Praying Pro-Life

The Orthodox Church in America’s leadership lends its support to the Annual March for Life in Washington, DC, each year.  Methropolitan Tikhon also sends an annual message to all the faithful members of the OCA on the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday reminding us of the essential nature of defending human life in a time when the country’s supreme court has ruled that the unborn has no rights.

And while visibly protesting against abortion on demand shows our commitment to the sanctity of human life, as I noted in my post 2019 Sanctity of Human Life Sunday to be pro-life has to mean more than wanting laws that prohibit abortion.  Pro-life means a commitment to helping and supporting families, including single moms, who struggle to raise their children.  Pro-life should mean we commit ourselves  also to being pro-family and pro-education and pro-health for these children whom God brings into existence.  If we believe life is sacred then we should not ignore the fact that once some children come into the world they are thrust into poverty, into situations in which they might lack basic health care, food, housing, educational opportunities.   Our pro-life attitude should not mean we prevent people from having abortions but then turn our backs against them when they need help in raising these children.   Pro-life should never be reduced to supporting pro-life candidates but should include supporting pro-life policies and agencies who work with families in need.  We can financially support such groups and personally volunteer to help them.   One such Orthodox group we can support is Zoe for Life.

 

There is a saying from the desert fathers:

The old man also said unto him, ” If works do not correspond to prayer he who prays labours in vain.”   (adapted from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers Volume 2, Kindle Loc. 3218-19)

We are not just to pray pro-life, we are to minister to families in need, we are to work for and with these families as part of our liturgy and prayer.


What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.   (James 2:14-17)

Pro-Life Means More than Anti-Abortion

On the Sunday after the Nativity, we continue reading the Nativity narrative, but a portion which is not part of the American spirit of Christmas: Matthew 2:13-23.  This is part of the Nativity story we don’t have in our Christmas cards or carols and prefer to ignore because we like a sentimental winter story rather than one which exposes the reality of the world.  This Gospel brings to the forefront a very worldly reaction to the Gospel: Herod decides to murder babies to protect his own interests. We see in the Gospel lesson why the Fathers often described self-preservation as a sin which leads to much evil.  In this case Herod justifies the murder of babies by his concern for self-preservation.  In the modern world, we justify letting refugee babies die to preserve our comfort and  standard of living.

Christmas for us Christians is not just one day of the year which we can put away with our decorations, or throw out with all the wrapping paper, or take down with the tree.  In the Church we continue to celebrate the Feast for a week which remembering the entire Gospel lesson, including the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

Christmas is God’s Word to the world.  In the Christmas narrative God sends word via the angels to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.  Persian Magi receive a divine message through the movement of the strangest star they have ever seen.

Christmas is God’s message to us.  It is not merely a human wish for good cheer nor just human hope for the world and for each other.  Christmas is God’s word, God’s plan, God’s hope for the world.

Christmas is God, not just some people, telling us about peace, joy and good will.  The angels proclaim it, not humans.  And certainly when we read the Gospel, and not just some sentimental version of it, we see God’s message of peace and good will brought about a negative reaction in the world.  King Herod is out killing children because of the Gospel.

Christmas is God’s Word coming into the world, it is not fake news, nor does it have a media spin to it.  It was not created by Internet trolls.

In the Epistle (Gal 1:11-12) St Paul points this out clearly:  the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul openly claims the Gospel comes to us by revelation from God.  St. Peter says:

First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.   (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Christmas is God’s message to us, not a human message.  God actively takes part in the world, to be with us and to heal us, to speak to us, to reveal Himself and His will to us.

If Humans were composing Good News about a savior, we would no doubt follow a more Hollywood plan – a superhero with supernatural powers, armed to the hilt with weapons of mass destruction, who wreaks vengeance and death on his enemies.

However, it is God who composed the Gospel, and God’s Gospel is one of humility, God in Christ sacrificing Himself for the good of humanity.  God’s message is one of reconciliation not rage and revenge.  God’s message is one of forgiveness for wrongdoing, not payback time.  Or as we find in Hebrews 1:1-3 –

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high … 

Christmas is God speaking to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, who comes as a baby into the world.  Christmas is a divine message, God speaking to us and to the  world about what God wants us to know about God’s plan.

