Moral Theology, Chapter 16

Drunkenness and the love of money. Christian unselfishness. The attitude of a Christian toward health, his conduct during illness. The attitude toward death. The sin of suicide.


Drunkenness is perhaps the most dangerous of all other “physical actions”, that is, sins deeply imbedded in the very nature of man. It is well known how widespread this sin is now. Let everyone remember that you should protect yourself from drunkenness not when this shameful and destructive passion has already formed, but earlier, when this is significantly easier. Nobody was born into God’s world a readymade drunk. We already know how much easier it is for man to fight with the temptations of sin before it has become, through repetition, a vicious habit so difficult to overcome. It is better not to drink in youth or ever. Youth without this is vivacious enough and boiling over with energy, and it is fruitless to warm up with vodka during these young years. A folk proverb says, “give a devil a finger, and he will pull off your hand.” A young person’s will is not yet firm, and the temptations of drinking are many…

Many perish in their young years from a special type of courage, a kind of sportive rivalry of wanting to prove firmness and stoutness in the use of alcoholic spirits. But, of course, a man would show much greater firmness and strength, genuine moral strength, if he would actually stand against and not give in to this evil temptation from which so many of our good and talented people have perished. A Christian must withdraw from sinful temptations using every means, and remove them from himself, remembering that “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33), according to the word of the Apostle.

There is one more sin, which does not seen to be so destructive at first glance as the sin of drunkenness and dissipation, but is just as dangerous. This is the sin of loving money. The Apostle literally says the following, “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). The danger of this sin for a person coveting wealth lies, first of all, in wealth opening up access to all other temptations of the world. Wealth itself can also become an idol for man, the golden idol to which he cleaves with all his soul and heart and cannot tear himself away from serving. We can see an example of this in the Holy Gospel’s narrative about the wealthy youth who could not follow the Savior out of love for his wealth. Christ said regarding this incident that it is difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Wealth can so blind and enslave a man. This danger threatens everyone who enters on the path of “acquisition”: the path of seeking a large and easy profit and striving after it.

In order for the passion of loving money not to develop in man’s soul, one needs to teach himself Christian unselfishness in his younger years. Among all the labors of a Christian, amid all his work, something needs to be done unselfishly, “for Christ’s sake”, according to the Holy Gospel. We saw earlier that heavenly truth, the truth of the Holy Gospel, is not acquired by someone who saves his estate for himself, but by one who gives it to others in a labor of mercy and kindness to his neighbor. That is why a man, who unselfishly serves others in a labor of kindness, not only offers them Christian help but receives a tremendous benefit for his own soul, acquiring genuine treasures in heaven.

It is self-evident that man should treat himself in a Christian manner and struggle against various sinful temptations. He must also take care of his health, for apostle Paul did not say in vain that no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it (Eph. 5:29). Health is certainly a valuable and divine gift which must be preserved. A weak, sick body often impedes a man in his kind activities and is a hindrance in labors of piety and the fulfillment of Church laws. Thus, some mistakenly consider it unnecessary for a Christian to receive medical treatment but think rather that he should give himself and his health up to God’s Will without making use of a doctor’s assistance. Doctors and medicines also exist by God’s will as is said in the Holy Bible, The Lord from the earth created medicines and a prudent man will not disdain them. In addition to this, the Christian point of view considers illness as the result, the direct consequence of our sinfulness. Thus, a faithful Christian begins his day first with a prayer, with the cleansing and strengthening of the soul by prayer and the Holy Sacraments. After this, medical help and treatment follow. We see in the Holy Gospel that the Lord, before curing the paralytic of his illness, aired his soul through the forgiveness of his sins. He said to another paralytic after curing him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worst thing come unto thee (John 5:14).

While caring for his health, a Christian should not be afraid of death. We are not speaking about death for Christ’s faith, which threatens a Christian in this epoch of persecution of the faith. Such a martyric death should be joyous and desired for everyone who believes in the Savior’s words, Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it (Mk. 8:35).

In general, true Christians, in the highest stages of their faith, were not only unafraid of death, but even wished it. Apostle Paul, for example, said straight-forwardly, I am having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better… than to remain on earth (Phil. 1:23). In another place he says, Our home is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) accustoming us to the thought that our true fatherland is there, that we are only temporary guests here on earth.

So dear and without fear for a Christian is “a Christian end to our life”, and if it is not always “without illness”, then it is at any rate “blameless and peaceful”. A Christian prepares for such an end with prayer, contemplation, and receiving the Holy Sacraments. It does not, however, follow that only those dying need to take Holy Communion before the hour of death. This is a mistake. Every seriously ill person needs to partake of Holy Communion for this Holy Sacrament is received to heal the soul and the body and represents the best strengthening medicine. We continually see examples of this in our daily life.

In contrast to a good Christian end of life is the shameful, unchristian end, fearful and repugnant, of a drunk dying by a fence, the death of a robber committing theft, and so forth. Suicide most undoubtedly is included here. It is known that the Church through her canons (i.e., rules) does not grant a Christian burial to suicides, who take their life with their own hands. The fact that suicide is a full betrayal of the very spirit of Christianity, of not willing to carry one’s Cross in life, the rejection of devotion to God and placing one’s hope upon Him. Suicide is the shameful death of a total egotist, thinking of himself and not thinking of other people, of his responsibilities concerning them. We see in the Holy Gospel that the first suicide was Judas the betrayer, ending his life so terribly and shamefully. A suicide follows after him, ceasing to be a faithful son of His Church. And that is why She deprives these unhappy suicides of her funeral service. How can a suicide have a funeral with a Church ceremony? The main thought of the funeral service is to “rest the soul of Thy servant in peace, O, Lord, for he placed his trust in Thee.” These words sound false when applied to a suicide, and the Church cannot affirm falsehood.

Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)
Parish Life, January 2023
St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington, DC


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