A vision for a united Orthodox world: Interview with Orthodox philanthropist Helen Nicozisis

Author: 
Virginia Nieuwsma

During her more than three decades of serving as a trustee for the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), Helen Nicozisis became acquainted with SVOTS President Fr. Chad Hatfield. "Father Chad and I served on the OCMC board together," recalls Helen, "and as a result I became even more familiar with the ministry of St. Vladimir's. At one point, we even had a very enjoyable OCMC board meeting at the Seminary; while spending two days there, I was very impressed by the SVOTS commitment to the task of Orthodox education demonstrated by the students and the professors alike."

Helen and her husband Louis, whose family fled Greece in the aftermath of WWII, have been "paying it forward" through numerous philanthropic outlets ever since their Carpet Mart business in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was blessed with success. Helen was the first layperson to be the president of the OCMC board, and her role in chairing their capital campaign led to the construction and (in 2009) the dedication of the new OCMC headquarters in St. Augustine, Florida. Louis has also served in a significant leadership capacity as a trustee of the Greek Archdiocese's Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment.

Louis and Helen's love for the Church and for evangelism runs deep, and this has informed their decision over the years to be faithful donors of St. Vladimir's. In 2016 the couple helped underwrite the SVS Press book In Albania: Cross and Resurrection, a fascinating collection of interviews with His Beatitude Anastasios, archbishop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania.

Helen and Louis have been active members of Annunciation Church in Lancaster, PA, St. Mark Church in Boca Raton, FL, and St. Catherine Church in West Palm Beach, FL, and they are keenly aware of the need for well-trained clergy.

"The education of Orthodox priests, in order to spread the gospel to bring people to salvation, is absolutely crucial, life-saving work," Helen explains. "I've been impressed with St. Vladimir's scholarship program which makes this education possible. The seminarians are offered generous scholarships and are able to avoid incurring debt that they have to repay once they are priests. When our clergy go out into parishes and they have school debt it makes their ministry much more difficult."

Helen believes that today's priests face greater challenges than ever before. "There's a huge need for our clergy to offer meaningful sermons, and guidance that relates to the current atmosphere in which people are living. All our lives we've heard the story of the prodigal son, for instance—yet the sermon on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son needs to help us deal with the issues of our secular world's estrangement from God today.

"Additionally, we need clergy who are good administrators, know something about accounting and fundraising, and are internet-savvy! A lot of skills are required of them."

One reason Helen is a loyal donor to SVOTS and OCMC is because of the powerful example that was set in her formative years by her vibrant, missions minded priest, Fr. Alexander Veronis of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster.

"I love to see in all priests the ability that Fr. Alexander had to reach out across cultural backgrounds. Over his many years of ministry, Fr. Alexander promoted a spirit of outreach and evangelism in our parish and community in Lancaster and beyond," remembers Helen.

"These little isolated pockets of Orthodox Christianity are not what Christ wants for us!" Helen exclaims, adding that she is thankful for the collaboration and resource-sharing between St. Vladimir's, the OCMC, and the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity located at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.

"We need to develop a vision for what a united Orthodox world could do to impact the world for Christ and His Church."

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