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Moving from Orthodoxy to Orthopraxy International Orthodox Christian Charities: A Vehicle for Orthodox Action

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Reflection on Orthodox Action

Daniel Christopulos

In a few weeks we will gather as Orthodox Christians throughout the world to celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy and proclaim our fidelity to the true faith and connection with the venerable fathers who have preserved Orthodoxy. But those fathers and mothers who fought and died for our faith never meant it to be preserved like some museum piece. Theirs was a Church of action and service. Just as they did not want icons to be hung like some decoration on a mantel, they fought so that icons could be venerated as the conduits of God's grace. Similarly, their Orthodoxy was not some philosophy of the "right belief" like the Gnostics strove for, but a way of life; of Christ-like actions. Their Orthodoxy, their "correct-belief', was steeped in their Orthopraxy, their correct actions. The challenge facing us today as Orthodox believers is to become Orthodox doers.

While we sometimes equate our correct actions only with how we abstain from certain foods, how we cross ourselves, how we dress, or other externals, the Fathers of the Church have always understood our correct actions more closely associated with how we treat our brothers and sisters as part and parcel of the Church's mission. St. Basil instructs, "He who takes another's clothing is called a thief, but he who fails to clothe the naked, if he could deserves the very same name. The bread in your box belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your closet belongs to the naked; the shoes that you do not wear belong to the barefoot; the money under your bed belongs to the penniless."

Even fasting, a hallmark of Orthodoxy is put into perspective when we read Isaiah 58.6: "Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice?to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter ? when you see the naked to clothe him." And St. John Chrysostom adds: "Do you fast? Prove it to me by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him."

Within our communities are various opportunities for the types of ministries to which the Fathers allude. Clothing distribution, a food shelf, providing a xenona for visitors, visitation teams to the sick and elderly and participating in local social service ministries are all excellent examples of Orthopraxia.

Since 1992 however, there has been a pan-Orthodox effort to respond to Christ's call to minister to those who are suffering and need throughout the world. Established under the auspices of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is the official humanitarian aid agency of all Orthodox Christians in the Americas. While the Mission Center (OCMC) is tasked with preaching the Good News, IOCC fleshes out the life changing actions of those who have been transformed by the Gospel in their response to a suffering world.

In its twelve years of operation IOCC has delivered over $200 million of humanitarian assistance in 26 countries to some of the most vulnerable people in the world: orphans, widows, youths, the physically and mentally handicapped; people whose lives have been devastated by natural and man-made disaster. Whether responding to the myriad social problems created with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the fall-out from the war in the former Yugoslavia, or the recent devastation from the tsunamis in Southern Asia, IOCC has demonstrated Orthopraxy at its best.

IOCC is an efficient, effective, and professional conduit for our Orthodox action. By pooling the resources of all Orthodox Christians in the Americas IOCC is able to leverage monies from federal governments and other funding sources at a rate much higher than individuals or local churches. For every dollar raised from Orthodox people, churches and institutions, IOCC has historically been able to leverage almost $8. And, it has done this while keeping its overhead costs to 8%, meaning that $.92 on every dollar goes directly to the people who are in need. And finally, in all programs administered by IOCC aid is delivered solely on the basis of demonstrated need.

You can incorporate IOCC into your parish's philanthropic outreach by:

  1. Praying for IOCC, its staff, and its beneficiaries on a regular basis;
  2. Learning more about IOCC by visiting its web site (www.iocc.org) and
    reading the Priest to Priest newsletter sent to you quarterly;
  3. Preaching about IOCC and its diakonia;
  4. Supporting IOCC financially; and
  5. Assigning a parish representative as your liaison to IOCC.

As shepherds of Christ's flock the goal is to lead your rational sheep to Christ's right side where they will hear those words: "Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry.., I was thirsty.., I was a stranger.., I was naked.., I was sick.., I was in prison?" (Matthew 25.34) and you ministered unto me.

Mother Maria of Paris of blessed memory accurately stated: "The way to God lies through love of other people and there is no other way. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked if was successful in my ascetic exercises or how many prostrations I made in the course of my prayers. I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners: that is all I shall be asked."

Daniel Christopulos received a BS in Sociology from the University of Wyoming in 1979, a Master of Divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 1983, and a Masters Degree in Social Work. After receiving his MDiv, he participated in parish ministry for 17 years, during which time he spent nearly 3 years in the mission field in East Africa, and served in various communities in the United States as well as assisting in the establishment of the Archdiocesan Office in Hong Kong. Dan is now a Development Officer for International Orthodox Christian Charities, the official humanitarian relief agency of Orthodox Christians in the United States. He and his wife Patty reside in Minneapolis where she manages Light and Life Publishing Company.

Contact IOCC toll free: 1-877-803-IOCC (4622) or visit us on the Web at www.iocc.org.

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