by Priest John Parker
When the Lord Jesus Christ lived, walked, taught, and healed on this very earth, He called together a band of fisherman and others, and He showed in deed and taught them by word Who He is. The Gospel according to Saint John is illustrative.
- “I am.”
- “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
- “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
- “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
- “You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world.”
- “Before Abraham was, I am.”
- “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
- “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
- “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”
- “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”
- “I am He.” And they drew back and fell to the ground.
To “Expand the Mission,” each Orthodox Christian must “decrease so that [Jesus] might increase.” If “God is the Lord and hath revealed Himself unto us,” we must constantly ask whether we, as the Orthodox Church in America at every level—national, diocesan, parochial, personal, episcopal, presbyteral, diaconal, and lay—live
- as one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread?
- as illumined ones offering light to a dark world?
- as faithful servants to a Divine Master?
- as grateful porters inviting the world through the doors of the Church to know Jesus Christ?
- as if Jesus Christ has overcome the world?
- as if the Maker of all things visible and invisible is standing right in front me and us?
If our Orthodox Church in America desires to carry and bear the mantle of Saint Tikhon and his holy missionary compatriots in North America, then we must constantly live as they lived, and do as they did. We must be God-fearing, repentant, humble, generous servants of the Most High God, crucifying every earthly passion in order to indicate the Way into the Kingdom of God.
- We must humbly teach what the Lord taught, without compromise or apology, confidently acknowledging that even if mysteriously difficult, it will lead to true life.
- We must be fervent in prayer and rich in mercy for ourselves and others.
- We must be forthright and honest in self-assessing our own sins.
- We must retire decades of excuses and dialogues and turn tirelessly to committing ourselves to biblical stewardship — being Abel, not Cain — and cheerfully giving and offering our first and best.
- We must not think smaller than God, Who is the Landowner for Whose ‘possessions’ we are appointed stewards.
- We must be generous with others and strict with ourselves.
- We must live, act, and pray as if God really exists.
In the Orthodox Church in America, we have an incredibly rich heritage that came to this continent by the missionaries to Alaska from Russia to one coast and immigrants from the traditionally Orthodox lands through New York our east coast. To “Expand the Mission” requires us ever to (re)establish, maintain, and develop precisely the missionary mindset of Saint Herman and Saint Innocent, whose efforts were three-pronged.
- Bless the blessable. What is already Orthodox “here,” even if unknown or not so-called: “Here, in this you are Orthodox already. God’s footprint is already present.”
- Sand the rough edges. Some areas of a society simply just need some finessing, refining, and reworking: “Here, you are close, and with a little adjustment, Orthodoxy becomes clear.”
- Exorcise that which does not conform to Orthodox Christianity. This is as much true at the societal level as it is at the personal level.
To “Expand the Mission” requires us with endless gratitude to adopt the attitude of tireless persistence with which our centenarian parishes were founded and built. We must be (re)infused with attitudes of stewardship and evangelism
- by which we support our own churches (not expecting or asking those who are not “our people” to support our parochial life in ways and quantities that we do not) and
- by seeing every human being outside the doors of our narthexes as someone in need of knowing Christ in His fullness as you and I have been blessed, gifted, invited, welcomed, and incorporated to do.
To “Expand the Mission,” we must recall the words of our Lord:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (Luke 6:46ff).
As if we are ecclesiastical civil engineers, let us ask ourselves persistently, “What is sand and what is rock beneath us?” If we plant/establish the pillars of our Church in society’s shifting sands, the buffeting of the winds and tides of the world will cause our great ruin. Where we find such sands in our foundations, great ruin is certain only if we ignore it and/or exalt it; all will not crumble, however, if we restore the Gospel foundation, Jesus Christ, the Rock of our Salvation.
Certain, and confessing with one mouth, that the pillars of our Church are the Gospel and the Commandments of Christ, and that our holy vocation is to share the life-changing, healing, transformative Good News of Jesus Christ with one another and the world, our mission cannot but expand since the Lord has come to seek and save the lost. And of such there is no shortage in North America.
Priest John Parker is Rector of Holy Ascension Church, Mt. Pleasant/Charleston, SC, and Chairman of the OCA Department of Evangelization.