Sermon delivered January 18, 2009.
Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday. Why is it called "Sanctity of Life" and why today? This is the Sunday closest to January 22nd and on that day in 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States decided on the infamous "Roe vs. Wade" case that resulted in the legalization of abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. "Abortion" means the deliberate termination of a baby's life within the womb of its mother. Since 1973 well over 50 million abortions have occurred in the US averaging over 4,000 per day. Since the Orthodox Church teaches that all human life is sacred and that abortion is wrong and immoral, the title "Sanctity of Life" seeks to help raise awareness about the issue.
Why is all human life sacred? As with many Orthodox teachings, it begins in Genesis with God's creation of the world and the life within it. After each day of creation it says that "God saw that it was good." Now, when God created mankind, He made man and woman in His image and likeness (Gen.1:26) thus giving them a most unique quality in the created order. After this God saw everything He made and the scripture says, "it was very good" (Gen.1:31). To underline the goodness of creation, especially of humankind, the eternal Word and Son of God, became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and became a man. This is what we confess in our Creed every Divine Liturgy. Thus, when Jesus, the Holy and Divine One, became a little tiny embryo/fetus/baby/child within the womb of Mary, He sanctified all human life in the womb. Not that life in the womb was not holy before this, it was. But with the Incarnation of Jesus, God put His exclamation point on it forever. St. Paul further develops the point in Corinthians in his teaching that each human person's body is a temple of God's Holy Spirit (1Cor.3:16-17; 6:19).
Therefore, we Orthodox Christians have a duty and obligation to teach the sacredness of life in the womb. Some will join the annual March for Life in Washington DC that occurs every January 22nd. Some will join similar gatherings on the same day at their own state capitols and local government offices. Some will call their respective elected representatives to enact or defeat legislation regarding this issue. One example is the "Freedom of Choice Act" or FOCA which seeks to establish and absolute right to choose and abortion without restrictions of viability or parental consent laws.
Allow me to take a little side track here. For many people when we hear the word abortion, we get uncomfortable, anxious or irritated because we may have strong feelings about the issue. Most of us immediately think of it as a political issue an then categorize ourselves and others into conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, pro-life or pro-choice. Thus, seeing as political in nature and easily divisive, we think it should not be discussed in social gatherings and especially not in Church. However, in thinking like this we do ourselves a disservice. Sanctity of life issues are moral, not political in nature. Yet, in today's society we've narrowed these issues down exclusively into the political arena. In other words, politics is the only context for discussing the issue. Therefore, when thinking and conversing about abortion and other issues, we use primarily political language and solutions.
Moral issues certainly have political implications but they go way beyond the political arena itself permeating every aspect of society including our personal and communal lives. The real question is where do our morals and values come from? Who teaches us and shapes our opinions? Is it Madison Avenue? Is it Wall Street? Is it from Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol Hill? Is it MSNBC, CNN or Fox News? Is it Oprah? Morality, what we believe about right and wrong behavior, must not originate from sources whose primary goal is accumulation of wealth, power and popularity. Our values must come from the One Who created us, from God Himself, as revealed in all His fullness through sacred Scriptures and Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Christian Church. Why? Because only God knows what is right, good, true and beautiful.
We cannot change society through politics. Our culture is not shaped by political legislation. Rather, it's the other way around. Politics follows culture. So whatever changes we see in government, it is because society itself and the people who live in it have changed first. So that means that God's teachings as revealed in the life of the Church must change us first. Our thoughts, words and behaviors must reflect that life is sacred and that abortion is wrong. Yet, this implies a holistic, comprehensive (not a narrow, short-sighted) approach. Abortions result because of unwanted pregnancies and lack of support during pregnancy. We must also address these issues by teaching the sacredness of sexual intimacy within marriage, ministering to women in crisis pregnancies, post-abortion counseling and forgiveness, supporting adoption services, and teaching responsibility for our actions-especially to men. One recent article pointed out that in our society, regard sexuality, children are encouraged to grow-up as quickly as possible while adults are encouraged to remain locked in perpetual adolescence.
Lest we forget the other end of the life cycle, we must remember that Jesus was a death-row inmate who eventually was executed. Therefore, we must minister, and some of us do, to those in prison and make sure that all criminals are treated justly and fairly. Even before this, we must minister to those at risk to commit crime. Recent studies show that the primary determining factor for becoming an imprisoned criminal is being raised by a single mother or in other words, growing up without a father. We must reach out to help these mothers and children before the family and fathers of gangs and hoodlums do.
Now Jesus did not have the chance to grow old, retire and live in a nursing home. That certainly does not mean that the elderly are not sacred and can be forgotten about. Jesus entrusted His mother, the Virgin Mary Theotokos, to the Apostle John and he took care of her until she reposed in her old age. We have a duty to minister to the elderly both as individual families and a community of faith. Are we doing everything we can to ensure that our aging mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters are being taken care of in a full manner that helps them live with dignity? The same goes for those who are ill with acute, chronic or terminal illness. Are we ministering to them as well? God forbid anyone should feel so desperate and alone that they would consider suicide, even with the assistance of a physician. God forbid that we become so desperate to heal one person that we are willing to sacrifice another through cloning and embryo harvesting.
Finally, we can see that Sanctity of Life is a broad, comprehensive and most important issue. Every belief and teaching we embrace, every word we speak, and every action we take ultimately speaks to either the sacredness of life or to its depravity. We cannot fool ourselves to think anyone can believe anything they want and it doesn't matter. We cannot talk of one issue or one solution in isolation to others. Every human life, and every stage of human life is sacred. Let us embrace and live this moral ethic, and take it as an imperative to change ourselves, teach others, and shape our culture and society to reflect the Kingdom of God on earth. Amen!
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.