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Canon 22 of St.

John the Faster

Canon 22, St. John the Faster

Canon 22 of St. John the Faster

A. The Text of the Canon A woman, who involuntarily has expelled a baby through miscarriage, receives her penance for a year.1

B. Teaching But any woman who, being pregnant, has expelled her baby unintentionally as the result of some accidental circumstance), is canonized by the present Canon not to commune for a year.2 This canon gives us an interpretation regarding first the nature of the miscarriage involuntarily, that means without pre-meditation due to some accidental circumstance. Second, it may implies the difference between abortion and miscarriage and third that the fetus or baby had not given to him or her any opportunity whatsoever to be baptized.

C. Context It seems there are two major factors at play in the historical development of the Churchs treatment of miscarriage. One is the immense focus by theologians and
Canon 22 of St. John the Faster
1

Rev. George Mastrantonis, Ancient Epitome of The Sacred Canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Textbook P.56
2

The Rudder, pp 945-946

For this reason pregnant women ought to exercise great care not to lift any (heavy) weight ( and especially when they are seven or eight months old), to eat whenever they smell the odor of food or anything else, and to be on their guard against everything that would cause them a burden and annoyance. It is equally important that men, when their wives conceive, ought not to sleep in the same bed with them nor have sexual intercourse with them any longer, nor strike them, or cause them any other pain and annoyance, because all these things may cause their wives to miscarry in which case the poor husbands become murderers. Wherefore all priests that are married, or expect to get married, if they do any of these things and their wife miscarries, those who arc priests already are to be deposed, but those who were going to become priests are barred from the priesthood on account of the murder they committed.

clergymen to impress upon the faithful the importance of baptism. Evidence of this can be seen in the penalties brought against parents whose children died unbaptized, as noted in the following section on canon law. Another was the rampant practice of abortion in Byzantine society. It seems that amidst the fierce battle to protect the lives of the holy unborn, parents of both aborted and miscarried babies were prescribed penance and excommunication for a time.3 Because of the high infant mortality rate in ancient times, the issue of babies dying unbaptized was common in Byzantine society, and frequently arose in canon law. Baun writes: The problem [of infants who die before baptism] arises most often with reference to the moral and theological predicament of the parents only. It is to the nature and duration of their penance that the canonists attend, not to the fate of the babies themselves.4 The Fathers and Canons of the Church were most concerned with preventing women from intentionally killing their children, born or unborn.5 The list of pertinent canons on the subject shows that the protection of such children was obviously of grave concern. Beyond that however, nothing is said about the fate of the children themselves. Consider the following canon of St. John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople: if a child dies when it is seven days old or younger, the parents are to be
Canon 22 of St. John the Faster

Fr. Peter J. Gillquist, An Orthodox Pastoral Approach to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss p. 28

Ibid, p. 30 Baun, p. 118 5 http:// business.hol.gr/bio/HTML/PUBS/VOL3/ha-trx.htm. Consider Canons 63 and 68 of the Synod of Elvira (ca. 306 A.D); Canon 21 of the Synod of Ancyra ( ca. 314 A.D); Canons 2 and 8 of Basil the Great; canon 91 of the Penthekte Ecumenical Synod in Trullo (691/2 A.D). My suggestion : the reader may also have a look on Patrick Demetrios Viscusos , Sexuality, Marriage and Celibacy in Byzantine Law, pp. 140-41, 175

excommunicated for only forty days6 It is certainly possible that such a penance was meant as a toll for priests to help parents prepare themselves to return to communion following such a loss, but it also serves to show us the general climate of the day with regard to the baptism of infants. In such an environment it is not surprising that the Fathers did not take time to develop canonical literature addressing the fate of babies who died unbaptized, how or where to bury them, or how to effectively minister to their parents.7

D. Application The ministry of the Church is of the utmost importance in the face of crisis. With miscarriage, as with any major loss, people need to be reassured of the love and mercy of Christboth of them and for the child that has died. But when a God-fearing, committed orthodox Christian couple miscarries, the priest faces a nightmare scenario: He must tell them the Church forbids prayers to be offered for the baby in the Church building, for their baby was not really a member of the church. When they ask him to pray for them, he may read for them the traditional Orthodox prayer which speaks of the mothers guilt and involvement in the killing of her child.8 There are no prayers for the baby at forty days or annually. Finally, he must inform them that the baby may not be buried on holy ground, so they must find a plot somewhere else a monasterys cemetery, potentially far from the rest of the familys
Canon 22 of St. John the Faster

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Baun, p. 118 Fr. Peter J. Gillquist, An Orthodox Pastoral Approach to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss,p.30 8 St. Tikhons Monastery, Tr. The Great Book of Needs. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhons Seminary Press, pp. 16-18

graves. This approach seems so foreign to the orthodox priest who is accustomed to the rich, pastorally-directed liturgical texts of the Church. Many priests cannot understand how this approach is supposed to lead to the salvation of the couple, for rather it seems to lead to further despair. It is easy for an already devastated woman to feel totally alienated and further isolated by a parish who excludes her little innocent one from the dignity of a Christian burial. After all, she would have done everything in her power to raise this child in the faith and fear of the lord, had he lived. But the child never had the opportunity to choose the right from the wrong, and our current response as a Church would seem to alienate a family from our precious Orthodox faith. Following are three official steps I believe should be taken in the Church. First, the idea that the infant children of Orthodox parents who die without baptism are somehow unworthy to be buried on hallowed ground must be eliminated. Second, it is very important that an official service of commemoration/burial of a miscarried/stillborn child be developed. Finally, clergy must be educated about pregnancy loss in seminary.9 In my opinion the Church is moving forward to this direction and you may see it if you talk with many priests who they know how to be a presence of love, a sensitive and pastoral witness and support to the bereaved family, a living Christ in our midst.

Canon 22 of St. John the Faster

Fr. Peter J. Gillquist, An Orthodox Pastoral Approach to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss,pp.19,32,36,38

Bibliography
1. Rev. Mastrantonis George. , Ancient Epitome of the Sacred Canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church 2. Fr. Gillquist, Peter J. An Orthodox Pastoral Approach to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss. Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimirs Orthodox Theological Seminary 3. St. Tikhons Monastery, Tr. The Great Book of Needs. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhons Seminary Press, 2000. 4. Baun, Jane. The Fate of Babies Dying before baptism in Byzantium. The Church and Childhood: Papers Delivered at the 1993 Summer Meeting and 1994 Winner Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers (1994): 115-126. 5. http:// business.hol.gr/bio/HTML/PUBS/VOL3/ha-trx.htm. Consider Canons 63 and 68 of the Synod of Elvira (ca. 306 A.D); Canon 21 of the Synod of Ancyra ( ca. 314 A.D); Canons 2 and 8 of Basil the Great; canon 91 of the Penthekte Ecumenical Synod in Trullo (691/2 A.D). Viscuso. Demetrios P. Sexuality, Marriage and Celibacy in Byzantine Law, Brookline, MA.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press. 2008. pp. 140-41, 175
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