Entries with tag life .

Life, Not the Death Penalty

Last spring, I had the privilege of hearing oral arguments for a lethal injection case at the U.S. Supreme Court. Working as a television reporter in Washington, D.C. at the time, I had the station’s legal beat and occasionally found myself at the nation’s highest court.

 

In this case, inmates sentenced to death in Oklahoma were suing the state over its use of a drug called midazolam, the first administered as part of the state’s lethal injection protocol.

 

There was growing evidence that midazolam—which is meant to render a person unconscious before the painful drugs that actually stop the heart are injected—wasn’t doing its job. A man in Oklahoma and another in Arizona were seen gasping and writhing in pain during their respective executions.

 

The legal question was whether executions involving midazolam constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” violating the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court wasn’t convinced, narrowly deciding (5-4) to uphold Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol.

 

The five justices who ruled in favor of the this iteration of the death penalty formed their opinions on legal grounds. I would argue that, perhaps, they were not formed on a moral or ethical ones.

 

However, the Orthodox Church—through several local Churches worldwide—has taken action to oppose it.

 

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken about the perversion of violence and hatred against other people in any form, including corporal punishment.

 

“How can [Jesus] support the death penalty for people’s wrongdoings, especially when He came to save the lost, and desires ‘that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth?’” Patriarch Bartholomew said during a 2013 speech at an ecumencal gathering in Espoo, Finland. “How can life possibly embrace death?”

 

The Moscow Patriarchate has also encouraged mercy over lethal punishment, noting that the abolition of the death penalty provides more opportunities both for the Church to engage in pastoral work and for those who have committed crimes to repent.

 

“Today, many states have either abolished the death penalty by law or stopped practicing it,” the Russian Church’s document on the basis of the social concept states. “Keeping in mind that mercy toward a fallen man is always more preferable than revenge, the Church welcomes these steps by state authorities.”

 

Fortunately, 82 percent of countries have either introduced moratoria on the death penalty by law or in practice or have abolished it entirely.

 

Here in the U.S., where the practice is still legal in most states and in the federal government, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos has worked extensively to put an end to the death penalty, having served twice as president of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty before it was finally banned there in 2011.

 

Like virtually all contemporary social issues, this one is vastly complicated and riddled with nuance. But the data and research overwhelmingly paint a picture of a death penalty that doesn’t really work.

 

Death penalty convictions are often based on the race of the accused and of the victims, inmates are frequently removed from death row after evidence is found of their innocence, claims that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder are flawed, and enforcing the death penalty costs taxpayers millions of dollars more than it would to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison.

 

When basing a decision in the supreme value of human life and the virtue of mercy, it becomes even more obvious that the death penalty should be discarded.

 

If your justification for opposing abortion is a personal commitment to champion life, why let the death penalty slide? Surely, “pro-life” has to actually mean “pro-life.”

 

Remember that Christ Himself prevented the legal execution of a woman (John 8:3-11), saying “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

 

World Day Against the Death Penalty is marked every year on Oct. 10.

 

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

 

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

Why Jesus Came at Christmas

In a matter of days, we’ll be celebrating again the great feast of the Nativity of Christ: Christmas. We’ve spent weeks preparing for this day, sometimes with the stress that the holidays bring, but all the while saving room for Christ.

 

For those of us in the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere, Christmastime reminds us of snow, ice-skating, hot chocolate, and evergreen trees. It’s a time of joy, a time of family, and a time for giving.

 

And with all of these ideas of what Christmas is about, Orthodox Christians in America struggle against the commercialization of it all, to “keep Christ in Christmas” and yet to “keep the Mass (liturgy) in Christmas” too.

 

As fun as it might be for some to argue about how we celebrate Christmas, I’d like instead to focus here on what Scripture provides – mostly what Christ says Himself – as the reasons for His coming into the world.

 

1. To be light in darkness

 

One reason that Jesus gave for His coming, was to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). One message we see repeatedly from the Prophets is that God would shine light in the darkness of this world. Isaiah says, "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone" (Isaiah 9:2). When St. John the Baptist was born, his father St. Zachariah said, "the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

 

But who would be this great light for us? The Prophets Isaiah and Micah say that God Himself will be our light. "The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory" (Isaiah 60:19). "When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8). Jesus says that He came into the world at Christmas so that He might be our light:

 

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:44-47)

 

When light shines in the darkness, it reveals the darkness. St. Paul tells us that "at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). At Christmas, we are reminded that we have the gift of Light – of Jesus Christ – so we don’t have to live in darkness anymore.

 

2. To call and save sinners

 

During the Christmas season, we’re often tempted to feign perfection. We’re going to be with family, talking about our work, school, or family life and we want to look good. We want to make the best meal, buy the best presents, and show up at work or school afterwards with the best new clothes or gifts. We try so hard to keep up appearances, that we forget that Jesus didn’t come at Christmas so that we can look perfect. He came to call and save us.

