Archive | Reflections

A Layperson’s View: “Remembering… with Thankfulness”

by Mary Ann Bulko

“This is My Body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” [Luke 22:19].

Ah yes, remembrance – in the biblical sense it means a “reliving” — not simply recalling — of a particular event. When we are receiving the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ is actually present with us – it is not a mere recollection of Him and His words. A memory, however, is a wonderful gift that God has given us. True, there are occasions or events that we might prefer to forget – a traumatic or disastrous situation such as war or some calamity, for example. Yet even in these circumstances, there is a possibility or potential for healing, be it physical or emotional; and with God’s help and mediation, spiritual healing can occur.

In anticipation of this year’s 18th All-American Council, I pondered the archival summaries of councils and sobors from decades ago, so conveniently available through technology. For me, it became a walk down memory lane. In the late 1970s, the subject of “women delegates” to the AAC was a matter of much debate. At the Fifth AAC in 1977, “observers” were permitted to take part, including women. It wasn’t until November 1980 that the issue was finally resolved with the passage of a Statute amendment allowing women to represent their respective parishes as AAC “delegates.” Later in the 1980s, I was called upon to actually address the AAC on a serious issue concerning clergy widows. It was a matter that deserved particular attention before the entire Church body.

On another matter which I discovered in a personal archive, I found this simple yet delightful excerpt from a letter written in December 1974. “I have begun publishing ___’s articles. I believe she’s one of your ‘finds.’ Can you get her to produce a photograph of herself so that I might give her the same ‘visual’ coverage that I give all our male columnists?” That request was made by Father John Meyendorff, then Editor of The Orthodox Church newspaper, to a young priest named Father Thomas Hopko. Father John was referring to a 28-year-old “writer” who was a fairly new member of Father Thomas’ parish of Saint Gregory the Theologian in Wappingers Falls, NY.

In a truly insightful article published in TOC in 1999 titled “Finding One’s Calling in Life,” Father Thomas makes several key points. “Everyone is called to serve God and his fellow human beings in some form of life which God wills. This ‘form of life’ is not necessarily a job or profession.” He continues by citing those with disease or affliction or being an object of another’s care or disdain. “This is their vocation, and they are particularly blessed by God and loved by Christ in its acceptance and fulfillment.” He goes on saying we are called to love, know, serve and live as God does. Each person has his or her own life to sanctify and will answer for what he or she has done. And each must discover one’s own way, and thereby glorify God. All one needs to discover God’s will is “the pure desire to see, to hear, to understand and to obey. God does the rest.”

“We also need His help as it comes to us through others,” Father Thomas continued. It is here that I share my personal remembrance of him, as he was instrumental in showing me that by being “faithful in the little things of life,” one inherits much more. “Accepting who we are, where we are, how we are… struggling to sanctify our state of existence by the grace of God” is what he prescribes for all.

On the 20th anniversary of Father John’s repose in 2012, Father Leonid Kishkovsky, TOC Editor, wrote, “He knew that an educated and informed clergy and laity were necessary for a healthy Church.” Father John valued the possibilities of an experience in American Orthodoxy, having come to the United States from France. In truly appreciating the universality of the Orthodox Church, he without hesitation agreed to accept a woman’s view or perspective on Church and contemporary matters. It was because of both Fathers John and Thomas that I was given a blessed opportunity to express my love for the Church with observations on life in commentaries through a column titled “A Layperson’s View” for 30-plus years.

I’ll always remember with gratitude and humility their example as mentors and conduits to help others discover a way to serve in the name of Christ. May their memories be eternal!

Saint Tikhon’s Pastoral Vision

by Archpriest Alexander Garklavs

As previous reflections have noted, the theme of the 18th All-American Council, “How to Expand the Mission,” is taken from the first All-American Sobor, which took place in Mayfield, Pennsylvania in March 1907. That historic gathering marked the end of Saint Tikhon’s hierarchical tenure as Bishop of the North American Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church. Saint Tikhon came to North America in 1898, and the nine years of his archpastoral administration were a period of dynamic growth. The North American Mission was already 100 years old, but it was on Saint Tikhon’s watch that a “vision” of Orthodoxy in the New World acquired substance. Although Saint Tikhon had several outstanding co-workers assisting him, a fact that he readily acknowledged, he played the critical role in defining and articulating that vision.

“How to Expand the Mission?” This was the question posed by Archbishop Tikhon at the beginning of the 1907 Sobor. We should bear in mind that “Mission” here meant the entire “North American Missionary Diocese of the Russian Church,” not general missionary evangelization. The task ahead, as Saint Tikhon saw it, was to establish parishes and develop programs that would facilitate the way for the Mission to become self-reliant and financially independent. Although short-lived, the Sobor was acknowledged a success by participants and the “Church growth” that followed was impressive.

In fact the 10 years that followed saw a phenomenal expansion of the Mission. Between 1907 and 1917, almost 100 new parishes were formed so that the Church’s 1918 Directory listed over 300 communities. Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, founded in 1905, developed into a working monastic community at South Canaan, which was also the site of a functioning orphanage. Another orphanage was established in Springfield, Vermont, while in Brooklyn a woman’s college was opened. In 1912, the Minneapolis seminary was renamed Saint Platon’s Seminary and moved to Tenafly, New Jersey, to bring it closer to the diocesan center in New York City. At the seminary liturgical services were both in Slavonic and English, and the 1906 English translation of Orthodox services known as “Hapgood” was in use more and more. An important symbolic event, illustrating the recognition of Orthodoxy in the United States, was the concert of the excellent male choir from New York’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral at the White Hour in 1914. By 1917, the census of the Mission, which included the Syrian, Albanian and Serbian parishes, was estimated to be 300,000 people!

