Sunday, November 30, 2014

Living on the Edge

We were preparing to go as a family to Ethiopia and were speaking at a church hoping to find a few more individuals who would be excited to join our support team.  After our presentation, while we were chatting with friends before moving on to the service, a very  nicely dressed woman came to me and asked the question that was probably on many minds that morning.  ‘How in good conscience can you take your girls and raise them there in Ethiopia?’  Our girls were 10 and 8 at the time, and her question was asked in such a way as to make it quite clear that she considered ‘there’ to be a highly undesirable place to take children, much less have them stay there.  I’m not normally quick on my feet, but somehow I responded, ‘How in good conscience can you take your kids and raise them here in the US?’  I later noticed she wasn’t among our supporters.

Firstborn on the edge in Ethiopia

I have observed that we in the US who are privileged to be of a certain economic status possess an astonishing illusion of security.  We accumulate insurance policies for every possible disaster. We no longer worry about Dad getting us lost again, GPS will guide us to our desired haven.  Debit cards, credit cards, charge cards facilitate the disbursement of our treasure.  We have checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts.  We spend our adult lives pulling down our small barns and building larger ones.  We leap on the latest technology like hyenas on a fresh kill.  We abandon our early adulthood grotty apartments in the cheaper parts of town for increasingly spacious homes amongst the better sort.  If more stuff is a sign of the kingdom of heaven, then we of all people have surely arrived.

Secondborn on the edge in Ethiopia

And yet for all the security we have amassed, all the resources we can access, all the learning opportunities and educational experiences we provide for ourselves and our children, all the media with which we can distract ourselves, I can’t tell that it has reduced the number of families that fail, or the number of men and women who struggle with depression.  Alcoholism continues to destroy lives, as does addiction to narcotics of all kinds.  We are in denial over the scope and damage of child sexual abuse, as well as the devastating impact divorce and ongoing dysfunctional marriages has on the lives of many of the children who are involved.  It’s not enough for our kids to run around outside with make believe guns playing army.  Images of horrific violence are omnipresent on the screens in front of not only our grown-ups but our boys and girls, too.  And kids who have smart phones and tablets and computers are kids who not only can access pornography but most likely do.  And if these things weren’t distressing enough, despite our vaunted health care system and all those medicines that are touted when I am trying to watch the evening news (Don’t you just want to run out and try Cialis?), the death rate remains dismayingly high at about 100%.  However much we fork over for security and peace of mind, sooner or later reality will overtake us – there is no safe place.  Why would anyone want to raise children in a world like this?  Ethiopia was an island of sanity in comparison.

Driving on the edge in Addis Ababa

It turns out that all of us are living on the edge.  There is no safe place in this world.  John Bunyan’s Pilgrim is in fact Everyman (and Everywoman).  All of us are fleeing the City of Destruction.  We find ourselves at various points mired in the Slough of Despond, or drawn like moths to the flame of Vanity Fair, or engaged in mortal combat with Apollyon himself.  This is for real.  Some of us won’t make it.

Ok, maybe not on the edge, but certainly on the equator.  Literally.

I’ve seen it again and again.  Maybe at some time we were ‘on fire for the Lord.’  We were active in a student fellowship.  Went to prayer meetings.  Went to Bible studies.  Went to church.  But when we left the hot house, we got a job.  Maybe we got married.  Maybe we had kids.  And those kids grew up and were involved in sports or music.  Maybe we started going to church with them.  Maybe we did our turn teaching Sunday school or keeping the nursery.  We sat in our regular spot on Sunday mornings and went about our very busy life the rest of the week.  And if someone would have asked, of course we are Christians.  We go to such and such church. We say grace before we eat supper.  We do no more and no less than everybody else we know.  It’s like that big dresser or bureau in the bedroom, with drawers for my running kit in the bottom, shirts in the middle and socks and underwear on top.  In the dresser of our life we have a drawer for our finances, a drawer for our family, a drawer for our professional life, a drawer for fun, and a drawer for our spiritual life.  It is the classic, ordinary American Christian life.

