Care for Others
As we saw in the introductory page, ours is a life lived in complete freedom: freedom to live a life of joy in Christ and to grow closer to Him, or freedom to live a life that will damage our spiritual health and wellbeing. These are not legal matters, but they are the natural outcome of the way in which we exercise our free will. If you have not yet read the introductory page, please do so—the approach outlined there is necessary to understanding the Church’s approach to its moral teachings.
In this first section we will explore the Christian life as one in which we care for others. Christ has not called us to insularly seek only after our own uprightness, but to love our neighbor as our own self. Christ goes so far as to completely identify Himself with each person whom we meet, telling us that whatever good we do—or refuse to do—is done—or refused to Christ.
Sanctity of the Entirety of Human Life
A Christian worldview sees all human life as uncompromisingly sacred, and each human life is of infinite value. If God gave His only Son for each human person, then we are valued at the price of the Blood of Jesus Christ. Because of this, there is no utilitarian way of calculating the worth of some human persons versus others—nor to justify sacrificing the few for the many. One human is worth an infinite value, and many are worth an infinite value, therefore the many do not outweigh the few. Likewise, every stage of a human’s life is considered sacred—from conception to natural death—and Christians care for the entirety of a human’s life.
Conception to Birth - From long before the beginning of Christianity, rooted in God’s revelation to the Israelites, the faithful have understood that the moment of conception is the precise instant in which a living human person comes into existence—body, soul, and spirit—that is, at the moment of the fertilization of an ova by a sperm, a living human person of infinite value has fully begun to exist. Every other definition of the beginning of human life that has been recently attempted has chosen an arbitrary marker—implantation of the human in the embryo stage, heartbeat, brain wave activity, birth itself, or even the mother’s acceptance of the newborn as a person. The Church’s understanding of the reality of a full human person from conception is uncompromising, and all the teachings about protection of the unborn simply follow from this understanding. Since what is in the womb of a woman is a human person—of infinite value—then there is no circumstance that can justify ending the life of this human person.
Birth through Adulthood - The value of a child’s life does not change after leaving the womb. The Church has always encouraged, and where able has facilitated, care for children in need and for their families. Orthodox Christian parishes often partner with local organizations to maximize the real effectiveness of their effort. Likewise, care for the poor—whether children, adults or the elderly, is a great concern of Christians. When Jesus Christ described the criteria by which He would judge each human person, speaking of Himself as the ‘Son of man’ He said:
When the Son of man comes in His glory and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then He will say to those at His left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and His angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Old Age to Natural Death - As we have discussed in earlier sections, it was never the intention of God that human bodies would break down, suffer disease, or fall to death—this was a consequence of humanity’s own rejection of the Source of health and life Himself. While Christ has opened the way to eternal life, we still experience the natural, physical consequences of our schism from God. It is indescribably difficult to suffer through debilitating disease, especially as the dignity of a fully functioning body gives way to an inability to care for oneself. It is grueling for family to watch a loved-one suffer and wither, not knowing what to do. These tragic consequences of our fall call us to rely even more on God, to turn to communion with Him as the goal of our life. The temptation to medically intervene and end a human life is a rejection of this opportunity—it sets one’s self in the place of God, Who alone is to set the season for the end of our life, and this action is rebellion against Him. This is also to say that extreme medical intervention does not need to be taken to sustain a life which is naturally ending—our medical technology is powerful, but not always beneficial for allowing the peaceful repose of a loved one to take place in its time. In difficult cases where discernment is difficult, it is helpful to consult one’s parish priest for guidance.
In keeping with the fundamental worth and dignity of the human person, the selling and compelling of other human persons, whether in slave labor, the sex trade, or in any other capacity, is incompatible with a Christian worldview. Each of these scenarios treats the human person simply as a means to the end of self-gratification; Christianity, however, sees the human person as the object of God’s love and self-offering.
Gender and Race
“There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:9-11)
With these words, St. Paul sums up the equal standing of all races before God, whereas previously one race—the Jewish, or Hebrew people—had enjoyed a position of favor over and above other races, now all races have equal opportunity either for nearness to God, or for condemnation. Within Christianity, while natural distinctions are understood and celebrated, there can be no partiality based on gender or race. On the Church’s calendar, which commemorates the saints who died on each day, names of saints of both gender are enrolled—of every possible national origin from easternmost Asia to westernmost North America. The most highly-regarded of all the saints of the Church is Mary, the Mother of God—she enjoys a central place of veneration, love and devotion that, while clearly being of a different nature than the worship given to God, is still set apart from and above the rest of the saints of the Church. Likewise, the genealogy of Jesus Christ—God made human—includes people from various racial backgrounds. Because the one divine-human Person whom we worship, Jesus Christ, and His most-pure mother, Mary, whom we venerate—because they defy modern attitudes of racism or sexism, these attitudes are utterly foreign to Christianity.
There have been some who have misunderstandingly labeled the exclusively male aspect of the Priesthood in the Church as sexist. The reality, however, is that the Church has no ability to alter the reality of Priesthood as fundamentally belonging to Jesus Christ. Although He is united to every human being according to nature, in His own person He is male, and Priesthood is as unique to male human persons as motherhood is unique to female human persons. This is demonstrated by Christ’s own appointment only of His male disciples as the first to share in His Priesthood. Any argument that He was being sensitive to ‘cultural norms’ falls quite flat in the face of His repeatedly breaking social taboos He had no regard for; in fact, He was so indifferent to ‘cultural norms’ that He was executed as a result! Equality does not abolish distinction, and any paradigm which sees the exclusively male aspect of the Priesthood as sexist misunderstands the priesthood itself. All Christians are the children of God, the Church is their Father’s household. Within that household the Father has servants who guide and aid His children: these servants are the clergy—bishops, priests, and deacons. To invert this paradigm of service and cast it in terms of power is fundamentally to pervert the Church’s understanding of Christ’s Priesthood.
Continue to Care for the Self
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Daniel the Stylite of Constantinople; Luke the New Stylite of Chalcedon; Holy Martyrs Ascepsia and Aethal; Holy Martyrs Miracus and Barsabas; Leontios the Righteous of Monemvasia; The Glorious King Nikephoros Phokas
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