The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2015)

Each year in January in the USA, we Orthodox join all other Americans who believe in the sanctity of human life to reaffirm our commitment to proclaiming all human life as being a sacred gift from God and thus deserving our protection.   We hold this truth to be self evident, that all humans are created equal even from their mother’s wombs.  All are deserving of a chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We consider this a fundamental American vision for humanity.

As we remember that even in the womb, a human being is formed and loved by God, we can think about some words from St. Isaac  the Syrian who contemplates the mystery of God’s love.  God knows even before  a human being is born that that person will sin in their life time.  Nevertheless God’s desire for that person’s existence and God’s love for that person is not diminished.  God loves us even in the womb, even though we have never yet done any good thing, and even though He knows we will eventually sin against Him.  God’s love is not a reaction toward us, but rather what He wills for each of us when He calls us into being.   St. Isaac says:

“I kneel before Your Majesty and prostrate myself on the ground before You, O God, for without my having requested You or even having existed, You brought me into existence; and before You fashioned me in the womb You knew that (I would live) a full (life of) tumult and backsliding, yet You did not refrain from creating me and granting me all the attributes with which You have honored (human) nature, even though You knew beforehand my evils.  You are aware of my requests even before they become known to me, and of my prayers even before they have been prayed before You: grant to me, O my God at this hour whatever You are aware that my wretched nature needs in its present peril.  You are aware of my soul’s affliction, and in Your hands lies its healing.”   (ISAAC OF NINEVEH, THE SECOND PART, p 11)

Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America offers these words for this The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2015)

Dearly beloved,

Today has been designated by the Orthodox Church in America as “Sanctity of Life Sunday,” a day on which we re-affirm our faithfulness to the eternal value of human life and re-commit ourselves to the defense of the lives of the unborn, the infirm, the terminally ill and the condemned.

Our proclamation of life is offered in the context of a world in dismay at the terrorist attacks that recently shook Paris, the latest in a series of seemingly endless tragedies throughout the world that unnecessarily claim many innocent lives. Following this latest tragedy, Christians, Muslims, Jews and non-believers have engaged in discussion and debate about a range of issues, from human dignity to the responsibilities of political cartoonists, from freedom of expression to humanity’s capacity for tolerance. Unfortunately, much of this debate is framed in an atmosphere of ideological violence, whether this be a “war on infidels” or “war on terrorism.” In such divisive engagements, there are rarely any victors but only more victims.

As Orthodox Christians, who hold dear the revealed truth that the life of “all mankind” is sacred, we might reflect, along with St. Nikolai of Zhicha, on the paschal victory of Christ over death and corruption:

“Christ’s victory is the only victory in which all humanity can rejoice, from the first-created to the last. Every other victory on earth has divided, and still divides, men from one another. When an earthly king gains the victory over an another earthly king, one of them rejoices and the other laments. When a man is victorious over his neighbor, there is singing under one roof and weeping under the other. There is no joyful victory on earth that is not poisoned by malice: the ordinary, earthly victor rejoices both in his laughter and in the tears of his conquered enemy. He does not even notice how evil cuts through joy.”

Our world is so full of these joyless and dark victories that we might despair of being able to put forward the hope and light of the Gospel message. We would do well to heed the words of St. Nikolai and keep our hearts and minds focused on our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, in Whom alone can solace, hope and joy be found in any meaningful and lasting way.

Indeed, Christ did not say: “I offer one of many complimentary paths”; He said: I am the Way. Christ did no say: “I hold to the correct philosophical principles;” He said: I am the Truth. Christ did not say: “I subscribe to the only viable political agenda;” He said: I am the Life.

It is only possible to attain to this Way, this Truth and this Life through Christ and through the light that He bestows to those who strive to allow even a small beam of that light to enter their hearts and illumine their path. As St. Nikolai writes: “Christ’s victory alone is like a sun that sheds bright rays on all that are beneath it. Christ’s victory alone fills all the souls of men with invincible joy. It alone is without malice or evil.”

