What is the Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Members of Its Church Who are Depressed and Suicide?
In this paper I argue that the Eastern Orthodox Church has increasingly become sensitive to members of its Church who suicide due to clinical depression, offering them in some cases through economy (oikonomia [Gk]), full burial rites akin to those who have died due to natural causes (e.g. advanced age), physical illness (e.g. cancer) or accident (e.g. road fatality). Suicide is defined as the deliberate act of taking one’s own life, in actuality it is self-murder breaking with God’s sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13) and causing an immediate separation from the Holy Spirit, (1 Corinthians 6:19). Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) is a form of mental illness (Hall-Flavin, May 13, 2017). It is more than just occasionally feeling down and having the “blues”, or suffering immense sadness, for example, at the death of a close relative. Clinical depression is marked by an ongoing depressed mood most of the day, disallowing the sufferer from engaging in normal activities and relationships for a contiguous period of time, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a lifetime. Examples of depression subtypes include major depression, chronic depression (dysthymia), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and bipolar disorder (manic depression) (WebMD, 2017).
One of the major difficulties for clergy of the Orthodox Church in determining how a suicide of a depressed person should be considered, may include the lack of available evidence towards the clinical assessment of the sufferer. A simple letter of support, written by the deceased’s mental health professional (e.g. psychiatrist), can be used to provide evidence of his/her ongoing condition (S. S. Harakas, 1987, p. 324). Additional complexities may include the identification of the range of spectrum of depression suffered by one who has taken their life. For example, what happens to one who has remitted from their severe state of depression for some years and then relapses and subsequently suicides? Or one who has never been diagnosed with a specific depressive disorder but has been assessed on the mood disorder (affective) spectrum? One could posit that anyone at the point of taking their own life has suffered so much mental anguish and torment that they must be severely depressed to kill themselves through self-inflicted injury, poisoning or suffocation. But this is not always the case if we are to regard suicide notes left behind by the deceased, as providing insights into the motivation for their suicide. People have taken their life for varied non-medical reasons such as the committing of a heinous crime, an onset of a terminal illness, falling pregnant out of wedlock (and especially after an abortion), unemployment and financial crisis, revenge toward a person for a wrongdoing, and even a philosophical desire to know “what’s on the other side”. These latter reasons for suicide are considered separately from one who has taken their life due to mental illness, and on the whole are seen as an individual not valuing the “gift of life” (Breck, 1998) given to us by God Himself.
Although major inroads have been made into understanding major depression and other forms of mental illness (e.g. schizophrenia), psychological instability remains a taboo in communities in many parts of the world (S. Harakas, 1990). Families dealing with a child or parent who is suffering from mental illness may hide or deny that their loved one requires medical attention and pastoral help (Hopko, March 24, 2010). Thus, it is possible that a sufferer’s condition can go undetected by the most discerning of priests, despite the illness often manifests itself outwardly in some visible behavioural traits (e.g. obsessive compulsive disorder). One reason for this difficulty could be that the parishioner with the major depression may be an infrequent participant to weekly Church Services and parish activities in general, or may have never sought medical treatment due to feelings of shame or perceived judgement. This is a dilemma for the serving priest, especially in the event of a sudden and “unexpected suicide”. Additionally, men who perceive themselves as self-reliant and reject seeking medical help from a general practitioner for their suicidality may also take their life suddenly. In fact, men are on average 3 to 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women (Lester, Gunn, & Quinnett, 2014). None of this is straightforward to address for a priest when there are grieving family members seeking answers to “why” a loved one has taken their life, what will happen with funeral preparations for the deceased, and what will happen to their loved one’s soul eternally. The due process is for the parish priest to present evidence to his hierarch, usually a Bishop, on behalf of the deceased’s family, and then await a decision on how to proceed toward funeral preparations (Theodosius, 1998). The parish priest’s care is also for the surviving family members who have to learn to go on without their loved one, and not to lose hope in God’s eternal promises. According to Archbishop Theodosius of Washington (1998) the “act of suicide is a profound tragedy affecting a parish. It necessitates prayers for forgiveness for the sake of the departed and exhorts the members of the parish community to repentance and sorrow”.
Raising Awareness of Suicide and its Effects in the Orthodox Church and Beyond
While the Eastern Orthodox Church plainly acknowledges that suicide is among the gravest sins against God, it also leaves the ultimate judgement to God who is all-knowing and intimately discerns human hearts in their fullness. It is clear that a severely mentally ill person is not morally culpable for their actions when they commit suicide (H. T. Engelhardt, Jr, 2004, p. 25; S. S. Harakas, 1987, p. 134; Nicodemus & Agapius, 1983, p. 746). Moreover, we could argue, that a person in the process of committing suicide, if they have their full faculties and sensibilities about them, could repent even at their last breath, even while in the process of dying after reaching the point of no return. God knows. It is not for us to ponder (Hopko, March 24, 2010). Today, the Church is not only asking itself what is the canonical response to suicide (for that has been spelled out through Ecumenical Councils and the collection brought together on Orthodox Canon Law, titled The Rudder (1983)), but also what should the pastoral response to suicide be (McCray, November 9, 2016). I believe this emphasis in thinking has occurred over the last two decades in particular, as the Church and its members, and indeed more broadly the discipline of medical science, have grown in awareness of mental health issues and the direct relationship between suicide and depression (SCOBA, May 23, 2007).
The number of suicides worldwide have steadily continued to increase over the last 20 years. About 800,000 people die every year (i.e. one person every forty seconds) by committing suicide in the world (1.4% of all deaths), and for every suicide there are an estimated 25 attempts (i.e. that is about 20 million attempts in total per annum) (AFSP, 2015; WHO, 2017). Of particular concern is that for 15-29 year olds, suicide is the second leading cause of death globally (WHO, 2017). Some have argued it has reached pandemic proportions, as it knows no barriers to geography, gender, demographic, religion, or income levels. Suicide not only affects the deceased who have chosen to take their life, but also many more millions of people who experience bereavement annually through the abrupt loss of their loved one (SCOBA, May 23, 2007). If this is not enough, we have also seen the introduction of laws in a small number of countries (e.g. The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada) allowing individuals to seek euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide for varying contexts, including old age, terminal illness, and depression (Breck, 1995; H. Engelhardt, Tristram, Jr. & Iltis, 2005; S. S. Harakas, March 6, 1997).
