Constantinople’s Moral Oversight by Andrew F. Estocin

Constantinople’s Moral Oversight

Andrew F. Estocin on Orthodoxy in the Public Square

“But among them all [the Greek Orthodox Christians in America], as Ecumenical Patriarch, we desire to single out one man who sums up your love for the Mother Church, for Orthodox culture, for the highest Christian ideals, Senator Paul Sarbanes. We express our fatherly pride in this accomplished son of the Mother Church; for his unwavering pursuit of righteousness and truth in both his public service to the Church and to the people of the United States of America. Well done, good and faithful servant!” In such terms was Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland greeted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during his visit to Baltimore on October 24, 1997.

As an Orthodox Christian who looks to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople with considerable filial love, this writer finds it more than slightly disconcerting to read such adulation directed toward one of the most fervent proponents of abortion rights in the entire US Senate. The Patriarch takes “fatherly pride” in a man whose voting record on abortion evinces a profound antagonism towards human life? To the spiritual leader of a church that regards abortion as infanticide Senator Sarbanes represents “the highest Christian ideals”? Can this really be?

It is precisely as an Orthodox Christian that I pose these questions. Already sharing the shame of a nation that has murdered 36 million unborn human beings since Roe v. Wade, must we Orthodox Christians also be thus embarrassed by such an accolade from the successor of St. Andrew the Apostle to one of the men responsible for the ongoing atrocity? The voting record of Senator Sarbanes, after all, with respect to the rights of the unborn, represents a sustained bashing of every Christian and humane instinct. Just what was in the mind of the Ecumenical Patriarch when he spoke, in public and on record, such manifest falsehoods?

A Useful Paradigm

The career of Senator Paul Sarbanes serves as a useful paradigm of a very serious moral and pastoral problem confronting the ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the United States right now.

Paul Sarbanes is a US senator from Maryland. As an Orthodox churchman he has taken a highly visible role in the work of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and served as a key public figure in gaining the Congressional Gold Medal for Patriarch Bartholomew. He is also a past recipient of the Order of St. Andrew’s Patriarch Athenagoras Award for his defense of human rights and is now honored by the Orthodox Church as an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Why is this last point significant? From the official website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, we learn the following information about the rank of Archon and what is expected of a man who holds that rank: “It is the sworn oath of the Archon to defend and promote the Greek Orthodox faith and tradition. His special concern and interest is to serve as a bulwark to protect and promote the Holy Patriarchate and its mission. . . . This honor, extended by the Church, carries with it grave responsibilities, deep commitments, and sincere dedication. Consequently, it is of utmost importance that this honor of obligation be bestowed upon individuals of proven Orthodox Christian character, who conform faithfully to the teachings of Christ, and the doctrines, canons, worship, discipline, and encyclicals of the Church.”

This is what is expected of an Archon of the ecumenical patriarchate. But what do we have in Senator Sarbanes? The facts speak for themselves:

• On May 20, 1997, and again on September 18, 1998, he was (along with Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, another Orthodox Christian) among the minority of senators who voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion.

• On September 4, 1997, he lent his support to legislation permitting medical experiments on intentionally aborted children as “fetal tissue research.” (The slippery ethical slope created by such legislation leaves open the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, that children will be conceived solely for the purpose of medical experimentation.)

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