The Sanctity of Life
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
I rarely preach politics from the pulpit. I realize in our congregation we have Democrats and Republican; we have those who may be more conservative and others more liberal. Our country is so divided, and if we talk politics, our own church family will quickly become divided. That is, we will become divided if we forget that our ultimate leader is Jesus Christ, and His call is for us to live under the reign of His Kingdom. In Christ, He has a message that stands above any political party. In fact, His message critiques both sides. Neither political party speaks for God or for His Church, for both fall into constant hypocrisy. We always need to remember this so we never deceive ourselves and listen too blindly to the tempting promises that politicians all make.
Well, last Monday I represented Metropolitan Methodios at the invitation of Cardinal Sean O’Malley. The Cardinal invited a group of 60 religious leaders – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Evangelical, Protestant, Black, Latino, Muslim and Jew – to learn about three new bills working their way through the Massachusetts Legislature. The Bills each relate to abortion and are imitating what is happening in other states around the country. Red States are passing particular bills to make abortions more difficult to occur, while Blue States are passing bills to codify the pro-abortion stance. Democrats and Republicans are starting to believe that the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade may possibly change, and therefore states are starting to pass their own legislation to respond to this possibility.
Thus, Massachusetts legislators have presented three new bills for consideration. Last week’s meeting of religious leaders emphasized how we, the religious leaders in Massachusetts, need to make our people aware of what these bills actually say. Although proponents say that these bills are simply trying to protect the decision of Roe v Wade, the very language of the bills reveal how the bills are much more extreme, and go far beyond what the present MA laws are.
For example, the present MA laws allow abortions up to 24 weeks and say that an abortion after 24 weeks can only happen if the life or health of the mother is threatened. In 2017, of the 18,285 abortions in MA, only 23 were on babies past the 24-week mark. The new legislation removes this requirement, allowing abortions through all nine months, so long as the physician decides it is “medically appropriate,” as broadly evaluated “in light of all factors.” Polls consistently show an overwhelming majority of Americans want some restrictions on late term abortions, yet this bill disregards such concerns.
Right now, women 17 years old or younger have to get the consent of at least one parent before having an abortion. Under these bills, girls of any age would be able to procure an abortion without their parents’ consent or even knowledge. And the bills require that health insurance contracts in MA cover abortion and pay 100% of the costs associated with the abortion surgery and related services.
It is imperative that we are aware how these proposed bills go far beyond the laws that we presently have.
Now I realize that there are people in the church today who may express different views on abortion. They may bring up extreme circumstances to justify abortions. These new proposed bills, though, go beyond what is presently the status quo, and take it to an extreme new place. We need to be aware of what these bills actually say.
I also have the sober responsibility, as your spiritual leader, to proclaim clearly the message of Christ’s Gospel and the tradition of the Church concerning the topic of abortion. Throughout history, the Church has definitively maintained that abortion is a grave sin because it is a war against a defenseless child, the direct killing of an innocent baby.
St. Basil the Great said even 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. We Christians believe that new life begins from the moment of conception and every fetus is given the imprint of God's own image and likeness. Imagine, 18 days after conception, before many people even know they are pregnant, the little baby’s heart is beating. After 40 days, brain waves can be recorded. By two months, ALL the baby’s body systems are present.
We emphatically state that it is a grave and terrible sin to end any life. It doesn't matter if we are talking about an old person (as in the debate of euthanasia), a young child, a baby, or a pre-born child. In God's eyes, all are persons created in His image and likeness, and thus have a right to live and fulfill their potential.
How many saints, great leaders, scientists, doctors, and others have been killed before ever being allowed to be born. I often think about Archbishop Anastasios, the holy, visionary, dynamic archbishop of Albania, who is truly one of the great Christian leaders of our time. When his mother was pregnant with him, doctors advised her to have an abortion because of definite health risks. They told her that the child would be born deformed and sickly. Her own life would be in danger during the birth. Abortion was the only solution, they told her.
His mother, however, did not accept their advice. She had a strong faith in God, and a deep respect for life. No, she rejected the option of abortion, and instead, gave birth to a son, who later became one of the greatest leaders in our Orthodox Church, and even a role model to powerful world leaders – as a peacemaker, a visionary, and an intellectual giant. What a terrible loss to the world if Archbishop Anastasios would have been aborted. Yet how many other great men and women have been killed before they were ever even born? Imagine, 50 million abortions each year throughout the world.
Of course, I understand there are many different reasons which may lead people to consider abortion. Sometimes there are desperate circumstances which may lead one to consider this traumatic choice. The mother may be too young, may have been abused, or may face extreme socio-economic circumstances. There may be fear of certain health issues, and then there can be circumstances related to incest, rape, or some other horrible trauma. The Church gently must reach out to people in such difficult circumstances and offer their loving care. Yet we carefully reject any circumstances as valid reasons for an abortion, while simultaneously walking with those who face such a terrible choice.
True love always hurts, because it means to give of ourselves. This means to love even if it hurts our plans, our free time, and even our future, in order to respect the life of their child.
God says, "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.
Of course, any time we speak about abortion, it is necessary to offer a word of hope to any mother, father, or doctor who has already performed an abortion. A grave sin has been committed, but there is always hope for repentance, forgiveness and healing. Any person who has gone through this traumatic event must live with that fact for the rest of their lives. If a person is truly repentant, and ready to change their ways, of course Christ offers forgiveness and healing. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself said, "I do not desire the death of a sinner, but that they repent and be saved.”
I have gone into more detail about abortion as a whole but I want to conclude by turning our attention back to the legislature that is presently being debated in Massachusetts. Let us become aware of the danger in this new, extreme proposed legislation, and make others aware, and then let us act. We do not want such legislation to pass in our State. Let’s live under the reign and influence of our Lord, the giver and author and sustainer of life, from the womb to the tomb.