Tomorrow is the Sunday of the Last Judgment, also called Meatfare. Because it is the Sunday of the Last Judgment, there is a quote from the Russian Orthodox Church’s “The Basis of the Social Concept” that is worth considering:
The primary cause of crime is the darkened state of the human heart: «for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies» (Mt. 15:19).» It should be also admitted that sometimes crime is provoked by economic and social conditions, as well as the weak government and the absence of lawful order. Criminal communities may penetrate public institutions and use them for their own purposes. Finally, the authority itself may become a criminal by committing illegal actions. Especially dangerous is crime disguised under political and pseudo-religious motives, such as terrorism and the like.
Last Judgment Sunday reminds us that sociological explanations of crime are not sufficient. At the bottom of all crime is sin in the human heart. At the same time, the Russian Church’s document makes us realize the reason that a sociological analysis works. It works because sin is not merely individual, but is also sociological. The sum of individual sins forms something bigger than the whole. Oppressive economic and social conditions provoke crime. But, those oppressive economic and social conditions are themselves the result of sin. Catch what the document is saying. Both the sin that led to the economic and social conditions and the sin that led to the crime are wrong. But, we make a mistake when we say that the only sin that is present is the sin of the criminal. Notice that present is also the sin of those who have acquiesced to the conditions that led to the crime. That is not something that we like to hear in the current USA. We want to believe that crime is purely individual. But it is not. Crime has both an individual and a sociological component. [Note: there are various cases in which the crime is purely individual. But, most crime has more than one component.]
So, what is the Church’s role?
IX. 2. The prevention of crime is possible first of all through education and enlightenment aimed to assert in society the authentic spiritual and moral values. In this task the Orthodox Church is called to intensive co-operation with school, mass media and law-enforcement bodies. If the people lack a positive moral ideal, no measures of coercion, deterrence or punishment will be able to stop the evil will. That is why the best form of preventing crime is the preaching of the honest and proper way of life, especially among children and youth. In this effort, close attention should be given to the so-called risk-groups or those who have already committed first offences. These people need a special pastoral and educational care. The Orthodox clergy and laity are called to take part in the efforts to overcome the social causes of crime, showing concern for the just order in society and economy and for the self-fulfillment of every member of society in his profession and life.
The Church has a cooperative role in the prevention of crime. Notice that the statement says that the prevention of crime is possible. The Church does not claim that crime prevention is impossible. But, it is only possible if the Church gets deeply involved in the process. And, here is where we often fail. The paragraph says that the Church should be deeply and most especially involved with the risk groups, particularly those who have already committed first offences. We are also called to be involved in society in such a way that we help deal with those social and economic sins. Yet, we rarely become involved in such actions.
So, here we are on the Sunday of the Last Judgment. We come to this Sunday as a Church and realize that we need Lent. We need Lent as an opportunity to repent, yet again, for those things which we have not done in the last year. And, we need Lent as an opportunity to refocus our priorities and commit ourselves anew to doing what we should do, as both the Church, and as individuals.
So, let us prepare for Lent. Let us repent. Let us go forward. And, let us remember that we need to work on the social and economic conditions of this country.