Orthodox America


  Cast Your Nets


     Although the seed of Orthodox Christianity was planted on this continent more than 200 years ago, it is today a predominantly emigre Church--whether Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Greek or Syrian. This is not to say that the majority of its members are emigrants-far from it. Those who have blood ties with these various ethnic groups are mostly second or third generation native-born Americans with little or no link to their ancestral homeland apart from cultural ties which they expect the Church to preserve. Given the rootlessness and intensely secular nature of our society, the effort to hold onto a culture which originally grew out of an Orthodox context is understandable and can be commendable--provided it does not act as a substitute for being "rooted and built up" in Christ (Col. 2:7).

    Unfortunately, this is not infrequently the case. And the cost of this preservation has been the development of an insular dimension unknown to either the Early Church or the Church in America when it was first established. And yet our Faith has remained the same. Centuries have not changed the Creed which Orthodox Christians" have professed "at all times and everywhere": "I believe...in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church..." "Apostolic," this is to say founded not only on the teachings of the Apostle~, but also upon their evangelizing labors. From its very foundation the Church had an apostolic mission, a reaching out, which was not to cease until the very end of time, until--as Blessed Archbishop John (Maximovitch) said, the whole world should hear the preaching of the Gospel of Christ in an Orthodox context. 

Our Missionary Legacy

    Sharing his apostolic vision a century earlier was another hierarch of holy life, Archbishop Innocent (Veniaminov) of Alaska, who spent many years as a missionary priest on the North American continent, sowing seeds of Orthodox Christianity among its native population, baptizing thousands of souls, and founding many, many churches. In his love for Christ, he was naturally concerned with the most effective means of propagating the Faith. With far-sighted, single-minded thinking, he recommended to the Holy Synod that a bishop for the New World and his retinue should speak English, that as many candidates for the priesthood as possible be chosen from among those who are US citizens, that the Divine Liturgy and other services be celebrated in English, and that English rather than Russian be used in the new church schools in America so as "to prepare people for missionary and clerical positions." When he himself was first appointed bishop in the New World, he explained to his clergy that certain goals must be enthusiastically embraced by them all. These goals included: 

  1. To confirm the piety of the flock, made up largely of newly-converted peoples not yet firm in the faith; 

  2. To bring back those gone astray; 

  3. To spread the light of the Good News among those lost in the darkness of paganism." 

    This, then, is the legacy which we, Orthodox Christians living in America, must strive wholeheartedly to embrace. The spreading of the Orthodox Faith must be our sacred duty, juntas Metropolitan Innocent saw it as the sacred duty of the Russian Orthodox Church a century ago, and as Blessed Archbishop John saw it as his duty, and that of the Russian Church Abroad, in our own generation.

    We must realize that it is not only clergy who shoulder the task of evangelism. The harvest is ripe and the Lord needs willing souls to spread His Good News and draw people into the net of salvation.

This doesn't mean that we must constantly be on the offensive, hammering away at our non-Orthodox neighbor until our friendship is destroyed. We must soften our hearts, making them sensitive and open to recognize an opportunity when the Lord sends it our way. And this may be--and often is--quite unexpected.

A sign visible on leaving a church  You are now entering the mission field

     As St. Paul says, we must "be instant in season and out of season." A clerk loads your grocery bags into your car and asks about the icon visible on the dashboard. What do you say? Sitting at a neighboring table in a restaurant, someone notices you making the sign of the cross and asks if you are Catholic. What is your response? Is the person simply curious, or does he recognize in you someone who might be able to help him in his search for truth? If you feel tongue-tied in such situations, do you at least keep leaflets in your purse or briefcase, which give a simple explanation of the Faith--and carry the name and address of someone they can contact for further information?

    There are so many people around us who are groping in darkness, fervently desiring to come to a knowledge of the Truth. Meanwhile, most of us, even if we are active in our parishes, remain sadly isolated from the great harvest of souls outside our doors.

    In 1868, after years of apostolic labor in Alaska, North America and Asia, Archbishop Innocent unexpectedly received a dispatch appointing him Metropolitan of Moscow. In spite of his advanced age and failing eyesight, he continued, there in the center of Orthodox Russia, to cultivate a missionary spirit--it was in his blood. He understood that without missionary activity, the Gospel would cease to multiply. Whether among poorly-clad pagans in the distant Aleutian Isles, or on his great earthly throne in the "ancient vineyard of Christ" (Moscow), Innocent forever hearkened to the uncompromising mandate of the Lord: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).

    Brothers and sisters, we too must develop a clearly formed commitment to this Divine U k a z e--without it, the witness of our Faith will be stillborn, without fruit, barren. The time of Pentecost has come and gone, and we have reached the season of the Apostles' Feast. Come, let us cast our nets.

Fr. Alexey Young
Editor


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