Ben Johnson


Breathing with both lungs: Eastern Orthodox make strong showing at March for Life

Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 27, 2014 ( – March for Life President Jeanne Monahan addressed concerns that the annual pro-life walk was too heavily Catholic, reaching out to evangelical Protestants. But based on the participation of Eastern Orthodox Christians in this year's events, marchers may have been forgiven for believing the whole march breathed with the other lung.

Every major event, and several minor ones, featured distinguished clergy from the world's second largest Christian denomination.

Archpriest John Jillions, the chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), represented his church at the “National Memorial for the Preborn and their Mothers and Fathers,” an annual interdenominational prayer service held at Constitution Hall.

The most visible participation came as Orthodox clergy filled the stage at the March for Life, which began with an invocation given by Bishop Demetrios (Kantzavelos), the Greek Orthodox bishop of Chicago.

He prayed that the public witness would reach “civil authorities who have legislated against the rights of the unborn, jurists who have adjudicated against life, physicians who have not healed but have brought harm and death, parents who have made choices to end life in the womb – some callous and self-interested, others tragic and conflicted,” and “young persons raised in a culture that espouses a right for some to kill.”

Bishop Demetrios, who also participated in the 2014 Chicago March for Life, said that supporting the right to abortion is based in “profound ignorance.”

“Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do,” he said.

He was joined on stage by the ruling hierarchy of the OCA (Metropolitan Tikhon, Bishop Melchisedek, Bishop Mark, Bishop Michael), as well as representatives of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Antiochian Orthodox Church, Armenian Orthodox Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, and a representative of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Metropolitan Tikhon (Mollard), the leader of the OCA, offered the invocation at the annual Rose Dinner at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill the evening of the March. His words focused on the Epistles of St. Paul to St. Timothy, most poignantly the charge, “Let no man despise thy youth.”

Like the rest of the March, the Orthodox delegation heavily featured young people. The nation's major Orthodox seminaries – St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York, Holy Cross in Boston, St. Tikhon's in Pennsylvania, Holy Trinity in New York, and others – sent delegations.

Gabriel Monforte, a young seminarian at St. Tikhon's, was proud that Orthodox bishops “are standing by the official position of the Church that all life is sacred, and as future stewards of the church it's our duty to be here for them and for all those gathered here, as well.”

He said the Eastern embrace of human life grows out of its key doctrinal belief: that God is love.

“Everything has to be done in love, especially trying to convert the hearts of those who don't view life as being sacred, as we do.” He said they learn they must “show love to those who have unfortunately chosen, or been forced to choose, abortion.”

“It's not just about shouting and getting hyped up – although it is about making our voice heard – but it's also about demonstrating God's love to a cold world,” he said.

Bishop Demetrios said the presence of so many young people of all backgrounds gave him hope.

“It is inspiring to see that, after four decades and counting of legalized infanticide, the March for Life was joined by so many young women and men from all across our nation, and there are those who feel deeply that we must protect all human life, from the preborn to those on death row and everywhere in between as we prayed in our memorial vigil,” he said. “Though this battle will not be complete until we repeal certain laws and reverse court rulings, abolishing abortion on demand as well as capital punishment, we are advancing in our fight for hearts and minds. Virtuous hearts will always win the day.”

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Of course, not all participants were young, or new to the event.

Dr. David C. Ford, Associate Professor of Church History at St. Tikhon's, said he has been coming with his students since 1988. “It's a highlight of the year to be here as a group and standing up for the sanctity, the dignity of all of human life,” he said.

Marching for him is “a public witness for our church's historic support for all of life, born and unborn, ever since Jesus Christ established His Church,” he said. “It's an honor; it's humbling to carry on that tradition, that legacy.”

He said the highlight for him was the Orthodox prayer service for the unborn. “It's beyond words how important that is,” he said.

Prominent Orthodox clergy and laity joined the annual event, as well. The chancellor of St. Vladimir's Seminary, Fr. Chad Hatfield, was present. He marched near Fr. John Kowalczyk, a leading voice on the issue and the author of two books on abortion: An Orthodox View of Abortion and Church Fathers and Abortion.

Shortly before the pro-life event, the Republican National Committee announced it would postpone its annual winter meeting so delegates could attend the March. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is Greek Orthodox.

Dr. Ford said he would encourage any Orthodox Christian – or anyone else – who has doubts about taking part to come to the March for Life. “It's a life-changing event,” he said. “It's so powerful.”

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