New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
“Within 18 months, we’ve raised a million dollars,” Aristotle “Telly” Papanikolaou, Professor of Theology, co-founder and co-chair with George E. Demacopoulos, director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, said to cheers from about 180 benefactors, friends, and students attending the Center’s high-spirited benefit party at Thalassa Restaurant on June 10. “We thank you very much for your prayers and your support.”
Contributions from the benefit helped the Center meet the crucial first fundraising deadline for the recently awarded National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge Grant. The NEH will award $500,000 to the Center in four annual installments if Fordham raises $375,000 each year for a total of $1.5 million. The grant, said Papanikolaou, is “the single greatest affirmation of what we’re doing.”
Papanikolaou praised Fordham for “embracing the Orthodox community—not only the Greeks,” but all Orthodox Christians. The grant will do great things for Orthodoxy and for the Church.”
George Demacopoulos, Professor of Historical Theology, director and co-founder of the Center, said that only “funding research in Orthodox Christian Studies in institutions of higher learning, and investing in education” can change the fact that for too long “Orthodox Christianity has been an ‘asterisk’ in discussions about religion.”
The $2 million endowment resulting from the NEH grant will fund the center’s Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence program and Dissertation Completion Fellowship program. Fordham’s proposal to the NEH is now being used as a model by the agency. The $2 million endowment resulting from the prestigious grant will create two new programs for the Center: The Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence program and the Dissertation Completion Fellowship Program.
Papanikolaou and Demacopoulos presented two awards to Orthodox students at the Thalassa benefit: The Fr. John Long, S.J., Award for undergraduate achievement in the Orthodox Christian studies minor and/or potential for postgraduate studies in the field; and the Stella Moundas Award for Orthodox Christian Service, presented to a senior who has shown deep commitment to serving others during his or her undergraduate career.
The Makris brothers, owners of Thalassa, both Fordham University alumnae, were thanked by Demacopoulos and Papanikolaou for holding the benefit at Thalassa for the second year. Available to guests were copies of the book Dialogue of Love: Breaking the Silence of Centuries (Fordham University Press, 2014). Commemorating the 1964 visit to the Holy Land by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, the book was published in honor of the meeting in May, in Jerusalem, of Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who received an honorary degree from Fordham University in 2009.
“The Orthodox Christian Studies Center is especially known for providing a forum for discussing issues relevant to the Orthodox,” Papa Nikolaou said to the GN. “We are also unique in that we were the first to form a minor in Orthodox Christian Studies at Fordham to serve our Orthodox students.”
“Basically, we are a research institution dedicated to advancing knowledge about Orthodox Christianity, but we do so by critically engaging the Orthodox tradition. We hope to reach an academic audience, but also want to provide resources for those involved in the Church–lay and cleric. Finally, and especially since we are housed in a Catholic university, one of our driving missions is to promote Christian unity.”
|Candace Lukasik spoke with the GN about the Orthodox Studies Center from a student’s point of view. “Next year, I will be the inaugural Research Fellow in Coptic Orthodox Studies at the Orthodox Christian Studies Center. I’m honored to be a part of the Center. As an anthropologist who focuses on Orthodox Christian practices, cultures, and politics, I’m incredibly grateful to the Center for providing a space to discuss the relation of theology to practice, and religious institutions to politics.” She is also a part of the Center’s five-year research initiative on Orthodox Christianity and human rights funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and Leadership 100, which explores how different Orthodox communities and institutions have engaged with and responded to the emergence of human rights discourse. “The Orthodox Christian Studies Center is a gathering space for academics working on Orthodox Christianity and its corresponding communities in all their cultural diversity, theological richness, and shifting landscapes. Orthodox Christianity is not simply a tradition practiced by theologians, but one which has a vibrancy of sociocultural and political discussions that must be brought to the fore. The Center is allowing many of us social scientists, and others in the humanities, to do so.”|
On June 11-13. the Orthodox Studies Center held its third Solon and Marianna Patterson Triennial Conference on Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue at the Rose Hill campus, made possible by a 2008 gift from Solon and Marianna Patterson. Solon and Marianna Patterson were honored in March at Fordham’s annual Founders Dinner
The conference brought together international scholars, such as Rowan Williams, D.Phil., master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge, who delivered “The Embodied Logos: The Renewal of Mind and the Transformation of Sense,” which made the case that the pursuit of knowledge is inextricably bound to humanity’s connections to God, and Stanley Hauerwas, Ph.D., (Time Magazine’s 2001“America’s Best Theologian”), who discussed the compatibility of Christianity and democracy.
Before introducing Williams, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, presented His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, former primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, given his retirement a month ago, with the President’s Medal, one of the University’s highest honors, saying, “He has been a man of deep learning and deep holiness.”
The Archbishop had been awarded an honorary degree from Fordham in a a ceremony in 2007, and, Father McShane said it was fitting to honor him again for bringing the community of the Greek Orthodox Church to a “position of great renewal.” “When I introduced him to Pope Benedict when the Pope was here in New York, I reflected afterward that it was a great honor to introduce the Pope to a saint. I stand by this. He has simply been an amazing presence in the United States.”
The Archbishop, for whom the Orthodox Christian Studies program’s first chair was named in 2013, was equally effusive in his thanks, saying it was a great surprise to receive it. “This is a tremendous gift, and knowing that Father McShane is a person of truth, in what he does, what he is, and what he says, that makes this offering that much more important.”
Note: On March 13 at Fordham University’s third annual Sponsored Research Day, George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou, as co-directors of Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, shared the award for the Humanities category in the Outstanding Externally Funded Research Awards (OEFRA) presented by the University Research Council and Office of Research to faculty members for their achievements in securing externally funded research grants within the last three years.
Demacopoulos has received awards totaling $928,000 in the past three years, while Papanikolaou has received a total of $888,000. Last April, they secured two grants totaling $610,000 that will be used to fund a multiyear research project devoted toward the issue of human rights. Their work has enhanced Fordham’s reputation both nationally and globally.