Back to Sunday School Planning

The onslaught of  “back-to-school” newspaper ads and television commercials has begun. The beginning of another school year is just around the corner. The time has also begun to plan for another Sunday Church School year.  Here’s a checklist.

Meet with the Priest.  Are there any issues that he needs addressed this year? How will he want to be involved with the program this year that might be different from other years? How might he work with teachers on training matters?

Teachers and Assistants. Do you have enough teachers? Are all the teachers ready to start? Need to find a few more? Will they need assistants? Do you need any substitute teachers? Are all the background checks complete?  What about special programs: Oratorical Festival Chair, Music Teacher, Arts and Crafts specialists? Have you planned some meetings to deal with administrative matters? Have you planned for some training sessions? What will the focus be?

Lists. Do you have the class lists ready for each teacher? Student’s information (birthday, nameday, special issues like allergies), parents contact information (especially email), how they’ve offered to assist the program that year. Do you have a list of all the teachers, assistants, all the contact information.

Review the calendar. Set the days for registration, when classes will begin and when they will end in 2015 (include a day for preregistration for Fall 2015). Note the days for when Sunday school will not meet because of Church holidays (Pascha is April 12, 2015), vacation seasons, or special parish events. Note the days for special programs, like Christmas pageant rehearsals, the Oratorical Festival, retreats and service projects. Select days for teacher training meetings. Make sure that all of these are on the parish master calendar. Distribute the calendar to all in the parish.

Check the supplies. Will you have enough textbooks, teacher’s guides, Bibles, icons? Do you have enough materials, paper, pens, crayons, glue, notebooks, and all the rest. Take advantage of the back-to-school sales.

Are the classrooms and teaching spaces in good order? Are there enough desks, tables, chairs, whiteboards. Do some need repair or replacement? Are they sized correctly for the class? You don’t want the furniture designed for kindergarten to be in the space that you’ll use for high school and vice versa! 

Electronics. Do you have projectors and other display technology? Is it all working? Are all the cables in the right place?  Does the wireless network work? If it’s password protected, do you have the proper passwords?

Pray. Pray for the teachers, the students and their families. Pray that the 2014-2015 Sunday Church school year be a year of growth and learning for the teachers, the students and their families.

Orthodox Health Center Opens in Pittsburgh

Despite the best efforts of many policy experts and lawmakers to bring universal healthcare coverage to all Americans, 16% of the population – 45 million people – still do not have health insurance, a number that is higher in 2014 than it was in 2008, according to a recent Gallup poll. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has exacerbated many of the reasons that people do not have coverage and 2% of the American workforce, more than 3 million people, have lost their employer-sponsored coverage due to loopholes and other consequences of the Act, making the net benefit of the Act debatable.   

But this blog post is not written to discuss why the ACA is, or is not, succeeding.  Rather, it is written to show how Orthodox Christians are responding to a problem in the United States that has been pervasive for decades and will continue with no clear end in sight. 

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, FOCUS North America recently opened the first comprehensive Orthodox health care facility in America. The FOCUS Pittsburgh Free Health Center targets uninsured individuals and provides them with access to quality physical and mental health care as well as pharmaceutical and laboratory services.  In addition, The FOCUS health center is a place where skilled Orthodox medical practitioners can put their talents to good use for the glory of God and in service to those in need right here in America. 

FOCUS North America is an Orthodox Christian faith-based nonprofit organization that provides sustainable jobs and permanent housing solutions for the homeless and working poor families across America.  FOCUS has operations and activities in 50 cities in the US and Canada.

Why did FOCUS extend its services into healthcare? Because it’s not much good to give someone a job or a place to live if they are not healthy enough to maintain them.  It is very difficult to sustainably transition a person or a family from homelessness, poverty and dependency to a life of self-sufficiency without providing for their health.  Offering free comprehensive healthcare and health-related services is a natural fit with FOCUS’ work to transform the lives of the homeless and working poor in America.

Why Pittsburgh?  Because western Pennsylvania, and specifically the 10-mile radius around the City of Pittsburgh has an extremely high, and increasing, population of working-aged people who are uninsured.  According to a study by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, there are approximately 142,000 working uninsured individuals and family members in the greater Pittsburgh region, with approximately 70,000 living within 10 miles of Pittsburgh.