Me really on the edge in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia

This may work beautifully from a pragmatic American perspective.  But it is not a Christian life.  There are no ordinary Christians, who add ‘Christianity’ to an already overbusy life as if it were an elective one signs up for at school.  There are only men and women who have chosen to deny themselves and to take up their cross and follow Jesus.  The Lord knows no other category of follower other than disciple.  Being a Christian, in the New Testament sense, is not about adding yet another layer of illusory security, or some further spit and shine on an already successful burnished life.  Rather, Jesus more likely will deal with us as he dealt with the money changers in the temple.  Our carefully arranged tables of priorities get seriously overturned in this process.  Turns out ‘My Father’s House’ is about something different than me making money, or me being successful, or me achieving security, or even Me.

Yours truly playing with fire so far in the very south west of Ethiopia that it might be South Sudan.  Or Kenya.

So the American Christianity with which we are so comfortable, which is filled with ordinary Christians like us as well as with a few [choose your adjective:] really committed, holy, godly, sanctified, Spirit-filled [now choose your noun:] pastors, priests, monks, nuns, missionaries, hierarchs is in fact a mutant form of Christianity.  It’s just become so pervasive that we think it’s normal.  It isn’t.

Lots of edges to fall off of in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia

God doesn’t call the special people to go do special things and then leave the rest of us alone to lead our ordinary lives.  God calls each one of us.  Let me say this again:  God’s call comes to each one of us.  Every single one of us has a calling from God.  We are called by Jesus to be His disciple.  We are called to love God with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength.  We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We are called to engage the world around us, the world of contexts and relationships God placed us uniquely in, with the gospel.  And to paraphrase St. Francis, in doing so we may find it necessary from time to time to use words.  And the world we are living in has a very deceptive appearance.  It may seem to be a well-to-do suburban neighborhood with nice cars and lawns just so.  Or a busy college campus where everyone is above average.  Or a church full of people beautifully dressed and coiffed who probably couldn’t even spell the word ‘sin’ if challenged to do so.  But this world in which you and I find ourselves is terribly broken.  People are fallen.  Alcoholics shuffling down the blighted urban street are not the only ones medicating their pain.  The executive pushing others out of the way as he climbs up to what he thinks he needs and wants discovers that more money and more status cannot fill the black hole of his heart.  That woman’s husband batters her with his words and fists, but she is terrified to let anybody know because she is afraid that she will lose what’s left of the only life she knows.  That boy carries a secret too terrible to let anyone know – he is being abused by a relative.

Kermit the Frog on the edge in Kenya.

It is into this dark world that we followers of Jesus are called to carry His light and life and hope and peace.  Or, in other words, I may be called to be a missionary to engage in theological education in Kenya, but you are called, too.  You are surrounded by a crowd of people who don’t have the slightest idea what love looks like.  I may find myself living on the edge as I work to be Christ’s man in this time and place.  But you, too, are living on the edge.  It is what it means to be human, what it means to be working our salvation out with fear and trembling, what it means to love.  We are not ordinary people, and we meet no one merely mundane.

No ordinary people.

This of course is not a new idea.  C.S. Lewis says it as well as anyone else I have read or heard.  It is worth concluding by hearing this professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at length.  In The Weight of Glory he writes:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people. 

You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of that kind (and, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.  And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.  Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Harper One, 2001; posthumously published as The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 1980), 45-46.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Support a Missionary

[I wrote this for our upcoming parish newsletter, but I think it raises important issues concerning Christian stewardship, and a wider circulation might be useful.]


It was a revelation to me, many years ago, that missionaries had to raise their own support.  I had always thought that mission boards paid their missionaries.  Many years ago, in certain denominations, churches did pay a kind of ‘missionary tax’ or take special offerings to go to the denomination’s missions fund.  But the last vestiges of this way of funding missions died out in most denominations in the 1990s.  Today, almost all missionaries are dependent upon the pledges of individual donors and local parish budgets.  And because it may cost $40,000 or more to keep an American missionary family on the field, it takes a lot of people and churches to make each missionary ministry a reality.


From the missionary’s side, this means making contact with as many people and churches as possible, in the hopes that some of them may be interested in joining one’s support team.  As with many things, personal relationships make all the difference.  In my own experience, people who already know me and have a history with me are more likely to want to support me than someone who doesn’t know me from Adam’s housecat or who may simply be someone listening to ‘the missionary’ make a presentation at the parish coffee hour.  In my experience, relationship trumps even denominational identity.  I was surprised to discover, even after I converted to Orthodoxy from being a Presbyterian pastor and missionary, that most of the people who supported me as a Presbyterian were keen to continue their support once I had become Orthodox.  The same was not true with most of the Presbyterian churches that supported me, for obvious reasons.  And that is why it is important for missionaries to seek out new parishes and build relationships with the priests, parish and committee leaders and members there.


