A series of letters to Orthodox clergy discussing complicity.
December 7, 2016
His Eminence the Most Reverend Archbishop Kyrill
Archbishop of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
109 Sixth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Your Eminence Archbishop Kyrill:
Master, I humbly ask for your blessing and for your prayers for me a sinner.
In August, Fr. James Steele, my parish priest of St. Elias, asked me to prepare this outline of our intention to create a cemetery in El Dorado County, California, to bury any child who dies in the womb, whether through stillbirth, miscarriage, or abortion. As our proposal includes asking the mother who is planning to abort permission to bury her child, this has created grave concerns for some in our diocese. They believe that engaging with woman before her abortion would make us complicit in the mother’s action and sin. It is our hope that you will adjudicate between these perspectives and provide clear direction for the involvement of Orthodox Christians.
In October, I sent you a follow-up letter again with the blessing of Fr. James. Now I am sending a third in honor of your request.
Given the scope the letters already written, in response to your request I have both summarized material already covered and offer some final perspectives that may prove beneficial in this important decision. I have also included links to source material, the most important of which is Jessika’s story.
If you need further information or have follow-up questions, I am happy to provide you with anything that will prove helpful in your consideration of this matter.
With much gratitude for your consideration, and reverently kissing your right hand,
Mrs. Marcia Mary Brim
Attachments: (1) Letter dated August 1, 2016; (2) Letter dated November 1, 2016
cc. Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Bishop Irenei (Steenberg), Father James (Steele)
December 7, 2016
A Cemetery for the Unborn
This document serves as a summary of the situation already brought before you in my previous two letters. Several points previously addressed will be highlighted along with cross references to more detailed information you may find within the attachments. I have also provided a few additional perspectives and information that may prove useful if not thought-provoking in rending your judgment on this matter.
Before doing so, let me acknowledge that I have couched my words here in the context of things I strongly believe. It is my personal belief that to bury aborted children would be an act of mercy that should be undertaken even if it may be twisted into an evil. However, I recognize that many sincere Christians have held beliefs that proved errant in one way or another when fully examined by those given charge over the Church. I believe my convictions are formed by the teachings of Scripture and Church Tradition, but I will submit myself to the authority you have been given in my life by those same Scriptures and Traditions. As a member of your flock, I once again humbly ask your assessment: Does what I am purposing here represent a work of mercy that Orthodox Christians can receive a blessing in which to engage?
I believe that an opportunity to do good, to demonstrate mercy to “the least of these”, has been set before me and fellow members of a purposed ministry called “For Rachel’s Children” (FRC), a ministry that would bury those slain by abortion. These innocent dead have no one to bury them. Our burials would be inspired by the work of the righteous Tobit and the holy disciple Joseph of Arimethea. (See letter dated August 1, 2016, page four.) I believe the children we will bury are comparable to the Innocent slaughtered by Herod, the children of Rachel’s morning prophesied in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:15). But today’s innocent lack both mourners and burial rites. As such, they are like the God-bearer Simeon whom Herod also denied burial because he would not stop proclaiming that he had beheld the Christ child. (See letter dated November 1, 2016, page two.)
We will offer burial in the name of Christ. Believing this action is an act of mercy, a failure to care for those beaten and discarded from the womb bears resemblance to those walking on the other side of the road, rather than the Good Samaritan. (See letter dated November 1, 2016, page two.)
The result has been that nearly 58 million abortion victims have received no better treatment than the bodies of crucified criminals whom the Romans threw on trash heaps. Some have received worse, having their bodies bought and sold, for the profit of medical science. (See letter dated August 1, 2016, page one.)
As covered in my August letter, it is mandated by law that babies killed by abortion are disposed of as medical waste. Exceptions are made only when the mother signs a directive in advance of her abortion that designates the “contents of her uterus” as experimental material for researchers. Planned Parenthood justified this whole practice in the Washington Post upon the signed consent of the mother.
Now her consent not only legalizes the murder of her child; it also justifies an industry practice that traffics of the most helpless human beings among us.
The goal of FRC is to provide to the woman who has chosen abortion another option: burial. This is the only option that brings dignity and love to a discarded human being. This work of mercy is undertaken on behalf of the child to both save him or her from further exploitation in addition to providing the burial every image-bearer deserves.
