Archpastoral Letter on Sanctity of Life Sunday

Metropolitan Theodosius, Primate
Chancellor: Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick

P. O. Box 675, Syosset, New York 11791
Telephone: 516-922 0550
Facsimile: 516-922-0954

January 21, 1996

To The Hierarchs, Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of The Orthodox Church In America

Dearly beloved,

The issue of abortion continues to divide Americans. Not since the war between the states has our country been so polarized regarding the value and dignity of human life.

For over two decades both sides of the abortion controversy have waged aggressive campaigns of words and ideologies. Both sides ironically claim to defend the inalienable right of human freedom. Safeguarding their respective positions, they have drawn attention to life as it exists in or outside of the womb. To defend the unborn or to defend the mother is one of the questions that has helped to polarize our country.

The Orthodox Church teaches that human life is called to be the image and likeness of God. Its value, and therefore its dignity, cannot be determined solely by a legal mandate. The honor and glory of the human person is derived from his or her relationship with the Living God and the desire to embrace and commune with other human beings.

History has taught us that laws change -- sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Thus, when human behavior is dependent on the law of the land we can expect that in a democratic context laws, and therefore behavior, inevitably change. This presents one of the great challenges for contemporary Orthodoxy in America. Personally and corporately the Orthodox have a divine mandate to defend all human life. This defense does not preclude the use of our courts and legislature. Yet, the Orthodox Christian cannot allow himself to imagine that legislating morality is as lasting and binding as the spirit of repentance. Laws assert themselves by imposing their authority upon a body of citizens. They affect behavior but they do not necessarily change the mind and the heart -- especially of those who do not agree with the law or who overtly oppose the law. Repentance, on the other hand, is ultimately an act of love for the living and Triune God. It is an act of freedom that liberates one from sin and death. Therefore, the sin of aborting cannot be remedied solely by the law, particularly when the law is motivated by party politics. The law can be useful only in so far as it may lead to a change of the mind and the heart -- a move towards true repentance.

If the Orthodox Church is to speak with a clear and convincing voice -- if it is to proclaim the saving truth in love -- then it must be free from the ongoing and changing dynamics of partisan objectives. For Orthodox Christians the care and veneration of human life cannot have as its foundation the popular vote. Our Church is to offer the way to repentance. It is to offer the way by which an inner change and transformation can occur in the context of true and everlasting freedom. For only with "a broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51:17) comes the discovery that human life, originating at conception, is a divine gift called to participate in divine life. Only "a broken and contrite heart" can recognize that jeopardizing and destroying human life -- human life originating at conception, is an open rebellion against the living God.

With a firm hand and a gentle heart let us proclaim the holiness of life. Let us seek to heal the division in our land by pointing the way to the community of the saints where life reigns for all eternity.

With love in Christ,

Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

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