American hierarchs respond to Abp. Elpidophoros’ controversial March for Life statement

U.S., March 25, 2022

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A number of hierarchs representing various Orthodox jurisdictions issued a statement today critiquing the ambiguous and controversial remarks made by Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January.

The introduction to the statement, published on the site of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, reads: “Four presiding hierarchs currently participating in the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, including His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Archdiocese, are responding to controversial remarks made at January’s ‘March for Life’ in Washington, D.C. that received attention in traditional and social media.”

Recall that in his speech on January 21, while Abp. Elpidophoros spoke of the sanctity of life, he also stated that the Orthodox “also affirm our respect for the autonomy of women” and spoke of how the Most Holy Theotokos freely chose to bring Christ into the world. His ambiguous statement drew a number of negative reactions, with many people characterizing it at best as confusing and at worst as heretical.

The Greek Archdiocese’s Press Office then retweeted explicitly pro-abortion responses to Abp. Elpidophoros’ words.

As the new statement notes, the Greek Archbishop’s speech drew attention from the media. For example, The Washington Post wrote: “Comments like Elpidophoros’ argue for the theological right of women to bodily autonomy and health and say it’s theologically wrong to uniformly choose a fetus over a woman.”

Besides Met. Joseph, the new statement is also signed by His Grace Bishop Longin of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas, and His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada, and Australia.

Given that the statement is a critique of Abp. Elpidophoros, it’s not signed by any hierarchs of the Greek Archdiocese, nor of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA or the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, which are also subordinate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Notably, the statement also isn’t signed by any hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America or by Bishop Saba of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church in North America.

“The Orthodox Church is, and always has been, unabashedly pro-life, regarding abortion as the killing of another human being,” the four hierarchs affirm.

And while the Church embraces the paradox of the Incarnation, involving the Most Holy Theotokos’ free consent, the Church also demands clarity, the statement reads, “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.”

The statement reads in full:

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.

The statement also includes a prayer for the sanctity of unborn life:

O our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who in the beginning fashioned man out of the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life so that he became a living soul, Who knowest the time of life and name of each even from his mother’s womb, Who numberest even the hairs of our heads, and Who keepest a watchful eye over every living thing in Thy creation, do Thou now look upon Thy creation which Thou hast fashioned according to Thine own image, and grant to those who are in their mother’s wombs and to their mothers the protection that Thou gavest Thine own Virgin Mother when she carried Thee, and fill them with the Holy Spirit even as Thou once filled Elizabeth such that John the Forerunner leaped in her womb at encountering Thee.

As Thou becamest incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became true man, hidden within the veil of Thy Mother’s flesh, joining Thy divinity with our humanity, join Thyself now with us and all Thy human creation through Thy grace. As Thou didst enter into the womb of Thy Mother, be present also in the wombs of all mothers, with them and with their children. Protect them from all assaults of the evil one and his foul spirits, that in due time all may come unto Thee, as Thou didst say, “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

O Thou Who at Thy birth heard the weeping of Rachel in lamentation, who would not be comforted for her children were no more, crying out at the slaughter of the innocents by the wicked Herod for Thy sake, hear also the weeping of all those who lament the deaths of Thy little children, who cry out for Thy love and peace in the midst of terror and inhumanity.

As Thou once granted true contrition of heart to David and to Manasseh and to Peter, who sinned against Thee, grant true repentance to all who in malice or greed or desperation or hopelessness or ignorance sin against Thee and Thy creatures in the untimely taking of their lives. Receive their tears as the tears of the Publican, which flow from the depths of their hearts, as Thou didst receive David, who had taken life unjustly, and Manasseh, who had permitted the worship of idols, and Peter, who thrice denied Thee. Receive them as the Prodigal, with eagerness and rejoicing, clothing them with the robe of holiness and glory and celebrating with them the feast of faith.

Speak words of justice into the hearts of our rulers, that they may be guided by divine wisdom in protecting and nurturing life in every good way. Give strength and love to those who minister to all who suffer in desperation and need, granting through them every spiritual and earthly blessing. Protect the widows and orphans and the abandoned, be Father to the fatherless and hope to the hopeless, raise the young, protect the bond of marriage in peace and concord. Remember the forgotten and bring them to mind in all of us who pray unto You. Grant eternal rest to the fallen, and raise them up at the last day.

