On 27th July 2023, at a plenary session of the Second Russia–Africa Summit, Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, Patriarchal Exarch of Africa, delivered an address on Fundamental Principles of Church Teaching on Family and Upbringing: Traditions and Present-Day Practice. The session’s focus was on Collective Efforts in Protecting Children’s Rights: Prospects and Forms of Cooperation. Given below is the text of Metropolitan Leonid’s speech.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Our Lord Jesus Christ says, “Allow the little children! And do not forbid them to come to Me! For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 19:14). He also says that unenviable fate awaits those who sow temptation and ruin immature souls: “But whoever shall cause one of these little ones who believes in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6).
Making up for a deficiency in pagan and Old Testament notions of marriage, Christianity offered a lofty image of the union between Christ and His Church. Owing to that, Christians started to view marriage not as a legal agreement and means of procreation and satisfying their transient physical needs but, as St. John Chrysostom put it, “the mystery of love,” everlasting unity of spouses in Christ. The Church insists that husband and wife should remain loyal to each other throughout their life and that Christian marriage is unbreakable.
Clement of Alexandria calls family, along with the Church, a house of the Lord, and St. John Chrysostom refers to family as “a lesser church.” “Shall I tell how marriage is also a mystery of the Church?” he writes. A domestic church is made up of a man and a woman who love each other, are united in marriage and devote their life to seeking Christ. The fruit of their mutual love and unity are children. Giving birth to and brining up children are considered to be one of the primary goals of marriage according to the Orthodox teaching.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward,” David the Psalmist exclaims (Ps. 127:3). “Children weren’t born by chance and we are held responsible for their salvation… The negligence of children is the greatest of all sins as it leads to extreme impiety… There is no excuse for us if our children are corrupt,” St. John Chrysostom exhorts. St. Ephraim the Syrian teaches, “Blessed are those who bring up their children in piety.” “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you,” the fifth commandment of the Law of Moses reads (Ex. 20:12).
Family as a domestic church is one body, whose members live and build up their relations based on the law of love. Family teaches a person to overcome sinful selfishness and fosters awareness of civic duty. It is family as a school of righteousness that helps form the right attitude to one’s neighbour and hence to one’s people and society as a whole. The living generational continuity starts in family and then finds its expression in a person’s love for ancestors and homeland, in a feeling of being part of history. That is why attempts to undermine traditional parents-child relationship pose such a threat, exacerbated, unfortunately, by the way society lives today.
Children abandoned by their parents are a glaring problem of today’s society. Thousands of children, who fill orphanages or sometimes end up on the street, are a sign that our society is seriously ill. While offering spiritual and material help to such kids and trying to engage them in religious and social life, the Church at the same time believes it is its primary duty to strengthen the institution of family and ensure that parents are mindful of their vocation, which might prevent a tragedy of abandoning a child.
Vice being popularized is particularly harmful to immature souls of children and teenagers. Books, films, videos, mass media and certain educational programmes often promote such concept of sexual relations that is degrading to human dignity inasmuch as it leaves no place for the ideas as chastity, marital fidelity and selfless love. The Church calls on the faithful to join efforts with all morally healthy forces in preventing the spread of such diabolical temptation which is destructive to family and hence the very fabric of society.
Mindful that it is the duty of school, along with family, to educate children and adolescents when it comes to gender relations and human physicality, the Church cannot support programmes of sexual education that consider premarital sex and even various deviations as a norm. It is utterly unacceptable to impose such ideas on young minds. School is called to fight against vice, which is detrimental to personal integrity, and to foster chastity in children and teenagers, preparing them for building up a strong family based on principles of fidelity and virtue.
Since ancient times, the Church has regarded abortion – deliberate termination of pregnancy – as a grave sin. Canons equate abortion to murder. This point of view is based on a firm belief that conceiving a human being is a gift from God and therefore since the moment of conception any attempt on the life of a future person is felonious.
As abortions are becoming widespread and justified in the modern-day society, the Church sees it as a threat to the future of humanity and a clear indication of moral degradation. Remaining faithful to the Biblical and patristic teaching on sanctity and pricelessness of human life from the moment of conception is incompatible with the idea of a woman’s “free choice” in deciding a foetus’s fate. The Church is committed to speaking out in defence of the most vulnerable and dependent human beings, which are unborn children. The Church does not reject women who had an abortion, but calls them to repentance. Since it is often the case that women resort to abortion in situation of material hardships and helplessness, the Church and society need to come up with effective measures for protecting motherhood and create favourable environment for adoption when a mother for some reasons cannot bring up a child on her own.
Throughout the recent decades, countries that once defined themselves as Christian have been trying to thrust upon the whole world the system of values which run counter to the Gospel teaching, as well as to universal moral tenets and common sense. However, it is obvious to every believer that God-given moral ideals constitute the unshakeable foundation for the life and successful development of any person and society and may not be subjected to revision in favour of certain political actors or sentiments. Upholding and promoting norms of traditional morality is the key to viability and future of the entire human civilization.
Using mechanisms of inter-confessional, interfaith, church-state and church-society cooperation and mindful of the exceptional importance of concerted action, we are called to join efforts in upholding traditional moral values by any available means and morally justified methods.
To conclude my speech, I would like to mention that since its establishment in December 2021, the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa has been taking care of orphanages in Kenya – St. Peter Orphanage in Rigena and St. Athanasius the Great Orphanage in Nyabigege.
Carrying out pastoral work there are our priests, Fathers Theodoros Ouru and Hermogenes Otara. As we came to Africa, we saw that utilities and economic infrastructure there was in serious decay, unfortunately; there were great problems with people’s basic living conditions. For example, the aforementioned orphanages had no water piping or electricity. Of course, we fixed that and continue to provide necessary assistance to the orphanages in building, equipping, improving, and purchasing poultry and livestock for their farm yards. Yet, there is still a lot of work to do.
I am certain that the fundamental ideas and viewpoints expressed during this forum will be heard by society and find their way into governmental policy, educational and social activities and further church-state cooperation.
I wish you all-strengthening help from God, fruitful work and success in your noble and important efforts aimed at defending the rights of children!
Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa