Fr. Alexander Webster responds to Orthodox Theological Society in America’s pro-vaccine statement

U.S.A., April 16, 2021

Last month, OrthoChristian reported on a recent statement from the Orthodox Theological Society in America (OTSA) concerning the various COVID vaccines. The Society argues that while it is true that the Modern and Pfizer vaccines were tested against fetal cells, they “present the best ethical option to promote health and life, despite their connection with the use of aborted fetal cells.”

Opinions vary greatly even amongst Orthodox hierarchs and clergy concerning the ethics of COVID vaccines, and in a new essay, “The Moral Peril of Taking Most COVID-19 Vaccines,” Archpriest Alexander Webster, PhD, critically analyzes the OTSA’s statement.

Fr. Alexander has been a priest for 39 years, and recently served as dean and professor of Moral Theology at Holy Trinity Seminary (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) in Jordanville, New York.

He begins by emphasizing that with its statement, the OTSA “offers a seeming patina of legitimacy to an ethical argument that is abhorrent to any informed, devout Orthodox Christian.” His own purpose is to “retrieve that gauntlet and offer what I hope is a compelling counterargument.”

Fr. Alexander notes that while the OTSA claims widespread agreement among Church leadership in favor of vaccination, the OTSA, in fact, points only to two Roman Catholic sources and a Zoom conference hosted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in which Metropolitan Nathanael of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese only timidly addressed the issue at hand.

On the other hand, Fr. Alexander points to four documents from Orthodox hierarchs around the globe:

  1. Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church (12.7): In 2000, the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Church declared the use of fetal cells to treat various diseases to be “definitely inadmissible.”

  2. Greek Orthodox press release on “The Cloning of Embryonic Cells”: In 2000, the Greek Holy Synod declared that “Our Church expresses her explicit opposition to conducting experiments on human embryonic cells.”

  3. Romanian Orthodox statement on “The Transplant of Organs”: The Romanian Patriarchate lists mandatory principles for the moral use of human organs and tissues, and states: “Because the extraction of organs implies the consent of the donor, extraction of tissues from an embryo is inconceivable given the fact that although alive, this one cannot give its consent.”

  4. Australian Inter-Church statement: In August 2020, a number of Christian leaders in Australia, including Archbishop Makarios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, wrote that while the cells currently in use are far removed from the initial abortion in the 1970s, the vaccines are still morally objectionable to many of their people, and they will suffer various disadvantages if they conscientiously object.

The OTSA’s statement is “in stark contrast to all the above,” Fr. Alexander writes. He then offers his critical remarks on several points in the Society’s publication.

While the OTSA writes that, “The vaccines were tested in culture against fetal cells to help ensure that they would not harm a fetus,” Fr. Alexander argues that this is a “disingenuous claim at best,” as the children who were aborted have already been harmed.

The OTSA says the fetal cells came from “so-called therapeutic abortions.” Fr. Alexander responds: “A weasel use of ‘therapeutic,’ which presumes some kind of medical situation: the specific abortions were planned and elective and the aborted preborn children were old enough in the womb to enable “harvesting” of organs such as their liver or eyes.

The OTSA statement distinguishes between vaccines tested on fetal cells and those grown in fetal cells. Fr. Alexander counters that, “Whether a vaccine was grown in, derived from, or tested with a fetal kidney or retinal cell is a distinction without a moral difference: the process is still ultimately connected to a heinous act of abortion.”

While the OTSA argues that the original abortions were not carried out for the sake of developing vaccines, Fr. Alexander clarifies that, “There is no evidence of the precise circumstances of the original abortions except that they were not natural miscarriages.”

The OTSA writes that, “The vaccines in no way legitimize or promote abortion,” while Fr. Alexander characterizes this as, “A disingenuous claim at best: exploiting the consequences of an abortion, particularly cells extracted from the preborn baby, entails a sharing of the guilt for the original abomination and provides tacit approval for similar exploitations in the present.”

While vaccines have been developed from these fetal cells to promote health, this “argument fails to address the crucial moral question of profiting from the original abortions,” Fr. Alexander writes.

