Fr. Artemy Vladimirov



Forgive Me, O Lord!
a homily on abortion 
by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov
(Moscow, Russia) 
2001


Many of our compatriots see now with pain that something tragic is happening to the Russian land, our beloved fatherland. The once holistic Homeland is falling apart into scattered, and what is most fearful, mutually hostile parts. Scrutinizing the causes of this collapse, we grasp that faith has been lost, culture has been lost, economic unity has been lost. It came to my mind recently that everything happening to us now is the righteous retribution of God. 

About a century ago, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky wrote about the tear of an innocent infant, because of which he and his hero were ready to renounce world harmony. If we think about it, it becomes clear: the fact that every day in our country, several thousand murders of infants in the womb occur; that an infant’s little body, not yet born into the world, is dismembered under the knife of a murderer; that an infant’s soul is killed;—this is the main cause of any and all external collapse, tragedy, and the troublesome time we are living through. The silent cry of every such little infant ascends to the heavens and cries for vengeance for the crime. Truly, only after breaking out into the world and assimilating with our mind and heart the truth of Christian faith and morality can we see this fearful, impenetrable darkness of sin, in which is shrouded the whole earth, and our Homeland in particular, and can we be horrified at the measure of the immeasurable crime which occurs now, and which does not provoke a feeling of disgust, shame, or repentance from anyone. 

When the bodily structure of the future person is conceived, the Lord incomprehensibly creates the human soul, according to the image and likeness of God, from nonexistence to existence. This is why conception is a genuine mystery. Also, the Church commemorates the conception of John the Forerunner and of the All-Holy Lady Theotokos with special celebrations. Opening the Bible, we find such words in it: “You, O Lord, preserve the infants.” The Lord not only creates the infants soul and body, but also most wisely rears the fruit in the womb of the mother, preparing it to come out into the world. An instinct, an unreasoning urge to do everything that contributes only to the protection and development of the child has been put into the very human essence, into the soul and heart of the mother. And, following this instinct, she approaches the discovery of her strength in the service of motherhood. 

But contemporary man has distorted God’s intention for him. Even in the world of animals, in the world of dumb and irrational creations, we will not encounter anything like that which now occurs in our sinful world, in our sinful and ruined hearts. Having left from God, having estranged themselves from themselves from the light of faith, hope, and love, having lost their reason, having fallen under the authority of demonic pride, egotism, and self-love, people have turned God-established wedlock to a place of execution, to a bloody massacre. And what is frightening is that intending to enjoy happiness and rejoice at the fullness of life, we, unfulfilled fathers and mothers, have conspired and risen up; we have directed all our murderous hatred toward our own flesh and blood, the children given to us by God. Cicero himself, if he saw us, would not have the spirit to pronounce his famous saying, “O tempora, o mores,” because such frightful times did not exist even in the most dark and violent pagan eras. 

And this darkening occurs because, first of all, we have forgotten the words which came from the Lord’s mouth, addressed to Adam and Eve – words that form the basis of every human marital union: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” From the point of view of a sensible person, wedlock is not pleasure, it is not debauchery, it does not gratify our flesh, but wedlock is a genuine service, to which God Himself appoints the groom and bride. Marital love does not exist in and of itself; it [marital love] is unthinkable for a Christian outside the union of spirit and soul of a husband and wife who love each other. Fleshly love is sanctified by the light of faithfulness to God, Who said, “The woman is saved in wedlock through childbearing, if she remains in faith to God and faithfulness to her husband, and if she rears her children in the Lord’s commandments.” Fleshly love fulfills the task of creation through wedlock. It is given not by itself, but in the name of something, in the name of someone—in the name of the children, who are a miracle of Divine wisdom and a blessing of God. If contemporary spouses understood that when they unite in love, they unite for the sake of fulfilling God’s will; if they felt themselves to be instruments and tools in the hands of God’s providence, which wondrously multiplies our race; if spouses understood that they belong not to themselves and their pleasures, but to God, Who through us makes an individual, created according to His image and likeness; —in a word, if wedlock was leavened with the spirit of sacrificial love, and not of cold lust and egotistic calculations, then it would never come to anyone’s mind to impede the work to which the Lord appointed us. 

Our holy Mother, the Church, when sanctifying the service of wedlock in the sacrament of matrimony, prays that we be granted blessed posterity. And how frightening it is for priests when a woman comes to confession and opens this frightful, bleeding and never healing wound—when she confesses the murder of a child, not another’s, but her own, given to her by God. The hands and heart of such a woman are reddened with blood, which cries out to heaven, like the blood of Abel who was murdered by his own brother. 

Ancient rules of the church excommunicated a Christian woman who committed infanticide and excluded her from entering the temple. All her life, she had to stand in the narthex. Not daring to enter into the holy place, the temple of God, and humbly weeping, she would ask those entering in to intercede before the Lord and the Mother of God for the remission of her sin. Only on her deathbed was the repentant sinner made worthy of the Holy Mysteries of Christ with hope in the ineffable mercy of God. About a century later, when people’s zeal to please God began to wane, and human weaknesses began to increase, the holy fathers set the murderess-mother’s excommunication for fifteen years. Following the strictest canon, such women would repent, acknowledging themselves unworthy for more than a decade to approach the chalice – the spring of eternal life. 

