Byzantine Catholic Church in America: News of the East


Text of Bishop John Elya's Address to the 7th Annual National Memorial for the Pre-Born and their Mothers and Fathers, Washington, DC

PRO-LIFE – At the National Clergy Council for the Preborn - Washington, DC - 1/22/01

Address to the 7th Annual National Memorial for the Pre-Born and their Mothers and Fathers – At the Senate Russell Building, Washington, DC

His Grace, Bishop John Elya, Bishop of Newton, MA

Once upon a time, a Christian congregation, spiritually alive formed a committee to find a preacher for their flock of believers. After a long search, the committee found a preacher who really impressed and inspired them. That preacher was called to serve that congregation. On the first Sunday the new preacher gave an eloquent and inspiring sermon, and the committee was happy and proud that they had make the right choice. On the next Sunday, the church was filled to capacity with standing room only. People were eager to hear our fiery preacher. Our fiery preacher gave exactly the same sermon as the week before. That puzzled the listeners. Then on the third and on the fourth Sundays he repeated the same sermon. A group came to him and asked him when he would give another sermon. The preacher replied: "What do you expect? I am going to give the same sermon again and again until you learn it. I will give a second sermon as soon as I have seen that you have paid attention to the first one."

For 28 years now, we have been decrying the evils of abortion. We have been preaching the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. But abortion is still legal. We are in the right. We hope that, eventually, enough people will not only realize that we are right but also will take action to end this shameful period of our country’s history. So I feel privileged to address your distinguished group today. But I wonder what new things shall I tell you and tell our American people, except to repeat the same sermon. We have to keep shouting, "abortion has within itself the seed of destruction of our society… We must give witness to the value of each and every human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death."

Twenty years ago, Cardinal Humbnerto Medeiros of blessed memory, Archbishop oof Boston, caused an uproar among pro-abortion people when he said his famous words: "Abortion is murder." He was telling the plain truth. Abortionists try to hide this fact by using more palatable terms, such as "terminating pregnancy", or "disposing of the fetus". If someone should tell you that he doesn’t want to kill you, he just wants to terminate your life, would that make it easier on you? We cannot hide the reality by soft words. The fact remains that the "thing", call it baby or fetus, or lump of flesh, which is inside its mother, is a living, growing human seed. It has a human heart, a human brain in miniature, an initial formation of human eyes, human ears, and other human organs.

Some question the fact that human life starts at conception. If we believe the Bible, we have a certain proof of a human and intelligent life of John the Baptist, when he was six months old in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, and of Jesus in the womb of Mary only a few weeks after Jesus’s conception. As the Evangelist Luke tells us, Mary went immediately after the Annunciation to visit Elizabeth to help her in the last months of her pregnancy. When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe in her womb leapt for joy. Then Elizabeth exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." (Luke 1: 39-42) One of my favorite verses in the Old Testament is in Deutoronomy (30:19) "I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live." I choose life. Don’t you? I am "pro-choice." I chose life. We have to give a choice, not only to the pregnant woman, but also to her baby. I preferential option is to side with the weak, rather than the strong. The weak deserves an advocate, rather than the strong. If we were given a choice before being born, I am very sure, we would choose life.

We should remember that, even if it is lawful at the present time, abortion is still immoral and sinful. It is a crime against human life. Slavery was legal for centuries, yet it was immoral and degrading to human dignity. The grave sin of abortion is not limited to the mother of the aborted child and to the doctor who performs the operation. It is shared by anyone who offers help to make the moral crime possible: those who counsel the mother in favor of an abortion, those who give a referral, those who drive the mother to the clinic, the legislators who vote in favor of allowing abortion, or of funding abortion, or in favor of making abortion in any way more accessible.

Supporters of abortion even condone the so-called "partial-birth" abortion. As it is obvious, in this dreadful procedure, the baby is three-quarters born, and then the brains are drained from the skull. It is clear to me that such an operation is really infanticide. How about a minority of our legislators backed by a Presidential veto?

The Church of the East, extending its roots deep into Apostolic teachings, has always opposed abortion. We of the East pay special attention to the writings of the early Fathers of the Church. We believe that, being closer to the source of light can shed more light on moral life. Allow me to quote a few of them as a conclusion to my brief remarks:

The Didache, written in the latter part of the first century, says: "Commit no murder, adultery, sodomy, fornication; or theft. Practise no magic, sorcery, abortion, or infanticide."

Athenagoras of Athens in the latter part of the second century, says: "What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it before God? For the same person would not regard a fetus in the womb as a living thing, and therefore an object of God’s care, and at the same time slay it, once it had come to life."

In the third century, Tertullian wrote: "Abortion is a precipitation of murder, nor does it matter whether or not one takes a life when formed or drives it away while forming, for he is also a man who will be one."

St. Basil the Great, in the fourth century, wrote: "A woman who has deliberately destroyed a fetus must pay the penalty for murder", and in another chapter: "Those also who give drugs causing abortions are murderers themselves, as well as those who receive the poison that kills the fetus."

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s brother, wrote: "There is no question about that which is bred in the uterus, both growing and moving from place to place. It remains, therefore, that we must think that the point of commencement of existence is one and the same for body and soul."

I could give more quotations, but these are enough to demonstrate that from the very beginning the Church has strongly opposed abortion. Let us continue to proclaim this opposition from the rooftops.

I was brought to tears, ten years ago, when I heard a classmate of mine, Bishop Austin Vaughn, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York, of blessed memory. At a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, He said:

"Among the slaughters of innocent persons in the history of mankind, two slaughters stand out: the slaughter of Hebrew children by the Pharaoh, and the slaughter of the infants by Herod after the birth of our Lord. One infant saved from the earlier killing was Moses; the infant saved from Herod’s slaughter was Jesus. Any effort of ours to save even a single life is worthwhile."

God bless the efforts of our National Clergy Council and of all the people of good will in their worthwhile efforts and sacrifices to save the lives of our children of today and tomorrow and generations to come. God gave us a choice. Let us choose life.