The FOCUS Pittsburgh Health Center is organized and managed as a Volunteer in Medicine type clinic, which is specifically designed to provide care to uninsured working adults that fall through the cracks in today’s health care system.  In today’s environment, there exist government programs, such as Medicaid and CHIP, that provide healthcare to all children, the elderly, and to adults receiving public assistance.  On the other end of the spectrum are those people who have employer-sponsored healthcare insurance.  The FOCUS clinic specifically targets and serves working adults caught in the gap between these groups, ensuring that they have access to regular and high-quality healthcare. 

But the FOCUS healthcare initiative is about more than just numbers and gaps.  It is about the faces, names and stories behind these statistics.  Each day we meet men, women and families who are struggling to get by. We meet people like Linda, whose life was upended by a medical condition that turned deadly.

Linda and her husband Kevin were working full-time, he as a janitor, she as a nursing aide. With three children, they were barely making ends meet. The children qualified for free health insurance through the county, but Linda and Kevin weren’t eligible.

Kevin suffered from hypertension, but without insurance his condition went untreated. He died suddenly, at age forty, from a heart attack that could have been prevented by routine checkups and hypertension maintenance that is available to anyone with insurance.  With Kevin’s income gone, Linda was unable to pay the rent and so she and her children were evicted from their apartment. When the family came to FOCUS, they were living in their car.   It was our encounter with Linda that set FOCUS on the path to establish a free health center, understanding that health is equally as important as job or a house.

The FOCUS health center model addresses psychosocial, physical, mental and spiritual aspects of care. Rooted in the Orthodox Faith, we understand that all of these are essential to a person’s total wellbeing.  By capturing all aspects of care, and making the FOCUS health center an easily replicable model, we hope to expand an Orthodox Christian presence in health care. 

While the FOCUS health center in Pittsburgh is designed to operate five days per week, the model that FOCUS built was specifically created so that a health center could be replicated and operated on an intermittent basis in many different types of facilities, such as a church hall, office building, or classrooms, serving as a witness to the Orthodox faith and providing care that is desperately needed to those that live nearby. 

FOCUS health centers are staffed by Orthodox Christian volunteer physicians and other health care providers.  Medical malpractice liability protection under the FOCUS model is provided by the federal government and the Federal Tort Claims Act for free to any physician or medical staffer serving at a FOCUS clinic. 

Using this model and all its advantages, FOCUS hopes to launch more health centers in areas where Orthodox physicians are available to donate their time and skills to serve the uninsured and working poor.  We all know that our faith teaches to love and serve those in need.  The FOCUS health center model is just one way that skilled Orthodox medical practitioners can put their talents to good use for the glory of God and as a witness to the practical teachings of our Orthodox Faith.  

Bombs, Borders and Bodegas: Caring for Our Neighbor

As daily consumers of breaking news, it seems like cable television and newspapers have no trouble fulfilling our hunger for scandal, controversy and conspiracy. What has largely made this possible is our remarkable ability to communicate with others and to instantly share with them global news and events in real-time. The vast quantities of information that we digest each minute of each day has, however, reduced our attention span and have rendered us seemingly helpless when it comes to processing and retaining specific details.

To better illustrate my point consider the news cycle over the past five or six months. Five months ago the entire world was concerned about fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Vigil services were held around the world; even the Pontiff offered his prayers for the 227 passengers and 12 crewmembers that went missing. Hundreds of millions of dollars and countless man-hours were invested in the international effort to find and retrieve that all-elusive “black box” from the ocean floor. In almost a blink of an eye, the world shifted its attention from Southeast Asia to Ukraine. Following the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution the world worried that we were entering a period of frigid relations between Russia and the West. The papers, cable news, policy analysts, and government officials all made this story their top priority. As expected, news about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 slowly recessed and eventually stopped; people were no longer interested in the missing plane or the fate of the passengers on board.

For almost a month now I have tried to pay close attention to the news as I searched for a story that could inspire my next blog post. This has proven to be quite a challenge! Once I thought I found what I wanted to write about, BANG, some other breaking news would distract me! It was impossible for me to concentrate on just one story, as email alerts and tweets were constantly bombarding and distracting me with updates.

When I finally sat down to write I thought that I would attempt to juxtapose three issues that are proving to be humanitarian crises, namely, the crisis on U.S. borders, the recent conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the conditions of underserved communities in major US cities. I don’t pretend to be an expert in geopolitics, diplomacy, international relations, or human rights, nor do I possess greater insight into these issues than the average person. However, like everyone else, I try to form an opinion about what I read in the papers and hear on the news. From my understanding, while each issue is unique and deserves to be considered alone, when viewed next to each other, they all share a fundamental element, namely, CARE, or the lack thereof.