Let us therefore make every effort to offer this “victory of light and life” to those who are surrounded by darkness and death. Let us be bold in our adding our Orthodox voices in support of the value of every human person, born or unborn; let us offer consolation to the mothers who have undergone abortions and offer our prayers to them and to all who have been affected by this tragedy; let us affirm our Orthodox understanding of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God and yet in need of healing in Christ.

Let us, together with St. Nikolai, proclaim the great victory of Christ:

A mysterious victory, you will say? It is; but it is at the same time revealed to the whole human race, the living and the dead.

A generous victory, you will say? It is, and more than generous. Is not a mother more than generous when she, not once or twice, saves her children from snakes but, in order to save them for all time, goes bravely into the snakes’ very nest and burns them out?

A healing victory, you will say? It is, healing and saving for ever and ever. This gentle victory saves men from every evil and makes them sinless and immortal. Immortality without sinlessness would mean only the extending of evil’s reign, and of that of malice and wickedness, but immortality with sinlessness gives birth to unconfined joy, and makes men the brethren of God’s resplendent angels.”

With love in the Lord,

+TIKHON
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2015)

  1. vfinnell

    Fr. Ted:

    I am curious as to whether you read Metropolitan Tikhon’s comments closely. He seems to be equating the “war on terror” [sic] with the jihadist war against so-called infidels (i.e. us). He says they are both examples of ideological violence. Forgive me, but our military response to ISIS and Al Qaeda should not be equated with terrorism.

    If one believes in the sanctity of human life, then you must believe that human life should be protected. Sometimes, that involves using violence to stop perpetrators. This is not a “turn the other cheek” issue. It is a response to systematic evil that seeks to destroy Christian and all other “kafir” civilization.

    To quote Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, pp 91-92):

    [We should defend one another, for we are brothers—especially we who are of one Faith. There is an example of this in history. Once, when an official delegation of Constantinopolitan dignitaries was sent to the Saracens to negotiate peace, the Saracens argued that Christians disobeyed God’s commandment. They said: “Why do you Christians disobey Christ’s commandment to love your enemies, but instead persecute and kill us?”

    Now, a certain Cyril was part of this delegation. His answer to the Saracens was: “If, in a certain law, there are two commandments that must be fulfilled, which man shall be more righteous, he who fulfills both commandments or he who fulfills only one of them?” The Saracens answered, “He that fulfills both, of course.” Then Cyril said, “As individuals we forgive our enemies, but as a community we lay down our lives for one another. For the Lord has said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s neighbor. As a community we protect one another and lay down our lives for one another. Not only is your aim to enslave us physically, you also aspire to enslave us spiritually. It is for this reason that we defend ourselves. This, therefore, is justified.”

    Then there is also the example of St. Ioannicius the Great. He was a soldier for twenty years. He was amazing—whenever he fought a battle, he won. He had never been defeated. He never gave a thought to his own life but laid down his own for others. And the Lord preserved him. Later, when he became a monk, he was a great saint and wonderworker. There were many such holy warriors. The Holy King David says: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Ps. 31:1). Righteousness acts never in its own interest, but in the interest of fellow men.]

    I think Metropolitan Tikhon should either clarify his comments or retract them with an apology. When our Christian brothers and sisters are being murdered by proponents of the vile political ideology known as Islam, we cannot stand by idly. To say that our military response is “ideological violence” on the same level as jihad is patently absurd and offensive to every Christian serving in the US military.

    I will be writing an open letter to the Metropolitan and intend on making it public via social media.

    Val

  2. Metropolitan Tikhon seems to contradict himself on the issue pertaining to the sanctity of life, and the current darkness of terror that suddenly appears around the world.

