Entries with tag faith matters .

Health and Human Rights in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS: A Modern-Day Civil Rights Struggle

As Orthodox Christians, we are charged with viewing people of all races equally, both under God as well as societally. This stems not from political opinion, but rather our shared view that we are all created in His image.

This year, as we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are reminded of his tremendous work towards racial equality and the sacrifices he made for civil rights. When evaluating the impact he has had on the world, we must not become complacent. As Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory articulated in his explanation for being in Selma and marching with Rev. King: “We cannot be Christians in name, and not in spirit and action.” We must be knowledgeable and prepared to act while injustice endures. This is felt quite vividly in the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis. And while HIV/AIDS is not often associated with the civil rights movement, the racial components of the crisis renders it a crucial part of the path to realizing Dr. King’s vision.

Since the first cases of AIDS began to spread in the early 1980s, significant improvements have been made around the world in both the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Despite the advances, many argue that HIV/AIDS is a civil rights issue, centered on the fact that it disproportionately affects the African-American community compared to its share of the overall population. African-Americans represent about 12% of the U.S. population, yet they make up approximately 44% of new infections of HIV.[1] Similarly, they account for 49% of new AIDS diagnoses, both demonstrating a lingering impact of the disease that isn’t shared by all demographic groups. As of 2013, there were more than 1.1 million individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.; alarmingly, 506,000 of those were African American!

This trend does not seem to be improving. While the overall number of infections and deaths have decreased, a disparity remains and will endure unless we provide the appropriate medical aid to this population. In the U.S., the numbers for new cases of HIV/AIDS tends to be more prevalent in a few specific groups, for a variety of reasons. For example, the LGBT community, individuals living in rural communities, and those of lower socioeconomic status all have higher rates of infection than the general population.[2] Nonetheless, the African-American population intersects with all these population subsets, yet we do not see similar rates of infection.

Dr. Donna McCree, Associate Director for Health Equity of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, suggests a disappointing, yet insightful explanation for this phenomenon. She describes a so-called ‘perfect storm’ of economic and cultural barriers that have led to the lagging and disproportionately high rates of infection among the African-American population.

Things like higher incarceration rates, lower medical coverage rates, and substance abuse all impact contraction. Similarly, contracting the disease has a negative impact on a person’s socioeconomic status by constraining their ability to be employed and earn income.[3]  For example, 45% of individuals with HIV/AIDS are unemployed[4] which, coupled with the remaining stigmas faced at both familial and clinical levels, can discourage individuals from seeking treatment, further exacerbating the problem.

Civil rights have maintained a central place in the Church’s message of unconditional love during the latter half of the 20th century and continues to serve as a catalyst for mutual understand, respect and love among all people. Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America summed up our mission in a 1963 statement:

But the Christians of America should feel that they have a special mandate to work for equal rights for all. We are challenged to prove that the Legions of Christ can, in His Name, uphold these rights wherever and whenever they are endangered. Christian love is not a semantic symbol. It is a commandment to which we must conform our actions as Christians and strive in every way to make a reality, consistent with the will of God which was expressed by His Son Jesus Christ when He said, Love ye one another.

This message remains our focus today. Individuals with HIV/AIDS continue to be possess the image of God, and we are mandated to overcome our own shortcomings and love them, have mercy on them, and pray for them. True to Iakovos’ vision in 1963, the Orthodox Church is not only a supporter of civil rights as an idea and political theory, it seeks to put into practice the love of Christ in her own work. Humanitarian organizations such as IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities), which partners with local churches around the world to serve the needs of those most vulnerable, and FOCUS (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve), which offers adults and children access to healthcare through their medical centers, have helped the Church and her communicants answer the call to love one another as children of God, irrespective of our racial or ethnic differences.

 

Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org)

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ESOSCO). It has been actively working at the UN for 30 years.


