Baltimore — Representatives of Orthodox Christian charities around the world held a historic conference, “Orthodox Diakonia: The Social Witness and Service of the Orthodox Church,” from April 30 -May 5 at Valamo Lay Academy in Finland.
Co-sponsored by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) in the U.S., 80 participants from more than 25 Orthodox ad Oriental churches, departments and organizations came together and called for formation of a new association of Orthodox diakonia (social service) and to develop a global network to strengthen Orthodoxy’s answer in response to ongoing global challenges to poverty, injustice, war, HIV/AIDS, child abuse, and environmental degradation.
The other co-sponsors of the conference were World Council of Churches/Diakonia & Solidarity Team, and Ortaid, the humanitarian arm of the Orthodox Church of Finland.
“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.”
According to IOCC, 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.
During the conference a committee was formed to proceed in establishment of the diakonia association within two years and the leaders will plan for a follow-up conference. On top of the issues relating to global humanitarian challenges, participants also discussed issues relating to the challenges they face in their work including professional standards, accountability, and relations with the broader civil society.
“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.”
Keynote speakers of the conference 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.
Recently, IOCC and the U.S. Agency for International Development have committed to a $6 million campaign to fight AIDS in Ethiopia after the meeting in February. The project will provide community care to 9,000 AIDS orphans and vulnerable children, and palliative care to more than 26,000 people living with HIV/AIDS by 2007.