Archive | December, 2014

Tireless Persistence

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

Statute Revision Task Force concludes week-long meeting

2014-1217-statute4On Friday, December 12, 2014, The Statute Revision Task Force concluded five days of meetings at the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America and Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY.

Established by the Holy Synod of Bishops in 2013, the Task Force is undertaking a comprehensive revision of the OCA Statute, originally adopted at the Second All-American Council in 1971. A major guiding principle of its work is to ensure that the revised Statute reflects current realities of the OCA’s life and the structure, which have changed significantly over the past four decades.

In order to involve the Church-at-large in the revision process, reports on the work of the Task Force have been presented in recent months to the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council — see report on pages 57-59 here. In addition, Archpriest Alexander Rentel, Secretary, and other Task Force members have offered presentations and f2014-1217-statute6acilitated discussions at various diocesan assemblies.

On Monday, December 8, His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel, Task Force Chairman, opened the week’s sessions, during which members continued their detailed and painstaking review and revision of the Statute’s current text. Additional provisions and articles concerning items not previously covered in the Statute were also drafted. This work is based in part on a draft revision that had been prepared a decade ago and presented to the Holy Synod for review, but not completed and finalized at that time.

In order to gain input on provisions in the Statute concerning the OCA Pension Board, Task Force members met with John Sedor, Pension Board Chairman, and other Board members. In conjunction with their sessions at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary on December 10, members were able to interact with the school’s faculty and students and atte2014-1217-statute8nd Vespers at Three Hierarchs Chapel. On December 11-12, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon; Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor; Archpriest Eric Tosi, Secretary; and Melanie Ringa, Treasurer joined the Task Force for extensive and productive discussions. Task Force members were grateful for the valuable input they provided on key points of the Statute.

After their next meeting in mid-January 2015, the Task Force will submit the Statute revision for review by the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council. After this review is completed, the Statute revision will be posted on the OCA web site to enable clergy and faithful to submit on-line comments and suggestions. As mandated by Article XIII of the current Statute, suggested revisions will be accepted up to 90 days prior to the opening of the 18th All-American Council, slated to convene in Atlanta, GA on July 20, 2015. The final text will be posted 60 days before the Council and subsequently presented2014-1217-statute7for adoption to AAC delegates.

In addition to Archbishop Nathaniel and Father Rentel, other Task Force members include Archimandrite Daniel [Brum]; Archpriests Dimitri Cozby and John Erickson, Priest Ioan Cozma; Judge E.R. Lanier; and Alexis Liberovsky.

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2015 OCA Desk Calendar now available

2014-1212-desk-calendar-2015The Orthodox Church in America’s 2015 Desk Calendar is now available for $20.00 per copy, which includes postage and handling.

The calendar includes ample space for daily notations and memos and a mini-directory of OCA ministries, boards, commissions, diocesan chanceries, and seminaries. Key liturgical commemorations and significant dates for the year are noted, as are the dates of Pascha through the year 2019. The calendar’ theme is “How to Expand the Mission” and highlights the forthcoming 18th All-American Council. slated to convene in Atlanta, GA in July 2015. Included in the calendar are reflections from the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops on the theme.

All clergy—retired and active, assigned and attached—will receive complimentary copies in the coming weeks, as will all widowed clergy wives.

To order, send a $20.00 check payable to the “Orthodox Church in America” to PO Box 675, Syosset, NY 11791. Payment can also be made by credit card. On-line orders may be placed by sending an e-mail to

“Let us Renew our Efforts”

by Archpriest John Dunlop

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love that you had at first” [Revelation 2:4].

The theme of our upcoming All-American Council is based on the theme of the first All-American Sobor, held in March 1907, which set the tone for future Councils of the Orthodox Church in America. The Sobor’s structure—with both clergy and laity participating—may have seemed novel to some, but it was, rather, a return to Patristic thought that had been taking place in the broader Orthodox world. By choosing this theme, the members of the Church in 1907 identified themselves as participating in an on-going mission.

“Mission” means going but “to spread the faith,” and it is a necessary characteristic of Orthodox Church life. In the Creed, we confess “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” “Apostolic” not only means we are in continuity with the Apostles, but it also means having the characteristic of being “sent out.” So when we say that the Church is Apostolic, we are saying that it is in continuity with the Apostles, and that it is missionary.

The Mission to America from Russia was part of a broader program of missionary activity across Siberia that also included missions to China in 1686, to Japan in 1861 and to Korea in 1898. Saint Herman of Alaska was part of an original missionary team of eight monks from Valaam, who arrived in Kodiak in 1794 to evangelize in a new land. The vision guiding this team involved serving the Russians traders laboring in Alaska, as well as preaching the Gospel to those who had never heard it. In 1823, Father John Veniaminov — who was to be come Saint Innocent — continued the mission begun by Saint Herman and made the long journey across Siberia and the sea with his family to Unalaska. There he built up the Church and spread the Gospel to people who had not yet heard it. Having lost his wife, he was consecrated to the episcopacy. He ordained to the priesthood the first native Alaskan, Saint Jacob Netsvetov, who enlightened the Yupik peoples.

