It is often very curious how East and West can be compared on many socio-cultural aspects. This is the case with regards to moral attitudes in the United States as paralleled to former Soviet Union. The reasons why the situation might seem rather close or show some similarities do not mean that things were due to same values or patterns. But this element is striking. I am always astounded about “abortion”. It was strictly forbidden both in the West and in the East; all the former communist countries would never really cope with a society that could kill human embryos. at the same point, there were no medicine, no prevention, no techniques, no preservation. More than that: everything was “basic instinct” and there were very little human feelings involved in generalized copulation, a world that was rather rough, raw and also unexperienced.
With the fall of the comunist regimes in the East and the rediscovery of spirituality, an en masse new revival of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Slavic countries and the former USSR, many people tried to convert and abandon such practices. The real victims have been the women, as always. Married women, faithful wives, young girls, often teens, raped or tempted by early sexual experience though not really conscious of what they were doing. Women have and are still victimized in the process of abortion because they are the ones who have the great call to birth all of us.
Males can abuse, betray, swing here and there and dazzle around. They may get away or keep silent; they may fake to recognize their children and abandon women, lover girls and their babes. In the West, it maybe quite frequent for the priests to confess women and learn about abortions. Being an Israeli Eastern Orthodox priest in charge of the former Soviet faithful in Israel – many also come from other Eastern Slavic, Romanian, Moldovian, Caucasian countries i.a. I had to immediately face the problem of abortion as soon as the faithful got to church, and even a bit before. In Israel, I had met some 20 years ago (I was then a deacon) a woman who had been given an “epitimia – a penitence”; she had bee nexcommunicated for seven (7) full years and then had to undergo a process of conversion in a well-known Desert monastery where she spent some years with her very young daughter.
Othe women come quite often and explain that they had aborted several times. Most often, women will come again and again on that matter during confession. Many simply do not know that once they confessed a sin and the sin has been at some point realeased and they they duly got a release from a bishop or a priest (various cases that I cannot start to mention here), they do not have to confess the fact that they aborted. Of course, some women would say that they need to speak about that. Other would mention abortions because it is “an easy and usual sin in their context” and they thus avoid to mnetion with pending sins.
Abortion is terrible for all women. It is real, it slashes, it hurts and makes permanent scars and wounds. Both mentally and spiritually, physically. Most rarely have I heard any male confess that he caused women to abort. Total silence. But, no doubt, when digging a bit into the heart of the souls, some males are aware that their misconduct or “lack of responsibility” and physical desires and pulsions. They would even be shy on the subject. But women did suffer a lot and miscarriages have been a rule in most of the levels of the society. It also deals with incest and lack of ethical conduct.
The Church punishment can be very strict, terrible. There is more. The clergy can act ruthlessly toward women who committed abortion or had miscarriages. The Orthodox Church applied the rules defined by the Holy Fathers, but to begin with, especially after the fall of communism, they also desired to teach the faithful. It works with the Slavic people because there is a profound feeling of full slavery and “guilt” that drifted many women to accept inhuman penitence punishments.
I always suggest to the faithful – a great number come from Ukraine and/or understand the language – to read late Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytsky’s synodal circular that he sent out in 1942 “Nie UbejНе Убий – Thou shalt not Kill”. it deals with all kinds of total dervies from any moral attitudes about crimes, rape, sloth, slander, murder, abortion. It also includes the only and unique protest against the deportation and extermination of the Jews and other nations.
Indeed, abortion is strictly forbidden by Church laws. There is no exception, as a rule. Still we often forget that the Church is the Sign of Divine and total forgiveness and Loving-kindness. We do forget in most cases that the canons of the Church are very subtle. They also invite us to in-depth insights. I often met with women who never could really understand they committed a sin when they underwent an abortion. Let’s say that “guilt” will come later as a consequence of a personal path. They will wlowly understand that they suffer, but there is a long wway until they may admit they did something “wrong”. At this point, it is important to be aware that there is no sin till a person is not realy aware that s/he committed wrongdoings”.
I mean it is totally useless to impose some Church punishment upon a woman who really is not aware of the wrongdoing in the case of abortion. Abortion also implies that “crimes” are not committed only by women, but the male partner is also a full part of the deed. New paganism or “secularization” drive us today to any attitude, provided that man is right “beyond any God commandment”.
The Jewish tradition does not accept abortion. Still, the “Pikuach nefeshפיקוח נפש = (rule) in case of life danger” would not blame abortion if the life of the mother is imperiled: it is a rule to always save the child. Abortion have also been practiced in times of pogroms and deportation, concentration camps. We should remember that mothers ate their babies during the siege of Jerusalem; they killed them so that they would not suffer from famine or pagan murders (Lamentations). Jeremiah’s regulation that times of harsh persecution did not allow procreation is inscribed in the Jewish experience and became a real quest after the Shoah: was it possible or not to believe that there will not be any other extermination. It took four years before the Ashkenazi population launched a baby-boom following World War II.
at the present, there is a sort of fever in Israel to get more and more babies and we are on a constant baby-boom. Thus, abortion is considered as totally prohibited, even in case of danger, which is not the “mild” attitude drawn from the Mishna.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word “Nefelנפל = abortion” derives from “to fall away, to be dropped”, then “be premature, esp. for seeds, fruit; premature, not viable”. Genesis Rabba 26 states: “They have filled the world with abortions (nefalim) by their lascivious life”. Miscarriage is mainly linked to the incapacity to birth, get mature, ripe… seeds may not grow (Jesus has a saying/parable on the matter of “sowing along the way”).
Moreover, it is intriguing to note that – contrary to the other languages – Hebrew links “Palפל/to fall, Nefelנפל = abortion” to “palpelפלפל = to argue” (“pilpul is Rabbinic way of learning about the Torah and the Talmud). Words, speech, language, tongue “falls into the air, outside” and can be contgroversial. “Pelal = to debate” as stated “You shall not debate on matters you cannot solve” (Shebi’it VIII,38b). The word “hitpalelהתפלל/to pray – tefilahתפילה/prayer has the same root because prayers are a sort of debate with God.
Then, how are we released, how do we feel in a kind and loving debate with God and still making efforts to be correct? How can we then see the connection that is semantically correct in Semitic languages that seeds may grow or not, fall away or mature.
We are still at the dawn of ethics in such embattled societies as ours, too much confused and not really aware of the value of life.
av aleksandr (in my South African blog: “Cradle of the World/wieg van die Wêreld” “letterdash.com/abbaleksandr”)
August 22/9, 2010 – 12 Elul 5770 – 12 RamaDHaan 1431