and his son Constantine (740), and in the legislation of Basil I (879). Mutual agreement between man and woman, confirmed before witnesses, was an important condition of marriage. The Church did not protest against this practice. Only in 893, by Novella 89 of Emperor Leo VI, free citizens were obliged to marry in church. In 1095, Emperor Alexis Comninus extended this rule to slaves. The introduction of obligatory church marriage (9th-11th centuries) meant that the authority transferred the entire legal regulation of matrimonial relations to the jurisdiction of the Church. However, the universal introduction of this practice should not be seen as the institution of the Sacrament of Matrimony, which had existed in the Church from times immemorial.

The order established in Byzantium was also assimilated in Russia with regard to the people of Orthodox confession. By the Decree on the Separation of the Church from the State (1918), church marriage was rendered invalid; formally the faithful were given the right to accept a church blessing after registering a marriage with state. In fact, throughout the long period of the persecution of religion by the state, the celebration of marriage in church remained difficult and dangerous.

On December 28, 1998, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church regretted to state that “some spiritual fathers tend to declar common-law marriage invalid or demand that spouses, who have lived together for many years but were not married in church for this or that reason, should divorce Some spiritual fathers do not allow persons who live in “unwed” marriage to communicate, identifying such a marriage with fornication”. The decision adopted by the Synod points out that “while insisting on the necessity of church marriage, the Synod reminds pastors that the Orthodox Church also respects common-law marriage”.

The common faith of spouses who are members of the body of Christ is an essential condition for truly Christian and church marriage. It is only the family that has one faith that can become “the church in the house” (Rom. 16:5; Phil. 1:2), in which husband and wife together with their children grow in spiritual perfection and knowledge of God. The lack of like-mindedness presents a serious threat to the integrity of a matrimonial union. That is why the Church considers it her duty to urge the faithful to marry “only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39), that to marry only those who share their Christian convictions.

The above-mentioned resolution of the Holy Synod also speaks of the Church’s respect for “the marriage in which only one of the parties belongs to the Orthodox faith. For, according to St. Paul, “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband” (1 Cor. 7:14)”. The fathers of the Council in Trullo also referred to this scriptural text when recognised as valid the union between those who “up to this time being unbelievers and not yet numbered in the flock of the orthodox have contracted lawful marriage”, if later one of the spouses embraced the faith. In the same canon, however, just as in other canonical decrees (IV Ecum. Council 14; Laodic. 10, 31), and works of early Christian authors and church fathers (Tertullian, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Theodoret and St. Augustine), it is prohibited to contract marriages with followers of other religious traditions.

In accordance with ancient canonical prescriptions, today, too, the Church does not sanctifies marriages contracted between the Orthodox and non-Christians, while recognising them as lawful and not regarding those who live in such a marriage as living in sinful co-habitation. Proceeding from considerations of pastoral oikonomia, the Russian Orthodox Church has deemed it possible, both in the past and present, to celebrate marriages between Orthodox Christians and Catholics, members of the Oriental Churches and Protestants who confess the faith in the Triune God, provided the marriage is blessed in the Orthodox Church and the children are raised in the Orthodox faith. Most of the Orthodox Churches have followed the same practice for the past centuries.

By its decree of June 23, 1721, the Sacred Synod permitted to celebrate marriages on the above-mentioned conditions between Swedish captives held in Siberia and Orthodox brides. On August 18 of the same year, this Synodal decision was give a thorough biblical and theological substantiation in a special Synodal Letter. This Letter was also used as reference subsequently when the Holy Synod had to make a decision on mixed marriages in provinces annexed from Poland and Finland (the Holy Synod Decrees of 1803 and 1811). In these provinces, however, it was permitted to choose freely the confessional affiliation of children (this practice was applied for some time in the Baltic provinces as well). Finally, the rules concerning mixed marriages for the whole Russian Empire were sealed in the Statute of the Religious Consistories (1883). Many dynastic marriages were mixed, and for their celebration it was not required of the non-Orthodox party to embrace Orthodoxy (with the exception of the marriage of an heir to the Russian throne). Thus, the Protomartyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, was married to Prince Sergiy Alexandrovich and only later embraced Orthodox by her own will.

X. 3. The Church insists that spouses should remain faithful for life and that Orthodox marriage is indissoluble on the basis of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it for fornication, and shall marry another, commitieth adultery” (Mt. 19:6, 9). Divorce is denounced by the Church as sin, for it brings great spiritual suffering to spouses (at least to one of them), especially to children. Today’s situation in which a considerable number of marriages are dissolved, especially among young people, causes an extreme concern. This situation has become a real tragedy both for the individual and the people.

The Lord pointed to adultery as the only permissible ground for divorce, for it defiles the sanctity of marriage and breaks the bond of matrimonial faithfulness. In cases where spouses suffer from all kinds of conflict, the Church sees it as her pastoral task to use all the means appropriate for her, (such as exhortation, prayer, participation in the Sacraments) to safeguard the integrity of a marriage and to prevent divorce. The clergy are also called to talk to those who wish to marry, explaining to them the importance of the intended step.

Unfortunately, sometimes spouses prove unable to preserve the gift of grace they received in the Sacrament of Matrimony and to keep the unity of the family because of their sinful imperfection. In her desire to save the sinners, the Church gives them an opportunity to reform and is ready to re-admit them to the Sacraments after they make repentance.

The Byzantine laws, which were established by Christian emperors and met with no objection of the Church, admitted of various grounds for divorce. In the Russian Empire, the dissolution of lawful marriages was effected in the ecclesiastical court.

In 1918, in its Decision on the Grounds for the Dissolution of the Marriage Sanctified by the Church, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, recognised as valid, besides adultery and a new marriage of one of the party, such grounds as a spouse’s falling away from Orthodoxy, perversion, impotence which had set in before marriage or was self-inflicted, contraction of leper or syphilis, prolonged disappearance, conviction with disfranchisement, encroachment on the life or health of the spouse, love affair with a daughter in law, profiting from marriage, profiting by the spouse’s indecencies, incurable mental disease and malevolent abandonment of the spouse. At present, added to this list of the grounds for divorce are chronic alcoholism or drug-addiction and abortion without the husband’s consent.

For the spiritual education of those contracting a marriage and consolidation of marital bonds, the clergy are urged before celebrating a Marriage to explain in detail to the bridegroom and bride that a marital union concluded in church is indissoluble. They should emphasise that divorce as the last resort can be sought only if spouses committed actions defined by the Church as causes for divorce. Consent to the dissolution of a marriage cannot be given to satisfy a whim or to “confirm” a common-law divorce. However, if a divorce is an accomplished fact, especially when spouses live separately, the restoration of the family is considered impossible and a church divorce may be given if the pastor deigns to concede the request. The Church does not at all approve of a second marriage. Nevertheless, according to the canon law, after a legitimate church divorce, a second marriage is allowed to the innocent spouse. Those whose first marriage was dissolved through their own fault a second marriage is allowed only after repentance and penance imposed in accordance with the canons. According to the rules of St. Basil the Great, in exceptional cases where a third marriage is allowed, the duration of the penance shall be prolonged.

In its Decision of December 28, 1998, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church denounced the actions of those spiritual fathers who “prohibit their spiritual children from contracting a second marriage on the grounds that second marriage is allegedly denounced by the Church and who prohibit married couples from divorce if their family life becomes impossible for this or that reason”. At the same time, the Holy Synod resolved that “pastors should be reminded that in her attitude to the second marriage the Orthodox Church is guided by the words of St. Paul: ‘Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord’ (1 Cor. 7:27-28, 39)”.

X. 6. A special inner closeness between the family and the Church is evident already from the fact that in Holy Scriptures Christ describes Himself as a bridegroom (Mt. 9:15; 25:1-13; Lk. 12:35-36), while the Church is presented as His wife and bride (Eph. 5:24; Rev. 21:9). Similarly, St. Clement of Alexandria describes the family as a church and a house of God, while St. John Chrysostom calls the family “a lesser church”. “I shall also say”, writes the holy father, “that marriage is a mysterious transformation of the Church”. A man and a woman who love each other, united in marriage and aspiring for Christ form a domestic church. Children become fruits of their love and communion, and their birth and upbringing belong, according to the Orthodox teaching, to one of the most important goals of marriage.

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward”, exclaims the Psalmist (Ps. 127:3). St. Paul taught the saving nature of childbirth (1 Tim. 2:13). He also urged fathers: “Provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). “Children are not an occasional acquirement; we are responsible for their salvation The negligence of children is the greatest of all sins as it leads to extreme impiety There is no excuse for us if our children are corrupt”, St. John Chrysostom exhorts. St. Ephrem the Syrian teaches: “Blessed are those who bring up their children in piety”. “A true father is not the one who has begotten children but the one who has brought them up and taught them well”, writes St. Tikhon Zadonsky. “Parents are responsible first of all for the upbringing of their children and cannot ascribe blame for their bad education to anyone but themselves”, preached the Holy Martyr Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land”, reads the fifth commandment (Ex. 20:12). In the Old Testament, disrespect for parents is regarded as the greatest transgression (Ex. 21:15, 17; Prov. 20:20; 30:17). The New Testament teaches children to obey their parents with love: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20).

The family as a domestic church is a single organism whose members live and build their relations on the basis of the law of love. The experience of family relations teaches a person to overcome sinful egoism and lays the foundations for his sense of civil duty. It is in the family as a school of devotion that the right attitude to one’s neighbours and therefore to one’s people and society as a whole is formed. The living continuity of generations, beginning in family, is continued in the love of the forefathers and fatherland, in the feeling of participation in history. This is why it is so dangerous to distort the traditional parents-child relationship, which, unfortunately, have been in many ways endangered by the contemporary way of life. The diminished social significance of motherhood and fatherhood compared to the progress made by men and women in the professional field leads to the treatment of children as an unnecessary burden, contributing also to the development of alienation and antagonism between generations. The role of family in the formation of the personality is exceptional; no other social institution can replace it. The erosion of family relations inevitably entails the deformation of the normal development of children and leaves a long, and to a certain extent indelible trace in them for life.

Children who have parents who have abandoned them have become a lamentable disaster of society today. Thousands of abandoned children who fill orphanages and sometimes find themselves in streets point to a profound illness of society. Giving these children spiritual and material help and seeing to it that they are involved in religious and social life, the Church at the same time considers it one of her most important duties to raise parents’ awareness of their calling, which would exclude the tragedy of the abandoned child.

X. 5. In the pre-Christian world, it was common to think of woman as inferior to man. The Church of Christ has revealed the dignity and calling of woman in all its fullness, giving them solid religious grounds the ultimate of which is the veneration of the Most Holy Mother of God. According to Orthodox teaching, most favoured Mary, who was blessed among women (Lk. 1:21), showed the highest degree of moral purity, spiritual perfection and holiness to which humanity could raise and which surpasses the virtue of the angelic ranks. In Her face, motherhood is sanctified and the significance of the female principle is asserted. The mystery of the Incarnation is accomplished with the participation of the Mother of God, thus making Her a participant in the cause of the human salvation and re-birth. The Church deeply venerates the myrrh-bearing women and numerous communities of Christian women glorified by the feats of martyrdom, confession and righteousness. From the very beginning of the church community, woman has taken an active part in its building, liturgical life, mission, preaching, education and charity.

While appreciating the social role of women and welcoming their political, cultural and social equality with men, the Church opposes the tendency to diminish the role of woman as wife and mother. The fundamental equality of the sexes does not annihilate the natural distinction between them, nor does it imply the identity of their callings in family and society. In particular, the Church cannot misconstrue the words of St. Paul about the special responsibility of husband who is called to be “the head of the wife” who loves her as Christ loves His Church, and about the calling of the wife to obey the husband as the Church obeys Christ (Eph. 5:22-23; Col. 3:18). These words are not of course about the despotism of husband or the slavery of wife, but about supremacy in responsibility, care and love. It should not be forgotten either that all Christians are called to “submit themselves to one another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21). Therefore, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12).

