SUNDAY AFTER THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
The commemoration of the 14,000 Children slain by Herod at Bethlehem
Troparion, Tone I
As acceptable victims and freshly plucked flowers, as divine first-fruits and newborn lambs, you were offered to Christ Who was born as a child, holy innocents. You mocked Herod’s wickedness; now we beseech you: “Unceasingly pray for our souls.”
Kontakion of the Holy Infants. Plagal of Second Tone
When the King was born in Bethlehem, the Magi arrived from the East with gifts guided by a Star on high, but Herod was troubled and mowed down the children like wheat; for he lamented that his power would soon be destroyed.
The 14,000 Holy Innocents
by Saint Nikolai Velimirovich
When the Magi from the East did not return to Jerusalem from Bethlehem to inform Herod about the newborn King but rather, at the Angel’s command, returned to their homeland another way, Herod became as enraged as wild beast and ordered all the children two years old and under in Bethlehem and it surrounding to be killed.
This frightening command of the king was carried out to the letter. His soldiers beheaded some of the children with swords, smashed others against stones, trampled others underfoot, and strangled others with their hands. And the cries and wails of the mothers rose to heaven, lamentation, and bitter weeping; as had been prophesied.
“Rachel weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31:15; St. Matthew 2:18)
This crime against the multitude of innocent children was carried out a year after the birth of Christ, at the time when Herod was seeking to find the Divine Child. He asked Zacharias about his son John, so that he might kill him, since he naturally thought that John was the new king. As Zacharias did not turn John over, he was slain in the Temple by order of Herod. Saint Symeon the God-Receiver would also have been murdered soon after the Presentation in the Temple, had he not already reposed in God.
After murdering the children of Bethlehem, Herod turned against the Jewish elders who had revealed to him where the Messiah would be born. He then killed Hyrcanes, the high priest, and the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin. Thus, they who had agreed with Herod that the new Child-King must be killed came to an evil end. After that, Herod murdered his brother, sister, wife and three sons.
Finally, God’s punishment came to him: he began to tremble, his legs became swollen, the lower part of his body became putrid, and worms came out of the sores; his nose became blocked and an unbearable stench emanated from him. Before his last breath, he remembered that there were many captive Jews in prison, and he ordered that they all be killed so that they would not rejoice in his death.
Thus, this terrible ruler gave up his inhuman soul and handed it over to the devil for eternal possession.
“The second Commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child.” (Didache 2:1-2 [A.D. 70]).
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
In the festive atmosphere that embraced heaven and earth, just few days from the Nativity feast of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Church coats herself in much sorrow for the innocent infants slain by King Herod’s evil cruelty. Back than Jesus was saved from the wrath of Herod. Still today, He suffers the torment of death with each of the babies slain by modern tools of medicine, by the will of society that had lost its humanity, balance and sense of life and raised to the rank of the law, the grievial sin of murdering babies.
Truly the Commandment of the Gospel, “Thou shall not kill” no longer holds true in a world that calls the good evil and the evil good.
LIFE STARTS AT CONCEPTION
Most people do not know what happens during an abortion. “Perhaps many women who committed abortion did not know that actually they killed a child. Why? Because they are told that by the third month in the womb they bear only “a ball of cells” and not a true man.”
British Professor Stuart Campbell, a researcher at “Create Health Clinic” in London, managed to obtain, through a new type of ultrasound scan, three-dimensional images that allow viewing of fetal movements in real time. The study demonstrates for the first time that life begins with fertilization and not at birth. At the moment of conception, 46 chromosomes with 30,000 genes, combine and determine all our physical characteristics: gender, facial and bodily features, eye color, hair and skin. Then, in just a few weeks, from one cell a tiny man is formed, having all the organs already present and able to work.
Every Orthodox Christian woman believes and knows how precious life is. She prepares herself for the birth of her child spiritually by receiving the Mysteria of the Church i.e., Holy Confession and Holy Communion. The priest offers her prayers for a good delivery and prayers following the birth of the child. On the eighth day the priest offers her beloved child his/her Christian name. Both the mother and the child are brought to the church after forty days to be blessed and prayers are read over both of them on their entrance into the Holy Church. Following this entrance, the days ahead are a time of preparation for the Mystery of Holy Baptism of the new-born child, a child so dear to our Lord and Almighty God, and to our Holy Orthodox Christian community, that a godparent is provided to be the witness of this Holy Baptism, and to assist in teaching the child the Holy Orthodox Christian Faith throughout his/her life.
