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Question 45

Hi Father Christopher Christ said that all sins and blasphemies will be forgiven man but he who sins against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Yet certain Saints wrote that the price paid to redeem us was exceedingly more valuable than any sin so we should not despair whether our sins will be forgiven should we repent. In light of the above please may you explain what is this unforgivable sin? Also, why does the Church deny a proper Orthodox funeral to those who commit suicide? Since all sins are potentially forgivable isn't denying a funeral in the above case actually usurping the role of Christ who is the ultimate Judge and actually implying that those who take their own lives won't be forgiven?      



Answer to Question 45


 The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not referring to offensive words that we usually refer to as blasphemy. It is to deny the power of God when it is manifest before your eye. The Scribes and Pharisees had been witnesses to the holy, divine and supernatural powers which were made manifest with the many miracles Christ performed. They could not deny that these miracles took place, but they chose to harden themselves against what they witnessed and dared to attribute the works of divine goodness to satanic power. When Christ said this he had just performed a miracle. A demon-possessed man was brought to him, and the Lord cast the demon out, healing the man of blindness and muteness. The Pharisees accused Christ of being possessed with a demon and told the people present: “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons,” (Matthew 12:24) Thus blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with the usual sins of passion that men commit, it is not even the denial of God, but the denial of the works of the Holy Spirit and to attribute them to the power of the devil.  


It is true that in older times people who committed suicide were not given a Christian funeral and were not buried in a Christian cemetery. But this is not the case today. The church condemns suicide because for someone to take his own life it means that he believes that he is beyond help and that even God can’t help him. It is then a rejection of God himself by refusing to allow God into his life to save him. God is the Source and Giver of life—life which is sustained by the Holy Spirit, Who dwells within each of us. Thus to wilfully take one’s life, is to wilfully cut oneself off from the Source of one’s life, to project a sense of hopelessness that cannot be reversed, even by God. Our faith teaches us that, no matter how hopeless our plight in life may seem, with God there is always cause to have hope. Our lives are not our own but, rather, a gift from God, a sacred gift entrusted to us, which must be used wisely, nurtured lovingly, and accepted thankfully, regardless of the difficulties one may encounter. As such, our life is not ours to take, any more than taking the life of another is ours to take.  


In recent years we do bury those who commit suicide because the canons of the church has given us a loophole which allows us to bury someone who has taken his own life because of diminished capacities. In other words if at that moment he was not acting in a clear and conscious manner, being overcome by darkness or intense mental or emotional illness. In Cyprus the coroner who performs the autopsy never writes that the cause of death was suicide, but gives some other suitable cause which allows the church to use the loophole and perform a Christian burial.