Representatives of some social movements tend to diminish and sometimes even deny the importance of marriage and the institution of family, focusing primarily on the socially significant activities of women including those incompatible or little compatible with the woman’s nature (such as hard manual labour). Demands are often heard that men and women should be made artificially equal in every field of human activity. The Church, however, sees the calling of woman not in the mere emulation of man or competition with him, but in the development of all her God-given abilities, including those peculiar only to her nature. Without focusing on the distribution of social functions alone, Christian anthropology appropriates to woman a higher place than she is given in the contemporary irreligious beliefs. The desire to remove or minimise the natural differences in social field is alien to the church mind. Sexual, just as social and ethnic, distinctions do not obstruct the way to salvation given by Christ to all people. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). This soteriological assertion, however, does not imply an attempt to water down the human diversity artificially, nor should it be mechanically extended to any social relations.

X. 6. The virtue of chastity preached by the Church is the basis of the inner unity of the human personality, which should always be in the state of harmony between its mental and bodily powers. Fornication inevitably ruins the harmony and integrity of one’s life, damaging heavily one’s spiritual health. Libertinism dulls the spiritual vision and hardens the heart, making it incapable of true love. The happiness of full-blooded family life becomes unattainable for the fornicator. Sins against chastity also lead to negative social consequences. In the situation of a spiritual crisis of the human society, the mass media and the products of the so-called mass culture sometimes become instruments of moral corruption by praising sexual laxity, all kinds of sexual perversion and other sinful passions. Pornography, which is the exploitation of the sexual drive for commercial, political or ideological purposes, contributes to the suppression of the spiritual and moral principles, thus reducing man to an animal motivated by instinct alone.

The propaganda of vice is especially harmful for the still infirm souls of children and youth. Through books, films and other video products, as well as the mass media and some educational curricula, teenagers are often taught an idea of sexual relations extremely humiliating for the human dignity, since it gives no room to such notions as chastity, marital faithfulness and selfless love. Intimate relations between man and woman are not only exposed for show, offending the natural feeling of prudence, but also presented as an act of purely corporal gratification without any association with inner communion or any moral obligations. The Church urges the faithful to struggle, in co-operation with all morally healthy forces, against the propagation of this diabolical temptation, which, by destroying the family, undermines the foundations of society.

“Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath commiteth adultery with her already in his heart”, the Lord Jesus Christ says in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:28). “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” St. James warns (Jam. 1:15). “Neither fornicators shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 9-10). These words can be fully applied to the consumers and even more so the manufacturers of pornographic production. The latter can also fall under these words of Christ: “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea Woe to that man by whom the offence cometh” (Mt. 18:6-7). “Fornication is poison mortifying the soul Whoever fornicates rejects Christ”, St. Tikhon Zadonsky wrote. St. Dimitry of Rostov wrote that “the body of each Christian is not his, but Christ’s, according to the words of Scripture: ‘Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular’ (1 Cor. 12-27). And it does not behove you to defile the body of Christ by carnal and voluptuous actions, except lawful conjugality. For you are a house of Christ, according to the word of the Apostle: ‘for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are’ (1 Cor. 3:17)”. The Early Church, in the writings of her fathers and doctors, such as Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. John Chrysostom, invariably renounced obscene drama scenes and presentations. Under the threat of excommunication, the 100th Canon of the Council in Trullo prohibits making “representations corrupting the mind and provoking inflammations of impure pleasures”.

The human body is a wondrous creation of God and is ordained to become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Condemning pornography and fornication, the Church does not at all call to abhor the body or sexual intimacy as such. For the physical relations between man and woman are blessed by God in marriage in which they express chaste love, complete communion and the “harmony of the minds and bodies” of the spouses, for which the Church prays in the celebration of wedding. What actually should be denounced is the tendency to turn these chaste and appropriate relations as God has designed them and the human body itself into an object of humiliating exploitation and trade to derive egoistic, impersonal, loveless and perverted pleasure. For this reason, the Church invariably denounces prostitution and the preaching of the so-called free love in which physical intimacy is completely divorced from personal and spiritual communion, selflessness and all-round responsibility for each other, which are possible only in the lifetime conjugal faithfulness.

Aware of the need for the school, along with the family, to give children and adolescents the knowledge of sexuality and the physical human nature, the Church cannot support those programs of “sexual education” in which premarital intercourse and, all the more so, various perversions are recognised as the norm. It is absolutely unacceptable to impose such programs upon schoolchildren. School is called to oppose vice which erodes the integrity of the personality, to educate children for chastity and prepare them for creating solid families based on faithfulness and purity.

Continue on to XI. Personal and National Health from The Orthodox Church and Society

XI. Personal and national health

XI. 1. At all times the Church has been concerned for the human health, both spiritual and physical. From the Orthodox perspective, however, the physical health divorced from spiritual is not an absolute value. Preaching by word and deed, the Lord Jesus Christ healed people, taking care not only of their bodies, but above all of their souls, and as a result of the integrity of the personality. According to the Saviour Himself, he healed “a man every whit whole” (Jn. 7:23). The preaching of the gospel was accompanied with healing as a sign of the power of the Lord to forgive sins. Healing was an integral part of the apostolic preaching as well. The Church of Christ, endowed by her Divine Founder with every gift of the Holy Spirit, was from the beginning a community of healing, and today too, in her rite of confession she reminds her children that they have come into an infirmary to come out healed.

The biblical attitude to medicine is expressed most fully in the Book of Jesus the Son of Sirach: “Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him… For of the most High cometh healing The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them. And he hath given men skill, that he might be honoured in his marvellous works. With such doth he heal [men,] and taketh away their pains. Of such doth the apothecary make a confection; and of his works there is no end; and from him is peace over all the earth, My son, in thy sickness be not negligent: but pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole. Leave off from sin, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all wickedness…Then give place to the physician, for the Lord hath created him: let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him. There is a time when in their hands there is good success. For they shall also pray unto the Lord, that he would prosper that, which they give for ease and remedy to prolong life.” (Sir. 38:1-2, 4, 6-10, 12-14). The best representatives of the ancient medicine, included in the community of saints, gave a special example of holiness the holiness of disinterested and miracle-working people. They were glorified not only because they often suffered martyrdom, but also because they accepted the medical calling as Christian duty of mercy.

The Orthodox Church has always treated the medical work with high respect as it is based on the service of love aimed to prevent and relieve people’s suffering. The recovery of the human nature distorted by illness appears as the fulfilment of God’s design for man. “May the very God of peace sanctify you wholly and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 5:23). The body, free from slavery to sinful passions and illnesses as their consequences, should serve the soul, while the spiritual powers and abilities, transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, should aspire for the ultimate goal and calling of man which is deification. Every authentic healing is called to be part of this miracle of healing accomplished in the Church of Christ. At the same time, it is necessary to distinguish the healing power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, given in the faith in One Lord Jesus Christ through participation in the church Sacraments, from conjuration, incantation and other magic manipulations and prejudices.

Many illnesses are still incurable and cause suffering and death. In the face of such illnesses, the Orthodox Christian is called to rely on the all-good will of God, remembering that the meaning of life is not limited to earthly life which is essentially the preparation for eternity. Suffering is a consequence of not only personal sins, but also the general distortion and limitation of the human nature and as such should be endured with patience and hope. The Lord voluntarily accepts suffering so that the human race may be saved: “with his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5). This means that God was pleased to make suffering a means of salvation and purification, possible for every one who endures it with humbleness and trust in the all-good will of God. According to St. John Chrysostom, “whoever has learnt to thank God for his illnesses is not far from being holy”. This does not mean that a doctor or a patient should not struggle with illness. However, when human resources are exhausted, the Christian should remember that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness and that in the depths of suffering he can meet Christ Who took upon Himself our infirmities and afflictions (Is. 53:4).

XI. 2. The Church calls upon both pastors and her faithful to bear Christian witness to health workers. It is very important that medical teachers and students should be introduced to the bases of the Orthodox teaching and Orthodox-oriented biomedical ethics. (see, XII). The Church’s spiritual care in the sphere of healthcare lies essentially in the proclamation of the word of God and the offer of the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who suffer and those who take care of them. Central to it are the participation of patients in the salvific Sacraments, creation of an atmosphere of prayer in clinics and the comprehensive charitable support of their patients. The church mission in the medical sphere is a duty not only for the clergy, but also for the Orthodox medical workers called to create all the conditions for religious consolation to be given to the patients who ask for it either directly or indirectly. A believing medical worker should understand that a person who needs his help expects from him not only appropriate treatment, but also spiritual support, especially if he upholds a worldview revealing the mystery of suffering and death. The duty of every Orthodox medical worker is to be for the patient the merciful Samaritan from the Gospel parable.

The Church gives her blessing upon the Orthodox brotherhoods and sisterhoods working in clinics and other healthcare institutions and helping to found hospital churches, as well as church and monastery hospitals, so that medical aid in all stages of treatment may be combined with pastoral care. The Church urges the laity to give all possible support to the sick to relieve human suffering with gentle love and care.

XI. 3. For the Church, the problem of personal and national health is not an external and purely social, because it has a direct bearing on her mission in the world damaged by sin and infirmities. The Church is called to participate, in collaboration with state structures and concerned public circles, in the development of such a conception of national healthcare whereby every person would exercise his right to spiritual, physical and mental health and social welfare under maximum life expectancy.

The doctor-patient relationships should be built on respect for the integrity, free choice and dignity of the personality. It is inadmissible to manipulate him even for the best purposes. The Church cannot but welcomes the development of doctor-patient dialogue taking place in medicine today. This approach is definitely rooted in the Christian tradition, though there is a temptation to reduce it to a purely contractual level. At the same time, it should be admitted that the traditional “paternalistic” model of doctor-patient relations, rightly criticised for frequent attempts to justify the doctor’s arbitrariness, can also offer a truly paternal approach to the patient, determined by the morality of the doctor.

Without giving preference to any organisational model of medical aid, the Church believes that this aid should be maximum effective and accessible to all members of society, regardless of their financial means and social status, also in the situation of limited medical resources. To make the distribution of these resources truly equitable, the criterion of “vital needs” should prevail over that of “market relations”. The doctor should not link the measure of his responsibility for giving medical aid exclusively with the financial reward and its amount, turning his profession into a source of enrichment. At the same time, worthy payment for the work of medical workers appears to be an important task for society and state.

While acknowledging the benefit of medicine becoming more oriented to prognosis and prevention and welcoming the integral conception of health and illness, the Church warns against attempts to make a particular medical theory absolute, reminding of the importance of keeping the spiritual priorities in the human life. On the basis of her age-old experience, the Church also warns of the danger that may be brought by attempt to introduce the occult-magic practice under the guise of “alternative medicine”, as this practice subjects the will and consciousness of people to the power of demonic forces. Every person should have the right and a real opportunity to reject those methods of influencing his organism which contradict his religious convictions.

The Church reminds the faithful that physical health is not self-sufficient, since it is only one of the aspects in the integral human being. It should be admitted, however, that in order to maintain the personal and national health it is important to take preventive measures and to create real conditions for people to engage themselves in physical culture and sports. Competition is natural for sports. Its extreme commercialisation, however, and the ensuing cult of pride, ruinous drug-taking and, all the more so, the contests in which severe injuries are purposefully inflicted cannot be approved.

