Pro-Life quotations: the sanctity of life in the Orthodox tradition

Ana Banderas of LiveAction.org explains why we can insist on a total ban on abortions

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I FORGOT to write to you a sweet little story.

Once while I was kneeling – I had become tired while praying – I saw something wondrous: a fiery youth had two beautiful small girls beside him.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

This touching story of everlasting life was told by Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959, pictured) of Mount Athos, in a private letter. 

One of them was our Maria and the other was Virginia – the two little ones who had died [as small children].

The young man said to them, “This is your brother. Do you recognize him?”

Maria was older. “I recognize him,” she said, “but many years have passed since then.”

The other one said, “I did not see him when I was alive.”

Then he said to them, “Embrace him and then we shall leave.” And the two little ones kissed me like sweet-smelling flowers and left.

Then I came to myself with eyes full of tears, recalling the joy which takes place in the heavens when sinners repent and when the righteous enter paradise.

From “Monastic Wisdom”, published by Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona, and available from Skete.com.

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An icon of Christ blessing the children

Christ blessing the children (Mt 19:13-14)

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The Sanctity of Life

BEFORE I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.

Jeremiah 1:5

Inspirational words from the greatest US President of modern times.

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Some Prayers

For the children and their parents

AGAIN we pray for the children of God condemned to death by the unjust judgment of men: that the Lord our God would soften the hearts of those who seek their violent destruction, and rescue those who are being led forth to the slaughter, we diligently pray Thee, O Lord, hearken and have mercy!

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

From an Office for the Victims of Abortion, adapted from a traditional Slavic Molieben or Supplicatory Prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ, by Oklahoma Orthodox Christians for Life.

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For help in doubt

MY God, my God, look upon Thy [name].
Open thy heavens once again, and let a drop of Thy divine grace fall.
Enlighten the eyes of her soul, and have mercy on her.

O my God! My God! Thou who seest the secret parts of our soul!
Sweeten our heart which the evil one has embittered and which has forgotten thy love.

From “Monastic Wisdom” by Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959), available at Skete.com.

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Forgiveness, always forgiveness

THERE is no such thing as an unforgivable sin except for an unrepented sin.

Elder Thaddaeus of Vitovnica (+2003)

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AND David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD.

And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.

2 Samuel 12:13

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A prayer free from judgmentalism

HE doesn’t have Your grace, my Christ, and that is why he sins. If You leave me, I shall do worse things. If I am standing, it is because You are supporting me.

This brother does as much as he can. He is blind. How do You expect him to see without eyes? He is poor. How can You demand riches from him? Give him riches. Give him eyes to see.

From “Monastic Wisdom” by Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959), available at Skete.com.

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1. The Position of the Orthodox Church

The ancient and Orthodox Christian tradition is uniformly opposed to abortion and abortifacient contraception.

The Orthodox Churches together (including the Oriental Orthodox, or Coptic Church) are in every case firmly and explicitly Pro-Life Churches.

See below for direct quotations from authorities from the time of the Apostles onwards.

Of particular help in understanding our position are:

An Orthodox View of Abortion: The Amicus Curiae Submitted to the Supreme Court
OrthodoxWiki: Pro-Life Resources
Saint Katherine Orthodox Church – Patristic Testimonies on Abortion

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Revd Dr Stanley Harakas on “The Stand of the Orthodox Church on controversial issues”.

Oklahoma Orthodox Christians for Life

Oklahoma Orthodox Christians For Life is dedicated to pre-abortion counseling to women with problem pregnancies in order to offer and provide alternatives to abortion, pre and post-natal care and assistance including medical and financial assistance to families with problem pregnancies, arrangement of adoption services, informational seminars to groups and churches of all kinds, post-abortion syndrome counseling by professionally-trained counselors (offered to post-abortive mothers, fathers, and any other individuals who have been involved in the procurement of an abortion), and continuous interaction with lawmakers and the judiciary to witness to the truth about abortion.

Orthodox Christians For Life

Educational and catechetical resources supporting Pro-Life activity. Includes a Newsletter (“Rachel’s Children”), videos, and other educational resources.

OrthodoxWiki: Pro-Life Resources

A list of links, including further information on Orthodox attitudes to abortion and stem cell research.  See also the article on contraception.