In the next section of his essay, Fr. Alexander presents a similar statement from the late Tristam H. Engelhardt that he finds shocking in its “surprisingly sanguine, even cavalier attitude towards ‘fetuses who have been aborted.’” The whole argument is a “strictly secular, un-Orthodox consequentialist argument” that completely disregards “the intrinsically evil intent that led to the willful abortions in the first place,” Fr. Alexander writes.

“Facile ‘condemnation’ of the original evil act does not absolve anyone from benefiting from that act,” Fr. Alexander argues.

Fr. Alexander opens the next session of his essay with a note of thanks:

Thanks to the providence of God the Holy Trinity, conscientious Orthodox Christians do not confront a zero-sum decision between any or all COVID-19 vaccines, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, no COVID-19 vaccines. Several vaccines currently in development have no connections to aborted babies.

He points to a widely-circulated chart of which vaccines do and do not utilize such fetal cell lines and to what extent.

In conclusion, Fr. Alexander sums up his argument:

We must reject, on moral grounds, all COVID-19 vaccines that have any connection to aborted preborn baby cells… Time and distance are irrelevant to profiteering from such abominations for any reason, even life-saving in the present or future. According to traditional Orthodox moral theology (as opposed to revisionist variations so common today), certain actions (“means” to “ends”) are objectively, intrinsically evil under any “circumstances”—most notably, abortion, rape, incest, child abuse, physical torture, and deliberate targeting of non-combatants in war…

The New Testament, the consensus patrum, and our own Orthodox-informed consciences all testify to the uncontestable moral maxim that we may not do evil to achieve good… A “lesser evil” decision process cloaked in “greater good” language is sophistry, prelest, and sheer moral evil.

Is our own bodily health … worth compromising an informed moral conscience by benefiting in any way from the abomination of abortions?

Ultimately, our unbroken faith and hope in God the Holy Trinity and in the life in the world to come will sustain us in this present biological trial. It will take that—as well as courage—to eschew tempting but immoral medical solutions to the COVID-19 virus while waiting for a truly moral alternative.

***

Fr. Alexander has been a priest since 1982. He holds a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and has served in various professorial roles in various universities. Most notably, he served as dean and professor of Moral Theology at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, New York, for several years. He also served as an army chaplain for 24 years.

