Orthodox pastors on what should we do if the Lord does not grant us children

After getting married,
newlyweds always dream and hope that the Lord will bless
their family with children.
But a year, five, ten years pass and the long-awaited
pregnancy does not occur. What should a couple do in this
situation? Beyond all doubt, they should keep praying. But
do they need to do anything else and should they have
recourse to modern medicine? And are all popular
contemporary assisted reproductive technologies, such as
extracorporal (in vitro) fertilization, acceptable for
Orthodox Christians? Pastors of the Russian Orthodox
Church answer these questions.

The main thing for Orthodox Christians is a
pious life”

Igumen Luka (Stepanov).
Igumen Luka (Stepanov).

Igumen Luka (Stepanov):

“The Lord does not tell us “to do
something” if we are childless. Being a natural
consequence of spouses’ sexual intercourse, children
bring joys and problems, plans and disappointments,
self-sacrifice and the comfort of mutual love to their
parents’ lives. But the main thing in life is to
obtain eternal salvation. This is not basically dependent
on the presence or the absence of children, but means,
given all our human predispositions for the birth of
children, that our priority must be trust in Divine
providence, whose course defines all our earthly
circumstances, which are not dependent on us.”

Archpriest Oleg Stenyayev.
Archpriest Oleg Stenyayev.

Archpriest Oleg Stenyayev:

“Many saints were born of elderly parents. They were
literally “obtained by prayer” of many years.
Moreover, they did not inherit passions, particular to
young age, from old parents.”

In vitro fertilization technology is a
gross interference in the mystery of
child-bearing”

Archpriest Pavel Gumerov.
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov.

Archpriest Pavel Gumerov:

“If the Lord does not grant children, then a family
should hope and wait patiently, not losing heart. Today
many people are not very healthy, that is why there are
often no children even after several years of marriage. It
is necessary to pray and fast in this case. Spouses should
pray to the Righteous Joachim and Anna, or to the
Right-Believing Peter and Febronia of Murom. Believers can
also make pilgrimages to Mt.
Athos and other holy sites. Prolonged childlessness
can mean a sort of test of the spouses’ feelings,
how strong their mutual love is. If a person achieves
everything very easily, if the Lord grants him all
“for nothing”, then he usually does not
appreciate it that much. And if people are bound by some
mutual trouble, then they get closer to each other, their
love gets stronger after overcoming this misery. As for in
vitro fertilization (IVF) which is recommended as an
assisted reproductive technology, in reality it is a gross
interference in the mystery of conception and
child-bearing. And we are aware that the Jubilee Council
of Bishops of ROC in 2000 forbad Orthodox Christians to
resort to this technology, though some slyly interpreted
it as a blessing to have recourse to other kinds of
artificial insemination. But the Council declared
point-blank that all kinds of extracorporal fertilization
that presuppose preparation, conservation and subsequent
destruction of embryos are unacceptable from the Orthodox
Christian point of view. In vitro fertilization always
presupposes destruction of embryos—that is, killing
them.

Let us recall what this technology is like. First a
woman’s superovulation is stimulated in order to
release as many eggs as possible (up to 20). Next, several
of them, the strongest ones, are selected, inseminated by
the husband’s sperm and placed into a special
incubator for several days. After that several eggs are
transferred into the woman’s uterus while the rest
are frozen – these will later be used either by the
same parents or by other couples. So it is a kind of a
“conveyor” of the “reproduction”
of children. And an immense amount of money is made on
this business: just one IVF attempt with all its
procedures in Moscow is worth a minimum of 150,000 rubles
(c. 2,354 USD). And I know, for example, people who made
ten to fifteen attempts without result. IVF does not
guarantee the best result at all! This is building your
business on someone else’s tragedy rather than
treatment of infertility.