XI. 4. The Russian Orthodox Church has to state with deep concern that the peoples she has traditionally nourished are in the state of demographical crisis today. The birth rate and the average life expectancy have sharply decreased, with the population continually decreasing in number. Life is threatened by epidemics, growing cardiovascular, mental, venereal and other diseases, as well as drug-addiction and alcoholism. Children’s illnesses, including imbecility, have also grown. The demographical problems lead to deformation in the social structure and decrease in the creative potential of the people and become one of the causes of the weakening family. The primary causes of the depopulation and health crisis of these peoples in the 20th century are wars, revolution, hunger and massive repression the consequences of which have aggravated the social crisis at the end of the century.

The Church has been continually occupied with demographic problems. She is called to follow closely the legislative and administrative processes in order to prevent decisions aggravating the situation. It is necessary to conduct continuous dialogue with the government and the mass media to interpret the Church’s stand on the demographic and healthcare policy. The fight with depopulation should be included in the effective support of medical research and social programs intended to protect motherhood and childhood, the embryo and the newborn. The state is called to support the birth and proper upbringing of children.

XI. 5. The Church regards mental diseases as manifestations of the general sinful distortion of the human nature. Singling out the spiritual, mental and bodily levels in the structure of the personality, the holy fathers drew a distinction between the diseases which developed “from nature” and the infirmities caused by the diabolic impact or enslaving human passions. In accordance with this distinction, it is equally unjustifiable to reduce all mental diseases to manifestations of obsession the conception ensuing in the unjustifiable exorcism of evil spirits, and to treat any mental disorder exclusively by medical means. More fruitful in psychotherapy is the combination of the pastoral and the medical aid with due delimitation made between the jurisdictions of the doctor and the priest.

No mental disease diminishes the dignity of a person. The Church testifies that a mentally ill person, too, is a bearer of the image of God, remaining our brother who needs compassion and support. Morally inadmissible are the psychotherapeutic approaches based on the suppression of a patient’s personality and the humiliation of his dignity. Occult methods of influencing the psyche, sometimes disguised as scientific psychotherapy, are categorically unacceptable for Orthodoxy. In special cases, the treatment of the mentally ill requires both isolation and other forms of coercion. However, in choosing the form of medical intervention, the principle of the least restriction of a patient’s freedom should be observed.

XI. 6. The Bible says that “wine maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15) and “it is good… if it be drunk moderately” (Sir. 31:27). But we repeatedly find both in Holy Scriptures and the writings of the holy fathers the strong denunciation of the vice of drinking, which, beginning unnoticeably, leads to many other ruinous sins. Very often drinking causes the disintegration of family, bringing enormous suffering to both the victim of this sinful infirmity and his relatives, especially children.

“Drinking is animosity against God Drinking is a voluntarily courted devil Drinking drives the Holy Spirit away”, St. Basil the Great writes. “Drinking is the root of all evils The drunkard is a living corpse Drinking in itself can serve as punishment, filling as it is the soul with confusion, filling the mind with darkness, making a drunk prisoner, subjecting one to innumerable diseases, internal and external Drinking is a many-sided and many-headed beast Here it gives rise to fornication, there to anger, here to the dullness of the mind and the heart, there to impure love Nobody obeys the ill will of the devil as faithfully as a drunkard does”, St. John Chrysostom exhorted. “A drunk man is capable of every evil and prone to every temptation Drinking renders its adherent incapable of any task”, St. Tikhon Zadonsky testifies.

Even more destructive is ever increasing drug-addiction the passion that makes a person enslaved by it extremely vulnerable to the impact of dark forces. With every year this terrible infirmity engulfs more and more people, taking away great many a life. The fact that the most liable to it are young people makes it a special threat to society. The selfish interests of the drug business help to promote, especially among youth, the development of a special “drug” pseudo-culture. It imposes on immature people the stereotypes of behaviour in which the use of drugs is seen as a “normal” and even indispensable attribute of relations.

The principal reason for the desire of many of our contemporaries to escape into a realm of alcoholic or narcotic illusions is spiritual emptiness, loss of the meaning of life and blurred moral guiding lines. Drug-addiction and alcoholism point to the spiritual disease that has affected not only the individual, but also society as a whole. This is a retribution for the ideology of consumerism, for the cult of material prosperity, for the lack of spirituality and the loss of authentic ideals. In her pastoral compassion for the victims of alcoholism and drug-addiction, the Church offers them spiritual support in overcoming the vice. Without denying the need of medical aid to be given at the critical stages of drug-addiction, the Church pays special attention to the prevention and rehabilitation which are the most effective when those suffering participate consciously in the eucharistic and communal life.

Continue on to XII. Problems of Bio-Ethics from The Orthodox Church and Society

Advice on Peacemaking from the Saints

St. John Chrysostom:

Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, “This is my body,” and made it so by his word, is the same that said, “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.” Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.

–St. John Chrysostom / “On the Gospel of St. Matthew”, 50, iii (PG 58, 508)

If you are a Christian, no earthly city is yours. Of our City ‘the Builder and Maker is God.’ Though we may gain possession of the whole world, we are withal but strangers and sojourners in it all. We are enrolled in heaven: our citizenship is there! Let us not, after the manner of little children, despise things that are great, and admire those which are little! Not our city’s greatness, but virtue of soul is our ornament and defense. If you suppose dignity to belong to a city, think how many persons must partake in this dignity, who are whoremongers, effeminate, depraved and full of ten thousand evil things, and at last despise such honor! But that City above is not of this kind; for it is impossible that he can be a partaker of it, who has not exhibited every virtue.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 17 on the Commissioners

For what advantage is it, that the world enjoys profound peace, if thou art at war with thyself? This then is the peace we should keep. If we have it, nothing from without will be able to harm us. And to this end the public peace contributes no little: whence it is said, ‘That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.’ But if any one is disturbed when there is quiet, he is a miserable creature. Seest thou that He speaks of this peace which I call the third (inner, ed.) kind? Therefore when he has said, ‘that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,’ he does not stop there, but adds ‘in all godliness and honesty.’ But we cannot live in godliness and honesty, unless that peace be established. For when curious reasonings disturb our faith, what peace is there? or when spirits of uncleanness, what peace is there?

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 7 on 1 Tim 2:2-4

Just as maniacs, who never enjoy tranquility, so also he who is resentful and retains an enemy will never have the enjoyment of any peace; incessantly raging and daily increasing the tempest of his thoughts calling to mind his words and acts, and detesting the very name of him who has aggrieved him. Do you but mention his enemy, he becomes furious at once, and sustains much inward anguish; and should he chance to get only a bare sight of him, he fears and trembles, as if encountering the worst evils, Indeed, if he perceives any of his relations, if but his garment, or his dwelling, or street, he is tormented by the sight of them. For as in the case of those who are beloved, their faces, their garments, their sandals, their houses, or streets, excite us, the instant we behold them; so also should we observe a servant, or friend, or house, or street, or any thing else belonging to those We hate and hold our enemies, we are stung by all these things; and the strokes we endure from the sight of each one of them are frequent and continual. What is the need then of sustaining such a siege, such torment and such punishment? For if hell did not threaten the resentful, yet for the very torment resulting from the thing itself we ought to forgive the offences of those who have aggrieved us. But when deathless punishments remain behind, what can be more senseless than the man, who both here and there brings punishment upon himself, while he thinks to be revenged upon his enemy!

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 20

In the past the emperors were faithless persecutors; presently their piety reaches up to heaven. When passing the threshold of the church they lay off their crowns and sign their foreheads with the Cross of Christ. Outside are the weapons, inside the Mysteries; outside the shields, while in here the sacred acts are performed.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily on the Pentecost, CPG 4343

As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion. I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! ‘Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!’

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 20

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 20

Praying against one’s personal enemies is a transgression of law.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren

Prayer for our enemies is the very highest summit of self-control.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 18 on the Gospel of St Matthew

Many, throwing themselves prostrate, and striking the ground with their forehead, and pouring forth hot tears, and groaning bitterly from the heart and stretching out their hands, and displaying much earnestness, employ this warmth and forwardness against their own salvation. For it is not on behalf of their own sins that they beseech God; nor are they asking forgiveness of the offences committed by them; but they are exerting this earnestness against their enemies, doing just the same thing as if one, after whetting his sword, were not to use the weapon against his enemies, but to thrust it through his own throat. So these also use their prayers not for the remission of their own sins, but about revenge on their enemies; which is to thrust the sword against themselves.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren

How great punishment must they deserve, who, far from themselves forgiving, do even entreat God for vengeance on their enemies, and as it were diametrically transgress this law; and this while He is doing and contriving all, to hinder our being at variance one with another? For since love is the root of all that is good, He, removing from all sides whatever mars it, brings us together, and cements us to each other.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on St Matthew: On the Lord’s Prayer

There are three very grievous kinds of war. The one is public, when our soldiers are attacked by foreign armies: The second is, when even in time of peace, we are at war with one another: The third is, when the individual is at war with himself, which is the worst of all. For foreign war will not be able to hurt us greatly. What, I pray, though it slaughters and cuts us off? It injures not the soul. Neither will the second have power to harm us against our will; for though others be at war with us, we may be peaceable ourselves. For so says the Prophet, ‘For my love they are my adversaries, but I give myself unto prayer’ (Ps. 109:4); and again, ‘I was at peace with them that hate peace’; and, ‘I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.’ (Ps. 120:6, 7, LXX) But from the third, we cannot escape without danger. For when the body is at variance with the soul, and raises up evil desires, and arms against it sensual pleasures, or the bad passions of anger, and envy; we cannot attain the promised blessings, till this war is brought to an end; whoever does not still this tumult, must fall pierced by wounds that will bring that death that is in hell. We have daily need therefore of care and great anxiety, that this war may not be stirred up within us, or that, if stirred up, it may not last, but be quelled and laid asleep.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 7 on 1 Tim 2:2-4

If in order to put an end to public wars, and tumults, and battles, the Priest is exhorted to offer prayers for kings and governors, much more ought private individuals to do it.

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 7 on 1 Tim 2:2-4

To conquer enemies does not render kings so illustrious, as to conquer wrath and anger. For, in the former case, the success is due to arms and soldiers; but here the trophy is simply your own, and you have no one to divide the glory of your moral wisdom. You have overcome barbarian war, overcome also Imperial wrath!

— St John Chrysostom, Homily 6 (on the attempts to quiet the wrath of the Emperor)

St. Basil the Great:

Nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker.

— St Basil the Great, Letter 114

I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ.

— St Basil the Great, Letter 203,2

I have learnt to know one who proves that even in a soldier’s life it is possible to preserve the perfection of love to God, and that we must mark a Christian not by the style of his dress, but by the disposition of his soul.

— St Basil the Great, Letter 106 (to a soldier)

St. Gregory of Nyssa:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Who are these? Those who imitate the Divine love of others, who show forth in their own life the characteristic of the Divine energy. The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is without affinity and foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart. Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed. For as light follows the departure of darkness, thus also these evil things are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit: by charity, joy, peace, benignity, magnanimity, all the good things enumerated by the Apostle (Gal 5:22). How then should the dispenser of the Divine gifts not be blessed, since he imitates the gifts of God and models his own good deeds on the Divine generosity?

But perhaps the beatitude does not only regard the good of others. I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.

— St. Gregory of Nyssa / The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, Ancient Christian Writers series, Newman Press

When our hearts are reluctant we often have to compel ourselves to pray for our enemies, to pour out prayer for those who are against us. Would that our hearts were filled with love! How frequently we offer a prayer for our enemies, but do it because we are commanded to, not out of love for them. We ask the gift of life for them even while we are afraid that our prayer may be heard. The judge of our soul considers our hearts rather than our words. Those who do not pray for their enemies out of love are not asking anything for their benefit.