[1] http://files.kff.org/attachment/fact-sheet-black-americans-and-hiv-aids

[2] http://www.ebony.com/wellness-empowerment/aids-2012-new-data-show-black-gay-men-face-worlds-highest-risk-of-hiv#axzz2JxYL2v1J

[3] http://www.ebony.com/news-views/the-state-of-hivaids-in-black-america-405#axzz4VEXkJse0

[4] http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/hiv-aids.aspx

 

 

Sowing Kernels of Truth

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. 

This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant."

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Noble Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

 

During his great life, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a multitude of sermons and speeches, both prepared and spontaneous, to audiences as small as a few dozen and as large as a few hundred thousand. Words were his most influential instrument in the struggle for equal civil rights against the systematic segregation imposed by a country claiming “liberty and justice for all.” As he spoke, his words were both Biblical and prophetic, and he was never shy at projecting God’s truth in the face of evil.

Truth is held tightly by the Orthodox Church. Since Christ’s crucifixion and glorious resurrection, the Church has maintained the fullness of the truth of His message, which is, as it relates to human relationships, the genuine communication of love. Such is an innate intention of all the world’s major faiths and traditions. Some might argue this contradicts the claim of Orthodoxy or dilutes the richness and diversity of world religions. However, from the Orthodox perspective, this is completely compatible through the anthropological element of creation. In creating man in His image and likeness, God breathed life into dirt and we became more than just beings, we became temples of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth. Therefore, Truth dwells within all mankind, to the degree at which we allow it, and all people are capable of expounding “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

If every person possesses the kernel of truth and love, how then does man allow himself to turn against his fellow man? The Orthodox Church attributes the actions against love to the Fall of Adam and Eve, the moment when humanity thought itself better than to need an authentic relationship with God. With the Fall came the birth of sin, which distorts the treasures of love and truth into desire and injustice. Sin is a heavy veil that proceeds to blind the needs of those around us. Contemplating on the antithesis of love, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania offers the notion that it is not hate that severs relationships but rather the ego. Often interpreted as the opposite of love, hate is merely one of the many ramifications of when the ego within becomes too strong to tame. Jealousy, greed, and lust are also among the consequences. These negative traits are therefore unnatural to the human person in that they draw us away from attaining God’s likeness and keep us away from each other.

Dr. King and other civil rights leaders of his time were acutely aware that the fight for equality began countless generations before them, even before the discovery of the New World. For too long, the ego has sought to manipulate the hearts and minds of those with an advantageous position over another. The ego has infiltrated every society and institution in which man takes part, which is how the government of “one Nation under God, indivisible,” justified the indoctrination of divisibility. King recognized the ego’s puppeteering presence behind segregation, writing, “It not only harms one physically but injures one spiritually. It scars the soul and degrades the personality. It inflicts the segregated with a false sense of inferiority, while confirming the segregator in a false estimate of his own superiority.” The United States, challenged by cumulative egos of apprehensive or racist whites, could not accept the tremendous racial and economic divide to which it had grown accustom.

Thrust into the international spotlight during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, the endeavor for equality of all people catalyzed like never before. King led the crusade against the unjust power of one man over another with his championed combat method of dialogue and rhetoric. Instead of turning to the violent uses of force and defamation which evil invites, King opted for the purity of Christ’s message by “speaking the truth in love.”

Despite the obstacles of prison, physical assault, and death threats, Dr. King remained steadfast in his promotion of love. Like a gardener tending to his rosebuds, King patiently appealed to that kernel of truth within every person, nurturing its growth with every opportune speech, sermon, and interview. That truth, through the power of its natural purity, unravels ego’s veil, and invigorates the Spirit that dwells within. King sought a change in public policy by means of a change in the hearts of the public. He understood that beyond the unjust governmental regulations and discriminatory laws was a dark force obstructing the intrinsic compassion of the opposition: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The illumination of King’s words motivated love, ultimately changing the way racial segregation and inequality is viewed in our country.

