2019 Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

sanctity of lifeToday in the life of our church in America we are affirming our commitment to the Sanctity of Human Life.   We do this each year on the 3rd Sunday in January as we remember that in our country in 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that having an abortion was a guaranteed right for Americans – a ruling that also said that the child still in the womb had no human rights.  Our Orthodox Church has lamented and protested that decision, questioning whether anyone has a right to take the life of an unborn child.

For us as Orthodox Christians, being pro-life should not be limited to mean we vote for pro-life candidates, for I think that just reduces it to a political issue which is used by political parties for their own gains.  The issue for us is a moral issue and we should not let political parties use us for their purposes. If we are to be pro-life we have to support those ideas and policies which support life.  This means it is not sufficient to think about the issue only every November at the election.   Being pro-life does not mean just trying to pass laws that prohibit abortion.  Pro-life means that we lend our lives, our resources, our energy and homes to helping families have healthy children.  Pro-life means we support mothers who choose to bring their babies into being and not only vote for laws that prohibit abortion but also vote for policies that are pro-family and pro-health and pro-children.  We need to support education and health care policies that help even the poorest of families to have access to good schools and health care.  These are moral issues to which we must always tend because we are pro-life.  Give your support to families in need, not just to political candidates or parties.

Performing abortions is an ancient practice.  And while our world has made much progress in proclaiming human rights and defending those who cannot defend themselves, the modern world has not been willing to extend those same rights and protections to the unborn child.

Writing in the 3rd Century, a Christian bishop we know as Methodius proclaimed that every baby conceived is crafted and blessed by God. Every baby conceived comes into existence as the result of the will of God.  Methodius even defended the rights and life of illegitimate children.  He wrote:

“… we have been taught by the divinely inspired Scriptures that all babies, even those from unlawful unions, are entrusted at birth to the keeping of guardian angels.  Whereas if they came into existence contrary to the will and ordinance of that blessed nature of God, how could they be committed to angels to be brought up with great gentleness and indulgence?”

Methodius is defending the sanctity of human life, all life, all babies, even unwanted and illegitimate babies have life because God willed them into being and God appoints a guardian angel for each of them.   If God appoints guardian angels even for illegitimate babies, then we as God’s people should also be willing to act as guardians for these same children.  We should be encouraging families to stay together and to work together to raise their children.   We should be helping them and supporting civil policies which give them support as well.

Bishop Methodius goes on to talk about those parents who decided to terminate the life of their children either by exposure or by abortion:

“And if they are to accuse their own parents, how could they summon them before the judgment seat of Christ with bold confidence and say: ‘Lord, You did not begrudge us this common light; but it was those who exposed us to die, they despised Thy commandment…’”  (The Symposium: A Treatise on Chastity, pp 55-56)

Methodius’ stark words are that all these children whose lives were ended abruptly will ask for justice from God.  The babies who died from exposure or abortion will on the Judgment Day remind God that He had brought them into being, but their parents chose to kill them.  The imagery is very close to what we see in Revelation 6:9-11 –

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete…


Methodius’ image is a terrible one – for these children instead of praying for their parents, remind God what their parents did to them.

We ourselves might think of what St. Paul said in Colossians 3:4-11 –

When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. …

What we are to put to death is not the children whom we don’t want, but rather our own sins.  Instead of aborting children we don’t want we should be putting to death our passions and sinful nature.

St. Paul doesn’t even suggest that we put vile and violent sinners to death either, just our own passions.


We are called to remember that God values life so much that God wants there to be as much of it as is possible.  In the beginning in Genesis 1:27-28 we hear these words:

So God created the human in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth …

The conceiving of children fulfills God’s plan.  But of course we believe that those children are also supposed to be conceived and raised within nurturing families.

Jesus Christ said

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”   (John 10:10)

Life is a precious gift given to us by God so that we might have communion with God and share in God’s own abundant life.


Fetus at 6 months

Psalm 139 tells us that  the unborn child in the mother’s womb is formed and known by God.  Each baby is God’s handiwork even if accidentally conceived or unwantedly conceived.

Throughout the Bible God affirms His love for the poor, the downtrodden, the weak and oppressed.  This is why we lend our voice to support life and to support the parents who are willing to sacrifice for the good of their children.

In Deuteronomy 30:19-20, our God says to us:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

The Parable of the Prodigal Son: An Image of the Family


The Lord’s Parable of the Prodigal Son has many familiar lessons related to repentance and Great Lent.

