Thousands of Disciples gathered in Columbus, Ohio last week for General Assembly where many had the opportunity to engage with our implementing partners at the Week of Compassion’s booth. There was a great turn out for our after session, where we heard about clean water programs across the world made possible through our partnerships and from local church pastors about how their congregations were putting compassion into action. Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth in the exhibit hall. We had a great time meeting and talking with many of you!
At our breakfast on Tuesday morning, Constantine “Dean” Triantafilou, CEO of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), shared with us the important work that we are doing with our partners in Syria and the surrounding area. It is a reminder that the largest humanitarian crises right now needs the Church to respond and be in solidarity with the millions who are internally displaced and in refugee camps. We are grateful for IOCC important work and continued partnership. Below is Dean’s talk at the breakfast on our current work in Syria and the Middle East.
Dean's talk at the Week of Compassion Breakfast:
Iconography! Greek for writing with images. One of the greatest ministries of the Orthodox Church throughout history is our iconography – the written gospel. When you see a Saint, you see the life of Christ in that Saint.
Good morning brothers and sisters in Christ! It is certainly an early morning to be up and paying morning.
Recently, my brother-in-law, Fr. Elias Villis, a Greek Orthodox priest completed a major iconography project at his Church. They produced a video on the experience and the impact it had on them individually and as a community.
The video is called Pistevo – I Believe! He shares in the video that “when you see the life of God throughout the Church, you see images from His life, whether be the Baptism, the Resurrection, the Crucifixion, the Last Supper.”
He goes on the say “Particularly on the ground level, we are surrounded by Saints of the Church that lived throughout the history of the Church, that suffered either a martyrdom, or preached the gospel, or lived in areas of persecution. See we have all these images surrounding us, and then you have the Church on Earth. That is us. The Church on Earth is us.”
Ladies and Gentleman, the images we see of lost and hungry children in the Middle East. They are us! They are the Church! The images we see of their desperate parents holding those children, They are us! They are the Church! The images we see of the elderly couple staring in disbelief at their home and of their town in ruble, They are us! They are the Church!
During my last visit to the Middle East I sat with a Priest in Beirut, Lebanon for an hour or so. We were in the bottom level of the church in a big room. The lights weren’t on but there was a light from the open door and we were sitting at a white plastic table. We were there to learn more about the work he is doing to support people that are fleeing Syria. Every day he receives more and more people. They are fleeing their homes. They are fleeing for safety. They are leaving everything they have known in their lives for the unknown. He tries to help them find a place to live and basic life necessities.
The biggest challenge he faces is helping those people, young and old, that have existing medical issues and need medicine. The system in Lebanon is maxed out with the overwhelming number of refugees entering the country. Many times the sick need to pay cash for treatment and or lifesaving medicine. The Priest slowly got red. He fought back the tears as he remembered those that passed away and are suffering without treatment. These, my friends, are the images of our Church. They are us!
The crisis in the Middle East is very challenging. The images and stories that we are hearing and seeing are frightening. They invoke feelings in each of us to such an extreme that we sometimes don’t even realize we are even capable of having those feelings.
I joined IOCC in 1993 and was sent to the former Yugoslavia to work on the response to the war in Bosnia and sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro. Even with all that I experienced in that conflict and what I have learned since then, I find myself challenged by what is happening now in the Middle East and frankly speaking around the world. There is so much violence, so much cruelty, it is hard to understand.
I have forced myself to watch some of the horrific videos of the executions that have come out simply to keep me focused on the realities we are facing every day. To keep me focused on the realities our partners face. The realities ad risks our Church partner, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, Department of External Relations and Development, our staff, the volunteers, and the people are facing every day.
So what story has been dominating the new as of late: Greece. I have a soft spot for the situation in Greece, not just because of my heritage, but on my second night in Belgrade I was tasked to unload three trucks of food from the people of Greece. These were hand packed 40 foot trailers full olive oil, pasta, beans, canned milk, rice and everything you can think of from a Greek kitchen. That’s house it was throughout the war. The people of Greece were giving from their hearts to their neighbors in need.
Now we find ourselves feeding people in Greece and bringing medical supplies to the hospitals. Everyone is talking about the economy and the effects it is having on the people. What is not being talked about is the influx of refugees. Greece is a small country and it is being overwhelmed with refugees from Africa and the Middle East, many of which are from Syria.
We are expanding our efforts to respond appropriately to the people, that are paying thousands of dollars for boarder crossings, packed boat rides across the Mediterranean Sea with hopes of being picked up by the Greek coast guard, and provided shelter in overcrowded, dilapidated reception centers. This is not just a challenge for Greece; it has now, once again over twenty later, reached Serbia as the refugees migrate to Europe and beyond.
With Week of Compassion’s generous support and partnership we are reaching out to those refugees in Serbia that are struggling as they seek a new life in lands unknown. They are us! They are our Church! Thank you!
As I prepared for this morning I found the video of Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins’s sermon at President Obama’s inauguration six years ago. Growing up the son of a Greek Orthodox priest who is blessed with the gift of gab and a beautiful chanting voice and attending a Baptist school in Texas, I am used to dynamic speakers.
However, I was quite impressed by Rev. Dr. Watkins when she so boldly said “tag you’re it” to the President of the United States of America! She shared a story about two wolves. “One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity and fear… the other world if compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, and love…”
We live in a challenging world in challenging times. It is our faith that will see us through.
Pistevo - I believe - It is our belief that will defeat the big bad wolves. It is our belief that we will lift up the good news!
Iconography is our theology. Loving and caring for those images – those people that are suffering – those images – those people that are risking their lives to serve others is our faith! They are us! They are our Church!
Pistevo! I believe!
THIS WEEK'S RESPONSES:
DISASTER RELIEF AND EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE
Congo, Refugee Assistance
Columbia, Flood Assistance
Serbia, Refugee Assistance
Syria, Refugee Assistance
Illinois, Storm Damage (2)
Kentucky, Storm Damage
Indiana, Flood Damage
Kansas, Flood Damage