But as you know, clergy within our diocese believe with godly conviction that it would be wrong to take up this work because we must deal with the mother in the midst of her sin and worse yet, my influence of her in it. This would make us complicit in the sin of abortion, which the church has stood against since its earliest writings. (See letter dated August 1, 2016, page eight.)
As noted in my November 1 letter, I believe this work of charity should be done even though some might use it to justify evil. Food for the hungry programs always run the risk of facilitating addicts or alcoholics, but the good continues even when some form of evil is enabled by it. (See letter dated November 1, 2016, last paragraph page 13 and top of 14.) Let me add a further thought here in light of the Church’s teaching that evil has no existence of itself, but rather exists only as a perversion of the good, a good twisted by free agents. Clearly, to refuse to engage in this work of burial on the grounds that evil may result hobbles our ability to do good. But what is more, we may find ourselves limping unwittingly in the opposite direction of the traditional Christian understanding of the plan of God, a plan which allows freedom to His chosen creatures so that ultimately the highest form of love might flourish and triumph.
Our approach does not condone abortion. In asking permission to bury her child, we honor the free-willed human being God has made the woman to be. Rather than trying to bend her to our moral will by focusing first and foremost on saving the life of her child, we will have an opportunity to love her even in the midst of her sin. And love, not the moral stance, holds the greatest potency to produce life. Again, life out of a grave ought to have a familiar ring to it. (See Jessika’s presentation below.)
While our ministry is not a rouse, its purpose is burial, but with every burial offered so is a door of hope. Christ may use this ministry to open hearts that may save a child’s life. However, we are just as hopeful that through extending burial out of Christian love, the mother herself might be saved. As noted in my first letter, many women--as many as 60%--are coerced into abortion. For these women, abortion is not a free choice. Burial may be the only gift she can give to her child.
The victimization of women is another evil that a cemetery ministry may address. One of our FRC board members is a woman named Jessika who has had 13 abortions. A long string of abuses and traumas pre-dated her pattern of habitual abortions. Of her sins, including the sins of abortion, she has repented and is living a new life in Christ. She credits the Christians who loved her in the midst of his sin as part of her transformation. Jessika is now an ardent supporter of FRC. She knows first-hand what a Christian who loves the woman caught in sin can accomplish by the power of the Holy Spirit. I urge you to watch her five-minute presentation of her story. It offers a different face to ponder regarding the woman planning abortion.
Far from the “self-actualized” gal painted for us by the abortion industry, who puts first her education or career before the life growing in her womb, abortion for many women is simply the result of a life lived without experiencing compassion, hope, love.
As much as we abhor and decry laws making abortion legal, they represent the world’s answer to the victimization of women. They give her power claiming that “the woman is sovereign over her own body.” As a predication to the evil she may do to the life growing in her womb we may not recognize this idea; nevertheless, it is a variation on a theme that harkens back to the psalmist’s words, repeated by our Lord, “Ye are all gods.” The woman’s bodily sovereignty, though deeply flawed in its application, is in actuality an idea in which we can work.
As I’ve referenced here and in previous letters, the work of undercover Pro-Life advocates exposed the buying and selling of baby body parts. This was the catalyst that promoted me to join other Christians in protesting a local business called StemExpress, then the largest buyer and seller of baby body parts in the world.
Standing on the sidewalk, my conviction formed that our failure to bury the dead has played a role in this subsequent advance of the evil of abortion from murder to trafficking.
I am not alone in this conviction. In the year and a half since these videos were revealed a number of States’ executive rulings have been or are being enacted to change the designation of fetal tissue from medical waste to human beings who deserve burial or cremation. In the footnote is a link to recent actions describing Texas’ efforts to mandate that abortion clinics bury fetuses.
On the one hand, I rejoice, on the other, I sigh. While this is a noble attempt to wield the power to the State to do right by these children, it does so after the federal government has already said they can be killed by their mother. I must acknowledge: State mandated burial is a philosophical shift rooted in religious ideas that ascribe personhood to the fetus, an idea that any decent lawyer will argue conflicts with both federal law and the absolute disallowal of religious ideas so present in our high courts today.
Below is another link to an article on a group of Satanists who plan to challenge Texas’ ruling. Sadly, I think the Satanists will win this battle. But we must remember in giving the woman both the power over life and death and the ability to determine what happens to the body, she is akin to Pilate. We at FRC plan to acknowledge the power of life, death and burial given to the woman by the government, even as Joseph of Arimathea had to acknowledge the authority granted to Pilate by God. Our Paschal narrative celebrates Joseph’s request to Pilate for the body, and the role his courage and humility played in the resurrection story. (See letter dated August 1, 2016, page three.)
