With the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, Archpriest Alexander Rentel, OCA Chancellor, traveled to Europe from March 23 to April 2, 2022 to see first hand the operations of Eleos and its humanitarian efforts for the Ukrainian refugees.
Monday, March 28 to March 30, Father Alexander traveled to Poland, where he was met by Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak and Aleksander Wasyluk and taken to Bialystok. There he went to the Suprasl Academy, where a number of Ukrainian refugees are staying.
While there, Father Alexander had the opportunity to meet with women and children staying there for five weeks. He was given a tour of the facility by Ina Dobrowolska, a refugee from Enerhodar. Ina was recently hired by the Suprasl Academy to manage their care programme. This was made possible by the funds provided by the OCA.
On Tuesday, March 29 Father Alexander met with His Eminence Archbishop Jacob of Bialystok and Gdańsk to discuss the present situation in Poland.
The Archbishop noted that one of the side effects of the refugee crisis is that the refugees who are Orthodox are being cared for in cities and villages without Orthodox Churches. His Eminence told the story of one such city without an Orthodox church and how the local Roman Catholic bishop reached out to him offering to use one of his church buildings for the celebration of the Orthodox Divine Services.
Later that day, Father Alexander was met by Archpriest Doroteusz Sawicki, Eleos Executive Director. Father Doroteusz gave Father Alexander a tour of the Orthodox nursing home “Betania” in the town of Stanislawow, located near the Church of Saint Alexandra. The priest, Archpriest Andrew Bolbot, also manages the nursing home which has converted unused rooms to care for refugees. Some of the other unused space has been converted into a classroom where lessons on the Polish language are taught. The conversion of this space, which included the purchase of tables and chairs, was made possible through the donations from the OCA. The parish has also procured space in a local hotel, which has given thirty rooms to house sixty refugees. Father Alexander visited this hotel and spent time with the refugees who were mostly the families of priests.
Later on the same day, Father Alexander met with His Beatitude Metropolitan Sawa to further discuss the situation in Poland. During these meetings there were discussions of the OCA’s recent fundraiser for Ukrainian refugee aid. Father Alexander was able to see firsthand how the Eleos agency operates and intends to use the raised funds to help the many displaced persons fleeing from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Father Alexander said “I want to thank Eleos for its tireless work supporting the thousands of refugees requiring help. As they care for the refugees they obey the instruction of the Apostle Paul ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’ (Heb. 13:2). We are pleased that the large outpouring of support from the faithful of the Orthodox Church in America, over $700,000, is being used by Eleos to help the displaced persons begin the difficult work of rebuilding their lives after such horrible tragedy.”
During their meeting, Father Alexander conveyed the greetings of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon and the faithful of the Orthodox Church in America. Metropolitan Sawa expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of love and support from a sister Church. The Church of Poland and the OCA enjoy a close and longstanding relationship, with His Beatitude having made an official visit to the church in 2018, and which has only been further strengthened by the funds donated by the OCA.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon remarked, “I give thanks to God for the warm relationship between the sister Churches of the Orthodox Church of Poland and the Orthodox Church in America. Because of our close ties, we in North America have the opportunity to directly support the good work of the Polish Church in this current refugee crisis to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger (cf. Matt. 25:35). I am equally grateful for the generosity of the Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike who have made their donations in the OCA’s appeal. In the darkness of war, people’s compassionate and open hands are a small light in a grim moment. In the future, I hope the cooperation and mutual support between our Churches will continue so we might fulfill the words of Christ in His high priestly prayer that “they may be one, even as we are one (Jn. 17:22).”
On Wednesday, March 30, Father Alexander traveled to Bucharest, Romania to meet His Grace Bishop Andrei of Cleveland to make a fraternal visit to the Romanian Orthodox Church. His Grace Bishop Andrei and Father Alexander there met His Grace Bishop Varlaam of Ploiești, Patriarchal Vicar Bishop. The meeting discussed matters of common concern and to present the Romanian Orthodox Church with a gift of $10,000 from the Orthodox Church in America. The Metropolitan Council voted to give this gift to the ROC for the purpose of helping with the humanitarian crisis in Romania precipitated by the war in Ukraine and as a sign of the good-will and cooperation between our churches.
Recently, Father Alexander held a conference call with Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak and Aleksander Wasyluk to follow up on the state of the crisis and work being done by Eleos since his return from Europe.
Mr. Wasyluk gave further details that the emergency relief donations are being divided into thirds for immediate, short, and long term relief projects. Immediate emergency relief includes basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. Stoves, fridges, and other appliances have been bought to set up kitchens to process the three to four tons of food, vegetables, and produce needed to feed the several hundred thousand refugees in Warsaw alone.
Once these basic needs are met, the refugees short term needs are addressed such as enrolling children in schools and day cares, securing equipment and computer access so the refugees can access training and find employment in Poland. The Polish Orthodox Church also is meeting other needs including computer training so refugees can find jobs, cultural integration courses to help Ukrainians navigate Polish society and language, pastoral and spiritual needs through items like prayer books, and care for children such as daycamps and trips. Archdeacon Joseph explained the critical role childcare plays in freeing up time for the parents who need the flexibility for work, training, and other needs.
For long term needs, Archdeacon Joseph explained the local Orthodox dioceses are best equipped to meet these needs of the refugees as they resettle and the final third of the funding is available to the dioceses in the form of grants which they may apply for. Since most of the refugees are being settled in the areas where Orthodox are least numerous, this approach allows each diocese the flexibility it needs to help the refugees in its care in the most effective way possible for each particular context.
The total collection raised by the Orthodox Church in America for the Ukrainian refugee relief fund was $739,726.45. Thank you to all who donated.