For his own part, Mr. Rangos has watched IOCC evolve from a fragile, nascent entity into the effective humanitarian agency it is today, something for which he has strived tirelessly ever since the agency’s earliest days, when his concept of IOCC was still just an idea buzzing in his head.
“It was the end of the Cold War, and I was watching what was happening in Orthodox lands all over the world. It wasn’t just Russia. People were suffering tremendously because of poverty-stricken conditions in the Balkans, and I knew something had to be done. One person acting alone wouldn’t be enough, but an organization with a clear mission could make a difference,” Mr. Rangos said.
“IOCC really brought Orthodoxy together. That side of the story has never really been told,” he said, recalling a crucial meeting he had with then Archbishop Iakovos and Patriarch Alexy, which ultimately led to a forum discussing IOCC during the first annual Leadership 100 conference held in Tampa, Florida back in January 1992 (the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund, an organization supported by many leading Greek Americans across the country, issues grants to help the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese advance its various ministries).
Patriarch Alexy came to New York and told Archbishop Iakovos about the deplorable socioeconomic conditions afflicting Russia at the time. Archbishop Iakovos had also summoned Mr. Rangos to New York so that the three men could confer about how to address the unbearable deprivation.
“Patriarch Alexy came to me and said thousands of children in Russia were hungry, sick and dying. ‘Please help us save our children,’ he told me. So I asked Archbishop Iakovos to help me arrange an open discussion in Tampa to help start IOCC. I told him it was time for Greek Americans, the second most affluent minority group in the United States, to step up,” Mr. Rangos said.
“In Tampa, I stressed to my fellow Leadership 100 members that shelves were bare and kids were dying in Russia. I also stressed that we have the second largest number of Christian adherents in the world, but that we had nothing to show for it in terms of philanthropy, and that we had to do something about it. It was time for Greek Americans and other Orthodox Christians in America to make an effort across the board,” he said.
“People all liked the idea, but most just wanted to write a check and be done with it. As important as it is to give money, however, sending a check isn’t enough for something of this magnitude. For something like this, you really need faith in doing the right thing,” he added.
The (now late) Archbishop was initially skeptical, but Mr. Rangos assured him that the airlifts to Russia would be the crowning achievement of his archiepiscopal tenure: “Archbishop Iakovos thought at his age too risky undertaking. I remember him saying he thought it was a big risk to place IOCC under SCOBA. Some Greek Americans were also hesitant to go through with it,” Mr. Rangos said.
“But I pulled him aside and asked him, ‘Have I ever made a promise I never kept?’ He said, no. And I promised him that this would be the crown jewel of his ministry: ‘Your Eminence, history is beckoning for us to move. This is the time for us to shine, and I think we should move relentlessly toward helping our Orthodox brethren who are suffering. God has been good not only to the Greek Orthodox in this country, but to all Orthodox in America, and once our friends see the Greek Orthodox move ahead aggressively, our Orthodox brethren, I’m sure they’ll gladly join us. The Catholic Church has Catholic Charities. Our Protestant and Jewish friends have their organizations. Orthodox Christians need their own humanitarian organization, and I promise you this will be the great gem on your crown.’ And he gave me his blessing,” Mr. Rangos added.
That’s when Mr. Rangos got serious. He proceeded to organize and finance a large part of the effort himself, pooling the necessary resources and organizations together to make it possible.
“I just wanted to make sure IOCC could get to the point where it could stand on its own two feet,” Mr. Rangos said, downplaying the decisiveness of his own role in helping the agency get from being a sorely underfunded program to that critical point of organizational independence.
“Archbishop Iakovos was a very important figure in my life. He was concerned about the high risk in creating IOCC because it was a major endeavor, and starting any major organization is never an easy task. IOCC almost failed many times. If we didn’t get material on those planes to Russia, it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground,” he said.
Several members of Leadership 100 sent checks, Mr. Rangos noted, to include Mr. Athens, George Marcus and Bert Moyar. From the Antiochian Archdiocese, Mr. Ajalat and Dr. George Farha were also very strong and steady supporters.
Other people also helped along the way, Mr. Rangos added: John Catsimatidis organized a fundraiser in New York which generated $100,000 ($25,000 of which were donated by the Rangos Foundation), and the participation of non-Orthodox groups was also indispensable.