By offering women the ability to choose burial we function within the laws of the land even as we subvert them to our purpose to honor that which has been dishonored. Additionally, we follow well-established societal practice rooted in Tradition that has sanctioned burial rites as the domain of the Church.
When I first began researching burial and cemetery law, I feared FRC would have to comply with all the stringent laws associated with state burial practices. I was shocked and overjoyed to discover that religious cemeteries do not fall under any state regulations. They are operated as completely separate entities beholden to no legal authority beyond that given them by God.
Furthermore, California burial and cemetery laws are the most liberal in the nation. This will only enhance the freedom we will enjoy as a religious cemetery. By dealing directly with the mother and offering her child the burial rite provided by the Church, the State will be hard pressed to stop us. In the end, the “‘rite’ to choose” may do more for the cause of life than years and years of protest.
In closing, I acknowledge, even if a blessing can be given now, certain aspects of this plan may need to be provisional, requiring some practical details which you may specify. Such details will likely require the labors akin to a business plan. But once completed, these detailed plans could also be submitted for a final review and blessing. Details aside, it is my fervent prayer that conceptually you are able to bless this effort now as a work that desires to imitate God by doing good. (Luke 6:36, Eph. 5:1)
Kissing your right hand, I remain yours in Christ,
Mrs. Marcia Mary Brim
ATTACHMENT 1: LETTER DATED 08/01/16
August 1, 2016
To His Grace
The Most Reverend Archbishop Kyrill
Archbishop of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
109 Sixth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118 USA
Your Grace Archbishop Kyrill:
Master, please bless. I humbly ask for your blessing and for your prayers for me a sinner.
Father James Steele, my parish priest has asked me to prepare the following information about a work in the planning stages to create a cemetery in El Dorado County to bury any child who dies in the womb. In this process we have run into concerns which Fr. James has instructed me to raise to you. Thank you in advance for the privilege of your consideration of this ministry. I offer first a brief history of the Pro-Life movement and how aborted babies are treated in death. I explain out proposal to change this and address the problem this approach has created for some I our dioceses. It is our hope that you or a collection of Bishops will adjudicate between these perspectives and provide clear direction for the involvement of Orthodox Christians in the future. Thank you for your time.
Brief History of Abortion and the Pro-Life Movement:
As this year’s 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade passed, we mourned the loss of 58 million human beings slain since the advent of legalized abortion.
Christians have worked tirelessly to stop abortions. These efforts include subsequent legislation, Crisis Pregnancy Centers, ultrasound access, sidewalk counseling and protests in front of abortion clinics, undercover exposes, and homes for unwed mothers, to name just a few.
While abortion statistics have been on the decline for the last several years, it is likely another million babies will die this year.
Catholic and Protestant Christians have been leading the fight to save children from abortion. While many individual Orthodox Christian’s have contributed to these life-saving efforts, the Orthodox Church is clearly underrepresented in this grave Christian cultural concern.
What Pro-Life Advocates haven’t done:
For all the approaches to save children’s lives, the Pro-Life movement in general has not made any collective effort to ask to bury the bodies of those who have been slain by abortion.
From the perspective of Scripture and Church history, this is a curious oversight. From the Righteous Tobit through the history of the early church where victims of infanticide were buried, the people of God have clearly understood the importance of burying the dead. For the living, it is an act of piety and a moral responsibility to dignify those who have died bearing the image of God.
Three options for the bodies of babies killed by abortion: Garbage, specimen, or burial
As no one asks to bury babies killed by abortion, these human beings are labeled by law as medical waste and incinerated.
Because these babies are designated as trash, buying and selling their body parts for the purpose of medical researcher is viewed as recycling and servicing a potential “greater good”. Many promised future cures are based on fetal tissue research.
In order to use an aborted baby’s body for research, the mother prior to under-going the abortion has to sign consent to donate her fetus to science. She is the only person who can legally authorize the use of her baby’s body for medical research.
What the mother is not told is that buying and selling baby body parts is a multi-million dollar industry that has resulted in the trafficking of “the least of these”. A fetal liver alone is sold for $24,000. The industry that has grown around this trade has been largely unregulated even as it is funded by the US government.
