The legacy media are as well known for their accurate reporting of religion as I am for my fluent grasp of Indonesian, and for the same reason: Both are foreign languages, completely unrelated to our environment. Yet that lack of familiarity does not stop the media from making erroneous statements about churches with an air of infallibility that would put any pontiff of old to shame. For instance, one of the nation’s leading news outlets has published a piece claiming that the world’s second-largest church’s teaching on abortion “isn’t black and white.” Instead, its leaders believe “it’s theologically wrong to uniformly choose a fetus over a woman.”
All of this flies in the face of the two-millennia-long teachings of Christianity in general and the Eastern Orthodox Church in particular. Yet it forms the basis of Michelle Boorstein’s article, “The threat to Roe v. Wade is driving a religious movement for reproductive choice,” which states, “Americans who see a religious case for abortion access try to shift the narrative.” It began by citing an ordained congregationalist leader who told her church she “never felt more known and heard and loved by God than when I entered the doors of a Planned Parenthood.”
For an encore, she cited the words of the leader of the largest Eastern Orthodox Church body in the United States — delivered at this year’s March for Life. In her defense, her confusion may have stemmed in part from the greater theological confusion espoused by Archbishop Elpidophoros (born in Turkey as Ioannis Lambriniadis), the leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
“We affirm the gift and sanctity of life — all life, born and unborn. As Christians we confess that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God,” he began. “Every life is worthy of our prayer and our protection, whether in the womb, or in the world. We are all responsible for the well-being of children. We are their ‘keepers’ and cannot shirk from our accountability for their welfare.”
Yet he pivoted. “At the same time, we also affirm our respect for the autonomy of women,” he continued in his address to the nation’s largest pro-life gathering. “Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ assumed human nature through His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. She freely chose to bring Him into the world, and God respected her freedom.”
“We march not for coercion,” he said.
These remarks seem more equivocal than his comments when he marched with Black Lives Matter protesters — which he described as “my duty as a Christian and as a Greek” — following the shooting of Breonna Taylor. “It is our moral duty and obligation to uphold the sanctity of every human being,” he told BLM in June 2020.
To add to the confusion, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s press office retweeted a message from a Greek writer named Aggeliki Spanou, which hailed his remarks as endorsing a pro-choice position. “A hierarch who defends a woman’s right to decide for herself, even if she chooses abortion. So rare in the Church that it ends up [being] moving,” it said in translation.
Together, The Washington Post and writers from around the world have implied the Orthodox Church is pro-choice. This betrays an astonishing ignorance of the teachings of the second-largest church, which has over 286 million members worldwide, as well as the doctrines of the Christian Church from its earliest days.
‘You Shall Not Practice Witchcraft, You Shall Not Murder a Child by Abortion’
Abortion is condemned by the earliest document outside the Bible, known as the Didachē, or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” The document, which was likely written at approximately 100 A.D., describes “two ways [of life], one of life and one of death.” It instructs those who wish to avoid the way of death: “[Y]ou shall not commit pederasty … you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.”
Boorstein described life as “a process with steps — not a light switch moment as to when ‘life’ begins.” As though anticipating Boorstein’s argument, St. Basil the Great wrote, “The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. The hair-splitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us.” The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese includes this quotation in its Sunday School curriculum for ninth graders.
Similarly, Canon 9 of the Quinisext Council (692 A.D.) — which the Eastern Orthodox Church considers to have dogmatic authority — states, “Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the foetus, are subjected to the penalty of murder.” These examples join a long list of Church Fathers who said abortion may never be permissible.
Contemporary Orthodox Remain Pro-Life
The teaching of the Orthodox Church did not change with the times. The website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese contains a 1985 document by Dr. Stanely S. Harakas, who wrote:
In some cases the controversial issues can be addressed from long-standing doctrinal, ethical and canonical traditions. Where this is the case, there is little or no debate in the Church. One example is the Church’s position on the legalization of abortion on demand. Since the Church went through the same debate in the early fourth century, it is not difficult to determine ‘the mind of the Church’ on this issue, and to apply it to the current discussion.