Jesus, our advocate, has composed a prayer for our case. And our advocate is also our judge. He has inserted a condition in the prayer that reads: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Sometimes we say these words without carrying them out. Thus our words bind us more tightly.

— St. Gregory the Great, “Be Friends of God”

What are we to do then, my friends? We must bestow our love on our brothers and sisters. We must not allow any malice at all to remain in our hearts. May almighty God have regard for our love of our neighbor, so that He may pardon our iniquities! Remember what He taught us: Forgive, and you will be forgiven. People are in debt to us, and us to them. Let us forgive them their debts, so that what we owe may be forgiven.

— St Gregory the Great, Homily

How do we count the fruits of earthly blessings? If we … add to our account those who have fared well in combat through inflicting defeats in battle and other recorded deeds, these examples do not suit our objective. A Christian is ashamed at anything contrary to the faith and rejoices at praise coming from persons who love Christ much like those in the shadow of a notable person exult in his victories. Let us be silent about this world’s glories despite their numerous accounts.

— St Gregory of Nyssa, The first Homily concerning the forty Martyrs (Part One)

Someone who has defiled himself with murder — be it involuntarily — is considered impure through his impure deeds and the canon considers such a person unworthy of the grace of priesthood.

— St Gregory of Nyssa, Canonical Epistle to St Letoius of Melitene.

Demons are distressed at the sight, and they readily acknowledge this fact. By reason of their greatness, such men are soldiers of Christ armed with the Holy Spirit, champions of faith and towers of the divine city. They resist every infliction of torture, fear, threats and foolish, shameful ridicule; they appear to offer their bodies to such outrages, but these are merely shadows. Such persons who are in the flesh defeat the flesh and have contempt for death; they disdain all fear of tyrants and appear more noble. How lovely are those trained in such bodily victories! How wonderful is their training when applied to combat against the devil! They are not armed with swords, shields, helmets or leg protection; rather, they are armed with the full armor of God which the divine Apostle [Paul], the leader of the Church, illustrates: a shield, breastplate, helmet and sword (Eph 6.11 ff). These weapons are used against the enemy’s forces, but divine grace supports them against the devil’s troop which has the power to inflict death. This troop takes its stand in the tribunal, the place of decisive contest, where blood is shed; here [the devil’s band] makes its threats and fights against those who patiently resist it.

— St Gregory of Nyssa, Second Homily concerning the Forty Martyrs

All things belong to God. All are our brothers and sisters. Among us it is best that all inherit equal portions.

— St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Maximus the Confessor:

“But I say to you,” the Lord says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.” Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God.

— St. Maximus the Confessor

St. Ambrose of Milan:

The peace which removes the enticements of the passion and calms the perturbations of the spirit is loftier than that which puts down the invasion of barbarians. For it is a greater thing to resist the enemy inside you than the one far off.

— St. Ambrose of Milan, On Jacob 2,6,29

Why are you disturbed? I will never willingly desert you, though if force is used, I cannot meet it. I shall be able to grieve, to weep, to groan; against weapons, soldiers, Goths, my tears are my weapons, for these are a priest’s defense.

I see that you are unusually disturbed, and that you are closely watching me. I wonder what the reason is? Is it that you saw or heard that I had received an imperial order at the hands of the tribunes, to the effect that I was to go hence, whither I would, and that all who wished might follow me? Were you afraid that I should desert the Church and forsake you in fear for my own safety? But you could note the message I sent, that the wish to desert the Church had never entered my mind; for I feared the Lord of the universe more than an earthly emperor; and if force were to drag me from the Church, my body indeed could be driven out, but not my mind. I was ready, if he were to do what royal power is wont to do, to undergo the fate a priest has to bear….

I ought not, I cannot resist in any other way; but to fly and forsake the Church is not my way; lest any one should suppose I did so from fear of some heavier punishment. You yourselves know that I am wont to show respect to our emperors, but not to yield to them, to offer myself freely to punishment, and not to fear what is prepared for me.

— St Ambrose of Milan, Sermon Against Auxentius, On the Giving up of the Basilicas [In the year 385 the Arian bishop Auxentius used an Imperial decree ordering that the basilicas of Milan be handed over to the Arians. St Ambrose led the people in protest over this decree. Challenging his opponents to a discussion in the church, he said their weapons did not frighten him.]

Some ask whether, in case of a shipwreck, a wise man ought to take away a plank from an ignorant sailor. Although it seems better for the common good that a wise man rather than a fool should escape from shipwreck, yet I do not think that a Christian, a just and a wise man, ought to save his own life by the death of another; just as when he meets with an armed robber he cannot return his blows, lest in defending his life he should stain his love toward his neighbor. The verdict on this is plain and clear in the books of the Gospel. ‘Put up thy sword, for every one that taketh the sword shall perish with the sword’ (Mt 26,52). What robber is more hateful than the persecutor who came to kill Christ? But Christ would not be defended from the wounds of the persecutor, for He willed to heal all by His wounds.

— St Ambrose of Milan, Duties of the Clergy 3,4,27

St. John Climacus:

Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sin, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer… You will know that you have completely freed yourself of this rot, not when you pray for he person who has offended you, not when you exchange presents with him, not when you invite him to your table, but only when, on hearing that he has fallen into bodily or spiritual misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as for yourself.

— St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

St. Athanasius the Great:

Where the Savior is named, there every demon is driven out. Again, who has ever so rid men of their natural passions that fornicators become chaste and murderers no longer wield the sword and those who formerly were craven cowards boldly play the man? In a word, what persuaded the barbarians and heathen folk in every place to drop their madness and give heed to peace, save the faith of Christ and the sign of the cross? What other things have given men such certain faith in immortality as have the cross of Christ and the resurrection of His body?

— St Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation, Chapter 8, 50

Christ is not only preached through His own disciples, but also wrought so persuasively on men’s understanding that, laying aside their savage habits and forsaking the worship of their ancestral gods, they learnt to know Him and through Him to worship the Father. While they were yet idolaters, the Greeks and Barbarians were always at war with each other, and were even cruel to their own kith and kin. Nobody could travel by land or sea at all unless he was armed with swords, because of their irreconcilable quarrels with each other. Indeed, the whole course of their life was carried on with the weapons. But since they came over to the school of Christ, as men moved with real compunction they have laid aside their murderous cruelty and are war-minded no more. On the contrary, all is peace among them and nothing remains save desire for friendship.

Who, then, is He Who has done these things and has united in peace those who hated each other, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Savior of all, Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation? Even from the beginning, moreover, this peace that He was to administer was foretold, for Scripture says, ‘They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles, and nation shall not take sword against nation, neither shall they learn any more to wage war.’ Nor is this by any means incredible.

The barbarians of the present day are naturally savage in their habits, and as long as they sacrifice to their idols they rage furiously against each other and cannot bear to be a single hour without weapons. But when they hear the teaching of Christ, forthwith they turn from fighting to farming, and instead of arming themselves with swords extend their hands in prayer. In a word, instead of fighting each other, they take up arms against the devil and the demons, and overcome them by their self-command and integrity of soul.

— St Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation, Chapters 8, 51 and 52

The Savior has taught men what they could never learn among the idols. It is also no small exposure of the weakness and nothingness of demons and idols, for it was because they knew their own weakness that the demons were always setting men to fight each other, fearing lest, if they ceased from mutual strife, they would turn to attack the demons themselves. For in truth the disciples of Christ, instead of fighting each other, stand arrayed against demons by their habits and virtuous actions, and chase them away and mock at their captain the devil. Even in youth they are chaste, they endure in times of testing and persevere in toils. When they are insulted, they are patient, when robbed they make light of it, and, marvelous to relate, they make light even of death itself, and become martyrs of Christ.

— St Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation, Chapter 8, 52

St. Cyprian of Carthage:

As long as this body remains common with the rest, its corporal condition must also be common, and it is not granted the members of the human race to be separated from one another, unless there is withdrawal from this life. Meanwhile, we, good and evil, are contained within our house. Whatever comes within the house we endure with equal fate, until, when our temporal earthly period has been fulfilled, we are distributed among the homes of eternal death or immortality. So then we are not comparable and equal with you, because, while we are still in this world and in this flesh, we incur equally with you the annoyances of the world and of the flesh. For since all that punishes is in the sense of pain, it is manifest that he is not a participant in your punishment whom you see does not suffer pain with you.

— St. Cyprian of Carthage, To Demetrian, Chapter 19 [In this treatise, written during the plague that ravaged Carthage in 252 AD, St Cyprian responds to the accusation that the Christians are responsible for the epidemic]

Abel, peaceable and just, while he was sacrificing to God innocently, taught others also, when they offer a gift at the altar, to come with fear of God, with simple heart, with the law of justice, with the peace of concord. Worthily did he, since he was such in God’s sacrifice, himself later become a sacrifice to God, so that being the first to manifest martyrdom he initiated the Lord’s passion by his blood, who had both the justice and peace of the Lord. Finally, such are crowned by the Lord; such on the day of judgment will be vindicated with the Lord. But the discordant and the dissident and he who has not peace with his brethren, according as the blessed Apostle and the Holy Scripture testify, not even if he be slain for His name, shall be able to escape the crime of fraternal dissension, because, as it is written: Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and a murderer does not arrive at the kingdom of heaven nor does he live with God. He cannot be with Christ, who preferred to be an imitator of Judas rather than of Christ. What a sin that is which cannot be washed away by the baptism of blood; what a crime that is which cannot be expiated by martyrdom!

— St Cyprian of Carthage, On the Lord’s Prayer, Chapter 24

You have many things to ponder. Ponder paradise, where Cain, who destroyed his brother through jealousy, does not return. Ponder the kingdom of heaven to which the Lord admits only those of one heart and mind. Ponder the fact that only those can be called the sons of God who are peace-makers, who, united by divine birth and law, correspond to the likeness of God the Father and Christ. Ponder that we are under God’s eyes, that we are running the course of our conversation, and life with God Himself looking on and judging, that then finally we can arrive at the point of succeeding in seeing Him, if we delight Him as He now observes us by our actions, if we show ourselves worthy of His grace and indulgence, if we, who are to please Him forever in heaven, please Him first in this world.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, Jealousy and Envy, Chapter 18

Hence [from the days of Cain and Abel] finally begin the first hatreds of the new brotherhood; hence the abominable parricides, when the unjust Cain is jealous of the just Abel, when the evil persecutes the good out of jealousy and envy… He was unjustly oppressed who had been the first to show justice; he endured hatred who did not know how to hate; he was slain impiously who while dying did not fight back. What other than the stimulus of jealousy provoked Saul the king also to hate David, to desire to kill that innocent, merciful man, patient with a gentle mildness, by often repeated persecutions? Because, when Goliath had been killed and so great an enemy had been slain by divine assistance and condescension, the admiring people burst forth into approbation unto praise of David, Saul through envy conceived the furies of hatred and persecution.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, Jealousy and Envy, Chapter 5

No one of us fights back when he is apprehended, nor do our people avenge themselves against your unjust violence though numerous and plentiful. Our certainty of the vengeance which is to come makes us patient. The harmless give way to the harmful; the innocent acquiesce in the punishments and tortures certain and confident that whatever we suffer will not remain unavenged, and that the greater is the injury of the persecution, the more just and serious will be the vengeance for the persecution. Long ago divine Scripture laid down and said: ‘Vengeance is mine, I shall repay, says the Lord,’ and let the Holy Spirit again warn us saying: ‘Say not: I will avenge myself on my enemy, but wait in the Lord so that He may aid you.’ Thus it is clear and manifest that not through us but for us do all these things happen which come down from the anger of God.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, To Demetrian, Chapter 17

From the sacrament of the cross you receive both food and drink; let the wood, which availed at Mara in a figure for sweetening the taste, avail you in truth for soothing the softened breast, and you will not labor for the remedy for increasing the health. Cure yourself at the source from which you had been wounded. Love those whom you hated before; esteem those whom you envied with unjust disparagements. Imitate the good, if you can follow them; if you cannot follow them, surely rejoice with them and congratulate your betters Your debts will be forgiven you, when you yourself shall forgive. Your sacrifices will be accepted, when you shall come to God as a peacemaker.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, Jealousy and Envy, Chapter 17

For a little consider that you are being transported to the loftiest peak of a high mountain, that from this you are viewing the appearance of things that lie below you and with your eyes directed in different directions you yourself free from earthly contacts gaze upon the turmoils of the world. Presently you also will have pity on the world, and taking account of yourself and with more gratitude to God you will rejoice with greater joy that you have escaped from it. Observe the roads blocked by robbers, the seas beset by pirates, wars spread everywhere with the bloody horrors of camps.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, To Donatus, Chapter 6

The world is going mad in mutual bloodshed. And murder, which is considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse. The offenders acquire impunity by increasing their ravaging.