Thus, the Mission really did expand following the Sobor. There is no mystery as to why or how this occurred as two basic factors for successful Church growth were in place: 1) hard working and dedicated clergy, and 2) enthusiastic and committed laity. But in addition to these two factors we need to add these two important corollaries: 1) With few exceptions, the clergy were of a high caliber, mostly sons of clergy, who received excellent training at Russian seminaries. They were supported morale-wise and financially by the Russian Orthodox Church which, for example in 1917, allocated $500,000 for the Mission (about $10,000,000 in today’s money). 2) Church growth was directly proportional to the number of Eastern European immigrants (Ukrainian, Russian, Carpatho-Rusyn, Romanian, Serbian, and Albanian). Also significant is the fact that the immigrants were mostly young, with young and emerging families, who sought the spiritual and social comforts that churches afforded to them in a new and foreign land.

As we are reusing the same theme, we may ask if we can expect similar Church growth to follow the 18th All-American Council? The future being in the hands of God, we cannot predict with certainty, but it is reasonable to think that there will not be growth on such a scale. The external circumstances of 1907 have changed dramatically, and there is neither a flow of money or immigrants from Europe. But the first Sobor did become a template for subsequent councils. Significantly, all of the councils of our Church have included lay people, almost in equal number to the clergy participants. We take this for granted today, but it was an important development in 1907. On a somewhat humorous note something happened at that council which has been reoccurring ever since: a good deal of time was expended on discussion of a fair and practical system for procuring revenue from parishes, but the only result was the creation of a committee.

The real important lesson that we can take from the 1907 Sobor is not something that happened at the council but the vision of Saint Tikhon, which he articulated in his writings and sermons and which compelled him to convene the Sobor. Though it has been augmented and adapted, the essence of that vision remains the fundamental ideal for North American Orthodoxy, and therefore also the ideal for the Orthodox Church in America. Being the good pastor that he was, Saint Tikhon was also a good observer and in a short time was able to ascertain the unique conditions and needs of Orthodoxy in North America. He was given a perfect opportunity to articulate his vision in 1905 when all of the diocesan bishops in the Russian Church were asked to respond to a series of questions in preparation for the planned All-Russian Church Council. As things worked out, that Council did not take place until 1917, when Saint Tikhon was elected Patriarch, which became the last and tragic chapter of the his life. But it is his comments in the 1905 responses that are important for us.

The relevant portion of Saint Tikhon’s response is available in English — What he wrote about the North American diocese is both constitutive and prophetic. He envisions a continuation of dynamic growth of the Orthodox Church in North America, where diverse ethnic communities would preserve whatever particular religious customs may be meaningful to them. The connection with the Mother Church would remain, but in an unencumbered manner, allowing the Mission to develop its own identity. It is a vision where the fundamentals of Orthodox Christianity are preserved, without being compromised by cultural-religious customs, nor by the fact that here Orthodoxy is transplanted into a non-Orthodox environment. He not only sees future success, and he even theorizes about “autocephaly,” which is amazing when we remember that he is writing in 1905!

The qualitative feature here is that this is a pastoral vision. Absent are a) the strict application of confining principles, and b) the restrictive supposition that one form of Orthodoxy is the best. What is present, and constitutes the overall framework of Saint Tikhon’s vision, are three points: 1) an abiding conviction that, as Orthodoxy is the faith of One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Christianity, the Church is for everyone, in any place, in any time; 2) pastoral solicitude that is discerned through sensitivity to the time and place; and 3) a genuine love for people, which of course can only exist when there is genuine love for God.

For the participants of the 1907 Sobor the “Mission” was the name of the Church to which they belonged. Expanding the mission meant for them the establishment of parishes and programs for Orthodox immigrants. For us in 2015 “Mission” means evangelization and outreach, to the non-Orthodox as well as to the lost sheep. To some extent this does include the establishment of new parishes, but because many of the existing parishes are losing members it is clear that expanding the mission will require formation of different strategies which would effectively bring people into the fold of Orthodox Christianity. To be fair, we must acknowledge the efforts of certain priests and people who have been successful in their outreach programs. Boot camps, Church growth seminars, various workshops, etc., all of these have produced some benefits. But this 18th All-American Council is convened not to celebrate our modest successes, but to acknowledge that we have much work to do. In Atlanta and in the days and years to come we will continue prolonged discussions and debates, asking difficult questions, being patient, being bold, being wise, being humble, accepting compromises in the spirit of conciliarity, and speaking the truth in love at all times. We will also continue supporting our theological schools so as to cultivate strong and wise leaders who will continue the work after us.

And of course, we will pray. If the most memorable moments of our gathering in Atlanta will beour common prayers and Eucharistic celebrations, then we will convey satisfaction to parishioners back home. Sometimes success is intangible, not to be measured in terms of miles run, money earned, or prizes rewarded. Such in fact was the 1907 Sobor. It was distinguished neither because of profound discussions nor by outstanding resolutions. Rather the spirit of the event made it special. Inspiring and underlying the council, Saint Tikhon’s unique personality and his vision set the tone and affected the results more than the agenda. The Sobor was imbued with his love and generosity, his spirit of devotion and faithfulness to God, and his respect and courtesy for people. Expansion of the mission in a manner as dramatic as took place between 1907 and 1917 is, at this time, unforeseeable. However, recapturing the pastoral vision of Saint Tikhon and discerning how it can be implemented for us now is possible. In fact, it is essential.

Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, is Rector, of Holy Trinity Church, Parma, OH.

Expanding Our Mission through Theological Education

by Archpriest Dr. Chad Hatfield

The great Orthodox Christian missionary bishop, Saint Innocent of Alaska, founded the first seminary in North America, while he was bishop of the new diocese in Alaska of the Russian Orthodox Church. This “Missionary Seminary” was located in his home in Sitka (New Archangel), which was constructed 1841–1843, and in which Saint Innocent lived until 1853. The “Russian Bishop’s House” is now part of the National Parks System, but its second floor chapel still is graciously made available to Orthodox Christians for liturgical services from time to time.