Of particular concern today is the manner in which suicide has become an acceptable option within our secularised society (G. Morelli, January 13, 2009). In a commentary on Emile Durkheim’s book titled Le suicide (1897), Robert Alun Jones (1986) writes that Durkheim insisted that “[t]he pathological increase in suicides [wa]s… a result of the "moral poverty" of our age”. If that statement was made in 1897, then what could be said 120 years on about the moral poverty of our age? Recent films like “Me Before You” that glorify euthanasia, are a fine example of the seed sown in individuals who may be disabled, terminally ill, or suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (e.g. war veterans) who are unassumingly lured into thought experiments about the possibility of taking their life in order to prevent their prolonged suffering. Astoundingly a visit to the official website confronts the viewer with a splash page of the film, with the words scrolling across, “live boldly, live well, just live” (Sharrock, 2016), despite the movie is about euthanasia and cutting one’s life short. The message is, “there is a way out”, instead of living with the pain and suffering patiently until one’s end of life. As Fr. John Breck (2003, p. 183) notes, it is a message that proclaims, “die with dignity”, and yet an Orthodox Christian’s petitions during the Divine Liturgy are about completing “…the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance” and asking God for a “Christian end to our life, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of Christ” (Chrysostom, 2017). Secular society is promoting that one can “die before they have to die”, and yet the Orthodox Christian Paschal Troparion emphasises that Christ has already trampled down death by death, and thus as believers we have hope no matter how dark the circumstances are. Very disturbingly, a new Netflix series graphically depicting youth suicide titled 13 Reasons Why (Yorkey, 2017), has been met with public outcry by psychologists, educators and parents in the United States for its potential to glamourise suicide. Backed by Hollywood celebrities and stars, the influence among youth will be significant no doubt encouraging copycat acts (Devitt, May 8, 2017). Work on a second season has already begun for 2018. It is no wonder that that the primary cause of death by injury in the United States today is now suicide, then followed by vehicular road accident (Rockett et al., 2012).
The Orthodox Church’s Canonical Response to Suicide
The Orthodox Church has held fast to its canonical position that suicide is unacceptable under any circumstance, indeed even for sufferers of mental illness. This position has never been negotiable and has remained unchanged since the formation of the Church. Holy Scripture records nine unambiguous suicides (Meredith, 1980, p. 143f; Murray, 2000). We have the examples of Abimelek (Judges 9:54), Samson (Judges 16:30), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armour-bearer (1 Samuel 31:5), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), Ptolemy Macron (II Maccabees. 10:13) and Razias (II Maccabees 14:43-6) in the Old Testament and Judas Iscariot in the New Testament (Matthew 27:5). While we do not see a pronounced moral condemnation of the acts of the deceased by at least the narrators of these suicide events in Holy Scripture (which is in line with how sordid events are usually recorded in the Bible), we can at least deduce in the case of Judas Iscariot that the taking of his own life by hanging, was out of a deep sense of despair for how he had betrayed our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Judas, we are told in Matthew 27:3-4, “repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood’.” While we can point again to the Scriptures, “no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of him who shed it” (Numbers 35:33), Judas contended with a dual crime, not only betraying Christ but also taking his own life, instead of believing that Christ could forgive all things. We can say therefore, that the condemnation of suicide, in the singular case recorded in the New Testament, is thus inferential. Whereas in the other suicides recorded in the Old Testament, for the greater part neutral language prevails. For example, Samson calls to the Lord God to “remember” him and beckons “I pray thee”, to allow him to grasp the two middle pillars of the pagan Philistine house and to let it topple on the Philistines and on him (Judges 16: 28-29). We are told reassuringly: “So the dead whom he [Samson] slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life” (Judges 16:30). God seems to have answered Samson’s wishes giving him the strength to commit this act.
We can also reflect on the martyrs, both Early Church martyrs and neomartyrs, who willingly gave their life for Christ. Were these suicides? No, they were not. The Synaxarion (1998) includes saints whose lives came to an abrupt end when they refused to give up their Christian beliefs. For example, female Orthodox Saints of the first four centuries willingly:
- walked into fires on seeing their brethren thrown into flames (e.g. St Agathonike according to Eusebius’s account, and separately St. Apollonia who endured terrible sufferings to the point of having her teeth extracted);
- threw themselves from rooftops at the risk of rape (e.g. St Pelagia of Antioch); and
- threw themselves into rivers to drown, fearing impending rape by drunken soldiers (e.g. St. Domnina and her two daughters Berenice and Prosdoce).
Yet, the intent of the female martyrs had naught to do with suicide. Constantelos (2004) writes of the martyrs in his excellent paper: “[t]he usual motive for defying death was their steadfastness to their religious faith and moral principles.” These were men and women of faith who when faced with an imminent threat to their lives, acted in the glory of God. They did not go out actively seeking death or torture. The Church Fathers, in particular Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Augustine of Hippo, are often juxtaposed by western commentators as having diametrically opposing thoughts on the subject of premature death which is incorrect. Saint John Chrysostom gave full support to female saints who leapt to their deaths instead of allowing themselves to be raped and being defiled. Saint Ambrose of Milan also showed sensitivity toward these exceptional cases (e.g. recounting the death of 12 year old St. Agnes, Concerning Virginity I.2.5-9), as did Saint Jerome (e.g. writing to St Paula about the martyrdom of Saint Blæsilla in Letters 39.3). While on the other hand, Saint Augustine was adamant that no one should kill themselves, no matter the magnitude of their desperation, but was circumspect in the context of martyrdom. It is worth quoting him in full:
“But, they say, during the time of persecution certain holy women plunged into the water with the intention of being swept away by the waves and drowned, and thus preserve their threatened chastity. Although they quitted life in this wise, nevertheless they receive high honour as martyrs in the Catholic Church and their feasts are observed with great ceremony. This is a matter on which I dare not pass judgment lightly. For I know not but that the Church was divinely authorized through trustworthy revelations to honour thus the memory of these Christians” (City of God 1.26).
