Category Archives: news

Russian Orthodox Church approves rite of burial for unbaptized infants

July 14, Pravmir. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has approved the rite of the burial of unbaptized infants during their meeting on July 14, 2018.

It was reported by Priest Alexander Volkov, Press Secretary of His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.

According to Fr. Alexander, this rite will become mandatory for all parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“As you know, earlier the Church did not have the opportunity to celebrate a burial service for unbaptized infants. Sometimes infants are stillborn or die shortly after due to various circumstances that cannot be overcome by human power. Naturally, grieving parents come to a church and ask priests to officiate at least some rite for their departed children and seek their own consolation,” the RIA news service quotes the priest.

Read the rest here.

Some Updates

 As I mentioned previously, the Assembly of Bishops was to consider our proposal of a miscarriage/stillbirth booklet for clergy when they met in mid-September. As it turns out, time was too short for it to make it to the agenda. This is disappointing, of course, but our subcommittee is considering publishing it independently. When I have any news on this, I will post it.

 Surprisingly, the OCA Holy Synod of Bishops approved a service for miscarried or stillborn babies when they met this past week for their fall meeting. I hadn’t been aware that this was on the agenda and I’m not entirely sure of the source of the service (although it is possible that the overlapping members of the Assembly’s Pastoral Practice Committee and the Holy Synod presented the service that we had worked on). In any event, the good news is there IS an approved service! It was just posted today and you can find it here. I am most grateful to the Holy Synod for approving this and making it available.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance month (along with a host of other things). In addition, today is the feast of St. Demetrius the Myrrh-Gusher and the first birthday of our youngest baby, Demetrius. He died at 5 weeks, 5 days and was born a few weeks later on October 26th. Father buried him at the foot of his older brother Gabriel’s grave. May his memory be eternal! In his honor I mailed today a package of small hats to Common Care, an organization which distributes care packages and tiny hats to bereaved parents.

Encouraging news from Russia

In Russia, Fr. Daniel Goryachev is insisting that mothers and other family members be given a chance to see their stillborn babies and bury them. At the current time they are not shown to the families and are disposed of as medical waste, regardless of gestational age.

“Even if abortions are finally outlawed, the public conscience should be prepared for it. Otherwise such laws will be ineffective. People should have a particular culture of perception of life, which is formed through religion,” related Fr. Daniel his speech during the round table, dedicated to protection of life on early stages of pregnancy, held at the Civic Chamber. “Serving in an Arkhangelsk maternity home, I come across the following situation: When a woman gives birth to a stillborn baby, she is not given her baby and cannot see it. I have proposed to amend the legislation so that bodies of stillborn babies might be given to their mothers at their request, regardless of the stage of pregnancy”.

 May Fr. Daniel’s work be blessed!!

In the news…

(Source, and additional photos)

   A subcommittee of the Committee for Pastoral Practice of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops was convened from March 12-14 in Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania for the purpose of addressing the current lack of a common service for miscarried or stillborn infants and associated pastoral guidance. In attendance were: (L-R) Mat. Elizabeth Lein (OCA), Mat. Anna Crawford (OCA), Fr. Peter J. Gillquist (AOCA), Bishop Mark (OCA), Archbishop Benjamin (OCA), Fr. Ian Pac-Urar (AOCA), Kh. Linda Ellison (AOCA) and Dr. Phillip Mamalakis (GOA). [Mat. Jenny Shroedel (OCA) was present by skype.]

   It was a very positive and productive conference. The completed work will be a booklet for Orthodox pastors to address the following topics: basic medical information including a glossary of terms, suggestions for pastoral care of grieving families, guidance on burials, etc. The second half of the booklet will consist of prayers appropriate to a variety of circumstances and a service of burial and memorial service. This will be presented to the parent committee in May, and then, if approved, to the Assembly of Bishops in the fall. In the meantime a separate booklet for women and their families will be in progress.

   Please keep the committee members in your prayers as they address this important work.

Upcoming meeting…

Next week I will fly to Pennsylvania and stay at Antiochian Village for a few days. I was invited to work with some other Orthodox Christians to help draft a memorial service for miscarried and stillborn babies and put together resources for priests and parishes to use to assist grieving families. Other than having put together this site, and having lost four babies, I don’t know exactly what I’m bringing to the table, but I am happy to contribute however I can. This group will be meeting under the auspices of the Committee for Pastoral Practice of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the US. Please pray that we will have a productive meeting and that we will all have safe travels.

Services approved for preborn infants by the Holy Synod of the OCA

 Good news from the Holy Synod!!

