Photo courtesy of BBC.
In the past, I have made clear on these pages that I personally uphold the Orthodox Church’s traditional position on the beginning of human life. A new human person created in the image of God is brought from nonexistence into being as an act of divine love at the very moment of its conception. We must believe this to be true of every child conceived, even when impregnation occurs by means of the worst imaginable sexual brutality. We Orthodox do not have the theological, spiritual, and moral license to say that God creates and loves this child conceived in love, but that He somehow does not create and does not love that child conceived in violence. The evidence both explicit and implicit that this in fact constitutes Orthodox tradition can be ignored only through the most intransigently wilful blindness. I find it shocking to see how many Orthodox faithful, even some clergy, adopt an uncritical, unnuanced embrace of the shrill secular rhetoric and bumper sticker sloganeering of “choice” and “embryos” and “fetuses” and “products of conception” and “autonomy,” and the most absurd distortions of Scripture, to make their point that abortion is somehow a good thing blessed by God and fully compatible with the Gospel.
At the same time, I have also made clear my firm, if unbearably agonizing position that women must have unfettered access to legal abortion provided by medical professionals in clean, modern facilities. In our tragically fallen human condition, and in a 21st-century pluralistic, secular democracy, this comprises the only way to save the life of the mother even as we lose the earthly life of her child, a child destined for eternal joy in the uncreated life and love of our triune God, no matter how or when it dies. A preborn child’s eternal destiny in divine joy is no less true when its life ends through miscarriage at any moment in its development from conception to full term.
Finally, I have made clear my insistence that we cease demonizing women who, for reasons unfathomable to anyone but their individual selves, decide to terminate their pregnancy—some, as an act of choice incomprehensible to many of us; and others, as an act of despair when all sense of choice seems to have been taken from them. My readers will recall the last several paragraphs here, where a 90-something bunică went nearly eighty years bearing the heavy weight of aborting her child as a teenager to avoid being beaten within an inch of her life by her father. If we understand the profound reality of sin (as opposed to “sins”) with a properly Orthodox mind, we come to realize that abortion is less a matter of this or that individual woman’s sin, and more a matter of the sin of us all—by no means the only heartbreaking manifestation of the “sin of the world” which the Lamb of God came to take away (Jn 1:29). Do we truly believe we stand before God individually as the first among sinners, whose so-called righteousness is like cast-off rags, than whom no one has sinned worse? Or do we mince about in pious make-believe before our icons, gleefully judging the sins of others while drowning in the bottomless abyss of our own?
The end of Roe v. Wade is not the “victory” that many of us Orthodox imagine it to be.
Rather, it represents yet one more step in the United States’ downward spiral into social chaos and right-wing madness under the cynical guise of “saving babies.” What “pro-life” politician or right-wing activist screaming “Baby-killers!” cares sincerely about the fate of preborn babies when they don’t give a rat’s ass about post-born babies, children, and teens, whether their diabolical indifference takes the form of withholding social and economic supports from children, their parents, and especially pregnant women in dire need, or turning their backs on the teeming masses of desperate children and their parents at the southern border, or—most diabolical of all—their idolatry of guns and even military assault weapons when thousands of our children continue to face their murderers in abject terror as they die in oceans of their own blood? Where are our bishops, our priests, our seminarians, our monastics, our laypeople flocking to the streets to protest gun culture, children in cages at the border with Mexico, lack of safety networks for children and their parents suffering from insufficient housing, water, food? Where do we Orthodox take to the streets to condemn police brutality, state violence against racial minorities, capital punishment in the only member of the world’s developed nations?
The same Orthodox Christians who scream the loudest against abortion—and believe me on this, there’s a police investigation ongoing as I write—wish me excommunicated, homeless, hungry, dead, burning in hell for all eternity. They have pinpointed where I attend church and even where I live. They have contacted the parish office with the most salacious imaginable lies about my person. They have issued dog-whistled calls to violence against me. Their psychopathic hatred of our LGBTQI+ brothers, sisters, and siblings in Christ is laser-focused on my person. I live in a constant undercurrent of fear which often bubbles to the surface, but I will not be silenced.
These are the same “pro-life” Orthodox Christians who hate women more than they love babies. In their demon-possessed imaginations they love their “God” by hating everyone who is not them.
The gravest error of American Orthodoxy has been its uncritical embrace of and participation in the politicization of abortion and, in so doing, making common cause with some of the most misogynist, xenophobic, racist, nationalist, homophobic, Putin- and Gundiaev-worshipping, Ukraine-hating, violent elements in our Church and the wider society.
No, the end of Roe v. Wade is no victory. It signals the beginning of right-wing violence against everyone who fails to meet “conservative” criteria of who deserves to live—and who does not.
A true victory for Orthodoxy in America would be to eschew photo ops and TV appearances in useless marches, to remove the Church from grotesque political, legislative, and judicial battles over the deepest mysteries of life and death, and to invest enormous sums of money in working with women to reduce the need for abortion where we can, and to love our sisters as no less fully human than ourselves when they decide for abortion.
I shudder to think what this moment in America portends for the near and long-term future. The knives are out. Our Church is complicit.
Giacomo Sanfilippo is an Orthodox Christian in communion with the canonical Church, PhD candidate in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, and founding editor of Orthodoxy in Dialogue. His academic work focuses on sexuality, gender, and Orthodox tradition.