A bishop’s opposition to capital punishment

I am saddened whenever I hear Orthodox Christians defend capital punishment, even though I know that there are, were, and always will be various and opposing opinions in our Church, and that these opinions may be justifiable within their own systems of logic.

I cannot square capital punishment with any of my Christian experience. The Old Testament may be quoted, but I do not see it in the New. I cannot square it with the introduction to the Ten Commandments. I cannot square it with the Gospel. I cannot square it with the words of the “Our Father.” I cannot square it with “The Beatitudes.” I cannot square it with my knowledge of our canonical tradition. I cannot square it with my knowledge of the teaching of the Fathers. I can not square it with my reading of any one of our saints. And most certainly I cannot square it with the teaching of Saint Silouan, that the real test of a Christian is being able to forgive one’s enemies.

Since we Christians stand for repentance, and are called to live this daily, it is perhaps our responsibility to help the persons incarcerated for serious crimes to move in that direction also.

Perhaps we Orthodox Christians should at last take seriously our call to visit those in prison, to become qualified for a prison ministry, even, and to bring some hope, consolation, and witness of something better to these persons who otherwise could well die without knowing anything else except misery.

We always say “Talk is cheap.” Perhaps it’s time we proved we are Christians by doing something instead of philosophizing.

+ Seraphim

Bishop of Ottawa and Canada

a letter published in The Orthodox Church, January 1999