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Fr. Josiah Trenham: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God.
Fr. Josiah: It is the greatest honor, the most wonderful blessing in life to dwell near God and in the holy Church. He who brought all things into existence from nothing, who brought light out of the darkness in the first creation, fashioned the Church as the body of his Son. This is the new creation, in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s what St. Paul calls the Church. And we, brothers and sisters, are part of that new creation which shall abide. It shall remain and endure not just for a hundred years—forever. We will dwell near God in his glory and bask in his light and his love. We’ll serve him in unspeakable ways, in manners we can’t even imagine, for every age, for unlimited time in the future. This gives tremendous bearing and strength when we live in a collapsing, a falling world, a world unstable and shaking. When our knees begin to quiver a little bit and our heads are spinning because around us there is so much change, we just have to put our hands onto the Church and we are stabilized.
My children like to make fun of me, about many things, actually. About many things, but one of the things they make fun of about me is that I like to sit in my grandfather’s chair and read my books. I’ve mastered the ability, almost, to ignore just about everything around me and just about everyone around me while I’m reading the book, or else I would never get any reading done at all. They laugh, they tease, but I continue, and there’s a reason I do this. I do this for my own soul—I do do it for that—but I also keep close to my books because I’m not worth anything to you if I don’t.
You heard from our readers. When they were tonsured, our two new readers, recently, you heard that magnificent text from I Timothy that’s incorporated into the service of the tonsure of a reader when the bishop makes the tonsure, and he says these words:
Pay special or close attention to the reading of Scripture. Be careful with these things. Be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone watching. For if you pay close attention to the Scripture and to yourself, you will ensure your own salvation and the salvation of those who listen to you.
This is I Timothy. Those books are essential for the priest to be able to have anything to say that’s of substance, anything good at all.
The role of the priest is to enlighten the faithful and to illumine their minds with the will of God and to help articulate the mind of the Church, this trans-historical, eternal body which is Christ’s. And this is especially important in the areas where, in the fallen and falling world, there are popular teachings and false doctrines flying around that are in contradiction to the teaching of the Church. This is where it’s really important for the priests and bishops of the Church to be giving their study and mind, so that we together, by the articulation of it publicly, can hold onto Christ and not end up blown down the street, like so many Christians who are in non-Orthodox church bodies have been. They have found their churches someplace else, unable to be anchored in the soil of the kingdom of God.
I can’t tell you how many converts, especially older ones, we’ve received over the years who have told me, “I did not leave my church. My church left me.” I’ve heard this over and over and over again, meaning that the secular winds, the anti-God winds, were too great for these bodies of believers, these religious organizations. And they have come to holy Orthodoxy, to this theanthropic, divine-human organism that we know as the body of Christ because she doesn’t move. She has deep roots, and she can withstand the weather. But that withstanding takes place through effort, especially through the intense effort to remain faithful and true by her leaders, by her bishops and her priests.
Over the last two decades of my own priesthood, I’ve been building a file system. This file system—Oh, I maybe have 200 folders, about this and that. Sometimes it’s about theological issues, prayer issues… I have a file for every Sunday of the year, liturgically, so I can keep a record of what I’ve actually said on these Sundays each year and the previous years, things like that. I have a big section on marriage, a big folder on marriage, a big folder on divorce, a big folder on violence, but, as I was reviewing my folders this week, I found the largest, the thickest, of all my folders was on that very area where we as a culture have suffered the most, where the winds have blown the strongest, and where the temptation for believers to compromise has been the most intense, and that is in the area of what I call the American Holocaust: the murder of unborn children—abortion.