The majority of those now coming to confession understand the horror of their deed long before meeting with a priest. Life itself; and shaken bodily health; and all manner of women’s illnesses—the righteous recompense for the sin of infanticide; and the frequent inability to give birth to healthy children thereafter; and the troubles that happen with those children that are born after an abortion;—all this together rings an alarm bell in the conscience of the mother, urging her to reveal the wound of infanticide at confession as soon as possible. Only in rare cases, when asking a woman about abortions, does a priest hear the following answer: “Who knows how many there were. Just like everyone else—about eight or twelve of those things.” This is death of the soul: when a mother-murderess calls her own children, whom she will meet at the throne of God and who will testify against her before the Lord—only death of the soul forces her to call her children “things.” To our horror we say that sometimes women who have come to confession as a result of a misunderstanding enter into single combat with the priest, “What, should we breed poverty?” If a wife does not wish to be a mother, or if a husband, while calling her his wife, does not wish to have children from her, then the conscience authoritatively forbids them to even approach the marriage bed. Any compromise we make with the conscience will reflect painfully in the soul, and a woman who knows the mystery of wedlock but does not know its fruit will always feel a division in her heart; she will always feel herself unworthy to gaze at the bright face of the Creator. But words are given to the priest, and the mother’s heart is not made of stone—it is possible for her to be rid of this blindness and hardness, and to see in the light of Divine truth all the depth and enormity of the crime she committed. 

But we will not blame women only. Men from whom the unborn children were conceived are just as guilty of the sin of abortion. Therefore every Christian whose spouse or, so to say, acquaintance quartered her own child must consider himself a partaker in that sin, if he did not make every possible effort both in word and deed to prevent the irreparable. 

In human terms, it is impossible to forgive this sin. Only the Lord, Whom we nailed to the Cross with our numerous and fearful sins—only the One Lord, being not only man but also All-powerful God—is able to wash away with His own life-giving blood this fearful, probably most fearful, sin of mankind. Every woman who has begun to repent what she did because of youthfulness, weakness, ignorance, coercion from relatives, darkness of soul—she must know specifically how to repent of this sin, so that God forgives and effaces it, so that the fearful torn wound closes in her soul, so that we obtain mercy for us and the children slain by us. 

Before anything else, having felt all the savagery and godlessness of the deed, it is necessary to renounce this sin in the thoughts, renounce the possibility of every doing it again. At the same time it is necessary to condemn oneself, and not the circumstances, not the doctors’ decision, not the combined efforts of relatives, pushing us to murder our child. Second, it is necessary to confess the deed fully and with deep contrition, telling the priest the number of unborn children, and repenting even of miscarriages—those misfortunes of marital life, which are often a result of either previous abortions or unwillingness to keep the child in the womb, for a single impulse of the soul can lead to expulsion of the offspring from the womb of the mother. Having repented of this sin before the cross and the Gospel in an Orthodox church, we must receive a penance from the priest, a repentant rule [of prayer] which must be kept with all diligence, so that the soul, wounded with iniquities, obtains the greatest possible wholeness and purity. 

The following can be said in general about this rule: according to the number of abortions she committed, the Christian should do prostrations morning and evening for forty days, signing herself with the cross, kneeling down and touching her forehead to the floor. It is good to combine repentant prayer with every prostration. The prayer can be said so, “Forgive me, O Lord, who have slain my children in the womb. May Thy mercy be with them.” Or, “Forgive me, O Lord, for the murders I have committed in the womb. May Thy holy will be done with my children.” In repentant boldness a mother can also pray so, “Forgive me, O Lord, for the unborn children I have slain. Baptize them in the sea of Thy mercies.” With these words we entrust our infants to God, firmly believing that if He, the All-merciful, finds mercy for a filicide, He will not deprive of His mercy and His light those who were slain without holy baptism. To this it is necessary to add keeping the fast on Wednesday and Friday as the Church commands us: to abstain from meat and dairy. According to the zeal of the repentant Christian, the penance can be lengthened. 

It is good to set apart Monday, Wednesday and Friday to read special prayers. Let’s say, on Monday one could read the Canon to the Guardian Angel, which is in the Prayer Book of the Russian Orthodox Church; on Wednesday, the Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos; and on Friday, the Canon of Repentance to our Lord Jesus Christ. I would especially recommend the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It should be read unhurriedly, with attention, recognizing oneself to be present before the living God, Whose gaze penetrates into the depths of the heart. Depending on the time available, this prayer should be read forty, fifty, a hundred times a day, but necessarily with repentance and with awareness of the One Who is listening to us and Who is praying to the All-Holy God. If needed, this prayer can be read outside the home as well, since the lives of many Christians today are burdened with multitudes of activities and responsibilities. And of course, repenting in these mortal sins, we must not allow despondency and despair to approach our heart, because God is true to His promise to forgive every person who repents before Him with sincerity. The hope has been left to us that the Lord, having risen from the dead, conquered the devil and trampled death, is powerful to have mercy on the soul that condemns itself here, and to lead it into eternal life. He is also powerful to not deprive of His mercy those for whom we pray, whose lives we did not preserve because of our hard-heartedness and darkening of soul. 

by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov, Protopriest of All Saints' Church in Moscow, Russia

This article was translated from Russian for OrthodoxProLife by Maria Larsen from the post on zavet.ru