There is an obvious lesson about the person who wastes his/her life in sin and then for whatever reason comes to realize that life was good back at home, and so decides to humbly seeks to return to live with the father, but no longer in the exalted role of child but only as a servant.

It is family/home that gives sense to the parable.

The family in Judaism is a religious unit where holy days are kept (like Passover), where Torah is learned, where the stories of God’s salvation are read and absorbed into one’s own identity.   The Jewish family anywhere in the world could practice the faith at home.   God was never far from them no matter how far away from Jerusalem they lived.   The temple was the place for animal sacrifice, but in the family one lived the faith.  Family is a religious community preserving traditions and passing them on from one generation to the next by home worship and instruction.  Children learned the faith first and foremost at home, not by going to temple.


One need only think about how much of the history of Israel involves and is centered on family, and family members who are even named.   It was in family that the people learned how to obey Go, how to keep the Law, developed a sense of sin, realized the power of God’s holiness and how to approach God in prayer. Noah is saved with his family.  Abraham is called in and through his family and descendants.  Even when the nation of Israel was in apostasy, families were able to remain faithful to God.

Jewish failure in their mission is often traced to failure in the family to be the holy unity of God.

All of this salvation history is the background for the parable of the Prodigal Son and his family.

Our families/homes are to become the center of our own spiritual lives.  In the home, in family, we are to learn repentance and forgiveness, humility and love, faithfulness and the fear of God.  We learn how to pray, we learn about God’s own love for us and our people, and we learn what God expects from us.


It is not by accident that the parish is also framed in terms of family including the priest being viewed as “father.”  Chrysostom said that the family is a small church.    And we call God “Father” to show that we all are part of God’s family.  On all levels the imagery of family is present and works to help us understand our relationships with one another and with God.

As family and as parish we learn acceptance and forgiveness, repentance and prayer.  We experience joy, and we experience the pain of belonging to others.  We learn how to love as family members.  We learn to welcome new people into the family and we learn our own role and place in the family of our origin, of our parish and of the people of God.

We learn to see one another with the same eyes that the Parable’s Father views his two sons.  The Father’s eyes are ever hopeful for the return of the lost, for the healing of all divisions, for reuniting the separated, for even overcoming the hurt of sin.


Finally, we see in this Parable how we are affected by our world around us.  Our society encourages consumption, exploring our every desire, increasing our appetites, affirming ourselves as individuals above and against every social unit.  Our 21st Century American view promotes all that the Prodigal was that led him to set off as an individual freed from the constraints of family and society.  We have so much but always are looking for more for ourselves, not willing to share with our families and parishes and neighbors.

The Prodigal turned his insatiable appetite for independence and self-indulgence into  a hunger for his father’s welcoming love.  Better to be a servant in a house of love than to be a slave to one’s own desires.

Of course, today some only see the negative side of families – that they are dysfunctional or broken.  All of the imagery of family works only if the family is working as a safe haven for growing up, making mistakes and seeking reconciliation.  It is something we have to work on making our families and homes to be the ideal.

Christianity Founded in the Home

And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.  (Acts 5:42)

“In the Orthodox worldview, the home and the family constitute the first and most important area of Christian life, of application of Christian principles to daily existence. It is certainly the home, the very style and spirit of family life, and not the school, not even the Church, that shapes our fundamental worldview, that shapes in us that fundamental orientation of which we may not even be aware for a long time, but which ultimately will become a decisive factor. Dostoevsky’s “staretz” Zosima – in The Brothers Karamozov – says: ‘A man who from his childhood can remember good things is saved for his whole life.’” (Alexander Schmemman, Great Lent, p. 100)

Reflection on the Christian Family

While in the Orthodox Tradition, the family is often considered to be “the little church” in which we live and practice our Orthodox Faith, the family as a social unit has not gotten the attention in our spiritual tradition that one can find for monks and nuns.

Be that as it may, most of us spend at least part of our lives in families and there we do have to consider how to be Christian.  In the modern age we see some attempts to write about the family from an Orthodox perspective, including trying to emphasize married saints of the Church.  This literature though gives witness to the dearth of writings on family in the mostly monastic spirituality of Orthodoxy.  Even in the New Testament, depending on what English translation you read, the word “family” only occurs 5-20 times, and even there gives almost no instruction on what Christian family might look like.

