The Orthodox Bioethical standpoint is not conservative

7 February 2016
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3) The Orthodox standpoint is not conservative. In other words, it is not imbued with the fear of making a mistake, not with the fear of what is new and unknown. Because it does not need the security of being right. The whole of the Orthodox understanding of people is based on the fact that we learn to know God through repentance and through our mistakes, not by avoiding them. The tradition of the Christian East is not dominated by scrupulosity in being correct and the notion of infallibility or purity. People who are pure are not those who are infallible but those who repent. The Orthodox positions leave a good many delicate questions open, not in the sense of irresponsibility, but in that of humility and freedom. The humility, prayer and patience which are implied in any reconciliation with our insufficiency or with the fact that our success may be arrogance and therefore a sin, are the best guarantee that every dilemma and problem is treated with the greatest respect.

This is the reason why the Church is very careful with how it proceeds to its positions and then formulates them, but is also compassionate in its pastoral care.


4) I shall conclude with a fourth characteristic. Orthodox Bioethics is, of necessity, ascetic and Eucharistic. It does not necessarily end with a group of canons which allow or forbid, but with a particular set of directions, which, on the one hand, retain its active and ascetic spirit and, on the other, the Eucharistic expression of praise in the life of the faithful. ‘The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force’[8]. This saying is balanced by another, when the Lord says soon after, ‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’[9].


I am convinced that the opportunity which Orthodoxy has to bear witness to respect for the human person, in the modern world which is still searching for its identity, is really quite considerable. Secular bioethics restricts itself to the temporal and mortal individual, who ends up as a body mass that weighs seventy kilos, without a soul, or lives 70 years, without eternity, or lives on 70 euros a day without satisfaction or happiness. Orthodox bioethics has a duty to show, through the dilemmas of medicine, the sanctity of the image of God and, through people, the mystery of God.

Let me put it a little differently. Secular organizations attempt to unite people for a short time; but the aim of the Church is to unite them forever with God. It is perhaps the greatest error of our era that, instead of settling things with God, we’re trying to settle things among ourselves, without Him.

I would like to believe, and I hope this is the case, that bioethics, as a modern means of formulating Orthodox teaching on the human person, will be studied and worked upon in a Pan-Orthodox context and will be deposited as an expression of pastoral care of the faithful in the modern world. The challenge for an Orthodox testimony concerning the human person demands an answer; the need is imperative; the opportunity unique; the procedure universal. We must all work together.

[8] Matth.  11, 12

[9] Matth. 11, 30