Reaching out to new individuals and parishes can be a challenge, as most Christians and parishes may have a more local perspective.  This is a good thing, and what I say here is not intended as a criticism.  It’s just that while a local perspective may be the default position – the way it is – among most Christians and in most parishes, the default position theologically is something very different.  My job as a missionary is to help local Christians and local parishes begin to see the world from God’s perspective, to see that salvation is not just about me, but that God intends me to be the means by which His salvation reaches ‘them’.  It means helping us to see that God’s love does not stop at the boundaries of our parish, or our jurisdiction, or our nation.  It means helping us to see that all the wealth of resources and technology have come to us from God’s hand not for us to spend on ourselves, but so that we might wisely steward His blessings to further His priorities.  These are counter-cultural concepts to try and communicate in the best of circumstances.  But they point to the reality that we find in both the New Testament and in much of Christian history, namely that the Church is primarily a missionary organization.  Our brief is straight from our Lord Jesus Himself, who said to His Apostles and thus to us, ‘Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations…’.  This is not one option among many, nor is it to be relegated to the ‘really committed super Christians’, a relegation that gets the rest of us off the hook.  No, it is our responsibility as Christians, to find our place in making Christ’s missionary mandate a reality in our generation.  For some of us, God wants us to go and make a difference in the lives of other people, following the incarnational example of our Lord.  For others of us, God has given us the means to help make this happen financially through our giving.  And for all of us, God calls us to join with all the saints and angels in the ministry of intercession, praying for our missionaries, their families and their ministries.  Missions is the work of the whole Church.  And it’s part of our calling as missionaries to help our people and our Churches grow into their God-given calling.


But how does this work at the level of my life?  How can I as an individual Christian plug into the big picture of what God is doing?  Let me share from my own experience.  God entrusts me with time and with resources.  And part of my own discipleship (as a follower of Christ) is realizing more and more that my time and my resources are not my own, but rather God’s, and that God has given all this to me so that I might be a steward of His good gifts.  This means that I am constantly in prayer about how God wants me to use the time and money that’s mine to use.  Some of this money and time I want to give to my parish.  But I also set aside a certain amount to help with special projects or ministries that come to my attention.  And say, when a missionary comes by and I hear of the need and I’m challenged to pray if God wants me to join his/her support team, I then ask God if this is something He wants me to do with the resources He has entrusted to me.  Sometimes God says, ‘Yes! Get involved!’  Other times God says, ‘No, I have other things I want you to do with what you have.’  But the key in all this is to ask God what He wants you to do.  I think God is particularly pleased when we ask Him to show us how He wants us to give and live.  I’ve never experienced silence when I’ve asked about these things!


Maybe you want to practice on me!  I’ve just been accepted as an Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) missionary to Kenya to help train the new generation of Christian leaders there, both at the Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi and at St. Paul’s University in Limuru and Nairobi.  I need to raise about $3330/month in order to cover my yearly budget.  I need a team of people who will commit to pray for me and my ministry, and I need individuals and churches who would be willing to pledge $100/month (or more!), $50/month, $25/month, or even $10/month towards my support.  OCMC makes this so easy to do so.  You can go to the OCMC website (http://www.ocmc.org )  and to their ‘Active Missionaries’ page (http://www.ocmc.org/about/active_missionaries.aspx) where you will find my picture under ‘Kenya’, with options to read about me and how to support my ministry.  OCMC will be happy to facilitate your giving, and will let me know what you’ve done.  Or you can let me know yourself through an email. 


So would you be willing to pray and ask God if this is an opportunity He wants you to be a part of?  The important thing is to ask.  One way or another, God wants to make you his blessing in the lives of many people.  And this is one of the primary ways He does it.

His Grace Bishop Innocentios, my spiritual father and now Bishop of Burundi and Rwanda
May God raise up many more like him.