Bombs: The Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

Over the centuries, the dry lands of the Middle East have become soaked with human blood as a result of human conflict. The causes of the conflict are as diverse as those communities involved. Violence in the region has been sparked by a number of factors, including religious and sectarian ideologies, racial and ethnic differences; however, it is also the case that strife bewtween communities has also arisen through the efforts of people to overcome brutal rulers.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, what is clear is that the two communities have become ever-more entwined in what seems to be a never-ending conflict. Most recently, the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah (three Israeli Jewish teenagers) and the revenge killing of Abu Khdeir (a Palestinian Muslim teen) have led to the latest showering of bombs and missiles upon Israel and Gaza. In just a few days 216 Palestinians (mostly civilians, including four young boys playing on a Gaza beach) and 1 Israeli have lost their lives, countless people have become displaced, neighborhoods and their social institutions have been destroyed, and people—Jewish, Muslim, and let us not forget, Christians—are living in constant fear. The international community, including the United States, is paying close attention to the conflict and it is hopeful that a temporary ceasefire will eventually lead to a permanent halt of the violence.

Borders: Mass Deportations

Since the founding of our great nation, countless people have attempted to make their way to the United States. For individuals longing to enter our country, America represents opportunity, hope, and freedom. While the majority of immigrants have come to America following the prescribed legal procedures, for decades, thousands of people have entered the United States illegally. Most recently, many of these individuals have attempted to emigrate from Central America.

Its important to remember that anyone who has chosen to make the journey into the United States through illegal means quite literally risks everything, including his or her life. These individuals have decided to leave that which is most familiar to them in an effort to escape poverty, violence, and an uncertain future for themselves and their loved ones. They view the United States as their last chance. In the process of integrating within the community, many of them are apprehended, detained, and eventually deported. Deportation has increased to new levels during the past few years. Moreover, until their deportation, people must be kept in confinement; most recently, this has taken place in various towns of Southern California and Texas. A large number of citizens in these areas, as well as their elected officials, have protested the presence of these illegal immigrants and are calling for their immediate deportation. While protesting, people have shouted hurtful messages and carried signs with messages such as: “Illegal is a Crime,” “Return to Sender,” “Deport Illegals.” In many instances those on the receiving end of such words have been minors.

Bodegas: Underserved Neighborhoods

In major US urban centers countless people are suffering from a threat that remains largely unspoken. No, the threat has nothing to do with gang violence or drugs. People—our fellow neighbors—both young and old, have been suffering for decades because they continue to lack access to healthy and nutritious food. In many of these communities, parts of New York City, grocery stores that are common in most communities are few and far between. If you walk through the streets of these communities you will not find Whole Foods, Fairway, Food Town, or Stop & Shop. And you can forget about finding a farmer’s market; they are even harder to spot than a supermarket. You will, however, find “Brisk Bodega,” “BoHo Bodega,” “Silver Deli & Grocery,” and “Don Juan Grocery.”

If you have never entered a bodega before it is difficult to understand why this is such a big deal. After all, can’t you buy the same groceries at the local bodega as you can at Trader Joe’s? Nope! In general, one will usually find products with long shelf-lives, which means that they are full of preservatives. Also, candy, chips, soda, and cigarettes can be found throughout. Perhaps one will be lucky to find some bananas, tomatoes or a head of lettuce. Such limited options will often contribute to the rise of chronic disease in these communities, including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

So, absent local supermarkets, most people (including the elderly and those with infants and small children) are forced to do their shopping at their local bodegas. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with bodegas per se; they have, after all, tried to serve the needs of local urban communities for years. Fortunately, according to a New York Times article, owners of these local bodegas and JETRO (a major wholesaler which provides most products stocked in bodegas) are taking things into their own hands. JETRO has begun to offer healthier food products and bodega owners are dedicating more space on their shelves for such items. 


One may wonder how these three stories are related. The truth is, when we view them separately, bombs, borders and bodegas have nothing to do with each other. However, a closer reading, under the prism of Christ’s calling to love our neighbor, soon uncovers for us that element common to all three crises, namely, human indifference.

In all three instances, we are dealing with members of communities that are victims of circumstances outside their control, largely, the origin of their birth. One can never choose his parents and he can never choose where he is born. And if this alone wasn't difficult enough to handle, local and global indifference exacerbates their suffering. Yes, we can and should accept that indifference is as bad, if not worse, than actively causing harm.

