My Beloved Children of the Southern Diocese,
Today, Sunday, September 4, 2005 the churches throughout the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States will dedicate a prayer for all the Hurricane Katrina victims during the Divine Liturgy.
America is experiencing an unprecedented, catastrophic disaster in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. Within these two states, our Coptic congregation of St. Mark in New Orleans have 5 families that since Hurricane Katrina cannot be accounted for, while others are displaced and have no homes, jobs, businesses, schools and colleges to return to.
There have been no updates regarding the status of the St. Mark New Orleans Church at the present time but from some satellite pictures before and after the hurricane, the following can be concluded:
- The area including the church is without doubt seriously flooded.
- The water appears to be about 6-8 feet high from street level (judging from appearance of several objects with different heights, e.g., the sidewalks are not visible meaning that they are well covered, the sign in front is not visible either, meaning that it is totally covered, the roof of the house which is one story is not covered, and the small trees on the Fillmore street side are not covered.
- Since the Church's floor is elevated about 2 feet from street level, it can be said that water is about 4-6 feet above Church's floor, which means that floor carpet, benches, part of the iconostasis, part of walls…etc., are under water. However, icons may be barely above water level or may not.
New Orleans, Louisiana, Gulfport, Mississippi and their surrounding cities have insurmountable death tolls, widespread flooding and unimaginable destruction from Hurricane Katrina. Many have asked "what can I do to help?"
First, the Southern Diocese needs to be fervently zealous in assisting the Coptic Church and those families affected by the hurricane through our prayers and through immediate organized, unified, and generous monetary donations. Through the collection from the churches in Asia Minor for the church in Jerusalem experiencing a great trial of affliction, St. Paul teaches us the love of man to God and to his brother. St. Paul praises the Macedonians example of exemplary giving, describing to the Corinthian Church that the "abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely giving” (II Corinthians 8:2-3). We in the Southern Diocese must imitate and initiate this model of giving.
The Gospel commands us to provide support to our Coptic congregation based in New Orleans, Louisiana; For St. Paul continues in his instructions that the proof of our love to God is in the giving of our gifts to the churches, "…therefore show to them and before the churches the proof of your love" (II Corinthians 8:24). Again, the Diocese is requesting that all monetary donations be specifically channeled through the Diocese for the St. Mark Church and those Copts in need.
Second, as citizens of the United States of America we must not stand back and observe in shock this disastrous occurrence. We must take further action. How? Your local congregations must be unified as a whole in the collecting of needed food, water supply, toiletry items, infant necessities, clothing, school supplies and nearby shelters. Purchased items should be compiled and taken to the agreed place or places of need as a unified congregation effort.
We teach our youth at Sunday School that "God so loved the world..." (John 3:16). How does this biblical fact relate to the Hurricane Katrina national disaster? It means the world consists not only of our earthly home, our human families, but also our nation--the United States of America.
In practical example of Hurricane Katrina we must teach them to love the world in this time of need and to give action to that love as did God, "He gave His only begotten Son…" Our children should through their Sunday School programs, compliment the adult church efforts, collecting and giving food, clothing, and toiletry items to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Hurricane Katrina Relief Shelters, and/or any other reputable relief organization from within their personal resources and means. Sunday School servants are to be motivating and eager to assist the children in the organization of the Sunday School relief project within each church.
Certainly any disaster relief effort starts with our love of God and giving to those we know but to add meaning to our lives we need to learn about whom God would have us care for especially those in trials of affliction.
Finally, let us all remember that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these? He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs" (John 21:15). The Lord Jesus Christ tells St. Peter very plainly if you really mean what you say, you must serve the flock.
What does "Do you love me?" mean to us during this time of crisis? It means feed the hungry, care for the sick, help those who are misfortunate, provide for the homeless, assist those who do not know you.
It is my prayer today that all those fortunate to be within a Coptic Church to pray this morning, can account for all your family members, and have a home to go to following the Divine Liturgy be committed to helping those less fortunate, being true disciples who love the Lord.
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States