On November 8th, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America (the Assembly) and the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCH) held the Tenth Annual Orthodox Prayer Service for the United Nations Community, at the Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York City.
This event brought together representatives of Member States, United Nation Agencies, Orthodoxy, and Civil Society, allowing them to enter the sacred space of the Church, thus providing them the opportunity to reflect upon their common work in prayer. During the prayer service, Archbishop Demetrios, chairman of the Assembly, offered prayers for the protection of the 65.3 million persons who have been forced to escape war and persecution. Those in attendance called to mind and prayer countless men, women, and children who have been uprooted from their homelands and rendered refugees, displaced or stateless people, too frequently denied a nationality and access to basic human rights. Many of which are now trapped in camps throughout the world, or worse, have lost their lives or disappeared during the arduous migratory journey from their homeland in search of a safe place for a chance at life.
For many it is easy to see refugees and migrants as others or strangers. At best, most of us consider them helpless victims too far way for us to make a difference in their lives; at worst, a few consider them worthy of their plight and therefore undeserving of our care. The truth is that we are quite disconnected from these people because we can hardly imagine the circumstances under which they are forced to live. This lack of understanding often leads to fear and indifference.
Jesus Christ would tell us otherwise.
The movement of refugees and migrants displaced throughout the world is a humanitarian crisis, and a humanitarian call to action. It not only requires Orthodox Christians to lend a hand, but also other Christians- indeed all people of faith and good will. For this reason, the prayer service brought together people of all faith traditions, who answered the call to serve as agents of change and instruments that will help end this humanitarian crisis. We were also reminded that no one is excluded from God’s love, no one should be a leftover of our society.
Matthew 25: 31-45 reminds us of Christ’s mandate, namely to express love for our neighbor in tangible ways. There will be a time when each of us, irrespective of faith, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, will be asked, what did you do for the least of them? The next time you hear about migrants or refugees in the news or politics, fight the urge to judge or turn your back. Instead, ask yourself: what can I do for my brothers and sisters across the world?
Elaina Karayannis 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.