Saint Augustine sharply condemns the practice of suicide, emphasising, “that no man ought to inflict on himself voluntary death” (City of God 1.27). Likewise, Saint John Chrysostom also condemns suicide: “Whereas God punished such men [those who commit suicide] more than murderers, and we all regard them with horror, and justly; for if it is base to destroy others, much more is it to destroy one’s self” (Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on Galatians 1.4). Engelhardt (2009, p. 79) adds to these, the author of The Shepherd of Hermes (written between AD 90-150), Saint Justin Martyr (AD ca. 100-ca 160), Saint Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-220), and Lucuius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (AD ca. 260-330). For instance, Saint Clement of Alexandria writes, “He who presents himself before the judgment-seat becomes guilty of his own death. And such is also the case with him who does not avoid persecution, but out of daring presents himself for capture. Such a person…becomes an accomplice in the crime of the persecutor” (The Stromata, or Miscellanies IV.10). And Lactantius (The Divine Institutes III.18) writes: “If homicide is wicked because it is the destroyer of a man, he who kills himself is fettered by the same guilt because he kills a man.” The Fathers used very strong language to describe their beliefs about suicide for good reason (i.e. the highly public and influential deaths of philosophers by suicide was seen as acceptable in the Roman and Greek pagan worlds). However, as Engelhardt (2009, p. 79) so importantly reflects, “[a]t about the time St. John Chrysostom wrote [his] remarks [on Galatians], the Orthodox Church issued its first canon bearing on suicide, underscoring that those who committed suicide while insane should be given a Christian burial”.
Engelhardt (2009, p. 79) stresses that outside this context of insanity, “[a]ll that we have historically concerning the church’s life is incompatible with the praxis of suicide.” Thus, we know by the Orthodox Church’s canon law that 1) a person who willingly commits suicide and is not insane endures a separation from God and should not receive a funeral rite (1 John 3.15), and 2) one who commits suicide in the condition of insanity, is able, through economy under the Bishop’s authority, to receive a funeral rite. We have much to gain also in the distinction of the voluntary and involuntary murder as legislated in the canons 22 and 23 in the Synod of Ancyra in 314. Fr. Stanley Harakas reflects that independent of whether a murder was voluntary or involuntary, a period of repentance had to be fulfilled before the one who had committed the crime could partake in sacraments again. But the difference with a suicide was that no repentance for the act of self-murder could take place because the one who takes their life is instantaneously cut off from the ability to request forgiveness of their sins (S. S. Harakas, March 6, 1997, p. 25f). One reason the Church Fathers applied such strict definitions around suicide from the outset of the Church’s formation was because “the Greco-Roman world tended both to disparage the body and to endorse suicide in circumstances of severe hardship. The Cynics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Gnostics, for example, all endorsed voluntary death for reasons consistent with each group’s broader ethical vision” (SCOBA, May 23, 2007).
Ways Forward: An Integrated Canonical and Pastoral Response to Suicide
It is true that in some cases like in parts of rural Orthodox Russia, those who suicided were not buried in cemeteries as recently as the 1880s. According to Paperno (1997, p. 55), the custom was to bury suicides by a road, at a crossroads, at the edge of a field or in the woods, swamp, or ravine. But those who were considered as “insane suicides” committing the act “in a state of delirium, illness, or melancholia, were to be buried in a “special place” (that is, beyond the cemetery)…” (Paperno, 1997, p. 55f). Much has changed since that time, not in the Orthodox Church’s position on suicide, but in the primary importance of pastoral care and outreach. For the departed person who has suicided under mental duress, we are seeing that the funeral service which belongs to the “special liturgical rites of the People of God” is a practice in which the faithful can request forgiveness on behalf of the departed, and also come together to console the family, and bind the faithful in hope in God’s mercy. Farley (2017) who reflects on the vital 2007 pastoral letter to Orthodox Christians by the bishops at the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA, May 23, 2007), states that “motivation is everything” when it comes to suicide. Since the early 2000s in particular, we have witnessed discussions within the Church on how we might be able to better respond as a community of the faithful in dealing with those in our parishes who are faced with mental illness (F. G. Morelli, September 23, 2009). For the Orthodox Church there is a fine line that cannot be crossed when making proclamations about suicide, before it opens the floodgates to the slippery slope argument (Smith, September 9, 2015). Yet, canonically, the Church has always known where it stands regarding suicide and the Fathers when consulted accurately have had one voice on the matter. What we are witnessing at present are significant pastoral responses that seek to communicate clearly that the Church is here for those who need it and that God will “wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4), no matter if one is struggling with mental illness, physical unwellness, very difficult life situations, or even atheism.
Last year, Kate McCray (November 9, 2016), a Canadian PhD candidate who spoke at the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion (OCAMPR 2016) Conference with the theme “On Pain and Suffering” cited Fr. John Breck, suggesting the possibility that a specific funeral service for those who have suicided be devised. The idea of such a service would be to plainly acknowledge before God, that the “Servant of God who has taken their life be forgiven for their sins etc.” This would be more than is presently conducted in the Trisagion Service alone prior to burial (Constandinides, 1994). The precedence for this, according to Fr. John Breck could be argued in the existence in the altered wedding service of a divorced person who has decided to remarry. The Order of the Second or Third Marriage carries a certain penitential character about it, and can only be performed through economy and the local Bishop’s authority. Thus that too is an exception to the “rule” (OCA, June 5, 2017). By other clergy, it has been suggested that the current funeral service could be somewhat “tweaked”, blessed by the Church’s bishops, with the “prayers normally used at Christian burials expressing the ambiguous and tragic nature of the situation and accentuating the mercy of God” (Farley, 2017). Furthermore, Fr Lawrence Farley (2017) suggests “…that clergy should be allowed to preside at such funerals, and to offer the comfort of the Church’s intercession for the dead”. The awareness now, reached by many clergy of the Orthodox Church, as more and more suicides take place, and in the direct pastoral communications with the family of the departed, is that all suffer in a parish, and a single loss of life can send reverberations throughout the whole church (Cuceu & Pontikes, 2016; OCA, 2017). The pressing issue for us all perhaps, is not whether or not a person who has suicided will receive the prayers of a funeral service (albeit how important this is according to Church canon), but how over time the Church will play a major role in stifling and reducing the number of suicides of its parishioners. There is evidence to suggest, that religiosity plays an important role in keeping people alive. Sisask et al. (2010) found that: “individual-level associations between different dimensions of religiosity and attempting suicide exist”, and that “subjective religiosity… serve[s] as a protective factor against non-fatal suicidal behaviours”. There is thus a great deal that Christians can do to ensure that less of our young people, less men, and less depressed persons in particular, find themselves in a situation of vulnerability where suicide becomes an irrational option (Vlachos, 2005). Fr. George Morelli from the Antiochian Orthodox Church, who is also a clinical psychologist, has an excellent 12 part series available on Ancient Faith Ministries on the topic of suicide, and partly about the role of Church communities to be there for mentally ill persons (and brethren in general), to assist them with dealing with depression through the application of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), mindfulness strategies and more (G. Morelli, Fr., 2008-2009).
