Abortion is Murder

A hymn to St. John the Baptist

Elizabeth was freed from barrenness while through the voice of Gabriel the Virgin conceived in her womb and remained a virgin.  John the Forerunner leapt beforehand within his mother, foreseeing in the virginal womb his God and Master Who became incarnate for our salvation.  (from the Octoechos, Tone 5, third kathisma hymn, Tuesday Matins) 

Abortion is murder

Since the March for life will take place this month, I decided to go off on a tangent from my plans for this blog site and devote this post to Pro-Life.  The Orthodox Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception; therefore, we cannot consider the abortion of a child in its mother’s womb to be anything else than to take a life, to kill. Some people argue: What about rape?  Well, then make it legal only for victims of rape—this I say not because I endorse this statement but only to make a point.  It is better to for such a woman to be counseled, have the child, and—if she chooses not to keep it–then give it up for adoption.        

What about the case where a woman’s life could be in danger?  An answer to this is probably the work of a counsel of bishops.  Still, with faith in God and prayer, the course of nature can be directed.

Yet let us see what we find in the Scriptures concerning this, what do they reveal to us about an unborn babe in the womb?  Does the life of the child begin there?  The hymn to the Forerunner with which this post begins refers to the meeting of the Theotokos and Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke.  And so we read in the Gospel of St. Luke:     

And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.  And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.  And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 

And, speaking to Zachariah, the Archangel Gabriel said of St. John, “He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb”.

St. John the Baptist experienced joy while yet in his mother’s  womb.  So how can our society condone abortion?  St. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.  So how can our society condone abortion?  Is it possible that in this manner saints may have been killed who could have changed the course of the world? 

Again our Lord says to the Prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations”. (Jer. 1:5)

God Himself says he formed the prophet Jeremiah while yet in the womb.  We are not all prophets but every human being is a unique creation of God, and this begins in the womb.  So how can our society condone abortion and kill a unique creature of God—a human being since every human being born into the world is a new encounter with God?

Let us take one more Scriptural text and quote the Holy Apostle Paul.  He writes to the Galatians: “But when it pleased God, Who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace”. (Gal. 1:15)  God separated him from his mother’s womb.   The word separated is used in the King James and New King James Versions but it is lacking in precisely conveying the Greek.  The Apostle Paul is here telling us that he was set apart, or appointed, or chosen from his mother’s womb.  The translation into Slavonic, for instance, has the meaning “chosen”.  

So with the above comment of the holy Apostle Paul we again see how life begins in the womb and precisely as the Orthodox Church teaches at the moment of conception.  And this latter is seen in our Christology, concerning the incarnation of God the Word.  St. John of Damascus writes:

For the very Word of God was conceived of the Virgin and made flesh, but continued to be God after this assumption of the flesh.  And, simultaneously with its coming into being, the flesh was straightway made divine by Him.  Thus three things took place at the same time: the assuming of the flesh, its coming into being, and its being made divine by the Word.   (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 3, Chapter 12)

Later on, in speaking  of the two natures of Christ he writes: “from the first instant of conception there was no divisions whatsoever of either form”.  (Ibid. Book 3, Chapter 15)

So then, in reference to our Lord Jesus Christ, he rightly teaches that from instant of conception there were no divisions in His divine and human natures.   This is why the late Archbishop Dimitri of Dallas and the South, in expressing the Orthodox concept on this matter writes: “The two natures were united in the one Person of the Saviour at the moment of conception in the womb of the Virgin”.  (The Doctrine of Christ, p. 48)

So our society, in legalizing abortion, has to admit that they are taking lives, in legalizing abortion they are killing, in legalizing abortion they are committing murder. 