This week we mourn the 40th anniversary of the notoriously evil Supreme Court decision, the ultimate shame of America’s legal profession, Roe versus Wade. As I was reviewing my abortion folder this week, I came across a letter that I wrote to the editor of a newspaper 16 years ago, about a year before I came here. I was in my last parish, and I was responding to a letter to the editor that was written by a Jewish man. He was a second-generation Jewish Holocaust survivor, and he had written a letter to the news press critiquing any too-close comparison between the Jewish Holocaust and abortion. He was not happy with that comparison, and I agreed with him. Not, however, because any close comparison with abortion diminished the gravity of the Jewish Holocaust; on the contrary, I agreed with him in not making too close a comparison between the Jewish Holocaust and abortion because too strict a comparison between the two diminishes the gravity of the abortion holocaust, not the Jewish Holocaust. I want to read to you from this letter, which I’ve kept. I write this:
Consider the following comparisons: (1) The targets for extinction in the abortion holocaust are far greater and more numerous. Hitler primarily focused on Jews, while abortion targets a far broader spectrum: the pre-born child. Hitler murdered some six million Jews. Shameful and grievous. More than this many children are destroyed in abortion worldwide every year. (2) The victims of the abortion holocaust are more defenseless than were the Jews. The child in the womb has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. (3) The means of destruction are far more hideous in the abortion holocaust. Gas chambers are merciful when compared to the dismemberment of dilation and extraction, the burning alive in saline solution, the crushing of the skull, the vacuuming of the brain in partial-birth abortion—means of execution so hideous we can hardly speak them. (4) The perpetrators of the abortion holocaust are more numerous that were the Nazis and far more popular.
For these reasons, any too-strict comparison between abortion and the Jewish Holocaust would be inappropriate, and I also noted that, to those who sometimes protest against the faithful who hold signs, signs of murdered children, of body parts gathered outside of Planned Parenthood clinics—one of the most effective tools in changing the minds of women contemplating abortion are these signs—but some, shamefully even some Orthodox Christians who are ignorant, complain against this, when in fact we all know the value of the preservation of Dachau and Auschwitz. Many of you have visited those places. Those visible signs of the grotesque violence that fallen humans are capable of committing stand as witnesses to us, never to forget this. No one complains that Auschwitz or Dachau should not be preserved, those atrocious signs, looking at stacks of boots and eyeglasses. We don’t complain about that horrid sight, because we know the value of it; nor should we complain of the horrid side of what happens inside of our abortion clinics.
Brothers and sisters, at the root of the lethargy that exists over the American holocaust of the murder of unborn children is simply the failure to posit this question and to answer it: What if a million born persons were being put to death in our country every year? What if, in the news press in Riverside, every week, the faces of ten adults were printed and published in the newspaper, with their names. They had been gunned down at 3772 Tibbetts Street in Riverside, where we kill our children, our unborn children in this town. What if that went in the Sunday news press, every Sunday, all year long? What would we do? Would we tolerate such things? Five hundred faces a year, and we know it’s going to happen the next week, and the next week and the next week. The Church teaches, unequivocally, as clear as possible: there is no moral difference between murdering a person outside of a womb and murdering a person inside the womb. There is no moral difference to the act.
As your priest, I say this as we remember this horrible anniversary this week, and we scream out. We raise our voices against this injustice. We seek in prayer from the holy God a change, a deep repentance, and we know that as long as this stays, brothers and sisters, as long as it exists and as long as, amongst believers, it has a low priority, we will not have any peace in our land.
New towns will continue and continue and continue. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is absolutely correct. These are her words:
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself, and if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill another?
We hear the words of King Solomon in the proverbs, where he says, “Rescue those unjustly sentenced to death. Do not stand back and let them die.” The Church embraces this as a call to take loving action to do everything possible to end the relentless and murderous attack on unborn children. And we need courageous brothers and sisters from our parishes to rise up and act like those virtuous Hebrew midwives who resisted the ungodly decree of the Egyptian pharaoh, who was demanding that they throw Jewish babies into the Nile and kill them when they were born. We need crafty, resolved, God-fearing nurses like that to say, “Sorry.” Physicians like that to say, “Never in a thousand years. I won’t do it myself, and I won’t refer anyone for it, because it’s just as evil to refer murder as to do it myself.” This is what we need.