In addition to temptations from the evil one, Starets Macarius  [19th Century, Russian] gives several other important causes for family problems. To one correspondent he writes: ‘It is this growing indifference to His Word, and our consequent refusal to examine our hearts-where we could find both the peace He bequeathed us and the insight into our lack of love of Him and of our neighbor-which brings in its wake this punishment, this disruption of the home.’  He also says that this is due to our failure to see Christ in others. He reminds us that when we mistreat others, we are in a real sense mistreating Christ. So he tells us, ‘Remember that you are pupils of Christ-of Christ who teaches us to love not only our friends but even our enemies, and to …  forgive all who trespass against us. “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses’”Matt. 6:15). What a frightful prospect!’

Along these same lines, he tells a correspondent that while it is good that she has a long prayer rule and often reads the Church Fathers, ‘remember that love of the neighbor is the first work you must strive for. And you do not even have to leave your house to find that neighbor: your husband is that neighbor; your mother is that neighbor; and so are your children.’ To another spiritual child, he says that the ‘poison’ in the family cannot be cast out of their home ‘unless you promptly cease condemning each other. You clearly think you are always in the right; she, of course thinks she is. You heap on her a multitude of grave or petty accusations. She does the same to you. Where will this all end?’  Then he points out that the chief things the husband accuses his wife are actually the same faults he has. The Elder concludes:

All this financial trouble between you comes of your having completely forgotten that yours is a Christian home, or should be. A home is a Christian one when all the members of the household bear each other’s burdens, and when each condemns only himself. You have forgotten this, both of you. And so every word of hers pieces you, like an arrow dipped in poison. And your words, likewise, pierce her.

Ponder the truth of Christian marriage: man and wife are one flesh! Does it not follow that they must share all their possessions? And yet you two haggle over this property! And why? Because of words!

Unless you promptly strive for and achieve a loving peace between you, it is hopeless to try to bring tidiness and fairness into your business dealings with one another. Humble yourself, not her. Love her, not yourself.”

 (David and Mary Ford, Marriage as a Path to Holiness, p. xlvi-xlvii).

Your Home as Church

What should a family do after church on Sunday?

St. John Chrysostom (407s)  advocated that every family make their home into a church where the scriptures continue to be discussed and where Christian education occurs.  The responsibility for the salvation of the members of one’s family – teaching them the scriptures, teaching them prayer, teaching them moral living, teaching them repentance and forgiveness, teaching them to be thankful, generous, merciful and kind – falls on the parents who must also teach by example.

“Let us take all this to heart, then, dearly beloved, and on returning home let us serve a double meal, one of food and the other of sacred reading; while the husband reads what has been said, let the wife learn and the children listen, and let not even servants be deprived of the chance to listen. Turn your house into a church; you are, in fact, even responsible for the salvation both of the children and of the servants.  Just as we are accountable for you, so too each of you is accountable for your servant, your wife, your child.”     (St. John Chrysostom, Eight Sermons on the Book of Genesis, pgs. 19-20)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:18-23 (b)

 See:   God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:18-23 (a)

Genesis 9:18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. 20 Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; 21 and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

St. John Chrysostom

Chrysostom says wine is not in itself evil, but intemperance always leads to sin.  He also notes that since Noah was the first to get drunk, drunkenness is reported only after the flood occurred and therefore must not have been one of the sins that led to God destroying the world through the flood.   “I mean, voluntary intoxication is really a demon, clouding the intellect more severely than any demon, and robbing its victim of any sense of values…. The drunk, on the other hand, does not deserve excuse, no matter what he does.”  Chrysostom has no pity for the drunk who he believes chooses his evil ways.   Chrysostom does not have our modern sense of uncontrollable alcoholism but only the person who willingly “surrendered himself to the tyranny of drunkenness.”   He does see drunkenness as a tyrant, but drunkenness is still chosen sin.  “The fact of sinning is not so harmful as persisting in sin.”   Chrysostom was a firm believer in free will and did not hold to ideas of predestination to sin, nor of genetic predetermination toward an illness.  He sees humans as making their choices, some of which lead to slavery to sin, but that is the end result of an unwillingness to resist temptation or evil.

“became drunk…”    Though Noah is considered righteous by God, this does not mean sinless.  Noah commits sin in his drunkenness.  Christ alone is said in scripture to be without sin (Hebrews 4:5), and later Christian thinking also attributes sinlessness to the Theotokos.  In the Orthodox funeral service the priest says, “there is no one who lives and does not sin, for You (Christ) only are without sin and Your righteousness is to all eternity.”   God sees the hearts of each of us and judges our hearts.  He works with those who love and fear Him, even if they do on occasion sin against Him.   Noah’s moral lapse does not cancel God’s seeing him as righteous.   God is realistic in dealing with humans – He knows their hearts are inclined to evil, but He also is able to distinguish between a moral lapse and defiant evil.