I have had the great blessing to serve in that chapel, using the same chalice, diskos, and censer that had been used by Saint Innocent. I was deeply moved as I sat quietly in the first-floor section of the house that had been used for the instruction of seminarians. I could sense it had been a place of prayer, where students were educated and formed for service in the vast Diocese of Kamchatka, the Kuriles and Aleutians, from the cathedral see in Sitka.

These seminarians would have spoken Fox Aleut, Tlingit, or Yup’ik, or Athabaskan. These native and mixed-race candidates for Holy Orders would have learned Latin, Church Slavonic, and Russian, and would as well have studied theology, medicine, and liturgics. Bishop Innocent imparted to them all the great importance of expanding the mission of the Orthodox Church.

Saint Innocent believed three things were required to plant Orthodoxy in a new land.

  • Recruiting local people as candidates for the priesthood.
  • Training them in local seminaries.
  • Communicating the Gospel in the language of the local people.

In 1853 the Sitka seminary was transferred to Siberia, when by then, the now Archbishop Innocent had been transferred to lead the diocese from its new see in Yakutsk. While the seminary was moved to Siberia, education in theology remained available in Sitka, as part of the school system that had been established in Alaska by the Church. The seminary that Saint Innocent had established then became known as the “Innocentian Missionary School.” Up until 1900, that school was still functioning, and included a two-year course in biblical history, catechism, liturgics, church history, church practice, along with classes in the humanities and mathematics!

When Russia and the United States negotiated the Alaska Purchase in 1867, Saint Innocent, by then Metropolitan of Moscow, viewed the sale as an opportunity for the Church to expand its mission even farther throughout North America, and not as a tragedy for the Russian Orthodox Church, which already had made significant inroads in establishing centers of theological education and in spreading the true faith throughout the U.S. and its territories.

When Bishop John (Mitropolsky) transferred the administrative offices of the Diocese of the Aleutians and Alaska to San Francisco in 1872, he also transferred the Missionary School (though it later returned to Sitka). Upon the arrival of Archbishop Vladimir (Sokolosky-Avtonomov) in 1888, a school for readers and choir directors was established.

However, as the Orthodox presence in the eastern and mid-western parts of the United States grew, Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) moved the theological education center from the west coast to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to coincide with the shift in the Orthodox Christian population. There, the “Minneapolis Missionary School” was opened in 1897, and continued until the growth in the student body (numbered at 122!) made necessary an expansion of the school facilities.

A Seminary Commission was formed by Archbishop Tikhon (Bellavin) to explore the formation of a new seminary for the North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. After favorably receiving the findings of the commission, Archbishop Tikhon transferred the missionary school from Minneapolis to Cleveland, Ohio, and replaced it in Minneapolis on July 1, 1905, with the “North American Ecclesiastical Seminary.” The first dean of the new seminary was Priest Constantine Popov, a graduate of the Vologda Seminary in Russia. In 1906 Priest Leonid Turkevich was appointed rector and dean of the seminary. During the time the seminary remained in Minneapolis, the Divine Liturgy and other church services were celebrated in English.

However, it soon became apparent that the majority of seminarians were coming from the northeastern part of the U.S., and equally important to note was that the administrative center of the diocese was in New York City. Considering these two facts, a decision was made to move the seminary from Minneapolis to Tenafly, New Jersey in 1912, at which time it was renamed “Saint Platon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.” At that time Archbishop Tikhon emphasized once again the crucial importance for seminaries to train candidates to become “pastors for the people from within their own milieu, knowing their spirit, customs, and language” (Report to the Holy Synod, 1902, in J. Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America: A Short History, 2nd rev. edn., New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 50).

In 1917, the Russian Revolution brought financial hardship and confusion to the Church in North America. Classes continued until 1922 at Tenafly before the seminary operation was moved to the Russian National Home in New York City. From 1924 until 1937–1938 there were no seminaries to train future priests. A few Orthodox seminarians trained at Episcopalian seminaries during this time, including Nashotah House in Wisconsin. There, a large icon of the Three Hierarchs is still found, a gift of Orthodox Christian graduates from the Class of 1928.

In 1937, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America established a theological school at Pomfret, Connecticut, which eventually became Holy Cross School of Theology, with its location in Brookline, Massachusetts. In 1938 the Russian Mission in North America established Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in New York City and Saint Tikhon’s Pastoral School in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. In 1942 the Great Sobor of Bishops recognized Saint Tikhon’s as a seminary, and it began expanding its faculty, campus facilities, and curriculum. In 1946, at the Seventh All-American Sobor, the Church approved a plan to reorganize Saint Vladimir’s Seminary as a graduate school of theology, and in 1948 the Synod of Bishops granted that privilege, thus making Saint Vladimir’s a “Theological Academy” (the Russian equivalent of a graduate school of theology); this transformation was officially sanctioned by the Board of Regents of the University of New York by granting the seminary first a Provisional Charter (1948) and then an Absolute Charter (1953). In 1973 Saint Herman’s Pastoral School (later seminary) was established in Alaska, giving the Orthodox Church in America three seminaries to oversee and support.

As we look to expand the mission of Orthodox Christianity in North America in 2015, we clergy and hierarchs of the OCA must now consider if it’s time to examine in a proper and passionless manner the place and role of our three seminaries, by asking the following: Why is residential formation for priestly ministry considered essential in our Orthodox Christian tradition? How can our seminarians meet the demands of the high cost of residential education? Where do distance learning and hybrid forms of education fit into the scheme of expanding our mission?