“The only time the Orthodox Church will reluctantly acquiesce to abortion is when the preponderance of medical opinion determines that unless the embryo or fetus is aborted, the mother will die,” he concluded. “Decisions of the Supreme Court and State legislatures by which abortion, with or without restrictions, is allowed should be viewed by practicing Christians as an affront to their beliefs in the sanctity of life.”
More recently, in February 2020, the Orthodox Church of Greece issued a statement forthrightly expressing that the Church sees an unborn child “as a complete and integral human being since its conception, and therefore, it considers voluntary abortion as murder and does not accept it.”
Paradox vs. Clarity
Archbishop Elpidophoros’ defenders say he merely engaged in the use of paradox, and “not everyone can handle paradox.” But four of his brother bishops found his words so concerning that they issued a statement on March 25 — the day of the feast of the Annunciation, which celebrates the conception of Jesus Christ “of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” — clarifying the Orthodox Church’s position on legalized abortion.
“The Orthodox Church embraces this paradox of the Incarnation, of the Uncreated becoming one of His creatures” with the full consent of His Mother, the statement said. Yet an Orthodox Christian analysis requires “the clarity that the newly-conceived human — including the Lord Himself at the moment of His conception — is a full human. Here, then, the consent of the Theotokos ends, and her duties as a mother begin,” it said. “Once she conceived the Lord, she had the sacred responsibility of nurturing and caring for Him, which she fulfilled perfectly.” The statement was signed by Antiochian Orthodox Metropolitan Joseph, Bulgarian Orthodox Metropolitan Joseph, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Longin, and Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Nicolae.
The group “Orthodox Christians for Life” likewise cited the statement of Saint Paisios of Mount Athos: “When a man disobeys one commandment of the Gospel, he alone is responsible. When, however, something that clashes with the commandments of the Gospel becomes the law of the land, then the wrath of God falls upon the whole nation, that it may be chastened.”
A Concerted Effort to Change Church Teachings on Life and Sexuality
Part of the problem comes from concerted attempts to change the Orthodox Church’s teachings. Boorstein quoted the archbishop’s remarks before citing George Demacopoulous of Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center (OCSC). Demacopoulous “noted that abortion is legal in every major Orthodox country,” she wrote. Boorstein did not mention that the first nation in the world to legalize abortion was the Soviet Union, which is hardly known for its solicitous posture toward the Orthodox Church (although the Communists did produce many Orthodox saints).
The OCSC has repeatedly tried to have the Orthodox Church liberalize its views on abortion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The Center’s house organ, Public Orthodoxy, published an article titled “Beyond the Binary” that asserted, “Much like gender itself, Orthodox understandings of gender span a spectrum of diverse views.” Fr. John Parker — who went on to be named the dean of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary — described Public Orthodoxy as an “anti-catechism” produced by “wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.”
Demacopoulous’ message on abortion is, “Christian moral teaching isn’t black and white” — words which carry a sinister echo. But his efforts underline a reality: If the Eastern Orthodox Church already taught these doctrines, there would be no need to change its beliefs.
Part of Boorstein’s confusion may stem from Orthodox Christianity’s utter anonymity in the West. Eastern Orthodox Christians in the U.S. number approximately half the population of the American Jewish community and are far less known. Even its stoutest defenders have called the Orthodox Church “the best-kept secret in America.”
And media bias undeniably plays a role in the coverage offered by Jeff Bezos’ publication. Boorstein has also been accused of lying that conservative scholar Ryan Anderson likened transgenderism to the Holocaust.
But as willful as Boorstein’s misrepresentation may be, one cannot blame the (largely secular) media for misrepresenting the Orthodox Church’s position on abortion when its leaders seem willing to muddy the waters themselves.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.