20th St. John Chrysostom National Oratorical Festival

Held in Denver, Colorado in 2003


Topic No. 6

How does the Orthodox Faith direct your convictions

about the ethical questions currently being debated about genetic research?

by Nicholas N. Moniodis

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios,

Your Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah,

Reverend Fathers,

Honorable Judges,

Fellow Speakers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Greetings in Christ!

“Little lamb, little lamb, who made thee?” Thus begins a well-known children’s poem. Until recently, the answer to this poem’s question was clear. It was made by God in accordance with his plan. But science has brought us new genetic technologies, in particular the cloning of the lamb named Dolly, and suddenly the answer as to who made the lamb is not so clear.

Many of us were taken by surprise by cloning. We hear on the news about panels of “ethicists” who tell us that we should not worry. But Orthodoxy has its own assessment of the dangers.

From its earliest days, Orthodoxy has valued science, and particularly medicine, holding, for example, St. Luke to have been a physician, and among our most glorified saints are Cosmas and Damian, two physicians. The epitome of the Orthodox view of medicine is given by St. Basil the Great when he says, “...the medical art is given to us by God... it adds to the glory of God, and when carefully employed, it parallels the care given to the soul.”

Orthodoxy has never passed through a Reformation or an Age of Skepticism as in the West. It does not pit faith against science, but places science in a moral context. This makes it essential for Orthodoxy to speak out spiritually, theologically, morally, on cloning.

Cloning comes from the Greek word, clao, meaning to “break off a piece of something.” In plants, for example, it would involve breaking off a branch, and growing a new plant from that branch. In human cloning, it involves taking a cell, any cell, and through genetic manipulation, growing a new person. Someone thus born is not begotten of a mother and a father.

Cloning represents a particular modern view of mankind that is antithetical to Orthodoxy in a number of ways:

First, Christ came in humility to serve, not to be served.

Cloning is a means whereby individuals indulge their lust for themselves-wanting not children who are their own selves, but copies of themselves. The ultimate narcissism.

Secondly, we know that God made all creation “male and female.” St. Maximos the Confessor tells us that the creation of sexes is a partial remedy to the Fall. After the Fall, it was no longer natural for us to love our neighbor. Rather, it is “Survival of the fittest,” in Darwinian terms. But, lest all humanity turn toward isolation and individualism, He gave us desire for a mate - the desire to form a couple. And, by loving our one mate, we can, in part, re-establish the love that all mankind was to have for one another.

Thirdly, the scientist who cloned the lamb Dolly, Dr. Ian Wilmut, chose a lamb to be the first cloned animal because, he says, “this Lamb came to being without seed, just like, ‘He who calls Himself a Lamb.’” That is Christ. Wilmut is wrong when he compares the lamb he made with the conception of Christ. Christ was not a clone of Mary. If he were he would have been a woman, identical to Mary. But Christ was a Man - a unique, singular, individual in all humanity. Cloning is a vulgar counterfeit of Christ’s conception.

There is yet another, more dangerous transgression of the Orthodox Christian faith. The Holy Fathers tell us that the Anti-Christ will be a fraud and counterfeit of Christ. St. Nilus, the disciple of St. John Chrysostom, says that he will be “born of a seed not sown by man.” But exactly how, they could not say. We now have the answer. A clone is unbegotten of human parents; it is not of human seed. Our Savior was Begotten of the Holy Spirit, not of inhuman science. This will be the most vile and evil kind of mockery.

But modern society, in its self-interest, remains oblivious to these dangers. And we, as part of this technologically bewildering society, can expect no moral guidance from it. Where is one to turn? I find refuge in the faith of Orthodoxy, and especially in its spokesmen, the Holy Fathers, who are a guiding light that direct us to the safe harbor of salvation.