We need this conversation to determine a long-term game plan, building on the great legacy that comprises our OCA history of missiological and theological education.

Moreover, at our 16th All-American Council meeting in Seattle in 2011, a resolution was passed unanimously that called for all of our parishes and missions to send 1% of the total monetary sum of their annual budgets to an OCA seminary of their choosing. If embraced, executing this resolution parish-by-parish and mission-by-mission would go a very long way in reducing the current annual funds needed for operational costs facing our three seminaries.

Sadly, only a handful of our OCA parishes and missions participate in this sacrificial, but much needed, method of support for our seminaries, where leaders for expanding our mission are being educated and formed. Remember: those first seminarians in Alaska, including those who began studies with Saint Innocent, grew their missionary diocese to the point of having more than 50 clergy in a mere 18 years!

The question before us in Atlanta at the 18th All-American Council will be: Are we ready to move on a proper strategic plan for theological education and seminary financial support that will be foundational for effective missionary outreach in the future? Without addressing this fundamental question, expanding our mission through our seminaries will be nearly impossible in this 21st century, and we will be found remiss in honoring our impressive heritage of theological education.


  • Orthodox America 1794-1976 Development of the Orthodox Church in America, C. J. Tarasar, Gen. Ed. 1975, The Orthodox Church in America, Syosset, New York.
  • John H. Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America, Oxford University Press, New York.

Archpriest Dr. Chad Hatfield, is Chancellor and Adjunct Professor of Missiology at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY.

Reacquainting ourselves with what God has called us to be

by Archpriest Basil Rhodes

The theme of the 18th All-American Council is “How to Expand the Mission.” What is the “mission” of the Orthodox Church in America anyway, and why does it need expanding?

According to the Mission Statement of the Holy Synod of Bishops, “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in America, the local autocephalous Orthodox Church, is to be faithful in fulfilling the commandment of Christ to ‘go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all [things that He has] commanded,’ so that all people may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth: 1) To preach, in accordance with God’s will, the fullness of the gospel of the Kingdom to the peoples of North America and to invite them to become members of the Orthodox Church. 2) To utilize for her mission the various languages of the peoples of this continent. 3) To be the Body of Christ in North America and to be faithful to the tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church. 4) To witness to the truth, and by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to reveal Christ’s way of sanctification and eternal salvation to all” [Adopted by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, 1990].

The Mission of the OCA is to incarnate the words of the Tomos of Autocephaly — in other words, to BE the autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America. To expand this notion is first of all to reacquaint ourselves with what God has called us to be, and secondly to embrace that calling with renewed vigor and renewed dedication. The word “mission” also means “a calling to action.” This calling is to spread the Word of God as rightly preached and rightly practiced to all the peoples of North America. God has not called us to be a museum conserving religious artifacts. He has not called us to be a cultural preservation society for any particular people. God has not required of us any affiliation with any particular ethnic or national identity or cause other than our own. We are Canadians, we are Americans, we are Mexicans… and we are Orthodox Christians. This does not mean that we do not recognize traditional, “Old World” communities within our larger context. On the contrary, we DO, and we celebrate them. We honor and respect them. But “mission” means “to expand and to grow,” bringing the word of truth to those outside of the traditional Old World communities, communicating the Holy Tradition in a way they can appreciate, and in a language that they can understand.

Some have suggested that the only way to accomplish a unified North American Orthodox Church is to surrender our vision and our mission to that of others. I disagree. We may be small, but David was small. We may be weak, but as Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. We may be unrecognized by many, but so was the Lord Jesus Christ [John 1:10]. No, surrender is not the way. Expand the mission, celebrate the mission, extol the mission, empower the mission. In this way, we not only fulfill the mandate given to the Church by God, but we each, as individuals, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14].

Archpriest Basil Rhodes, is Rector of Saint Nicholas Church, Saratoga, CA.

Expanding the Mission: A monastic perspective

by Brother Christopher of New Skete

In reflecting on the theme for the coming 18th All-American Council, what strikes me as most vital is this question: How do we as a Church help bring those we meet into a living and dynamic relationship with Christ — one which at the same time is an experience of the Kingdom of God? We can be ever so doctrinally pure, have awe-inspiring liturgy and beautiful architecture and iconography, but if we are cold, distant, and judgmental to those who come through our doors, our churches will stagnate and eventually wither. Dostoevsky articulated this tension brilliantly through the characters of the Elder Zossima and Father Ferapont. What is alarming is how seductive the rigorist mindset of Ferapont seems to be to some in the Church who measure authenticity by a narrow, triumphalistic ecclesiology.

More than any specific program of evangelism or model of renewal, more than wonderful liturgies and beautiful churches, our primary concern must be that we are a community of welcome that others experience as authentic and Christ-like, that initiates them into a living experience of the Kingdom of God. This is what is attractive and believable to our world: the fruit of the transformation we ourselves have experienced. This openness and generosity is the preeminent gift of Orthodoxy and accounts for its remarkable growth throughout the early Church. It is our inheritance. Whenever people experience this, the rich tradition of the Church flowers in life-enhancing ways that foster true growth.

If we are to faithfully expand the mission of the Church, we must be “catholic” in the best sense of the term. This means finding our identity as Church here in North America, with a vision that is broad enough to include immigrant communities, but which renounces any sort of ethnic or colonial tribalism as inimical to the identity of the Church. We are Orthodox, and for that very reason we are inclusive in the best sense possible. Further, it is essential that we empower and support the various ministries of the Church precisely because they act on behalf of us and in communion with us. The Church requires our financial and moral support. By self-identifying as the Church in North America, our vision must transcend any sort of “club mentality” and work to be a community of faith that humbly radiates the presence or Christ to all we meet. This is what our world hungers for. Responding to that need is at the core of our mission, at the core of our own identity.