Charity Fund for Protection of Family, Motherhood and Childhood (Russia, website mostly in Russian)

A charity in Moscow, Russia, providing counselling, financial support, and other practical help to support mothers who are under pressure to kill their baby. Help is available throughout pregnancy and the infancy of their child.

Η Αγκαλιά (Greece, website in Greek)

Provides completely free services to pregnant women experiencing any problems because of their pregnancy, and after the birth of their child.

Orthodox Medical Educational Center “Zhizn”

A range of materials on Pro-Life issues from the Russian Church, including several in English.

Saint Katherine Orthodox Church – Patristic Testimonies on Abortion

A selection of texts from our tradition, many of which are the same as those collected below.

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Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin in 1998

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2. Quotations for the Christian Tradition

Athenagoras (2nd century)

Athenagoras the Athenian has been complaining that pagans accuse Christians of loose morals, whereas Christian teaching on adultery and pederasty is abundantly clear. The pagans have also been recycling the old cliché, that Christians are cannibals who kill and eat the flesh of their founder in the Eucharist. Far from it, he says: we don’t even watch executions or allow abortion.

FOR when they know that we cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly; who of them can accuse us of murder or cannibalism? Who does not reckon among the things of greatest interest the contests of gladiators and wild beasts, especially those which are given by you? But we, deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured such spectacles.

How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder?

For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fœtus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it. But we are in all things always alike and the same, submitting ourselves to reason, and not ruling over it.

A Plea for the Christians, 35 [A.D. 177]

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St Augustine of Hippo

St Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

SOMETIMES, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born.

De Nube et Concupiscentia 1.17

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The Epistle of Barnabas (1st century)

Thou shalt not commit fornication: thou shalt not commit adultery: thou shalt not be a corrupter of youth. … Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born. Thou shalt not withdraw thy hand from thy son, or from thy daughter, but from their infancy thou shalt teach them the fear of the Lord. Thou shalt not covet what is thy neighbour’s, nor shalt thou be avaricious. Thou shalt not be joined in soul with the haughty, but thou shalt be reckoned with the righteous and lowly. Receive thou as good things the trials which come upon thee.

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St Basil of Caesarea (?329-379)

THE woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed. In this case it is not only the being about to be born who is vindicated, but the woman in her attack upon herself; because in most cases women who make such attempts die.

The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events if we regard it as done with intent. […] Women also who administer drugs to cause abortion, as well as those who take poisons to destroy unborn children, are murderesses.

From Letter 188.2.

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St John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom (347-407)

WHEREFORE I beseech you flee fornication, and the mother of it, drunkenness. Why sow where reaping is impossible, or rather even if thou dost reap, the fruit brings thee great shame? For even if a child be born, it at once disgraces thyself, and has itself had
injustice done it in being born through thee illegitimate and base.

And if thou leave it never so much money, both the son of an harlot, and that of a servant-maid, is disreputable at home, disreputable in the city, disreputable in a court of law: disreputable too wilt thou be also, both in thy lifetime, and when dead.

For if thou have departed even, the memorials of thy unseemliness abide. Why then bring disgrace upon all these? Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? where there are many efforts at abortion? where there is murder before the birth? for even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also.

You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevent its being born.

Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?

For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine.

Hence too come idolatries, since many, with a view to become acceptable, devise incantations, and libations, and love-potions, and countless other plans. Yet still after such great unseemliness, after slaughters, after idolatries, the thing seems to many to belong to things indifferent, aye, and to many that have wives too.

Whence the mingle (φορυτὸς) of mischief is the greater. For sorceries [or: poisonings] are applied not to the womb that is prostituted, but to the injured wife, and there are plottings without number, and invocations of devils, and necromancies, and daily wars, and truceless fightings, and home-cherished jealousies.

Wherefore also Paul, after saying, “not in chamberings and wantonness,” proceeds, “not in strife and envying,” as knowing the wars that result therefrom; the upsetting of families, the wrongs done to legitimate children, the other ills unnumbered.

That we may then escape from all these, let us put on Christ, and be with Him continually. For this is what putting Him on is; never being without Him, having Him evermore visible in us, through our sanctification, through our moderation. So we say of friends, such an one is wrapped up (ἐνεδύσατο) in such another, meaning their great love, and keeping together incessantly. For he that is wrapped up in anything, seems to be that which he is wrapped in. Let then Christ be seen in every part of us.