There is nothing closer to God’s heart than missions.  We Orthodox hear again and again that God ‘loves mankind’.  And the gospel is the way God’s love is expressed.  And the gospel was never meant to stop with me or us.  It’s meant to go to every person, to the ends of the earth.  This is our glorious calling.  Will you make it yours?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Future of Orthodoxy

Metropolitan Jonah of Uganda

The future of Orthodoxy is not to be found in the halls of St. Vladimir’s or Holy Cross seminaries, strategic as they may both be for the North American scene.  Nor is the future of the Orthodox Church to be found in the hoped for Great and Holy Council, where the nettle of American jurisdictions may finally be grasped.  Orthodoxy’s future is not found in the Moscow Patriarchate, regardless of its power and influence at home and beyond.  Nor is it to be found in the Phanar of old Constantinople where His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew presides.


Instead, the future of Orthodoxy may be found in a Nairobi slum.  Thirty-three years ago, a small seminary was established with the brief to train leadership for the small but growing Kenyan Orthodox Church.  Almost immediately, surrounding bishops started sending their best men to Nairobi to be trained there, at the clunkily-named ‘Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School of [Archbishop of Cyprus] Makarios III’ in Riruta Satellite, a corner of the vast Kawangware slum in western Nairobi.  The school, under the direction of Dr. Andreas Tillyrides, who would in time become His Eminence Makarios, Archbishop of Kenya and Dar es Salaam, succeeded in training clergy for the archdiocese and, increasingly, leadership for the new world of Orthodoxy taking root in sub-Saharan Africa.

His Grace Innocentios of Rwanda and Burundi ordaining clergy in Bujumburu

I was baptized and chrismated at this seminary in 2011.  At that time there were 90 students, many from Kenya’s 300 Orthodox parishes.  But there were also students from Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Camaroon, and probably other sub-Saharan African countries that I’m not remembering.  In fact, this little school was and remains the only Orthodox seminary in sub-Saharan Africa.  The Alexandrian Patriarchate in Egypt also maintains a school in Alexandria, but as one might imagine there are issues in bringing African Christians to Muslim Egypt for theological training.

Kenyan Deacon leading the Great Litany of the Divine Liturgy at the seminary

Several years ago, the Nairobi school was forced to close due to a financial crisis caused by the meltdown of the Greek and Cypriot economies.  Cypriot Christians in particular had been astonishingly generous and had essentially funded the activities of the Kenyan Archdiocese and its Cypriot hierarch.  But that funding all but dried up in 2012/2013.  There was no more money to pay for scholarships, no more money to pay for salaries, no more money to pay for feeding everybody.  So His Eminence was forced to send everybody home.  In 2014 as the crisis eased somewhat, the seminary was reopened and 30 students were allowed to return.  But a further 50 or so were without sufficient support to begin or continue their seminary education.  I was there in February of this year and saw first-hand the dedication of the administration and faculty to make it work with what they had, as well as the focus of the students, many of whom had made tremendous sacrifices to pursue Orthodox theological training.

Seminary Students eating dinner this past February

It would be easy to get caught up in the details and day-to-day dramas of running a seminary in Kenya and all the logistical challenges that entails.  But if one steps back for a wider view, it becomes increasingly obvious that something much bigger is going on, bigger than Nairobi, bigger than Kenya, bigger than Africa.  The Orthodox Church has been growing impressively in Kenya for fifty years since the devastating ban, placed on the Orthodox Church by the British colonial authorities in the 1950s for its close association with the Kikuyu resistance to British rule, was rescinded.  The Church had formed during the 1920s as part of the resistance to mission Christianity by Kikuyu Christians wanting to be free of Western Christianity and have a church like that of the early Christians.  However the ban forced Kenya's Orthodox Church to start again at a time when the Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and Anglicans in Kenya were going from strength to strength.  [You can read more about this in my article, ‘Offended Christians, Anti-Mission Churches and Colonial Politics:  One Man’s Story of the Messy Birth of the African Orthodox Church in Kenya’ in Journal of Religion in Africa 43 (2013) 261-296]  And although behind in every statistic when compared to other, more wealthy Kenyan churches, the Orthodox in Kenya have been growing, and doing so for a number of years and at an impressive rate.