Brother Christopher, is a monk at New Skete, Cambridge, NY.

Love People, Be Courageous, and Work Hard

by Protodeacon Peter Danilchick

“He longed to preach the Gospel to those who had not heard it.” So one historian described Saint Nikolai of Japan, Equal-to-the-Apostles, who planted Orthodox Christianity in Japan in the late 1800s. I was very fortunate to serve from 1977 through 1979 at Tokyo’s Holy Resurrection Cathedral, known to the public as Nikolai-Do, the “house of Nikolai.”

Saint Nikolai was assigned in 1860 as the Russian consular chaplain in Hakodate, on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. He could have had a very comfortable life ministering solely to the needs of the Russian people there. But he did not. He turned his efforts to evangelizing the people of Japan.

Saint Nikolai’s missionary principles were threefold — love the people by first understanding who they are, be courageous in sharing the faith, and work hard and continuously.

He visited Buddhist monasteries to understand their beliefs. In fact, at one monastery, he engaged in such intense discussions that the monks thought he wished to convert to Buddhism. However, the shoe was on the other foot. He wished to convert them! But first he needed to understand the spirituality of the Japanese people. Why? In order to minister to them. “He attempted to transplant Orthodoxy into Japanese minds and infuse it into the Japanese spirit.” But then it was necessary that the people understand the prayers, liturgy, and theology of Christ’s Church. To do this, he translated into Japanese the New Testament and the services of the Orthodox Church, not ceasing until his death in 1912.

When Saint Nikolai began his work, Christianity was forbidden, and any missionary efforts could be met with prison and death. One day, a sword-wielding samurai came to see him in order to dissuade him from his Christian belief and, if unsuccessful, to kill him. Saint Nikolai persuaded the warrior to sit down with a cup of tea and have a calm discussion. The samurai eventually became one of the first Japanese Orthodox priests. Saint Nikolai was courageous in sharing the faith.

In 1911, the Japanese Orthodox Church had three times as many catechists as clergy. The catechists were not seminary-trained. They would meet in-house twice a week to learn about Christ and His Church. But Saint Nikolai did not allow them to keep their newly acquired faith and knowledge to themselves. They would hold classes two other times in the same week, teaching those who knew less than they did. They worked hard and seriously.

As a result of my experience in Japan, followed by mission efforts in Texas, Hong Kong and Singapore, I have found the following three simple and straightforward missionary principles to be very useful. Unfortunately, they are so simple that sometimes they can be forgotten.

  • Include the people in the service and the work of the Church. In our Singapore and Hong Kong missions, we didn’t rely on one or two readers, but asked various people in the congregation to read the psalms. We sang from simple song sheets, ensuring as much as possible that the hearers would understand the words, especially when new to them. We utilized different approaches to the music of the services. In Singapore, Matins was sung using two-part harmony from the OCA “Soroka Matins book.” The Typica (and Liturgy) hymns were sung according to the GOA Divine Liturgy Hymnal. Cradle Orthodox felt at home; converts learned about diversity. Organizing mission services and activities required a lot of work. We didn’t wait for people to volunteer. We asked them to help, emphasizing that everyone is called to be part of the “fellow-workers” beloved by Saint Paul.
  • Educate people in words and concepts that they can understand. We emphasized Christ, the daily life of prayer, reading the Bible, good works, kindness, generosity and forbearance. In Singapore, potential converts from Buddhism first read the Gospel of Saint Mark, being the simplest, shortest and most direct of the four. (Recall that Saint Mark’s Gospel was the one which Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, as a non-believer, read and discovered the presence of Christ.) Our church in Singapore was quite small, simple, and intimate. Teachings were directed at the needs of the people. One of our American expats said that she regretted the day that she had to return to her large church in America and would miss the closeness and sharing of the community in Singapore.
  • Be models of Christian behavior for those to whom we are missionizing. Love others in practical ways. Welcome all visitors warmly. Ensure they’re included in the life of the Church. Learn about their families, their hopes, their troubles. Pray for them. No matter the size of the parish or mission, assign people, clergy and laity, to ensure others are continuously looked after. When you look upon the congregation, see not just the “regulars,” but also the people who are not there, known and unknown. Engage the ones who should be there, who need the saving message of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Love people, be courageous, and work hard.

    Protodeacon Peter Danilchick, is attached to Protection of the Holy Mother of God Church, Falls Church, Virginia.

Becoming “fishers of men”

by Priest David C. Rucker, MDiv, DMiss (ABD)

There is an old story some missionaries in the last century dared to tell. It goes like this.

Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen. And lo, there were many fish in the waters all around. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish. And the fish were hungry.

Week after week, month after month, year after year, those who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish and how they might go about fishing. Year after year they carefully defined what fishing means, defended fishing as an occupation, and declared fishing was what they loved to do.

These fishermen built large, beautiful buildings for a local fishing headquarters, and even a national center for fishing. Some began to realize, however, that the more time they spent doing this, the less time they were spending actually fishing. When this was pointed out, some redoubled their efforts.

In addition to meeting regularly, they organized a board to send out fishermen to other places where there were even more fish. The board was formed by those who had great vision and courage to speak about fishing, to define fishing, to promote the idea of fishing in faraway streams and lakes where many fish of different kinds lived. The board hired a director and staff and appointed committees to define fishing and plan for major fishing expeditions, and to even decide where and how to fish next. But the staff and committees did not fish. So, they worked even harder.

A large, elaborate training center was built as a place to teach fishermen how to fish. Courses were designed and offered, some even for academic credit, to promote and teach fishing. The courses covered the needs of fish, the nature of fish, how to identify fish, how to approach and feed fish. Some even obtained doctorates in “fishology.” But fewer and fewer actually spent time fishing.