Something we can do

Among other organized public measures and events, while at home we can pray.  Pray for those who have had abortions: for the healing of those who are repentant and the repentance of those who are hardened.  Pray for those who are considering aborting a child and the doctors who commit this horrifying deed that God will open their minds to understand the evil of this and touch their hearts with compassion for the unborn child.  This can be done in the form of the Jesus Prayer, for example: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on those who have had abortions: heal the repentant and bring to repentance those who are hardened.”   I would like to add one last word, a word of encouragement for women who have had an abortion. You should pray for the aborted child just as you would for any of your living children.  Pray that God will have mercy on your child and all aborted children.  And then, you have the hope that you will see your aborted child in the kingdom of heaven.  And you will recognize each other, the child will say to you “Mom, I forgive you.  Mom, you helped me with your prayers.  Mom, I love you.” 

May God grant this.  Amen.

   

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Experience of Grace

A Hymn to the Theotokos

Thou didst conceive without seed and didst give birth ineffably to Him Who doth put down the mighty from their thrones and exalteth the humble; and Who raises up the horn of His faithful who glorify the Cross burial and glorious Resurrection of Christ.  Therefore since thou art the mediatress of so many good things with silent hymns we bless thee as she who ever prayeth for the salvation of our souls.  (The Dogmatic at Lord I Call from Small Vespers, Tone 4)

Experience of Grace

How can we tell if something we experience is from God?  This question has been raised in reaction to the November post.  Perhaps the only safe answer to this is: Go and speak to an experienced spiritual father about what you have undergone.  Nevertheless, having brought up this question, to now continue with an all-around answer is best. 

In the November post, the concept “worship in spirit” was explained to the best of my capacity.  In this, warnings were interwoven to those who come to Orthodoxy from other confessions of faith and consider themselves to “know God” and to be “spiritual” and to have “experiences of the grace of the Holy Spirit”.  As I formerly pointed, out many such people alter some of their beliefs to be compatible to Orthodoxy but remain ignorant of the rich tradition of our teaching on the life in Christ.  So I shall begin by attempting to lay something of a general foundation of our ascetic life and in the next post say something more specific in reply to the above inquiry.

Since the question at hand concerning experiences from God would usually be something that occurs when one is at prayer, we shall deal with stages of prayer and also stages of grace.  In reference to the latter, we can turn to Joseph the Hesychast; thus he writes to a correspondent:

The prayer must be said with the inner voice* But since initially the nous [or mind] is not accustomed to it, it forgets to say the prayer.  This is why you say it at times orally and at other times noetically [or mentally]. This happens until the nous gets its fill and grace begins to act within.

This “action” of grace is the joy and delight you feel within yourself when you say the prayer, and you want to say it continuously. So and when the nous takes over the prayer and this joy that I am writing about occurs, the prayer will be said unceasingly within you, without any effort on your part. This is called perception of the action of grace, because grace acts without man’s volition. He eats, walks, sleeps, awakes, while internally he cries out the prayer continuously. And he has peace and joy. (Monastic Wisdom, The Letters of Joseph the Hesychast, p. 44)

As he continues, he speaks of three stages of grace, and we can see that the above action begins to manifest itself in the first stage.

The spiritual life is divided into three stages, and grace acts in a person accordingly. The first stage is called purification, during which a person is cleansed. What you have now is called the grace of purification. This form of grace leads one to repentance. All the eagerness that you have for spiritual things is due to grace alone. Nothing is your own. It secretly acts upon everything. So when you exert yourself, this grace remains with you for a certain period of time. If a person progresses with noetic [or mental] receives another form of grace which is entirely different.

As we mentioned earlier, this first form of grace is called “perception of the action of grace,” and is the grace of purification. That is, one who prays feels the presence of divine energy within him.

The second form of grace is called the grace of illumination.  During this stage, one receives the light of knowledge and is raised to the vision of God. This does not mean seeing lights, fantasies, and images, but it means clarity of the nous, clearness of thoughts, and depth of cognition. For this to occur, the person praying must have much stillness and an unerring guide.