From Homily XXIV On Romans, available online at CCEL.

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St Caesarius of Arles (470-543)

NO woman should take drugs for purposes of abortion, nor should she kill her children that have been conceived or are already born. If anyone does this, she should know that before Christ’s tribunal she will have to plead her case in the presence of those she has killed. Moreover, women should not take diabolical draughts with the purpose of not being able to conceive children.

A woman who does this ought to realize that she will be guilty of as many murders as the number of children she might have borne. I would like to know whether a woman of nobility who takes deadly drugs to prevent conception wants her maids or tenants to do so. Just as every woman wants slaves born for her so that they may serve her, so she herself should nurse all the children she conceives, or entrust them to others for rearing.

Otherwise, she may refuse to conceive children or, what is more serious, be willing to kill souls which might have been good Christians. Now, with what kind of a conscience does she desire slaves to be born of her servants, when she herself refuses to bear children who might become Christians?

From Sermon 44.2

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The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (1st century)

Thou shalt not commit murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not commit pæderasty, thou shalt not commit fornication, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not practice magic, thou shalt not practice witchcraft, thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.

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St Hippolytus of Rome (?170-?236)

WOMEN who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person.

See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!

Refutation of All Heresies [A.D. 228]

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St Jerome (347-420)

YOU may see many women widows before wedded, who try to conceal their miserable fall by a lying garb. Unless they are betrayed by swelling wombs or by the crying of their infants, they walk abroad with tripping feet and heads in the air.

Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder.

Letter 22

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Tertullian (?160-?225)

IN our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.

Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]

AMONG surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.

There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive. …

[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive”.

Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does.

The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion (Ex. 21:22–24).

The Soul §§ 25, 27 & 37 [A.D. 210]

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Ecclesiastical Canons

Canon II: “A woman who aborts deliberately is liable to trial as a murderess. This is not a precise assertion of some figurative and inexpressible conception that passes current among us. For here there is involved the question of providing for the infants to be born, but also for the woman who has plotted against her own self. For in most cases the women die in the course of such operations, but besides this there is to be noted the fact that the destruction of the embryo constitutes another murder…. It behooves us, however, not to extend their confessions to the extreme limit of death, but to admit them at the end of the moderate period of ten years, without specifying a definite time, but adjusting the cure to the manner of penitence.”

Canon XXI: “Regarding women who become prostitutes and kill their babies, and who make it their business to concoct abortives, the former rule barred them for life from communion, and they are left without resource. But having found a more philanthropic alternative, we have fixed the penalty at ten years, in accordance with the fixed degrees. …”

“As for women who destroy embryos professionally, and those (non-prostitutes) who give or take poisons with the object of aborting babies and dropping them prematurely, we prescribe the rule that they, by economy, be treated up to five years at most.”

Canon XCI: As for women who furnish drugs for the purpose of procuring abortions, and those who take fetus-killing poisons, they are made subject to penalty for murderers.

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Fr Stanley Harakas

BECAUSE our humanity is a psychosomatic unity and because Orthodox Christians see all of life as a continuous and never ending development of the image and likeness toward theosis and full humanity, the achievement of particular stages of development of the conceptus is not ethically relevant to the question of abortion.

In his second canon, St. Basil specifically rules out the artificial distinction between the “formed” and “unformed” conceptus (The Rudder, pp. 789-790). Thus, any abortion is seen as an evil. Since the physical and the personal aspects of human existence are understood as essential constitutive elements of our humanity, the conceptus—unfulfilled and incomplete as it may be—may not be destroyed under normal circumstances. Eastern Orthodox ethicists reject as unworthy those counterarguments which appeal to economic and social reasons and so hold life to be less valuable than money, pride, or convenience. Armed with modern genetic information, they also reject the argument that an abortion may be justified because a woman is entitled to control her own body. That basic affirmation of self-determination is not rejected; what is rejected is the claim that the conceptus is a part of the mother’s tissue. It is not her body; it is the body and life of another human being entrusted to her for care and nurture.

For the Health of Body and Soul: An Eastern Orthodox Introduction to Bioethics, 2002