Proclaiming a Culture of Life
This past week, tens of thousands gathered in Washington DC to mark the 40th 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 cause division among 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 55 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. Yes, we’re shocked when someone murders 27 people in a school in Newtown, CT, yet at the same time we have become desensitized to death all around us. The Sandy Hook shooting made headline news on Dec 14th, yet how many of us have heard about the 1243 people who have been killed through gun violence in the US in the 42 days since then – and that includes 69 teens and 23 more children! Violence and death bombard us every day. From the countless hours we play violent video games and watch violent movies, we all unconsciously cultivate this culture of death.
Think about how our country has been at continuous war for 12 years, and yet in the midst of our comfortable lives, we give little attention to the more than 6600 soldiers who have died, to the fact that more soldiers committed suicide than died in battle this past year, and of course, we give almost no attention to the hundreds of thousands of foreign deaths in the faraway places of our wars.
And this culture of death continues to reach out into more and more aspects of life. This past November, thank God our State of Massachusetts barely defeated an attempt to legalize euthanasia, the killing of the terminally sick. From in the womb and now into our old age, killing and death threaten us.
This spirit and culture of death runs completely contrary to Jesus Christ’s words, “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, the sanctity of life from conception to old age, and a life forever with Jesus in eternity!
When we reflect on abortion, or war, or capital punishment, or 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 life at every stage of our existence, in every part of the world.
Mother Teresa offered a powerful reflection when she noted, ‘The greatest evil in the world today is abortion, 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.”
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. In many cases, we choose to make up for our own lack of moral responsibility and discipline by accepting an easy, quick solution.
Throughout history, the Church has always considered abortion a terrible sin because it is the direct killing of an innocent baby, murdered by mothers, fathers and doctors. 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, a baby, or 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.
We should ask ourselves, 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 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 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 52 million annual abortions, before they were ever even born???
Of course, there may be many stressing, extremely difficult and complex factors that lead to an abortion. The Church must reach out in love and offer support and aid to a mother and child in distress, supporting them spiritually, socially, and economically.
With parents who are considering abortion, we must persuade them with compassion and hope not to abort the child. True love hurts, because it means to give of ourselves. Thus, we must tell the parents to love until it hurts. This means to love until it changes their plans, their free time, and even their future, in order to respect the life of their child.
By abortion, parents do not learn to love, but learn to place their own desires and needs before that of a defenseless child, even if it means killing their own child to solve their problems. They decide to ignore responsibility for the child they have brought into the world, and place themselves 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 topic, we must never forget that Christ does not desire the death of a sinner, but desires repentance and salvation. Whenever abortion or some other violent act is committed, one separates themselves from God. Yet, the central part of the Good News is that there is always hope for repentance, forgiveness and healing. Anyone who has committed evil must live with that fact for the rest of his/her life. But, if any person is truly repentant, turns to God and is ready to change his/her way, then Christ offers forgiveness and healing and a promise of new life.
I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly. This is the culture of life that our faith promotes!
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