— St Cyprian of Carthage

The world is soaked with mutual blood. When individuals commit homicide, it is a crime; it is called a virtue when it is done in the name of the state. Impunity is acquired for crimes not by reason of innocence but by the magnitude of the cruelty.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, To Donatus, chapter 6

Man is killed for the pleasure of man, and to be able to kill is a skill, is an employment, is an art. Crime is not only committed but is taught. What can be called more inhuman, what more repulsive? It is a training that one may be able to kill, and that he kills is a glory. What is this, I ask you, of what nature is it, where those offer themselves to wild beasts, whom no one has condemned, in the prime of life, of a rather beautiful appearance, in costly garments? While still alive they adorn themselves for a voluntary death, wretched they even glory in their wicked deeds. They fight with beasts not because they are convicts but because they are mad. Fathers look upon their own sons; a brother is in the arena and his sister near by, and, although the more elaborate preparation of the exhibition increases the price of the spectacle, oh shame! the mother also pays this price that she may be present at her own sorrows. And at such impious and terrible spectacles they do not realize that with their eyes they are parricides.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, To Donatus, chapter 7 [The letter concerns gladiator games.]

The enemy is always prepared to attack. And since his missiles which steal upon us secretly are more frequent and his casting of them more concealed and clandestine, and to the extent that this is not perceived, this attack is the more effectual and more frequent to our injury, let us also be alert to understand and repel these. Among these is the devil of jealousy and envy. If anyone should look deeply into this, he will discover that nothing should be avoided more by a Christian, nothing provided for more cautiously than that one be not caught by envy and malice, that one, being entangled in the blind snares of a deceitful enemy, when brother by envy turns to hatred of brother, not himself unwittingly perish by his own sword. That we may be able to gather this more fully and perceive it more clearly, let us recur to its source and origin. Let us see from what jealousy begins, both when and how. For more easily will so pernicious an evil be avoided, if both the origin and magnitude of the same is known.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, Jealousy and Envy, Chapter 3

For what more fitly or more fully befits our care and solicitude than to prepare the people divinely committed to us and the army established in the heavenly camp with constant exhortations against the weapons and darts of the devil? For he cannot be a soldier fit for war who has not first been trained in the field, nor will he who seeks to obtain the contestant’s crown be crowned in the stadium, unless he first gives thought to the practice and skill of his powers. He is an old adversary and an ancient enemy with whom we wage battle. Almost six thousand years are now being fulfilled since the devil first attacked man. All kinds of tempting and arts and plots for his overthrow has he learned by the very practice of a long time. If he finds a soldier of Christ unprepared, if untrained, if he does not find him vigilant with a solicitous and whole heart, he besets him in ignorance: he deceives the incautious, he entraps the inexperienced. But if anyone guards the precepts of the Lord, and bravely adhering to Christ stands against the devil, he must be conquered, since Christ whom we confess is invincible.

— St Cyprian of Carthage, Exhortation to Martyrhood, to Fortunatus, Chapter 2

St. Euphemia:

Both the Emperor’s commands and yours [person in authority] must be obeyed if they are not contrary to the God of heaven. If they are, they must not only not be obeyed; they must be resisted.

— St. Euphemia, d. July 11, 303

Desert Fathers:

I have heard that there were two old men who dwelt together for many years, and who never quarreled, and that one said to the other, “let us also pick a quarrel with each other, even as other men do.” Then his companion answered and said unto him, “I know not how a quarrel cometh,” and the other old man answered and said unto him, “Behold, I will set a brick in the midst, and will say, ‘This is mine,’ and do thou say, ‘It is not thine, but mine’; and from this quarrelling will ensue.” And they placed a brick in the midst, and one of then said, “This is mine,” and his companion answered and said after him, “This is not so, for it is mine”; and straightaway the other replied and said unto him, “If this be so, and the brick be thine, take it and go.” Thus they were not able to make a quarrel.

— Sayings of the Desert Fathers

St. Justin Martyr:

[The demons] struggle to have you as their slaves and servants, and . . . they get hold of all who do not struggle to their utmost for their own salvation — as we do who, after being persuaded by the Word, renounced them and now follow the only unbegotten God through his Son. Those who once rejoiced in fornication now delight in self-control alone; those who made use of magic arts have dedicated themselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who once took most pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another and would not associate with men of different tribes because of [their different] customs, now after the manifestation of Christ live together and pray for our enemies and try to persuade those who unjustly hate us, so that they, living according to the fair commands of Christ, may share with us the good hope of receiving the same things . . . The teachings of Christ were short and concise, for he was no philosopher, but his word was the power of God.

— St Justin Martyr: First Apology 14 (Rome ca 150)

When the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: ‘For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, ‘The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn,’ might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.

— St Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 39

We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each throughout the whole earth changed our weapons of war — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine, i.e., each man possessing his own married wife. For you are aware that the prophetic word says, ‘And his wife shall be like a fruitful vine.’ Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world.

— St Justin Martyr, Dialogue, Chapter 110

St Ignatius of Antioch:

Let governors be obedient to Caesar; soldiers to those that command them; deacons to the presbyters, as to high-priests; the presbyters, and deacons, and the rest of the clergy, together with all the people, and the soldiers, and the governors, and Caesar [himself] to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as Christ to the Father. And thus unity is preserved throughout.

— St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, Chapter 4

St. Martin of Tours:

I am a soldier of Christ. To fight is not permissible for me.

— St. Martin of Tours [while still an army officer, explaining his unwillingness to take part in battle]

St. Maximillian:

My army is the army of God, and I cannot fight for this world…. You can cut off my head, but I will not be a soldier of this world, for I am a soldier of Christ.

— St. Maximillian, Martyr, executed for refusing military service(d. 295)

St. Theodore Studite:

You detach yourself from the cross to which you have crucified yourself alongside the Savior if you go and hit your brother.

— St. Theodore Studite, Small Catechism

St. Isaac the Syrian:

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.
Be crucified, but do not crucify others.
Be slandered, but do not slander others.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.
Suffer with the sick.
Be afflicted with sinners.
Exult with those who repent.
Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.
Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.
Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.


It is not virtue either to be the enemy of the bad or the defender of the good, because virtue cannot be subject to uncertain chances.

What are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation? — that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues, — all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence.

How can a man be just who injures, hates, despoils and puts to death? Yet they who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things: for they are ignorant of what this being serviceable is, who think nothing useful, nothing advantageous, but that which can be held by the hand; and this alone cannot be held, because it may be snatched away.

— Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 6 [Lactantius was the tutor of the son of St Constantine the Great. He lived approximately from 260 to 339 AD.]

This saying of Cicero is true: ‘But they who say that regard is to be had to citizens, but that it is not to be had to foreigners, these destroy the common society of the human race.’

— Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 6

God, in prohibiting killing, discountances not only brigandage, which is contrary to human law, but also that which men regard as legal. Thus participation in war will not be legitimate to a just man; his “military service” is justice itself.

— Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones, VI, xx

Dionysius the Areopagite:

Let us praise with reverent hymns of peace the Divine Peace, which is the Source of all mutual attraction. For this Quality it is that unites all things together and begets and produces the harmonies and agreements of all things. And hence it is that all things long for it, and that it draws their manifold separate parts into the unity of the whole and unites the battling elements of the world into concordant fellowship….

Let us, then, describe that Peace — inasmuch as it transcends all things — as ‘Unspeakable,’ ‘Unknowable’; and, so far as it is possible for man, let us examine those cases where it is amenable to our intuitions and language through being manifested in created things. The first thing to say is this: God is the Fount of Very Peace and of all Peace, both in general and in particular, and that He joins all things together in an unity without confusion.

— Dionysius the Areopagite, On the Divine Names, Chapter 11, 1-2

There is no need to tell how the loving-kindness of Christ comes bathed in Peace. Therefore we must learn to cease from strife, whether against ourselves or against one another, or against the angels, and instead to labor together even with the angels for the accomplishment of God’s Will, in accordance with the Providential Purpose of Jesus Who works all things in all and makes Peace, unutterable and foreordained from Eternity, and reconciles us to Himself, and, in Himself, to the Father. Concerning these supernatural gifts enough has been said with confirmation drawn from the holy testimony of the Scriptures.

— Dionysius the Areopagite, On the Divine Names, Chapter 11,5

Clement of Alexandria:

This is the proclamation of righteousness: to those that obey, glad tidings; to those that disobey, judgment. The loud trumpet, when sounded, collects the soldiers, and proclaims war. And shall not Christ, breathing a strain of peace to the ends of the earth, gather together His own soldiers, the soldiers of peace? Well, by His blood, and by the word, He has gathered the bloodless host of peace, and assigned to them the kingdom of heaven. The trumpet of Christ is His Gospel. He hath blown it, and we have heard. ‘Let us array ourselves in the armor of peace, putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and taking the shield of faith, and binding our brows with the helmet, of salvation; and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,’ let us sharpen. So the apostle in the spirit of peace commands. These are our invulnerable weapons: armed with these, let us face the evil one; ‘the fiery darts of the evil one’ let us quench with the sword-points dipped in water, baptized by the Word, returning grateful thanks for the benefits we have received, and honoring God through the Divine Word.

— Clement of Alexandria, Exhortations to the Heathens, 11

If a loud trumpet summons soldiers to war, shall not Christ with a strain of peace issued to the ends of the earth gather up his soldiers of peace? By his own blood and by his word he has assembled an army which sheds no blood in order to give them the Kingdom of Heaven. The trumpet of Christ is his Gospel. He has sounded it and we have heard it. Let us then put on the armor of peace.

— Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus XI, 116

In peace, not in war, we are trained.

— Clement of Alexandria, Paedogogus 1,12

If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are His laws? You shall not kill, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.

— Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus, 10

Athenagoras of Athens:

What, then, are these teachings in which we are reared? ‘I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust . . . Who [of the pagan philosophers] have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? . . . With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbors as themselves … We cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly…. We see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him. So we have given up [gladiatorial] spectacles…. What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God?…. But we are altogether consistent in our conduct…

— Athenagoras of Athens: Legatio 11, 34-35 (Athens, 175)

Evagrius the Solitary:

Whoever loves true prayer and yet becomes angry or resentful is his own enemy. He is like a man who wants so see clearly and yet inflicts damage on his own eyes.

— Evagrius the Solitary, Treatise on Prayer, 64


We, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another. An ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by His means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.

— Arnobius, Against the Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 6


Christ, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.