The third stage—when grace overshadows—is the grace of perfection, truly a great gift. I shall not write to you about this now, since it is unnecessary. (Ibid. pp. 44-45)

Concerning the former of the abovementioned, that is, stages in prayer, Archimandrite Sophrony gives us an outline when, in reference to the Jesus Prayer, he writes:

It is possible to establish a certain sequence in the development of this prayer.  First, it is a verbal matter: we say the prayer with our lips while trying to concentrate our attention on the Name and the words.  Next, we no longer move our lips but pronounce the Name of Jesus Christ, and what follows after, in our minds, mentally.  In the third stage mind and heart combine to act together: the attention of the mind is centered in the heart and the prayer said there.  Fourthly, the prayer becomes self-propelling.  This happens when the prayer is confirmed in the heart and, with no especial effort on our part, continues there, where the mind is concentrated.  Finally, the prayer, so full of blessing, starts to act like a gentle flame within us, as an inspiration from on High, rejoicing the heart with a sensation of divine love and delighting the mind in spiritual contemplation.  This last state is sometimes accompanied by a vision of Light. (His Life is Mine, Archimandrite Sophrony, p. 113 )

Bishop Kallistos Ware gives us a number of definitions of prayer which have some relation to the stages explained above. He first refers to a definition in an English dictionary that describes prayer as “a solemn request to God.”  This can correspond to the first two stages spoken of by Archimandrite Sophrony.  Prayer being described as an act of petition of man to God can be either verbalized or pronounced in one’s mind.  In a second definition, he quotes St. Theophan the Recluse, who says concerning prayer that “the principle thing is to stand before God with the mind in the heart, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night until the end of life.”  Bishop Kallistos points out that to pray “is no longer to ask for things,” but it is “to stand before God, to enter into an immediate and personal relationship with Him.”  This can correspond with the third stage mentioned above, yet this is still predominantly an action initiated by man.  As Bishop Kallistos continues, “stress is laid primarily on what is done by man rather than God.”  The third definition given by Bishop Kallistos relates to the fourth and fifth states spoken of by Archimandrite Sophrony.  He quotes St. Gregory of Sinai who says, “‘Prayer is God, who works all things in all men’– it is not something which I initiate but in which I share; it is not primarily something which I do but which God is doing in me — it is to cease doing things on our own and to enter into the action of God.”  It is this stage of prayer that is a participation in the action or energy or life of God that many of our Holy Fathers reached and brought to a degree of perfection through their asceticism. [The end of this state is a “manifestation of baptism”, for it is a birth from God; therefore it is a new beginning, a new mode of life in which the grace of the Holy Spirit is perceptible and operative.] (All quotes in this paragraph are from The Power of the Name, Bishop Kallistos Ware, pp. 1-2)  

Before a concluding comment, I would like to offer a few more quotes about grace and prayer.  Somewhere St. Peter Damascus says that the beginning of grace is to see one’s sins.  Concerning the acquisition of higher stages of prayer, Archmandrite Sophrony writes: “According to ancient tradition mind unites with heart through Divine action when the monk continues in the ascetic feat of obedience and abstinence; when the mind, the heart and the very body of the ‘old man’ to a sufficient degree are freed from the dominion over them of sin; when the body becomes worthy to be ‘the temple of the Holy Ghost’”.  (His Life is Mine, Archimandrite Sophrony, p. 112)

My hope is that these outlines of the stages of grace and prayer give a bit of a foundation of the knowledge of our ascetic tradition and can act as a measuring device to help give the reader some idea of where he is stands spiritually. 

 

*In the glossary of the book quoted “inner voice” is defined as such:                          St. Nicodemos the Hagorite explains the “inner voice” or “inner reason” in this manner: Once you have brought your nous into the heart, it should not just stay there, looking and doing nothing, but should find reason, that is, the inner voice of the heart through which we think, compose essays, make judgments, analyze, and read whole books silently, without saying a single word with the mouth.