Miscarriage = Involuntary Murder in Eastern Orthodox Canons and Prayers

It is true that many people who confess at the monasteries for the first time are unaware of the Canons and penances that the Church imposes on the penitents for various sins. In the case of miscarriages, not many women know that the Orthodox Canons view this as an involuntary murder and the mother is penanced as such. The father confessors mainly use the Exomologetarion by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite as a guide when giving out Canons and counsel for various sins.

St. John the Faster, 33rd  Patriarch of Constantinople (582 – 595) and first to assume the  the title Ecumenical Patriarch.
St. John the Faster, 33rd Patriarch of Constantinople (582 – 595) and first to assume the the title Ecumenical Patriarch.

The 22nd Canon of St. John the Faster states: “A woman who has involuntarily miscarried a baby, receives a penance for one year.”

St. Nikodemos’ interpretation of this Canon is: “The woman who miscarried the baby which she had in her womb, without wanting to, but on account of some involuntary circumstance, is penanced one year not to receive Communion.”

In a footnote to this Canon, St. Nikodemos also writes: “For this reason pregnant women must take great care not to lift anything heavy (especially when they are seven or eight months pregnant), and to keep themselves from what troubles them. while men, after their wives conceive, must not sleep in the same bed with them, nor have intercourse with them any longer, nor strike them, or cause them any other trouble or sorrow, for because of these things their wives miscarry the babies, and the poor husbands become murderers of their children. wherefore, if married priests, or those who plan to become priests do any of these things and their wives miscarry their babies, those who are priests are to be deposed, and those who were going to become priests in the future are barred from the priesthood, on account of the murder they committed.”

(See Exomologetarion: A Manual for Confession, pp. 245-246 and The Rudder, p. 945, 949.)



In the Eastern Orthodox Church, even a miscarriage is considered an abortion and the fault of miscarrying is placed on the woman for not taking enough care of her body during the pregnancy or because she was punished by God for her sins.

In Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700, Eve Levin reports that at least certain Orthodox in the past have blamed miscarriages on the Mother. For example:

“Another possible result of the parents’ immorality was the loss of a child, whom the parents had shown themselves unworthy to have. A miscarriage had to have been the result of the woman’s sinfulness. She was required to confess her sins and do penance. Service books included an extensive set of prayers for purification: ‘Lord our God, who was born of the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and who lay as a baby in a cradle: Today, out of your great clemency, have mercy on this your servant N., who has fallen into sin and willful murder, and aborted that which was conceived within her. Forgive her her willful and unwilling sins, and preserve her from all Satan’s deceptions. Purify her of obscenity and heal her sickness… for we are born in sin and lawlessness, and we are all defiled before you.'” (p. 67)

“Even a spontaneous miscarriage was sinful, and carried a penance of a year’s exclusion from communion.” (p. 176)

Miscarriage Icon.
Miscarriage Icon.

Some people think that because of the content of the prayer, today it would not be appropriate to be read for women who have involuntarily miscarried. However, whether a miscarriage or an abortion, in both cases the woman should, after the 40 days of purification, go to confession and receive absolution.

The monasteries still follow proper ecclesiastical tradition by reading this prayer over the woman in both cases.

The following prayer is found in the Euchologion (Μικρόν Εὐχολόγιον), and it is to be read over the woman who confesses her sin of having a miscarriage:




Then the Apolytikion of the day and the Kontakion and then the following prayer:

Let us pray unto the Lord.

O Master, Lord our God, who wast born of the holy Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, and as an infant, wast laid in a manger: Do thou, upon this thy servant (…..),who in sins has today fallen to the sin of murder, witting or unwitting and has aborted that which was conceived in her, have mercy according to thy great mercy: and forgive her transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary: and preserve her from every diabolical operation: and cleanse the impurity, heal the sufferings, and grant her, O Lover of Mankind,  health and strength of her body and soul: and with a bright Angel, do thou guard her from every assault of invisible demons. Yea, O Lord, from sickness and disease, and cleanse her from her bodily defilement and her various oncoming internal problems, and through thy abundant compassion, lead her to the recovery of her humble body, and raise her from the bed upon which she lies. For in sins were we conceived and in iniquities were we shapen and in defilement are we all before thee, and in fear we cry and say: Look down from heaven and behold the weakness of us who are condemned, and forgive this thy servant who has fallen to the sin of murder, witting or unwitting, and has aborted that which was conceived in her, and according to thy great mercy, have mercy and forgive all that surround her and have touched her, for thou art a good God and lovest mankind, and thou alone hast the power to forgive sins, By the prayers of the holy Mother of God and of all the saints.

For unto Thee belong all glory, honour and worship, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end. Amen.

Glory be to Thee, O Christ our God and our hope, glory be to Thee.

May Christ our true God, by the prayers of His most holy Mother; by the power of the precious and life-giving Cross; by the protection of the heavenly bodiless hosts; through the supplications of the glorious Prophet and Forerunner, John the Baptist; of the holy and all-glorious Apostles; of the holy, glorious and triumphant martyrs; of our holy God-bearing fathers; of the holy and righteous progenitors of God, Joachim and Anna; and of all the saints, have mercy upon us, and save our souls: For He is good and loving-kind.

By the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us. Amen.