O Christ our God, Who knowest us all in our depths and receivest the supplications of Thy servants who call out to Thee in our own transgressions and imperfection, hear this our humble prayer and give us all Thy divine blessing from on high, for Thou are ever glorified with Thy Father Who is from everlasting and Thine all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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3/25/2022

Comments
Alexis 3/28/2022 4:35 am
BLM is a terrorist organization. They support communism, abortion and anything else anti Christian. They are nothing but terrorists and should be stopped with force wherever they are rioting. Disgusting individuals.
Dionysius Redington3/28/2022 4:16 am
John and Mary: 1) Just today (March 27), the OCA has officially condemned Russia's actions in Ukraine (albeit without mentioning Pat. Cyril's approval of them). 2) The Russkij Mir petition, although some of its signatories are my friends or among the people I most admire in the Orthodox world, is problematic, in that it exaggerates the extent of Russian phyletism (whilst completely ignoring Greek and Ukrainian phyletism) and does not recognise that the real theological problem with the present Russian Orthodox leadership is not phyletism but caesaropapism, oddly mirroring the papocaesarism of Constantinople. 3) American Orthodox opposition to BLM is probably rooted less in racism than in knee-jerk social conservatism--if liberals endorse something, we're against it. Greeks and Carpatho-Russians in early twentieth century America were considered black (or at least non-white) and were targeted by the Klan; unfortunately, this seems to have been forgotten by their grandchildren. --Dionysius Redington
Jason Garwood3/28/2022 1:01 am
Unprovoked? Indiscriminate? How about the pouring of weapons into Ukraine and 8 years of indiscriminate bombings in Eastern Ukraine by its own government, killing over 14,000 civilians. Russia is specifically de-militarizing and de-nazifying Ukraine at great cost to their own soldiers. I thank them for their service.
John3/27/2022 5:55 am
It would be good to seek an official clarification from the GOAA unless this has already been issued somewhere? In the meantime, look no further for a compelling pro-life statement than that made by clergy of the OCA against the chief abortionists and murderers of Ukrainians, the homocidal Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill: "His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon Members of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America Dear Archpastors: We[1] write as painfully concerned, truth–seeking, and truth–committed Orthodox Christians: we are chagrined clergy and lay members of the Orthodox Church in America, who as American citizens value religious and political freedom. Conscience compels us to speak. The unprovoked Russian military invasion and indiscriminate bombardment and levelling of Ukrainian cities have resulted in the violent deaths and maiming of thousands and the dreadful displacement of millions of innocent Ukrainian citizens, among them vulnerable non-combatants: women, children, hospital patients, and the aged. We are perturbed that the episcopal leadership of the Orthodox Church in America has not only refused to identify in a public and straightforward manner but, instead, has chosen to cloak and shield through its silence and platitudes about the evils of war, the two primary and immediate agents responsible for commanding and defending the unjust Russian attack on Ukraine: Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, who directly ordered the invasion and continuing attacks, and Kirill (Gundyaev), the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’, who willingly serves as the chief religious ideologist and propagandist for President Putin. There are beleaguered and oppressed Russian dissenters who, at great personal cost, repudiate President Putin and Patriarch Kirill’s war against Ukraine. Their heroism speaks for itself but it also should speak to our Holy Synod. There should be no need to demonstrate to our OCA bishops what persons throughout the world—of many different political persuasions but with rightly informed consciences—know: that Russian President Putin bears primary responsibility for the morally unjustifiable Russian invasion and continuing barbaric attacks on Ukraine, and that Moscow Patriarch Kirill willingly defends the viciously aggressive and repressive Putin regime. Now if there really is a need to demonstrate such evident facts, may God help the OCA! For, apparently, no merely human political or theological analysis of these facts will ever suffice to motivate the Holy Synod to speak out in defense of truth and justice! Nonetheless, there is such a theologically precise and convincing demonstration available, which was issued by an international group of Orthodox theologians, churchmen, and intellectuals: “A Declaration on the ‘Russian World’ (Russkii Mir).” The Declaration is a cogent theological refutation and strong condemnation of (what it labels) President Putin and Patriarch Kirill’s “heretical” religious–political ideology. In the face of such a scathing, international, and intellectually weighty Orthodox theological critique, what morally and spiritually overriding reason is there for the OCA Holy Synod to remain silent—except perhaps a quite this-worldly but, alas, politically realistic fear of an ecclesiastical reprisal from the Russian Orthodox Church? Of course, ecclesiastical Realpolitik can always find convenient reasons for the institutional Church’s deliberate silences, dissimulations, and obfuscations. We are well aware of the arguably complex history and ideological background to the current civil–ecclesiastical conflict in Ukraine..." The remainder of the document can be found at: https://ocl.org/open-letter-to-the-synod-of-the-orthodox-church-in-america-on-the-war-in-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=open-letter-to-the-synod-of-the-orthodox-church-in-america-on-the-war-in-ukraine
