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Elenie K. Huszagh is Installed as NCC President for 2002-3

November 15, 2001, OAKLAND, Calif. -- Elenie K. Huszagh of Nehalem, Ore., an attorney and a prominent lay member of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, was installed Nov. 15 as 21st president of the National Council of Churches.

She is the first Orthodox woman and the first Orthodox lay person to hold that office. The installation took place at a special service of vespers (evening prayer) at Oakland’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, with some 600 in attendance.

Among the Greek Orthodox dignitaries from around the country who attended the service was Archbishop Demetrios, the spiritual leader of the United States’ two million Greek Orthodox. He came from New York to participate in the service.

Before delivering the sermon, the Archbishop remarked that the "majestic service in this venerable church" marks "the changing of the guard at the National Council of Churches as for the first time a lay person from our Orthodox Church becomes the president." He pointed to Ms. Huszagh’s high qualifications, in particular her "constant, indefatigable way of working and offering. She’s always eager to assist."

The brief installation ceremony featured the passing of a cross and chain from the outgoing president to the incoming one. Ambassador Andrew Young of Atlanta, Ga., the NCC’s president in 2000-2001, placed the cross and chain around Ms. Huszagh’s neck at the moment of the "declaration of installation."

"Elenie, you bring your training in law, your love as a mother and wife, and the history, heritage and wisdom that comes from this glorious and magnificent Greek Orthodox tradition," said the Rev. Young, a United Church of Christ minister.

Also installed at the ceremony was the NCC’s new president-elect, Bishop Thomas Hoyt of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, a resident of Shreveport, La. The Rev. Dr. Hoyt will serve as NCC president in 2004-05, but as president-elect is already a Council officer.

The installation ceremony incorporated the reading of a message of "congratulations and fraternal greetings" from His All Holiness Bartholomew the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America falls under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate.

Music was provided by the Oakland Bay Area Choir under the direction of Dr. Tikey Zes and by Ms. Anna Marakis Counelis, organist. Participants in the choir came from 11 area parishes.

Following the service, those assembled moved into a festive reception and banquet featuring Greek music and food. Among special guests bringing greetings were the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, who noted the National Council of Churches’ "historic role in ecumenical dialogue, common witness and action for justice" and the challenge of interreligious dialogue "as key for the peace of nations."

In her remarks at the banquet, Ms. Huszagh noted that "in all of recorded history and most likely before, people have divided themselves into an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’"

It starts early, she said. The first "us" is "our family," and "them" is everyone else. Nations also divide themselves into "us" and "them," usually considering "us" and "them" bad. Within nations, people of other races, religions and ethnicities also get defined as "them."

"The National Council of Churches has never seen the world this way," Mrs. Huszagh said. "Our contribution has been to say that we are all created in the image of God."

She continued, "Anyone of us can become a ‘them’ for any reason at any time," recalling particularly the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II. "On September 11, a new ‘them’ entered our life. But these are shadowy figures, all over the world … "

Ms. Huszagh urged her listeners to reject making Muslims the new "them," saying, "No religion, including Islam, supports terror or killing. We Americans must not demonize them to justify whatever actions we might take. We must act to provide a more secure and peaceful life for all."

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