The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church on Abortion

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.  

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THE HOLY FATHERS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH ON ABORTION

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[The following represent the teaching of the Orthodox Church from the (early) 2nd Century through the 5th Century...]

From the Letter to Diognetus:

(speaking of what distinguishes Christians from pagans) "They marry, as do all others; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring" (literally, "cast away fetuses").

From the Didache:

"You shall not slay the child by abortions."

From the Letter of Barnabus:

"You shall not destroy your conceptions before they are brought forth, nor kill them after they born."

From Saint Clement:

"Those who use abortifacients commit homicide."

From Saint Basil the Great:

"The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. The hair-splitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us."

The Holy Canons of the Church forbid abortion i.e., Canon XCI, Canon II, Canon XXI.

(All quotes are from "The Church Fathers on Social issues," Department of Youth Ministry of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

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Given the divisiveness of this issue in contemporary America, it is not surprising that teens would be unsure of what they should believe in regards to abortion. Further compounding this problem is the seeming silence of the Church on this issue. While the Church has a clear and strong position on the issue of abortion, in recent years the Church has not taken an active part in the public debate and discussion of this issue...The Church has not been silent because she does not care, but because many in the church feel the Church's position is well known. It is apparent from the survey that whether it is or is not well known, many teens are unsure what they should believe concerning abortion.

We know from the survey that one of the most effective ways of teens understanding and accepting the Church's teaching on abortion is for both parents and clergy to dialogue with them on this issue.

The Church's View on Abortion

The Church teaches that God is the source and sustainer of life and that He created us as male and female with a purpose in mind. The Church views sexual relations between a husband and wife as something very sacred and good and, in fact, when it bears life, the Church views this action as participating in the very action of God's creation. The Holy Scripture says that God became man so that we might become one with Him. Here in this very act of sexual intercourse, when it bears fruit and a child is conceived we already have a foretaste of becoming one with God, by sharing in the creative life giving action of generating life. "For in sexual intercourse, it is not only the seeds of physical being that are united but also the soul. A father and mother not only transmit their physical characteristics to the child but they also transmit its soul. This Sacred Power man possesses of continuing God's creation with Him is indeed a great wonder (miracle)". Hence, to generate life is participation in the Divine Life. The Church opposes abortion because abortion consciously stops the process of life already begun. Since God is the source of life, and once the woman's egg is fertilized and if allowed to grow and develop in the woman's womb, it will result in the birth of a child. Therefore, any intervention at any point once that process has begun (conception) results in the ending of life and a rejection of the wonderful gift of life and the ability to generate life given to us by God. Hence, it not only a rejection of the gift of a new life but rebellion against God's creative energy and love.

Abortion is not a new controversy brought about by new technologies and understandings of our body. Abortion is an ageless controversy struggled with and recorded at least from the time of Hippocrates, the ancient Greek "father of medicine." Until recently, doctors who took the Oath of Hippocrates swore not to give poisonous drinks that would abort a fetus. In Roman law, abortion was considered a major crime and in the New Testament, a fetus was considered a life already begun. The New Testament Gospel written by the physician Luke the Evangelist, has at its beginning, the conception of two children. The first, Saint John the Baptist, the one called to prepare the way of the Lord and the second, the Christ Child, the Messiah, God Incarnate.

The Church in Her liturgical life recognizes these two conceptions by setting aside feast days nine months before the Church celebrates each of these births. For example, in the case of Jesus Christ, while the Church celebrates His Birth on December 25th, she also celebrates His conception on March 25th; In the case of Saint John the Baptist his birth on June 24th and his conception on September 23rd. Both the Scriptural accounts and the liturgical calendar make a statement concerning the Church's belief that life begins at conception. In the case of our Lord, March 25th is one of the major Feast Days of the year. The Church believes it is the moment of conception life has been given and begins; She marks these days with great celebration and sacredness. In the great feast of the Nativity of Mary (September 8th) celebrated as the first feast of the Church New Year (which begins on September 1st) one reads concerning Mary, that she was chosen by God before she was even conceived" "Come, all ye believers, let us hasten to the Virgin; for behold she was forechosen a Mother to our God before she was conceived in the womb..." It appears that even before conception God has plans for our life.

In keeping with the Scriptural teachings the holy Apostles spoke out against abortion, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery; do not corrupt boys, do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant." Saint Barnabas, one of the early Church writers, said, "You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not slay the child by abortion. You shall not kill that which has already been generated." Saint Basil the Great writes, "Those who give potions for the destruction of the child conceived in the womb are murderers, as are those who take potions which kill the child." Saint John Chrysostom considered the abortionist as "even worse than a murderer." ("The Orthodox Church" [Newspaper] October 1972.) Again, "...Human life begins at the moment of conception and all who hold life as sacred and worthy of preservation whenever possible are obliged at all costs to defend the lives of unborn children regardless of the stage of their embryonic development." ("Seminar in Medical Ethics," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, Vol. 17, no 3, 1973, p. 246.) (Reference: Moral and Ethical Issues: Confronting Orthodox Youth Across North America by Archpriest Joseph F. Purpura)

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George