Many of us think that the government is solely responsible for coming up with a solution to the problems. While elected officials are specifically tasked with caring for their citizens, this does not mean that the rest of us are allowed to sit back and become mere spectators. Grassroots efforts are as important, if not more important, than government-sponsored initiatives. The message sent to the world is far stronger when there is solidarity on the ground. We see this happening, already. Jews, Christians and Muslims throughout the world have come together and have refused to accept violence as an acceptable path toward peace and reconciliation; responsible local business owners have decided to become more concerned about the overall wellness of their patrons and have begun stocking shelves with healthier food choices; and countless U.S. citizens have demanded that local and federal governments take steps to preserve the human dignity of undocumented immigrants and to find ways to assist people in their effort to enter our country. 

What can we do? How can we make a difference? We should first take time and learn what is going on around us. When we have a firm grasp on the facts, we should then speak the truth in love; we should become advocates, sharing the story of those in need with others. We should also pray for the helpless. Prayer for those in need is embedded in everything we do as Orthodox Christians precisely because we are all in need of God’s mercy. If prayer is too difficult for some, then we should at least remember those in need. If we are willing to remember our neighbors then maybe the next time we set our alarms at night we will think about our brothers and sisters who are startled in the middle of the night by bomb sirens; the next time we cross a bridge we will think of those who risk everything in life to help pave a brighter future for their families; and the next time we enjoy our third meal of the day we will think about of the child who goes hungry all day or has little else to eat than a candy bar and a soda. Perhaps if we can remember our neighbors we will begin to care for them.

Prepare by looking back

Prepare by looking back

It’s the middle of July and in about six weeks, Sunday Church School at your parish may already be underway, or getting ready to begin another year.  There are many things to do to prepare: look at new resources, sort out the calendar of events, make sure all the supplies are in stock, start making announcements to families about registration, volunteering with certain events, and organizing the teachers and classes.  There are plenty of things to do to prepare.

But part of preparation should also include reflection on last year’s program. A question I’ve been asking a lot lately is “How do you know that your program is being effective?” At a personal level, the question is “How effective have you been?” 

Here’s a straightforward checklist of “Did I” questions that could help you reflect on last year and your work as a religious educator. (I have to confess I'm borrowing it from an article I saw in another magazine). It’s a tool that helps you review you. Each question should help you think about your efforts, consider how the year went, and give you the chance to say to yourself, “well done” and “need some work.” 

  • Did I pray for my students, my student’s families, my fellow teachers, my fellow parishioners, for our Church?
  • Did I strive to build meaningful relationships with my students and their families?
  • Did I communicate with the parents of my students, sharing with them the goals of the class, trying to offer ways to bring the lesson home?
  • Did I show my respect for my students by being as well prepared as I could be for every class meeting?
  • Did I keep the learning space inviting, colorful, showing off student work?
  • Did I observe the Feasts and Fasts of the Church in the classroom?
  • Did I spend time with other teachers and my priest, learning from one another?
  • Did I learn from my mistakes?
  • Did I have fun, enjoyed being a teacher?
  • Did I grow in my knowledge of the Orthodox Faith and the practice of its Way of Life?

Spend some time in prayerful self-reflection as part of your preparation. Look back before you look ahead.

No Room for Lukewarm as Mideast Christians Die: Doing No Harm, Doing Nothing, and Doing Something

Last week, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) held its annual Religion and Foreign Policy Summer Workshop.  Headquartered at the corner of Park Avenue and 68th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the CFR, publisher of the venerable Foreign Affairs, is part of a small, rarified group of organizations whose weighty effects on international relations are widely recognized by global policy cognoscente.  Eight years ago, the CFR launched an initiative to bring together foreign-policy practitioners and “religious and congregational leaders and thinkers” whose ideas, experiences, and interactions can give purchase into understanding the role of religion in world affairs and as a variable for U.S. foreign policy.