And now let us imagine that all the embryos transferred to
the uterus begin to develop. Several of them were
implanted so that at least a part of them might develop.
What happens if all begin to develop? The
“extra”, or “undesirable” embryos
are “reduced”, that is, they are removed
surgically – in other words, an abortion is
performed. Thus IVF involves destroying fertilized embryos
that are already living babies with souls. In the end a
person who resorts to IVF resorts to an abortion! There is
also a sly trick: some medical centers offer “IVF
for Christians”. They offer stimulating a partial
superovulation, getting a small number of embryos and
using all of them instead of transferring a larger number
of embryos into uterus and removing a part of them. But
the heart of the matter is the same here! The idea of IVF
is absolutely godless by its nature. A person thus takes
the liberty of acting as God the Creator and interfering
in the processes inside a mother’s organism that
should always remain a mystery. Another question: Why
should impregnated eggs develop in an incubator for
several days? It is done in order to detect any
pathologies, especially genetic defects. A law was signed
by our Health Care Minister, which reads that if there is
a risk of developing pathologies an embryo should not be
implanted. Such embryos are killed. Not to mention the
fact that IVF causes a greater number of miscarriages and
undeveloped pregnancies, and more premature babies are
born. Unfortunately, there are almost no statistics
regarding the health of “in vitro babies”.
Why? Because it is a business, a “corporate
conspiracy”. There is information, but it is not
disclosed. However, some information is becoming known.
Thus, according to the famous geneticist Yuri Petrovich
Altukhov (1936-2006, an Orthodox Christian), up to twenty
percent of in vitro babies have mental pathologies! There
is another problem: as an egg enters the womb, it is met
by a million sperm cells and only one, the strongest of
them, fertilizes it. But IVF can be done using even a very
weak sperm cell from the husband. If the sperm material is
of a poor quality, what will such children be like? So, an
Orthodox answer is the following: praying and waiting. And
if the Lord does not grant you a child, then you should do
what Russians (and other peoples) did from time
immemorial: to adopt a child from an orphanage.”

We must accept the Lord’s
will”

Priest Valery Dukhanin
Priest Valery Dukhanin

Priest Valery Dukhanin:

There are the incomprehensible mysteries of the Providence
of God Who cares for His people. When Rachel, wife of
Patriarch Jacob, rebuked her husband: ‘Give me
children, or else I die’, he answered: ‘Am I
in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the
fruit of the womb?’ (Genesis 30:1-2). A child is a
gift of God. And if the Lord does not grant you children,
this means that it is according to His Providence, which
we should accept instead of losing heart and thinking that
our life has ended. Venerable Paisios of Mt. Athos paid
special attention to this. He knew examples when people
who longed for a baby resorted to IVF or adopted other
parents’ children but later became convinced that
the Lord had cared for them (not granting them children)
for their good.

One should know where to stop and should not try to have a
baby “at all costs”—it is better to heed
the voice of Divine providence. If the Lord does not send
us children, then it is to Him we should turn. There are
many examples when children were granted after zealous
spiritual labors: prayers, fasts and works of mercy. The
Lord tests parents as to whether they are ready to accept
a baby as a gift of God rather than a
“product” of medical technology innovations.
Of course, the causes of childlessness may vary. Sometimes
it is a result of parents’ sins that they committed
in their youth. According to research, seventy percent of
women in Russia who cannot conceive a baby suffer from the
consequences of abortions. Some types of contraception
affect the reproductive function as well. In this case a
person made himself unable to have children. It is really
an absurd situation: first you do all your best to make
yourself unable to have children and then you are ready to
go to all lengths—even surrogate motherhood—in
order to have children. First of all, such people need to
repent, to wash away the spiritual causes of barrenness,
and then to wait for the Lord’s will.

Though there can also be a different situation. Pious
spouses lived according to God’s commandments all
their life but were unable to conceive due to their poor
health. In this case they need to resort to the help of
medicine and use all acceptable methods, entrusting the
result to the hands of God. Each case is individual. An
experienced confessor sees that it is better for one
person to be alone, without children, and for another
person it would be best to have children and get absorbed
in sacrificial love for them. Some people would not
benefit from adopting a child from an orphanage as they
lack elementary patience, tenderness and affection, while
for others an adopted child becomes a true beloved family
member and the Lord blesses such families. I know
unmarried women who never had a family and who adopted
children (usually two children: a brother and a sister)
from an orphanage and became excellent mothers for them.