The undercover videos released by The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) last summer exposed this heinous activity. The largest buyer and seller of baby-body parts in the world is located in Placerville, California, in El Dorado County. The business is called StemExpress, and they have partnered with Planned Parenthood. Below is a recent comment from the CMP website:
A year after the release of the undercover videos, the ongoing nationwide investigation of Planned Parenthood by the House Select Investigative Panel makes clear that Planned Parenthood is the guilty party in the harvesting and trafficking of baby body parts for profit.
Following the lead of other Christians in our area, members of St. Elias including Fr. James began protesting in front of StemExpress last summer. Three days a week for a year, Christians faithfully stood on the sidewalk to bring attention to this evil which has ensconced itself in our own small town.
While bringing this darkness into the light, an idea formed among those of us who sought a better ending for these discarded children. With Fr. James’ blessing, members of St. Elias along with other local Protestant and Catholic Christians embarked on a mission to establish a cemetery in El Dorado County, one that will provide burial services for aborted babies as well as those miscarried and stillborn free of charge. We believe any child who dies in the womb, regardless of the cause of death, should be buried with dignity and love.
The challenge we face in this undertaking is that by law, the only person who can release the body for burial is the mother. This is both a challenge and a tremendous opportunity.
Orthodox involvement and an Orthodox objection:
While Christians from various faith expressions are very involved in this effort, much of the leadership for this ministry has come from St. Elias and is essentially being driven by lay Orthodox believers.
A number of Orthodox priests from differing jurisdictions have reviewed our plan and blessed it. One of these is the priest from the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Sacramento, who has the ability to secure from one of his parishioners two acres of land to donate for the cemetery. This would greatly advance our efforts. However, he has requested pan-orthodox support from the clergy of the 12 local parishes in the Sacramento area before proceeding.
One of these parishes is pastored by Fr. Paul Volmensky, who is a highly respected and esteemed member of the clergy community in Sacramento, as well as a member of the same Russian Orthodox diocese where several of the key cemetery leaders are coming from. We have been in dialogue with Fr. Paul about this since last November. However, from the beginning, he has felt strongly that as the mother is in the midst of sinning, to ask her to bury her baby creates a moral and ethical dilemma that cannot be overcome. In his most recent correspondence, he stated his objection, not as a personal misgiving, but in a manner that would preclude any Orthodox of good conscience from involving themselves in such a ministry.
From his correspondence to Marcia Brim on July 27, 2016:
The suggestion to offer a mother to bury her child for her, if she goes through with it's murder is unprecedented in the tradition of the Orthodox Church. Therefore the approval of your project is beyond the competency of a parish priest or even a local diocesan bishop. Its approval would most likely require a Council. For the topic to get listed on a council agenda, it would first need to pass an ethics board and/or canonical review.
Plain and simple, the Orthodox Church does not bless even the intent to commit sin. Rather She helps to cut off sin from inception. Therefore the Orthodox Church would not endorse a cemetery whose mission is to bury aborted children with the mothers' knowledge and consent.
I am appealing to you as Archbishop of our diocese and ultimately the pastor we must obey to intervene. It is imperative that we make clear: We are not burying the child “for her.” Abortion is first-degree murder. We will never condone this sin. Nor are we aiding her by “cleaning up her mess,” as Fr. Paul reiterated again in the same letter. On the contrary, we are burying the child for the sake of the Image this little one bears.
To ask her to authorize burial for her child confronts the reality of what she is planning to do to another human being. A coffin speaks the truth about abortion more powerfully than a protest sign.
It is first and foremost our responsibility towards God and the dead that motivates this effort to bury children who die in the womb. Nevertheless, Fr. Paul is convinced that in obtaining her consent we make ourselves complicit in the sin of abortion, and may appear to be both condoning and covering up her actions. If so, of course such actions would be abhorrent to the Church, but we believe his charges are unwarranted. What is more we find basis for our purposed actions in Scripture, Church tradition and Christ’s example of unconditional love towards both the sinner and the little children.
The biblical precedence for our mission is the action of Joseph of Arimathea , who asked Pilate’s permission to bury Christ’s body. He went to Pilate because the governor alone must give consent to bury anyone slain by crucifixion. Crucified bodies were thrown on the trash heap, as the final indignity to be suffered by those who defied Roman law. In asking Pilate for the body, Joseph of Arimathea was not condoning Jesus’ death sentence; neither did he share in Pilate’s guilt. Pilate was not “let off the hook” for his sin because he released the Body to Joseph. Human authority necessitated Joseph’s request to Pilate on behalf of Christ. This example of acting within the bounds of established authority to bury the dead provides Scriptural precedence for our work.