As we move away from the classical point of view to be found in literature during the time of antiquity that says someone who has taken their own life might have done so in a rational manner, towards the point of view that denotes that a person who would self-life take is either insane or near the point of insanity, we are faced with the need to develop the way in which we as individuals, extended families, and a Church community respond to suicide. Plainly mental health issues substantially reduce one’s capacity to act rationally. Clergy and laity in the Orthodox Church, particularly over the last two decades have demonstrated a heightened pastoral awareness to suicide in general and have increased their outward facing communications on such vital matters, not in conflict with the Church’s canonical laws. The Orthodox Church is growing and learning about suicide at a pace akin to the medical science community. And with these new findings come pressing educational requirements, especially to graduate more clergy with backgrounds in mental health, psychology, social work, and even specialisations in psychiatry. But even more emphatic is the individual responsibility we all have toward the mentally ill, and to each other as parishioners and a co-suffering community. The emphasis today has to be on the pastoral outreach and response to suicide, as the number of suicides are reaching pandemic proportions. How can the Orthodox Church reach out those in need?
AFSP. (2015). Suicide Statistics. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
Breck, J. (1995). Euthanasia and the Quality of Life Debate. Christian Bioethics, 1(3), 322-337.
Breck, J. (1998). The Sacred Gift of Life: Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics. Crestwood: New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
Breck, J. (2003). God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith. Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir's Press.
Chrysostom, J., St. (2017). The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-divine-liturgy-of-saint-john-chrysostom
Constandinides, F. E. (1994). Funeral (Service Book). Merrillville, Indiana: Constandinides Pubs.
Constantelos, D. J. (2004). Altruistic suicide or altruistic martyrdom? Christian Greek Orthodox neomartyrs: a case study. Arch Suicide Res., 8(1), 57-71.
Cuceu, M., & Pontikes, T. (2016). The Physician and Community of Faithful in the Integrated Care of the Mentally Ill: An Orthodox Christian Discussion of the Physician’s Moral and Professional Obligations. Christian Bioethics, 22(3), 301-314.
Devitt, P. (May 8, 2017). 13 Reasons Why and Suicide Contagion. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/13-reasons-why-and-suicide-contagion1/
Engelhardt, H., Tristram, Jr., & Iltis, A. S. (2005). End-of-life: the traditional Christian view. Lancet, 366, 1045-1049.
Engelhardt, H. T., Jr. (2004). Orthodox Christian Bioethics: Medical Morality in the Mind of the Fathers. In J. F. Peppin, M. J. Cherry, & A. Iltis (Eds.), Religious Perspectives in Bioethics (pp. 21-30). London: Taylor and Francis.Farley, L., Fr. (2017). What's Wrong with Suicide? Orthodox Church of America. Retrieved from https://oca.org/reflections/fr.-lawrence-farley/whats-wrong-with-suicide
Engelhardt, H. Tristram, Jnr. (2009). Physician-assisted Suicide: An Orthodox Perspective. In M. F. Carr (Ed.), Physician-assisted Suicide: Religious Perspectives on Death with Dignity. Tucson, Arizona: Wheatmark, Center for Christian Bioethics, Loma Linda University.
Hall-Flavin, D. K. (May 13, 2017). Depression (major depressive disorder). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/clinical-depression/faq-20057770
Harakas, S. (1990). Health and medicine in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. New York: Crossroad.
Harakas, S. S. (1987). The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishing Company.
Harakas, S. S. (March 6, 1997). Statement of Reverend Stanley Harakas. In M. Bilirakis (Ed.), Assisted Suicide: Legal, Medical, Ethical and Social Issues (Vol. Serial No. 105-7, pp. 25-26). USA: Diane Publishing Company.
Hopko, T. (March 24, 2010). Suicide. Ancient Faith. Retrieved from https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/suicide
Jones, R. A. (1986). Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Lester, D., Gunn, J. F., & Quinnett, P. (Eds.). (2014). Suicide in Men: How Men Differ from Women in Expressing their Distress. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.
Makarios, H., of Simonos Petra. (1998). Orthodox Eastern Church. Greece: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady.
McCray, K. (November 9, 2016). A Co-Suffering Community: Orthodox Reflections on Bipolar Disorder, Suicide, and Support. Ancient Faith Ministries. Retrieved from https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/ocampr_2016_on_pain_and_suffering/a_co_suffering_community
Meredith, J. L. (1980). Meredith's Big Book of Bible Lists. New York: Inspirational Press.
Morelli, F. G. (September 23, 2009). Suicide: Christ, His Church, and Modern Scientific Medicine - Part 8. Ancient Faith Ministries. Retrieved from http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/morelli/suicide_christ_his_church_and_modern_scientific_medicine_-_part_8
Morelli, G. (January 13, 2009). Suicide: Christ, His Church and Modern Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles-2009/Morelli-Suicide-Christ-His-Church-And-Modern-Medicine.php
Morelli, G., Fr. (2008-2009). Overcoming depression using the Church Fathers. Ancient Faith Ministries. Retrieved from http://www.ancientfaith.com/browse/related/21770
Murray, A. (2000). Suicide in the Middle Ages: Volume 2: The Curse on Self-Murder. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nicodemus, S., & Agapius, S. (1983). The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church. New York: Luna Printing.
OCA. (2017). Funeral. Orthodox Church of America. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/funeral
OCA. (June 5, 2017). Divorce and Marriage. Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved from https://oca.org/questions/sacramentmarriage/divorce-and-remarriage1
Paperno, I. (1997). Suicide as a Cultural Institution in Dostoevsky's Russia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Rockett, I. R. H., Regier, M. D., Kapusta, N. D., Coben, J. H., Miller, T. R., Hanzlick, R. L., . . . Smith, G. S. (2012). Leading Causes of Unintentional and Intentional Injury Mortality: United States, 2000–2009. Am J Public Health, 102(11), e84–e92.