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4/16/2021

See also
Vaccine cannot be prerequisite for participation in Church life—Archbishop Mark of Philadelphia (OCA) Vaccine cannot be prerequisite for participation in Church life—Archbishop Mark of Philadelphia (OCA) Vaccine cannot be prerequisite for participation in Church life—Archbishop Mark of Philadelphia (OCA) Vaccine cannot be prerequisite for participation in Church life—Archbishop Mark of Philadelphia (OCA)
Archbishop Mark of Philadelphia and Eastern America will allow no vaccine bullying in his parishes, but instead insists upon respecting the free choice of every parishioner.
COVID vaccines present best ethical option despite use of fetal cells, says Orthodox Theological Society in America COVID vaccines present best ethical option despite use of fetal cells, says Orthodox Theological Society in America COVID vaccines present best ethical option despite use of fetal cells, says Orthodox Theological Society in America COVID vaccines present best ethical option despite use of fetal cells, says Orthodox Theological Society in America
The Orthodox Theological Society in America has issued a document, “Covid-19 vaccines: How they are made and how they work to prime the immune system to fight SARS-CoV2,” addressing a number of frequently asked questions concerning the safety and ethics of the coronavirus vaccines that have been or are being developed.
Georgian Synod: We won’t promote vaccination, it’s good that it’s voluntary Georgian Synod: We won’t promote vaccination, it’s good that it’s voluntary Georgian Synod: We won’t promote vaccination, it’s good that it’s voluntary Georgian Synod: We won’t promote vaccination, it’s good that it’s voluntary
The Synod also condemned the divisive work of the “Association of Religions Experts” that claimed the hierarchs wanted to overthrow Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II.
Question of vaccination is outside realm of theology, consult your physicians—Antiochian Patriarchate Question of vaccination is outside realm of theology, consult your physicians—Antiochian Patriarchate Question of vaccination is outside realm of theology, consult your physicians—Antiochian Patriarchate Question of vaccination is outside realm of theology, consult your physicians—Antiochian Patriarchate
The Church also calls upon all to face the present situation with sincere repentance and prayer, working to remain united with all in the Church, regardless of differing views on the vaccine.
Some vaccine concerns are valid, some are not—ROCOR Bishop Luke of Jordanville Some vaccine concerns are valid, some are not—ROCOR Bishop Luke of Jordanville Some vaccine concerns are valid, some are not—ROCOR Bishop Luke of Jordanville Some vaccine concerns are valid, some are not—ROCOR Bishop Luke of Jordanville
His Grace Bishop Luke of Jordanville of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia issued a statement concerning COVID-19 vaccines yesterday in response to the inquiries of the faithful.
Assembly of Canonical Bishops issues statement on COVID vaccine Assembly of Canonical Bishops issues statement on COVID vaccine Assembly of Canonical Bishops issues statement on COVID vaccine Assembly of Canonical Bishops issues statement on COVID vaccine
“If we work together – in a spirit of sincere compassion and care for one another – we will soon be able to gather together as a full community in our churches once again,” the statement reads.
Comments
Jason4/19/2021 10:06 pm
Michael, can you please take a deep breath, read the writings of the Church Fathers, stop reading the NY TIMES, watching "the view" and attending Greek EP Churches. If you follow my formula you will begin to make sense, and you will also realize that your self-righteous speech about profiting from the past does not apply to Fr. Alexander and/or the Orthodox Church. If you want to become a hermit, then please do so under the obedience of an experienced Holy Elder, but do not push your hippie, liberal "community living" lifestyles on Orthodox Christianity. Just because you consider "living alone in isolation" to be the highest level of moral existence, does not actually make it to be so! Read the Church Fathers, and you will learn that the highest level a man can reach is to become like Christ, and live like Him! You want to become a revolutionary by taking a vaccine, please go ahead and do so, but do not claim to do so because of Orthodoxy. You are driven by fear and capitulation to worldly powers and anti-Christian pseudo-morality.
Mikhail4/19/2021 7:16 pm
You are correct, Paul. We know that abortive fetal tissue cells are intrinsically connected to these so-called "vaccines." Now everyone is left to their own conscience to decide whether or not they will participate in this abomination. Thank God for priests like Fr. Alexander, who helps us to properly form that conscience.
Paul4/19/2021 3:06 pm
You make a very good point Michael. Whether we like it or not, as long as we remain on this earth our actions are stained with sin. The food we eat, the clothes we wear are also tarnished with sin. That doesn't mean we just become fatalistic or stop caring but it is the paradox of our faith. On one hand we strive for holiness, on the other hand we throw ourselves on God's mercy. I do not think I have the right to judge those who take the vaccine, or criticise those who don't - and in the absence of clear guidance from the Church I think we are compelled to act on our own consciences.