April 4, 1968 was a day when darkness overcame one man’s heart so much so that he acted on the desire to take Dr. King’s life. King foreshadowed his death the night before while offering his final sermon in Memphis: “I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” The shock of his assassination was not enough to stifle his message nor stir hate among his followers. His words were powerful, moving, and germinated the kernels of truth of even those strewn on rocks and among thorns. To this day and for generations more, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s God-inspired message lives on despite his untimely death, proving that indeed “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

____________________

Andrew Calivas is the Coordinator of Ecumenical Projects for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations

____________________

When it Comes to Racism, Start with the Person in the Mirror

“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First, remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:42

Martin Luther King Jr. is the United States’ most famous civil rights leader, having advanced equality for racial minorities by using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.

That method of protest inspired countless others to join him in seeking equality for all in America, including numerous faith leaders. The movement, perhaps unlike the United States at the time, did not discriminate based on color or creed.

King was assassinated in 1968, but the many people he inspired during his ministry continued to espouse his message of peace and justice.

Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America, who was one of the faith leaders who joined King at the March on Selma, later reflected on how the civil rights movement was not over and how it continued to be a driving force in his own life.

“I know that civil rights and human rights continue to be the most thorny social issues in our nation,” he said. “But I will stand for both rights for as long as I live.”

Decades after Archbishop Iakovos’s remarks, civil rights and human rights are still at the forefront of a national conversation—and in many ways still are “the most thorny social issues in our nation.” 2016 was undoubtedly a year of racial tension in America.

Despite statistical evidence of discrimination against African Americans in law enforcement, in housing and in employment, many people refuse to listen to the people in our communities who face that discrimination every day.

In light of King’s inspiring legacy, it is perhaps even more unfortunate that people deride contemporary civil rights organizations for their work in bringing an end to said discrimination.

The criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement today, for example, eerily resemble those of Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement 50 years ago.

In a rebuke of the civil rights movement’s critique of white violence against blacks, one person in a 1966 telegram anonymously asked King, “what about the violence by blacks in these cities?”

“Hang your head in shame,” another wrote to King. “You are responsible for all of these riots and havoc in this country today.”

Still another wrote, “you don’t point out any faults at all of your own people, just the whites.”

Sound familiar?

Such an unwillingness to listen is in contradiction to the scriptures, in which God instructs us to “incline your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2).

As Christians, we are called to look inward and to improve upon ourselves instead of pointing out the flaws in others. It is based in the act of repentance, the recurring stage of salvation in which we turn away from sin.

How might you discriminate in your life? At the very least, it’s worth some thought.

Do you subconsciously put your hands in your pockets when you pass a black person on the street? Did you not consider a babysitting applicant because her name sounded like she might be black or Hispanic?

These days, it’s easy to deny being racist and to generally support the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr.’s era. After all, you’re probably not lynching people or forcing them to drink from a different water fountain.

But how might racism still manifest itself in your life? How can you bring an end to racism in yourself?

Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Iakovos knew that, as icons of Christ in the world, they were called to challenge the institutional inequalities in our country that unnecessarily pitted one group of people against another. Many others feel that they are called to similar work today.

For us, perhaps we ought to start simply with the person in the mirror.

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

Arduous Journeys Across Seas and Deserts

Let’s say you had to move away. Actually, let’s say you had to move far away—like, outside-of-your-country far away.

In this scenario, the economy has gotten so bad that nobody—not even the most skilled individuals—can find work anymore. If you want to live comfortably or even put food on your table, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Or, you grew up in a low-income family, but you studied hard, defied all expectations and earned a spot at the best university in the world, located somewhere across the sea. This is an incredible opportunity that would forever change your life and that of your family.

Or, there’s violent civil war in your country. The most recent election was hotly contested and the military staged a coup in an attempt to retain power and maintain civil order, pitting faction against faction and neighbor against neighbor. There are bullet holes in your windows and the inside of your house is covered in dust and dirt from the constant artillery shelling in the city. There’s no more electricity and tap water, and several of your family members have already died.

So, what would you do in each of those situations? Would you actually leave?

Those are only a few of the many reasons people might choose to become migrants and leave their homes. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice to leave, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, the reason for leaving is positive and happy, and sometimes (more often, actually) the reason is not so optimistic.

