Christ is Risen and Life Reigns!

This beautifully-written piece was penned by Veronica Ruby, former secretary of the board of directors of Orthodox Christians for Life. It originally appeared at Engage Orthodoxy, a "Pan-Orthodox Christian community seeking to foster communion among all people." The photos featured were taken by Aidan Garza.

I am a “cradle” Orthodox Christian which means that I received infant baptism and was raised in the Orthodox Church.  To be honest, though, I didn’t internally convert to this faith until I became a mother. Living decades skating on the surface of my Orthodox facade, I was plunged into a crucial decision when my son was born.  What religion will he be? I felt, if he was going to be an Orthodox Christian, I would have to be able to answer all of his theological questions and concerns. I remember asking a question about God when I was little and being told, “just go to church.”  Now, this was actually a very good answer. For me, though, it was incomplete. As I studied and prepared to be the source of information for my child about the Orthodox Christian faith, I realized its fullness and truth and became an actual Orthodox Christian myself.  My real, and joyful, struggle in the faith finally began. Still, I barely gave abortion a second thought and I merely checked off the box, yes human life is sacred. I was still gliding on the surface.

Me, holding my son, on the day he was baptized.
Me, holding my son, on the day he was baptized.
Me, holding my son, on the day he was baptized.
My grandmother holding me on the day I was baptized.
My grandmother holding me on the day I was baptized.
My grandmother holding me on the day I was baptized.

Fast forward about eleven years.  My best friend, another Orthodox Christian mom, told me about some Roman Catholic mothers she had met through a homeschool group.  Apparently, these people were “very pro-life.” They attended a huge anti-abortion protest in San Francisco every January called the ‘Walk for Life West Coast’ and they even took their children to this event.  I assumed these people were a bit irresponsible, if not a little crazy.  San Francisco is a pro-abortion capital. I feared that these parents must be risking their own safety, and worse yet, that of their children, to openly oppose abortion in that city.  These Catholic mothers and their families also apparently regularly prayed the Rosary with “intentions” for the end of abortion. All of this was novel to me and these people sounded kind of interesting.  Having no prior relationships with people in the pro-life movement though, I confess, I was a little worried about my best friend hanging around with them and wanted to protect her. Somewhere along the line, I had certainly internalized the prevailing negative media portrayal of people who profess to be pro-life.  Fortunately, my friend gave me the opportunity to meet these Catholic families. Little did I know, they would change my life.

I was so taken by the pro-life passion of my new Catholic friends that I started to read deeply on this topic.  I studied the history of abortion and the methods of propaganda used to encourage its modern-day practice. I learned about its pervasiveness and impacts which took me to dark places as my eyes were opened to the evil that abortion is and how deeply it is interwoven into our culture.  With God’s help, I was always able to come back to His light and His hope.

My studies included Scripture and the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom.  I went as far back as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, or the Didache, finding that first century Christians were taught to choose the Way of Life, not the Way of Death.  “Do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide.”

The firm roots of Orthodox Christianity in the Way of Life have been damaged by severe, and even painful, discouragement.  We can be left afraid to even say abortion is wrong. Depending on where you live in the United States, being pro-life can result in loss of friends, work, and reputation.  This is certainly the case in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live. But, the Orthodox Christian sanctity of life heritage continues; it was never cut off at any point. To be Orthodox Christian today still means to be as firmly pro-life as our earliest brothers and sisters.  That humans, either still in the womb or born, are made in God’s image and likeness has not changed. All persons, including unborn persons, are precious to God and, out of our love for Him, we have to defend them.

Why did bright, hospitable, generous, faithful and loving Catholics teach me to be pro-life?  Why had I not learned this from my church or other Orthodox Christians? Why was I never aware of the impact of abortion on our society; from how it individually affects the women involved to the role it has in public policy?  This “single issue,” I learned, has a material influence on economics, law, medicine, ethics, politics, science, education, and the list goes on, but I didn’t know.

While wonderful Catholics had a major role to enlighten me to the reality of abortion in this country, only true enlightenment can come from God.  I had tended to be an intellectual Orthodox Christian. I was, at least I hoped, proficient in Christian apologetics, ready for those tough questions should they ever come from my son.  Thankfully, while I was practicing my faith in my head, God seems to have been working on my heart. I feel that the Holy Spirit was preparing me to receive a glimpse of the devastation of abortion and arouse compassion in my heart for this cause.

I had always known in some sense that abortion was wrong.  I just didn’t care. My heart needed healing and the Church, our great hospital, has always been there for me, helping to heal all of my spiritual ills, those I know and those I do not.  And, maybe, I started to think, I should act on what I have learned and try to be for my fellow Orthodox Christians what these faithful Catholics have been for me, a gentle and loving example, a Christian example, of an anti-abortion activist.  This is my goal and it is a monumental one for me with all of my failings; I am so very far away. I seek help wherever I can find it. Attending the Walk for Life each year, praying with so many others, and hearing the inspirational and informative speakers at the pre-Walk Rally provide powerful forms of encouragement and growth toward my goal.