SCOBA. (May 23, 2007). Pastoral Letter on Suicide. Retrieved from http://www.pravmir.com/orthodoxy-suicide/
Sharrock, T. (2016). Me Before You. Retrieved from http://mebeforeyoumovie.com/#/
Sisask, M., Värnik, A., K[otilde]lves, K., Bertolote, J. M., Bolhari, J., Botega, N. J., . . . Wasserman, D. (2010). Is Religiosity a Protective Factor Against Attempted Suicide: A Cross-Cultural Case-Control Study. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(1), 44-55.
Smith, W. J. (September 9, 2015). Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. Ancient Faith Ministries. Retrieved from http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/humanexceptionalism/euthanasia_and_assisted_suicide
Theodosius, A. o. W. (1998). Guidelines for Clergy Compiled under the guidance of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America Orthodox Church of America. Retrieved from https://oca.org/PDF/official/clergyguidelines.pdf
Vlachos, H. (2005). Orthodox Psychotherapy (E. Williams, Trans.). Greece: Birth of Theotokos Monastery.
WebMD. (2017). Depression Diagnosis. WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-diagnosis#1
WHO. (2017). Mental health: Suicide Data. World Health Organisation. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/
Yorkey, B. (2017). 13 Reasons Why. Netflix. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/au/title/80117470
These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.
Luke's Gospel received particular popularity in modern times. Why? The reason behind this is perhaps this is the most inward Gospel, Jesus the man is in the focus. Luke is very sensitive to our concerns, Luke speaks about the role of women, people on the fringes of society, the poor and destitute, tax collectors, sinners et cetera.
In addition exclusively we read here on the parable of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the rich man Lazarus et cetera. So we may say that essential and the evangelists has shaped our church dogmatically, Luke has shaped Christianity in a popular and accessible way.
the uniform belief of the ancient church, is that it was Luke the physician that was the author of the Gospel of Luke. This is the same Luke the Paul mentions in Colossians, who is his companion. In 2008 a new theory appeared, that it was Luke the priest not a doctor that was the author. But then we have an early Christian writings, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, I Origen, Jerome, so we do know that he was Luke the doctor. And in fact there is a great deal of support they was Luke the doctor. There was a book by William Holbert, which analysed the medical language in the Gospel of Luke.
Luke probably wrote his gospel between 80 – 85 A.D, not far from the time that Matthew wrote his gospel. They both responded to this common situation when the vast majority of Jewish people had rejected the Gospel of Christ, and its future seems to lie with the Gentiles.
One of the reasons for the popularity of Luke's Gospel was its style. His writings are very close to poetry. If you look at our orthodox services, quite a few liturgical texts, are taken from the Gospel of Luke. For example the Magnificat "my soul does magnify the Lord", and elsewhere "let now thy servants depart in peace". We read this prayer in our Vespers.
There are other features that are endearing in this gospel. Luke brings the message of Christ down to earth as it were. He immerses the good news into the realm of history of mankind. It is because of mainly sent Luke that we cannot apply this fashionable word myth to the story of Jesus. Because to St Luke, Christ is not a myth, he is a person who worked and acted in history. And to ground this Christ event further, into history of mankind, he wrote a sequel to his gospel, the acts of the apostle. Perhaps you know, that sent Luke's Gospel and the acts of the Apostles were one and the same document and they were divided into two sections 1 the Gospel of Luke and one the acts of the apostle, by the early church. But for sent Luke, in his writing, it was one and the same event. The coming of Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles and Christ disciples and their mission to the world was one and the same event.
Thematic approach to the Gospel of Luke
The very first theme is a very obvious one, this perspective in sent Luke, that moves all the acts of Christ towards the greatest event the Pentecost. The Gospel actually finishes of how the apostles remained in the temple waiting for the Holy Spirit, the outpouring. So it is no coincidence that some of the scholars describe the acts of the apostles, but the acts of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the activity of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring on the disciples. His last promise according to St Luke's Gospel, Jesus dispenses the spirit onto the disciples in chapter 24: "behold I send the promise of my father on you to sit in the seat of Jerusalem until you are clothed from power from on high".
If you look at the old Testament, you won't find many prophecies about Christ resurrection, or Christ's crucifixion. There are far more many prophecies about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is there that the heart of the Christ event lies. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is the result of Christ's ministry. The prophecies are the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We find in the Ezekiel chapter 36, and the prophet Jeremiah chapter 36.
For the Jews, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, meant that the final one has arrived. It was the final apocalyptic event. No wonder that, that the Gospels are classified in apocalyptic genre at times. Why is this a distress on the Holy Spirit? If we, go back to Adam, he was created, as the son of God. And where was the last reference to the "sons of God" in the Bible, before the coming of Christ? Yes it was with respect to the sons of men. So what does it mean, is that Adam who was the disciple by virtue of his position of the Holy Spirit has lost this Sonship through losing the Holy Spirit. Recollect when the Lord said, "my spirit shall no longer strive with man, given his corruptions for his flesh". So possession of the Holy Spirit meant Sonship with God. These ideas you'll find in most of the fathers, especially St Athanasius, St Cyril of Alexandria who equates possession of the Holy Spirit with divine Sonship. And what we have now in the Christ event, is that we see a human being, born of the Holy Spirit, and Adam is restored. This is so important for sent Luke, this concentration of this period bearing capacity of humankind.
Recollect how Luke opens the very first preaching of Christ. Christ says: "the spirit of the Lord is on me." If you compare how the Holy Spirit operated in the old Testament, and in the new Testament, what is the difference? Because the prophets did speak through the power of the Holy Spirit. So in the old Testament prophets, the spirit of the Lord would come and descend on the prophet, and the prophet would at a prophecy, and in the spirit would leave there was no ontological union between man and the Holy Spirit. And in fact, in some of the scholars like Conzleman (?) believe that in the first chapter of Luke, we have this recreation of this prophetic equal, as we hear about prophets like Zechariah, then Elizabeth was blessed by the Holy Spirit at the prophecy, and then St John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach: "behold". And also a reference to the Holy Spirit is given to us by the city of the just, the Holy Spirit was on him not in him when he prophesied. He is instructed by the Holy Spirit, the Gospel says. And now we have completely new phenomenon in the history of mankind, since the fall of Adam. Luke chapter 1 verse 35, the angel answers and says to Mary "the Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the highest will overshadow you". Additionally, "the holy one that is born of you will be called son of God". So we have the restoration of divine Sonship of Christ man is born by the Holy Spirit.