The fervor intensified. Large printing houses were built to publish fishing guides and information. Presses worked night and day producing materials devoted to fishing methods, equipment, programs, and to report on the last meeting of the board and to prepare for the next meeting.

After one stirring banquet in a beautiful hotel ball room on “The Necessity of Fishing,” one young man left the meeting and went fishing. At the next meeting he reported that he had actually caught some outstanding fish. He was honored for his excellent catch and was scheduled to visit as many meetings as possible to tell how he did it. He was so busy he had to cut back on his fishing in order to have time to tell about it. He talked about his experience so well that he was put on the General Board, and then had no time at all to fish. He really missed fishing.

After all these heroic efforts, after all the funds were raised and spent, after all the sacrifice, imagine the shock when someone suggested that those who don’t fish aren’t really fishermen at all. Does a desire to fish make one a fisherman? How long can one not fish and still be called a fisherman?

The Master Fisher of Men is still calling: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” [Matthew 4:19]. We can renew, expand upon, and participate personally in this calling which is the mission of our Church; we are called to be “fishers of men.” We become His disciples as we participate in making disciples. Theosis (deification) happens in a unique and unrepeatable way in each person who dares to let Christ make of him or her a “fisher of men.”

*Adapted from John M. Drescher, “A Plea for Fishing,” Pulpit Digest, July/August, 1978 and Wayne McDill. Making Friends for Christ: A Practical Approach to Relational Evangelism. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1979. Pp. 8-9.

Priest David C. Rucker, MDiv, DMiss [ABD], ministers in Alaska as a Mission Specialist with the Orthodox Christian Missions Center.

A Response to “How to Expand the Mission”

by Archpriest Steven Voytovich, D. Min.

His Beatitude Tikhon, Metropolitan of our Orthodox Church in America, together with the Holy Synod, has put out a call on “How to Expand the Mission,” taken from the first All-American Sobor, held in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, in March of 1907. At that time this same question was brought to bear on the Russian Mission here in America. The Russian Orthodox Church had gathered in 1905 to discuss church reform. Part of Saint Tikhon’s response to this question from the perspective of the American mission has been translated and is printed in the Saint Tikhon’s Theological Journal dedicated to his life and ministry (2006, p. 29-30). And though Patriarch Tikhon had already been re-assigned away from the American Mission, his successor had not yet arrived, so he supervised the events of this precedent-setting Sobor that he in fact had laid the groundwork for. According to the article on this council posted on the OCA website: “Saint Tikhon increasingly sought the participation and input of all clergy and laity in the governance of the diocese. This remarkable style of diocesan administration engendered various regional ecclesiastical gatherings over several years to discuss and develop church life” ( Not only did this council convene, but the very approach to governance used was later embraced by the Moscow Sobor of 1917!

In 1920 Patriarch Tikhon issued an Ukase laying the canonical foundation for further development of self-governance in America. This Ukase, referenced in Bogolepov’s book, Toward an American Orthodox Church was to only be applicable until such time as relations with Moscow were re-established (2001, p. 89-ff). We know that the events transpiring during these tumultuous years were many and conflicting, complicating the pathway forward for the American Mission.

According to V. Rev. John Erickson, in the Saint Tikhon’s Theological Journal referenced above, Saint Tikhon understood both the importance of the American context to be multi-national/multi-ethnic, and that its clergy had to be: “missionaries in America and for America” (p. 86-87). Then Bishop Alexander Nemolovsky was elected as ruling bishop by the convened clergy and laymen at the Second Sobor in Cleveland, 1919. This decision was approved by Moscow. Father Erickson goes on to summarize additional points of Patriarch Tikhon’s vision, stating: “It was to be a Church that maintained diversity in unity, ministering to ‘our people,’ but at the same time open to the world, with a mission to wider society, in which all – clergy and laity – were called to participate in responsible ways” (p. 89).

From this brief statement, there are a number of important dimensions of “The Mission” held together in tension. Not the least is our ability to gather as Church as in the upcoming All-American Council (AAC) in 2015, with clergy and lay participation, as a direct outreach from the 1907 All-American Sobor. Unity in diversity, sobornost, was also a foundational dimension of the American missionary context in expressing diverse manifestations of Orthodoxy, that at the broadest level included the missionary experience in Alaska, mixed with significant immigration from a variety of lands, creating numerous transplanted branches of the vine of the Body of Christ needing careful tending. As already noted, clergy were called to be missionaries in and for the American context. At the same time all representative leadership could come together to discuss issues of mutual concern. And, “mission to wider society and the world,” remains an important manifestation of a growing self-governing church, directly here in the American context and beyond.

Wouldn’t it be meaningful for us to take time to look at each of these areas held in tension before and during our upcoming AAC as real opportunity to reflect on our efforts, and future goals, related to expanding the mission? Rather than quietly grousing about divergences between expectations and lived reality of our inner and external relations, let us instead openly reflect on them: celebrate our present diversity, glean lessons learned, and recommit our ties. Saint Tikhon spoke of “regional ecclesiastical gatherings.” Within the OCA, perhaps broad-ranging regional dialogues with territorial and ethnic dioceses focusing and strategizing around a variety of areas in our shared church life would assist in building stronger relations. The same dialogue could include honest reviews of relations with sister churches. Perhaps in some cases representatives could be invited to participate. We also need to identify and take stock of ways in which we have and/or need to engage “wider society.”