It is a plan not created by military planners, nor by terrorists, nor by a government, nor by Hollywood, nor by American billionaires.  All of them would create a savior in their image and likeness.

The Orthodox Church today as it has for 2000 years is still preaching this same message.  Our purpose for coming here each Sunday is to listen to the Gospel so that we can share the Good News with others.

On this Sunday after Christmas, we are still celebrating Christmas in the Church, still proclaiming that Christ is born.  We are still celebrating life, though in the Gospel we hear about how in the world King Herod is already issuing a decree that children must die, that he sees some children as unwanted in the world.  This is his response to the Gospel.

For us on the other hand, Christmas is God’s message.  We hear it as a feast of life, of God the giver of life.

Christmas, we Americans often think is for children.  Let us as Christians give Christmas to all children of the world.  Let us be the bearers of life for the world.  Let us lend our support to those children in need, those children who anyone in the world declares to be unwanted and undesirable.  There are many Herods in the world who want to get rid of somebody else’s children.  Men and women who see someone else’s children as a threat to their lifestyle.  We should not be those kinds of people.   We are to be with God, pro-life and giving our full support to those children whom God has called into being.  Christmas is a pro-life message, and as Christians we should be working for the lives of the children of the world, especially those who some have declared as unwanted, just like Herod declared Jesus unwanted, and the children around Bethlehem as undesirable, as threats to his way of life.  We have a responsibility to protect life and to give aid and support to the children that others want to kill.

Christmas is about our salvation, but the Gospel is clear there are evil men and women in the world who are willing to kill even children because they don’t like them.  We on the other hand are those who hear the birth of Christ as Good news, as life-giving news, and we are to be like Joseph protecting the lives of the children that are unwanted and who cannot protect themselves.  We are not only to protect but to nurture the children whom some ruler or nation wants to kill.

May the newborn Christ who lay in a manger for our salvation inspire us to help Him and all such children who are unwanted by the world.  Pro-life cannot be reduce to “anti-abortion”.  Pro-life means giving our support to children in general, but especially to those children victimized by the Herods of the world.  We are to protect all these children, for as our Lord Jesus told us:

 ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’   (Matthew 25:40)

The Sanctity of Human Life (2018)

A number of Church Fathers thought that the main human problem is not that we sin, for if sin had been our main problem, God had already appointed repentance for sin.   The Law of the Old Covenant would have been good enough for dealing with sin.  Humans could repent, perhaps offer the appropriate sacrifice and be done with the problem.  For many Fathers, the real human problem was corruption – death, we had become mortal beings as a result of sin. This was something that repentance could not undo or fix. Repentance itself was not enough to overcome the corruption – the fact that we died as a result of sin.  And they understood that it was not sin that we inherited, for sin was something committed by the will and not by our nature.  Corruption, mortality had entered into human nature and now was passed on from one generation to the next.

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It was that our nature had been corrupted which required salvation.  That humanity had become corrupt, mortal, made God’s own incarnation necessary.  God took on human flesh in order to heal it.  And God took on death in the flesh in order to overcome death/corruption/mortality.  The death of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, meant the defeat of death and the salvation of the human race.

In baptism, we humans die and rise with Christ, thus baptism was our way to participate in the salvation which Christ offered humanity.  We “put on Christ” as St. Paul says – we put on Christ’s resurrected humanity so that we too can defeat death and rise from the dead.

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This is also why we baptize infants. Baptism is not only for the remission of sins. We die with Christ in baptism in order to rise with Christ in the resurrection. Baptism is to overcome death and corruption.   St. John Chrysostom said those who think baptism is just for the remission of sins misunderstand baptism.  As we read in Acts 19:3-6, baptism only for the remission of sins was what John the Forerunner offered, but Jesus offered something more in baptism:

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.  

The baptism in Christ gives us salvation from corruption, it offers us eternal life.  As Chrysostom notes, Infants have not sinned, they are sinless. We baptize them not because they have sinned but because they are subject to death and corruption. We baptize them so they too can rise to life after death.  Even if they haven’t sinned, they will die, for they have inherited human corruption.