Right now, at this very moment, there are more forcibly displaced people than there have been since World War II. Many are “refugees,” who were actually able to leave their country in search of new homes and communities where they can live and learn and work. Others are internally displaced, and aren’t able to reach safety outside of their homeland.

or people who didn’t really have a choice when it came to staying or leaving—who probably don’t want to leave but are now looking for new homes and communities where they can live and learn and work.

Tragically, many of them don’t ever reach asylum. Thousands die while trying to reach safety via dangerous land and sea routes just in the last few years.

If you did have to move away—far away—how would you want people to think about you? How would you want them to treat you?

The next time you hear about migrants or refugees in the news or in politics, think about the reality of the situation for these people and their actual lives. Should you welcome them into your community with open arms and understanding (like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously did)?

Or, should you reject them on the basis of that they might be dangerous (which isn’t really true)?

In reality, it’s the migrants who have usually faced danger—leaving behind family, friends, relationships and any sense of normalcy to make their way across treacherous terrain in order to reach the border that promises safety.

Which means that migrants are some of the most courageous, resilient and resourceful people on the planet. They are more than people in need—they are people wanting to give and make a meaningful contribution to society.

After all, remember what the most famous refugee, Jesus Christ, went on to do.

International Migrants Day is on Dec. 18. The International Organization for Migration is calling on the international community to come together and remember the refugees and migrants who have lost their lives or have disappeared while trying to reach safe harbor after arduous journeys across seas and deserts.

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

 

St. Nicholas and the Spirit of Charity and Giving

 

St. Nicholas is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and beloved Christian saints. Universally venerated among traditional Christian denominations, one would be hard pressed to find a city that doesn’t have a church named after the 4th-century Bishop of Myra.

 

He is known as Nicholas the Wonderworker because of the many miracles and stories attributed to him both during his life and after his repose.

 

One of the greatest was when St. Nicholas interceded on behalf of three innocent men condemned to death by a corrupt governor. He is said to have boldly went up to the executioner and took his sword, which was already suspended over the heads of the condemned. The governor, denounced by St. Nicholas for his wrongdoing, repented and begged for forgiveness.

 

Famously, St. Nicholas is also said to have aided a poor man who had three daughters but no dowry for them. At the time, remaining unmarried meant that the daughters would have fallen into lives of poverty and public ridicule, and so Nicholas decided to secretly help them. He went to their house under the cover of night and tossed three purses filled with gold coins through the window.

 

These are only two of the many great stories credited to St. Nicholas, but nearly all of them have to do with his devotion to charity and sacrifice.

 

Because of the saint’s habit of secret gift-giving, the diminutive “Saint Nick” is one of the many names given to Santa Claus, the legendary Western character who gives gifts to children on Christmas eve and is thought to be a combination of several figures, including the real St. Nicholas and several pagan winter characters.

 

As the weeks leading up to Christmas mark the proverbial “Season of Giving,” St. Nicholas serves as a reminder to embody a spirit of charity both during the holiday season and far beyond it.

 

Giving Tuesday” was exactly one week ago, a movement established as an international day of giving at the beginning of the Christmas and holiday season.

 

And in the last month, civil rights and anti-discrimination organizations have experienced an unprecedented increase in donations following the U.S. presidential election.

 

Once again, as it miraculously does every year, St. Nicholas’ famous spirit of charity and giving lives on during his feast day here and around the globe.

 

St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is commemorated on Dec. 6.

 

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

 

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

 
Sam Williams
Posts: 50
Stars: 0
Date: 1/18/17
Anthony Constantine Balouris
Posts: 6
Stars: 0
Date: 1/14/17
Andrew Calivas
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 1/14/17
Andrew Romanov
Posts: 6
Stars: 0
Date: 1/14/17
Maria Pappas
Posts: 20
Stars: 0
Date: 12/23/16
Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 72
Stars: 8
Date: 12/13/16
Constantine Sirigos
Posts: 9
Stars: 0
Date: 12/3/16
Rev. Dr. Nicolas Kazarian
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 12/2/16
Family Care
Posts: 7
Stars: 0
Date: 10/20/16
John Chryssavgis
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 9/28/16