Orthodox churches join together to raise money for Syrians

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Paula Reed Ward
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the 25 years since it was formed, International Orthodox Christian Charities has provided more than $600 million in aid to those in need in more than 60 countries around the world.

Sunday, in Pittsburgh, the organization sought to add to that total with its fifth annual Syrian Relief Dinner and Prayer Service.

Hosted by Pittsburgh’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland, about 500 people attended a dinner and reception following a church service led by His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph, of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

“We have a good cause,” he said as he concluded the hourlong, traditional service. “We are here to praise God. We are not here to judge our brothers. Those who are doing violence, everywhere, they are judging.”

Last year’s Syrian fundraiser collected more than $80,000, and with various governmental grants and foundation matches, as much as seven times that was sent to IOCC relief efforts for those affected by the war in Syria. Primarily, the money goes to programs in Lebanon, Greece and Jordan to help Syrian refugees, said Kristen Fianni, a spokeswoman for the IOCC, headquartered in Baltimore.

The IOCC was founded in 1992 by a group of metropolitans and bishops from a variety of Orthodox groups to help those from traditionally Orthodox countries in Europe affected by the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then, it has assisted people in need because of war, famine, natural disasters and disease. There are offices in Ethiopia, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Montenegro and Greece.

“Part of being Orthodox Christian is to be reflections of Christ and spread his love. And the way we reflect his love is through works,” said Nicholas Terezis, the chair of IOCC Pittsburgh Metropolitan Community.

“There’s a crisis where people living in peace with all different ethnicities are no longer able to be in their homes. There are people here who care.”

Because the IOCC has such low overhead costs, Mr. Terezis said, about 92 cents from every dollar actually goes to those in need.

“They’re so good at this job that we from Pittsburgh can make a difference on the other side of the world as Christians.”

Nearly all of the food, table settings, flowers and service were donated for the event, Mr. Terezis said. The servers were teens from church youth groups from around the region.

“That’s being smart — to be able to leverage what we do as a small community to really make a difference.”