We need our young people, maybe even some of our young people… I would love it if some of our young men and women would take responsibility for our local, our parish chapter of Orthodox Christians for Life and make it a life’s work. Coordinate all the churches in Riverside, and have one goal: to put an end to abortion in our city. It is absolutely doable. There are several American states today that have almost 100% excluded abortion from their states. If it can happen in an entire state, how much easier could it happen in a city like ours, so full of Christian people? We have some dynamic and courageous young people who are willing to make the connections, to establish the collaborative networks of friendship and common concern from the 300 churches that exist in this town in order to target this with one voice. No more abortion in the city of Riverside. That would be a very fine and honorable goal.
You heard in the Gospel, brothers and sisters, what delights the Lord Jesus and what grieves him. What delights him is to come to our aid. He was moved by the sincere entreaties of these ten lepers, and he did not do what others did in their time of need: protect themselves. He reached out to them. He affirmed their faith. He took care of their sorrows. He addressed their diseases. He sent them on the way, and in the path of obedience, proving their faith, they found healing. He was so delighted to help, just like he’s delighted to help every woman contemplating having an abortion. He is delighted to help, and his people are delighted to help. We’re not asking for abortion to become illegal so that we can leave people with tremendous challenges—women who have unexpected pregnancies by themselves—not at all. The Lord is delighted to help, and he’s also delighted to heal, and he is delighted when we offer thanksgiving.
That one man, the least expected, the Samaritan leper, came back to Jesus and offered him thanks, and the Lord extolled him, and asked, “Where are the other nine?” The sin of thanklessness is at the root of this terrible and heinous crime and sin of abortion. The child is the greatest gift; the most miraculous wonder that God could possibly give in earthly blessing to a man and a woman is a child. Abortion is the ultimate “No, thank you.” We must, by our own thankfulness, brothers and sisters, by our own esteem of human persons—old, medium, young, and unborn—we must embrace God’s gifts, practice thanksgiving, because it’s through this that the Lord will be pleased and we’ll be healed of this malicious holocaust and disease.
Brothers and sisters, join me, if you would, and kneel with me as we pray a prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ for an end to the holocaust of abortion.
Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.
People: Lord, have mercy.
Fr. Josiah: O Lord Jesus Christ, who at the sixth hour did shed thy precious blood upon the Cross for the salvation of all mankind, receive the souls of all the innocent, unborn children who have been, are being, or will be slaughtered today in the hospitals and abortion chambers throughout our nation and across the world; and as their untimely deaths have prevented them from receiving the grace of holy baptism, we entreat thee to accept their innocent blood as baptism, as thou didst with the early martyrs.
To the doctors and nurses, parents and hosts of accomplices responsible for this infanticide, grant tears of repentance and amendment of life; enable them to run to thee for forgiveness and healing, as have we; and to avoid the eternal death of their own souls.
All things are possible with thee, Lord God Almighty, and therefore we entreat thee on this day, through thy divine grace, to bring an end to legalized abortion in our nation, to raise up judges and attorneys who will defend thy holy laws. We ask that by thy mercy thou wouldst convince mothers to cancel their abortions and to accept from thy hands the gift of children in faith. We ask that thou woulds persuade the doctors and nurses who are participating in these acts to repent of their actions and to resolve not to kill children in the womb.
Receive our prayer, O Lord God, even though it is offered to thee from sinful and unworthy servants. Unite my entreaty with those of all our other brothers and sisters crying out today on behalf of the little ones, those who are being formed in the wombs of their mothers. We offer to thee most sincere thanks and true gratefulness that our mothers bore us, as troubled as we have been. We are grateful to be alive, merciful God, and to know thee, and to be given the kingdom and the promise of everlasting life. Deliver us and our land, which we love, from the shedding of innocent blood. Forgive us and heal us. Save us, and receive our worship which we offer to thee, to thine everlasting Father and thine all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.