Mary3/26/2022 10:51 pm
Panagiotis why are you so against BLM? Because your white conservative friends and/or predominately white and immigrant church are? Please don’t tell me about those two or three confused black Orthodox people that you know. They aren’t the norm. Most black folks aren’t them, believe me. Most white people aren’t anti-BLM because of the founders and ideology, not to say it isn’t a problem; that’s a scapegoat; they just can’t stand the idea of angry black people protesting loudly without white people’s permission. Make it a point to know exactly why you dislike a group and be honest about it. Know why it even came into existence. Believe it or not, people in this country have been suffering for centuries and undergoing traumas; police brutality, etc. The past 5-6 years have been psychologically brutal for black folks. Those of us in the Orthodox Church can’t even talk our priests because they think like you!! We sitting here at molebens for Russian ww2 vets, kneeling for Ukraine and there’s next to no mention of Juneteenth or anything going with our people. Did you know ROCOr bishops went flying down to Virginia to pray for an Orthodox slave owner with no regard for the living consequences of his sin? No outreach to the black community, no nothing. Oh, but he was Orthodox, so that’s all that counts. Oh, it’s BLM!! No context, doesn’t count, apparently. Christ died for black people too, including BLM members and their original cause. Panagiotis, do you kneel and pray for black people at all? That would be much better than spewing ignorance and hate. Much, much better for everyone.
Jesse Dominick3/26/2022 1:31 pm
Rdr Daniel, ROCOR and MP weren't mentioned because as the introduction from the Antiochian site notes, this is a document signed by hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Bishops, which ROCOR and MP haven't participated in for several years now. There was a push for this statement to be put out by the Assembly itself, although, unsurprisingly, that was shot down by the GOARCH bishops. But in any case, ROCOR and MP weren't even part of the mix. And, yes, as you state, that some bishops didn't sign doesn't mean they therefore support Abp. Elpidophoros' stance.
Panagiotis3/26/2022 3:56 am
A woman has no so-called "autonomy" over the distinct and separate Life Of The Unborn Child... This is the same individual who marched with BLM. When he marched with BLM, he lost respect from me, and I would imagine from many others. ..As far as I know, he never apologized for marching with BLM. ...I believe there was a Russian Orthodox Priest who denied communion to anyone who supports BLM.. May Almighty God Bless this Russian Orthodox Priest, who is a True Orthodox Priest... .. Just my humble opinion.
Tom Bombadil3/26/2022 1:39 am
@Antiochene Son It is traditional to not directly call out another clergy member, this is done out of humility especially since the statement can still be made without naming the bishop. You see this even in the Fathers when they are correcting their predecessors. @Gabriel In Met. Tikhon's latest Archpastoral Message he does indeed affirm that "The Orthodox Church in America has always believed, upheld, preached, and defended the sanctity of human life from the time of conception in the womb." Perhaps this was done for 'optics' but I am grateful to have a Hierarch that tries to find the most tact in these situations. I would have no issue with him signing it either, and trust his discernment.
Kathy Tetlak3/25/2022 9:34 pm
I too was concerned about his statements, which were part of the reason (but by no means the only one) why I switched jurisdictions to the OCA.
Rdr Daniel3/25/2022 9:19 pm
“Notably, the statement also isn’t signed by any hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America or by Bishop Saba of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church in North America.” This is a bit disingenuous given its not signed by MP or ROCOR either. That they haven't signed it doesn’t mean they reject it or that they endorse Elpidophoros‘ anti-Christian stance.
Antiochene Son3/25/2022 8:47 pm
I see the small prologue (not part of the statement) indicates it's Elpidophoros, but you would have to already know about it to connect the dots. Still, I suppose he knows who he is.
Antiochene Son3/25/2022 8:38 pm
An excellent statement and clear rebuttal to the horrible words of Elphidophoros. My only critique is that they were too vague in calling him out. "It has been called into question..." by whom? If our hierarchs cannot openly correct one another when their words lead the flock into error, we are still in trouble. Good statement, but the faithful need to be made aware there are bad shepherds out there.
Gabriel3/25/2022 8:19 pm
Saddened, but not surprised to see Metropolitan Tikhon did not sign. My local OCA parish has been a blessing, but I would switch to an Antiochian or ROCOR parish if one was near me. Why can't our hierarchs stand up for the truth of Orthodoxy? Too concerned with 'optics' and the opinions of the world is why. Lord, have mercy!
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