 

Jesus tells us, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). That means that Christmas isn’t about us being perfect and put together. At Christmas we don’t need more self-righteousness Christians, but more humble followers of Jesus. St. Paul tells us plainly, “the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first” (1 Timothy 1:15). I am the only sinner I need to notice or call out.

 

At Christmas, I’m reminded that Jesus came into the world that I might be healed. But more than that, He came to renew all of my life.

 

3. Have life abundantly

 

Our world tells us to live it up – you only live once! – to get the most out of this life. But Jesus tells us that He is Life (John 14:6). He says of the world, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Jesus came at Christmas that we might have life, that we might have Life Himself, that we might live our life most fully through our relationship with Him.

 

The Church, as the Body of Christ is where we encounter Christ and live in union with Him. St. Paul asks us, “Don’t you know that you all are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). We as the Church have this opportunity to be part of Christ because He first came to be part of us. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

 

Christmas matters because God came to live with man so that we could live with Him. How could life be more filled, more abundantly lived, than by being lived with God?

 

*****

 

As Christians, we have a God who wasn’t content with leaving us in the dark. He desired to fill up our world with His own presence, His Light. He came at Christmas so that He could call us from sin to Life and that we might live life abundantly. God gives of Himself to be our gift at Christmas.

 

How is Jesus a Light in your life? What might He be calling you to change in your life? How might you live life more abundantly in the New Year?

 

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Harry Potter and the Fear of Death - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

That Harry Potter has been a controversial piece of pop culture has never been something I really understand. Sure, it has magic and spells, but the beyond the witchcraft is a beautifully woven narrative that explores a plethora of topics: good and evil, friendship and love, life and death.

As my heart breaks over our world, considering how uncertain our lives are and how unpredictable things will be in the future, I can’t help but keep coming back to a very stark and simple reality: we are all going to die. It’s scary, and it’s morbid, but it’s true.

It is this deeply sobering truth that fuels my belief that we need stories like Harry Potter to help us have images of what it looks like to die well. Indeed, if this is the only thing in life of which we can be certain, then this the only real issue worth contemplating. How are we going to die?

In Deathly Hallows, we hear a story about three brothers who use magic to cross a deadly river. Down the road, they encounter Death, who is upset about being cheated out of these three brothers, so he offers them each a prize. I’ll spare you the details of the story, and instead let you either read it yourself (Chapter 19 in Deathly Hallows) or watch it here.

The first brother chooses power in order to continue to fight against death. Though he thinks he will always win in a duel, he still ends up dying, and quite gruesomely at that.

The second brother thinks he can beat death by living forever. He tries to resurrect the love of his youth, but unable to attain what he loves, he despairs and kills himself.

And while the third brother does hide from death, he ends up dying willingly, parting with the cloak and walking away with death. This third brother made peace with the fact that he could not hide from death forever. He understood that at a certain point, one has to give one’s life away.

This story presents us with a few ways to approach our own deaths. We can either try to resist our own mortality and approach deaths kicking and screaming, or we can understand that we are going to die and then willingly use our deaths bravely.

Now, I don’t mean some kind of glorified suicide, like we should kill ourselves to prove some kind of point. But rather, we should use our deaths to understand what our lives are for: others.

Again, Harry Potter helps us see this.

As he is approaching his own voluntary death, sacrificing himself to save the lives of his friends, Harry is faced with a choice. He pulls out the Golden Snitch, finding inside it the Resurrection Stone. He could keep it and trust that its magic would raise him from the dead. But he doesn’t. He drops it and chooses death with all its finality, truly offering himself for the sake of those he loves. After all, having an “undo” button such as the Resurrection Stone doesn’t make it much of a sacrifice.

But why would he do this? Why drop the Resurrection Stone? Why willingly give his life?

Love. Love is why he gives his life.

Before dropping the stone, he is surrounded by people he loves. His parents. His Godfather. His friends. Each of these people died for love. They died to protect those they cared about, and they did so courageously, with no hope of coming back. But it was this sacrifice of theirs, this voluntary giving of themselves that bore witness to some greater cause than their individual lives. Voldemort must be defeated.

In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, people are so afraid of being killed by Voldemort that they cannot even speak his name (“You-Know-Who”). But Harry demonstrates his fearlessness over death at Voldemort’s hand in the only way possible: by dying at Voldemort’s hand in the name of love.

It is only love that defeats fear. It is only love that is stronger than death.

So Harry presents us with a choice, as does Jesus Christ: how will we live? How will we spend our lives preparing to die for others?

I don’t pretend to have any of the answers as to how we do this. But we can spend our lives lusting after power, seeking to destroy our enemies; we can try to build up kingdoms on earth to pretend that death will never come for us; or we can make peace with the reality ahead of all of us and pray that we, too, will be brave enough to give our lives for others as did Harry, and as did Christ before him.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Check out the story of "The Three Brothers" here:

For more on fearlessness in Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

Orthodox Geology 101: Wind, Fire, Water, and You – Sunday of Pentecost

Between my sophomore and junior years of college, I spent 8 weeks in the Black Hills of South Dakota working on obtaining needed science credits. Included in this was a 4-week Geology course, which (before taking) I was excited about.

