Parks, a native of Scarsdale, New York, who is majoring in International Studies and minoring in Orthodox Christian studies and Arabic, recently finished a 10-week summer internship with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical, and Interfaith Relations.
Parks worked in the diocese offices in Manhattan last summer on an informal basis. This year, the internship, which is a joint effort between the Archdiocese and Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, was formalized, with the center providing funding. It was enriching academically, intellectually, spiritually, and personally, he said.
“I have met some of the most caring and devoted people to the church at the Archdiocese. I have been mentored and cared for by some of the most accomplished people in their respective vocations, and the internship provided me the opportunity to learn about the operations of my church,” he said.
The internship was far more than fetching coffee or filing paperwork. The department that Parks worked for is tasked with finding ways for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which counts nearly 477,000 members, to engage in dialogue with other members of both Christian and non-Christian communities.
That meant helping organize and participate in the 46th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, which was held in New York City in July, and the July 4 consecration of the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, which was rebuilt at the World Trade Center after being destroyed on September 11, 2001.
Parks also worked to help the church clarify and amplify two major initiatives that are meant to illustrate how the church is in tune with contemporary concerns: Greening the Parish, which addresses environmental concerns, and civil rights.
It was no accident that someone his age was included in such high-level discussions, said Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations director Reverend Protopresbyter Nicolas Kazarian.
“It’s not just about mentorship; it’s also about having an ear to the ground, and hearing what the Orthodox youth are thinking about the church,” he said.
“What is racial reconciliation for an Orthodox 20-year-old student? We need to hear what they have to say about it because the institutional take on these issues is not always what is lived on the ground.”
Fordham students like Parks are invaluable for the church’s mission, he said, because the University is based in New York City just as the Archdiocese is, and its Jesuit heritage makes it the perfect environment for ecumenical dialogue. In the past, George E. Demacopoulos, Ph.D., and Aristotle Papanikolaou Ph.D., the Orthodox Christian Studies Center’s co-founding directors, directed students interested in ecumenical dialogue his way, so it made sense to formalize the connection.
“That’s how this started with Harry. He worked with us last year. He was already a brilliant student, and with his open-mindedness, he was a really great asset in the mission of our department,” he said.
Demacopoulos, the Father John Meyendorff & Patterson Family Chair of Orthodox Christian Studies, said the internship, which will be open to Fordham students every year now, is a natural outgrowth of the two institution’s partnership.
“We are delighted to build this partnership with the Ecumenical Office of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese so that Fordham students can gain real-life experience with the labor and fruit of ecumenical work,” he said.
Parks is planning to spend the next two years researching the “cradle” and “convert” constructs of Greek Orthodox Christian identity. His own family offers lessons for both, as his mother was baptized into the church as a child, while his father converted from Catholicism as an adult. He noted that the day before the Clergy-Laity Congress, he attended the Young Adults League Conference, and it was there that things really clicked for him.
“One of the things that a lot of the speakers kept saying was, ‘If you have a desire to give of your talents and experience to your church, then don’t wait for the church to come and call you. Go and knock on the church’s door,”’ he said.
“I hope this internship program will be an avenue for undergraduate students at Fordham to knock on the church’s door and to be received openly and gratefully.