21 - Sanctity of Life Sunday, Jan 23, 2011

Sanctity of Life Sunday

On this Sunday closest to the Roe vs. Wade decision in which abortion was established legally as a civil right in this country, the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church invite us to reflect on the sanctity of life, so that we may understand why this decision does not reflect the mind of the Church.

The Christian faithful live their lives in this world according to the values of the Gospel and according to the vision of human nature and destiny that has been revealed in the mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word. It is the vision of the Creator God clothing Himself in our humanity from the moment of His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin in order to come looking for the one lost sheep and to lead us back to the fold of His Kingdom of light. The one lost sheep, of course, is each one of us and every human individual. We each exist from the moment of our conception as a creature made in the mystery of Christ, for Christ is the Image of God in whom we were made. That means that each human individual exists from the instant of conception participating in Christ; for nothing, so we are taught by the Gospel, exists anywhere or at any time outside of Christ. For, “in Him, all things came to be, whether invisible or visible, and apart from Him nothing exists.”[1] By our very existence, we participate in Christ. We must even say that we are in Christ, regardless of who we are or where we are or when we are, for the Scripture says: “Apart from Him,” i.e. outside of Him, “nothing exists.”

Things both visible and invisible are made to exist in Christ. St Paul teaches that everything exists in Christ and is held together in Christ. He is the head of all things. The fullness of all things lives in Him, and in His Holy Resurrection He has become the first not only of the living but also of the dead.[2] That is to say that the world and all things as created by God in the beginning is His body; and that means that the world as it was created by God in the beginning, is the Church.

And the Church, as St Paul’s doctrine in the letter to the Colossians implies, is the world restored to its original goodness and sanctity in God through the mystery of Christ’s Holy Incarnation.

Existing in Christ, all things in the principle of their nature participate in Christ. In this vision of the Church, the Christian faithful believe that all things, both visible and invisible, are sacred, holy. By visible, we understand the body. By invisible, we understand the soul, or rather, the image of God that each human individual is by virtue of having been created in the Image of God. We therefore understand that not only the soul but also the body, consisting of blood, bones, muscle, tissue, is sacred. Matter is sacred, holy, as is the soul because all things, visible and invisible, are made to exist in Christ. All things, both visible and invisible are able by nature to be stamped by the Spirit of Christ. Even matter, that is to say the “visible, can be soaked in the living waters of the Holy Spirit to become spiritual, and so a temple in which Christ can dwell.

The worldly doctrine, therefore, that what exists in the mother’s womb as a zygote is not yet human because it is not yet “en-souled”, not yet what the world understands as a “person” is, from the Christian point of view, not only “blind” but even irrelevant – not to mention how absurd it is from the purely logical point of view (if its “parents” are human, how can it not be “human”?). Even if one were to believe (from a non-Christian point of view) that the mass of tissue and blood, bones and muscle is not sacred, not “personal”, because it is “only” visible, not yet joined to the “invisible”, not yet joined to the soul that will make it a human “person” when it will then qualify for protection under the laws of the land, from the perspective of Christian doctrine, even in this view the allegedly impersonal zygote is still a sacred, spiritual mystery because, even if it is “only” visible, it exists in Christ. It therefore belongs to Christ in whom all things were made, both visible and invisible. It is not ours to do with as we please because neither the world nor our bodies, not even our souls or our minds, not even ourselves, i.e., neither the visible nor invisible parts of us, belong to us to do with as we please. Everything belongs to God our Creator, and we are answerable to God for how we have managed our bodies, our souls and our minds.

Nor would the Christian faithful be impressed by the argument that the doctrine of the Church takes away our “civil” freedom to do as we please with our own bodies. For, the Christian faithful believe we are not our own masters. We are servants of God. St Paul would even say that we are slaves of God or of death;, and so, if we want to live, we have no choice but to submit to God in complete obedience.

 Obedience and submission: these words are odious to the worldly mind. But they are the life-blood of the Christian faith. For, we believe that the doctrine of the Church is not the wisdom of human opinion. We believe that the wisdom of the world is “blind”. We see how it proceeds from major premise to conclusion contained wholly within itself. We believe that the wisdom of the world is ignorant, dark. It consciously and willfully rejects the doctrine of the Church, whose word, we believe, is Christ, the Word of God who is Light, whose Light is the Life of men. Living in this faith, we submit gladly in obedience to the Word of the Church and not to the word that comes from the wisdom of human opinion. Submission in obedience to the word of the Church, which we believe is the word of Christ, is an ascetic discipline that puts us on the narrow path that leads to eternal life. It brings us out onto the vision of God that is not dark at all but full of a radiant, glorious light that quickens the soul with a heavenly joy and gladness. For, in that light we see the inherently sacred dignity that defines each human individual from the instant of their conception in the womb, for we are each one made in the image and likeness of God, Christ.

Understanding that all of life is sacred, that each one of us in both our visible and invisible parts is sacred because we exist in Christ, the Christian faithful are taught to conduct themselves in holiness and godliness and to treat the world and everything in it with dignity and respect, because the world is sacred, created by God as good. The Christian faithful strive in fear and trembling to live not for themselves but for God; not according to what the world says is right but according to what the Word of God teaches them is right. Walking in Christ’s commandments, the eyes of their minds open to see a vision of all things visible and invisible that is not of this world; for it is a vision of all things in Christ, the Son of God who was conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man; He became human from the moment of His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

The Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life, then, is not experienced by the faithful as the heavy, odious tyranny of a dark master; but as a teaching that gives sight to the eyes of our mind. It delivers us from the power of darkness, from death, and it illumines us in the uncreated light of Christ who is the Light of the world. Walking in the light of the doctrine of the Church according to the commandments of Christ, we experience the joy of Christ re-creating us to make us children of light, partakers of the inheritance of the saints in His light.[3] We see the world as good and holy; and so we grieve for the world; we mourn for all things visible and invisible as they suffer in the darkness of the world’s bondage to the self-righteous hubris of human wisdom that has rejected the Wisdom of God, even crucifying Him on the Cross and putting Him to death.

In this vision that shines on us in the doctrine of the Church, we turn away from the world, from its arrogance, from its wisdom, from its teaching, from its values, from its darkness. Inspired by the beauty and the joy of the Church’s vision of man made by Christ to become a partaker of the divine nature,[4] we strive to submit to the doctrines of the Church in humility, that we may learn them and keep them, and so take up our cross, honoring all things visible and invisible as sacred, belonging to Christ and not to us, that we may follow Christ and by His grace, and in the love of God His Father, and in the communion of His Holy Spirit, draw near to His Kingdom of Light in the fear of God, with faith and love. Amen.

[1] John 1:3 & Col 1:16.

[2] Col 1:15ff.

[3] Col 1:12&13

[4] II Pt 1:4