With His Eminence Makarios of Kenya visiting the growing churches of Western Kenya

But the Orthodox Church is not just growing in Kenya.  As Orthodox parishes in African capitals make the transition from being ethnic expat enclaves to centers of outreach for the surrounding communities, the number of Orthodox Christians is poised to grow exponentially.  And as these nascent national Churches obtain well-trained leadership, Orthodoxy will be increasingly rooted in the local ethos and languages, no longer a Greek transplant, but a Rwandan Church, a Burundian Church, a Turkana Church, a Malagasy Church.  Protestant and Catholic scholars and missiologist have been observing for some time that the center of gravity of global Christianity has been moving south.  Christianity in Africa, with all of its raucous, noisy diversity, will lead global Christianity, first by weight of sheer numbers, and as the Church continues to mature, by an increasing theological sophistication.

Orthodox Children in remote western Kenya

The Orthodox Church does not have the same depth and breadth of history in Africa as the Roman Catholics and many of the Protestant denominations (with the exception of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Egyptian Coptic Church, but that’s another story).  But the same wave that these other expressions of Christianity are experiencing will become the Orthodox experience as well.  The day is coming when there will be more Orthodox Christians in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the Orthodox world combined (Russia included).  And they will be led by African bishops (as the African Churches already increasingly are:  the current bishops of Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda/Burundi are all Ugandans).

His Grace Bishop Innocentios in Rwanda


What this means is that the most important place for the future of the Orthodox Church is the little seminary in Nairobi.  The men who will make up the leadership of the Orthodox Church of Africa are being trained there.  New seminaries will undoubtedly be established.  New monasteries endowed.  New Churches planted and consecrated.  New Christians baptized and chrismated. New catechists and readers and deacons and priests trained.  New Hierarchs ordained.  And as the African Church takes its place among the great and historical Orthodox Churches of Asia, Europe and North America, her success (or failure) will, to a significant degree, be the success (or failure) of the global Church.  The future of Orthodoxy is an African future.

His Grace Bishop Innocentios presiding at a baptism and chrismation service for infants and adults in Burundi

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Orthodoxy and Missions

Orthodoxy and missions are synonymous.  Even if I’ve been a part of an Orthodox parish my whole life and never been exposed to the Church’s mission work and never met a missionary and never gave missions a second thought, none of this negates the biblical and historical fact that the Orthodox Church is a missionary Church.  The very parish I am a part of would never have existed if someone hadn’t responded to Christ’s missionary call to ‘Go!’  We can trace our missionary heritage to the very beginning, starting with Jesus of Nazareth himself.

Christ the Sower

Jesus is the model for all Orthodox missions.  He left the culture of heaven and entered into our world as one of us – completely human and God the Son.  He learned our ways, ate our food, spoke our language.  When He taught, He used illustrations that were taken from the way we actually lived.  He constantly found ways to connect the Good News with the realities He engaged.  His mission was to overcome every barrier blocking our relationship with God the Trinity and our relationships with each other.  Neither cluelessness, nor unbelief, nor hardness of heart, nor murderous anger, nor human injustice nor even death itself could frustrate His work.  Jesus’ faithfulness, His work and His Gospel were all vindicated when He walked out of His tomb alive.  And while the world of humanity has continued for the most part in rebellion against the Creator, increasing numbers of men and women and children have heard of what Jesus did and who He is and of what He continues to do in our midst.  These people are tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, their lives have been touched by the love of the holy Trinity, their own priorities and way of life are being transformed.  And in contradiction to the surrounding world, their societies become a counter-culture, the place where heaven intersects earth, where life is transformed by life, where the love and power of Jesus and His Gospel touches hearts and changes them forever.  The movement started small, but has in time become a fulcrum that is moving the world.

St. Paul the Missionary

Jesus’ apostles heard Jesus’ call to ‘Go!’ and over the remainder of their lives, they did.  The Biblical record tells us something of Peter, and a lot more of Paul.  We know that James the brother of John died a martyr in Jerusalem.  For the rest we are dependent on the stories passed down from the churches they established all over the known world, from India and Mesopotamia, Egypt and Spain to England and Scotland.  They went in spite of the danger.  All of them, except John the Evangelist, met with martyrdom.