But as our legal system requires that the mother is asked for permission to bury before the child is slain, some might contend: but Joseph went to Pilate after Jesus was already dead. In response, I would ask, would Joseph’s actions somehow have been tainted if the law of his day mandated that permission for burial must be secured before the convicted man carries his cross up the Via Dolorosa? If immediately after Pilate washed his hands he was asked for the body while Christ yet lived, would we laud Joseph any less nobly than we do today?
In seeking to honor and reverence the body of Christ, Joseph is our example in going to Pilate, in preparing the body, and in providing a resting place for his dead Lord. In establishing a cemetery for the unborn we would be performing all of Joseph’s acts. In doing so we also ensure that victims of abortion are not treated like trash or exploited in the name of medical research.
With all due respect to Fr. Paul’s perspective, in summary, we too must function within the legal constraints of our day by going to the mother. Like Pilate, she alone has been given the authority over the life of the child growing in her womb. As she has sole authority, those without agency cannot be held responsible for her actions. We could not be complicit in her sin.
In terms of Church Tradition, I have already noted our historic practice of burial from Old Testament, New Testament, as well as the early Church. It might also be noted that beyond the witness of the martyrs in the early centuries of the Church, Christians also distinguished themselves through their commitment to tend the sick and bury the dead. In a letter written by Julian the Apostate to Arsacius, High Priest of Galatia [a pagan priest], he wrote in reference to Christians, “It is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [non pagan practices]. … I believe that we [the pagans] ought really and truly to practice every one of these virtues.”
How might our Christian witness be spread today if we took up the work of burying the dead and tending the graves of those whom our society both exploits and throws away?
In terms of Christ’s treatment of those caught in sin, we cite His interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well, the adulterous woman caught “in the midst of sin” and cast into the center of a circle of stone-throwers, and the sinful woman who anointed Christ’s feet in Simon’s house. Christ did not condemn any of these women. Nor did He speak to them as he spoke to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount. When dealing with the individual he communicated his love even while they were yet sinning. We to desire to minister to the woman caught in sin. Compassion not judgment may save both a mother and her child.
It is possible that a mother who is offered burial for her child may be so touched by the love of strangers toward her baby that she could very well come to a life-changing realization that she too can love this child enough to give it life. To this end, a coffin may save a child’s life.
This will be our hope for every woman to whom we offer burial.
We understand that there are those who will be unconvinced by the examples cited above, claiming they do not demonstrate adequate precedence to proceed. They are not perfectly analogous. Even still, it is also true; every new historical era presents human beings with problems those who came before us did not wrestle with. I do not believe the absence of exact authoritative instruction from councils or fathers for our particular cultural problems allows us to ignore the grave challenges that plague our world. In the examples I have cited above, I hope our desire to be guided by and faithful to the Scripture, Tradition and our Lord is evident as we strive to engage and care for the modern world in which we live.
Even still … what if we influence an abortion?
Father Paul has also argued that hearing about our burial ministry may become an inducement to abort. He claimed in his first and last correspondence with me on this subject that a woman could conclude that abortion is actually a best choice as there are “good Christians who will clean up her mess.”
Here I must appeal to an expert in this matter of how a woman planning to abort is likely to respond to the notion of burying her child. On July 23 at the California State Pro-Life Convention I had a conversation with one of the speakers. Her name is Lori Hoye. She is an expert on the psychology associated with black women who chose to abort their babies. She and her husband Walter Hoye, who is a Protestant pastor of a black church in Oakland, provide seminars on how the Pro-Life movement can reach out to the black community whose demographics for abortion leads the nation. Their website Issues for Life can be viewed here: http://www.issues4life.org/
In my conversation with her, I cited a statistic presented earlier in the day that 50% of woman who abort believe their uterus holds a baby. I then asked, what is this statistic in the black community? Her immediate response was 100%. I was stunned.
“Well, then,” I asked, “wouldn’t they be interested in a cemetery ministry?”
