A sullen, somber young man goes to a gun store in Virginia, where he will have no difficulty purchasing handguns. He is seriously mentally ill and many people around him are aware of it, but no one has taken any real action to place him under professional care. The clerk at the gun store has no obligation to know whether or not the man is mentally ill; there is no program for assessing who may purchase a handgun. The only real requirement is that he or she must be eighteen years of age. A while later, the young man has massacred people and committed suicide.
The first thing that comes to mind when one reads all the details of this matter is this: so many people knew that this young man was seriously ill, but did nothing about it. On the surface, it looks like some people did care, but the fact is that of the dozens of people who say they knew, and of the several that were in positions of authority, no one took any kind of action to intervene in his situation. The "demons" in this young man's head were not of his own making. They only mirror the world of paranoia, fear and violence around him. His psychiatric condition inclined him to personalize all this.
His symptoms are quite well known, and one should have expected some kind of violence from him, but no one cared enough to do so. There was just a kind of negligence on the part of those who ought to have known better and done more. We have twice had young men like him show up at the monastery , and we got them into mental health care situations very quickly.
If we speculate about why things like this happen, it is often because human beings do not actually care enough about each other to prevent them from happening. There is more to it than this however, in our society. Violence has been given a value in culture and society. Television has made it graphic and the value given to it has made it very difficult to distinguish heroes from anti-heroes. Victors in violent actions are noble, losers are evil, but there is little to distinguish them except which one won and which one lost. Losers are guilty of war crimes, the winners put them on trial for it, but both of them had committed the same atrocities, killed an equal number of innocent civilians and equal destruction.
Such episodes of personal violence as school and university mass murders can happen almost anywhere, but they happen much more easily in the U.S. because there is an almost idolatrous worship of guns. In the state of Virginia, one can own a rifle or shotgun at the age of 12 and one can legally purchase a handgun at the age of 18. How many people in those age ranges do you know that you would want them to have those kinds of weapons? And for what reason would they have them? In a world and society which has essentially separated itself from God, it is difficult to ask "why does God allow...?" When the most prominent religious leaders in the U.S. are advocating the death penalty, supporting war and many of them acting as advocates for the gun lobby, and almost openly hoping for Armageddon, while practically reducing morality down to only sexual behaviour, when the nation's leaders think that violence and sowing death and destruction is the way to handle conflicts, who is listening to God anyway?
Moreover, even Orthodox Christians no longer observe those disciplines of Church life which God has given us to teach and exercise us in self-discipline and self-control, so what should we expect of the rest of the world? Look at how many Orthodox Churches actually SPONSOR violating the fasts, right in the parish halls. Too many Orthodox Christians, those who are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the lights set upon lampstands for the rest of the world to see, do not take the Christian life seriously. They reduce the faith to some philosophical posits but have no desire to apply the living faith to life itself in a transforming way. And yet, without the ingredient of self-control and self-discipline, how can violence and injustice ever be avoided? If we, who claim to have the truth, the "faith once delivered", have no desire to learn nor to teach our children self-discipline and self-control what should we, then, expect of the world around us, or even of our own children?
How can we stop all this? We cannot avoid violence in this world. So long as Satan has the ear and heart of so many, we cannot stop it. We can pay more attention to each other and watch for the symptoms in others that would alert us to the fact that they need help, but we cannot stop violence in a fallen world in which violence itself appears to have value, when we are taught by the example of national leaders and whole nations that violence is the solution to violence.
Stopping violence to a greater degree would require that we diligently search for root causes of the violence and seek, aided by prayer and fasting for the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to heal the root causes, not simply to bomb and shoot those whom we feel are responsible (WE never are responsible, of course....) for the violence. So long as nations and the leaders of nations deal with problems by resorting to violence and state terrorism, we have no reason to suspect that people who are mentally and/or emotionally unbalanced will not follow their example. Children tend to imitate adults, alas!
Prayer does have a healing power. We need to pray sincerely, and not just "because one is supposed to pray" for the healing of mankind, for the healing of our world, and we should not neglect to pray for the young man who committed this most recent massacre.
What else can we do? Let us begin by trying to recapture the meaning of our Orthodox Christian life, the actual meaning of the parish, to discover again the sweet mystery of the parish, how the parish itself is intended to promote the healing of the fallen human nature and our assimilation of the life in Christ.
Physically, the only thing we can do to protect ourselves is to be alert. We live in a world that is dangerous, and we need to be aware of that, to pray about it and to live our lives in such a way that we do not contribute to it. We place our hope in God for our own lives. We must make proper use of our Christian faith as a source of healing in the world, not as a source of judgment, division and enmity toward others. The less we endorse violence, the more we observe the disciplines of Orthodox Christian life, the more we can contribute to love, peace and healing in the world around us. We do so need to learn to love "the other," those who are not "us" and not "like us." How shall we, as Orthodox Christians, make such contributions to the world if we cannot have peace, harmony, self-control and self-discipline even in our own parishes and among the local national Orthodox Churches?
Did our beloved father Paul not tell us that though we speak with the tongues of men and of angels, know all mysteries and give our bodies to be burned in martyrdom, but do not have love, we are only clanging brass and it does not profit us anything? We must see the Image of the Creator in every other human being, not merely in those we see as being also an image of our own selves, those who agree with us and think and act as we do. The Church has even given us a program of prayer and fasting to help us accomplish this. If we do not strive to accomplish it, then we become part of the problem rather than the seed of healing in a troubled and suffering world.
Archbishop Lazar Puhalo is Civil Liaison for the Orthodox Church in America, Archdiocese of Canada. He is founder and Abbot of the Monastery of All Saints of North America near Vancouver, Canada. Vladika Lazar is educated in physics as well as theology, and lectures internationally on science and religion. He is Canadian secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and director of the Canadian Institute for Biblical and Patristic Studies, and is the author of more than 40 books.
Read the entire article on the website (new window will open).