Three Reasons the Pro-Life Movement Needs Orthodoxy
Originally presented by Emily Wilkinson as part of Ancient Faith Radio's Sanctity of Life Special
I talk a lot about why Orthodoxy needs the pro-life movement, so today I'm going to speak about something different: Three Reasons Why the Pro-Life Movement Needs Orthodoxy - or, "Three Contributions Orthodox Can Make to the Pro-Life Movement." And by showing what Orthodoxy in particular has to offer, I hope to convince you to take an active role in the pro-life movement as an Orthodox Christian.
Historic witness & tradition
The first contribution is the most obvious: our historic witness and tradition.
Opposing abortion and upholding the value of children is just what we DO as Orthodox Christians - it's what we've always done.
We need to remember that abortion and infanticide were commonplace in the pagan context in which Christianity was born. In fact, as a side note, the ancient Romans even made a plant called silphium go extinct because of how much they used it as an abortifacient contraceptive!
Under traditional Roman law, fathers were expected to ensure that obviously deformed infants were put to death; and the law technically extended to having control over the life & death of his entire family (including his wife). So this meant that fathers would often commit infanticide not only in cases of deformities, but also to limit the number of daughters, or if the family was in poverty. And while some infants were killed by other means, the most common form of infanticide was exposure because it was seen as not being murder - and it was done very casually.
Christians were known not only for opposing these practices, but for actively rescuing babies that were abandoned outside to die of exposure - for "rescuing those being led away to the slaughter" as it says in Proverbs.
And this was just part of the whole package of Christianity: The early Christians were known for caring for the sick, poor, the vulnerable, etc. - for taking Christ's words seriously to care for the least of these. And this was all because Christians had a radically different worldview from that of Greco-Roman world.
There's a wonderful quote from a talk given by Fr. John Peck a few years ago: he explained, "Christianity's invention of the cultural idea of children as precious and treasured human beings was an outgrowth of its most radical and unacceptable and revolutionary idea, the idea of the radical equality and infinite value of every single human being as a beloved child of God."
One thing we talk about a lot in the pro-life movement is the notion of equality, that we are pro-life and anti-abortion because we believe that ALL human beings are morally equal: regardless of sex, age, ethnicity, ability, or level of development.
And as we can see, that idea - of human equality - is Christian, and it transformed society in many different ways:
- Christianity elevated the status of women in society.
- Christianity from the earliest times has asked husbands and wives to submit to one another in love as equals.
- Many of the early Christians would free their own slaves and even sell themselves into slavery so that they could buy the freedom of other Christians.
- And Christianity elevated the status of children so much that we are called to BE like children: in the Church, infants are baptized and considered full members of the Church. In fact, we go one step further in saying that while we are to raise children in godliness, children are in many ways our instructors in the faith.
As Orthodox Christians, we believe that we are part of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, that we have the fullness of the faith. In our Confession of Faith on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, which we celebrate on the first Sunday of Lent, we proclaim, "This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe."
Do we really believe those words?
That our Faith established the universe?
If we do, then we must acknowledge that it's time to return to our roots. It’s time to stop relying on Protestants and Catholics to respond to the crisis of abortion. Just as we Orthodox Christians have cared for the vulnerable and responded to innumerable injustices since the first century, it is our task to respond to abortion today.
And this brings me to the second reason the PLM needs Orthodoxy: which is prayer.
If you have ever stood outside an abortion facility, or been confronted by an angry mob of screaming pro-abortion protesters, you may have felt a palpable demonic presence. That is, you may know experientially that the fight against abortion is, first and foremost, a spiritual one.
And because of this, prayer needs to be the foundation of the pro-life movement. This is NOT to say that we stop there and don't take any action; of course not. It is just to say without prayer, we will not succeed, because the pro-life movement is engaged in spiritual battle.
Now, as Orthodox Christians, we are called to keep prayer central in our lives - to pray without ceasing. Our lives are grounded in the sacraments, in prayers throughout the day, in the Jesus Prayer.
If there's one thing Orthodoxy does, it's prepare us for spiritual warfare! We are equipped with so many tools in our spiritual toolbox. We're not just making it up from scratch. We have centuries and centuries of spiritual tradition and we're used to our faith impacting every aspect of our lives.
As Orthodox Christians, we are used to physically bringing our faith outside of the church and into the community. Just think about how often we process outside, around our churches, not only on Pascha but other days throughout the year. This represents taking our faith out into the world. We even go out and bless the nearest body of water for the Great Blessing of the Waters on Theophany. And we bring the church out in the world as we do house blessings, and each home is called to be a "tiny church."
So, let those who have girt themselves for war come out to do battle! Let us as Orthodox Christians strengthen the pro-life movement through doing that which comes naturally to us! The pro-life movement needs our prayers.
I'll give two of the most obvious examples of this: going to abortion centers, and marching.
As I mentioned earlier, abortion centers are places of demonic activity. But "the prayers of the righteous availeth much" and the cross is "the glory of angels and the scourge of demons." St. John Krondstadt said: "...its shadow alone causes terror to the demons, because it is the sign of Christ…" St. Paisios of Mount Athos observed that saying the Jesus Prayer with our prayer rope frightens away demons, as if shooting spiritual bullets.
We need to go out to the abortion centers and take our prayer ropes and our Psalters with us! We need to go to the very place where abortions are happening, and ask God's mercy - for the unborn children going to their deaths, the women in crisis, their partners, the abortionist, the nurses and other staff, and all of those involved.
