IOCC and the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Lifeline to Russia

by Theodore Theophilos

Over the course of the last few years, the relationship between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate has been severely strained. Disputes involving Ukraine; the Great and Holy Council of 2016; the opening of ROCOR churches in Korea, France and Italy; claims of “Third Rome” status and allegations of Caesaro-Papism—the list of controversies and recriminations seems to be growing ever longer. It is easy to despair of these events.

But I take comfort in the thought that it was not always this way. In 1992, I was asked by representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA) to incorporate a new charitable organization, which would operate under the authority of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops of America. The new organization was named International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). The four founder-directors of IOCC were John Rangos, Sr., Andrew Athens (+)—both admired Archons of the Order of St. Andrew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate—Father Robert Kondratick of the Orthodox Church of America, and Father Alexander Karloutsos, then Executive Director of the Leadership 100 Foundation of the GOA.

Although the vision for IOCC was as broad as its name implies, the moving force behind the formation was to provide help to the Russian people and Moscow Patriarchate. I remember well witnessing a real sense of purpose among those leading this initiative. With the fall of the Soviet Union the need for aid was immense. At that critical historic moment, the Moscow Patriarchate was one of the few institutions in Russia that was perceived as having legitimacy. There was no discussion about taking “credit” for this enterprise. There was no quid pro quo or ulterior motive behind this action. Certainly, the financial needs of the various Mother Orthodox Churches were then, as they are today, severe. There is a natural tendency among our Church leaders, from hierarchs to parish priests, to husband their community’s philanthropic resources and direct them to their more proximate and compelling needs. But those concerns were put aside. The view was that the Russia people were suffering, and we Orthodox felt compelled to act. Our ethnic identities, by and large, took a back seat to an urgent priority. This was Orthodox Christianity in action.

The initial formation meetings were some of the most gratifying moments in my volunteering for the Church. Within several weeks of the formation of IOCC, a massive C-5 Air Force transport plane loaded with critical food and medical supplies took off from the Pittsburgh airport for Russia. In that first year, IOCC gave slightly less than one million dollars of aid to Russia—in no small measure as a result of the generosity and leadership of Mr. Rangos, Sr. and a generous anchor grant from the Leadership 100 Foundation. Over the course of the subsequent years more than ten million dollars in aid would be given by IOCC to the Russia people.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s support for these IOCC initiatives in Russia has always been unfailing. IOCC itself has been the recipient of the prestigious Patriarch Athenagoras Human Rights Award given by the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

IOCC’s response to the crisis in Russia, with the blessings and support of the Mother Churches, was Orthodox action in response to the call from Christ for compassion and love. One is left to wonder when the next occasion will be when the distracting din of rhetoric and partisanship will be silent long enough for us to hear Christ’s call again.

Theodore Theophilos is a member of Holy Apostles Church in Westchester, Illinois and a former Chair of the legal committee for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.