by Archbishop Stylianos of Australia


Etymologically, the word crime means first of all any action for which one might be accused. Today, both in penal justice and our code of ethics, the term “crime” signifies the worst form of injustice, sin of the greatest kind.

The history of humankind, in terms of the world, the nation and the individual, is full of crimes, both large and small. Some of these are against the whole of humanity. Others are against certain individuals. Some are against the environment. Others are against our own selves. Each of them and all of them together are axiomatically turned against God Himself, whose Will they circumvent and offend.

It is noteworthy that within the field of law there is a specialised subject known as Criminal Law, which deals exclusively with crime. This specific subject is called criminology as it involves the various kinds of crime, the conditions which characterise it in each situation, the consequences both on a personal and collective level, and the whole psychology (although it would be more correct to say pathology) of the one committing the crime. We say “the one committing the crime” and not “the criminal”, because the participle signifies a temporary condition through which a person passes in order to commit the crime, rather than a permanent habit or a fixed criminal nature which would enable us to talk about a criminal. Even when there is a relapse of the crime, in other words a recurrence, we are not to think of this as an unsurpassable situation. We could not even characterise it as an invincible destiny. Otherwise, the human being would have to be considered the product of an insusceptible evolution, unable to be corrected in ethics. This would make every pedagogical or corrective attempt on the part of society futile and without any benefit; every invocation of God’s enlightenment and assistance from on high would be an irony, if not a mockery.

We have mentioned all of the above by way of a brief introduction to the topic in order to emphasise two basic truths right from the outset. Firstly, no form of crime shocks us any longer, following the macabre examples that the history of humanity has presented worldwide. Moreover, it is true those dumb and bloodthirsty beasts, even when they are most destructive, are innocent angels compared to the atrocities of humankind.

Secondly, that the human person is still the final and utmost ethical criterion within creation in spite of this, because only the human being is the icon of the invisible God. Therefore, it is not possible for human beings to be pardoned for any crime in history. That is, for their responsibility to be disregarded or transferred.

The title to this article refers to an unrivalled crime, one that cannot be compared with any other. At first glance this appears to be an unacceptable exaggeration, not something totally made up. For who can count every kind of known or likely crimes of human psychopathology, in order to be in a position to distinguish which is the greatest crime without comparison? Yet, as we shall see below by analysing things carefully, the degree of barbarity of a crime is not immediately made apparent nor is it automatically given. It is the connection between — or the sum of — a multitude of factors that are related to the phenomenon, which is why we call these factors parameters today. These may vary, and they are not usually visible at first.

Here we shall speak about the crime, which is repeatedly denounced by the general media as a tragic symptom of the utmost poverty and misery in China and India. More specifically, due to the fact that in these countries the cursed dowry system is still dominant and pervasive, parents who are unable to meet the expenses of a wedding for a daughter cruelly abandon their new-born child as soon as they know that it is female. There are even cases of the mother being immediately abandoned by the father of the child for no other reason other than that she could not bear to obey the criminal command of the husband which leads to such a death. The statistics are frightening and unbelievable. However, they are the official result of accurate and responsible research. Four out of ten newborn babies are killed as soon as they come out of their mother, simply because they were born female!

What is Herod’s infanticide when compared to this horrifying situation? What is the genocide of various peoples by conquerors and invaders such as Nero, Attila, Genghis Khan, Hitler or Stalin? The holocausts which have occurred in history during times of war and peace — no matter how many or where they took place — seem like child’s play when compared to the crime which is being committed in cold blood right before our eyes in China and India. Just how incomparably greater this crime is in comparison to all the persecutions and antisemiticism of the past shall become apparent when we examine each of the factors that hold together the parameters accompanying them?

1) The absolute innocence of the victims

When adults are the victims of a crime one could at least find hypothetical reasons for placing some of the responsibility on the victim. An adult can always be accused of having provoked the criminal to some extent, or of infuriating the attacker by resisting the attack. Yet what reason can there be for defenceless newly-born babies who have barely taken their first breath to have to die, simply because they happened to have been born female?

2) The offenders are not foreigners but the parents themselves

When the bond of blood does not relate the offender and the victim and organic dependence the crime is certainly hard and inhuman, but not so unheard of or hideous. But how can one describe the mother who has nourished her child with her own body for 9 whole months and who — at the risk of her life — brings it into the world, but instead of giving her milk, she allows it to die, only because it was born female?

3) The cold-blooded nature of the crime, without direct means of escape

As is well-known, all courts of the world, both spiritual and secular, always judge more leniently those criminal acts which were committed in “a state of panic”, namely when the offender is taken by surprise or is panic-stricken by an immediate danger or impasse. Yet, how can such an argument be applied to parents who kill their child as soon as it is born, in order to avoid paying a dowry at least 18 or 20 years later?

What justification can they have that they did not plan and execute their crime with complete “composure” and macabre soberness? Who told them that it was impossible for the cursed dowry system to completely disappear from their country in 18 or 20 years, just as so many other barbaric systems which caused injustice and offence for all humankind were erased in recent years? Finally, the most implacable question for these merciless murderers of children: according to which logic and which moral order does married persons alone have the right to live?

4) The irony and reproof of our times

The almost silent execution of such a horrible crime by way of routine (similar to the production of cars or other consumer goods) comes as a stark and bitter contradiction in our times. Our age boasts, and not without reason, of its straightforward and brave formulation, legislation and official recognition and protection internationally of “human rights” and the so-called “equality of the sexes”. While much has yet to be done so that the sacredness and inviolable character of the human person can become a practical reality in all parts of the world (in the way they are described in theory in the texts of the relevant statements and international agreements). It is a fact that never before in the history of humanity has public opinion and sensitivity to social justice for each individual been as developed as it is today.

5) The number of victims

Although the crime remains the same whether one person or more are killed, regardless of race, age or circumstances, it does however become more barbaric according to the number of victims. Since China and India, where these atrocities are committed on a mass scale, are the most populous nations on earth, it is clear that the number of innocent victims is inestimable and that it approaches the level of worldwide genocide. This is why the crime is not only unrivalled but literally sky-high.

6) The number of witnesses

A crime that is committed in isolation or in secret is not considered very catastrophic or abominable in terms of its immediate consequences and effects. It is normally limited to the few victims or offenders affected, together with any others who may have been involved, either directly or indirectly, as witnesses. Subsequent news of the event, which usually occurs quite late, diminishes most of the acuteness and tragedy because it then acquires the distance and coldness of something that has already finished and is regarded as a mere part of history. The stoic apathy of ancient people who said that ‘What is done cannot be undone” is well known even today. With modern mass media and electronic technology, we become witnesses with our eyes and ears of what has occurred only seconds ago on the other side of the world. Then the crime becomes universal and it affects all of us without exception, both because of the criminal and the victim.

For all of the above reasons, having no other means to react as quickly and as effectively as possible to this genocide, we sent an urgent letter to the General Secretary of the Australian Council of Churches. In this letter, we requested that an immediate study be made by all Christian leaders in this country in order to determine the best way of dealing with this crime collectively. We hope that the entire matter will be treated with due sensitivity by every responsible person. With our impending mobilization in this blessed country, which we are privileged to live in and in which the contribution of genuine social services, by government bodies and private institutions, is a moving reality and not idle talk of irresponsible pre-election promises.

from Voice of Orthodoxy, vol 14/10, September 1993
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia