Thoughts on the sanctity of all life

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Why do I have the right to be alive right now writing this? Why do you have the right to be alive now reading this?

Ultimately, if you defend any means of artificially ending life – the death penalty, abortion, suicide, or euthanasia of the elderly or of the disabled – as ‘situationally variable’ (as sometimes morally justifiable, and therefore intrinsically ethical or right in certain situations), then you have to deny that anyone has an absolute right to existing at all. If you believe that, in certain circumstances, it is morally justifiable to end a life, then life itself can have no inherent meaning as sacred or intrinsically worthy of protection.

If you believe that you have the right to terminate a developing life in utero, or execute a convicted criminal whom a court and society judges to be of no value, or euthanize an elderly person who is judged to be a burden to his or her caretakers and to broader society, then life itself can have no intrinsic meaning for you beyond what you subjectively get out of your own life or hope others get out of theirs. Thus, your life matters to you and those people in your life, but ultimately your life doesn’t actually have inherent worth to the world or to existence. Thus, your life matters to you, and the lives of your friends and loved ones have real value for you, but Life itself is gray, neutral, of no certain worth or value.

Why then do you have the right to be alive and thinking the thoughts you are thinking right now, and someone else who was aborted, executed, or euthanized doesn’t have that same right? If you defend the notion that some developing lives aren’t worth their cost or burden to the would-be mother, then why should your mother have ever borne you? If you defend the notion that some elderly people are a burden on their families and society, and that we should mercifully hasten their end, then why shouldn’t this be done to you when you are old and vulnerable, even if it is against your will?

These are major existential questions, and the confusion and internal struggle which they evoke in someone unsure of how to answer them can only be avoided by affirming that either everyone has the absolute right to life, or no one does.

If you believe the latter, then why fight for your right to live as you please in any way, since what you do with your life, and your life itself, doesn’t actually have any inherent worth or meaning whatsoever? This kind of thinking is the seed of nihilism and the inevitable consequence of taking the moral relativist position that not all lives are worth protecting.

The above image, taken at yesterday’s March for Life here in Washington, D.C., has been circulating widely on the internet, especially on Facebook. It makes use of a popular Facebook meme. Abortion (while on my mind due to the March occurring here yesterday) is not the principal focus of my thoughts here. The image featured above prompted me to engage with the much broader, deeper question of the value – objective or subjective – of life itself.

The sign which the marcher holds contains just four simple words. These words convey a very powerful witness: “Respect ALL the life!”. But what does this really mean? To me, it’s a whole philosophical worldview. Believing that abortion is a terrible tragedy, the loss of a developing life, is just one part of it. Babies developing in utero, infants whose babble we can’t understand, the physically and mentally disabled, the psychologically impaired, the dying elderly, and even murderers who might in our eyes deserve death: all deserve life. All received life from God, or from Providence or “Nature”, to use the Enlightenment language, but no one receives life from any laws or government.

All of us received our lives without any part in the process other than simply coming into this world. So what right have any of us to say who should be allowed into this world and who shouldn’t? Or when someone should be sent out of this world, and when they should be sent in? If we entertain these notions, we risk taking on the role of God. This thinking produces tyrannies beyond measure.

The foundation of the idea that life is a mystery and a gift which is not ours to dispose of when unwanted, or to take away when inconvenient, is thus the foundation of a civil and decent society. What is the alternative? A society in which people desperately want their lives to matter, but have no basis for them to actually have any inherent worth. Ultimately, in a society where life has no inherent meaning because people have agreed that lives can be morally ended at certain points, in certain circumstances, no one can actually justify their existence, their very living, as anything beyond sheer luck and fortune in time and circumstance.

Why am I alive writing this? Why are you alive reading this? If you believe that human life can legitimately be ended by artificial means ,whether through abortion, suicide, euthanasia of the elderly or the dying, or state-sponsored execution, then you really can’t answer that question except with an acknowledgement that your mother decided to bring you into the world. If you truly believe your mother could have been morally justified in, for whatever reason, deciding not to have you, then ultimately you cannot believe there is any real foundation for your existence, or that of anyone else in your life, or in this world. Life is either inherently worth protecting in all its forms, or it is inherently worthless in all forms. Which position would you rather take?

A Servant’s Heart: Abbot Tryphon on offering the Holy Eucharist

THE HOLY OBLATION
The Place Where Heaven and Earth are United

Image       As a priest, I bear the awesome burden of offering the Holy Oblation before the Throne of God, on behalf of all the people whose names are submitted to the monastery, and who are Orthodox. I offer for my spiritual children, and even for the whole world. I commemorate my own beloved parents, Albert and Dolores, who both converted to the Orthodox Faith while in their mid seventies, and who both lived many years in Orthodoxy before reposing in the Lord.

       I remember my best friend in college, Russell, who, like myself, converted from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy, and died at the age of 56, in the pastoral care of my friend Archpriest Nicholas Letten. I offer the Holy Oblation for the people who regularly attend the Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, here in our monastery’s temple. I offer, like all priests, the Holy Oblation for our nation, our civil authorities, and our armed forces. I offer the Eucharistic sacrifice for our Holy Patriarch Kirill, our Metropolitan Hilarion, for Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, and my Bishop Theodosy of Seattle. I offer the Oblation for all those who have no one to pray for them, and for those who have died, but are forgotten. I offer the Holy Sacrifice for all the clergy of the Seattle area, and for my brother priests of the diocese. I offer the Holy Sacrifice for myself.
       As a priest, I am a Servant of the Altar, and when I stand before the holy table I am bound together with every priest who has ever served, and with everyone who has laid down his life for Christ, as a martyr. I am bound to every Christian who has ever lived. I am bound to Christ in His Eternal Kingdom wherein the Heavenly Banquet is eternally celebrated, eternally offered, and am falling down, together with all the heavenly hosts, in worship of the Holy Trinity.

The whole of the cosmos is united together in this heavenly offering, for it is the very source of Life itself. This offering is not simply a “symbol” or “memorial” of something that took place in the past, but a place where we meet the Eternal God, for Christ said, “he who eats of My Body, and drinks of my Blood, has life”. Within this celebration we enter into the place where there is neither time, nor space, and we enter into the Heavenly Kingdom, where the Church Triumphant (in heaven) unites with the Church Militant (on earth). We enter into the Communion of Saints!

I am a proponent of frequent communion because we need the Eucharist. It sustains us, encourages us, fortifies us, heals us, transforms us. The early Christians receive whenever they gathered together, for they knew the communal participation in the Eucharistic banquet, was life giving.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

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The Very Reverend Igumen Abbot Tryphon is the spiritual leader at All Merciful Saviour monastery located on Vashon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington State. The monastery is within the canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The monastery’s widely acclaimed and popular Facebook page can be found here. Abbot Tryphon’s popular blog can be accessed here.