OCLife-DC: Getting Started with Orthodox Christian Pro-Life Action
By Lisa Jones
OCLife-DC is the Washington DC area chapter of Orthodox Christians for Life, the national Orthodox pro-life organization. The chapter focuses on prayer services and donation drives for local crisis pregnancy centers.
OCLife-DC was organized in1996, although individual Orthodox Christians in the
Washington DC area have taken part in pro-life activities as early as in the 1980’s, most notably in 1989, when Mr. James Jatras, Esq of St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, Falls Church, VA, co-authored a brief that was submitted before the United States Supreme Court. The complete text explains why the Orthodox Church has opposed abortion since the time of the Apostles. It is available at http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/OrthodoxAmicusBrief.htm.
Coffee hour discussions at SS Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, Potomac, MD created interest in a local Orthodox pro-life organization. The first step was to bring together as many interested DC area Orthodox as possible to consider various courses of action. When Fr. Milorad Milosevich of St. Luke Orthodox Church in McLean, VA offered to host the first organizational meeting, flyers announcing the place, date and time were mailed to every parish in the area.
At the first meeting, participants expressed a desire to establish a ministry offering alternatives to abortion, carried out along Orthodox principles. Several participants had been volunteering at local crisis pregnancy centers and realized that a ministry and Christian witness could connect with Orthodox Christianity, its sacraments and the Patristic teachings on chastity and family life.
As the months went by, more meetings took place at churches around the area. Meanwhile, a list of regular mail and email addresses of people expressing interest was assembled. Each meeting was announced by sending flyers and e-mail follow-ups to interested people and also to each parish. In addition, people who attended the meetings took responsibility for making sure OCLife-DC activities came to the attention of their own parish priest, the parish council and the parishioners.
One fact of suburban Orthodox life in the 21st century became clear—there is no good time to have a meeting. Most participants were family people, already actively involved in their own parishes. One participant recalls that for every person who attended a particular meeting, at least one other person indicated that they would like to have attended, but had already been committed to another family or church activity—absences “worthy of a blessing.” So how could OCLife-DC serve the local Orthodox community by mobilizing local interest and energy and talent without taking this interest, energy and talent away from parish and family efforts? Therefore, rather than act as a forum for debate and discussion without offering “next steps” for action, it was concluded that
OCLife-DC should act as a service organization. It settled on a three pronged strategy:
- to offer regular prayer services to unite people spiritually under the guidance and protection of the Church;
- to contribute donations to ongoing ministries to mothers in crisis pregnancies;
- to educate the local community about what the Church has always taught about abortion.
Periodically special Vesper Services are held at area Orthodox churches. The services include intercessory prayer for mothers in crisis pregnancies, for babies at risk of abortion, and for guidance and strength to those who seek to protect the babies and minister to the mothers, as well as prayers for the unborn, in general. These services are usually weekday Vespers with petitions taken from the OCA Sanctity of Life Sunday texts. (Texts for the petitions are available on the OCA website: http://www.oca.org.) There have also been molieben and paraclesis services.
Members are also encouraged to pray daily to intercede:
- That our hierarchs, priests and faithful may have wisdom to speak out effectively against these evils
- That our parish communities may reach out to share our resources on behalf of those under siege from the Culture of Death
- For pregnant women in crisis that they may find grace and support to bring their babies to term,
- For strength and insight for pro-life workers to protect the helpless
- For the babies that they may come to safe delivery and to Christian nurture in a loving home
- For abortion providers to cease their practice and come to repentance
- For the ill and the elderly that they may live out their days surrounded by care and attention.
O LORD JESUS CHRIST, the only-begotten Son of the Father, True God, source of Life and immortality, light of light Who has come into the world to enlighten it; You were pleased to be conceived in the womb of the Theotokos by the Holy Spirit for the salvation of our souls; O Master, Who came that we might have life more abundantly, we beseech You to enlighten the hearts and minds of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception and that the unborn are already adorned with Your image and likeness in the womb. Enable us to cherish and protect the lives of all who are unable to care for themselves, for You Yourself are the Bestower of Life Who brings every person from nothingness into being and seals each person with divine and infinite love. Be merciful, O Lord, to those who through ignorance or willfulness affront Your divine providence through the evil act of abortion. Bring us all to the light of Your truth that we may all glorify You the Giver of Life together with Your Father and Your all-holy and life-giving Spirit. AMEN
The annual Dormition Fast Donation Drive (DFDD) is held each August when OCLife-DC members representing all Orthodox jurisdictions organize and publicize parish wide collections of baby and maternity items for donation to two DC area pregnancy care centers. The Drive also brings crisis pregnancy centers and their work to the attention of Orthodox Christians.
