Respecting Life

This past Friday, tens of thousands gathered in Washington DC to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v Wade. This annual March for Life draws our nation’s attention not only to the topic of abortion, but also focuses on proclaiming a culture of life instead of death. I realize that this topic is one that can passionately divide people, but we followers of Jesus Christ need to soberly and seriously reflect on an issue that takes the lives of 1.4 million babies a year in our own country, or approximately 60 million children since 1973, and which takes the lives of 40-50 million babies every year worldwide!

Unfortunately, we live in a society saturated with a culture of death. We mourn each time we hear about a mass shooting in our country, but I can’t say any of us are really shocked anymore. It’s become too common place, and we’ve become numb to the shootings. Death and killings are all around us. Recently, I had a friend planning a visit to Cairo, Egypt later this year, and his family was concerned about the danger of traveling to that part of the world. Yet when my friend looked up the most dangerous cities in the world, Chicago ranked 3rd on the list, with its more than 3000 homicides last year. Death is all around us, and news of violence and death bombard us every single day. If we add to this actual death the countless hours we fill our minds with violent video games and violent movies, we all unconsciously cultivate more and more this culture of death.

And it is exactly this culture of death that continues to reach out into more and more aspects of life. We now have five states in the US which have legalized euthanasia. So from abortion in the womb to euthanasia at any age, killing and death are normalized.

This spirit and culture of death runs completely contrary to Jesus Christ and His message of Good News. “I came to give you LIFE, and to give it to you abundantly” (John 10:10). Our Christian faith is all about LIFE – a new and abundant life in Christ here and now. We respect the sanctity of life from conception to old age, the dignity of life at every stage throughout life, ending with a life of eternity with Jesus Christ!

Whether we reflect on abortion, or gun violence, or war, or capital punishment, or other forms of violence, our challenge is not to focus on the culture of death all around us, but to emphasize the path of God, which is a proclamation of life – of respecting and cherishing and experiencing life, an abundant life, at every stage of our existence.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta offered a powerful witness to life. ‘The greatest evil in the world today is abortion,’ she would say, “because it is a war against an innocent, defenseless child. Any country or people that accept abortion are not teaching their people to love the defenseless. Instead, we are teaching them to use whatever violence is needed, to dispose of the unwanted and to fulfill their own desires.”

Very difficult and uncomfortable words to hear. I realize that people may debate and argue about some unusual circumstances for abortion, but we must first acknowledge that the vast majority of abortions occur because a parent or parents decide that these little babies pose a threat to their way of life. And thus, too many choose a path that will not disrupt our lives too much, regardless of the moral consequences.

As Christians, we need to be very clear with when life begins. In our Church calendar, we celebrate the conception of Jesus, the conception of the Virgin Mary, the conception of St John the Baptist. We remember the day they were conceived in the womb, because we acknowledge this as the moment that life begins! And thus, throughout history, the Church has always considered abortion a terrible sin because it is extinguishing the life of an innocent baby. St. Basil the Great said in the 4th century, "Those who give medicines for the destruction of the child conceived in the womb are murderers." (8th canon of St. Basil) The Sixth Ecumenical Council, held in the year 691, decreed, "As for those who furnish drugs for the purpose of procuring abortion and those who take fetus-killing poisons, they are made subject to the penalty prescribed for murderers" (canon 91).

From the Orthodox perspective, all life comes from God and represents the most precious gift that our Creator bestowed upon us. From conception, the imprint of God's own image and likeness are given to us. As Christians, we emphatically state that it is a grave and terrible sin to end a life, whether in old age, as young child, as a baby, or as a pre-born fetus.  In God's eyes, all are created in His image, and thus have a right to live and fulfill their potential.

How many saints, great leaders, scientists, doctors, and visionaries have been killed before ever being allowed to be born. I often think about Archbishop Anastasios, the holy, dynamic and charismatic Archbishop of Albania, for whom doctors advised his mother that she should have an abortion because of the risk to her own life. They warned her that if she gave birth, her child would be born deformed and sickly, and her own life would be in danger. His mother, however, possessed a strong faith in God and a deep respect for life. She rejected the option of abortion, and instead, gave birth to a son who became one of the great peacemakers, visionaries, and spiritual giants of not only our Orthodox Church, but of the entire world today!

What a terrible loss to the world if Archbishop Anastasios would have been aborted. Yet how many other great men and women are killed, among the 50 million annual abortions, before they were ever even born???

Of course, there may be many stressful, extremely difficult and complex factors that lead to an abortion. For some families, this decision is an extremely difficult one filled with anguish. The Church must always reach out in love and support to a mother and child in distress, supporting them not only spiritually, but especially socially and economically in this time of extreme crisis! With parents who are considering abortion, we must offer compassion and hope not to abort the child, and offer the support and means to help them in whatever what they need.  True love hurts because it means to give of ourselves.  Thus, we must tell the parents to love until it hurts, and we must be willing ourselves to help until it hurts.  This means to love until it changes our plans and even our future, in order to respect the life of each and every child. 

With the option of abortion, we do not learn to love but learn to place our own desires and needs before that of a defenseless child, even if it means killing that child to solve our problems.  We decide to ignore responsibility for the child that has come to life, and place ourselves in the role of God. Remember what God says in the Bible:  "Even if a mother could forget her child, I will not forget you.  I have carved you in the palm of my hand" (Isaiah 49:15).  That unborn child has been carved in the hand of God from the moment of conception. He or she is a beloved child, created in God’s very image.

Our Lord Jesus proclaimed Good News about life. Thus, whenever preaching on this sensitive topic, we must also highlight that Christ never desires the death of a sinner, but wishes for repentance and salvation. Whenever abortion or some other violent act is committed, one separates themselves from God. Yet, the Good News is that there is always hope for repentance, forgiveness and healing. Anyone who has committed an abortion must live with that fact for the rest of their lives. Yet by God’s amazing grace and unconditional love, anyone who turns back to God can receive Christ’s forgiveness and mercy, His healing presence and a promise of new life. 

I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly. May we remember these words of life, and promote the culture of life which our faith teaches!

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