    The terrorists can not be reasoned with by gifts, supposed peaceful negotiation, or submission. Evil must be confronted, fought, and eradicated. He clearly articulates this with the following example: “Is not a mother more than generous when she, not once or twice, saves her children from snakes but, in order to save them for all time, goes bravely into the snakes’ very nest and burns them out?”

    Need I say more?

  3. Metropolitan, keep referring to abortion as a great “tragedy”, which it is, but it is also murder. Its somewhat similar to the Administration’s refusal to call Islamic terror, Islamic terror. The truth is the truth.

  4. Fr. Ted

    I am reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians (6::10-18)

    Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
    For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
    Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

    1. vfinnell

      Yes, Islam is indeed one of the manifestations of the principalities and powers that we must contend against. And since they are bent on violence and killing in the name of Allah, we are required to respond while relying upon God for the victory in battle.

      Perhaps one of the imprecatory Psalms is in order, such as Psalm 58:

      1 Do you indeed speak righteousness, you silent ones?
      Do you judge uprightly, you sons of men?
      2 No, in heart you work wickedness;
      You weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth.
      3 The wicked are estranged from the womb;
      They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.
      4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent;
      They are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear,
      5 Which will not heed the voice of charmers,
      Charming ever so skillfully.
      6 Break their teeth in their mouth, O God!
      Break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
      7 Let them flow away as waters which run continually;
      When he bends his bow,
      Let his arrows be as if cut in pieces.
      8 Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes,
      Like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
      9 Before your pots can feel the burning thorns,
      He shall take them away as with a whirlwind,
      As in His living and burning wrath.
      10 The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
      He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked,
      11 So that men will say,
      “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
      Surely He is God who judges in the earth.”

      1. Fr. Ted

        In the 2000 year history of Orthodox writer’s interpreting scripture, I would assume that one could find some Orthodox who were willing to use the Psalms as you suggest, though I have not read an Orthodox saint using the Psalms to justify military action. But then I haven’t read the Psalms or the Fathers with that purpose in mind either so haven’t looked for saints who might have wanted to use the Psalm as justifying any warfare but spiritual warfare. So I wonder if you are aware of any consensus among Orthodox saints or writers of using the Psalm as you suggest?

        What I have encountered the most in Orthodox Fathers is either seeing the Psalms as “the mind of Christ” and interpreting them as a guide to the inner spiritual life or as prophecies of one form or another about Christ. In either case, the tendency is to relate them to Christ and to make Christ the interpreter and/or interpretation of the Psalm. I have mostly encountered Orthodox saints/Fathers as reading the Psalms to explain the spiritual warfare that takes place in our hearts and minds, which is how I read Metropolitan Tikhon’s letter as well. Our main weapon is the “sword of the Spirit” – that is part of the armor that we have as Christians.

        Interesting to me is that in the 14-15th Centuries, even as the Byzantines sought Latin help against the Turks, the Latins often accused the Byzantine Orthodox of lacking manliness because the Byzantines had a stronger aversion to war than the Latins did. The Byzantines tried to avert war through negotiations, diplomacy, bribes, paying tributes and even deception. The Byzantines seemed to have thought these other methods were just as successful/useful for dealing with enemies. This caused some Latin Christians to despise and not trust the Byzantines as the Latin leadership seemed to prefer direct warfare as the way to resolve global problems and sometimes saw the Byzantine aversion of war as cowardice. It may be that in those attitudes by the Latin Christian leaders that we see a difference between the East and West in dealing with these issues and in an attitude toward warfare.

        The Byzantine history was one long series of wars, so there was no shortage of reasons to look to the Psalms to justify military operations. I find it interesting that some of the Latins saw the Orthodox as always trying to avoid war through negotiation, diplomacy and the use of money. The effectiveness and limits of the Byzantine plan becomes obvious in history as the Byzantines run out of funds and effective ways to negotiate peace. Their method worked as long as the Empire prospered and could afford it. Nevertheless, if the reaction of the Latins is any indication, they seem to have had some faith in their methods and some commitment to trying things other than war to resolve threats and problems. Maybe that was part of Orthodox spirituality and a spiritual reading of the Psalms.

