Four Orthodox Christian hierarchs in the United States issued a rebuke to comments made at the March for Life Rally in Washington DC in January by Archbishop Elpidophoros, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the United States.
The statement was posted on March 25 on the website of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Christian feast day of the Evangelismos, or Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, or the day the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child through virgin birth. Incidentally, the date is also Greek Independence Day.
The four hierarchs, representing the Antiochian, Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian Churches, responded specifically to what they called “controversial remarks” at the March for Life rally without naming Elpidophoros, personally.
On January 21, Elpidophoros represented the Orthodox Christian delegation by offering remarks from the stage.
“We affirm the gift and sanctity of life—all life, born and unborn. As Christians we confess that every human being is made in their 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,” Elpidophoros said.
But the following paragraph from his speech caused a flutter of controversy online.
Elpidophoros continued that “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.”
The statement brought a flurry of comments on his Twitter and Facebook posts which raised from strong praise to pronouncements of heresy.
The four hierarchs’ full statement against Elpidophoros’ remarks is here:
Orthodox Pro-Life Statement
The Orthodox Church has consistently and unequivocally recognized the full humanity of every person beginning at the moment of conception. This position is informed by Scripture and Holy Tradition and is validated by modern science, which confirms that a new, distinct human organism comes into existence at conception. The Orthodox Church is, and always has been, unabashedly pro-life, regarding abortion as the killing of another human being.
In recent weeks, this position has been called into question, and, consequently, we, Orthodox Presiding Hierarchs representing several canonical jurisdictions in the United States of America, are compelled to proclaim the only true and correct teaching of the Church on this matter. We reiterate the words of the Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations (the “Didache”), which dates to the earliest generations of the Church: “Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant” (οὐ φονεύσεις τέκνον ἐν φθορᾷ οὐδὲ γεννηθέντα ἀποκτενεῖς).
The Orthodox Church strives to stand above politics; yet, the Church also stands for order, against the forces of chaos and lawlessness. All civilized societies prohibit the intentional taking of the life of one human being by another human being, except under extreme and unusual circumstances. The United States of America is certainly no exception: in every state, intentional homicide is outlawed. Yet our laws are inconsistent, banning the killing of some humans but not others. There is no basis in either law or science, and certainly not in morality or religion, to draw a distinction between a human who is in the womb and a human who is outside of it. Thus, the Orthodox Church calls upon the civil authorities, not only in the United States but globally, and especially in traditionally Orthodox lands, to treat all humans equally under the law, and thus to forbid the evil practice of abortion.
It is true that the Most Holy Theotokos gave her consent to the Incarnation of the Uncreated Word of God. The Lord did not impose Himself on humanity, but took on our nature with the permission of us humans, represented by the greatest of us, the Virgin Mary. Once this consent was given, the Incarnation took place: the Word became flesh at that moment. The Orthodox Church embraces this paradox of the Incarnation, of the Uncreated becoming one of His creatures. Yet while paradoxes of this kind are essential to our faith, so too is clarity: the clarity that the newly-conceived human – including the Lord Himself at the moment of His conception – is a full human. Here, then, the consent of the Theotokos ends, and her duties as a mother begin: once she conceived the Lord, she had the sacred responsibility of nurturing and caring for Him, which she fulfilled perfectly.
This same Lord Who became incarnate of the Virgin Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation loves every human being He creates, from the moment of their conception. He loves their mothers, along with the fathers, who suffer and sacrifice for their children. The Church, and, indeed, all of humanity, has a duty to care for and support these children and their mothers.
No less equally, the Lord also loves the mothers who, victims of deceitful pressures from this world, make the tragic choice to have their children killed. For these mothers, the Church offers forgiveness, compassion, and healing through repentance and reconciliation both to God and to their lost children.
The Lord loves those fathers and other men who, failing in their duty to provide and protect, instead pressure and even force mothers to have their children killed.
The Lord loves those physicians and other practitioners who, themselves victims of deceit, have allowed themselves to become instruments of evil in the murder of innocent children.
Finally, let us all implore the same Lord, Who desires that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, that His all-encompassing love and mercy will enfold all who are affected by the tragedy of abortion and bring healing to our land.
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America
Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas
Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada, and Australia
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