Robert Collins4/19/2021 3:02 pm
To JJ and Dionysius. Firstly, thank you for quoting that bastion of Orthodoxy and right thinking, the New York Times. Secondly, you state that "None of the vaccines contain fetal cells. .......", this is true objectively if you are talking about whole cells, but ingenuous sophistry at best. The AstraZeneca vaccine (as many other of the non-mRNA sort) use the fetal cell line and others as in essence the "factory" in which the vaccine is produced. It is impossible to completely clear all fragments of the fetal DNA from the resulting vaccine. All the scientific literature agrees this and you can read about it in anywhere. Here are some examples: https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-ingredients/dna. Everyone who is taking these vaccines (and others) should be aware of this. Also, this is not just a crime buried in the distant past, but the body parts of these children are being kept alive and trafficked all around the world. Maybe you would feel differently if it was your children who had been murdered and then their cells cultured in laboratories? We might also be asking ourselves if we should be cutting flesh from recently killed children and grafting it onto mice for the sake of testing medicines. Again, you can read about this, here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-71548-z Finally, there is the problem that profiteering from embryonic research sends out a very poor message from the Church which is otherwise engaged in pro-life causes - I think this is one of the reasons why the whole progressive order are forcing this issue with passports, social shaming and a propaganda campaign the like of which the world has never seen.
Helen4/19/2021 12:38 pm
Thankyou Father Alexander for defending the Orthodox Faith and unborn babies. For those who think that only a few unborn babies that were aborted decades ago and that no further aborted babies will be needed for medical use and research in the future please see: Vaccines using fetal tissue: 12 faulty assumptions https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/vaccines-using-fetal-tissue-12-faulty-assumptions
Michael4/19/2021 5:10 am
Dionysius: Well said! I do not understand this argument, put forward by Fr. Alexander and others, which goes like this: "Time and distance are irrelevant to profiteering from such abominations for any reason, even life-saving in the present or future." Does Fr. Alexander not realize the implications of this stance? Especially when other abominations include "abortion, rape, incest, child abuse, physical torture, and deliberate targeting of non-combatants in war", as he correctly says? Does he not realize that if we wanted to avoid profiteering from abortion, rape, incest, child abuse, physical torture, and deliberate targeting of non-combatants in war, done AT ANY POINT IN THE PAST, that would require a radical transformation of our society? Now, if Fr. Alexander is a revolutionary who supports changing our society so as to eliminate all profiteering from past abominations - or if he supports individuals avoiding such profiteering by going to live alone in the wilderness - then he would be consistent and I would find no fault in his argument. But I doubt that he supports either of those stances (either revolution or individual isolation from society). And in that case, if he endorses Orthodox Christians continuing to participate in American society as it exists today, then he endorses Orthodox Christians "profiteering" from many past abominations. There is no way around this: You can either profiteer from past abominations, or separate yourself from society, or work to radically change society. Those are the options. There is no other.
JJ4/18/2021 11:42 pm
This issue is too "complex" for the average Orthodox believer. Every Priest and Bishop has a different opinion, which is utterly alarming and confusing. There is no proper shepherding for the sheep. If one wants to avoid the corruption in the world - after all every endeavour / realm is polluted by anti-Christian practices - as stated above concerning food testing - it seems you would have to live secluded in a monastery. ".....The cell lines are not dependent on continued abortions — each is derived from a fetus aborted decades ago, and the fetus’ cells are kept growing in lab cultures. The cell lines keep going after the cells that were originally part of the fetus have died. These fetuses were not conceived or aborted for the sake of using their cells and, in one case, may not have been aborted at all. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines used these fetal cell lines to test their vaccines, while Johnson & Johnson’s — which is now suspended — relied on them for both testing and to produce the adenovirus vector (a common-cold virus that’s been altered to make it harmless) used in its vaccine. None of the vaccines contain fetal cells. ......." https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/17/opinion/vaccines-abortion-catholics.html
