When is the Best Time to Do Each Thing?

by Robert Pianka

[Fall, 2003]

   Do each thing when you are challenged and can meet the challenge. Grow stronger by fulfilling your obligations. 

   Hereís a perfect example. Historically, now is the time for Orthodox Christians in America to take their engagement against poverty and alienation to a higher level. Given the hard work and success of previous generations, we now have human and financial resources to multiply our impact. And, given the contrast between our Faith-based motivation and our "presenceÖin philanthropic work", we need to exceed our philanthropic aspirations.

"The Orthodox still represent less than 2% of the American population. Divided into a dozen jurisdictions, they simply cannot survive the growing pressure of the American "melting pot"... No "jurisdiction" by itself can meet the urgent needs of better education, Orthodox presence on university campuses, in the public communications media, in philanthropic work, etc."                                     SCOBA, 1965 report, Ad Hoc Commission on Unity

Who are the most important people to work with? 

Work with your allies in Faith and work personally with those in need.

First, work with your allies in Faith. Find strength in the quality of your motivation. Find strength in pan-Orthodox numbers.

Second, work with those in need in your own community. You can help them better than anyone else. You "speak their language". And, you are expected to get "your own house in order" before you show up in other communities. Every community has within it a "target-population" of people in need. In the 1990 US Census, 5-million people claimed ancestry from Orthodox homelands. More than 375,000 were living below the poverty line. A community that helps its own accomplishes three things. It deals with its own contribution to the poverty problem. It builds "access" to the "target-population" for public authorities and charities from outside the community. And, it builds both the "social service capacity" and the relationships needed to reach beyond its boundaries.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, fully one-half of the refugees entering the United States came from the former USSR & Eastern Europe. Of these 611,738 refugees who we were uniquely able to help, 0 were resettled by Orthodox Christian charities.

Third, as you build your strong collective ability to help, work with those in need in neighboring communities. For many parishes this means reaching out to non-Orthodox often Spanish-speaking communities in the downtown neighborhood where you still go to church. For other parishes, I recommend looking first to non-SCOBA-jurisdiction Orthodox communities. Many arrived recently and their success is being delayed by the "language barrier". And, while our bond might seem exotic, it is fundamental and sufficient to bridge the gap between strangers that thwarts so much charitable intention. Those of us who have worked in this direction also know that our new neighbors in Faith have much to offer us as we confront the mainstream culture of our adopted country. Many parishes, will need to reach out far to find people in need. I recommend they reach out through a fellow Orthodox parish in less favorable circumstances in a less desirable neighborhood.

What is the most important thing to do at all times?

Live your Faith: engage in Orthodox Philanthropy.

Recognize your obligations and realize their priority over your other concerns. Inventory the resources and skills you have. Work together and do first things first. Build your capacity, partner with others, and reach out.

Do all this personally and during awareness of Christ.

Helping others is far harder than helping yourself. We take pride in our achievements. We donít envy ourselves. A funny thing happens, though, when our achievement takes the form of helping another. Our experience of satisfaction has to be carefully negotiated with the "transaction" of giving and receiving. If we do not create a personal relationship between the parties to the transaction, the act of charity is likely to be stained by arrogance and humiliation. Orthodox Philanthropy, that is "Christo-centric charity," avoids this. In Christís presence, two persons engaged in an act of charity are "sharing Godís gifts".

[Robert Pianka is former U.S. Program Director for International Orthodox Christian Charities - I.O.C.C.]


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