This Sunday's sermon in advance...

What is the meaning of the sanctity of life?

Immediately, of course, the issue of abortion emerges. It’s often the flash point in these times when the topic is the sanctity of life. As Orthodox we share the historic Christian understanding that abortion is a grave moral wrong. Our teaching has not changed even when the proponents of abortion try to hide its reality with the use of words like “choice.”

But the sanctity of life is more than simply the Church’s position on abortion. Because it is so prevalent today, people often focus on abortion as they speak of the sanctity of human life from the Christian perspective and in doing so forget that this issue is woven into a larger understanding, a greater whole.

At the core of the Christian understanding of the sanctity of life is the reality that human beings were created by God and given something that even the animals, as intelligent as they can be, do not possess, the breath of God the capacity to be a living soul. Even the darkness of human sin and mortality has not completely extinguished that light, that life from God.

Because human life comes from God is has sanctity and this sanctity is absolute because of its origins. We see ourselves as we are and we often, by default, accept this current way of existing as being natural and normal. But we were not designed by God to harm, demean, sacrifice, or kill each other and the way we often live is actually unnatural, out of sync, and dysfunctional, contrary to the purpose and design of our creation.

As Christians we’re actually seeking to return to our “normal” state, the primal innocence and union with God that marked our beginnings and from which we chose to stray. We live in a world where we see the consequences of our choice to reject God, war, hatred, dysfunction, brokenness, pain, hurt, and death, and we are trying to find our way home. Our Lord Jesus Christ shows us this way, in fact He is the way because to bring humanity back to God, God chose to become human allowing us to come back, as it were, to the Eden we had forsaken. And because of this, because we have been reunited with God, we are called to live in a different way. We are called to embody not the values of the cultures around us still languishing in darkness but rather to live as children of God, as people who have been sanctified, illuminated, and regenerated. We have Christ for our example, the Tradition of our Faith for the assistance we need, and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us to give us the grace and power to accomplish this.

The implications of this understanding are far reaching and touch every facet of our existence. This is something we must understand. Our Faith is not simply something we add on to whatever else we have going on in our lives but, when properly understood, should become our lives. No hyphen is allowed before the word “Christian” in our lives, any modifier to the word means we still have not understood what it means. If we wish to be saved Christian must become the only term by which we describe ourselves, the only motivation for our life.

This, of course, has far ranging implications but among them is how we view human life, ours, the life of those we share affinity with, and even the life of those we do not know or who are our enemies. Being illuminated we understand that often our culture’s understanding of the value of human life is broken, misplaced, commercialized, exploited, harmed, and mutilated. For the sake of a better way we try as best we can to live beyond a broken world’s understandings of humanity and embrace, even in this world’s darkness, the original God given understanding of who we are.

In this we understand that life, even from its conception, is sacred and it’s always and everywhere more than whatever is convenient at the moment, more than the value the powerful may place on it, more than even the damage the person themselves may have done to it. Because of this we refuse to dispose of each other, refuse to define each other by any other category than what can found in Christ and refuse to ultimately identify ourselves in any other way as well. In Christ enemies are reconciled, brokenness is made whole, sins are washed away, humanity is reunited to God, and peace is restored. Because of this we are called to live like Christ if we wish to have true life and define ourselves and each other as He would.

As these principles are understood the sense of our ethic becomes apparent. We pray for our enemies because Christ calls us to remember they are still human even if they seek our hurt, subject to the same mortality and passions as we are. We cherish the life of the unborn because our Faith teaches us that all life is a gift from God, even that of the most vulnerable among us. We oppose the commercialization, the exploitation, the slavery of human beings because this disfigures the image of God still within us, both for those who are its victims and its perpetrators. We, as children of the Prince of Peace, see war, even if the cause is just, as deeply regrettable and whenever we can we avoid it and when we cannot we seek its quick end and commit ourselves to the care of everyone regardless of their side because they are human. We understand that those who are rich must share with those who are not so that no person created in the image of God is left in degradation.

The list could go on but the point is made. At various times various issues will present themselves to us as we grapple with what it means to be human and how we should live with each other in the world. Yet underlying them all are inviolable principles; life as a gift, a sacred trust, from God, the call to live as people who see ourselves and each other not in the vision of the world but with the eyes of Christ who by taking on humanity restored its sanctity, and the challenge of the practical, and sometimes radical, ways these truths work themselves out in our lives. Understanding this is the beginning of knowing what we mean when we speak, as Orthodox, of the sanctity of human life and applying it helps us grasp what it means to be called Christian.

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