Meeting The Orthodox (Page 19 of 25)

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By: Fr. Thomas Hopko
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19. The Family

What about such very specific issues as divorce and birth control and abortion? What do you have to say about such things?

These important issues all bear upon the appreciation of the family, and generally we can say without hesitation that the Orthodox understand the family to be willed by God as a created expression of His own uncreated life. Thus, in principle, the family must be preserved and glorified as something divinely and eternally valuable.

Regarding divorce, the Orthodox follow Christ in recognizing it as a tragedy and a lack of fulfillment of marriage as the reflection of divine love in the world. The Church teaches the uniqueness of marriage, if it will be perfect, and is opposed to divorce absolutely.

If, however, a marriage breaks down and collapses, the Orthodox Church does in fact allow a second marriage, without excommunication, that is, exclusion from Holy Communion, if there is repentance and a good chance that the new alliance can be Christian.

More than one marriage in any case, however, is frowned upon. It is not allowed to the clergy, and the service of second marriage for laymen is a special rite different from the sacrament as originally celebrated.

The control of the conception of a child by any means is also condemned by the Church if it means the lack of fulfillment in the family, the hatred of children, the fear of responsibility, the desire for sexual pleasure as purely fleshly, lustful satisfaction, etc.

Again, however, married people practicing birth control are not necessarily deprived of Holy Communion, if in conscience before God and with the blessing of their spiritual father, they are convinced that their motives are not entirely unworthy. Here again, however, such a couple cannot pretend to justify themselves in the light of the absolute perfection of the Kingdom of God.

As to abortion, the Church very clearly and absolutely condemns it as an act of murder in every case. If a woman is with child, she must allow it to be born. In regard to all of the very difficult cases, such as a young girl being raped or a mother who is certain to die, the consensus of Orthodox opinion would be that a decision for abortion might possibly be made, but that it can in no way be easily justified as morally righteous, and that persons making such a decision must repent of it and count on the mercy of God. it must be very clear as well that abortion employed for human comfort or to stop what a contraceptive method failed to prevent, is strictly considered by the canon laws of the Church to be a crime equal to murder.

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