Her emphatic response was, “Absolutely not! They will not be interested in burying this baby for the same reason they are not interested in putting up this child for adoption.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“The last thing they want is to have that kid show up and find them some twenty years later. They want nothing to remain that could ever tie them to the reality that they got pregnant.”
Why this is goes beyond the scope of my presentation here. Nevertheless, as this expert is dealing with a population where every person believes that what is aborted is a child, her testimony makes clear: a guilty woman who wants to completely distance herself from her baby will not authorize burial. Why? Because, like adoption where a child may someday “show up”, a tombstone memorializes the “mess she is trying to clean up.”
When people are dealing with “a mess”, they get out a broom, sweep it up and throw it away. The trash can is the only place that cannot speak. Those women who want to hide any evidence of the crime for which they know in their hearts they are committing, will not bury the only thing that can indict them.
These “good Christians” will be perceived as threats not helpers, let alone housekeepers.
As tragic as this entire circumstance is, this conversation addresses why the human heart will not consider the work involved with a cemetery for the innocent as a means to “cover up her mess.” Planned Parenthood has already been providing this service for the 58 million children who have been lost. This heinous organization is the broom. Our cemetery will be a Christian memorial that remembers the dead. May their memory be eternal.
A potent strategy:
Not every woman planning abortion believes this is a baby. In having to ask the mother for the permission to bury before she undergoes the abortion, we are actually the last line of hope for her child. In light of the sobering reality of a coffin, the darkness of the lie that this is “just a clump of tissue” is unmasked. By gently presenting the truth about what is growing in her uterus, we may be given the privilege of offering and providing her all the life-affirming options that could enable her to bring her child into the world.
In this way, we will enable Christians to do exactly as Fr. Paul insists: we “cut off sin from inception.” A coffin confronts. It does not comfort.
However, there are many situations in which both the woman and the child are being victimized. This reality, though time cannot be allotted to it here, must not be overlooked. We are not dealing solely with a group of “sinners.” Not every woman who knows this is a baby chooses abortion of her own free-will. Based on abortion statistics up to 60% of all abortions are coerced by boyfriends, parents, husbands. Because someone else is forcing her to abort, the only real choice she may have is to affirm the humanity of her son or daughter through Christian burial.
Should a woman choose both abortion and burial of her own free will, in the future she may come to recognize her grave wrongdoing. When she does, this cemetery will become a place to grieve over her evil deeds. The cemetery will be a place to repent.
But there is also another category of sinner: those post-abortive mothers whose babies were secretly disposed of years ago. With her subsequent admission of this guilt and coming to repentance, she will find a place to grieve over her evil deeds before the tombstone of another baby who died at the same week of gestation as hers. This cemetery could become a place of pilgrimage and healing.
Mercy and repentance is one of the primary teachings of the Orthodox Church. The reality that people choose badly is never condoned in Scripture but God’s provision for our restoration runs throughout the narrative.
What is more, our choices, even bad ones, are integral to His story. God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden. He did not insert himself between a maiden and a snake. He knew the decision Adam and Eve would make in advance. And yet, in His infinite wisdom and plan to make us like Himself, choice plays a vital role in shaping creatures made of matter, creatures enabled to fully partake of the fellowship of Trinitarian love.
Just as God is not culpable for Eve’s choice in the garden, members of a Christian burial society will not be held accountable for the choices of former maidens who end the lives of those He made to represent Him on the face of the earth. Rather, we believe a cemetery that buries those who die in the womb with dignity and love will facilitate much repentance by individuals and perhaps even our society at large.
We also believe that a grave, like the one from which the Christian story springs will save many lives.
Can this objection be overcome?
It is within the power of the local Orthodox parishes in El Dorado and Sacramento counties to do much good within our community, and perhaps even set an example for other communities. In addition to our life-affirming ministry, we would also minister to families who lose wanted children. Fetal death happens in Christian and non-Christian homes, and this cemetery could have a powerful Christian witness to grieving families.
I cannot imagine what our Paschal story would be without the courage of Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus and the Myrrh bearing Women. Likewise, what might our community be like if we bravely strive to dignify the life of every child who dies in the womb? I firmly believe this would present a powerful witness for Christ and bring glory to His name.
A ministry of laity needs our Archbishop’s blessing to move forward so we can do good
As I stated earlier, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church in Sacramento owns large landholdings in El Dorado County. These are not church lands, but lands of a parishioner. Those who have offered to run the development of the cemetery are not priests, they are local parishioners at St. Elias and other Protestant and Catholic Christians.