“Ham… saw the nakedness of his father.”   Ham reveals his true nature – shamelessness.   Genesis traces the history of humanity through the relationship of father to son, but it makes comment neither about the role and responsibility of a father nor that of the son.  Be that as it may, whatever human wisdom or tradition exists is being handed down through these relationships.  Suddenly in the story of Ham, we are confronted with another reality.   Cain committed fratricide against Abel.   But for the first time since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in Paradise, a son is reported to commit an offense against his father.  And the depraved and base offense appears to involve something incestuous and lewd.   And whatever it is, Ham is shameless, for he does not try to hide his offense but rather calls his brothers to see as well.  And now the brothers for the first time witness their father having been humiliated.  The story shows the collapse of natural relationships, the collapse of respect, and the existence of shamelessness, lewdness, as well as wicked sexual abuse.  A new kind of evil has been unleashed within humanity.   And Shem and Japheth in shock can do nothing more than cover the nakedness of their father.  They are shamed and embarrassed for their father’s humiliation.  They do not even want to look upon what has happened.   And yet they do nothing to their younger brother, but await their father’s sobering up from his drunken stupor to discover what has been done to him.   Either in respect for their father’s authority, or lacking the will to deal with the offense, they leave it up to their father to deal with the evil which has occurred.  Is it possible that they were in such shock to realize that though God had saved them from the wickedness of the world by means of the ark and the flood, that they witness and realize Ham has now committed the same old sins in the newly purified world?  The darkest abuse and violation in a family has occurred.  Natural relationships have been destroyed.  Two brothers are called in to be voyeuristic witnesses to the indignation and they are so shamed that they will not even look but want to cover it up – and then let their father deal with it.  

 Next:   God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:18-23 (c)

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2010)


Human Fetus at 6 months

As we remember today the Sanctity of Human Life, I offer some thoughts from Walter Brueggemann taken from his book,  TEXTS UNDER NEGOTIATION: THE BIBLE AND POSTMODERN IMAGINATION.  In the mother’s womb, a miracle takes place – a child comes into being and upon birth breathes the breath that God breathes.  Inspiration is natural to humans from the beginning!

“The text that we know best concerning the origin of the human person is Gen. 2:7: ‘God formed the human persons,’ who are a combination of ordinary ‘dust of the ground’ and the breath that God breathes.  Israel knows about babies and about birth.  They had watched the moment of spanking in which the newborn inhales breath and in that wondrous moment begins to live and cry and eat… and they were amazed.  The baby received it, took it in.  Such breath is a gift given from outside the baby and only received by the baby.  All our science has not much advanced beyond the wonder that what is needed for life is indeed given.

A more specific statement of this fragile wonder is Ps. 139:13-16:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

 My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

all the days that were formed for me,

when none of them as yet existed.

 The psalmist imagines God being present in the very formation of the embryo, as it is formed, knit together, intricately woven, so that only God beheld my ‘unformed substance.’  The language is almost eerie in its depth of speaking of the indescribable mystery and hiddenness of new life.”  (pp 30-31)

God is part of the creation of each child, His hand is present and active in forming each human being, His breath inspires and gives life, and He imprints His image upon each human even in the mother’s womb.   For each child to survive in the womb, humanity must be willing to extend to that totally dependent being its mercy and love.  We are completely vulnerable before birth, and totally defenseless.  Only if humans recognize their own humanity in that of the unborn will the unborn be permitted to survive.  Survival may be programmed into the genes of every species;

The Holy Family

humans however are a species that must choose to bring their offspring into existence because they have the power to end pregnancies.  For humans, the survival of our offspring is dependent on our own generosity for our children – the willingness to give them life, to share our resources with the next generation.

“The church is the primary place left in our society for the acknowledgment of our previous, undeniable weakness that depends upon uncommon gentleness and generosity.  It is that candid reality of weakness and gentleness that will in the end permit the undoing of an abusive, fearful world of the self-sufficient and the formation of a new counter-world of genuine humanness.  Note well: The claim for human fragility is not rooted in an awareness of mortality and death.  The affirmation of fragility and generosity comes not in the context of death, but in the glorious wonder of birth.  There was a time when I was not, and then by the power, goodness, and mercy of God, I was and I am!  I did not ‘evolve,’ but was loved and named by one even beyond mother and father, a self unashamed, unqualified, naked, beloved, and safe.  Let not your heart be troubled!”  (p 32)

Baby McKenzie and the Right to Life

mckenzie-jeanI want to ask all of the readers of my blog to add to their prayer lists, the one year old baby McKenzie.    McKenzie is in need of a liver/small bowel transplant in order to live.  She has spent much of her short life in hospitals.  Her teen birthing mother has left McKenzie to foster care.  By the grace of God, a foster couple – Chuck and Jean whose own children are all grown – are caring for McKenzie and moving to adopt her. 