St. Thomas of India

Even when enduring spasms of persecution, Christian churches continued to grow, mainly because the contrast between the Christians’ way of life and their love for each other and the ways of the surrounding culture could not be denied.  Historians tend to gloss over the Christianization of Roman society over the first four centuries as if it were somehow explained by social or political factors.  But the real story is not some banner headline, but hundreds of tiny stories of how Christians lived as Christians amongst their neighbors, and how increasingly those neighbors found this compelling.  This is how all true growth of any church occurs.

Sts Cyril and Methodius

The story of Orthodox missions is too vast to be recounted here.  But the outlines are dramatic enough.  From former war-slave Patrick’s missionary work in Ireland, to the monks of Iona’s efforts in Scotland and northern Europe.  Christianity was planted among the tribes of central Europe by wandering monks, in the Axumite empire in Ethiopia by the Syrian teenager Frumentius, who became a slave in the royal family charged with educating the heir, and who through patience and faithfulness lived to see not only the royal family converted to Christianity, but the kingdom as well.  Awestruck emissaries from the Rus emperor Vladimir brought back reports of the liturgical worship at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople that resulted in the Russians converting to Orthodoxy.
But if the first thousand years of Orthodox history is one of dramatic expansion, the second thousand years is one of captivity and suffering.  And though the church’s mission was not forgotten, such were the pressures of warfare, or of living as an oppressed minority in a majority Muslim culture, survival was often the most these Eastern Churches could attain.  Not only were most of the formerly Orthodox lands under a millennium of Muslim control, but the horrific social and military experiments unleashed by Marxism and fascism in the twentieth centuries focused primarily on peoples who for centuries had been Orthodox.  The numbers of those slain because they were Christian, or caught in the cross fire, beggars belief.  The Russian revolution, the Second World War and subsequent Cold War was a time of martyrdom unmatched in the history of the Churches, and not just of Orthodox but of all branches of Christianity.

St. Frumentius (Abba Salama) of Ethiopia

Many of the Orthodox Christians who have come to the United States in the past hundred years were fleeing persecution, oppression and deprivation.  Lives of mere survival in the motherland were transformed for successive boatloads of immigrants into lives of opportunity for them and their children.  And while some of these descendants of Orthodox immigrants were absorbed into the great American melting pot, others maintained their Orthodox faith, gathered in parishes and carried on with the Orthodox way of life inherited from their ancestors and now transplanted into the new world.

St. Patrick of Ireland

Many of these local Orthodox communities in the US have neither thought much about the missionary call upon their church, nor seen any reason to engage with any sort of ‘mission’ outside helping the poor and the orphaned back in the home country.  And while this good work is not to be minimized, the posture of many American Orthodox Churches is not far removed from that of their forbears during times of oppression and persecution.  Missions is seen as a luxury that the church doesn’t have the time for and which the church and her members can little afford.

St. Vladimir

But this is not an Orthodox stance.  From the beginning, Orthodox Christians have understood that God’s grace is not something that is simply for me, or for us alone.  Rather, we are meant to be channels of God’s grace, we are meant to be the means by which God’s grace gets to people who would otherwise be cut off from it.  Missions, historically speaking, was not the prerogative of the hierarchy, or of the monastics, or of special people with a special call.  Missions is the what the Church does.  Missions is what the Church is.  It’s the prayers of the Church that makes missions possible.  It’s the giving of the Church that makes Missions happen.  It’s the obedience of the Church that makes missions a reality.  God has many ways to communicate His love to those who do not yet know it.  But His primary way starts with the Church.

St Herman of Alaska

Churches who have forgotten this have lost their way.  These churches may be large, they may be beautiful, they may be filled with powerful people, but they are living for themselves and have missed the point.

St. Nicholas of Japan

There is a renaissance in Orthodox missions today.  More and more Orthodox Churches are discovering their calling to be God’s difference in this world.  More and more Orthodox Christians are giving up successful career tracks in order to help with the mission.  New converts are being baptized in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America; new Churches are being formed and consecrated.  New communities of faith are being instructed.  New opportunities to reach out to local communities in need are being realized.  And the same dynamism that propelled the earliest Christians to the ends of the earth and facilitated the conversion of the pagan cultures of their day is being seen again in our own.  These are tremendously exciting times in the history of Orthodox missions.  The great question facing all of us is, will we sit back and watch as distracted spectators from the grandstands, or will we hear God call our name and the name of our parish to join his team out on the field?

All Saints of North America