Let me tell you a story. One of my acquaintances named
Eugenia married at twenty-five and she had no children
with her husband for following five years. She visited
many doctors and went to a family planning center which
was packed with suffering barren women. Eugenia saw that
examination, diagnosing and treatment involved spending
tremendous sums of money, but all in vain, and then
doctors suggested IVF. Familiarizing herself with IVF
procedure, she realized she would never resort to
it—there was a protest inside her though she was
still not a churchgoer. The fact is that IVF is a flagrant
manipulation of human life: embryos are prepared,
fertilized and then transferred into the mother’s
uterus, while the “unnecessary” ones are
destroyed—in other words, an abortion is performed.
Eugenia learned about miraculous healings at church when
people after many years of infertility became able to have
children. Thus she concluded that children are sent only
by God. Through her infertility the woman converted to the
Orthodox faith, and her husband was baptized too. Eugenia
confessed and took Communion, began to read the canons of
repentance and prayers for children.

Finally she heard that there was a holy well with a
bathing hut near the St. Paphnutius Monastery in Borovsk
(a town in the Kaluga region to the south-west of Moscow)
the water of which had healing properties. They made a
pilgrimage to Borovsk where she bathed and two weeks later
she already had a positive pregnancy test result. And the
woman had not been able to become pregnant for five years!
After visiting the holy well Eugenia had a dream in which
she was carrying a basket with a baby inside it. She asked
the baby, “What is your name?,” and it
answered: “Daniel.” Although during
examinations and ultrasound scanning she was told that she
was expecting a girl, Eugenia gave birth to a boy whom she
named Daniel.

Once while Daniel was at nursery school she suddenly felt
unwell and started bleeding. It turned out that she had
been pregnant but there was a miscarriage. Doctors said
that she was having a complication, that some surgery was
needed, otherwise she would not be able to have more
children—only if through IVF. Her confessor prayed
and told her not to have a surgery and blessed her to give
birth to a girl. A month later she became pregnant to the
doctors’ great shock. She finally gave birth to a
girl whom they named Anastasia. And Eugenia became
absolutely convinced that children are granted us by God
alone and it is to Him that we ought to turn first of all.
Generally speaking, any undertaking is only good when it
is in line with the will of God. And the will of God
cannot be revealed that soon. If spouses with due zeal
address their requests to the Lord in their prayers and
get their confessor’s consent in regard to their
desires, then the will of God will surely be revealed and
they will understand what to do: to wait for a miraculous
help from God, to undergo medical treatment, or to adopt a
child from an orphanage.”

You shouldn’t be guided by emotions
only: you need to show discretion and
prudence”

Priest Dimitry Shishkin
Priest Dimitry Shishkin

Priest Dimitry Shishkin:

“Undoubtedly, absence of children in a family is a
reason to begin a more serious and sober Christian life
and pray hard for children. One should show great patience
here, and the Lord sometimes rewards for this constant
patience and good works, so couples may have children even
after three, five and more years of infertility. This is a
real joy and abundant mercy! And parents who manage to
conceive a baby in such conditions know perfectly well the
high price and meaning of motherhood and fatherhood. But
they should not rest on their laurels and make something
like an idol, “the center of the universe” of
their priceless child. It even can be called a crime
against God because the Lord grants you a child so that
you should raise him a Christian, not a selfish person who
thinks that the whole world revolves around him. That is
why it would be better if families had many
children…