Where else to be find in the new Testament immense capacity to bear the Holy Spirit? St Paul says:" that the first man Adam became a living soul, the last Adam was a living spirit." That is why Luke is eager to emphasise that he was a new category of human being ontologically united with Holy Spirit. And that is why Luke is eager to write every detail of Christ, every detail about the Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit will come on you through the power of the highest". And later on throughout the narrative, Luke never loses sight of the spirit bearing capacity is in Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells in him. It just doesn't come upon him it was on him.
There are differences for instance in how sent Luke understands the function of the Holy Spirit, with how Mark in his gospel does. In Mark we find a rather old Testament perspective of the Holy Spirit. For Mark, the Holy Spirit somewhat forces someone to do something, a common understanding as it were in the old Testament. E.g. consider how the old Testament prophets were forced at a prophecy almost under coercion of the Holy Spirit. In Mark was in interesting reference, where Christ was virtually driven out by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness "ekvalis" in Greek, which means thrown out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. But in Luke, the words "full of the Holy Spirit, and was led in the spirit into the wilderness", we have a sense of union between the human and the divine spirit, there is a sense of synergy. This is a great word to express this new anthropology which we find in Saint Luke.
And the very first words of Christ: "the spirit of the Lord is on me", and we learn that the whole of his ministry proceeds from his power of the Holy Spirit. And given this, the position of the Holy Spirit, he has anointed me, to deliver the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is not only Christ himself the possesses the Holy Spirit, but everyone who is born of the Holy Spirit. It is the whole new Christian way. See in Luke chapter 11, we are given instruction what we should pray for, and Christ's words recorded there: "how much more should your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit of those who ask him".
It is a great joy for us as Orthodox Christians, to hear the same words from the Saints. Remember what St Seraphim said to Motovilov: "what is the aim of the Christian life?" The aim of Christian life censor of them said is to acquire the Holy Spirit. This is the main focus of our life, to be a god bearing person, spirit bearing person. And is something about Luke's concern of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
There is another interesting theme in the Gospel that was highlighted by the German scholar Hands Conzleman (?). He says that Luke has his own way of relating to the old Testament. In Matthew Christ is the fulfilment of the law. In Luke we find a slightly different approach yet similar in essence. In Luke we find, yes, now that the time of the profits is finished, with the coming of Christ to have a new period in the history of mankind, and then with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have yet a third period in history of mankind. We see that Luke is very eager to separate the Epoch of the prophets, from the Ministry of Christ. That is why he gives all the stories of St John the Baptist, his imprisonment and his preaching, before Christ begins his ministry. When St John the Baptist disappears from the scene, this is when Christ begins his ministry. And Conzleman's book is called the middle of time. It means that the Gospel is about this middle time, the time of Christ.
Sent Luke tries to reduce this apocalyptic agiotage, about the coming end. You will see in St Luke's Gospel there are moments where he speaks about the delay of the second coming of Christ. Because now it is about the time not of the second coming of Christ but the time of the church. When the Holy Spirit acts to bring the whole of mankind to the faith of Christ. And one of the interesting pictures of Luke's Gospel if we really divide into these periods, we see that Luke is at pains, to show that there is a time of Christ to act, and then a time for his disciples to act after Christ's resurrection. That is why in the first chapters Luke is at pains to focus attention on Jesus alone, not on his disciples but on Jesus who is in the middle, in the focus he is the main hero. By chapter 5, when Christ called his first disciples, Christ has already accomplished quite a bit of his ministry, so much so that he was almost killed after his first sermon in the synagogue see chapter 4. By the time Christ meets his disciples, his popularity, seem to have reached quite a substantial level. Crowds pressed to hear him, chapter 5.
For Luke it is important to emphasise that the Epoch of the old Testament is finished and Christ has come on now what we have is continuation of the Christ event in the life of the church. Luke is very eager to emphasise that there is a direct connection between our life in the church and the events that happened 2000 years ago of Christ's death and resurrection. Because it is to continue the work of the apostolic ministry, in the life of the church.
Luke tries to diminish somewhat this apocalyptic agiotage, this apocalyptic excitement among Christians. He speaks about delay. And he tries to focus his attention on our daily life. He tries to convey details which are important enough on a daily Christian life, which somehow for instance in the Gospel of Mark is absent. Because in Mark's Gospel we have action, and buildup of this apocalyptic discourse in Christ's death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Luke somehow tries to calm things down, and he focuses our attention, onto the details of Christ daily life.
For example Christ is said to be praying, get a sense that Christ was praying all the time, and more importantly he was praying at the most important moments of his ministry are key points of his ministry. E.g. chapter 3 Christ's baptism: "Jesus also been baptised, and praying", Jesus was praying to the evangelists before the Holy Spirit descended; another moment was in the appointment of the 12, he was praying all night before he chose his disciples; and at the moment of transfiguration, once again Christ is praying to God the Father; we get a sense that everything that happens to Christ doesn't happen automatically. But comes as a result of Christ's continuous dialogue with the father.
And the same legacy of Luke, he speaks of our need for prayer. In Luke there is great attention the Christ taught his disciples how to pray. If in Matthew's Gospel, the Lord's Gospel is given just as an example of prayer, in Luke we get a sense that Christ was trying to teach his disciples how to pray. In Chapter 11 we read, "it happened as he was praying in a certain place" and, and when he stopped one of his disciples said to him: "Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples". And in other places we see how Christ speaks about perseverance in prayer, what we should ask of in prayer, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. A good example is of the parable of the unjust judge, chapter 18. It is really all about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
When we are speaking about the Gospels, and in fact the whole of the new Testament, we should keep in mind that we are dealing here with divinely inspired text. Sometimes perhaps even in our daily practice, God can inspire even ordinary people to say certain things.
Story of Fr Porphyri who was visited by a US citizen. US citizen was adamant he spoke in English but Fr doesn't know any English.