Robert Collins4/18/2021 10:13 pm
At last! Thank you for this cogent explication of the issues here. It is sadly rare to hear a member of the Orthodox clergy not "going with the flow" on this issue (as on so many others). The one thing I would add is the (seldom mentioned) use of humanised mice in the testing of medicines and vaccines. This is not a mad conspiracy but is now commonplace. Some vaccines may claim not have been tested on fetal cell lines but may have been tested on such mice – a phenomenon which is, in my opinion, even more grotesque. It might be that God intended for us that we should be injecting ourselves with remains of murdered children [yes it is absolutely true that most of the non-mRNA old school vaccines will contain some, albeit very small, DNA residue from the cultured cells of the child who was killed] - but I have doubts about that. https://www.kentscientific.com/blog/how-humanized-mice-are-helping-the-fight-against-covid-19-and-other-diseases/ https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-71548-z
Joseph Bell4/18/2021 8:57 pm
It is interesting how closely you look at Sputnik V.
Anne4/18/2021 5:02 pm
Well said, Luqa. There seem to be a lot of liberal, secular-minded people around who call themselves Orthodox Christians. I guess they are attracted to the beauty of the Church, but not it’s TRUTH. They would rather ask, like Pilate “What is truth?” than bend their necks to it. They want their spiritual cake and eat it - but only if it suits their purposes. The word “Apocalypse” means “uncovering” and this is precisely what is happening now. The sheep and the goats.
George4/18/2021 4:50 pm
Praise God, may He be be praised by His children ! Thank you Lord for Fr. Webster and the righteous conviction the Holy Spirit placed in him . Lord have mercy
Paul4/18/2021 3:56 pm
This is a really difficult subject, made even more so by a lack of uninamity. I have agonised over whether to accept / reject the vaccine for weeks now and can see both sides of the ethical argument. Unfortunately is is made even more difficult because there is no unanimous response from the Hierarchs of the Church. Some faithful Orthodox think it is OK, others not. The Bishops are meant to be the shepherds of God's people. If there is no absolute clarity in teaching, it is no surprise the that flock finds itself coming to different conclusions. I have spoken to my Priest who has told me it is a matter of conscience. Speaking for myself, I am no saint and no theologian, just a poor sinner trying to do the right thing. Whether I decide to accept the vaccine or reject it, I will entrust that decision to God's mercy. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.
Sotir4/18/2021 7:48 am
AXIOS!
Luqa4/18/2021 6:15 am
Dionysius: I am curious; have you ever read the writings of the Saint whose name you took? I am almost certain that if you were to read his writings you would call him "right wing", and you would probably say the same thing about every single church father since the 1st century of Christianity. Something has gone wrong in the church when we do not catechize people, and hurt their souls by allowing them to "enter into the church" through chrismation, unbaptized and unrepentant of their heretical thought process. Today many such "orthodox Christians" have crept into the church, and yet they hate Her Holy teachings and by default, also hate the Holy Fathers that gave the teachings to us. However, the EP has provided a home for such people, since their bishops seem to be of like mind with such OBNOs (Orthodox by name only). Nicole: are you really an "Orthodox Christian" physician? If so, it's very disturbing! I pray this is not true. Eddy: I am sure that you are a champion of euthanasia, so why do you object to people who WISH to "die from covid" if they chose to do so by NOT taking a vaccine tested on, and containing parts of a murdered baby? A true orthodox bishop is supposed to be a teacher of truth, and truth is light to our darkened souls. I wonder whether you would dare to be so critical and disrespectful of P. Bartholemew who speaks of things which have nothing to do with the teachings of Christ's Holy Church (global warming and koran kissing), but are extremely appealing to the fallen itchy ears (2 Timothy 4:3) of the "new orthodox" with liberal, secular, socialistic and godless self-righteous morals. We should all learn to crucify our minds (Fr. Seraphim Rose), and conform our thinking to Christ and NOT the spirit of this world (ROMANS 12:2)!
Nikolai4/18/2021 2:23 am
The OTSA document comes to the same conclusion that the Russian society of Orthodox doctors came to in 2009. The Synod even approved their document on the subject of the use of immortal cell lines for publication on the official Patriarchal website. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/964218.html
Juliana4/18/2021 12:57 am