At this year’s event, I bumped into many friends and met a raft of new people—preachers, academics, diplomats, think-tankers, journalists—from every point on the political spectrum and from a kaleidoscope of religious traditions.  In between the discussions about the efficaciousness and evolution of RTP (“Responsibility to Protect) in international relations—there remain serious deficits in systematic application of a consistent standard which can require collective action, whether economic, diplomatic, or sometimes, military, by the international community in order to protect populations from crimes that their states are unwilling or unable to stop—and the analysis of challenges posed by social media as a tool for religious radicalization, mobilization, and action—religious extremist groups are using Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook with unprecedented scope and sophistication, as echo chambers to amplify hate and provoke violence—I couldn’t help but wonder: Why has the international community demonstrated no sense of responsibility to protect the Christian communities of the Middle East, given the mounting evidence that very existence is becoming ever-more tenuous because of the crimes perpetrated by jihadi extremists who are uploading 72-hours-per-minute of real-time horrors from the killing zones of Syria and Iraq?

Yes, this is an issue about which I’ve posted repeatedly on this blog site, so let me drill down into some specific issues, questions, and suggestions.  I'd like to have a conversation with Orthodox Christians and the Church (my shorthand for all Orthodox Churches, of every jurisdiction, in the United States), about how to respond to the calamitous conditions faced by Christians in the places where Christianity was born. 

Preempting the critics, I should clarify that my focus on Christians and my chat with Orthodox Christians is not a function of sectarian navel-gazing, religious parochialism, or lack of concern with other pressing matters in our world (after all, climate change, natural resource deprivation, and new forms of slavery are but a few of the tribulations that deserve our attention, since they endanger humankind and the planet).  Rather, I return to the issue of suffering Christians in the Middle East for two reasons. 

First, there are the facts on the ground.  Most recently, the declaration of a new Islamic Caliphate whose initial footprint is the swath of territory captured by the extremist-jihadi group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now renamed, simply, The Islamic State, is a gruesome climax to the decade-plus ordeal that has confronted Christians in those states with a dilemma: for some Christians, the perilous flight from their ancestral lands to the uncertainties and degradation of refugee status in Jordan and Lebanon; and, for those Christians unwilling or unable to flee, the daily privations of being kidnapped, facing slow-death starvation, or struggling to pay the jizya, the protection tax imposed on Christians as dhimmi.  There was an ominous symbolism in the fact that the ISIS's terror tactics had emptied Mosul of its ancient Christian population, so that there was not a single liturgical celebration in Mosul's churches on June 29th, the Feastday of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the same day that ISIS chief Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the new caliphate.  The Christian drama is a harbinger of things to come, for Christians, other non-Muslim minorities, and for Muslims uninterested in living under a militant caliphate (their penalty for failing to pledge fealty to the caliphate concept is displayed in the gruesome photos of public crucifixions of Muslims in Syria by ISIS forces).

Second, the Christian drama (Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Emil Shimoun Nona, has reported to international media that every last Christian has been cleansed from Iraq’s second-largest city since its capture by ISIS forces) is a potent reminder of the universal ambit of human suffering endured by individuals because of their belief and faith.  The examples of religious freedom violations, shocking for their global range and frequency, have been catalogued in recent reports by the Pew Research Center, the Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, amongst other sources.  Emblematic cases include the unrelenting persecution of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar government; the repression of Tibetan Buddhists by the Chinese state; the disturbing spike in anti-Semitic incidents in France and Belgium; and the brutal assaults on non-conforming Muslims and Christians alike by al-Shabaab and Boko Haram across east-central Africa.  The international community's shocking indifference to the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria makes a mockery of the RTP, and sends a message to state and non-state violators of human rights that they are free to act with impunity within and across national borders.  Alternatively, a good-faith effort at collective action to protect the remaining Christians in Syria and Iraq--not a military action, but a combined humanitarian action (foods, medicines, shelter for refugees now living in unsustainable and precarious conditions in neighboring host-countries) and diplomatic initiative (decisive, innovative, and collaborative policies for pulling the plug on support to extremists of The Islamic State and al-Qaeda ilk)--will signal that the international community recognizes that peace is a chimera, absent the uncompromising protection of human rights.  

The approaching July 4th freedom commemoration of the American Revolution provides a moment for Orthodox Christians, living freely and securely in the United States, to contemplate how to make even a modest contribution to improving the conditions of Christians struggling to survive in places like Homs, Aleppo, Damascus, Mosul, Kirkuk, and the Nineveh Plain. 

The necessary first-step in constructive contemplation involves avoiding the trap of reducing the principle of "do no harm" to the default position of "do nothing."  One of the foundational ethics guiding United Nations humanitarian work and international human rights and religious freedom activities, the "do no harm" principle is a kind of normative-material value-added calculus.  In other words, efforts to bring aid and comfort to vulnerable and at-risk populations (in this case, the Christians of Syria and Iraq) must occur only if there is reasonable certainty that action (in this case, both acknowledging the problem and implementing relief policies) will neither worsen the immediate conditions or provoke new threats (e.g. reprisals, retribution) against the already-victimized population.