The centers, Shady Grove Pregnancy Center in Gaithersburg, MD and the Marih Center in Alexandria, VA offer free pregnancy tests to any woman who calls or walks in, followed by counseling that explains how abortion kills a living child. It offers practical support if the mother decides to have the child, e.g. low-cost prenatal medical care. Several Orthodox Christians volunteer at the Centers, and Fr. Miles Zdinak, pastor of Holy Resurrection Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, Potomac, MD serves on the board of the Shady Grove Pregnancy Center.
Mr. Michael Thompson of St. Mark Orthodox Church, Bethesda, MD, composed a presentation package known as the “Pro-Life Parish Challenge,” a 20 minute talk explaining three important abortion issues in simple terms: “What really happens during an abortion,” “What the Orthodox Church has always taught about abortion,” and “What Orthodox Christians can do to live out their faith in this regard.” Many Orthodox have never had a brief, yet comprehensive presentation on the Church’s authoritative teachings on abortion, and thus, have not been able to realize that opposing abortion is fundamental to the Orthodox faith. A script of this presentation is available from the OCLife-DC contacts listed below.
March for Life
OCLife-DC hosts the annual March for Life Vesper Service at St. Nicholas Cathedral,
Washington, DC the evening of January 21st, just prior to the Annual March for Life that thousands of marchers attend. Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America has presided at this Vesper Service since his election as primate in 2002 and has walked in the March for nearly two decades.
The March for Life is held on January 22nd, unless that date falls on a weekend. Then it takes place on another designated day. It begins with a rally at Noon on the Ellipse near the White House. Hundreds of Orthodox hierarchs, clergy and laity from many states gather under the large banner with the icon of the Theotokos, Our Lady of the Sign. The March proceeds up Constitution Avenue, ending at the Supreme Court Building where a Memorial Service is offered by the Metropolitan and the bishops.
OCLife-DC continues to work to add new members, to educate more parishes, and to maintain the pro-life Vespers and the donation drives. An OCLife-DC pamphlet is available that offers practical ideas on how to get started on your own OCLife Chapter.
To receive the pamphlet and for more information on OC-Life-DC, please contact:
Fr. Alexander Webster
St. Mary Orthodox Church
7223 Roosevelt Ave.
Falls Church, VA 22042
OC Life National Headquarters
P.O. Box 805
Melville, NY 11747
ORTHODOX PRO-LIFE RESOURCES:
The Sacred Gift of Life: Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics, Fr. John Breck, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, ISBN, 0881411833
An Orthodox View of Abortion, Fr. John Kowalczyk and Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Light and Life Publishing, 1987, ISBN 0686270703
Real Choices, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Conciliar Press, 1997, ISBN 1888212071
The Right to Life: The Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Abortion, Dumitru Macaila, Regina Orthodox Press; 2002, ISBN 1928653057
Abortion: What Does the Church Teach? (Booklet) Conciliar Press
Orthodox Christians for Life Pro-life Handbook, Fr. Dn. John and Mat.Valerie Protopappas, pdf. Format from http://www.oclife.org.
“Politics is not a Dirty Word”, Fr. Alexander Webster, Ph.D. AGAIN Magazine, Conciliar Press, Vol. 22 number 3 (July - September 2000)
“Against Abortion but What Can We Do?” Becky Thurner, The Handmaiden. Conciliar Press, Vol. IV, No. 3, Summer 2000.
http://www.oclife.org Orthodox Christians for Life, Headquarters
http://www.prolifeinfo.org These links take you to most of the major pro-life organizations.
http://www.oca.org “Official Documents”
-ON MARRIAGE, FAMILY, SEXUALITY, AND THE SANCTITY OF LIFE. (1992)
-EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY (October 2001)