Word Magazine March 1974 Page 4-5
LET US GO FORTH IN PEACE
By Father James C. Meena
Let us understand that when we, as Orthodox Christians, speak of missionary activities we do so in a context which differs substantially from the attitudes of other Christian groups. We do not conceive of missions as being, necessarily or exclusively, a localized attempt, on the part of a few Orthodox zealots to bring others to a knowledge of Christ which might cause them to foreswear their former religious ways of life in order to become Christians. Rather, our attitudes are more all inclusive, involving the whole Church in an effort to exemplify the transforming nature and power of life in Christ.
The missionary thrust of the Orthodox Church has never been so much in an appeal to “Receive Jesus” as it has been in the commendatory challenge to “Give yourself to Christ . . . and this giving begins at the core of the individual’s ability to believe and his willingness to grow and then to extend his influence upon others by the impact not of words of religiosity but by the witness of the example of his new and constantly renewed life in Christ.
Our Lord started at the center, with a chosen people, the Jewish nation who knew about God, from whom He selected His first and greatest disciples. He then extended the Good News of His Kingdom to the Gentiles. Later, the Apostles did the same and even those two great Apostles to the Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas, would start their work with the Jewish communities living in pagan lands to which they traveled, whenever possible, and then extended their message to the natives of those lands.
Even the Greek and Russian missions of a later time began with a nucleus of Orthodox Immigrants and then reached out to the non-Christian peoples of those countries.
Our concept is that the WHOLE CHURCH is in a missionary state and that every mission of the Church is the responsibility of all. Our missionary thrust starts at a center and expands to and beyond its own perimeters. We do a great injustice to ourselves and to our history when we conceive of missionary activities as being limited to a special segment within the Church whose unique job it is to convert as many as possible to the Orthodox Church.
Despite what we have heard and notwithstanding any preconceived notions, Hollywood inspired or otherwise, that we may have about missions and missionaries, the missionary drive of the Orthodox Church begins with the words, “GO FORTH IN PEACE,” and it involves not merely some committee or department, not simply a handful of highly dedicated and perceptive people, but, somehow, THE WHOLE CHURCH, must be involved.
The missionary efforts of our Church, then, begin with the People of God wherever this is possible. They are used as yeast to leaven the whole loaf. The beginning, then, is us, all of us who are one with Christ . . . you and me . . . your parish and mine . . . , all and each ought to be the centers of our missionary dimension. But a beginning is only a beginning. More is required.
After the resurrection, when Jesus met with His eleven disciples for the last earthly time, he said to them . . . and subsequently to the Church . . . “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all the things I have commanded you . . .“ (MATT: 28:16 FF)
In the Gospel of St. Mark He commands them, saying: “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation.” (16:15)
It is, therefore, in the context of the Orthodox Missionary dimension that we GO . . . and PREACH . . . and TEACH . . . and PROCLAIM . . . and BAPTIZE. This means action and not passivity. It means work, not rhetoric. It means now, not later.
In the final moments of the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Chalice is exposed to us for the last time and placed upon the Prosthesis Altar whence it began, with its sacred contents, its transformative and grace-filled sojourn. The Priest, who has already reminded us of Christ’s final promise to his disciples to be with them “Always, now and ever and unto ages of ages,” now urgently addresses the congregation and says: “LET US GO FORTH IN PEACE”. Thus, the same idea which began the Liturgy now ends it . . . that we do something IN PEACE.
But let us not misunderstand the intent of this idea. Unlike other statements in the Liturgy this is not a litany or a supplication. It is a command. “In Peace let us pray to the Lord” should not be interpreted as an invitation to sit back, to relax and enjoy. It is, rather, a Divine order that we examine ourselves, that we not be found wanting . . . that we know our faults and sins and repent of them with contrition and that we overcome worldliness so that we might approach the Lord IN PEACE.”
In a like manner, the last command of the Liturgy is that we GO FORTH . . . and go forth IN PEACE. Neither should this be interpreted as a signal to leave merely because the Liturgy is ended, for in the sense of Eucharist, the Liturgy never ends for the faithful. Nor is this simply a command to depart from the building having fulfilled some socio-religious obligation for another week. It is, rather, that same command which Christ gave to His eleven disciples on that Galilean shore where he had appointed: “Go forth and make disciples of all nations” . . . . Go forth and proclaim the good news
The missionary dimension of the Church starts with us as the epicenter of a spiritual explosion which is intended to engulf the whole world. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to be aware of our individual and collective roles in this ministry.
St. Paul, as he always does, puts it so well when he says: “Thanks be to God who, wherever he goes, makes us, in Christ, partners of his triumph, and through us is spreading the knowledge of himself, like a sweet smell, everywhere. We are Christ’s incense to God for those who are being saved and for those who are not.” (II COR. 2:14-16)
Partners with God . . . spreading knowledge of Him . . . Christ’s incense to God . . . What a beautiful description of what we are and of the characteristics of our missionary efforts. As His partners, we share in His life and glory. As the vehicles for spreading knowledge of Him we share with others the possibility of their sharing in that life and glory. And as Christ’s incense to God we are a sweet smelling sacrificial offering placed before the Altar of our Heavenly Father with the commendations of His only begotten Son.
Another characteristic, of the missionary character of our Church is that it serves without baser motives, hoping to change people not by coercion of any form but by examples of love and piety. This is found in the earliest days of the Church as we find again in St. Paul to the Corinthians (II COR. 2:17), “At least we do not go around offering the word of God for sale, as many other people do. In Christ we speak as men of sincerity, as envoys of God and in God’s presence.” Envoys are judged more by what they are than by what they say.
The missionary dimension of the Church is faith We have the same spirit of faith that is mentioned in scripture, ‘I believed, and therefore I spoke’— we too believe and therefore we speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us with Jesus in our turn, and put us by his side and you with us.” (II C0R. 4:13-15)
Add, therefore, to our missionary dimensions, the qualities of FAITH, first . . . and then the speaking of the word in FAITH. As you must have ascertained by this time, greater emphasis is placed on our example than on any other activity. But there is a place for speaking, but not until we can do so with a strong faith. “What matters,” says St. Paul to the Galatians, “is faith that makes its power felt through love.” (GAL. 5:6)
Finally, an important dimension of our missionary hopes is our ability to expend, unselfishly, of our material resources and our personal time and energies. We can no longer assign the work to one man or a handful of part-time volunteers, and spend a pittance of money and expect that we are going to redeem our own people who live in areas where there is no Orthodox Church, much less to bring Orthodoxy to the untold millions of North Americans who have no religious faith or affiliation.
“Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping: the more you sow the more you reap.” (II COR. 9:6). Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (6:7-8)