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“D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons by Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 395). Canon 2 of St. Basil (whose canons were specifically affirmed by the 4th and 6th Ecu…”
In recent years, there are lines of division that not only show the signs of an emerging schism in the Orthodox Church — it is becoming increasingly clear that we are witnessing the birth of a new religion, which will only retain some of the outward trappings of the Orthodox Christian Faith, but in fact is increasingly becoming unrecognizable as Christian. We see this when it comes to how the innovators see the sanctity of life, sexuality, human nature, the Church, and Tradition.
The Pro-Abortion “Orthodox”
As we currently contemplate the prospect of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, it is important to remember that in January of this year, at the March for Life, Archbishop Elpidophoros used the occasion to affirm his support for abortion “rights.”
When I first saw the above meme, I thought a critic had put it together, only to find that this was the image from Greek Archdiocesan website — and so evidently they were proud of what he said, and wanted these two quotes to be especially noted.
Here is the full text of his speech, taken from the official website of the Greek Archdiocese:
“Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Today, we come together in solidarity with our Brother Bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.
We affirm the gift and sanctity of life – all life, born and unborn. As Christians we confess that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Every life is worthy of our prayer and our protection, whether in the womb, or in the world. We are all responsible for the well-being of children. We are their “keepers,” and cannot shirk from our accountability for their welfare.
At the same time, we also affirm our respect for the autonomy of women. It is they who bring forth life into the world. By His incarnation, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ assumed human nature, through His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. She freely chose to bring Him into the world, and God respected her freedom. We can and must make the case for life, both born and unborn, by our own example of unconditional love.
We march not for coercion.
We march with compassion,
And with our arms extended to embrace all.
Let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.
Lord, You have granted us the opportunity to offer these common prayers in unison and have promised that when two or three gather in Your name, You are there also. Fulfill now, O Lord, who was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of Your All-Holy Spirit, the petitions of Your servants. Remember, Lord, the people here present and those who are absent with good cause. Have mercy on them and on us according to the multitude of Your mercy. Remember, O God, all those whom we are not able to commemorate by forgetfulness or because of their multitude since You know the name and age of each, even from their mother’s womb. For You, Lord, are the helper of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, the savior of the afflicted, the haven of the voyager, and the physician of the sick, the protector of the voiceless. Be all things to all, You who know all people, their requests, their households, and their needs. For You are the Giver of Life, bringing each person from non-being into being, sealing each person with love and sanctity. May we come to the light of Your Truth and glorify You, the Giver of Life, together with Your Father, and Your All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
Clearly Archbishop Elpidophoros agrees with Roe vs. Wade. And so giving such a speech at the March for Life was an insult and a betrayal of all who have prayed and marched to overturn it for nearly a half century.
You find the most devote representatives of every Christian denomination at the March for Life, which has taken place every year since Roe vs. Wade made abortion on demand the law of the land. To have an Orthodox bishop participate in this March, be given a platform, and to have him endorse “a woman’s right to choose” to kill her baby was an embarrassment. And make no mistake, everyone understood exactly what he was saying. The Washington Post cited it as an example of a “pro-choice” shift among many Christian and Jewish groups. George Demacopoulos, editor of “Public Orthodoxy,” who champions the abandonment of Christian morality in the Orthodox Church, is cited in support of Archbishop Elpidophoros’ coming out speech:
“George Demacopoulous [sic], a Fordham University theology professor and expert on Orthodox Christianity noted that abortion is legal in every major Orthodox country. While the faith views abortion as tragic and wrong, he said, it also respects the autonomy of women. Church and state are generally separate, he said, and abortion is more divorced from politics.
“In the United States, the debate is very much positioned as these two goods at war with one another; we’re being asked to pick. And he’s saying that’s theologically wrong,” he said of Elpidophoros. “It’s a Christian truism that you can hold seemingly contradictory views. Christian moral teaching isn’t black and white“” (Washington Post: “The threat to Roe v. Wade is driving a religious movement for reproductive choice,” by Michelle Boorstein, February 5, 2022, Emphasis added).