Praying the Psalms properly orients oneself to the somber reality at hand. And while the Psalms can be prayed in any situation, they seem especially appropriate at an abortion center, since in Orthodoxy we pray the Psalms for those who are departing this life.
And the second example of where we can make a contribution of prayer is very different: it is at marches. We Orthodox Christians know how to process, and more specifically how to pray, sing, and process at the same time! Our prayers are needed even at pro-life marches.
I was once at a march where some counter-protesters were yelling at the crowd walking past. Some of the pro-life people who were nearby shouted at them "God BLESS you!" over and over to drown out their voices, and the way the pro-lifers were saying it made it more like a curse than a blessing. This was really unfortunate. So I am suggesting that we can offer the opposite by our presence at pro-life marches. Even counter-protesters are astonished when they see Orthodox Christians singing hymns and turning a march into a procession. What better opportunity to "bless those who curse you" than to just sing the beautiful prayers and hymns of the Church in a calm, sober, and humble manner? That element of humble prayer is something desperately needed, as a witness both at abortion centers and at pro-life marches, and something that Orthodoxy can offer.
And this brings me to the third reason the pro-life movement needs Orthodoxy, which is: Orthodoxy's unique emphasis on humility. This is something which is greatly needed by the pro-life movement.
As I said, I've been involved in the pro-life movement for 15 years, and I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Every social movement has its disagreements. There were major strategic disagreements about how to end slavery, and more recently, in the Civil Rights Movement, regarding how to end segregation. And despite this, everyone has to work together toward a common goal.
The pro-life movement has its own fair share of disagreements, but I have come to believe that the biggest obstacle to the movement is not differing ideas, but pride, and the most important thing lacking is humility.
What are some examples of where humility is absolutely crucial in the pro-life movement?
- We need humility from leaders who have disagreements about pro-life strategy.
- We need humility to evaluate what we're doing and assess whether it's working, whether it's effective - that takes a GREAT deal of humility. We need the ability to accept criticism and suggestions for improvement.
- We need humility in interacting with pro-choice people, because humility communicates love and care for the well-being of the Other, and people don't care what you know unless they know that you care.
- We need humility in reaching out to abortion-vulnerable women, because if they feel judged or condemned, they will run right past you and into the arms of the abortion clinic workers.
- We need humility in talking with and about post-abortive women and men, because we know that "But for the grace of God go I;" and we must not condemn their sin, but humbly share with them God's forgiveness.
I could go on. But my point is that the pro-life moevement will not succeed without humility. Not compromise, but humility. Am I suggesting that Orthodox Christians are "more humble" than other Christians? Far from it.
What I AM saying is that Orthodoxy is strongly focused on acquisition of the virtues. And in Orthodoxy, we experience a CONSTANT, NEVER-ENDING emphasis on the vital importance of humility. Our priests are constantly hammering into our heads the words of the Church Fathers, about how pride is the most dangerous of all the passions, the root of every other sin. So we have the potential for a great deal of introspection and self-awareness.
And because of this, faithful Orthodox Christians have the potential to make very effective pro-life advocates, to make our contributions with humility, and therefore to make a real difference in the pro-life movement.
Three Actions You Can Take Today
So these are the three reasons the pro-life movement needs Orthodoxy: our historic witness and tradition; our prayer in spiritual battle; and our unique emphasis on humility. As an Orthodox Christian, the pro-life movement needs YOU!
I'll conclude by offering a few suggestions for how you can get involved in the pro-life movement today:
The first is to learn pro-life apologetics. This means learning how to winsomely and effectively defend your pro-life beliefs, and engage in conversations with pro-choice people using arguments that actually work, in order to change people's minds and help them become pro-life. If you are interested in pro-life apologetics and dialogue, I highly recommend checking out an organization called the Equal Rights Institute. ERI trains pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly, and argue persuasively, and they focus heavily on relational apologetics. They have an entire course that you can purchase, which I highly recommend if you're interested in learning to have better dialogues about abortion, but they also have an incredible amount of free content, with articles and podcasts and videos.
My second suggestion for how you can get involved is to join a 40 Days for Life campaign. 40 Days for Life is an international pro-life prayer vigil that takes place in hundreds of cities around the world for forty days every spring and and every fall. The way it works is pro-life people "adopt" their local abortion facility by filling as many hours as possible with public prayer and witness. So you'd sign up, let's say, to pray for two hours a week in front of your local Planned Parenthood. This is a great thing to do with a friend or with a group from your parish. And since 2007, 40 Days for Life has led to over 18,000 women changing their minds about abortion and saving their children; 107 abortion facilities closing; and over 200 abortion clinic workers quitting their jobs.
My third (and favorite) suggestion: start an affiliated pro-life ministry at your parish!
As previously stated, one of the goals for Orthodox Christians for Life is to engage Orthodox Christians in pro-life ministry, and it is a joy to announce that now, you can help by forming a pro-life ministry at your parish through our brand new parish ministry program. Affiliated Orthodox Christians for Life parish ministries pray for an end to abortion; educate their parish on abortion and other life issues; and serve their local community by partnering with other organizations to support women and men who are at-risk for abortion. We will provide your ministry with ongoing support, resources, and training to help you create a culture of life in your parish and the local community.
To inquire about the Parish Ministry Program, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to Fr. John Parker and Ancient Faith Radio for including Orthodox Christians for Life in the 2021 Sanctity of Life Special!