Justifiably, the do-no-harm principle has been a frequent fallback for Orthodox Christians in America who express reservations about public calls for action to come to the aid of Mideast Christians.  However, I sense a very concerning tendency, away from the ethical gold-standard and practical imperative of doing no harm, towards the absolutist position of doing nothing.  My nagging concerns on this point derive from the face-value acceptance by a not insignificant cadre of prominent Orthodox (and Roman Catholic and Protestant) Christians in America of the Washington-manufactured twaddle that justifies lack of assistance to Mideast Christians with such political conceits as "they don't even know what they want, they're not united," culminating in the big-lie statement of "Christians in Iraq and Syria do not feel abandoned." 

The explicit statements of multiple Mideast Christian leaders of various denominations that their communities, in fact, do feel abandoned (see comments by Rev. Dr. Andrew White of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, Chaldean Archbishop of Baghdad Louis Sakko, Bishop Elias Toume of Pyrgou in Syria’s Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch) and that they are seeking humanitarian assistance, should be enough to ensure that the legitimate priority of doing no harm does not degenerate unintentionally and unnecessarily, into doing nothing.  Furthermore, While entreating the international community to act swiftly to provide humanitarian relief to endangered Christians, these same clerics demonstrate their clear understanding of the do no harm principle--in their insistence that aid come to all those who are suffering, in their identification of sectarianism as fatal for sustainable peace, and in their unambiguous rejection of Western military engagement as solution for the ailments of Syria and Iraq.

How can doing no harm comport with doing something?  What can Orthodox Christians do to bring aid and comfort to Mideast Christians?  Over the upcoming July 4th solstice,  here are some thoughts to ponder, some very basic, imminently feasible, options for doing something, options for doing no harm while doing some good. 

First, pray and remember.  Every Orthodox church in the United States should be praying for the safety of Mideast Christians--supplications for peace in the world run throughout the Sunday Liturgy, so there is no reason that special prayers for peace, memorial prayers for those lost, and vigils cannot become part of the daily reality of Orthodox Christians here in America.  Second, teach and learn.  Catechetical education at every level of parish life can incorporate teaching about the plight of today's Christians, in Syria and Iraq and, more broadly, in the Greater Middle East.  Orthodox Christians in America can learn about the realities of life for Christians in the lands where Christ and the Apostles spread the Word, the connections between Christians there and Christians here.  Third, act.  Mobilization, organization, and action to raise humanitarian relief (whether clothing, emergency kits, monies) for Syrian and Iraqi Christians without food, shelter, medical care, or jobs, should be a given in every Orthodox parish in America. The Greek War Relief Association's effort (for more on this, see the pathbreaking research of Dr. A. K. Kyrou, also a blogger on this site) during World War Two is a brilliant example of the capacity of Orthodox Christians in America to mount a staggeringly successful, grassroots, international humanitarian effort.  Orthodox Christian parishes in America can easily become a platform for relief support to  the Christians of Iraq and Syria, via cooperation with respected international actors like International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the International Red Cross, World Vision, and others.  Fourth, discuss and dialogue.  Orthodox Christians in America have a responsibility and an opportunity to share the story of endangered Christians in the historic lands of Christianity's origins, and wherever possible, to participate in ecumenical and interfaith efforts to bring peace to the world.  For guidance and inspiration, think about the recent Holy Land Pilgrimage of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis.  Finally, go and see.  Speaking of pilgrimages, it's time for Orthodox Christians in the United States to visit and to connect with the Christians who continue to live and witness through peace and war, in the lands of the early Church. Security constraints do not rule out pilgrimages to places like Constantinople (Istanbul), Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and if peace breaks out, to other places in the region.

In the final book of the New Testament—“Revelation,” also known as “The Apocalypse”—Christ, tells the Church at Laodicea, in central-west Anatolia, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.”  Refracted through the lens of "The Apocalypse," the slippery slope from respect for doing no harm to the error of doing nothing could become part of the treacherous slide into lukewarm. The choices are obvious.

Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, and Affiliate Scholar at Harvard University's Center for European Studies, where she will be Co-Chairing the new Study Group on the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe.

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