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Orthodox Christian Synergy Symposium 2004
By Pearl Homiak

"By Death Trampling Down the Culture of Death"

A Report by Pearl Homiak

Post-Abortion Syndrome, teen suicide, and prisoner conversions to Orthodoxy were the presentation topics of Orthodox Christian Synergy's Tenth Annual Symposium. This event was held on Saturday, October 16, 2004, at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Palos Hills, Illinois. All the presenters were Orthodox Christians, and all spoke from both personal experience and with in-depth knowledge of their topics.

Vera Faith Lord, Pro-Life coordinator for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh, related how she had an abortion 21 years ago. She then focused on Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS), which society and the abortion industry deny. Yet, one way or another, PAS affects all women who have had an abortion.

Besides denial, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness, the post-abortion woman often has migraines, eating disorders, problems bonding with other people, and frequent illnesses. Most of the time, however, this person becomes a "superwoman." She is a driven perfectionist on the outside, but often self-destructive and suicidal on the inside.

After many difficult years, Ms. Lord finally found some solace when she became Orthodox (in 1998). She shared with her father confessor, as an afterthought, that she had had an abortion. He began to weep, and when asked why, said he was crying for her baby. It was only then that Vera could begin to grieve for her lost child. She has since left a lucrative job and become a full-time speaker on PAS.

Fr. Joseph Mirowski, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Church in Mason City, Iowa, focused on the teen suicide epidemic in the United States. As he indicated, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds and the sixth cause of death for 5-14 year olds. Because the teen years are often stressful, confusing, and fearful, teens are not always sure who they are and where they are heading. Combine all this with pressure to succeed and peer judgment. The resulting depression too frequently leads to suicide, which some teens see as a solution to their problems.

Fr. Joseph revealed how easy it is for teens to move toward suicide. Numerous web sites and chat rooms on the Internet not only provide instructions for committing suicide but also encouragement to do so. As most of us know, signs of suicide should not be ignored. Withdrawal from other people, drug and alcohol use, and marked personality changes in teens must be taken seriously and addressed. Medication and counseling can really help, as they did for one of Fr. Joseph's sons.

Fr. Stephen Powley has been a prison chaplain for the last 20 years, 10 of which have been spent in the highest-security prison in the nation (in Colorado). He daily interacts with condemned murderers, rapists, and other men who have committed heinous crimes. Most of these will spend the rest of their lives in jail.

As Fr. Stephen works with these men, he treats them kindly and has hope for them. He may say, "Good morning," to a prisoner every day for two or more years before getting any answer. Prisoners, it turns out, keep watching another person to determine if that person is genuine and not "faking it." Once this barrier is overcome, Fr. Stephen related, these men begin asking questions about Orthodoxy.

During the last ten years Fr. Stephen has seen certain prisoners' lives change dramatically. Through the blessing of Bishop Isaiah of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Denver, several incarcerated men have become Orthodox. Four have even gone on to become monks and practice monasticism in the prison. One of these monks, who will be in this prison for life, paints icons. The other prisoners respect the monks because the prisoners know the monks are genuine.

I had originally thought that these topics would not attract many people to this Symposium nor be very interesting. I was wrong on both of these. A good-sized crowd came to listen and reflect, and the topics were presented compassionately and with great depth. I learned a lot.

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