I mean, I had a Rock Tumbler when I was a kid, so I figured geology would be a cinch.

It wasn’t.

It was boring as rocks.

Although, I admit I was amazed that the earth had been shaped by powerful forces over time – through erosion. I mean, it’s crazy when you consider the absolute power of water and wind.

Every river, at one point in time, was likely just a little stream. But over (a very long) time, that stream, with the help of wind, carved a place in the earth to make it deeper and stronger, turning it into a powerful and life-giving river.

But it’s not just wind and water that play a huge part in the formation of the earth: fire does as well. In multiple ecosystems, fire actually plays a renewing role to the earth as it both burns debris and aids in re-vitalizing of life.

In all of these cases, it’s amazing that these forces play two roles: they simultaneously break down the earth while also shaping it to sustain life.

No wonder, then, that this Sunday of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit – the Lord, the Giver of Life – is described as all three: wind, fire, and water. Except the earth that the Holy Spirit forms is the dirt God forms into human beings, conforming them to the image of Christ.

On Sunday, we will hear that the apostles were gathered together, when “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (Acts 2:2,3). Here the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles, empowering them to bear witness to Christ.

In the Gospel, we will hear Christ say, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn. 7:37-39).

Wind. Fire. Water.

Erosion and re-vitalization.

The erosive qualities of the Holy Spirit are the same ones that reveal Him to be the Giver of Life. God sends His Spirit “upon the apostles in the form of fiery tongues, so that, clothed with power from above, they might become witnesses to Christ to all the ends of the earth, calling all human beings to faith in Christ and salvation.”[1]

The power of the Holy Spirit in the apostles is that He forms them as witnesses to Christ’s power over death. He does this not only through their words, but by making them witnesses in their own deaths, as nearly all will become martyrs – witnesses to Christ’s victory in their own bodies.

The wind, fire, and water of the Spirit has formed the earth that they are into true images of Christ. It is the Spirit which God breathed into Adam when He formed Him from the dust of the earth.

And it is that same Spirit who descends upon us on Sunday. He works to perfect us, to form us as witnesses – not just in what we proclaim or say, but in who we are. Fr. John Behr writes:

We are to become witnesses – that is, monuments, examples, martyrs – of what Christ has effected. We are to be consumed by the fire of the Spirit, so that we are incorporated into the life of God, to become the very body of Christ, so that each and everyone of us becomes a partaker in Christ’s victory and his Kingdom, so that we also have the Spirit of God in our hearts.[2]

The Spirit comes to us today as wind, fire, and water, seeking to shape the earth that we are into true human beings. But our earthen hearts are dry, resistant to God’s forming us, and need a little spiritual erosion through the water of the Spirit.

Too often, we are consumed by a life that is not of the Spirit. We are fleshly creatures possessing a fleshly mind, meditating on the things of this world while attempting to justify our disordered love for them.

Is it possible that we disguise our love for the things of this world as “having expensive taste?” Is it possible that our “emergency fund” is a security blanket against faith and relying on God’s providence? Is it possible that our dedication to “diet and exercise” is simply fear of death masquerading as healthy living?

On Pentecost, the Lord asks us to contemplate divine things, focusing on the coming of His Kingdom as we receive the Holy Spirit. Illumined by the fire of the Spirit, I can see that my insistence that I eat a Paleo diet is not just about being healthy, but is rooted in my deep fear of death.

But God sends His Spirit to erode my fear of death in order that I may know in my bones that Christ is victorious, causing a river of living water to flow from my heart.

But it’s gonna hurt.

Erosion. Is. Painful.

We will be forced to confront our hearts and to see where our treasure truly lies. We will have to ask ourselves if our hearts are attached to the things of this world – our jobs, our possessions, our passions – or if they are tethered to the things of God – compassion, service, and love.[3]

“Rather than hardening ourselves, trying to become what we want to be, we must remain pliable, open, and responsive to the creative activity of God: we must learn to ‘relax in the hands of God, to let God be the creator.’”[4] For as we yield to God and allow the Spirit to wash over us as wind, fire, and water, we will be shocked to find that the deeper He works to erode us, the stronger the rivers of living water will flow through us.

What do you think? What ties you to this world? What might the Holy Spirit be seeking to erode in you in order to orient your heart toward the things of God? Comment below!

 

[1] John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014), p. 99.

[2] Ibid., p.99.

[3] Compare this idea with what we pray every Liturgy in Church during the Cherubic Hymn: “Now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all!”

[4] John Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2006), p. 168.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo Credits:

Pentecost: Waiting For The Word via Compfight cc

River: elkost via Compfight cc

Fire: tommpouce via Compfight cc

Clay: Jerzy Durczak (a.k.a." jurek d.") via Compfight cc

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For more:

For more on the transformation of the heart, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on bearing witness to Christ in everyday life, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

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