But priests have the capability to either bless and promote this work or to end it. Again, as Fr. Paul is a respected voice among the Sacramento clergy, it will be impossible to reach local consensus which is necessary for us to be given land for a cemetery. Please help us overcome this roadblock.
But if, in your judgment Fr. Paul’s assessment is correct and this ministry would give the appearance of condoning or being complicit in abortion, then all Orthodox Christians will withdraw from this effort to establish a cemetery for the unborn. However, if you believe our ministry will act within both Scriptural and Traditional Christian practices, and that burying the dead is a worthy good even when it requires us to ask permission of “Pilate” (an action that may even save lives) then we ask for your blessing to move this good work forward.
In closing, I’d like to share a story told on June 26th after myself and several other leaders in this ministry were given the privilege to present the vision for a cemetery at a Protestant church just down the road from St. Elias. The presentation can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/Go3H33Oava8 After hearing our presentation she shared her story with one of our presenters
At 16, my mind was made up. Nothing was going to make me carry that baby. Nothing anybody could say would have stopped me. But this morning, sitting in the pew, I realized, if someone had offered to bury my baby, that would have been the one and only thing that would have stopped me in my tracks.
Her testimony speaks to a life that a coffin could have saved.
Your consideration of this matter is deeply appreciated. If you need further information or have follow-up questions, I am happy to provide anything that will prove helpful in your consideration of this matter.
With much gratitude for your consideration,
Marcia Mary Brim
cc. Fr. James Steele, Fr. Paul Volmensky, Fr. Philip Plowman, Archimandrite Irenei Steenberg
ATTACHMENT #2: LETTER DATED 11/01/16
November 1, 2016
To His Grace
The Most Reverend Archbishop Kyrill
Archbishop of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
109 Sixth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118 USA
Your Grace Archbishop Kyrill:
Master, bless. It was lovely to meet you at the St. Silouan feast day and share in the glories of the day, including those angelic dragonflies. Thank you for coming to see them with me. And thank you especially for voicing your desire to support an endeavor to construct a cemetery for those who die in the womb whether from natural or unnatural causes.
However, recognizing that concerns of those within your diocese still exist, Fr. James has given me his blessing to write to you again. I have thought more about the objections raised by Fr. Paul and those posed by Archimandrite Irenaeus at the feast day. I am hoping you will allow me another opportunity to speak to their objections here.
While addressing the concerns of Fr. Paul in my first letter, I gave reasons why it would be most unlikely for a women to abort her baby because good people are offering burial. However, I understand that “unlikely” is not “impossible”. In this letter, I hope to persuade you to my position that we must do good even if someone should twist our good work of burying the dead into an evil. I will further address the need for a biblical and traditional precedent for this work, and finally, the necessity of having a cemetery for the unborn even though existing Orthodox cemeteries could dedicate plots for such a purpose.
Fr. Paul has contended from the beginning that a mother could persuade herself that our offer to bury her aborted child for free justifies her decision. Given failed moral reasoning and the folly of the human heart, this is possible. However, the original factors motivating her abortion have no relationship to whether the murdered child will be buried. For all the “reasons” a woman may choose abortion, so she can “bury her baby for free” is not one of them. Neither would the presence of a cemetery for unborn children who died of natural or unnatural causes be construed as an inducement to commit evil. However, if our offer could be even the smallest factor in influencing her ultimate decision, it is necessary to continue to examine possible complicity in the sin of abortion which the Church has stood stalwartly against.
Ours is not the first ministry that has needed to confront the potential moral ambiguities of its work. A free meal, for example, provided to a homeless person may enable a drug or alcohol habit, yet we continue these works of charity. Some may construe a visit to comfort those in prison as approval of their crime. Clearly, many works of charity may become an aide to commit sin or may be perceived as a justification of sin by a person in darkness. Burial could become one of these. But in either case, I do not believe that a good potentially twisted into an evil should alter our mandate to minister to “the least of these”.
It’s interesting to look at the notion of aiding and abetting sin vis a vie the early Church’s stance on actually desiring and seeking martyrdom. For example, the Venerable Martyr Macarius of Thessalonica who asked for a blessing from St. Niphon to go and preach the Gospel to the Turks. He asked knowing he would be killed; nevertheless, was never discouraged from his sacrifice because it would necessitate another to commit the sin of murder. Martyrdoms were clearly good, and the executioners were clearly responsible for their own choices.