In Alaska, one is often reminded of the ministry of these original missionaries. Some of the members of the parish I serve are descendants of the orphans for whom Saint Herman provided spiritual care. Many of our seminarians are descendants of people baptized by Saint Jacob. I am sure that in parishes across America, similar memories still live—of Saint Raphael Hawaweeny, Saint Alexis Toth, and others. As we examine ourselves, it is helpful to keep these examples in mind. These saints bear the standard to which we must measure our meager activities.

There are many ways of “doing mission,” whether it be through living the quiet life of the monastic, volunteering at a local shelter, or traveling to a foreign land to preach. Any time we witness by our words or deeds to the love of Christ, we are participating in the Church’s mission. It is our responsibility as witnesses to know the Truth to which we testify. We must diligently seek to know God through study, prayer and participation the in liturgical life of the Church. Otherwise, we run the risk of witnessing to ourselves and not to Christ. I feel that this is the greatest challenge of our time—to witness, not to what we think, but to Christ. Despite what may seem a plurality of visions of what the Church should be, we are called to be united in our missionary witness.

In his Opinion, submitted to the Preconciliar Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1905, Saint Tikhon observed that “the diocese is not only multinational; it is composed of several Orthodox Churches, which keep the unity of faith, but preserve their particularities in canonical structure, in liturgical rules, in parish life.”

Saint Tikhon identifies “unity of faith” as the foundation for one Church in America. That presupposes that we know our faith and that we are united in our vision of Who God is. We Orthodox Christians have all the tools for this: Scripture, Patristic writings, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and liturgy. Add to these today’s electronic ease of accessing sources. Surely if we fail at this, the fault is ours. Let us renew our efforts to find that unity of faith about which Saint Tikhon wrote. Let us regain that sense of God Who inspired missionaries to cross Siberia to share the faith with another people. Let us seek the priceless pearl of the Kingdom, so that we will know what we must share with others.

Archpriest John Dunlop is the Dean of Saint Herman’s Seminary, Kodiak, AK.

Join the OCA Youth Department’s Social Media Team!

2014-1204-ocayouthThe Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries of the Orthodox Church in America is seeking volunteers ages 18-25, to augment its current social media team. Join project management, social media, and marketing professionals as they guide, develop and implement the Department’s social media offerings through its Facebook page.
“In 2015, we’re planning to launch several video projects and new media platforms,” explained Priest Christopher Rowe, team leader. “Along with preparing for the 18th All-American Council, this promises to be a very busy year for our small team. There are plenty of hands-on experiences to be had in marketing strategy, content creation, and data analysis. It is our hope that we can grow some of these volunteer positions into true internships in 2015.”

Applicants between the ages of 18-25 must be practicing Orthodox Christians. While there is is no formal application, interested individuals should send information about their educational background, their life in the Church, and their desired professional goals as an e-mail to Andrew Boyd, OCA Youth Director, at Deadline for submitting information is January 1, 2015.

“On Behalf of All and for All”

by Matushka Valerie Zahirsky

As the deacon or priest elevates the Holy Gifts during the Divine Liturgy, he says, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.” These words, based on I Chronicles 29:14, remind us that the Liturgy is not “ours,” because it is offered for all people. The words also remind us that we have no gifts to offer God that are “ours” and not already His. In fact we have nothing that is ours — but we do have a God Who graciously “deigns to accept at our hands” that which we offer Him.

Guiding our actions by these words is one way for each of us to “expand the Mission” in our own parishes. Many of our parish communities happily welcome and accept visitor and newcomers. But there are still parishes in which visitors may be ignored, treated indifferently, or made to feel downright uneasy. Perhaps that happens when parish members forget that the Liturgy, the Church, the coffee hour are not “theirs” — at least not according to the words they hear each time the Holy Gifts are offered.

We all know people who became part of the Orthodox Christian family because someone welcomed them on their first parish visit and encouraged them to continue exploring the faith. These seekers-who-become-members bring diverse personal abilities to the Church, including skills that strengthen our collective effort to reach out to more people. In other words, they help us “expand the Mission.” How can we do less than welcome them, in the name of the One to Whom everything belongs, and from Whom everyone receives?

Matushka Valerie Zahirsky chairs the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Education. She is the wife of Archpriest Michael Zahirsky, Rector of Saints Peter and Paul Church, Moundsville, WV.