This is part of a pattern on the part of the Fordhamites at “Public Orthodoxy,” of downplaying Christian morality, and suggesting that it is fluid, something apart from dogma, and therefore open to debate and revision. Here they suggest that one can affirm the sanctity of life, while supporting the “right” to murder the innocent. Elsewhere, they suggest that perhaps homosexual sex might be allowable, and transgenderism is something we should embrace. Up until recently, while we have seen a shift on the part of modernists in the past decade towards defending sexual deviancy, they at least used to give lip service to being pro-life. Apparently, the slippery slope is a thing, and where it stops, nobody knows.
What does George Demacopoulos mean when he says that we believe abortion is “tragic and wrong”? The Church has unambiguously taught, from the beginning that abortion is not just a tragedy or a wrong choice, but that it is murder. If you believe it is murder, affirming someone’s right to murder someone else is moral nonsense.
The earliest Christian document outside of the New Testament is the Didache (which is usually dated to be of first century origin), and it says:
“…thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born” (Didache 2:2).
Canon 91 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council states:
“As for women who furnish drugs for the purpose of procuring abortion, and those who take foetus-killing poisons, they are made subject to the penalty prescribed for murderers” ((D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons by Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 395).
Canon 2 of St. Basil (whose canons were specifically affirmed by the 4th and 6th Ecumenical Councils, states:
“A woman that aborts deliberately is liable to trial as a murderess” (Ibid, 789).
There is absolutely no ambiguity at all on the question of whether or not abortion is murder. How you deal with someone who has engaged in this sin pastorally is another question — and there certainly is forgiveness for those who confess and repent — but that it is a sin which is absolutely prohibited by the Church, is as clear as it gets. There are not shades of gray here. You will not find a single Church Father or Saint of the Church that calls abortion anything less than murder.
The Scriptures are abundantly clear that God takes the shedding of innocent blood very seriously. We are told that God destroyed the kingdom of Judah because they engaged in child sacrifice:
“And he [Manasseh] made his son pass through the fire [a form of child sacrifice], and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger” (2 Kings 21:6).
“Surely at the commandment of the Lord this [the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians] came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon” (2 Kings 24:3-4).
So is it morally tenable to say that you believe abortion is murder, but affirm the “right” of others to engage in it? Let’s see how this logic works when applied elsewhere:
Can a person really be opposed to rape, but not want to “impose their morality” on others? No.
Could a person oppose lynching, but not want to “impose their morality” on others? No.
And so clearly a person cannot be opposed abortion, and yet affirm the “right” of others to engage in it.
Every law reflects someone’s morality. There is no reason why Christians should not use their power to vote to influence the laws to protect innocent life. This after all is why the March for Life takes place, and if you want to affirm “abortion rights,” you should not only show up at the counter protest, rather than style yourself pro-life — you should also admit that you have departed from the Orthodox Christian Tradition, because as a matter of fact, you have.
Update: Metropolitan Nathaniel of the Greek Archdiocese felt the need to say something about abortion on Mother’s Day Sunday, because as a bishop it is his duty to teach. But watch how he studiously avoids saying anything that might discourage a woman from killing her child in the womb, and ends up affirming that women who abort their babies are mothers too. Well, yes, they are mothers, because the babies they had killed in the womb were really babies, but it would have been good to have said that, and to have pointed out that the Church teaches that this is something that Orthodox Christians are not supposed to do, because it is murder. (You can view the video here.)
About the author
Father John Whiteford is Archpriest and pastor at St. Jonah Orthodox Church, in Spring, Texas. He was born in Riverside, California in 1966, and lived in Grand Terrace, California. Father John and his family moved to Murray, Kentucky in 1976, and then to Houston, Texas in 1978. He was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, but began studying Orthodoxy while working on his B.A. in Theology at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. Fr. John decided to convert not long after graduating from there in 1990. He was baptized at St. Benedict Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City on November 10th, 1990.
Fr. John wrote an article entitled Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds, which laid out many of the theological reasons for his conversion. This article was published in the Christian Activist in 1995, and then was published in a revised and somewhat expanded form by Conciliar Press in 1996, under the title Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of Reformation Theology.
Fr. John was a representative of the ROCOR Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America at the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in Moscow, on May 17, 2007. He is currently the general editor of the St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. He is also the dean of the southern deanery (Texas and Louisiana) of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America ROCOR.