At left is a picture of baby McKenzie, her foster Mom, Jean, and my daughter, Julianna, who as a result of her senior project in Allied Health is working with baby McKenzie and her foster parents.  Julie herself has suffered from a critical kidney disease, and is learning about her own health situation through this project.

Most of all, I ask you to remember McKenzie and her foster parents, Jean and Chuck, in your prayers.  All of us who advocate a right to life position, also need to know that advocating bringing all babies to full term means we have to offer up care and financial resources to provide for some of them.  This is the price of being pro-life.

If you would like to donate toward helping Jean and Chuck care for McKenzie, you can send a check to St. Paul Orthodox Church and note on the check that it is for McKenzie.  Send the check to

St. Paul Orthodox Church

 4451 Wagner Rd.

 Dayton, OH 45440

McKenzie and her foster parents are not members of our parish.  But as one way to fulfill what Christ taught us (see my blog Pascha as our Judgment Day), we are offering support for McKenzie as a right to life issue.

Endorse Policies Not Political Parties

While it may be a small victory for pro-life advocates, in the war for America’s heart and mind regarding abortion, every little victory is important, even semantic ones.  

In a New York Times opinion piece Walking the Abortion Plank, Judith Warner reports that the new official Democratic Party platform

“speaks of how ‘health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.’ It declares, ‘The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child,’ and was spun all week as an olive branch to evangelicals, a significant departure from past policy, and a victory for the opponents of abortion rights.”

The shift in the platform’s language is significant and not just symbolic, for it means the Democratic Party is acknowledging the power of pro-life voters and trying to reach out to them.  This is not the same as a shift in policy; the Democratic Party is not backing away from defending pro-choice laws, but it is recognizing that to win elections, you have to win votes, and that there are a significant number of voters who will not vote Democratic on this single issue even if they agree with the Democratic platform on a majority of other issues.

The change in the platform language propmpted ABC News to ask, “Are Democrats Now Pro-Life?

For the Sanctity of Human Life Movement, victory consists not only in getting Pro-life candidates elected, but also in getting all other candidates and political parties to move toward the Pro-life position or to begin respecting pro-life ideals.  In changing its language from supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion to supporting a woman’s decision to have a baby, the party platform moves away from a pro-abortion stance to a much more pro-life and pro-family stand, even though not denying reproductive choice.

It also seems to me that for Christians and for Pro-life organizations this is good reason to endorse policies not political parties.   We should be ever making the political parties come to us and seek our votes, and to make them come up with platform language and policies that we can vote for, rather than allowing any party to assume it has our vote in their pocket.  I am a professed cynic when it comes to political parties and I don’t think churches do themselves any favors in giving blanket endorsement to a party, or even to a politician for that matter.  Make them work for your vote and for your endorsement.   See which of them is most willing to conform to our ideals and then vote accordingly.

Judith Warner is not happy with the Democratic Party shift in platform language.  She concludes her NY Times article with these words:

Sanctifying life – without care for the living – is little more than a morality play.

Supporting families is a moral choice.

She apparently does not believe that a human embryo or a human fetus is human or alive.   But a human embryo or a human fetus is alive, and certainly is human having the full human genetic code.  And certainly there are many ways to be pro-family that do not include abortion.

But she raises a tough and important issue for the Sanctity of Human Life Movement.  Are we saying that the life of the mother is unimportant or not worthy of full consideration or that a human embryo or fetus is more important than the mother?  Do we believe that women who bear the unwanted pregnancies (for certainly they and not the fathers do bear this burden in a particular way) do not have human rights regarding their own lives and bodies? 

Supporting families is indeed a moral choice as Warner affirms.  Supporting families means that Pro-life Voters need also remember that there are many pro-family issues which should be supported as essential corollaries to the Sanctity of Human life – issues of housing, hunger, health care, education and all human services are Pro-life and Pro-family issues.  Opposing abortion is just part of the Pro-Life agenda.   The Sanctity of Human Life also means that we should create a society which ensures support for families, including the working poor.   Without that kind of social support Warner’s criticism has a stinging validity.  Sanctity of human life does mean defending and caring for the living – human embryos, fetuses, children, women, men, the disabled and the elderly.