But if a family has no children in spite of their efforts
in piety and prayer for many years, then sooner or later
they will ask, “Where is the limit of
waiting?” And where is the will of God? Should they
wait on with patience and humility, turn to medicine, or
adopt a child? It seems to me all should be done with
reasoning and spiritually, that is, with prayer and advice
of the family’s confessor, because there are
different people, different circumstances. Some should
show special humility and patience (their faith allows
them to do that); others, on the contrary, should go to
doctors, undergo examinations and accept their medical aid
– since doctors were created by God, this profession
exists for our good and it is not a sin to seek their aid.
But here discernment is needed: we are well aware that
some modern assisted reproductive technologies openly
contradict the Lord’s commandments. So one take
maximum care here and not “step over the
line”. Some families, according to their
inclinations and predispositions, are in turn called to
adopt the unhappy children who are left bereft of mothers
and fathers to love them and care for them. And we know
such families where there are several adopted children and
they make a genuine large family together with their
foster parents. It is a good, holy undertaking, but you
should not be guided only by (often passing)
emotions—discretion and prudence are needed too;
remember that your decision to adopt is a great
responsibility, so “stepping back” will be
akin to the sin of betrayal. May the Lord keep you from
all this! That is why you need to ask your
confessor’s advice in this situation, to pray hard
and to take a sober view of things.”

To do all only with the help and blessing
of God”

Priest Igor Silchenkov
Priest Igor Silchenkov

Priest Igor Silchenkov:

“Put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11),
Apostle Paul says. Hope and wait with patience, pray and
fast (but only with the blessing of a priest). And, of
course, one can adopt children from an orphanage.
“And whoso shall receive one such little child in My
Name receiveth Me” (Mt. 18:5), the Lord says.
However, it is not a good idea to resort to IVF because it
contradicts our very nature. The Lord gave us another,
natural method of conception and bearing children and it
fits us the most. It is no good “speeding up
events” and resorting to IVF because that is an
interference in God’s Providence. All good things,
including children, are sent to us by God and only in
their good time, when it is the best moment for us. On
account of our self-will and sinfulness we are often
unwilling to understand and accept it. So in haste we are
trying to do the same things that the Lord Himself does
for us. And our own results are always incomparably worse
than the Lord’s. For, our Heavenly Father is holy
and blameless, while we are ourselves weak, blind and
sinful. So do not undertake anything on your own, but do
all things only with the help and blessing of God, which,
first of all, can be found and received in the Church and
through the clergy. In the Old Testament, the Prophet
Abraham and his wife Sarah did not have children for many
years, but the Lord granted them a son—the Holy
Prophet Isaac. And by then they had reached the age when
people cannot have children physiologically any more. And
the Righteous Joachim and Anna had been barren for many
years until God provided them a child—the Most Holy
Mary Mother of God: “More honorable than the
Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the
Seraphim”, as the Holy Church glorifies Her. And
Righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth were blessed with a
long-awaited son—St. John the Baptist. “Verily
I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there
hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Mt.
11:11), the Lord proclaims. And it was because they lived
according to the will of God all their lives, they put the
will of God above their own human will and their human
desires.

And we should try to imitate them in this. And then we
will give birth to future saints too; we will live in
holiness and see numerous miracles of God. And we will see
the main miracle—that God is the endless, perfect,
merciful, self-sacrificing and saving Love. This Love
leads us to the eternal and endless bliss in the Heavenly
Kingdom together with all the saints who have pleased God
through the ages. Amen.”

Priest Maxim Gorozhankin
Priest Maxim Gorozhankin

Priest Maxim Gorozhankin:

“If the Savior does not grant us children, we need
to turn to Him with a fervent prayer. And the Church knows
numerous examples when God answered sincere prayers and
blessed parents with the conception of a baby. If
childless spouses were never married in church, then it is
important that they do so. All the prayers of the
sacrament of Church wedding contain petitions of bestowing
children on a couple, and the grace to rear them.

A pilgrimage to relics of one or another saint of God may
also be to the benefit of married couples. But they should
not think like this: “Now we will go to Blessed
Matrona of Moscow to pray, and when we have our child we
will stop going to church.” There is some temptation
here as well. So if we turn to the Lord, our prayer should
be something like this: “Lord, grant us a child by
Your grace; and we will devote our lives to You and will
raise our baby in the Orthodox faith.” If people
think this way, the Lord will not abandon them without His
mercy and will answer their prayer.”

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