Peter confesses Christ is the son of the living God. And Christ actually prayed for the apostles, that God gives them understanding to reveal who he is- the son of God. This prayer again took place in Gesthemane and at the Resurrection: "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do". And again it seems Christ prayed for his disciples continuously, "Simon Simon... To sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you." It is only in Luke that we see this kind of dialogue.
it was indeed a major concern for sent Luke to prove and to show that Christ is the saviour of the whole world, not just of the Jewish nation. The consensus from the very beginning. Remember in Matthew we have genealogies, it goes back to Abraham. But in Luke the same genealogy goes to Adam himself, is Father of the whole human nation because it was important to emphasise this universalistic ring of the gospel. From the very beginning there is a universal message to the Gospel of Luke. Remember what the angel said: "give to you a tidying of great joy, it shall be to all people to all mankind." And again, "my eyes have seen the salvation, which now has prepared in the face of all the peoples". In Matthew and Mark, we see a very short quotation from Isaiah. But Luke goes further. And why does he want to give a full quotation? "And all flesh see the salvation of God." So he we have the universalistic vision of St Luke.
And for us as Orthodox Christians, it is very important to have this universalistic dimension to the message of Christ. The whole of our history of salvation of mankind is about universalism. Let us go back to the old Testament, and the human race. After the fall of Adam, which was the first covenant? He was it was with Noah. It was with a family: "you and your seed to have my blessing". After the fall of Adam everything disintegrated, there was no connection with universalism. It was rather individualism. Humankind became atomised. An atom is something which cannot be divided. So the human race disintegrated into the small atoms that were not connected. Remember the first thing that Adam said to God after his fall: "it is this wife, which you gave me, she gave me to eat". He immediately separated himself from Eve. So the first chance God created covenant with the family of Noah, so that there would be harmony love and peace within themselves and each other.
So the next covenant in history, was with Abraham. It was to create a nation. Once this level of unity was credit in the family, then God took on the nation. So God creates a nation. In fact it is a very Jewish concept, because before Israel there were no nations. Even until now if you go to the Middle East people live in clans, in families, in groups. So as a Christian nation, we inherited this concept from Israel. And today it is about achieving a larger unity, in a nation.
But what is the next level after a nation? It is the whole of mankind, and it is when Christ comes. It is the unity of the whole of mankind. Remember what we sing in Pentecost at the celebration of the Holy Spirit: "calling all man to unity". This is absolutely essential to Christian thinking. To think in these universal ways. Of course for sent Paul, but is to send Luke especially. For him it was important to emphasise this universalistic dimension of Christianity.
The history of the old Testament, the last book, which came into circulation, it was the book of Jonah. In the book of Jonah, God began to move slowly from this notion of a nation to the whole world. Prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance, and Nineveh was the capital of Babylon. And that is where the Israelites were held captive. God sent his prophets, to preach even to the worst enemies of Israel.
The Outcasts in Luke's Gospel
there are the anonymous masses of people who suffered, they are the suffering masses, their names are lost to history. Now in Christ, there is no more of these little ones who are forgotten. From the time on of Christianity, there are no more outcasts for Christ. Those who are excluded from the covenants, outcasts, sinners, Gentiles, women, the ill and unclean people. Now they are all incorporated to this mighty nation of the children of God.
Remember how Christ begins his first preaching in the Gospel of Luke: "the spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim to the captives to give sight to the blind.. Those who have been crushed."
Many scholars have picked up on this, and said that we are dealing in the Gospel of Luke with a political message. And in South America in particular you'll find that many theologians like to speculate about liberation Christology. A Brazilian author wrote, Christos Libertargo (?). So some scholars have taken the Christian message in the Gospel of Luke is a political message. Christ is for the poor, the underprivileged. "Christ loves everyone, he is against the rich because he loves the poor"... note this is from a liberation christology point of view. But we should be very careful not to politicise Christ's message. We should remember what Christ said:" my kingdom is not of this world".
We get a sense, in Luke's Gospel, the Christ seemed to promote poverty. If in St Matthew's Gospel we have the notion: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ", in Luke we have a straightforward "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Consider also the parable of the rich man in chapter 12. Christ speaks against those who have laid up treasures for themselves in this world. And in chapter 15 he calls the poor, the lame..."
So is Christ against riches, what do you think? We must remember that poverty in itself is not a virtue. This is the same as riches in themselves they are not a sin. It is what you do with these riches that matters. Because if we notice, every gift in our church of the Holy Spirit is a service toward other people. There is nothing that it is oriented towards ourselves. Riches, if you take them as something that is given to you, and that you use for yourself, this is turning into yourself. But if you consider it as a gift of God which is gift to you which is used to minister to others, then it becomes a gift of salvation.
We can consider this, when we recollect St John of Kronstadt, who received so many gifts from people that he didn't have enough time even to distribute them at times. There is a famous story where he was once given a bundle of money in an envelope by a rich man, and as soon as he received the money, he gave it to a poor person who needed it. The response of the rich man was a tell St John of constant but do you know there was money enough in this envelope to buy all of St Petersburg, St John replied to the rich man yes I know there was a lot of money in the envelope, but this man needed it desperately. He was ready to receive this gift.
This term soteriology, is related to our salvation. Looking at material recorded by Saint Luke, we can build a very clear picture of what this is.
There was an account of Rowan Williams, the revered Archbishop in the UK in the BBC. He was visiting Cardiff, and many reporters came there to ask, is the church sexist, what is the definition of sin? And he was also asked what is hell like and who is going there? And the Archbishop replied in a wonderful way hell is being by yourself forever. Who is going there, God knows. This is a wonderful definition. When you turn your existential orientation towards yourself, then you don't see other people, then you are not human. For example let's take the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man would dress up look luxurious, and eat luxurious foods and this poor man Lazarus was lying at his gates without any help. What was wrong with this man? He simply didn't notice the other human being. He didn't notice another person who was in need of help. Certainly if he would have noticed he would have given him something, food and clothes. Notice something important, that the rich man doesn't even have a name. It is because he is not human, and Lazarus is human. In suffering, Lazarus perhaps was educated in compassion and love. But this rich man was unable to see another person.
So what is the outward dimension of our whole Christian message? What is the eschato of the gospel? What is the last theme that we shall experience in our temporal being, in the dimension of time?
In Matthew's Gospel, we have a parable about the last judgement. But there will be one simple criteria whether we pass on what do not pass. We notice these little ones, people who suffer, they give them food, they clothe them, they visit them in prisons. Then you are human, and then you are saved. Then your fits for the kingdom of heaven if you haven't there is no space for you, in the kingdom of heaven. And this is a very powerful message because Christ equates with himself little ones: "it was me who you clothed, and fed and in prison". It is the ultimate dimension of the gospel, the result of the whole history of mankind. It comes to these very simple facts of our life. If we see another person next to us there is a need many to help them.
If we look at Luke on the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, he was praying in the temple. And the Pharisee was proud of himself and he was saying to himself to the Lord thank you that I'm not like other people. While the poor tax collector was beating his breasts, and shouting "Lord have mercy". What was wrong with the Pharisee? He didn't do anything for instance, that was against the law, he was simply praying and thanking God. What was wrong with this? In the Greek text we read that the Pharisee was standing unto himself praying. But when we have this orientation towards ourselves, our ego, we do not develop as human beings. The principle of whole creation, the logos, is toward God, facing God "pros ton Theon". Towards the other, not towards oneself.
The same went for the rich man. He said to his soul, eat and drink and be merry. I have enough goods for you for many years. And the problem with this approach, he never mentioned another human being. He always thought about himself he did not think about other people. He did not serve the others he built up his own ego.
In St Macarius of Egypt we have quite an interesting description of hell. He walk through the desert and found a human skull. His thoughts, I wonder who this man is, and where he is now? And he started to pray for this person. And this goal spoke to him and said, I used to be a pagan priest. Saint Macarius asked him: "where is your soul now"? In the sky replied, "I am burning in hell, and the joy for me, is once in a while, I can see a face of another person". This is really hell, to echo the words of the Archbishop Rowan. Hell is being by yourself forever.
And this is something we can create through our riches for ourselves, we can be shut out. A survey should communion and compassion. In Matthew we have: "be perfect just like a father in heaven is perfect", but in Saint Luke we have: "be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful". This is the key message of Saint Luke, concern for the suffering ones.
there is of course a feminist reading of Saint Luke's Gospel. Is an interesting that the church starts its commemoration of Easter with women the myrrh bearing women. It has become a landmark of Christianity. This is how Christ opened his ministry. To heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance, to set at liberty. And the first people he would have been speaking about was women. If we look old Testament, women were not even counted as human beings, were not part of the Covenant because of circumcision which was a very male thing, and women were not even a part of the covenant, they were part of possessions that man had. Men had cattle that had women and other possessions.
To Christ brought to us much. He brought the notion of marriage. There was no marriage before Christianity. Something that year from Judaism or Islam now was borrowed from Christianity, in the idea of marriage. Because it was so wonderful, splendid in its idea, no one could contest its. Even marriage has been brought to us through Christianity. It is because Christ change the perception of women. Now a woman is a person a human being, on the image of God, on par with men. Thank you to Saint Luke, this wonderful picture with from within the text, of the daughters of Jerusalem, emerged. From the very first opening chapters in Luke we see the discussion on women, the stories are numerous. We hear about Elizabeth, we hear about Mary, Anna the widow of nine, Mary Magdalene who showed great love for Christ, Joanna Susanna, and the list of women mentioned goes on and on, Martha and Mary, women in the parables, et cetera. There is the widow demanding justice, the women lamenting Christ, etc. women are allowed a prominent place. And many types of womanhood are placed before us.
If you look at the presence of women around Christ in this gospel, it is really remarkable, they are almost always there, they are among the disciples. In chapter 8: 1-3. "And also certain women..." We have this constant, silent, presence of women around Christ. And the women were the ones who were faithful to Christ to the very end. In chapter 23, it was women who were at the cross not the disciples, they were the ones who stayed until the end. It is because of women that we know where cross was buried. Luke notices that the commitment of women to Christ was much deeper at times than it was from men. In chapter 23, we hear "a great multitude of people followed him, and women also work bewailing and lamenting him. And Christ said to them, "daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children." This is the last teaching of Christ addressed to women, as men were unable to listen or to hear. The question then is, women had authority whether in fact Christ would ever have been crucified, because women were lamenting together, for the male world who condemned him. This is just a glimpse of a feminist reading.
The very first sight of Christ after his resurrection, is when Mary comes to the sepulchre. And she asked: "where is my teacher buried?" Then Christ said to the woman away you crying? And she replied I do not know when my master is, and where they buried him. And then Christ said Mary, and she immediately recognised him. Why did she recognise him when he called her by name? And of course what we have to remember is at that time nobody called women by their first names. No one even noticed them. For instance, the Pharisee is addressed Mary, who came to the house as: "that sinful woman". She wasn't even a person in the eyes of those people. But it was Christ who treated her as a person. Therefore she immediately recognised that it was him. But his appearance was different. But she recognised him from his attitude. This is a very powerful story.
Now with respect to women in Orthodox tradition. Yes there are some times hiccups concerning women in our tradition, especially in monasticism. Those who write about chastity, for example may write about women in negative ways. But God massively and kindly corrects those stories. Remember the story of St John Cassian, who was a monk who was trying to achieve the highest level of purity, and he talked himself to hate women. He was known even to have a fit for example, when he saw a woman. And it was providence of God, that the monks who served him, were nuns in disguise. So he changed his attitude ever so quickly. For instance, remember what John (H)? Used to say before he met his spiritual friend Olympiada, who became his closest friend.
So at times, the orthodox position on women has been harsh, but God corrects this. The reason why monks can be so negative about women sometimes is because I haven't learnt to see a woman as a person above all, not an object, not a perceived human being. And this is what monks learn to do, they go and hide until they can learn to treat women equally, as persons.
In the Soviet Union, churches were filled with women, all these babushkas, old women who save the church, who preserved the Orthodox faith in Russia. It was like an army of women who supported the bearded men. Their deserve the highest respect for the dedication and faith.
Q&A. We can say, for example, today we have the same pattern of attendance, is mainly women again who attend the services.
Saint Luke is very sensitive to this issue. It is very important to us as Christians. The authenticity of any religion, is likely measured by its acceptance of women.
We should consider, that the closer we get to God when we study women in the church, the greater those women were elevated. In the Orthodox church, as well is in the Catholic, we have highest image of the mother of God. She was a human being, a woman who was elevated above the cherubims and the seraphims, above any other being created in this world. She is next to God, even in our iconography. This is a very powerful message. But if you look at Islam, do you know of any woman who is mentioned in the Quran? It is Mary again. Only Mary.
So you will see in our Orthodox Church, in our Orthodox faith, women are given tremendous roles. It is often said that without women the church would not exist. It is not only their parental duties which make them so significant, but also their presence, their prayers, and their ministry. They are not servants of the church but ministers of the church.