FIRST, IMAGINE. THEN, ENVISION. THEN, DO YOUR PARTBy Metropolitan Methodios of Boston
Another Sunday of Orthodoxy has come and gone. Another SCOBA encyclical issued to be read from pulpits and published in parish publications. More pan-Orthodox Vesper Services scheduled where representatives of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the many other Orthodox presences in America gathered to celebrate the victory of Orthodoxy over the iconoclasts of centuries past and those in our midst today. Panegyric homilies extolling the potential of Orthodoxy in America "if only we were united administratively" surely echoed in churches throughout the nation.
An article recently appeared under the title, "Is the 21st century the century of Orthodoxy"? My answer to this question is not based on numbers. I believe we should stop estimating---even bragging about how many Orthodox live in this country, but rather ask how many Orthodox practice their Faith. Nor is my response based on when there will be canonical administrative unity. I think those who pontificate about the need for administrative unity should rather be respectful of Canon Law and Orthodox ecclesiology and refrain from installing Bishops in cities where there is already a governing canonical Bishop. I believe that the 21st century will be the Century of Orthodoxy only if its clergy and laity are imbued by the same Spirit that consumed Phillip who sought out Nathaniel in the Gospel text.
Orthodoxy will grow and leave an indelible mark on America only if it realizes that it must be in constant mission. Only if it opens its embrace to welcome those who seek to quench their thirsts from the well spring of our Faith.
When most of us hear the word "mission" or "missionary", we think of lands far from us. We think of Africa and Asia. We think of peoples mired in the poverty of the third world. I refer to mission in America. Our mission in America will be successful if we first embrace those that have strayed from our Communities for various reasons. Just imagine how attractive Orthodoxy would be to our fellow Americans if our churches were filled with cradle Orthodox who were active in the lives of their parishes! Imagine if our communities were bristling with activity, especially with a vibrant sacramental life! Imagine if our worship services resembled those that the Russians experienced in Constantinople where they reported that they couldn't tell whether they were on earth or in heaven! Imagine if Orthodoxy were not limited to a Sunday morning experience for a small percentage of communicants, but rather a Church which lived the entire liturgical cycle! Imagine if our chanters and choir members didn't consider their service a burdensome chore for which they needed to be thanked profusely and continuously, but a privileged ministry to glorify the name of Almighty God! Imagine if every parish were a Jacob's well where today's Samaritan men and women could quench their thirsts by dialoging with Spirit filled priests! Imagine if our philanthropy extended beyond the borders of our parishes to embrace the battered and abused, the homeless and the hungry, the hopeless and forgotten. All those whom we don't recognize, yet surely exist in our cities and towns. All those described by Christ as "the least of our brethren"!
Our first mission must be to those who had the blessing to be born into Orthodox families, but for various reasons left the bosom of Orthodoxy NOT to worship elsewhere, but worse to mire in spiritual sloth and indifference. Our first mission should be to members of our own Orthodox family who are lost in the sea of materialism, hoping for a big catch. Our first mission should be to those "Orthodox" parents who have forgotten that the most important church is their own home. Those parents who, rather than taking their children with them to Church, carpool them to football, soccer or hockey practice on Sunday morning.
If our churches were brimming with Spirit filled worshipping Orthodox, then they would be attractive to our fellow Americans who are asking, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life." Then our mission to America would be crowned with unimaginable success! In the Gospel text read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we learned that Phillip found Nathaniel and shared with him his joyous discovery: "We have found him of whom Moses and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John 1,45). And when Nathaniel expressed doubt, Phillip challenged him to "come and see (John 1, 46).
How many of us have personally discovered Jesus of Nazareth? How many of us have the zeal to share that joyous news? If we challenged someone to "come and see" our Orthodox Parish would our visitor be welcomed or made to feel like a stranger? Would our parish be alive with religious fervor and zeal? Would the worship experience be fulfilling? Would our visitor find the chanter and choir prepared to lead the congregation in worship of Almighty God? Will the priest have prepared an inspiring sermon to help the congregants face the rigors and challenges of modern day life?
First, imagine. Then, envision. Then, do your part to make Orthodoxy the Faith of the 21st century.