[October 18, 2013  Syosset, NY] The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America concluded its fall session on Thursday, October 17, 2013. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, chaired the session, which opened two days earlier.

According to Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, OCA Secretary, in addition to hearing the reports of the Chancellor, Secretary and Treasurer, the members of the Holy Synod took the following actions and decisions.

* * *

The texts and order of two memorial services for pre-born infants—one that may be celebrated shortly after death, the other a funeral service—were approved for liturgical use upon the recommendation of His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin.

Change can happen

I’m cross posting this from my other site. This was an amazing comment made by willfulmina this evening on this post (about Fr. Peter Gilquist’s miscarriage paper):

I just wanted to let you know that after reading this post, I had a long discussion on the subject with my husband, who is a seminarian at Jordanville. I was really heartbroken over the wording used in the prayers, and felt strongly that more needed to be done for the grieving families who have suffered such a devastating loss. In situations like this, he tends to defend the church wholeheartedly and sometimes does not understand why I can’t accept that this is the way things are done. We didn’t really come to an understanding, but laid our differences aside and tried to forget about them.

A few days later, one of my husband’s professors e-mailed and requested that everyone come up with questions to ask at a round table discussion at the clergy conference, which was being held in Jordanville. My husband surprised me when he told me that one of his questions had to do with miscarriage. He asked specifically about what the Church teaches, what services priests can serve, how they should minister to the grieving families, etc. When the questions were read aloud, no one volunteered to answer them. It seems the questions stumped all of the ROCOR priests in attendance. One priest remarked, “We have services for everything–except for this.” One told about a family who lost a baby and stopped coming to church because he could not serve a funeral for their baby. One priest remarked that the funeral service, which is all about forgiving the sins of the departed, is irrelevant for an innocent baby. Met. Hilarion spoke about a young woman who recently lost her overdue baby, and how they served a service written by her grandfather, and said that he would speak to the Synod of Bishops about adopting that as the official service. My husband’s professor later told him that many priests were grateful that question was asked, because they had struggled with it themselves over the years. I just wanted to thank you for sparking all of that and let you know what this post led to.

I mean, wow. Change is happening. Glory to God.

Review of paper can be found here.

Review of "An Orthodox Pastoral Approach to Miscarriage" by Fr. Peter J. Gillquist

I have been very privileged to read a copy of Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist’s thesis entitled, “An Orthodox Pastoral Approach to Miscarriage”*. With his permission I would like to share parts of it with you here.
How came Fr. Peter to write on this topic? From the introduction:
“On the morning of Holy Thursday, 2003, following the celebration of the institution of the Mystical Supper, my wife Kristina suffered a miscarriage. Prior to this day, I had not given much thought to losing a baby. I remembered vividly the time my sister’s son had died in the womb at five months – the footprints taken at the hospital, the tiny casket at the cemetery, and the devastating months of tears that followed – but this was the first time I had experienced the harsh reality myself: my child had died.” (p. 2)
Fr. Peter then began a journey through the rocky terrain of pregnancy loss. He wanted to bury his child, but where? Who would do it? Who could guide him on this unfamiliar journey? His parish priest was kind but couldn’t offer help. In the end his child Zoe was buried at a monastery in an area created just for this purpose (on the occasion of Zoe’s burial).