— Tertullian, de Idololatria 19

We [the Christians] started yesterday and already we have filled the world and everything that belongs to you — the cities, apartment houses, fortresses, towns, market places, the camps themselves, your tribes, town councils, the imperial palace, the Senate, the Forum. The only thing we have left to you are the temples. We can count your armies; there is a greater number of Christians in one province! What kind of war would we, who willingly submit to the sword, not be ready or eager for despite our inferior numbers if it were not for the fact that according to our doctrine it is more permissible to be killed than to kill.

— Tertullian, Apology, 37:4

The question is now whether a member of the faithful can become a soldier and whether a soldier can be admitted to the Faith even if he is a member of the rank and file who are not required to offer sacrifice or decide capital cases. There can be no compatibility between an oath made to God and one made to man, between the standard of Christ and that of the devil, between the camp of light and the camp of darkness. The soul cannot be beholden to two masters, God and Caesar. Moses, to be sure, carried a rod; Aaron wore a military belt and had a breast plate. If one wants to play around with the topic, Jesus (Joshua), son of Nun led an army and the Jewish nation went to war. But how will a Christian do so? Indeed how will he serve in the army even during peacetime without the sword that Jesus Christ has taken away? Even if soldiers came to John and got advice on how they ought to act, even if the centurion became a believer, the Lord, by taking away Peter’s sword, disarmed every soldier thereafter. We are not allowed to wear any uniform that symbolizes a sinful act.

— Tertullian, On Idolatry, 19:1-3

Before treating the matter of a military crown I think we must first ask whether military service is appropriate for Christians at all. What is the point in talking about incidental matters when the assumptions which they rest on are wrong from the start? Do we think that one can rightfully superimpose a human oath on one made to God? And that a man can answer to a second lord once he has acknowledged Christ? And that he can abjure father, mother and all his neighbors when the Law prescribes that they be honored and loved next to God and that the Gospel holds them in the same high esteem, valuing only Christ above them? Is it right to make a profession to the sword when the Lord has proclaimed that the man who use it will perish by it?

Will a son of peace who should not even go to court take part in battle? Will a man who does not avenge wrongs done to himself have any part in chains, prisons, tortures and punishments? Will he perform guard duty for anyone other than Christ, or will he do so on the Lord’s day when he is not doing it for Christ Himself? Will he stand guard at the temples which he has forsworn? Will he go to a banquet at places where the apostle disapproves of it? At night will he protect those (demons) that he has exorcised during the day, leaning and resting on the spear that pierces the side of Christ? Will he carry the standards that rival Christ’s? Will he ask the commander for a password when he has already received one from God?

— Tertullian, On the Crown, 11:1-5

“Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and torture and the punishment [of execution], who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?”

— Tertullian, De Corona [Concerning the Crown], 11

We pray without ceasing for all emperors, for their prolonged life, for protection of the imperial palace, for brave armies, a loyal Senate, an upright citizenry, a peaceful world and for everything that the emperor desires as a man and as a Caesar

— Tertullian, Apology, 30:4


It is well known that Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus, who, one might say, brought the mass of mankind under a single sovereignty. The existence of many kingdoms would have hindered the spread of Jesus’ teachings over the whole world because everywhere men would have been forced to serve in the army and go to war on behalf of their country How could this peaceful teaching, which prohibits a man from avenging himself even against his enemies, have gained sway if the whole world situation at the time of Jesus had not been made more peaceful.

— Origen, Against Celsus, 2:30

Celsus urges us ‘to help the king with all our might, and to labor with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.’ To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, ‘putting on the whole armor of God’ (Eph. vi. 11). And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, ‘I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; ‘(1 Tim. ii. 1, 2.) and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: ‘Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!’ And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army — an army of piety — by offering our prayers to God.

— Origen, Against Celsus, Book 8, Chapter 73 [Celsus, a pagan, had written a critique of Christians]

Celsus would have us to lead armies in defense of our country, let him know that we do this too, and that not for the purpose of being seen by men, or of vainglory. For ‘in secret,’ and in our own hearts, there are prayers which ascend as from priests in behalf of our fellow-citizens. And Christians are benefactors of their country more than others. For they train up citizens, and inculcate piety to the Supreme Being; and they promote those whose lives in the smallest cities have been good and worthy, to a divine and heavenly city, to whom it may be said, ‘Thou hast been faithful in the smallest city, come into a great one’ (Luke xix. 17).

— Origen, Against Celsus, Book 8, Chapter 74.

St. Vladimir of Kiev:

Above all things: forget not the poor, but support them to the extent of your means. Give to the orphan, protect the widow, and permit the mighty to destroy no man. Take not the life of the just or the unjust, nor permit him to be killed. Destroy no Christian soul, even though he be guilty of murder.

— St. Vladimir of Kiev, Equal-to-the-Apostles, in his Testament to his children, The Primary Chronicle, written by St. Nestor of the Kiev Caves, 1096 AD

Saint Seraphim of Sarov:

God is fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. And so, if we feel in our hearts coldness, which is from the devil — for the devil is cold — then let us call upon the Lord and He will come and warm our hearts with perfect love not only for Him but for our neighbor as well.

— Saint Seraphim of Sarov

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

— St Seraphim of Sarov

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk:

Forgiveness is better than revenge.

— St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

St. Silouan the Athonite:

The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned of God’s grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us.

— St. Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938

I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonor on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, saying: “O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants and turn their hearts to repentance,” and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, will help you in all things, and experience itself will show you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God’s love within him, and does not know God.

— St. Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938

Patriarch Pavle of Serbia:

If we live as people of God, there will be room for all nations in the Balkans and in the world. If we liken ourselves to Cain who killed his brother Abel, then the entire earth will be too small even for two people. The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to be always children of God and love one another. We should remember the words of St. Paul: “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.”

— Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church

St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris:

The bodies of fellow human beings must be treated with greater care than our own. Christian love teaches us to give our brethren not only spiritual gifts, but material gifts as well. Even our last shirt, our last piece of bread must be given to them. Personal almsgiving and the most wide-ranging social work are equally justifiable and necessary. The way to God lies through love of other people and there is no other way. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked if I was successful in my ascetic exercises or how many prostrations I made in the course of my prayers. I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners: that is all I shall be asked.

— St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris

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A letter from an anonymous Christian disciple to Diognetus, 2nd century AD:

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (Greek: Πρὸς Διόγνητον Ἐπιστολή) is probably the earliest example of Christian apologetics, writings defending Christianity from its accusers. The Greek writer and recipient are not otherwise known, but the language and other textual evidence dates the work to the late 2nd century; some assume an even earlier date and count it among the Apostolic Fathers. “Mathetes” is not a proper name; it simply means “a disciple.” The writer may be a Johannine Christian, although the name “Jesus” and the expression the “Christ” are not present in the text. The author prefers, rather, to refer to the “son” as “the Word.”
extract from the Wikipedia entry:

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”


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updated 16 July 2012 / JF

XII. Problems of bioethics

XII. 1. The rapid development of biomedical technologies, which have invaded the life of modern man from birth to death, and the impossibility of responding to the ensuing ethical challenges within the traditional medical ethics have caused serious concern in society. The attempts of human beings to put themselves in the place of God by changing and “improving” His creation at their will may bring to humanity new burdens and suffering. The development of biomedical technologies has outstripped by far the awareness of possible spiritual-moral and social consequences of their uncontrolled application. This cannot but cause a profound pastoral concern in the Church. In formulating her attitude to the problems of bioethics so widely debated in the world today, especially those involved in the direct impact on the human being, the Church proceeds from the ideas of life based on the Divine Revelation. It asserts life as a precious gift of God. It also asserts the inalienable freedom and God-like dignity of man called to be “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:14), to be as perfect as the Heavenly Father (Mt. 5:48) and to be deified, that is, to become partaker in the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

XII. 2. Since the ancient time the Church has viewed deliberate abortion as a grave sin. The canons equate abortion with murder. This assessment is based on the conviction that the conception of a human being is a gift of God. Therefore, from the moment of conception any encroachment on the life of a future human being is criminal.

The Psalmist describes the development of the foetus in a mother’s womb as God’s creative action: “thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb My substance was not hid from thee, them I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest part of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance” (Ps. 139:13, 15-16). Job testifies to the same in the words addressed to God: “thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews. Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved by spirit Thou brought me forth out of the womb” (Job 10:8-12, 18). “I formed thee in the belly and before thou comest out of the womb I sanctified thee”, says the Lord to the Prophet Jeremiah. “Thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide” this order is placed among the most important commandments of God in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, one of the oldest Christian manuscripts. “A woman who brought on abortion is a murderer and will give an account to God”, wrote Athenagoras, an apologist of the 2nd century. “One who will be man is already man”, argued Tertullian at the turn of the 3d century. “She who purposely destroys the foetus, shall suffer the punishment of murder Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the foetus, are subjected to the same penalty as murder”, read the 2nd and 8th rules of St. Basil the Great, included in the Book of Statutes of the Orthodox Church and confirmed by Canon 91 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. At the same time, St. Basil clarifies: “And we pay no attention to the subtle distinction as to whether the foetus was formed or unformed”. St. John Chrysostom described those who perform abortion as “being worse than murderers”.

The Church sees the widely spread and justified abortion in contemporary society as a threat to the future of humanity and a clear sign of its moral degradation. It is incompatible to be faithful to the biblical and patristic teaching that human life is sacred and precious from its origin and to recognise woman’s “free choice” in disposing of the fate of the foetus. In addition, abortion present a serious threat to the physical and spiritual health of a mother. The Church has always considered it her duty to protect the most vulnerable and dependent human beings, namely, unborn children. Under no circumstances the Orthodox Church can bless abortion. Without rejecting the women who had an abortion, the Church calls upon them to repent and to overcome the destructive consequences of the sin through prayer and penance followed by participation in the salvific Sacraments. In case of a direct threat to the life of a mother if her pregnancy continues, especially if she has other children, it is recommended to be lenient in the pastoral practice. The woman who interrupted pregnancy in this situation shall not be excluded from the Eucharistic communion with the Church provided that she has fulfilled the canon of Penance assigned by the priest who takes her confession. The struggle with abortion, to which women sometimes have to resort because of abject poverty and helplessness, demands that the Church and society work out effective measures to protect motherhood and to create conditions for the adoption of the children whose mothers cannot raise them on their own for some reason.

Responsibility for the sin of the murder of the unborn child should be borne, along with the mother, by the father if he gave his consent to the abortion. If a wife had an abortion without the consent of her husband, it may be grounds for divorce (see X. 3). Sin also lies with the doctor who performed the abortion. The Church calls upon the state to recognise the right of medics to refuse to procure abortion for the reasons of conscience. The situation cannot be considered normal where the legal responsibility of a doctor for the death of a mother is made incomparably higher than the responsibility for the destruction of the foetus the situation that provokes medics and through them patients, too, to do abortions. The doctor should be utterly responsible in establishing a diagnosis that can prompt a woman to interrupt her pregnancy. In doing so, a believing medic should carefully correlate the clinic indications with the dictates of his Christian conscience.

XII. 3. Among the problems which need a religious and moral assessment is that of contraception. Some contraceptives have an abortive effect, interrupting artificially the life of the embryo on the very first stages of his life. Therefore, the same judgements are applicable to the use of them as to abortion. But other means, which do not involve interrupting an already conceived life, cannot be equated with abortion in the least. In defining their attitude to the non-abortive contraceptives, Christian spouses should remember that human reproduction is one of the principal purposes of the divinely established marital union (see, X. 4). The deliberate refusal of childbirth on egoistic grounds devalues marriage and is a definite sin.

