His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH and His Eminence, Metropolitan NIKITAS Preside over Vespers and Dinner to Benefit the Work of IOCC - 11/18/2007Los Angeles, California
The word “mercy” served to be the theme of an evening for an organization that devotes itself to feeding, clothing and ministering to the poor worldwide. St. Nicholas Cathedral hosted the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) on the evening of November 18, 2007 (known as “IOCC Sunday”) for a dinner designed to inspire us to “be merciful, even as our Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). IOCC provided pictures, videos and local crafts from all over the world to show the impact the organization is having on the needy with not just the help of donors, but with personal humanitarian relief and, of course, God Himself.
His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH flew from St. Stephen Church in Campbell, California after a pastoral visit and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy to be at the Cathedral by late Sunday afternoon. He welcomed His Eminence, Metropolitan NIKITAS of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, California, who served as the keynote speaker. The two hierarchs and V. Rev. Michel Najim, Dean of the Cathedral and Great Economos of the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West studied together in Thessaloniki, Greece in the 1970s. After the greetings, the hierarchs presided over Great Vespers, served by Fr. Michel.
At the dinner next door in the Cathedral hall, Sayidna JOSEPH welcomed the other hierarchs of the evening: His Eminence, Metropolitan ISAIAH of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver, and His Eminence, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Church’s Western American Diocese. Bishop JOSEPH addressed the faithful with the words “Lord, have mercy.” “We say this once, or three times, or twelve times, or even forty times in our services,” he said. “It is to remind us that we constantly need the Lord’s mercy for ourselves and for the whole world. We have to share this mercy with others, because it is the one thing that defines us as Orthodox Christians in the eyes of the world.”
Mercy is the IOCC’s mission as the official philanthropic arm of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). As master of ceremonies, IOCC founder and the Cathedral’s own Charles Ajalat showed the audience how much their generosity impacts the organization’s ministry. He and a series of speakers showed that a donation of $1.00 is matched by various donors and governments to become $12.00. This money, and those working in the field, provided 90,000 children in southern Lebanon with new school supplies and classroom computers in the wake of the bombings by Israel in the summer of 2006. They provided for classroom repairs in Syria for 4,500 school children. They have even enabled Sunday School children and adults in Ethiopia to deliver hospice care to AIDS patients.
The banquet also marked the 15th anniversary of IOCC, which has delivered $250 million in funds, goods and services to hundreds of thousands of people in 33 countries on five continents. As a surprise in the program, Charles Ajalat received a certificate of appreciation for his work to start the outreach and his direct contact with those whom he and IOCC have helped.
Metropolitan NIKITAS knows first-hand of the ministry of IOCC, and the ravaged, destitute people that depend on it to survive. He spoke “not of dreams, but of reality.” Before returning to America, Dhespota served as Metropolitan of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He recalled the horrific catastrophe that was the tsunami of southern Asia on December 26, 2004. Within one hour of the sub-ocean earthquake and massive waves, His Eminence said 300,000 people in his territorial metropolis died. He told stories of circumventing governments to get aid to those who needed it the most, and being forgotten by many nations as bodies and body parts floated in the waters. However, IOCC came to the rescue, and Metropolitan NIKITAS encouraged everyone to do the same as we draw close to Thanksgiving. “Go and see what God allows you to do in His Name. Leave work and school for a while,” Dhespota said. “Thanksgiving is almost a uniquely American holiday, so we must give thanks and allow others to give thanks because of what He gives through us.”
For more information on International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), log onto www.iocc.org.
By Subdeacon Peter Samore