To bury the dead is good. Such good works can take no blame for the evil of other free agents who are endowed with the ability to choose good or evil.
Another comparison might be made to the Wisemen who visited the Christ child and then did not return to Herod as commanded. Their actions might be viewed as a contributing factor in the wholesale slaughter of the innocents that followed. But Scripture is clear this was Herod’s evil, while the Wisemen obeyed the dream sent from God.
I make no claim to a dream or divine vision to undertake a ministry to bury the dead slain by abortion. And I acknowledge no source from Scripture or from Church Tradition exists that is perfectly analogous to the situation I have brought before you in my letters. But I must bear witness to what I have learned by standing on a sidewalk for almost a year protesting the experimental horrors done to children. These horrors are justified because unwanted babies have been designated as trash. I cannot easily walk away from such inhumanity knowing that no one has taken up the task to bury them. I have no wish to be in contention with those who have misgivings about legally having to get authorization from the mother before her abortion, but there is no other way to obtain the remains of those who bear the image of God.
Given our plan is a new approach to the abortion holocaust, “new” is always a challenge when needing precedence from Church Tradition. As central as our Church Tradition is, in this matter of giving or withholding a blessing, I would point to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
We may run the risk of being the priest or Levite who walked on the other side of the road. They justified not showing mercy to the beaten man dying in the ditch because of their duties to the temple prescribed by Levitical law (Lev. 21:1-3; Num.19:11-14). They would not risk being made unclean. The tensions inherent in such laws pitted going to the temple against activities such as burying the dead and caring for newborns. Both burial and infant care are human goods as is the worship of God, but this tension built into the law forced Israelites to choose the needs of the human being over loving God in the temple. In doing so, they demonstrated that acts of mercy are the true expression of the worship and love of God.
In our day, it is aborted babies who have been beaten to death, as it were, in the womb, robbed of life and abandoned in some roadside dumpster. For more than forty years Christians have been saving babies but have not become “unclean” for the sake of the dead. For Rachel’s Children is asking for a blessing to change that.
We believe it fitting to lay these children to rest in a special place of honor, as a powerful and lasting memorial to a particular kind of martyrdom in keeping with the deaths of The Innocents who have been called by the Church “the first martyrs for Christ.” Further it is interesting to note that Herod not only ordered their slaughter, he also forbade the burial of Simeon the God-Receiver because he continually proclaimed in the temple the Messiah’s birth. It seems Herod’s evil lives on in both the continuing murder of the innocent and the lack of proper burials.
In an effort to create a lasting memorial for these children, I believe this cemetery will become a pilgrimage site. In honoring the dead it could also provide a place of healing for those who repent from the harm they caused to one of these little ones. Christ could do a great transformation at the foot of a tombstone.
In conclusion, my team and I believe that the good work of burial which honors the innocent dead is a merciful act that should not be denied because of the sins of the mother. As this will be a work of charitable outreach to our entire community, it will reach out to a much larger population than those who have access to Orthodox cemeteries. This cemetery will be dedicated to all innocents who die in the womb and open to those of any Christian faith or none.
While we have been laying the organizational groundwork for almost a year to move this project forward, I have made it clear to my team that I await your decision before proceeding. So how I might facilitate bringing this to a conclusion is deeply important to me and undoubtedly to those concerned that we may find ourselves in grave error should we move forward.
I would like to propose a potential solution first mentioned by Father Paul. He suggested that in order to resolve this there needed to be some kind of council. Would you consider the establishment of a meeting where you and the other two Western bishops and any clergy you invite receive a formal 45 minute presentation from me and a few members of my board to detail our work and vision? Immediately following, any of those present could address their concerns and raise questions which my team or others in attendance could address in a discussion forum.
We hope a decision as to whether or not our lay ministry will receive your blessing could be made between the bishops either immediately following, or at some time soon afterwards. Such a blessing would then clear the way for the acquisition of the Orthodox land that members of the Greek Church is willing to grant us.
We are committed to abide by your decision. If you are open to such a meeting, I will send you an outline in advance of the topics each speaker could address and their background. I can assist in any details necessary to make such a meeting possible and at a time most convenient to you. I eagerly await your response.
You have my sincerest thanks for considering this important matter and this idea for how to bring it to a close.
Marcia Mary Brim