Every Orthodox Christian woman who bears a child always exults in the joy of the birth, as well as in the joy of having a living being within her womb. Saint Elizabeth meeting with the Ever-Virgin Mary said to her, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (St. Luke 1:42). God Who knows us from our mother’s womb. A woman’s womb is sacred and must not be used for any other reason other than to bring life into the world and not death. Our Holy Orthodox Church has for 2,000 years has condemned abortion as murder and the penalty according to the Holy Canons of the Church is great. This is evident that in the first three centuries of the early Church, the Orthodox Holy Fathers spoke frequently against abortion.
Millions and millions of children are being killed not only by the heathen (gentiles or pagans) but by “Christian” women without any remorse, guilt or the fear of God. Not only in America but even in Orthodox Christian countries like Greece where even there abortion is legal according to civil law. Our Holy Orthodox Church cries out against this act of abortion just like Rachel who could not stop her weeping for the massacre of 14,000 of her own innocent children.
The Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church consider abortion as premeditated murder and all those who participate in the procedure-that is, those who perform, promote, prescribe, advocate, support, and undergo abortion-as murderers. For the penitent, an excommunication of period up to ten years is still prescribed-the same as for any repentant murderer.
Throughout the Old Testament man is revealed not only as a special creature, but as coming into being for a purpose: Jeremiah 1:5 the prophet was set aside: “Before I was formed in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you and appointed you to be a prophet to the nations…”
Another dimension of the reverence for human life can be seen as Saint Paul declares that the body is the dwelling place of God, likening it to a temple: “Do you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17): “…for we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them, and move among them, and I will be their God…” (2 Cor. 6:16).
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Within Man’s being is a place of residence for God’s Spirit, something again unique in Creation. Thus Man exists at the intercession of the spiritual and physical worlds–between heaven and earth–and, as a creation of God, is worthy (axios) to worship, adore, and be in communion with Him. Man is much, much more than merely a rational animal. He a worshipping creature–“Homo Adorans,” as Father Alexander Schmemann has described him in “For the Life of the World.” Man, then, is a unity of the material and the spiritual. Scripturally, the whole man prays to, adores, and worships God and, so, Man is a creature uniquely created to love, worship, and be in communion with God as is no other part of creation.
WHAT THE EARLY CHURCH SAID ABOUT ABORTION:
The Epistle of Barnabas-First Century
“You shall love your neighbor more than you own life. You shall not slay the child by abortion. You shall not kill that which has been generated.”
Apologia of Athenagoras of Athens-177 A.D.
“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 to 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.”
Tertulian (Western church)-Third Century
“Abortion is a precipitation of murder, nor does it matter whether or not one takes a life when formed, or drives it away when forming, for he is also a man who is about to be one.”
Saint Clement of Alexandria-Third Century
“Universal life would proceed according to nature if we would practice continence from the beginning instead of destroying, through immoral and pernicious acts, human beings who are given birth by Divine Providence.”
The Regional Council of Elvira, Spain-303 A.D:
“Prescribes life long excommunication for penitent persons involved in abortion. Eucharist denied even on the death bed.”
23rd Clergy-Laity Congress–Greek Orthodox Archdiocese-1976
“The Orthodox Church has a definite, formal and intended attitude toward abortion. It condemns all procedures purporting to abort the embryo or fetus, whether by surgical or chemical means. The Orthodox Church brands abortions murder; that is, as a premeditated termination of the life of a human being. 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. 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 belief in the sanctity of life.”
There is little more than can be said-the deliberate destruction and/or desecration of a human being is unthinkable for a true-believing Orthodox Christian. God created Man in his own likeness and image, man is a living icon of flesh and blood, in which God gave the breath of life. Killing an innocent human being can be seen as an act of blasphemy against God–it is the ultimate act of iconoclasm.
With sincere agape in the Divine Child of Bethlehem,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
While I thoroughly understand why the Orthodox Church has roundly condemned abortion as a sinful practice, still, I ask, Isn’t there room for mercy, especially for those who were deceived, or felt like they had no choice?
Aren’t we taught that there is ALWAYS mercy for those who repent?
There is mercy for the repentant -forgiveness and absolution given through Holy Confession.