It is a relief to find a clergyman prepared to take a stance. The Orthodox Church’s apparent silence on the atrocities of abortions is deafening, when compared to the public and active stance the Roman Church have taken. The world knows their stance, however, the Orthodox stance appears to be limp-wristed, apologetic, moveable and offering economia. If we truly understood the reality that these are brutal human sacrifices offered by the most innocent amongst us for the supposed “salvation” of our bodies, that the cells from these precious lives are kept artificially immortalized in laboratories and multiplied in vats for use in these abhorrent practices, would we still be so limp-wristed? Have we so easily been duped into partaking of these wicked sacrifices for our own pleasure and saving of our mortal bodies? All this and more now with gene therapy! What effects will this have on our genetic makeup? No-one knows publicly as yet as the world are currently the experimental guinea pigs for things that are likely to be irreversible and if following Bill Gates’ genetic modification plan to remove religious radicalism from mankind, will this be a potential consequence over time? We know things are very wrong and many of us are searching for clear direction in these times, while trying to avoid being conspiracy theorists, we want to be able to make bold and courageous stands against wickedness. It is about time our Church leaders stood up and gave us clear and God-fearing direction. We, the people are desperate for his, but find little that addresses these issues boldly and courageously.
Eddy4/17/2021 9:01 pm
So letting people die from covid is now "pro-life"? For all his moralizing I don't see any solution from him. I'm told there are vaccines not made (ages ago) from the cells of a possibly aborted fetus. Why doesn't he list them?
Nicole4/17/2021 6:36 pm
The emergency use authorized vaccines are only allowed IF there is no alternative. Explains why no research has been done into early prevention and treatment of COVID with safe repurposed generic meds and supplements (https://aapsonline.org). As an Orthodox Christian physician I am sad that apparently Fr Alexander is unaware (from shortened version above). I pray that is not true. Can anyone confirm that the OTSA IS a resource of the Assembly of Bishops? If so, quite disturbing.
Gary Cox4/17/2021 2:35 pm
This testing of common items we buy and use on a daily basis is entrenched in modern manufacturing. The more I find out about it the more sickening it is. The manufacturers don't like to talk about it but it's cheaper to buy the cloned aborted baby cells ( parts ) to test their products/ ingredients on than to pay people to test them on. Anything labeled hypoallergenic has likely been tested on aborted baby cells. Any food with artificial flavoring has likely been tested on aborted baby cells. Any medicine we take has likely been tested on aborted baby cells. Any clothing we wear is colored with artificial coloring has likely been tested on aborted baby cells. Any make-up or hair coloring has likely been tested on aborted baby cells. I'm afraid the list goes on. What do we do? How are we supposed to react to this evil? BISHOPS--- PLEASE HELP US!!!
Gary Cox4/17/2021 8:45 am
This is a hard decision. The vaccines were tested on cloned cells from an aborted baby. Many food flavorings in the food we eat were tested on cloned aborted baby cells, also bandaids bandages and many make-up products for women were tested on cloned aborted baby cells. Where do we draw the line? I pray for our Bishops to lead the way GOD wills for us to do!
Alexander Leitner4/16/2021 9:23 pm
Bravo Father Alexander! From USA and "theological groups" we can not expect orthodox canonical teaching
Anne4/16/2021 9:19 pm
Well said, Father Alexander. Where are our priests when we need them? So many seem to have given in to the god of compromise and expediency - losing sight of the grave spiritual implications of a “yes” to any vaccine tainted with the death of a baby. A baby that didn’t give it’s consent to die in the womb. Thank God for Father Alexander who has the courage to say it as it is. God bless you Father Alexander. You are a hero of the Orthodox Church and of the faithful who desperately need the truth; especially now in these times of widespread propaganda and lies from media and governments. In addition, these vaccines are experimental gene therapies; still in the study phase. Anyone who has them is a guinea pig. Fact. And the facts are there in plain sight for anyone who looks beyond the lying “Fact checkers.”
Dionysius Redington4/16/2021 7:41 pm
Fr. Alexander, in addition to the various credentials mentioned in the article, has long been associated with secular right-wing causes in America. Here he says he is against ever 'profiting' from crimes committed in the past. This seems to be a curious change of course from his most famous book, in which he argues that pacifism is an 'option' for the perfect, but that war is justifiable for ordinary Christians. It would be interesting to know Fr. Alexander's current opinions on reparations for slavery, the return of all US territory to the American Indians, and unilateral disarmament.
Herman4/16/2021 6:26 pm
Fr. Alexander - thank you for taking the time to write this. It might be a good idea to translate this into Russian and send a copy to Patriarch Kirill. I think the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate would benefit from reading this.
Mikhail4/16/2021 4:59 pm
Thank you Father Alexander for speaking the truth in love!
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