“The burial was quite moving. The sisters greeted us with their characteristic warmth, but the countenance and embrace of each was as if each of them had lost a family member of their own! They took our loss personally. Because the burial took place on Bright Monday, the service essentially consisted of a procession from the monastery garden to the cemetery singing “Christ is Risen.” The abbess offered her headscarf to lower the small wooden box into the deep, narrow grave, and then left the scarf to be buried. A visiting local priest led a Trisagion prayer service. A local sign-smith crafted a plaque for the grave, free-of-charge, which read:
(Jer.1:5)
Before He formed me in the womb He knew my name
Zoe Michelle Gillquist
Born to Heaven April 24, 2003.” (p. 3)
It was afterward that Fr. Peter began to look for answers. He was confused that so many clergy he contacted were unable to help. There seemed to be no universal rules for dealing with miscarriage and stillbirth in the Orthodox Church. When he contemplated how as Orthodox we champion the unborn, fight abortion, etc., it seemed very contradictory that the Church should be so silent on the plight of those lost before birth and their suffering families. While on this quest for answers he and his wife lost another baby, Gabriel, and this increased his motivation.
Fr. Peter discussed the attitudes and writings of the early (and later) Church Fathers on the plight of the unborn. [Many of these are already present on my Prayers and Liturgics page. -ed.] To sum up,
“It seems, then, that the majority of persons in the East who have chosen to write on the topic of the fate of unbaptized infants have taken a positive stance, seeing them as the beloved little ones of Christ. St. Gregory of Nyssa went so far as to suggest that the pure state of infants, baptized or not, was something to which we should all strive to return. The few Orthodox voices suggesting something other than this appear to have been influenced by Augustinian or some other Western teaching.”
In his paper, Fr. Peter explains how important it is that the Church concern itself with the matter of pregnancy loss:
“The ministry of the Church is of 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 Christ – both for them and for their child that has died. To date, there have been few tools in the hands of priests seeking to ease the pain of the bereaved parents of miscarried babies. In general, there are few guidelines and prayers available to such priests.” (p. 29)
(He also notes that the loss of a child creates a large risk for the destruction of a marriage, certainly a matter that priests deal with frequently. )
Fr. Peter outlined some of the reasons why the suffering from pregnancy loss can be magnified, not ameliorated, by the policies and actions of the Church.
First, the long-standing prayer for a woman after a miscarriage (and stillbirth) begins in this way: “O Master Lord our God, Who wast born of the holy Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary, and lay as a babe in the manger: According to Thy great mercy do Thou Thyself have mercy upon this Thy handmaid, who today lieth in sins, having fallen into manslaughter, casting out, willingly or unintentionally, that which was conceived within her;and forgive her transgressions, voluntary or involuntary.” [emphasis mine -ed.] The implication that the woman has possibly aborted her child willingly is an extremely painful thing to hear by a woman grieving the loss of her much-wanted child. The origins of this prayer seem to be Western at least in theory if not in actual wording. (Fr. Peter discusses the Western notion of guilt and original sin in the course of his paper.)
Second, the common practice of the Church is to not offer prayers for the miscarried child within the church building due to the lack of baptism (meaning the child is not a member of the Body of Christ). The only suggestion is for unbaptized children to be buried with the Trisagion prayers. The practice of relegating miscarried children to an area outside the Church is a very painful and alienating thing for a bereaved family. Fr. Peter: “Children who die in the womb are among the only human beings who are currently denied any place in the liturgical life of the Church.” In addition, they are not even able to be mentioned by name in the prayers for the departed during church services. Given that we celebrate and mourn as a church family, this alienating practice of the Church means that bereaved families must suffer alone as there is no context for grieving as a body.
Third, not only are they not allowed a church funeral but they are denied burial within consecrated ground. This separation from the rest of the family is difficult logistically but also psychologically because it enforces the thought that these children didn’t really exist and aren’t valued by the Church.
Because these seemingly cold policies exist there have arisen local practices which are at odds with the overall practice of the Church. Some parishes perform funeral services in the church building for miscarried and stillborn children; some will then bury them in consecrated ground while others compromise by having an area set aside for the purpose. Some parishes will mention these babies by name in the prayers of the Church. All of these concessions are with an eye to providing comfort and compassion to the bereaved family. While many priests know full well that they are acting at odds with the rest of the Church, they simply can’t bring themselves to inflict more pain on an already grief-stricken couple. Some priests, while trying to be obedient to what they have been taught, will at the very least offer Trisagion prayers at the graveside, providing all the comfort they can. As Fr. Peter points out, this leaves the burden on the individual priest to figure out what to do. Without universal guidelines they are just set adrift, and at risk “for unintentional misuse or misapplication of the liturgical services.” (p. 48)
In closing Fr. Peter makes a few important recommendations:
  • 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 miscarried/stillborn children be developed.
  • Finally, clergy must be educated about pregnancy loss in seminary. [Goodness knows I agree with him here. See my post about it. -ed.]
“It is my belief the present set of responses to the death of an innocent child within the Orthodox context is not only potentially harmful to grief-stricken parents, but it is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the overwhelming ministerial Spirit of the Church in general. It is my hope that the Church hierarchy will seriously consider and discuss the inadequate response of the Church to this crisis, and decide upon a uniform plan of burial and commemoration of miscarried children, as well as an educational program to help local clergy develop an effective plan of pastoral treatment of women and men suffering the loss of an unborn child. In doing these things we will be taking further strides towards being “all things to all men” in order that we may save some (I Cor. 9:22).”
*This paper is not published. If you would like to read it Fr. Peter has given me permission to forward a PDF copy to you at your request. Please email me to do so.

Query:

I came across this article in Scribd and it referenced a work by Fr. Peter Gillquist. Here is the footnote:

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

Has anyone heard of this article, pamphlet or book? I currently have feelers out at St. Tikhon’s to see if someone can find it in their library. It would be fantastic if I could get a hold of it.

If you have any suggestions, please leave them in a comment. Thank you!!