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Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:14-17)

It is our understanding of death, corruption, as being the real enemy of humanity that causes us to oppose abortion. Abortion is inflicting death and corruption on a human being who has not sinned – an innocent, sinless human whom we by abortion condemn to an unrighteous death.

Again, we can think about Chrysostom’s comment in which he says, our warfare doesn’t make the living dead, but makes the dead to live.

A human is a composite being consisting of soul, body and spirit. The body is also part of who I am, or who you are.  The corruption of the body, death, is destroying “me” – you and I.  God brought us from non-existence into being and death wants to return a human to non-existence by destroying the human body.

It is this thinking that leads us to oppose abortion, but also tells us why we should not use our body for sin.  The body is part of who you are. If you sin, you unite yourself, your body to that which is ungodly, to death itself.  We should never do that because our bodies were meant to be temples of the Holy Spirit.

If we Christians over focus on “sin” as being the main or only human problem, we can easily miss why we consider human life to be sacred.  God is at work in us to save us from death and to give us life in abundance.

A Person is Present from the Moment of Conception

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“Needless to say, it is a value that applies to our entire being; for our soul and body belong to our person, which they express and manifest each in their own way.  Thus, since the body is a dimension of the person, it too possesses specific characteristics, a unique character, and likewise a value that is absolute.  This is the basis for the respect we owe to our own body as well as to that of every other person.  It also confers on the body a spiritual dimension and value, which means that it can no longer be seen as a purely physical substance nor be separated from the man or woman whose body it is.  By the same token, the body shares in the spiritual development of the person as a whole.

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In the eyes of the Fathers, then, the body is an integral part of the person, participating in its spiritual value from the moment of conception and beyond its life on earth.  This, together with the fact that the soul and body are inseparable elements of the human composite, is the basis for asserting that it is possible for a person to reacquire– albeit according to another mode of existence–the same body that had been provisionally separated from the soul by death.  It also justifies Christianity’s rejection of abortion, as well as the doctrine of metempsychosis or reincarnation.  Indeed, abortion is considered by the Fathers to be an attack on the life of an actual person since, as seen, they consider the person to be inseparably present from the moment of conception–we humans not being able to exist as such other than as persons.”  (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, pp 23-24)

Opposing Racism: Commending OUR LIFE to Christ

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“Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign for ever, thy God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!”   (Psalm 146:5-10)

In many Orthodox churches, it is customary to sing the above Psalm 146 at the Eucharistic Liturgy.  The Psalm expresses an ideal for the life of the people of God and how we are to be godlike, and to act toward the stranger, the sojourner and the oppressed with the same intention as God Himself: executing justice for them all.  In fact, we are to treat them as we would wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12).  It is for this same reason, this same vision, that the Orthodox in America need to stand together with those who oppose racism and bigotry.  It is why we believers need to oppose white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups: such ideology goes against the very understanding we have of God, of what it is to be human and of Christianity.  All humans are called by Christ into a holy unity.  It may be natural to us to identify with people like us – same ethnicity, or race or social class.  These may be the people we spend the most time with, marry and live with in our neighborhoods.  Scripture itself has a great deal of “us” and “them” thinking.  We can choose to live with and marry people like ourselves, but in Christ, we are to treat all others – the stranger, the alien – as we treat people like ourselves.  St. Paul writes forcefully:

12801397374_0fe3e55abb_n“… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”   (Ephesians 2:12-22)

Our vision as Orthodox calls us to this peace in Christ – to live at peace with those who are our neighbors.   As Christ taught, the real question is not “who is my neighbor?” but rather “how can I prove myself to be a  neighbor to those I meet?”  (Luke 10:29-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan).  We Orthodox in America need to prove we are Christ’s neighbor by standing against violence and racism and hatred, by siding with those we think of as the stranger, the alien, the sojourner.  Many of us Orthodox came to America as strangers and aliens (or our ancestors did), and many Orthodox as immigrants encountered prejudice and hatred for no other reason than our names, our languages, our Orthodox Faith.  Our message within our parish communities is to be Christ’s message of being neighbors, of love, of caring for the oppressed.  Our Communion is with Christ, not with those who practice or preach hatred and violence nor with those who teach any form of racism.

