Thursday, 8 February 2018



Would you kill yourself to escape capture by a savage foe? Like Russian Major Roman Filipov after his plane was shot down by Islamist warriors over Syria? The prospect of being slowly tortured or burned alive by your captors – as it happened to a Jordanian pilot years ago – was atrocious enough. A horrible end is preferable to an endless horror. After shooting two terrorists, the Russian took his own life.

Filipov got a posthumous Hero of Russia medal. Yet I assume he was a Christian. Doesn’t the Church teach that suicide is a great sin? The Orthodox Church calls it self-killing and hence a violation of the sixth commandment. Also, a rejection of God’s grace, an act of rebellion against the Creator. Unless the self-destroyer is mentally ill, there can be no excuse. (And that also applies to the dubious category of ‘medically-assisted suicide’.) The Catholic Church, following St Thomas Aquinas, holds a similar position.

Curiously, there is no biblical, divine injunction against suicide. Samson, the Hercules-like OT figure, blinded and enslaved by his cruel enemies, brought down the temple of Dagon on himself and all the jeering idol-worshippers. That example troubled St Augustine. The Saint’s nifty solution was to claim that the Holy Spirit had commanded Samson to act that way. Alas, the biblical text says nothing about the Spirit. Anyway, unquestionably Samson’s self-destruction included a spectacular slaughter of pagans. That would undoubtedly have pleased the OT Lord of Hosts.

Against that, the most execrable figure in the Gospels, Judas Iscariot, Christ’s betrayer for thirty pieces of silver, committed suicide when overcome with remorse. A supremely infamous manner of dying for a perfidious character, some have argued. Implying sentence from on high on Judas and his ilk. Maybe but that is only an inference. Dante places Judas in the nethermost part of Hell but for the sin of being a traitor, not a self-killer. Suicides are sinners all right, sure, but they are in a different part of Hell and the names of the people there are conspicuous by their obscurity.

Was Roman Filipov a coward? I mean, he had a choice. He could have chosen becoming a POW, rather than suicide. But the Jihadis don’t give a toss about rules of war and the rights of POWs. The pilot would have suffered a hideous Calvary (ordeal) before being slain in some ignominious fashion. Wait a minute. Didn’t Christ suffer as much? Beaten, scourged, abused and nailed to a cross, undergoing an agonising, protracted death? The imitation of Christ is a vocation, though, not a duty. (And he suffered for the sake of mankind’s salvation.) In Christianity no one is obliged to be a martyr. It’s a special, heavenly calling, reserved to few. Filipov was a soldier and a soldier’s honour is contradicted by being treated like the Jihadi gentlemen outrage their prisoners. He knew he was going to be killed, regardless. He fought bravely till the end before self-destructing. Not the actions of a coward.

There are of course feeble, deplorable suicides. Such as those by bullied teenagers, jilted lovers and bankrupt businessmen. Or wicked individuals who wish to escape justice. Passion or emotions master rationality in such cases and that’s sad. There are also rare instances of philosophical self-killers. Otto Weininger, a brilliant young Austrian writer, blew his brains out to draw attention to his book, Sex and Character. A minor anti-feminist masterpiece but not quite the world-shaking work Weininger hoped. His suicide was sheer waste.  By contrast, Socrates was against suicide. Pity he drew an analogy with people’s slaves. ‘Would you not be angry if one of your slaves ran away?’ he asked. Similarly, we are like slaves of the gods and so we have no right to ‘run away’ towards death. A flawed argument, methinks.
Another philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, believed that there were reasons for self-killing but deep ones. Exclusive of 99.99% of what we know as suicides. Existence, he reasoned, is basically a mistake and so in principle ending the mistake is OK. However, he also thought that once you have penetrated the nature of the problem you might as well go on existing. Because you have twigged it. Like Oedipus, you have solved the riddle. You have grasped the meaning of the human comedy, so you might as well exist on, before a good meal and a glass of quality wine. And that’s what he did. Not a fool old Arthur, eh?

One of St Thomas Aquinas’ three objections to suicide is that it is a sin against society. That harks back to Aristotle for whom suicide harms the community or state. Whatever the merits of that argument in the smallish, organic, structured polities in which the fastidious Greek and the fat Italian lived, it has little in a vast, atomised, and fragmented Western world. Baroness Warnock, a distinguished moral philosopher, contended that Alzheimer patients may have a duty to die. Along with many useless oldies, a burden to society and the NHS. Lady W. has a certain perverse cogency, I admit…

Major Filipov did the right thing and bully for him. He died bravely, cocking a snook at the barbarian bastards armed and supported by shameless America and Britain. The Almighty, who knows the inner secrets of all human hearts, will judge his action. Note that the Church is not unduly harsh on suicides. She prays for their souls, trusting in the infinite love and mercy of the Creator and of his only Son, who died to redeem the sins of all.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


** follow on Twitter (
| ** friend on Facebook (
| ** forward to a friend (

Copyright © Fr Frank Gelli
Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp
** unsubscribe from this list (
| ** update subscription preferences (

No comments: