A Sickness Unto Death

[Edit: apparently the widely-cited report that this is the 18th school shooting of 2018 is inaccurate, thank God. Others put the number between 3 and 10. I post this in the interest of accuracy, not because it in any way diminishes the gravity or the urgency of the spiritual crisis we are facing.]

May God forgive us. Seventeen people gunned down in a Florida high school in another school shooting. Nearly as many wounded. The senselessness and horror of yesterday’s tragedy are unspeakable.

But, incredibly, it gets worse. A little further down in the article, mentioned nearly as an aside: “The shooting was the 18th in a U.S. school this year.”

The 18th in a U.S. school this year.

It’s the middle of February.

We simply cannot hide any longer from the fact that there is something in the heart of our culture that is deeply sick. Elsewhere it was reported:

Many students said they were not surprised when they heard Cruz was suspected of carrying out one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. Students and faculty say he was often alone and that he had trouble with bullies.

This is the world that we have created. A world of loneliness, emptiness, and indifference, numbed by soulless pleasure and occasionally punctuated by murderous rage. And it is getting worse all the time. In the early 1960s, Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote:

Perhaps the most striking manifestation of the popular unrest has been in crime, and particularly in juvenile crime… When questioned, those apprehended for such crimes explain their behavior in the same way: it was an ‘impulse’ or an ‘urge’ that drove them, or there was a sadistic pleasure in committing the crime, or there was some totally irrelevant pretext, such as boredom, confusion, or resentment. In a word, they cannot explain their behavior at all, there is no readily comprehensible motive for it, and in consequence — and this is perhaps the most consistent and striking feature of such crimes — there is no remorse.

And unquestionably, the early 1960s was a paradise of innocence compared to the world around us today.

I remember that soon after coming to the monastery, I began to have some doubts concerning my generally grim attitude towards modernity. After all, didn’t every generation inevitably decry the degeneracy of the next? Had something in fact really changed in the world, or were my feelings merely standard-issue pessimism? And so I asked our abbot.

He answered me: “Yes, to some extent every generation feels that way about the next. But when I went to school in the 1950s, the most rebellious thing that a kid could do was to chew gum during class. And now there are armed guards patrolling the halls of elementary schools.”

And now we have this.

But it is of course not enough to decry it. It is not enough even to blame the world for its senselessness and depravity.

It is the world that we ourselves have created.

After the Russian Revolution, the easy thing for the exiles in the Russian Diaspora to do was to blame the Bolsheviks, to blame the corrupt aristocracy, to blame German money, to blame the treachery of the generals and the inaction of Russia’s allies. But the hierarchs and pastors of our Russian Orthodox Church, and even the Imperial House of Romanov itself, have always insisted that every single person without exception, even and especially the Orthodox, must repent of their complicity in the horror of that bloodshed. And repentance, in the words of Grand Duchess Maria,

is not a humiliating or demeaning thing, but something that lifts us up and cleanses. But it is unreasonable and sinful to demand repentance from others, proudly seeing ourselves as sinless judges. Only by giving an example ourselves by our own repentance can we show those around us the salvific meaning of true repentance…. Let us be guided by the immortal words of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Emperor Nicholas II, which were conveyed by his daughter, the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, not long before his execution: ‘Evil will not defeat Evil. Only Love will defeat Evil.’

And so it falls to us to repent of our part in the horror of yesterday’s bloodshed. To repent of our own lack of love that has allowed this evil to come upon us and upon our children. But if we do this, if we take this opportunity, there is yet hope that the tragic loss of life yesterday will not be meaningless. There is yet hope that we will see the fulfillment of the words of our Savior: “This sickness is not unto death.”

We owe nothing less to the souls of those who lost their lives yesterday. May God have mercy on them, on their families, and on us all.

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