Thou shalt not kill

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Thou shalt not kill.

The sixth commandment speaks to a set of moral issues: violent murder, suicide, abortion, euthanasia, and war, as well as many others aspects of killing. Therefore, we shall devote more words than are usual, to the Sixth Commandment.


The Sixth Commandment forbids causing the death of another person by any means whatsoever. God created man in His image, and life is given to man by God. Whosoever commits murder encroaches upon God's image and on the Creator's possession, which no one has the right to do. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man (Genesis 9:6).

Murder is the opposite of love. To love means to desire the fullness of every good thing for the loved one now, and, accordingly, for that person's eternal life. The motives and conditions opposed to love, and which have led to murder, are hatred, envy, vengeance, greed, self-love and negligence towards one's neighbor. In the book of the Prophet Ezekiel, God says, Behold, therefore I have smitten mine hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made, and at thy blood which hath been in the midst of thee (22:13). In the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans we read, And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents...

Thus, both the Old and New Testaments rank murder with the malice, envy, and covetousness of those who, the Bible says, do not like to keep God in their minds. The devil is the first murderer of men, and has continual inspiration to murder. Concerning him, Christ said: He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning . . . (John 8:44). The devil is smitten with envy and hatred because he knows that man will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. The suicide becomes the devil's submissive tool.


Suicide destroys the basis of life, which is love. Suicides may have many motives and grounds. They all share the fact that the man who decides to kill himself has ceased to know the meaning of his life or has renounced it, as he denies faith, hope, and love. Passions may lead a such a man to suicide: Passion for money, blinding passion for a supposed and narrow understanding of "honor," jealousy, loss, disappointment, anger, every misfortune not illumined by radiant faith, and self-hatred without repentance and humility before God. Of course, a man cannot in any way really deprive himself of life. He can only kill his mortal body, but he cannot kill his soul. Deprived of its living vessel (the body), the soul can pass only over to a different state, and, of course, to one much worse than the one it had its body. While suffering within the body, the soul of a man can still ease its sufferings morally, by giving them religious meaning, and physically, by helping the body with medication, for example. But when the soul has lost its body prematurely, nothing it can do can help.

By willfully fixing his own hour of departure from earthly life, the suicide makes his woe permanent. The repose of eternal, true, immortal life cannot come to a man from his own bullet shot against himself. God had given him the body for him o use it for spiritual maturation and preparation of the indestructible soul--God's image--for eternity. The Church sings abut eternal rest in the funeral service. Eternal rest comes as a consequence of faith, hope, and love. The suicide is deluded by himself and the devil. The devil, of course, desires that all people lose hope in God and put an end to themselves. That would mean his complete triumph.

In his book, Concerning Suicide, N. Berdyaev wrote that Dostoevski distilled the suicide brilliantly in The Possessed in the image of Kirillov. This character is possessed by the idea of man=s godhood. He wants man must become God. But, in order to become God, man must conquer the fear of death. He must consciously and freely kill himself, not because he feels hopeless and desperate. His suicide as a metaphysical experiment should satisfy himself of his own power, that he alone is the master of life and death. Without another master, he himself becomes God. Kirillov is a man of ideas without base motives. And he does not know fear. And so, the Kirillov is in every way opposed to Christ. The mangod must in everything oppose the GodMan. The final meaning of the Kirillov's metaphysical suicide is death. The final meaning of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross is resurrection.

Only God can judge each soul's conduct rightly, inasmuch as The God is Great created man to live. Suicide is desertion from life given to man by God. It rejects the Lord, Who says to man: Be faithful to Me, even unto death, and I shall give thee the crown of life.

Suicide is the heaviest of sins. It renounces trust and hope in God, as well as the possibility of repentance. It is the most unnatural thing a man can do. It betrays Christianity by its unwillingness to carry one's cross in life. The Church denies the bodies of suicides Christian burial. The egoistic suicides thinks only about himself, but not about family and friends and responsibilities in respect to them and other people. And how could the Church bury a suicide according to the church rite? After all, the main words are Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy servant, for on Thee hath he set his hope . . . . Pronounced over a suicide, these words ring false. And the Church cannot affirm them. The burial can be performed, however, with the special permission of the ruling hierarch if any grounds suggest that the suicide was "out of his mind".

Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ, teaches the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:2). We must comfort our neighbors and help them however we are able, so that they might be delivered from peril. If someone we know hints at the thought of putting an end to himself, his friends should listen seriously and show him every regard. Often the potential suicide openly speaks about his secret wish--calling out from the depths of his troubled soul about his loneliness, despair, and confusion. If he does not feel the concern of his relatives and friends, this sense of loss can drive him to carry out the sinful desire to put an end to himself. Use all available means must to prevent the sin of suicide. Pray for him and direct him to a counselor--a priest or psychiatrist--who has experience in dealing with mentally ill people. He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, we read in the Epistle of the Apostle James, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins (James 5:20).


The direct and indirect methods for committing murder and suicide are many. One can kill with weapons or with one's hands, but also kill by words or even silence, and with a glance or the unwillingness to look at a person. Every seduction of one's neighbor to sin, every influence that damages his faith, every suggestion that separates a man from God means the killing of our neighbor's soul. Concerning such spiritual murder, the Savior said but whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6). The harboring of ill feelings for one's neighbor can be called murder, even though never expressed in overt action. The Apostle of love, John the Theologian, writes: Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15).

Every action or deed against one's neighbor, which brings about his death, either immediately or afterwards, is equally considered to be murder: If a subordinate is placed by someone into such conditions of life or work that his health and life are threatened; if a judge convicts someone known to be innocent; if someone destroys the well-being of his neighbor by means of deception; if we did not warn another about danger or peril when this danger was known to us; if we did not try to call for medical assistance or, in general, did not avert misfortune from our neighbor.

Murder is also the unwillingness to defend or save another. Defense can require not only self-sacrifice, but also force, and sometimes murder. The soldier who kills during war is justified in this way to an extent, but only if he does not kill out of hatred or thirst for blood. This proviso, however, is far from justifying war, which is an evil. The main responsibility for war lies on the rulers and leaders of peoples. Both politics and the methods of conducting war are subject to moral evaluation: a fact is more and more forgotten in our age.

©Archpriest Victor Potapov

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