In 1996 a group of Orthodox women in Cleveland, Ohio, pursued the possibility of creating an Orthodox adoption agency; but in meetings with the Ohio Department of Children and Family Services, we were told that while an agency could be created, there would be no babies to adopt. When we asked why not, the response was because abortion rates were so high. This startled us.
When we were referred to Care Net, a Christian mentoring agency for crisis pregnancy centers across the country, we were told that very likely the Orthodox Christian community suffered even higher abortion rates than the national norm! This, they said, was for two reasons: first because we are tightly knit religious community, and second because we are a concentrated ethnic group. These two seemingly positive descriptions work to produce in our young people fear of bringing shame on themselves and their families. Rather than coming forward when an unexpected pregnancy occurs, they “solve” their problem, quietly.
Shocked, we asked our parish priest. He told us he heard of women in crisis pregnancies, but in confession, when the abortion had already taken place. Every clergyman we have asked since has had the same answer. We were also told that still more women confessed to this when away from their home parishes – at summer camps and young adult retreats.
Like-minded Orthodox women from across the city contacted us to see how we could have a positive impact on this atrocity that was taking place right in front of us, but behind the curtain of secrecy. And so, ZOE for Life! was created. From the beginning, the Lord made it pan-Orthodox. Our Board is comprised of faithful from the Antiochian, Greek, Orthodox Church in America, and Ukrainian jurisdictions.
We know that only things done with love will last. We also admit that we are the first among sinners, as we beg for mercy every Liturgy. So with non-judgmental love, we created our mission statement:
- To help pregnant women in distress who need confidential emotional and spiritual support to encourage them to choose life for their unborn child;
- To assist Orthodox Christians seeking to adopt;
- To provide an Orthodox Christian Pure Living education program and other pro-life resources. ZOE assists any woman in distress. We embrace this as an opportunity to share Christ’s Love for all His children. It is an honor we do not take lightly.
We once made a presentation at a Carpatho-Russian SOBOR, or clergy-laity conference. In the back of the room, two gentlemen were attending to beverages. After we finished, one of these men came up to speak with us.
This fellow was huge, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and solid. He stayed in the back of the group, and when he approached, it felt as though he loomed over me. “Is the other bartender watching?” he wanted to know.
I peeked around him, and answered, “No.”
“Good. I just want you to know something. At prom, my girl friend and I got carried away. She got pregnant. We were young, you know? I wanted to be a boxer. What were we going to do?” It was hard, really hard. But we had a baby girl. She will graduate this year with a degree in chemical engineering.” He began to cry silently. “I just wanted you to know, you have to keep talking. People have to hear this.”
How many children are lost around us every year, and we don’t even know?
- In 2011, in Fulton County, where Atlanta, Georgia is, there were 5,948 abortions.
- In 2005, in Leon County, where Tallahasse, Florida is, there were 3,100 abortions.
- In 2005, in Hillsboro County, where Tampa Florida is, there were 16,753 abortions.
- In 2009, in Richland County, where Columbia, South Carolina is, there were 1,666 abortions.
27,467 in those four counties alone!
For many years now we have been blessed to have ZOE House: a non-residential facility where women in distress in the greater Cleveland area can come for material assistance such as layette and maternity items, as well as cribs, car seats, high chairs, and strollers, and other necessities, at no cost to them. In 2014, 600 families were assisted there. This year, ZOE House will serve even more.
- Currently we are working with a pan-Orthodox group from the Livonia, Michigan area, to create a ZOE for Life! Chapter.
- We are also working on our bi-annual Pure Living event, which we are calling “A Spiritual Expedition”. Our target audience is teenagers to people in their twenties, because pure living is something God asks of each of us, whether married or single, priests or lay people.
By God’s Grace, since our inception we have been able to provide assistance to those in crisis from across the country, and as far away as Europe, the British Virgin Islands, and Indonesia. Are we making a difference?
Ask the young man who had suddenly been told his by his girlfriend of six months, that she was about to give birth to their son. He begged us to find an Orthodox home for his son, so that they would be joined by the chalice in the sacrament of Communion each Sunday.
The stories are each gripping and powerful. ZOE’s response is always the same, “How can we help?”
We want to do more. We want to “go medical”, offering ultrasounds to abortion minded women. Statistics tell us that as high as 90% of abortion-minded or abortion-vulnerable women who see an ultrasound of their babies choose not to abort. This is simply too compelling to ignore. But a medical facility will require far more revenue than we have now.
Abortion minded women are so upset, and unsure of what to do. Birth fathers disappear, or urge them to abort. Families often have the same opinion. They don’t know where to turn; the world around them is a kaleidoscope of conflict. “Follow the peace”, is our response. The evil one thrives on agitation, anger, panic. Jesus always gives us His peace.
He asks us to be the candle on the lamp stand, to light up His world.
His Church is not grand buildings named “Holy Trinity”, or “Saints Constantine and Helen”. His Church is not the metropolitans, or the priests.
We are the church; you and I. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, bestowed upon us at our baptism, we hold Christ within us.
The above text was adapted from a speech given by Zoe for Life! President Paula Kappos at the 2015 Metropolis of Atlanta Clergy-Laity Conference in Columbia, South Carolina.
ZOE for Life! is blessed by the endorsement of the Episcopal Assembly of Bishops, which was previously SCOBA. We have been granted 501 (c) (3) status from the IRS, which makes all contributions tax deductible. Financial support is offered by generous people and groups from across the country, without whom very little would be possible. We thank them for their prayers and assistance.
Please visit our website: zoeforlifeonline.org; our Facebook Page and Newsletters, or call us at 440-893-9990.
God bless you!