We would do well to remember our scriptures and the story of the great flood, and what prompted God to want to drown evil and send it back to the depths of the sea out of which it came:

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”  (Genesis 6:11-13)

Those promoting violence and hatred embrace a way of life which God has hated (Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 11:5-6; Proverbs 6:16-19) throughout the existence of the human race.

We Orthodox Christians are called to be one race, a race united in Christ, not based on genes but on faith and holiness:

4263457299_d973374b2e_n“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”  (1 Peter 2:9-12)

If we pay attention in the Divine Liturgy, we realize all of us share in the same life.  The Liturgy doesn’t speak about “lives” but life (in the singular, one life shared by all of us):

let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.

enable us to serve You in holiness all the days of our life.

May the Holy Spirit Himself minister together with us all the days of our life.

 I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come

For a Christian ending to our life: painless, blameless, and peaceful;

To You we commend our whole life and our hope, O loving Master.

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We all share the same life given to us by God which is why we need to stand with those whose life is threatened by those who rant and rail for violence, hatred and racism.  Life is precious and sacred.  Racism precisely denies “our life” – our common humanity which Christ took on in the incarnation – the one human life given to us all by our Creator.

[The Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America has issued a statement regarding the events which took place  last week in Charlottesville, VA.  The statement deals with racism and violence in America and a call for all of us Orthodox Christians to adhere to the Gospel commands of Christ and to the Tradition of our Church.  You can read their statement at:

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2016)

Sanctity of LifeToday the Orthodox Church in America recognizes the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  I want to mention a quote from President Obama’s 11 January 2016 State of the Union speech.   It’s not easy to find something from him to quote for this Sunday, but he said something which caught my ears:

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day.

The President called upon us to stand up especially for the weak and vulnerable, and to remember “that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”  That is exactly the sentiment we who are pro-life and who believe in the sanctity of human life are doing for the babies in their mother’s wombs.  President Obama said we should speak up and vote.  We do that, and we also pray.

Christ  Blessing the Children

 Here is the prayer that the Orthodox Church in America offers for the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  It is a prayer for all, including the unborn babies and also for all politicians, even those who don’t respect the sanctity of human life in the womb.

O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, Who are in the bosom of the Father, True God, source of life and immortality, Light of Light, Who came into the world to enlighten it: You were pleased to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of our souls by the power of Your All-Holy Spirit. O Master, Who came that we might have life more abundantly, we ask You to enlighten the minds and hearts of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception and that the unborn in the womb are already adorned with Your image and likeness; enable us to guard, cherish, and protect the lives of all those who are unable to care for themselves. For You are the Giver of Life, bringing each person from non-being into being, sealing each person with divine and infinite love. Be merciful, O Lord, to those who, through ignorance or willfulness, affront Your divine goodness and providence through the evil act of abortion. May they, and all of us, come to the life of Your Truth and glorify You, the Giver of Life, together with Your Father, and Your All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Rachel Lamenting the Loss of Her Children

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

The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal

This is the 16th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is St. John Chrysostom on Humans as Beasts and Saints.

“For the devil has always been eager, through these philosophers, to show that our race is in no way more honorable than the beasts.”   (St. John ChrysostomWOMEN AND MEN IN THE EARLY CHURCH, p 231)

It is not only modern scientific materialists who think humans are nothing more than another animal.  In the Fourth Century St. John Chrysostom was engaged with philosophies and philosophers of his day which had decided that humans are nothing more than a brute beast. [Certainly through the centuries many rulers have thought that human life is cheap – just look at how troops were used in warfare, nothing more than ‘cannon fodder’ and hoping to use up enemy arrows and spears before one ran out of men].   Prior to the Fourth Century Christianity had spent a great deal of its apologetic arguments against various form of Gnosticism beginning with Docetism in the First Century, all of which had denied the value of the physical nature of humans.

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.“   (1 John 4:2)

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”  (2 John :7)

The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ showed the extent to which God valued humanity’s physical nature.  God had created the humans with a physical body which was capable of being united to divinity.   Humans though having a physical body like any animal were viewed by the early Christians as not being merely animals.

