I have noticed that while I have seen articles on Orthodoxy and guns, I have not seen any articles or blog posts on Orthodoxy and concealed carry of weapons by civilians. I suspect that this is because this is such a controversial subject currently in the USA. But, also it is because in practice, if not in theory, there is a back and forth in Orthodoxy on the subject of war, self-defense, etc. Because of the various arguments, it important that when I speak of concealed carry, I am speaking of responsible concealed carry. For instance, look at the rules below:
- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
- Never point any firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you have made a conscious decision to shoot.
- Know your target and what is beyond it.
- Know your local gun laws.
- Make sure that your guns are safely locked and protected from children
- Help raise awareness of gun safety issues in your area.
I am not speaking of the yahoo who simply goes around carrying a gun just looking for someone to annoy him/her in order to be able to pull their gun and shoot them, such as the gentleman who was recently convicted of murder for pulling a gun and firing it into a car of teenagers simply because the music was too loud. Neither the prosecutor, nor the jury, nor the judge bought the argument that he was in fear of his life or that he saw a gun, and he is now safely serving a jail term. Rather, I am assuming the best case scenario, the reliable adult who strictly carries their concealed weapon for the most upstanding of self-defense reasons.
Is there an Orthodox position that covers a civilian who carries a concealed weapon for self-defense? The answer is that no Orthodox canon specifically addresses that position, so one can only put together some principles and ideas that may help. First, let’s look at how the Orthodox Church looks at war and the bearing of arms. The quote below is from the official website of the Orthodox Church in America:
Christ taught that perfection requires the love of enemies and the absolute renunciation of resisting evil by evil. Thus if a man will be perfect he will renounce the relative values of this world totally and will not participate in any act which is morally ambiguous. In this way, for example, the Church forbids the bearing of arms to its clergy and does not allow a man to continue in the ministry who has shed blood, theoretically even in an accidental way!
However, the Orthodox Church follows Christ and the apostles in teaching that the relative and morally ambiguous life of this world requires the existence of some form of human government which has the right and even the duty to “wield the sword” for the punishment of evil. …
… According to the Orthodox understanding, however, pacifism can never be a social or political philosophy for this world; although once again, a non-violent means to an end is always to be preferred in every case to a violent means.
When violence must be used as a lesser evil to prevent greater evils, it can never be blessed as such, it must always be repented of, and it must never be identified with perfect Christian morality.
The ideal Orthodox position is an ideal pacifism, but the Church recognizes that the ideal is not yet here. In the webpage cited above, you can also read, “Thus total pacifism is not only possible, it is the sign of greatest perfection, the perfection of the Kingdom of God.” That is why a priest may not bear, “arms … and does not allow a man to continue in the ministry who has shed blood …”. So, it is clear in the canons that those who are ordained clergy may not conceal carry a weapon for self-defense. This does not mean that a priest may not pick up a weapon or fire it at a target. There are many photographs from Orthodox countries of priests picking up weapons, blessing weapons, and even a few of test-firing a weapon.
Note that a clergyperson may not even hunt for sport, “Hunting is referred to in the canonical legislation only in as much as Christians are to refrain from taking part in the arena spectacles during which animals were killed (Canon 51 of the Quinisext Council).” In other words, the killing of animals for pleasure appears to be forbidden, by Council, to Christians. As best I know, the Orthodox Church has no objection with killing of animals for food, or for such actions as thinning a herd, or to destroy a dangerous animal, or to put a suffering animal out of its misery. But, sports hunting, which serves none of those purposes appears to be a forbidden act. The “sportsman” who kills merely for the horns or a trophy skin, and then discards the food is running afoul of that Canon. The hunter, who hunts and brings the food home is not covered by this canon.
But, let’s go back to the killing of people. Look at what it says above, “When violence must be used as a lesser evil to prevent greater evils, it can never be blessed as such …”. The first answer of the Church to the person who is alone and is about to be robbed and killed is that the ideal would be for you to turn the other cheek, let yourself be robbed and even killed, and join Christ in his Kingdom.
But, this is a morally ambiguous world. Where there is a government, “… which has the right and even the duty to ‘wield the sword’ for the punishment of evil,” the second answer would be to attempt to call the appointed authorities to deal with the malefactor rather than undertaking to personally be an instrument of justice. Let the violence, if any, be undertaken by those set aside in Romans 13 to bear the sword.
But, finally, where the legally constituted authority has laws that permit concealed carry and self-defense, and where you have met all the requirements to so carry, and if you decide that you must protect your life and that of others, then I cannot simply bless you when you pull that gun and use it. I must ask you to repent of that action as being less than perfect Christian morality. [Note that this is a failure to achieve the highest standard, it IS NOT a declaration of personal and intentional sin, but the acknowledgment that in a perfect world this would be wrong.] But, I will also recognize that, “the relative and morally ambiguous life of this world [sometimes] requires [that you may have] the right and even the duty to ‘wield the sword’ for the punishment of evil [or at least for defense against that evil].” And, I will also hug you and cry with you afterward and thank God that you were spared.
I would add that the Orthodox person who chooses the lesser of two evils must never make it a greater evil by simply firing such a weapon upon any provocation. You are not a legally constituted part of the government that meets the requirements of Romans 13. Therefore, for you to simply use a gun because someone is in your house is a dangerous attitude to have. If the perpetrator is willing to retreat, the Orthodox believer should not shoot. To kill someone merely for threatening you is not appropriate. While the “in fear of my life” is a legal defense, it may not be a moral defense if no actual advance against you occurred.
So, is concealed carry for self-defense purposes permitted? Let me give a qualified yes, provided that you have met all appropriate local legal regulations. I think that if you must use the gun, then the most you can claim is that it is the lesser of two evils to be prepared to defend yourself, your family, and those around you. Because the Orthodox Church allows that argument as being valid in a less-than-perfect world, it is willing to bless weapons. But, it blesses those weapons only for defense against evil. The prayer is below:
O Lord our God, God of Power and Might, powerful in strength, strong in battle, You once gave miraculous strength to Your child David granting him victory over his opponent the blasphemer Goliath. Mercifully accept our humble prayer. Send Your heavenly blessing upon these weapons (..naming each weapon..). Give to them power and strength that they may protect Your holy Church, the poor and the widows, and Your holy inheritance on earth, and make them horrible and terrible to any enemy army, and grant victory to Your people for your glory, for You are our strength and protection and unto You do we send up praise and glory, to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
If you conceal carry a weapon for self-defense, make absolutely sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. Make sure you have thought through the moral and legal implications should you pull that weapon. And, make sure you are a responsible concealed weapon owner.