Sunday, January 22--St. Mary Magdalene held a memorial service on “Sanctity of Life Sunday” for all unborn children. Here is an excerpt from Fr. Gabriel’s Sermon that day:
The Late Archimandrite of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, Fr. Athanasy, taught his students many things during his time on the Holy Mountain. He was a wonderful spiritual father to anyone who he came into contact with. Father also had such wonderful ways of explaining theological truths in simple terms, making them easier to grasp or understand.
One day, he was asked to explain the differences between the way Western Civilization approaches God, as opposed to the more ancient Eastern trains of thought. I have used this analogy in several of my lectures, and with many of you privately, so please indulge me if you have heard this before!
Fr. Athanasy told us to pretend that God created two beautiful roses, and gave them to the West and the East. The Eastern culture looks at the rose, inhales the wonderful aroma which comes from it, admires the beautiful creation which God had given it, and gives thanks for the blessing.
The Western culture looks at the rose and does the same thing as the East. It inhales the beautiful scent and it looks deep at the vibrant colors of the flower. Questions are then asked:
“How did God make this flower so beautiful?
How did he get it to smell so wonderful?”
In an attempt to understand the flower better, the west begins to take the petals off, in order to dissect and understand these great mysteries. Eventually they find that they are not only left with the same questions they started with, but are absent the beauty of the original flower.
We live in that western world where culture demands that we try to comprehend our existence. When we go outside on a warm summer night and stare up at the sky, the tendency for us is to wonder what other types of life are out there? How did the universe get started? Was it a big bang? Is the Universe Expanding?
Our search and quest for scientific proof to explain the great mysteries of the universe begins to take over, and it becomes easy for us to fall into this trap of trying to understand things, instead of simply standing…marveling…rejoicing…thanking and giving Glory to God for the beautiful setting He has given mankind.
The same mentality can also affect the way we look inward at the complexities of our bodies and our own existence. We forget just how miraculous it is that we are able to walk, talk, and breathe on our own. Instead of giving Glory to God for all of these wonderful systems we have in our body, we try to analyze and break down our existence to the smallest protein chains and DNA sequences, to see how we can better seize control of our physical and mental existence. We try to understand and control everything in the universe, instead allowing God to control the flow of our lives on this earth.
When we don’t completely understand something, we as a culture tend to bury it, hide it, or shy away from it. Death, for example in our modern day culture, is something that people shy away from. Open casket funerals are seen as morbid to the modern day mind. It is becoming more and more popular to not have a funeral service at all. Instead of praying for the deceased’s eternal soul in heaven, the relatives and friends gather together to celebrate and remember the short time that the he or she had in THIS existence…the existence they are comfortable talking about…the one that they think they understand.
When modern day society doesn’t understand something, it hides from truth and reality.
Many of brothers and sisters have begun to do the same thing with another great mystery that is beyond our comprehension…the death of a child still in the womb. Today, we in the Church call this day “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, because it remembers and mourns the tragic anniversary of the Roe Vs. Wade case which legalized abortion in this country.
This morning is a reminder to the entire world that life does not begin when we emerge from the womb…it begins at conception. There is no better evidence of this great fact than in the beginning chapters of the Gospel, when it is an unborn child…St. John…who leapt in the womb of his mother when he came in the mere presence of the Living God. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, the unborn John’s heart burned with joy as he perceived the presence of Him who would take away the sins of the entire world.
There is no amount of scientific reasoning which can overcome the simple truth that the first person to recognize Christ on this earth…was an unborn child.
Today we will do something that is exceedingly rare in today’s world. We will remember and pray for all unborn infants…all of the holy and sinless innocents, who as we hear in one of the services, are like “Ships that pass through life, leaving no wake behind”
These types of memorials are rare, because society will ask us why it is necessary.
“Why bring up bad memories?”
“Why relive sad emotions instead of burying them in your mind?”
What can the Church offer us that time and healing cannot?”
There is a beautiful Ukrainian Christmas Carol, which was one of my favorites growing up, about the story of Rachel. If you remember from the Gospels, King Herod, out of fear of the stories about the messiah, put an order out to slaughter innocent youths under the age of two.
We hear in the Gospels a quote from the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, Weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children…refusing to be comforted…because they are no more.”
What happened that night to Rachel is not so much different than what couples go through when they experience the loss of an innocent youth. It doesn’t matter how many grief counselors are visited, how many family members try to comfort them, or how much time has passed, parents will often find themselves in the same shoes as Rachel…refusing to be comforted.
Sometimes, there are no answers to the difficulties of life. There are no easy paths towards eternal life, and the Church in Her wisdom knows that. In times of great trial and tribulation, the Embrace of the Orthodox Christian Faith offers those who are suffering in this life a warm blanket. It offers in the Theotokos, a mother for us to cuddle up with as when we were young…a shoulder for us to lay our head on…and a warm cloak for us to shed our tears in…just as she sheds tears with us for the difficulties that we endure in this fallen and imperfect world.
To all those who suffer from the loss of an unborn child, regardless if it was a natural loss or not, let the Church, and the Theotokos, be your blanket today, and for the rest of your lives. Let it sing not only to your hearts, but to the world…to not weep for our unborn children.
To quote the ending to that beautiful Ukrainian carol:
”Do not weep O Rachel, see your children are whole. They did not die…they are alive…they are in heaven.”