Hundreds of clergy and faithful from throughout the metropolitan New York City area joined hierarchs from the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas [SCOBA] and the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches [SCOOCH] and dozens of representatives from the United Nations at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral here on Monday, October 6, 2003 for the third annual Orthodox Prayer Service for the UN Community.
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, hosted and presided at this year’s service, before which His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America welcomed the numerous UN ambassadors, diplomatic representatives, and staff members in attendance.
“Orthodox communities in the United States and around the world are well aware of the evil potential of religion when it is misused,” Metropolitan Herman told the over 400 attendees in an address at the conclusion of the service. “Extremist nationalism or other forms of extremist ideologies often seek to harness the energy of religion to their own purposes and aims. Sometimes, religious communities succumb to manipulation and to the temptations of idolatrous nationalism, ethnocentrism, or other forms of ideological extremism.
“The true ministry of the Orthodox Christian faith, of Orthodox Christian communities, is loving service to God and to humanity,” Metropolitan Herman continued. “We believe that every human being carries the image and likeness of God. When we honor the human being, we honor God. When we serve human community and the common good, we are imitators of God, we are disciples of Christ, we are full of the Holy Spirit.”
Mr. Joseph Stephanides, Director of the Security Council Affairs Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs read a message from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was unable to attend the service.
“This year, we welcome such services more than ever,” the message read. “Just seven weeks ago, our United Nations family was struck by a brutal and barbaric blow. Colleagues who were in Iraq with no other mission than to help its people build a better future, were taken from us, from their families, and from the people they were working to assist. We, whose work is so wrapped up in the tragedies of others, continue now to wrestle with one of our own.
“But if our hearts are filled with sorrow, and our minds with images of violence, our spirits can still draw strength from occasions such as this, where people of different cultures and faiths come together in friendship,” the message continued. “We need that strength, the comfort of sharing grief with friends, the solace of prayer. As the grieving process takes its course, and the work of healing continues, we must also learn to draw purpose from this experience. We must learn to apply the lessons it has taught us. We must find the best way to honor the memory of our fallen friends, and carry on their work. We must confront death by reaffirming the value of life.”
Mr. Annan concluded by calling upon the hierarchs and faithful to “pray for our lost colleagues, and for their families and loved ones.
“I ask you to pray for the rest of us, that we may find the right way forward, [and ] I ask you to pray for Iraq and for the whole family of nations, that people everywhere be allowed to live in dignity, freedom, justice and peace,” his statement concluded.
Ambassador Adamantios Th. Vassilakis, Permanent Representative of Greece to the UN, challenged the assembly to present the world with “the human face of Christianity.”
“We, Orthodox people especially, come from a long tradition of suffering and searching,” Ambassador Vassilakis noted. “Our collective psyche is steeped in experiences of great hardship, uprooting and despair. Yet, we endured. With faith and dignity, we always responded to challenge, we always hoped and worked for a better future.”
“Orthodoxy had to carry the heavy cross of foreign domination, but has thus been relieved of the burdens of a medieval past,” Ambassador Vassilakis continued. “The relationship of the faithful to the institution has remained a natural one, and love, tolerance, peace, conciliation have been flowing without discrimination, as at the first hour, [presenting] the human face of Christianity.”
Armenia’s Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the UN Armen Martirossian, also addressed those gathered for the service.
“The first such service took place two years ago, in the shadow of the shocking events of September 11,” Ambassador Martirossian noted. “In the aftermath of that terrible day, an international coalition emerged to fight the dreadful scourge of terrorism. Alas, despite the best intentions and efforts undertaken by the international community, the world has not become a safer place since then.
“For this reason, we must never shy away from bringing a spiritual dimension to the work of the United Nations, he continued. “For though military, political, economic and social concerns may be important, it is the spiritual element alone which will make the United Nations the common sanctuary of mankind, whose highest objective is peace and security for all.”
Father Leonid Kishkovsky, the Orthodox Church in America’s Officer for External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, served as the “master of ceremonies,” introducing the speakers and the program. In his words of introduction he noted that the primary role and emphasis of the Orthodox Churches is always religious and spiritual, yet this religious witness must often be performed in the context of relations with civil society and with governments. “Sometimes the witness of the Orthodox Churches has meant standing firmly and faithfully under the blows of persecution and even genocide, sometimes the witness of the Orthodox Churches requires constructive interaction with civil society and with governments.” He pointed out that the Orthodox Churches in the US, and especially in New York, have a special responsibility for the UN community, since the headquarters of the UN is in New York City.
In addition to Ambassadors Vassilakis and Martirossian and Mr. Stephanides, members of the UN community attending the service, which was organized by the hierarchs of SCOBA and SCOOCH, included US Ambassador John D. Negroponte; Moldovan Ambassador Vsevolod Grigori; Polish Ambassador Janusz Stanczyk; Romanian Ambassador Mihnea Motoc, who was accompanied by Mr. Marius Ioan Dragolea, Deputy Permanent Representative; Serbian and Montenegrin Ambassador Dejan Sahovic; Slovak Acting Permanent Representative Klara Novotna; Ukrainian Deputy Permanent Representative Markiyan Kulyk; Albanian Ambassador Agim Nesho; Belarusian Acting Permanent Representative Oleg Ivanov; Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek; Cypriot Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis; Egyptian Amassador Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit; Ethiopian Deputy Permanent Representative Teruneh Zenna; Finnish Ambassador Stu Marjatta Rasi; Georgian Deputy Permanent Representative Kaha Chitaia; Indian Ambassador Vijay Nambiar; Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Charge d’Affaires Dimce Nikolov.
Eastern Orthodox hierarchs in attendance, in addition to Metropolitan Herman and Archbishop Demetrios, included His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of New York and New Jersey [OCA]; His Eminence, Archbishop Nicolae, Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada; His Grace, Bishop Mercurius, Moscow Patriarchal Parishes; His Grace, Bishop Antoun, Auxiliary, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; His Grace, Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, Greek Archdiocese; His Grace, Bishop Savas, Chancellor of the Greek Archdiocese; and His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Baltimore [OCA], Auxiliary to Metropolitan Herman.
Oriental Orthodox hierarchs present included His Eminence, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America [Eastern]; His Eminence, Archbishop Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox, Archdiocese of America; His Eminence, Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch; and His Grace, Bishop David, Coptic Orthodox Church, Archdiocese of North America.
Concelebrating the Vesper Service, at which a combined choir from Saint Vladimir Seminary, Crestwood, NY and Saint Tikhon Seminary, South Canaan, PA offered the liturgical responses, were Protopresbyter Frank Estocin, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA; Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick, OCA; the Rev. Djokan Majstorovic, Serbian Orthodox Diocese; the Very Rev. Luke Mihaly, American Carpatho-Russian Diocese; the Very Rev. Ioan Casian Tunaru, Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese; the Rev. Elias Villis, Greek Archdiocese; and the Rev. Thomas Zain, Antiochian Archdiocese.
The “Good Shepherd Choir” from St. Mary and St. Anthony Coptic Orthodox Church performed a number of traditional Coptic hymns after the service.
The service was followed by a reception in the cathedral center, at which “The Good Shepherd Choir” of St. Mary and St. Anthony Coptic Orthodox Church, under the direction of Mr. Jan Naguib, sang a number of selections.