I remember the first year I attended the Walk for Life in 2014.  I had my son stay home as I tentatively previewed the event. I had been able to find an Orthodox priest who was going and he kindly agreed to meet me.  I walked with him and a few of his parishioners. The event was immediately elevating. I learned so much from the speakers at the Rally – even that there is a strong non-religious pro-life group called ‘Secular for Life’ which is very welcomed in the diverse pro-life movement.  I felt a lightness, uplifted by the prayerful and joyful nature of the event and I knew I would be back again and again, God willing. I was so wrong in my early and uneducated fears about the Walk. A presvytera who attended this year said that she and her husband felt the presence of the Holy Spirit at the Walk.  I think they identified what I felt the first time I attended and continue to experience.

On January 26, 2019, not having missed a year, I attended my sixth Walk for Life and my son was there for his fifth time.  This year, I was surrounded by scores of Orthodox Christians, including priests, deacons and monastics from multiple jurisdictions.  Orthodox Christians came from all over California, and from other states as well. I said a prayer of thanksgiving that God is bringing together Orthodox Christians who are called to this issue and ministry in increasing numbers.

I was certainly not the first Orthodox Christian to participate in the Walk for Life.  The first Walk for Life West Coast was in 2005 and was attended by approximately 7,000 people.  The size of the Walk grew steadily and now ranges from between 50,000 to 60,000. I know that there are Orthodox Christian hierarchs, clergy and laity who have had a long-term presence at this event and I am grateful to them.

Over the years, Orthodox Christians have extended participation beyond the rally and walk.  We now have a sanctity of life service in the San Francisco Civic Center just before the Rally.  A group of Southern Californian Orthodox faithful organize a full pilgrimage weekend around the Walk for Life focusing on our church’s sanctity of life teachings and encouraging youth, especially, to actively participate in the pro-life movement.  Just last year, we were blessed that His Eminence Archbishop Benjamin, Archbishop of San Francisco and the West, Orthodox Church in America, gave the Invocation from the stage before attendees numbering in the tens of thousands. The Catholic founders of the Walk for Life have genuine love and respect for our Orthodox Christian community.  They warmly welcomed Archbishop Benjamin to the podium from which His Eminence gave an eloquent call to help, and not judge, women in unplanned pregnancies, and women who have suffered abortion. I really appreciated the message of compassion and service from a hierarch, making clear that sanctity of life includes caring about babies after they are born and helping those in need in general.

While the Walk for Life is peaceful and prayerful, it is not exactly quiet.  There is singing and cheering from voices of all ages. The dominant demographic is youth and young adults.  I am especially proud of the Orthodox Christian teenagers and young people who attend the Walk for Life, including my son.  They bring so much hope to what, at times, seems like a hopeless problem. Many carry signs saying, “I am the Pro-Life Generation.”  So many young people are committed to inspiring the collective conclusion that abortion is unthinkable.

Some of our Orthodox teenagers made signs for the Walk with a distinctly Orthodox Christian flavor, declaring that “Christ is Risen, and Life Reigns!”  The source of this proclamation is the magnificent Pascal homily of St. John Chrysostom. It is an ultimate life-affirming statement. When the darkness and destruction of abortion and its prevalence in our culture becomes too burdensome on my heart, I recall the truth that Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is sovereign over all life and He has conquered death.

Some Orthodox Christians told me they were motivated to attend the Walk for Life this year, in particular, because of the recent New York state law that, among other things, legalizes abortions up to birth and revokes medical care for babies who are born alive after failed abortions. With this backdrop of legalization of, essentially, infanticide, in one of our country’s most influential states, our Service for the End of Abortion in the Civic Center was more poignant than ever as we sang for the Holy Innocents to pray to God for us, and the Most Holy Theotokos to save us.

The Walk for Life is a positive event that brings light into the gem that is San Francisco, a treasure of a city tainted with the sad finding from a few years ago, that more pregnancies are aborted than carried to term.  To the consternation of the body politic, banners for the Walk are hung along Market Street declaring that “Abortion Hurts Women.” A starkly honest and clear statement for an issue rife with euphemisms like saying an abortion is “removing a pregnancy,” not a person.  The message of the banners reminds me that I need to pray for, and help, mothers at risk of seeking abortions and for those who have already been hurt by abortion. They are victims too.

Our Orthodox Christian group is united at the Walk for Life around a banner, brought every year by dedicated Southern Californians, bearing the icon of ‘Our Lord and Savior, He Who Loves the Innocent.’  It depicts Christ with His arms outstretched gathering the innocents to Him. They have bodies of babies, but their faces reveal their timeless and eternal souls. They are looking up to Him, reaching up to Him.  They know His protective presence. The image teaches me to follow the example of Christ. It is an example of love poured out for the vulnerable and voiceless, for which my heart knows its mission.