At the same time, spouses are responsible before God for the comprehensive upbringing of their children. One of the ways to be responsible for their birth is to restrain themselves from sexual relations for a time. However, Christian spouses should remember the words of St. Paul addressed to them: “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency” (1 Cor. 7:5). Clearly, spouses should make such decisions mutually on the counsel of their spiritual father. The latter should take into account, with pastoral prudence, the concrete living conditions of the couple, their age, health, degree of spiritual maturity and many other circumstances. In doing so, he should distinguish those who can hold the high demands of continence from those to whom it is not given (Mt. 19:11), taking care above all of the preservation and consolidation of the family.

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in its Decision of December 28, 1998, instructed the clergy serving as spiritual guides that “it is inadmissible to coerce or induce the flock to refuse conjugal relations in marriage”. It also reminded the pastors of the need “to show special chastity and special pastoral prudence in discussing with the flock the questions involved in particular aspects of their family life”.

XII. 4. New biomedical methods make it possible in many cases to overcome the infirmity of infertility. At the same time, the growing technological interference in the conception of human life presents a threat to the spiritual integrity and physical health of a person. A threat comes also for interpersonal relations on which the community has been built from of old. The development of the above-mentioned technologies has brought about the ideology of the so-called reproductive rights, widely propagated today on both national and international levels. This ideological system assumes that the sexual and social self-fulfilment of a person has a priority over concern for the future of a child, the spiritual and physical health of society and its moral sustainability. There is a growing attitude to the human life as a product which can be chosen according to one’s own inclinations and which can be disposed of along with material goods.

In the prayers of the marriage celebration, the Orthodox Church expresses the hope that childbirth, while being a desired fruit of lawful marriage, is not its only purpose. Along with “a fruit of the womb to profit”, the Church asks for the gift of enduring love, chastity and “the harmony of the souls and bodies”. Therefore, the Church cannot regard as morally justified the ways to childbirth disagreeable with the design of the Creator of life. If a husband or a wife is sterile and the therapeutic and surgical methods of infertility treatment do not help the spouses, they should humbly accept childlessness as a special calling in life. In these cases, pastoral counsel should consider the adoption of a child by the spouses’ mutual consent. Among the admissible means of medical aid may be an artificial insemination by the husband’s germ cells, since it does not violate the integrity of the marital union and does not differ basically from the natural conception and takes place in the context of marital relations.

However, manipulations involved in the donation of germ cells do violate the integrity of a person and the unique nature of marital relations by allowing of a third party to interfere. In addition, this practice encourages the irresponsible fatherhood or motherhood, admittedly free from any commitment to those who are “flesh of the flesh” of anonymous donors. The use of donor material undermines the foundations of family relationships, since it presupposes that a child has, in addition to the “social” parents, the so-called biological ones. “Surrogate motherhood”, that is, the bearing of a fertilised ovule by a woman who after the delivery returns the child to the “customers”, is unnatural and morally inadmissible even in those cases where it is realised on a non-commercial basis. This method involves the violation of the profound emotional and spiritual intimacy that is established between mother and child already during the pregnancy. “Surrogate motherhood” traumatises both the bearing woman, whose mother’s feelings are trampled upon, and the child who may subsequently experience an identity crisis. Morally inadmissible from the Orthodox point of view are also all kinds of extracorporal fertilisation involving the production, conservation and purposeful destruction of “spare” embryos. It is on the recognition of the human dignity even in an embryo that the moral assessment of abortion by the Church is based (see, XII. 2).

The insemination of single women with the use of donor germ cells or the realisation of the “reproductive rights” of single men and persons with the so-called non-standard sexual orientation deprive the future child of the right to have mother and father. The use of reproductive methods outside the context of the God-blessed family has become a form of theomachism carried out under the pretext of the protection of the individual’s autonomy and wrongly-understood individual freedom.

XII. 5. Hereditary diseases comprise a considerable part of the totality of human infirmities. The development of the medical genetic methods of diagnostics and treatment can contribute the prevention of these diseases and the alleviation of the suffering of many people. It is important to remember, however, that genetic disorders often stem from the disregard of moral principles and the vicious way of life, which result in the suffering of the posterity. The sinful erosion of the human nature is overcome by spiritual effort; but if vice dominates in life from generation to generation with growing power, the words of Holy Scripture come true: “Horrible is the end of the unrighteous generation” (Wis. 3:19). And the reverse: “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed” (Ps. 112:1-2). Thus, genetic research only confirms the spiritual laws revealed to humanity in the word of God many centuries ago.

While drawing people’s attention to the moral causes of infirmities, the Church welcomes the efforts of medics aimed to heal hereditary diseases. The aim of genetic interference, however, should not be to “improve” artificially the human race or to interfere in God’s design for humanity. Therefore, genetic engineering may be realised only with the consent of a patient or his legitimate representatives and only on the grounds of medical indications. The genetic therapy of germ cells is extremely dangerous, for it involves a change of the genome (the set of hereditary characteristics) in the line of generations, which can lead to unpredictable consequences in the form of new mutations and destabilise the balance between the human community and the environment.

The progress made in the deciphering of the genetic code have created real pre-conditions for comprehensive genetic testing with the aim to discover information on the natural uniqueness of every human being and his susceptibility to particular illnesses. Genetic screening, provided the information obtained is used reasonably, could help to rectify timely the development of illnesses to which a particular person is prone. However, there is a real danger that genetic information will be abused for various forms of discrimination. In addition, the possession of information on one’s genetic susceptibility to severe illnesses may become for one a spiritual burden beyond one’s strength. Therefore, genetic information and genetic testing may be possible only with respect for the freedom of the individual.

Ambiguous are also the methods of prenatal diagnostics making it possible to identify a genetic illness on the early stages of the intrauterine development. Some of these methods may present a threat to the life and integrity of the embryo or foetus under test. The detection of an incurable or severe genetic illness sometimes compels parents to interrupt the life conceived; there have been cases of pressure brought to bear upon them to this end. Prenatal diagnostics may be viewed as morally justifiable if its aim is to treat an illness detected on an earliest possible stage and to prepare parents for taking special care of a sick child. Every person has the right to life, love, and care, whatever illnesses he may have. According to Holy Scriptures, God Himself is “a God of the afflicted” (Judith 9:11). St. Paul teaches “to support the weak” (Acts 20:35; 1 Thes. 5:14). Likening the Church to the human body, he points out that “much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary”, while those less perfect need “more abundant honour” (1 Cor. 12:22, 24). It is absolutely inadmissible to use methods of prenatal diagnostics with the aim to choose a more desirable gender of a future child.

XII. 6. The cloning (production of genetic copies) of animals, realised by scientists, raises the question of the admissibility and possible consequences of the cloning of the human being. The realisation of this idea, protested against be many people, can become destructive for society. Cloning opens up an even greater opportunity than some reproductive technologies do for manipulations with the genetic component of the personality and contributes to its further devaluation. Man has no right to claim the role of the creator of his likes or to choose their genetic prototypes, thus determining their personal characteristics at his discretion. The conception of cloning is a definite challenge to the very nature of the human being and to the image of God inherent in him, the integral part of which are the freedom and uniqueness of the personality. The “printing” of people with specified parameters can appear welcome only to adherents of totalitarian ideologies.

The cloning of human beings can corrupt the natural foundations of childbirth, consanguinity, motherhood and fatherhood. A child can become a sister to her mother, a brother to his father or a daughter to his or her grandfather. The psychological consequences of cloning are also extremely dangerous. A human being, who came to being as a result of this procedure, can feel not like an independent person but only “a copy” of someone who live or lived before. It should be also considered that experiments with human cloning will inevitably produce as “by-products” numerous unfulfilled lives and, most probably, the emergence of a numerous unsustainable posterity. At the same time, the cloning of isolated organic cells and tissues is not an encroachment on the dignity of the personality and in a number of cases has proved helpful in the biological and medical practice.

XII. 7. The modern transplantology (the theory and practice of the transplantation of organs and tissues) makes it possible to give effective aid to many patients who were earlier doomed to death or severe disability. At the same time, the development of this sphere of medicine, increasing the need for necessary organs, generates certain ethical problems and can present a threat to society. Thus, the unscrupulous propaganda of donoring and the commercialisation of transplanting create prerequisites for trade in parts of the human body, thus threatening the life and health of people. The Church believes that human organs cannot be viewed as objects of purchase and sale. The transplantation of organs from a living donor can be based only on the voluntary self-sacrifice for the sake of another’s life. In this case, the consent to explantation (removal of an organ) becomes a manifestation of love and compassion. However, a potential donor should be fully informed about possible consequences of the explantation of his organ for his health. The explantation that presents an immediate threat to the life of a donor is morally inadmissible. The most common of all is the practice of taking organs from people who have just died. In these cases, any uncertainty as to the moment of death should be excluded. It is unacceptable to shorten the life of one, also by refusing him the life-supporting treatment, in order to prolong the life of another.

The Church confesses, on the basis of Divine Revelation, the faith in the bodily resurrection of the dead (Is. 26:19; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:42-44, 52-54; Phil. 3:21). In the Christian burial, the Church expressed the reverence that befits the body of a dead. However, the posthumous giving of organs and tissues can be a manifestation of love spreading also to the other side of death. Such donation or will cannot be considered a duty. Therefore, the voluntary consent of a donor in his lifetime is the condition on which explantation can be legitimate and ethically acceptable. If doctors do not know the will of a potential donor, they should, if necessary, find it out the will of a dying or dead person from his relatives. The so-called presumptive consent of a potential donor to the removal of his organs and tissues, sealed in the legislation of some countries, is considered by the Church to be an inadmissible violation of human freedom.

A recipient assimilates donor organs and tissues entering his personal spiritual and physical integrity. Therefore, in no circumstances moral justification can be given to the transplantation that threatens the identity of a recipient, affecting his uniqueness as personality and representative of a species. It is especially important to remember this condition in solving problems involved in the transplantation of animal organs and tissues.

The Church believes it to be definitely inadmissible to use the methods of so-called foetal therapy, in which the human foetus on various stages of its development is aborted and used in attempts to treat various diseases and to “rejuvenate” an organism. Denouncing abortion as a cardinal sin, the Church cannot find any justification for it either even if someone may possibly benefit from the destruction of a conceived human life. Contributing inevitably to ever wider spread and commercialisation of abortion, this practice (even if its still hypothetical effectiveness could be proved scientifically) presents an example of glaring immorality and is criminal.

XII. 8. The practice of the removal of human organs suitable for transplantation and the development of intensive care therapy has posed the problem of the verification of the moment of death. Earlier the criterion for it was the irreversible stop of breathing and blood circulation. Thanks to the improvement of intensive care technologies, however, these vital functions can be artificially supported for a long time. Death is thus turned into dying dependent on the doctor’s decision, which places a qualitatively new responsibility on contemporary medicine.

Holy Scriptures treats death as the separation of the soul from the body (Ps. 146:4; Lk. 12:20). Thus it is possible to speak about a continuing life as long as an organism functions as a whole. The prolongation of life by artificial means, in which in fact only some organs continue to function, cannot be viewed as obligatory and in any case desirable task of medicine. Attempts to delay death will sometimes prolong a patient’s agony, thus depriving him of the right to “honourable and peaceful” death, for which the Orthodox Christian solicit the Lord during the liturgy. When intensive care becomes impossible, its place should be taken by palliative aid (anaesthetisation, nursing and social and psychological support) and pastoral care. All this is aimed to ensure the true humane end of life couched in by mercy and love.

The Orthodox understanding of an honourable death includes preparation for the mortal end, which is considered to be a spiritually significant stage in the life of a person. A patient surrounded with Christian care can experience in the last days of his life on earth a grace-giving change brought about by a new reflection on his journey and penitent anticipation of eternity. For the relatives of a dying man and for medical workers, an opportunity to nurse him becomes an opportunity to serve the Lord Himself. For according to the Saviour’s word, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me” (Mt. 25:40). The attempt to conceal from a patient the information about the gravity of his condition under the pretext of preserving his spiritual comfort often deprives a dying person of an opportunity to be consciously prepared for death and to find spiritual consolation in participation in the Sacraments of the Church. It also darkens his relations with relatives and doctors with distrust.

