Living the Gospel: Seminarian, Alumnus Join IOCC New Orleans Project Team

Erik Potter

Seminarian Erik Potter and Alumnus Fr. Mark Vair (1st and 2nd from the left, back row) and IOCC work crewSeminarian Erik Potter and Alumnus Fr. Mark Vair (1st and 2nd from the left, back row) and IOCC work crewAs a seminarian, it can be very easy to lose yourself in classes and books, giving most of your attention to Liturgy, Patristics and Scripture. While these are all wonderful and formative pursuits, in many ways we only taste the fruit of that growth in opportunities to live out the gospel in the love and practical service of our neighbor.  I was blessed to have such an opportunity this winter, working with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.  This was the third year that IOCC, with the help of generous donors, sponsored a week long Seminarian Home Build Team in Louisiana, precisely with the hope of fostering a love of service and empowering future servants of the Church to find ways they can practically show the love of Christ to a world desperately in need of it. 

The IOCC asked only for a $150 donation, primarily just to ensure our commitment and personal investment, and they provided for travel, accommodations, and (fitting the city's reputation) some of the best food one could hope for. This year's team consisted of three seminarians from Hellenic College/Holy Cross, one from St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary, one from St. Herman's Orthodox Theological Seminary, myself from St. Vladimirs, as well as St. Vladimir's alumnus Fr. Mark Vair (2015), and Fr. Rick Andrews from St. George Greek Orthodox Church, St. Paul, MN. We were led by the IOCC's U.S. Director, Dan Christopulos.  

I had the pleasure of traveling from Boston with George and Thomas, two of Holy Cross' seminarians, and it became evident even before the project had formally begun that the fellowship would be a highlight. It is truly encouraging to pray, eat, work, and socialize side by side with faithful Orthodox Christians, all dedicated to a common goal and moved by the same Spirit. We made a point of sharing our reflections and thoughts after vespers each day, and I deeply appreciate the insights and inspiration of my fellow students, and the guidance and experience of our leaders. As iron sharpens iron, sharing the week as a group we were capable of learning and growing so much more from the project.

The condition of the city itself drew into sharp focus the damage people are capable of, as well as the profound good that can be done when people decide to give of themselves to help their brothers and sisters. While the city has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina, the physical and social scars are still readily apparent. We made a point of visiting the Presbytere Museum, which focuses very heavily on the Hurricane and its aftermath. For all the strength of the storm, it became painfully apparent that much of the human cost was owed to problems of planning, communication and even indifference.  However, the tragedy also brought out many shining examples of selfless love, from the constant efforts of Habitat for Humanity and countless volunteers to rebuild what was destroyed, to churches like Peace Lutheran, our host for the week, who despite their own financial difficulties, have made every effort to make service to the community a defining part of their ministry.

It was clear early on that the immediate difference we were able to make on this trip was relatively small compared to all the work that needed to be done.  We did some carpentry, cleaning, weather-proofing, and painting on six different properties, but left with quite a lot of work remaining. We were there to learn and prepare for a lifetime of service. Since 1992 IOCC has been a shining example of pan-Orthodox charitable outreach to all corners of the world, regardless of the faith of those in need, believing that caring for others is a necessary element of a Christian life. In recent years they have expanded their efforts to domestic disaster relief, training first responders, and cooperating with other charitable organizations, to best provide necessary services. We saw this first hand in the partnership with Habitat. A tremendous impact can be made with existing resources, whether it be the use of parish halls or the giving of time and talent. 

The retreat was a practical lesson in living the Gospel, through prayer, community, and service.  I will gratefully carry that lesson with me.

Read more about the IOCC project

Erik Gregory Potter is a first-year Master of Divinity student from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North. He comes to St. Vladimir's by way of St. George Church in Norwood, MA, where he also learned a deep appreciation for liturgical music and good food. Erik holds a Bachelor of Arts in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, where he developed his love for biblical languages and first discovered the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa, eventually his patron saint. He is discerning a priestly vocation, and hopes to serve Christ's Church to the best of his abilities in whatever way God sees fit.