        But it would be interesting to see if one could find in this long history, saints relying on the imprecatory Psalms to justify their Empires military efforts.

      2. vfinnell

        Fr. Ted:

        I know the historical context of those Psalms, so I do not need to look for Byzantine saints to justify or back up my perspective. I am against the spiritualizing of Scripture and explaining it away because the text is too difficult or harsh for people to take it at face value. I’ll stand by what the text actually says each and every time.

        Val

  5. We need to read with more care and not make accusations based on our feelings or politics. “Unfortunately, much of this debate is framed in an atmosphere of ideological violence, whether this be a “war on infidels” or “war on terrorism.” In such divisive engagements, there are rarely any victors but only more victims.”
    Who can truly disagree about the results of ‘ideological violence’? We see the sad results of our “war on terror” which propelled our invasion of Iraq, opening Pandora’s Box. This is what made ISIS possible.
    Chrisitans are called to be the light of the world, not the sword of the Lord. https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/romans-13-in-context-sword-pacifism/

  6. vfinnell

    Michael:

    Your own response is from a ideological, pacifistic perspective. I consider pacifism itself to be life-denying and a pathway to death.

    Metropolitan Tikhon also needs to explain why he considers capital punishment on par with abortion. Really? Is he saying that the unjustified murder of the unborn is equivalent to a punishment which has due process?

    Romans 13: 3-4:

    3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

    I will side with the Apostle Paul in this discussion rather than the pacifistic misinterpretations cited. Bearing the sword is a legitimate function of the lawful authorities (not individual Christians or the Church), especially when it involves the restraint of evil like ISIS.

    It was not the War on Terror that spawned ISIS, but Islam itself. It’s been their goal all along to re-establish the caliphate ever since the Muslim Brotherhood was created. Political ineptness may have assisted them, but it is not the cause.

    You can advocate pacifism all you want, but I am not walking in to your concentration camp nor will I ever surrender to a foe that wants to destroy us and our civilization. Islam is a clear and present danger and we need to wake up.

    Val

  7. vfinnell

    For the benefit of all, I found the Moleben for Going to War. Here is what it says, in part:

    “With They mercies make glad the hearts of them that govern us, and strengthen them by Thy might. Rise up to our help and set to naught the evil counsels purposed against us by the evil ones. Judge them that affront us and defeat them that war against us , and turn their impious boldness into fear and flight. But grant unto our god-fearing armies that hope in Thee great boldness and courage to drive onward and overtake them, and to defeat them in Thy Name. And unto them that Thou has judged to lay down their lives for their Faith and Country, forgive their trespasses, and in the day of They righteous reckoning grant unto them incorrupt crowns….”

    Orthodoxy needs to recover the spirit of the virtuous warrior that is embodied in the Moleben. What I read from Metropolitan Tikhon casts our righteous cause against the evil of Islam as just another ideological struggle. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  8. Phil

    “I know the historical context of those Psalms, so I do not need to look for Byzantine saints to justify or back up my perspective. I am against the spiritualizing of Scripture and explaining it away because the text is too difficult or harsh for people to take it at face value. I’ll stand by what the text actually says each and every time.”

    I take it you can read, interpret, and translate Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic/Syriac texts, then?

    1. vfinnell

      Phil:

      You can take it that I know the historical context of the Psalm. I would not invalidate the interpretation of the Byzantine saints, that’s fine. But there is a more direct reading based upon the context.

      I really believe liberals hate the imprecatory Psalms because they actually pray to God to defeat enemies. That is what is really gets under their skin. So, they have to spiritualize it because they cannot stand what the Bible actually says.

      Val

      1. Phil

        In other words, you don’t know how to read, interpret, and translate Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic/Syriac texts. I thought so. As someone who can do those things, I think you are in a pretty bad place to “stand by what the text actually says each and every time” if you can’t do even one of them.

