Fr John Parker is the pastor of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, and the Chair of the Department of Evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America. He graduated the College of William and Mary (1993) with a major in Spanish and a minor in German. He earned his MDiv at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. After being received into the Orthodox Church, he earned an MTh at St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, where is also currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program. He has been a frequent writer for Charleston, SC's Post and Courier. He and Matushka Jeanette celebrated 20 years of marriage in April 2014, and have two sons nearing High School graduation.
Death is the last enemy of humankind. Everyone who is born into this world is guaranteed one death. Death is inevitable.
And in the Orthodox Christian tradition, the fear of death is considered to be one of, if not the most, significant causes of sin and destruction in the world. Whether or not one will admit it, fear of death leads to all sorts of inner turmoil: rage, anger, jealousy, but also pride. “I will beat this” is a rallying cry for many who are diagnosed with terminal disease. We raise millions of dollars to fight cancer, and by miracles of God in medicine, many indeed are cured. But each of them, like the rest of us, will eventually die a real death.
This is seen in the Bible in the beautiful and bittersweet story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. It is that same passage which offers us the answer to the trivia question, “What is the shortest Bible verse, and where?” It is “Jesus wept.” At the sight of his four-days-dead friend Lazarus, after being accused by his relatives, “If you had been here, he would not have died.” Jesus stood at his tomb and called, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man exited his cave, and those around were instructed to unwrap his wound body, and to let him go. Lazarus, the only biblical character to be “all dead” (to quote the Princess Bride) went on, according to the living memory of the Church, to be Bishop in Cyprus, but then, like the rest of us, he died a final death.
The advent of life-prolonging medications, surgeries, and procedures has had a tremendously positive impact on humanity. Simple diseases which even one hundred years ago would kill a child can now be cured by a pill. Comas can be induced in crash victims in order to give the brain time to be relieved of swelling in order to buy necessary time for a full recovery, which only decades ago would have resulted in either a vegetative state or a painful death. In recent times, palliative care has been advanced, in order to help patients who are dying extremely painful deaths have some measure of comfort in their last days or weeks, or months.
By contrast, Jack Kevorkian raised moral concerns when he became famous for Physician Assisted Suicide, beginning in 1989-90. Remarkably, he was relieved of murder charges because there was no law against Physician Assisted Suicide in Michigan at that time. Who ever would have thought to make such a law?
In 2010, one could have watched Frontline, which chronicled the “Tourist Suicide” of a man who went to Switzerland to kill himself, legally, with prescriptions from a physician, on camera. I couldn’t believe my own eyes watching that program.
In Oregon this week, a woman legally took her own life with the prescribed “help” of physicians whose ancient, vocational Oath prevents every form of their action: Do no harm. “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”
The world as we knew it has been turned on its head. What was once an obvious evil is now a perceived good. Bitter has been exchanged for sweet, and sweet for bitter.
The founders of our Nation, in declaring independence, named three unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The mission statement of the supporters of the Oregon law, a group formerly known as the Hemlock Society (!) and now called “Compassion and Choices,” puts an ironic, inhumane twist on our Declaration of Independence. “The greatest human freedom is to live, and die, according to one’s own desires and beliefs.”
Did not the world just turn upside down a few months ago with the suicide of Robin Williams? Have we finally become nationally schizophrenic? Has personal desire now become the both the pinnacle and cornerstone of human virtue?
A three-part recipe for the destruction of the human person, and the decimation of human dignity.
From the day of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Christians have known not only that there is redemption in suffering, but that God himself suffers with us. Because we all fear death, it is understandable in the fallen world that some would want to hasten it. The complexities of a drawn-out, painful death no one would want to face.
But, if there is a God, it is no one’s right to take a life, even his or her own, since there is only one author of life, and neither you, nor I, is He.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.