Death throes cannot be always effectively alleviated with anaesthetics. Aware of this, the Church in these cases turns to God with the prayer: “Give Thy servant dispensation from this unendurable suffering and its bitter infirmities and give him consolation, O Soul of the righteous” (Service Book. Prayer for the Long Suffering). The Lord alone is the Master of life and death (1 Sam. 2:6). “In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). Therefore, the Church, while remaining faithful to God’s commandment “thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13), cannot recognise as morally acceptable the widely-spread attempt to legalise the so-called euthanasia, that is, the purposeful destruction of hopelessly ill patients (also by their own will). The request of a patient to speed up his death is sometimes conditioned by depression preventing him from assessing his condition correctly. Legalised euthanasia would lead to the devaluation of the dignity and the corruption of the professional duty of the doctor called to preserve rather than end life. “The right to death” can easily become a threat to the life of patients whose treatment is hampered by lack of funds.

Therefore, euthanasia is a form of homicide or suicide, depending on whether a patient participates in it or not. If he does, euthanasia comes under the canons whereby both the purposeful suicide and assistance in it are viewed as a grave sin. A perpetrator of calculated suicide, who “did it out of human resentment or other incident of faintheartedness” shall not be granted Christian burial or liturgical commemoration (Timothy of Alexandria, Canon 14). If a suicide is committed “out of mind”, that is, in a fit of a mental disease, the church prayer for the perpetrator is allowed after the case is investigated by the ruling bishop. At the same time, it should be remembered that more often than not the blame for a suicide lies also with the people around the perpetrator who proved incapable of effective compassion and mercy. Together with St. Paul the Church calls us: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

XII. 9. Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Church unequivocally deplore homosexual relations, seeing in them a vicious distortion of the God-created human nature.

“If a man lies with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination” (Lev. 20:13). The Bibles relates a story about a heavy punishment to which God subjected the people of Sodom (Gen. 19:1-19) precisely for the sin of sodomy. St. Paul, describing the moral condition of the Gentiles, names homosexual relations among the most “vile affections” and “fornications” defiling the human body: “Their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise the men, leaving the natural use of women, burned in their lust one towards another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Rom. 1:26-27). “Be not deceived: neither effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind shall inherit the kingdom of God”, wrote the apostle to the people of corrupted Corinth (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The patristic tradition equally clearly and definitely denounces any manifestation of homosexuality. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, the works of Sts Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa and Blessed Augustine and the canon of St. John the Faster all express the unchangeable teaching of the Church that homosexual relations are sinful and should be condemned. People involved in them have not right to be members of the clergy (Gregory the Great, Canon 7; Gregory of Nyssa, Canon 4; John the Faster, Canon 30). Addressing those who stained themselves with the sin of sodomy, the St. Maxim the Greek made this appeal: “See at yourselves, damned ones, what a foul pleasure you indulge in! Try to give up as soon as possible this most nasty and stinking pleasure of yours, to hate it and to fulminate eternally those who argue that it is innocent as enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and corrupters of His teaching. Cleanse yourselves of this blight by repentance, ardent tears, alms-giving as much as you can and pure prayer Hate this unrighteousness with all your heart, so that you may not be sons of damnation and eternal death”.

The debate on the status of the so-called sexual minorities in contemporary society tends to recognise homosexuality not as a sexual perversion but only one of the “sexual orientations” which have the equal right to public manifestation and respect. It is also argued that the homosexual drive is caused by the individual inborn predisposition. The Orthodox Church proceeds from the invariable conviction that the divinely established marital union of man and woman cannot be compared to the perverted manifestations of sexuality. She believes homosexuality to be a sinful distortion of human nature, which is overcome by spiritual effort leading to the healing and personal growth of the individual. Homosexual desires, just as other passions torturing fallen man, are healed by the Sacraments, prayer, fasting, repentance, reading of Holy Scriptures and patristic writings, as well as Christian fellowship with believers who are ready to give spiritual support.

While treating people with homosexual inclinations with pastoral responsibility, the Church is resolutely against the attempts to present this sinful tendency as a “norm” and even something to be proud of and emulate. This is why the Church denounces any propaganda of homosexuality. Without denying anybody the fundamental rights to life, respect for personal dignity and participation in public affairs, the Church, however, believes that those who propagate the homosexual way of life should not be admitted to educational and other work with children and youth, nor to occupy superior posts in the army and reformatories.

Sometimes perverted human sexuality is manifested in the form of the painful feeling of one’s belonging to the opposite sex, resulting in an attempt to change one’s sex (transsexuality). One’s desire to refuse the sex that has been given him or her by the Creator can have pernicious consequences for one’s further development. “The change of sex” through hormonal impact and surgical operation has led in many cases not to the solution of psychological problems, but to their aggravation, causing a deep inner crisis. The Church cannot approve of such a “rebellion against the Creator” and recognise as valid the artificially changed sexual affiliation. If “a change of sex” happened in a person before his or her Baptism, he or she can be admitted to this Sacrament as any other sinner, but the Church will baptise him or her as belonging to his or her sex by birth. The ordination of such a person and his or her marriage in church are inadmissible.

Transsexuality should be distinguished from the wrong identification of the sex in one’s infancy as a result of doctors’ mistake caused by a pathological development of sexual characteristics. The surgical correction in this case is not a change of sex.

Continue on to XIII. The Church and Ecological Problems from The Orthodox Church and Society

XIII. The Church and ecological problems

XIII. 1. The Orthodox Church, aware of her responsibility for the fate of the world, is deeply concerned for the problems generated by the contemporary civilisation. Ecological problems occupy a considerable place among them. Today the face of the Earth has been distorted on a global scale. Damaged are its bowels, soil, water, air and fauna and flora. Nature around us has been almost fully involved in the life support of man who is no longer satisfied with its diverse gifts, but exploits without restrain whole ecosystems. Human activity, which has reached the level of biospheric processes, constantly grows due to the accelerated development of science and technology. The pollution of the environment by industrial wastes everywhere, bad agricultural technology, the destruction of forests and top-soil all result in the suppressed biological activity and the steady shrinking of the genetic diversity of life. The irreplenishable mineral resources are being exhausted; the drinking water reserves are being reduced. Great many harmful substances have appeared, not included in the circulation and accumulated in biosphere. The ecological balance has been violated; man has to face the emergence of pernicious processes in nature, including the failure of its natural reproductive power.

All this happens against the background of an unprecedented and unjustified growth of public consumption in highly developed countries, where the search for wealth and luxury has become a norm of life. This situation has obstructed the fair distribution of natural resources, which are common human property. The consequences of the ecological crisis have proved painful not only for nature, but also for man as organically integral to it. As a result, the Earth has found itself on the verge of a global ecological disaster.

XIII. 2. Relations between man and nature were broken in pre-historic times because of the fall of man and his alienation from God. Sin that was born in the soul of man damaged not only him himself, but also the entire world around him. “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason, of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and traveileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:0-22). The first human crime was reflected in nature like in a mirror. The seed of sin, having produced an effect in the human heart, gave rise to “thorns and thistles”, as Holy Scripture testifies (Gen. 3:18). The full organic unity that existed between man and the world around him before the fall (Gen. 2: 19-20) was made impossible. In their now consumer relations with nature, human beings began to be more often guided by egoistic motives. They began to forget that the only Lord of the Universe is God (Ps. 23:1), to Whom belong “the heaven and the earth also, with all that therein is” (Deut. 10:14), while man, as St. John Chrysostom put it, is only a “housekeeper” entrusted with the riches of the earth. These riches, namely, “the air, sun, water, land, heaven, sea, light, stars”, as the same saint remarks, God “divided among all in equal measure as if among brothers”. “Dominion” over nature and “subjection” of the earth (Gen. 1:28), to which man is called, do not mean all-permissiveness in God’s design. It only means that man is the bearer of the image of the heavenly Housekeeper and as such should express, according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, his royal dignity not in dominion over the world around him or violence towards it, but in “dressing” and “keeping” the magnificent kingdom of nature for which he is responsible before God.

XIII. 3. The ecological crisis compels us to review our relations with the environment. Today the conception of man’s dominion over nature and the consumer attitude to it has been increasingly criticised. The awareness that contemporary society pays too high a price for the blessings of the civilisation has provoked opposition to economic egoism. Thus, attempts are made to identify the activities that damage the natural environment. At the same time, a system of its protection is being developed; the present economic methods are being reviewed; efforts are made to create power-saving technologies and wasteless plants which can be fit at the same time into the natural circulation. The ecological ethics is being developed. The public consciousness guided by it speaks against the consumer way of life, demanding that the moral and legal responsibility for the damage inflicted on nature be enhanced. It also proposes to introduce ecological education and training and calls for joined efforts in protecting the environment on the basis of broad international co-operation.

XIII. 4. The Orthodox Church appreciates the efforts for overcoming the ecological crisis and calls people to intensive co-operation in actions aimed to protect God’s creation. At the same time, she notes that these efforts will be more fruitful if the basis on which man’s relations with nature are built will be not purely humanistic but also Christian. One of the main principles of the Church’s stand on ecological issues is the unity and integrity of the world created by God. Orthodoxy does not view nature around us as an isolated and self-closed structure. The plant, animal and human worlds are interconnected. From the Christian point of view, nature is not a repository of resources intended for egoistic and irresponsible consumption, but a house in which man is not the master, but the housekeeper, and a temple in which he is the priest serving not nature, but the one Creator. The conception of nature as temple is based on the idea of theocentrism: God Who gives to all “life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25) is the Source of being. Therefore, life itself in its various manifestations is sacred, being a gift of God. Any encroachment on it is a challenge not only to God’s creation, but also to the Lord Himself.

XIII. 5. The ecological problems are essentially anthropological as they are generated by man, not nature. Therefore, answers to many questions raised by the environmental crisis are to be found in the human heart, not in the spheres of economy, biology, technology or politics. Nature is transformed or dies not by itself, but under the impact of man. His spiritual condition plays the decisive role here, for it affects the environment both with and without such an impact. The church history knows of many examples when the love of Christian ascetics for nature, their prayer for the world around them, their compassion for all creatures made a beneficial impact on living things.

Relationships between anthropology and ecology are revealed with utter clarity in our days when the world is experiencing two concurrent crises: spiritual and ecological. In contemporary society, man often loses the awareness of life as a gift of God and sometimes the very meaning of life, reducing it sometimes to the physical being alone. With this attitude to life, nature around him is no longer perceived as home and all the more so as temple, becoming only a “habitat”. The spiritually degrading personality leads nature to degradation as well, for it is unable to make a transforming impact on the world. The colossal technological resources cannot help humanity blinded by sin, for, being indifferent to the meaning, mystery and wonder of life, they cannot be really beneficial and sometimes become even detrimental. In a spiritually disorientated man, the technological power would beget utopic reliance on the boundless resources of the human mind and the power of progress.

It is impossible to overcome the ecological crisis in the situation of a spiritual crisis. This does not at all mean that the Church calls to curtail the preservation activity, but in her hope for a positive change in the man-nature relationships, she relies rather on society’s aspiration for spiritual revival. The anthropogenic background of ecological problems shows that we tend to change the world around us in accordance with our own inner world; therefore, the transformation of nature should begin with the transformation of the soul. According to St. Maxim the Confessor, man can turn the earth into paradise only if he carried paradise in himself.

Continue on to XIV. Secular Science, Culture and Education from The Orthodox Church and Society