“It is not only in our possessing a rational (logikon) soul that we surpass beasts…, but we also excel them in body.  For God has fashioned the body to correspond with the soul’s nobility (eugeneia), and has fitted it to execute the soul’s commands.”    (St. John Chrysostom quoted in WOMEN AND MEN IN THE EARLY CHURCH, p 125)

Humans have an animal body but the human corporeal nature is not controlled by or limited to the body.  Each human has a soul, the very place where divinity and the physical world interface.  God bestowed upon the human God’s own image and likeness, which is how humans differed from all other animals – humans are related to God in specific ways which other animals are not. Each individual human has a nobility and a value bestowed upon them by God:  this is certainly a great contribution Christianity offered to the world- even the “impoverished masses” are seen by God as beings to be loved and cherished and all have worth and nobility in God’s eyes, and so are also to be loved by all other humans.

“God has given us a body of earth, in order that we might lead it up with us into Heaven, and not that we would draw our soul down with it to the earth.  It is earthly (geodes), but if we please, it may become heavenly (ouranion).  See how highly God has honored us, in committing to us so excellent a task.  ‘I made Heaven and Earth,’ He says, ‘and to you I give the power of creation’ … Make your earth heaven, for it is in your power.”  (St. John Chrysostom quoted in WOMEN AND MEN IN THE EARLY CHURCH, p 146)

The human is created to be both the connection between God and creatures, and the mediator between them, enabling all of the rest of creation to have a full relationship to the Creator through the human’s relationship with God.  St. Ephrem the Syrian makes an interesting, if allegorical interpretation of the humans having both physical and spiritual qualities.  He sees these qualities as interrelated and intertwined with both the world of agriculture and the liturgical year.  Everything is arranged by God:

“… Ephrem points out that human beings possess both a physical and a spiritual side and that they need to cultivate these two aspects equally: physical labor on the land receives its reward in October, with the ingathering of its produce and the arrival of the rain after the long hot summer months of drought;  spiritual toil, however, is rewarded in April, the month of the Feast of the Resurrection—and it was on Easter eve that in many places it was the custom for baptisms to take place.  Agricultural labor and spiritual toil turn out to be closely interrelated, for October provides the oil for the baptismal anointing in April.”   (Ephrem the Syrian, SELECT POEMS, p 181)

For St. Maximos the Confessor humans share a relationship with both plants and animals, but then have beyond either intelligence and a intellect.  This gives humans a means to share in immortality.

“The soul has three powers: first, the power of nourishment and growth; second, that of imagination and instinct; third, that of intelligence and intellect. Plants share only in the first of these powers; animals share in the first and second; men share in all three. The first two powers are perishable; the third is clearly imperishable and immortal.”   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 13154-59)

In the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas the human naturally has a relationship with God, but if that relationship is lost or distorted, then the human too becomes unnatural and loses his/her humanity.  Being dehumanized, or becoming inhuman is in his mind a form of hell on earth.

 “‘A mind removed from God becomes like either a dumb beast or a demon.  Once having transgressed the bounds of nature, it lusts for what is alien.  Yet if finds no satisfaction for its greed and, giving itself the more fiercely to fleshly desires, it knows no bounds in its search for earthly pleasures.’ . . . Life becomes a hell, freedom a burden, and other people a curse.”  (Archimandrite George Capsanis,  THE EROS OF REPENTANCE, p 9)

Life on earth becomes a hell when we lose our godliness, even if we gain all the riches of the world.

