Orthodox Pledge Greater Cooperation in Service to Poor

During a working group at the “Orthodox Diakonia” conference in Finland, His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah of Uganda, Cosmin Grigorescu of the Romanian Orthodox Church (far right), and Sirpa Anttonen of Valamo Lay Academy discuss ways to improve the Orthodox Church’s ministry to the poor. The three were among 80 people who participated in the conference, representing 25 countries from five continents. Photo courtesy of IOCC

Baltimore, MD (May 7, 2004) — Participants in a conference co-sponsored by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) are calling for a more unified Orthodox response to the global challenges of war, poverty, injustice, HIV/AIDS, child abuse and environmental degradation.

The historic conference, “Orthodox Diakonia: The Social Witness and Service of the Orthodox Church,” involved 80 participants from more than 25 Orthodox and Oriental churches, departments and organizations from five continents.

Gathering at Valamo Lay Academy in Finland from April 30-May 5, the conference participants agreed to work toward the formation of a new association of Orthodox diakonia (social service) and to develop a global network to strengthen Orthodoxy’s answer to poverty and injustice.

A committee was formed to begin planning a follow-up conference and to work toward the establishment of an association for Orthodox diakonia within two years.

“I believe this special gathering will help spark a new era of pan-Orthodox cooperation on behalf of people in need around the world,” said IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou, who attended the conference. “We can do so much more when we’re working together to respond to Christ’s call to serve the poor.”

IOCC, the humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians in the United States, was co-organizer of the conference, along with the World Council of Churches/Diakonia & Solidarity Team, and Ortaid, the humanitarian arm of the Orthodox Church of Finland.

The conference was blessed by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and was hosted and opened by His Eminence Archbishop Leo of the Orthodox Church of Finland.

“This event holds great promise for the future of Orthodoxy,” said conference moderator Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America, “given the unprecedented revival of social work in the Orthodox Church over the past decade.”

The purpose of the conference was to explore the history, theology and present reality of Orthodox cooperation in the area of social justice and outreach, to share experiences and methodologies, and to foster new forms of Orthodox collaboration and exchange.

Since the political changes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the Orthodox Churches have rediscovered their role in society and have sought to respond to the pressing social needs around them. Hundreds of new social and humanitarian initiatives have been founded.

Among those attending the conference were representatives of Orthodox social service agencies in Argentina, Syria, Lebanon, the Czech Republic, Armenia, the Republic of Georgia, Egypt, Great Britain, Ukraine, Poland, Greece, Albania, Romania, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Russian Federation, the United States, and eight other countries.

Keynote speakers were His Grace Bishop Yohannes of the Coptic Orthodox Church (Egypt), Fr. Demetrios Constantelos of Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, Fr. Arkady Shatov of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Dr. David Bryer, chairman of Oxfam International.

During the discussion, participants explored some of the major issues and challenges they face in their work, including professional standards, accountability, and relations with the broader civil society.

Further information about the conference, its participants and its goals can be found at www.orthodoxdiakonia.net. To learn more about IOCC and its humanitarian programs around the world, please visit www.iocc.org.