I believe our OCA is also at a significant crossroads with respect to “How to Expand the Mission.” The generations of those who assisted in guiding our church through the tumultuous times (or were directly in dialogue with those who were) pre-dating and following the granting of Autocephaly, are rapidly dwindling. Many of these leaders (clergy and lay) hold vital portions of our lived history, including some very creative and meaningful steps taken by faithful Orthodox Christians. They are often reticent to discuss such events and steps without being asked directly. Unless we make an effort to capture them soon, such valuable contributions will be lost to future generations. Together, we need to value such creative and insightful steps, along with related mistakes, made by clergy and faithful trying to navigate the treacherous waters of Orthodoxy in America in the unfolding aftermath of the Russian Revolution and related historical events both there and here. This active loss, alongside the more recent time of troubles, has resulted in an alarming loss of energy and focus on our ongoing mission as OCA. Metropolitan Tikhon is right to recall this focus at such an hour, on clergy health, church institutions, and evangelization, the latter I might broaden to add ministry, in keeping with the early mission of ministering to wider society.

For example, has anyone noticed the growing silence of anyone openly talking about the life of our church here in America? In previous decades such talks certainly contributed toward the focus of expanding the mission while inspiring present and future Orthodox Christians. In having returned to seminary in my present role as dean, I am continually astounded to see just how much of what was publically shared and written about when I was in seminary 25 years ago, remains as true and meaningful today. Yes, we hear ample critique of many of these authors by subsequent generations, but little in the form of the substantive body of work many of them created simply out of their real and humble love for Christ, and efforts to build on the foundation of the Orthodox mission planted here.

Shortly after beginning service as dean last fall, I had the opportunity to share early steps taken with Archpriest Paul Lazor, former Dean of Students at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. In our discussion, we each disclosed having reviewed how previous seminary professors taught course material we were assigned to, and then made adjustments relating to our respective perceptions of current contextual concerns. Father Paul identified the fruit of this approach as developing a “healthy continuity,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Can we reflectively and critically apply such an approach to Orthodoxy in America today?

Our growing – and in my estimation unhealthy – focus most recently appears to be on survival amidst the contracting size and financial strength of the OCA. It is important to note that financial struggles were also present at the time of Saint Tikhon’s time of leadership. An example here is of Holy Trinity Church’s building funds of $40,000 being absconded by a banker they were entrusted to in 1901, followed by related false testimony by another against the character of Saint John Kochurov to the parish. It took Saint Tikhon’s direct involvement to both restore the funds and the relationship between parish and priest for the church to be completed in 1903 (2006, pp. 5-6). Funding itself, though necessary, is not a total solution; relationships remain at the core of our church life.

Additionally, as the dwindling (noted above among previous generations) has persisted, new generations of Orthodox Christians have both emerged from and grown up within in this American context. Many now do not hold the concerns that past generations had around “jurisdictions,” “autocephaly,” and much of the history we have too quickly referenced here. Increasing numbers of our faithful today are among those coming to Orthodoxy as converts. So on the one hand, we have sons of current clergy studying at seminary, remaining convinced of the need to serve the church, and holding some amount of generational lived experience of American Orthodoxy. On the other hand, we have converts that are also greatly convicted of the truth of Orthodoxy. They desire, however, to remain unencumbered by what they see past generations having been in some way consumed by.

The need for dialogue around “How to Expand the Mission,” is, therefore, at least as important today as ever before. Together, as church, we can hopefully value and learn from the labors that our forefathers (some now Saints!) creatively offered, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in what was for them a new and foreign context of America that remain meaningful to us today. And, through the lens of a healthy continuity, we can support and embrace the energy and creativity of those who today want the light of Orthodoxy to continue to brightly shine forth in this context, inspired by the same Spirit.

I believe the best pathway forward is to hold our past and present in tension, as we look to the future, drawing from the celebration of the Eucharist that ultimately defines our identity and mission as Church. It is this primary model of the “local Church” – first referenced with James, the Brother of the Lord, together with the Church in Jerusalem where he was bishop, celebrating the Eucharist – that continues to be both our goal and witness as Orthodox Christians in North America today. I should hope that we would be reluctant to give up this witness, unless in solidarity with our sister church clergy and faithful as they are blessed from abroad to similarly freely undertake such regional ecclesiastical dialogue in resolving questions related to Orthodoxy in North America, as begun in small steps by Saint Tikhon. Sister Church leadership from abroad could remain invaluable prayerful mentors and guides for such historic developmental steps!

I would like to close by repeating the prayer offered by Bishop Basil (Essey) closing his address in the aforementioned journal: “By the prayers of all those saints who knew each other and were co-workers in Holy Orthodoxy’s One Vineyard of North America – Saint Tikhon and Saint Raphael, Saint John Kochurov and Saint Alexander Hotovitsky, Saint Alexis Toth and so many others – may God by their intercessions open our eyes and the eyes of Orthodox believers throughout this country and throughout the world to see the vision that they beheld and to live the life they struggled to live, and to recapture and enjoy the blessing of that unity which they indeed enjoyed by God’s grace” (2006, p. 148).


Bogolepov, Alexander A. Toward an American Orthodox Church: The Establishment of an Autocephalous Orthodox Church. SVS Press, 2001 (revising the 1963 original text).

V. Rev. [sic] Michael Dahulich, ed. Saint Tikhon’s Theological Journal. “Patriarch Tikhon: The American Years, 1898-1907 – Our Common Legacy.” Vol. IV, reflecting papers presented at the September 19, 2006 Symposium with this focus, and fall lecture series presentations that followed it.

Archpriest Steven Voytovich, D. Min, is Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, South Canaan, PA and Chair of the OCA’s Institutional Chaplain Department.

Real questions!

by Dr. David C. Ford

There can be little doubt that today North America is more of a mission field than it ever was. As we all can see, the Christian “reservoir” of traditional values is rapidly evaporating before our very eyes. Now, more than ever, our surrounding society needs the stability, hope, and wholeness that Christ offers through His Holy Orthodox Church – through her true worship, her true spirituality, and her faithfulness to the eternal truths about this earthly life and about eternal life, which have been faithfully passed down to us by myriads of faithful Orthodox Christians through nearly 20 centuries.