“‘What good will it do a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?’ Christ asks His disciples (Matt. 16:26); and He says that there is nothing equal in value to the soul. Since the soul by itself is far more valuable than the whole world and any worldly kingdom, is not the kingdom of heaven also more valuable? That the soul is more valuable is shown by the fact that God did not see fit to bestow on any other created thing the union and fellowship with His own coessential Spirit. Not sky, sun, moon, stars, sea, earth or any other visible thing did He bless in this way, but man alone, whom of all His creatures He especially loved.”  (St Symeon Metaphrastis, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 34642-54)

Christian theology has through the centuries highly valued each human being and viewed human life as sacred because God the Trinity bestowed on each human being a sanctity by creating all in God’s own image and giving each person a soul and imprinting the image of God on every human being.  Orthodox Christianity continues to defend the sanctity of human life and to defend the dignity and nobility of every human being whether saint or sinner, believer or not.  Christianity is not opposed to science, but rejects the reductionist thinking of materialism which denies that humans are related to God or can aspire to something greater than our brutish animal nature.  We believe that even science shows humans have conscious awareness, consciences and free will.  As many scientists now acknowledge humans are no longer predestined by their genetics but have even gained control over some these natural forces of evolution.

Darwin caused controversy, not merely because his ideas contradicted Genesis, but because they fell foul of the way in which Genesis had been read by those influenced by the Enlightenment, for it was the Enlightenment that conceived of the human as almost exclusively rational and intellectual, and set the human at a distance from the animal. When the Fathers interpret Genesis, they see the human as sharing a very great deal with animal, and indeed plant-like, creation. The possession of reason, the gift of being in the image of God, makes the human distinctive, indeed raises the human to a position that transcends the animal and the plant-like, both as being nobler, and also as bearing responsibility for the rest of creation, but the human still shares a very great deal with the rest of creation, both animal and plant-like, and even with the inanimate”     (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1469-75)

We humans are biologically, chemically and genetically related to all other animals on earth.  However, we believe we are not only or merely animals.  We are rational and intellectual beings.  However, rationality and intellectualism neither completely define delineate what it is to be a human being, for we believe we are created in God’s image and we are embodied souls or ensouled bodies, and thus are spiritual beings.

“When we read in the writings of the Fathers about the place of the heart which the mind finds by prayer, we must understand by this the spiritual faculty that exists in the heart.  Placed by the Creator in the upper part of the heart, this spiritual faculty distinguishes the human heart from the heart of animals: for animals have the faculty of will or desire, and the faculty of jealousy or fury, in the same measure as man.  The spiritual faculty in the heart manifests itself—independently of the intellect—in the conscience or consciousness of our spirit, in the fear of God, in spiritual love towards God and our neighbor, in feelings of repentance, humility, or meekness, in contrition of the spirit or deep sadness for our sins, and in other spiritual feelings; all of which are foreign to animals.” (Bishop Ignatii Brianchaninov, THE ART OF PRAYER, p 190)

Next:  The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal (II)

God Loves us Even in Our Mother’s Womb

Fetus6months“ This is the great mystery of our faith. We do not choose God, God chooses us. From all eternity we are hidden ‘in the shadow of God’s hand’ and ‘engraved in his palm.’ Before any human being touches us, God, ‘forms us in secret’ and ‘textures us’ in the depth of the earth ,and before any human being decides about us, God ‘knits us together in our mother’s womb.’ God loves us before any human person can show love to us. He loves us with a ‘first’ love, an unlimited, unconditional love, wants us to be his beloved children, and tells us to become as loving as himself.”   (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, pgs. 105-106)

The Lord Protects Infants

The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2012)

The LORD preserves the simple;

when I was brought low, he saved me.

(Psalms 116:6)

St. John Chrysostom  in his commentary on the Psalms notes that some in his day believed that in the above verse “the simple”  refers to “ fetuses not yet emerged from the womb.”  (St. John Chrysostom COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS  Vol 2, pp 95-96)  This interpretation was aided by the fact that the version of the Psalms he used was read as

“The Lord protects infants;

I was brought low and he saved me.” 

Chrysostom notes that infants and children do not have the skills necessary to survive in this world and all would parish if not for the care of their parents, and the provision of God who loves them.   Chrysostom notes that it is not enough for us to feed and nourish children, they must be protected from animal predators and problems.  That is when he makes his comment that some think Psalm 116:6 refers to fetuses – children are totally dependent on the protection of their parents and of God for they are totally incapable of protecting themselves from all the harmful forces in the world including the abortionist.

The Lord loves the simple, including the infant and the unborn child.  Like God, we are to preserve the life of those that cannot defend themselves.

To view a most wonderful video about the formation of human life in the womb go to From Conception to Birth.