In the last several months there have been a series of attacks in synagogues and churches (the most recent a few days ago in San Diego). People have entered these places of worship using guns to kill congregants. On Western Easter, there were a series of bombings in Catholic Churches of Sri Lanka (and other targets) that killed over 300 people. This issue is causing an increasing amount of fear among parishioners in churches. Parents fear for the safety of their children. How should this be handled? Should people be allowed to carry concealed weapons during the Divine Liturgy? Does this make our churches safer and in the long-term, act as a deterrent? I would say no. I think there are problems with having guns in churches.
The first concern is that in the Church, during the Divine Liturgy, earth and heaven meet in our worship. We become the Church in its wholeness and completeness. To allow guns during the service compromises our witness to the Church as the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. We end up bearing witness to a fallen reality when we do this. It is important to not compare ourselves to other Protestant evangelical churches where carrying a concealed weapon may be common, with some ministers doing the same.
We celebrate the feast of the 20,000 martyrs of Nicomedia on December 28, commemorating those who were slain by the emperor’s armies while they were in church in that city on the Feast of the Nativity. No one armed themselves with weapons to defend themselves against their attackers.
During our Lord’s passion, when Judas betrayed Christ, one of His companions strikes one of the guards slicing off his ear. Jesus admonishes him to put his sword away and restores the ear of the guard. He then says, “He who lives by the sword (or draws the sword), will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
There are a number of canons that speak to the issue of using violence to take someone’s life. Here are a few:
As regards involuntary homicide, first rule bids the guilty one to spend seven years in order to attain to absolution in accordance with the fixed degrees; whereas the second requires him to fulfill a term of five years (Ancyra 23).
Our Fathers did not consider murders committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that they are not clean-handed (Saint Basil 13).
Whoever has given his neighbor a mortal blow is a murderer, whether he startled the fight or was defending himself (Saint Basil 43).
I have shared all of this you as parents to consider how you might instruct your children on this issue, as they get older. I know this a difficult issue for parents to address. They love their children and would seek to protect them from being harmed. There is a lot more I can share on this issue, but after reading what I have read, I believe the Church Tradition would say “no” to the idea of having guns in church. I will further speak on this next week.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you. Christ is risen!
The unworthy +Paul
The Right Reverend Bishop Paul:
Christ is risen! Thank you for this post. I have friends who attend local protestant churches and these churches have recently armed several deacons and even the pastor carries a weapon in one case! This has NEVER felt right to me but I couldn’t articulate exactly why. Your post has resolved this in my mind. There is no place for a weapon in places of worship. Thank you
Thanks for your words Brian. This is a tough issue to address. +Paul