        Thankfully, we have the tradition of the Church to help us. This is the tradition which you reject by summarily dismissing “Byzantine saints” who were able to do what you can’t and still offered, among others, a “spiritual” interpretation for reasons other than you suppose (i.e., “they cannot stand what the Bible actually says”). But curiously, it is this same tradition which you seek to hold up as an ideal by pointing to a “Moleben for Going to War” contained in a Euchologion which, again, you likely cannot read in the original language.

        You seem to be looking at our tradition through the lens of American politics and blithely lumping our holy fathers with “liberals” and other elements deemed undesirable. You’re doing it wrong.

      2. vfinnell

        Phil:

        With all due respect, I believe that your recourse to knowing the biblical languages is a ruse because you really don’t have an argument to put forward in favor of your position. Instead, you prefer to change the Scriptures into some sort of esoteric Tolkien-style code that requires initiated Elves to give us the correct interpretation. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the height of academic arrogance.

        And I do love the Byzantine interpretation of the Psalms. It’s beautiful. But it’s not the only interpretation. We need to take both the historical-grammatical sense as well as the theological-canonical sense in our approach, otherwise we are doing violence to the whole counsel of God.

        All I am saying is that there is biblical justification for praying against the enemies of our country in the fight against Islamic jihad and our own Moleben service seems to back this up. If the Bible makes people uncomfortable about what it says, then so be it.

        Val

  9. Phil

    “With all due respect, I believe that your recourse to knowing the biblical languages is a ruse because you really don’t have an argument to put forward in favor of your position.”

    What is my position? Other than arguing that your certitude is misplaced–an argument which you are proving again and again–I haven’t really attacked your critique of Metropolitan Tikhon. Whether I agree with you or not, your reasons for disagreeing with him are not sound.

    “Instead, you prefer to change the Scriptures into some sort of esoteric Tolkien-style code that requires initiated Elves to give us the correct interpretation. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the height of academic arrogance.”

    Your arrogance, perhaps, but not mine.

    What I prefer is along the lines of what you wrote in your next paragraph: “We need to take both the historical-grammatical sense as well as the theological-canonical sense in our approach, otherwise we are doing violence to the whole counsel of God.” I take issue with balancing out one perceived extreme by going to another extreme, and that is what I think you are doing. The truth is in the middle, and it makes “conservatives” just as uncomfortable as it makes “liberals”.

    BTW, I haven’t read Tolkien and I found the movies insufferable enough not to care to give the books a chance, so your reference does nothing for me. That said, it’s not entirely untrue to say that the Scriptures require “initiated” people to give us the correct interpretation. Already in the second century, we have St Justin Martyr claiming that the Jews do not understand their own Scriptures, that they are properly our Scriptures and not theirs, and only we interpret them correctly, and St Paul the Apostle made similar arguments in the previous century. For most of Christian history, people didn’t own their own Bibles, they went to church and heard “initiated” people (those who were baptised and ordained) read and interpret them. Even today, when all of us are able to have our own copies of the Scriptures in various formats, the authoritative teachers and preachers in the Church remain, first and foremost, the bishops because they receive that charism as part of their ministry through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at ordination. Bishops are not individually infallible, but if you’re going to challenge their teaching, you need to bring more to the table than what you’ve brought so far.

    “All I am saying is that there is biblical justification for praying against the enemies of our country in the fight against Islamic jihad and our own Moleben service seems to back this up.”

    I agree with you, but you will need more than a Moleben to dismiss everything you have identified with “liberals” and “pacifists”.

    Finally, I read Metropolitan Tikhon’s letter two or three times, and I stand by my earlier contention: you are reading it through the lens of American politics and coming to erroneous conclusions. Try reading it through the lens of the Gospel. Somehow, you have taken something less than a molehill and turned it into Mount Everest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s