The Orthodox Church has always been a missionary endeavor. When Christ gave the Great Commission, as recorded in the Bible, that command was given directly to the Orthodox Church:
“Go forth.. make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, teaching all I have commanded you ; and lo, I am with you .. to the end of the age” (Mt: 28: 19-20)
The great journeys of evangelism recorded in the Book of Acts were undertaken by members of the Orthodox Church. The martyrs, those holy men and women whose zeal inspired others to seek God, were Orthodox Christians. The Roman Empire was converted by the Orthodox Church. The barbarians of Western Europe were converted largely by Orthodox Christian monks, often falsely associated as belonging to the “Roman Catholic” Church which came much later in history. When Western Europe was being evangelized, the Roman Pope was a bastion of Orthodoxy. Towards the end of a united Christendom, even the Slavs in the East of Europe were converted by Orthodox Christian missionaries from Constantinople.
One Holy Catholic Apostolic and Missionary Church
Despite the loss of the Roman Patriarchate to heresy in the 11th Century, and centuries of mortal struggle against temporal enemies such as the Arabs, Ottomans and the communists, the Orthodox Church has never ceased to be a missionary church. Russians carried the Orthodox faith all the way across the continent of Asia and even to the Inuit of Alaska. The Russians were not alone in their missionary zeal.
The so-called “diaspora” Churches that appeared in the West in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries are often criticized for being too “ethnic” and “inward facing”. There is some truth to that, of course. But even so, these churches have produced a steady stream of converts, including such illustrious names as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Archbishop Dmtri Royster, Jaroslav Pelikan, Fr. Peter Gillquest, and so many, many more – including thousands of common, everyday people who just needed Christ.
Whether a parish wants to be missionary-minded or not, if the priest preaches Christ, there will be lost souls showing up on Sunday mornings. The Holy Spirit will call them to your temple doors. But imagine what would happen if more of us gave our whole heart to missions?
There are many, many Orthodox Christians who are doing just that! For example, Fr. Adam Sexton in Virginia. Fr. Adam is the father of 11 children. He has a parish that he serves as rector, but still took on the task of ministering to a mission parish 1.5 hours from his home. Fr. Adam’s parish cannot afford to pay him a living wage, so he works nights and weekends as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Despite this busy schedule, Fr. Adam has still found time to organize a campaign to save an historic Orthodox building, among other causes in which he works.
Fr. Adam is very special, but hardly unique. Across America, Orthodox mission priests are struggling to share the Orthodox Faith while also trying to raise families, and usually working secular employment. They often rely on the kindness of others for housing, and frequently have to drive long distances to serve their communities. Nor are just priests sacrificing of their time and talents. Fr. Mark Hodges recently took over a mission in Bullhead City, Arizona that had sustained itself for over 5 years mostly on the basis of reader services with no local priest. The little mission parish was even able to rent a store front, complete with a handmade iconostasis. All to the Glory of God. Can you imagine what such faithful Orthodox Christians can accomplish with a fulltime priest?
These are just some stories we happen to know. There are many, many more which could be shared, and should be shared. Feel free to drop more in the comments.
In addition to the dedicated priests and the laity with hearts for God, we are now seeing more and more organizational emphasis on supporting missions. Share the Faith is a pan-Orthodox organization that raises money to specifically fund missions and assist struggling parishes in the United States. The organization also publishes practical information on how to found missions, and how to be a better, more mission-minded parish.
Orthodox Bishops in the US are also emphasizing missions like never before. His Grace Bishop Daniel of the OCA Diocese of the Mid West has excellent mission resources on his diocesan Website. This is from a letter on his site:
"At the very beginning of my archpastoral ministry as Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest, I want you all to know of the high priority I place upon the establishing of new missions. I am also committed to overseeing and encouraging the continued growth of well-established parishes as well as the renewal of parish life in some of our communities which might seem to be in decline."
We can highly recommend visiting his “Grow a Mission” page and watching this excellent video on missions. God will surely bless this diocese for its efforts on behalf of the Kingdom. This diocese is not alone, as there are many such initiatives ongoing.
In addition, the Orthodox online ecosystem is exploding like never before. Fr. Barnabas Powell from the Greek Archdiocese provides excellent content across a variety of platforms, including on Ancient Faith Radio. Abbot Tryphon’s videos and blogs are popular among even non-Orthodox Christians for their inspirational content. New channels of Orthodox content, such as Patristic Faith, are popping up constantly and establishing huge followings. All across the Internet, local priests are using streaming, social media, and blogging to attract people to the Orthodox Church and prepare them for their visits to an Orthodox parish.
An even bigger sign of the times? Fr. Josiah Trenham (himself an adult convert to Orthodoxy) has been featured in a Tucker Carlson documentary on the blight of Transgenderism affecting our society. Watch the trailer below, including scenes of Fr. Josiah blessing his parish with incense.
All of these efforts bring more awareness of the Orthodox Faith and, consequently, bring more Americans to Orthodox parishes as visitors / inquirers. We have spoken to many priests over the past few months, and all of them report increases in Church attendance. Some have indicated they are scheduling multiple catechism classes throughout the week to accommodate demand. Many of those coming to Orthodoxy are young, some even in high school, and often have no Christian background at all. Fr. Hans Jacobse, seeing so many young men finding Orthodoxy from troubled backgrounds, found it necessary to launch the St. Paisios Brotherhood to assist in mentoring and developing them.
Americans are more aware of Orthodoxy than ever before, at a time when so many of them have lost faith in our most important institutions. Americans are looking for answers to life’s big questions. They are looking for stability, continuity, community, and love. They are looking for an authentic connection with God and His Holy Church. That many Americans will find their way to a Divine Liturgy is inevitable. We must prepare ourselves as Orthodox Christians to be there for them when they arrive.
Is Everything Perfect?
So everything is perfect in American Orthodoxy? Of course not. Christ hasn’t returned and we are not living in the perfection to come. Many of our bishops showed poor leadership during the “Pandemic”. There are scandals, even at the highest levels. There will be more. In a hospital for sick souls, there will be sinners. There is still too much of an “ethnic” focus in some quarters. I have multiple Godchildren in the Greek Archdiocese. Not one has an ounce of Greek heritage. I visibly cringe every time Archbishop Elpidophoros gives a speech about the Greek “diaspora”, without ever acknowledging the reality that tens of thousands (or more) of his flock are just plain, unhyphenated Americans.
We also, of course, have our “progressive” Orthodox academic wing furiously trying to turn us into the Episcopal Church with better liturgics. They are way better funded, currently, than most of our missionary endeavors. Unlike Orthodox missions, however, they won’t succeed. God is not their helpmeet, but rather their enemy. Much “Orthodox” social media is best avoided in favor of actually attending services. More than a few Orthodox Christians are indifferent to missions and even, in some cases, to the Faith itself. We should consider them an “internal” mission field.
“Indifference for Missions equates to a denial of Orthodoxy”
– Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos) of Albania
Nevertheless, despite our manifest shortcomings, the work of Christ goes forward. Whatever success we achieve belongs to God. Our failures belong to us. The Orthodox have failed, are failing and will continue to fail. We just have to keep getting back up and trying again. On the other hand, Orthodox Christianity is the transcendent truth of the Triune God. Orthodoxy cannot fail.
All of us should recommit ourselves to missions. Start at home with a better prayer and homelife. Read more, learn more. Attend more services. Support missionary efforts with your donations and by spreading the word about them. Pray for missions and missionary priests. Be boldly Orthodox in a world that hates us for our faith. The world is a scary place right now. We all need God more than ever.
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