We are in the midst of some heated debate in this country on issues of culture, religion, morality, etc. It might be good to look back at some of what previous Ecumenical Patriarchs have said on some of these issues. Back in 1568 there was mistreatment of the Jews on the island of Crete. Patriarch Metrophanes III of Constantinople wrote the following concerning that mistreatment:
Injustices, therefore, and slander, regardless whomever acted upon or performed against, is still injustice. The unjust person is never relieved of responsibility for these acts under the pretext that the injustice is done against a heterodox and not against a believer.
Sadly, all too many Orthodox did not follow the admonition in his encyclical. The movie Fiddler on the Roof records at least one of the Russian pogroms against the Jews, even though such were forbidden by Ecumenical Patriarchs. But, in the same way we must be cautious how we treat those among us who are not of our faith. We cannot commit injustices against them on the grounds that their faith is to not be trusted in any way. Back in the 1500’s, Jews were classified as Christ-killers and were persecuted under that justification. Today all too many classify Muslims as proto-jihadists and justify any violation of their civil rights as justified. “It is not wrongful profiling. It simply makes sense.” But, as Patriarch Metrophanes III said, “Injustices … and slander … is still injustice.”
Does that mean that we have to accept anything that a non-believer says and allow it into society? No! The current Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, has written:
We stand firmly against those who violate the sanctity of human life and pursue policies in defiance of moral values. We reject the concept that it is possible to justify one’s actions in any armed conflicts in the name of God.
Oops, wait! Guess what Patriarch Bartholomew did. He connected killing babies and killing adult humans in war. I have previously mentioned that the Orthodox view of war is that it can never be justified per se. And I did so quoting from an OCA statement back then. Both of the major strains of Eastern Orthodoxy agree. War is never justifiable. But, both sides say that given the current sinful state of the world, States may choose to fight wars as the lesser of two evils. But note this very carefully. Patriarch Bartholomew connects believing in the sanctity of human life with a very pro-life view that includes matters such as war and other pro-life matters. But, he is not the only one. The Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) made the following statement way back 30 years ago:
It is true that the Christian community’s concern has recently seemed to be selective and disproportionate in this regard, e.g., in the anti-abortion campaign. Too often human life has been threatened or even destroyed, especially during times of war, internal strife, and violence, with little or no protestation from the Christian leadership. Unfortunately, the impression has frequently been given that churchmen are more concerned with establishing the legitimacy of war or capital punishment than with the preservation of human life. We know that this has been a scandal for many, both believers and unbelievers. We feel constrained at this point in history to affirm that the “right to life” implies a right to a decent life and to full human development, not merely to a marginal existence.
You see, when we are anti-abortion, but then go out of our way to justify capital punishment, when we cheer over the killing of an enemy, when we claim that enhanced interrogation is not bad, when we are more concerned with justifying any war than with the preservation of adult human life in both quantity and quality, then, as the statement says, “this has been a scandal for many, both believers and unbelievers.” Note that the right to life includes the right, “… to a decent life and to full human development, not merely to a marginal existence.” Orthodox believers need to make sure that their attitudes towards the poor are correct attitudes, so say our bishops.
This is not to say that we have to put up with every bit of radical violence and craziness. Patriarch Bartholomew goes on to say:
We, however, most categorically condemn every kind of fanaticism, transgression and use of violence regardless of where they come from. …
Religious extremists and terrorists may be the most false prophets of all, for not only do they commit horrible crimes against humanity – they do so in the name of a lie.
And ultimately Patriarch Bartholomew calls us who are consecrated to God to a special involvement:
There has never been a greater need for spiritual leaders to engage themselves in the affairs of this world. We must take a visible place on the stage, especially because too many crimes today are taking place in the name of faith.
Let me give you this final quote about tolerance:
The reconciliation role of Christianity can only be initiated and sustained by and through the voice and ear of genuine tolerance. The virtues of tolerance, together with its twin virtue of diversity, reflect the divine attributes of love which God maintains in His essence perfectly, infinitely, indescribably, and inexhaustibly.
Tolerance and diversity. If you are an Orthodox Christian, you need to look at the quotes above and think through how the above applies to practical issues, not just abortion, but also healthcare, welfare, war, enhanced interrogation, etc. The Orthodox pro-life position, like the Roman Catholic position is much more than simply being anti-abortion. Are we against elective abortion? YES. But we are much more than against elective abortion. We are truly pro-life. So, make a choice. Become fully and truly Orthodox pro-life!