But the real question for us, as Orthodox Christians in the 21st century, is whether we will faithfully share these same truths with those who desperately need to hear about them in our surrounding society. Will we be compassionate enough and strong enough in our Faith to proclaim our Lord’s truth, even in the face of misunderstanding, ridicule, and hostility?

For instance, do we talk openly about the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, with its message of hope and wholeness embedded in our Orthodox Faith, to our non-Orthodox friends and/or relatives? Do we invite them to our church services? Do we welcome newcomers into our churches, being eager for our parishes to grow? Are we praying in our parishes for the Lord to bring new people into our churches, whoever they may be? Are we celebrating the services at least mostly in English, so newcomers, and our own people, can understand better?

Will we be more eager, at the parish level, to support our fellow Orthodox Christians in neighboring parishes, whatever their jurisdiction might be, so that our Orthodox witness to our surrounding communities can be stronger through our being more united? Are we eager to hold and participate in combined events with the other Orthodox Christians in our areas, and are we working towards that?

Are we encouraging the young people in our parishes to seek the Lord’s will for their lives, including the possibility of full-time ministry in the Church? Are we actively supporting the work of our seminaries and our missionaries? Are we encouraging and supporting the growth of Orthodox monasteries in our land, and visiting them as regularly as we can?

Are we encouraging our priests to lead weekly study groups, so that we can grow in our faith, and have something else to invite friends to? If our parish has such a group, are we participating in it?

Do we care enough about our young people to firmly yet lovingly advise them that they must preserve their bodily integrity until marriage in order to live in full physical, emotional, and spiritual health, without any guilt – and so that their marriages can get off to the best possible start? Are we strong enough to advise them that all extra-marital sexual activity is sinful and must be repented of? And are we strong enough in our Faith to urge our young people to devote themselves and their marriages fully into our Lord’s hands, so that they may truly be led by Him, with their marriages wonderfully reflecting Christ’s Love for His Bride, the Church?

Are we strong enough to compassionately, yet firmly, advise those with same-sex attraction that they do indeed have the power, through their free-will and through the grace of God that’s always available for the asking, to resist such temptations – even though this may be very difficult at times – and to keep trying to live in purity of body, soul, mind, and spirit [1 Corinthians 10:13]? Will we and our clergy stand firm in resisting the pressures of our surrounding society to give in to the misplaced spirit of toleration in our day that says same-sex sexual activity is no longer to be considered sinful?

By Saint Tikhon of Moscow’s prayers, and those of all the North American Saints, may all of us Orthodox Christians in North America, both clergy and laity, be ready and able to answer “Yes” to all of these questions. For if we’re doing these things, the way will be prepared for our Lord to bring increase to His Church in this land – the mission will indeed expand, as He directs.

Dr. David C. Ford is Professor of Church History at Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, South Canaan, PA.

Expanding the Mission

by Joseph Kormos

Expanding the Mission requires a clear, consistent vision — a description of “what it will be like when we get there.” Here is a vision for the Orthodox Church in America in 20xx

  • A Church where its life and the lives of its communicants and parishes are transparent to Christ and proclaim hope and life in Him.
  • A Church whose holiness is worked out according to the well-established traditions of the Church and the unique needs of Christians sojourning in North America.
  • A Church where appropriate traditions/customs are maintained in harmony with a respectful reverence for the inheritance from traditional Orthodox lands.
  • A Church where Orthodox visitors from historically Orthodox countries can recognize a continuity of the faith with their homeland while also appreciating that the Church here as a living form of Orthodox Christianity. A Church that builds upon the best qualities and cultures of North American life and has put down deep roots in a new homeland.
  • A Church that exhibits a steadily growing number of healthy parishes which exhibit a healthy degree of diversity in unity. Parishes are distributed across North America to the extent that 90% of the population needs to travel no further than 45 minutes to attend an Orthodox Church.
  • A Church with parishioners/worshippers of all ages and all backgrounds, reflecting the local communities they serve.
  • A Church that is welcoming to all, where people are knowledgeable in their faith and demonstrate a zeal for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a willingness to share it with others — a zeal normally seen today from evangelical Protestantism, but softened, molded and enabled by the historical, spiritual depth of the Orthodox Christian Faith and nourished regularly by its sacraments and worship.
  • A Church that takes its rightful place among Sister Orthodox Churches and offers its traditions and insights into pluralistic cultures to world Orthodoxy.
  • A Church that is leading by example and humility in a drive to achieve an autocephalous administratively unified American Orthodox Church.
  • A Church that is led and energized by appropriately educated and prepared bishops, priests and lay leaders.
  • A Church where each bishop serves and administers to all of the parishes in his territorial diocese.
  • A Church that is headed by a First Hierarch who, with a modest administrative staff, maintains order and aids diocesan resources to execute initiatives and programs that help parishes proliferate and grow (quantitatively and qualitatively) with as little combined resources (central and Diocesan) as possible and where decisions are made promptly and consistently at the level appropriate to the decision.
  • A Church that speaks first through its deeds and uses all of its God-given talents, available resources and technologies, to speak loudly, forcefully, consistently, clearly, skillfully, and frequently to the people of North America about the Orthodox Christian faith and Holy Tradition, its ability to deliver salvation and to be a principle-centered compass for a morally challenged society.
  • A Church that, as the fruit of its deeds, receives respectful media treatment which focuses on its positive spiritual and societal outcomes rather than its failings or curious colorful ethnic inheritance while always remembering that its principle and an goal is to enable North Americans to acquire the Holy Spirit of God through the Orthodox Christian life and faith.

Mr. Joseph Kormos is a member of Christ the Saviour/Holy Spirit Church, Cincinnati, OH and heads the Parish Development Ministry of the OCA Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.