God-inspired Courage in Building a Mission Community
This evening, I am filled with great joy as I greet you on the occasion of my first visit to your God-protected mission. All of you have been in my prayers during these last two years. I know that you have worked hard for the glory of God and the up-building of His Church by establishing this holy mission here in Columbus. I also bring with me the greeting and blessings of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip and the best wishes of all the clergy and the Faithful of the Midwest Region.
By now, all of you realize that this work is not easy. I have always found it to be humbling to witness the great courage that is demonstrated by the faithful as they labor to establish a new mission. I believe that if it weren’t for courage in the face of what would seem to be insurmountable odds, no one would rise up to meet this formidable task. Certainly, you have demonstrated great courage in what you have accomplished.
However, all of you know quite well that your work has just begun. Now that you are faced with the enormity of your task, you are probably wondering how you can sustain the great effort that is needed. The answer is simple – only God can inspire in us the courage that is needed to complete the work that we have begun, fulfilling the greatest challenge ever given to man – that is, of course, the Great Commission – to preach the Gospel message to all nations.
Our first step in acquiring a God-inspired courage to doing the work that is before us, we must first take to heart what our Lord is asking us to accomplish in His Great Commission. It is our individual responsibility . . . not someone else’s . . . to make this happen. Your missionary effort fulfills this great responsibility.
There is a great urgency to this important commission. Our Lord said:
“Do you not say, ‘There are four months and then comes the harvest?’ Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for the harvest!” (John 4:35)
Our work is here and now before us. When it comes to making our Faith known to those who are “in a dry and thirsty land” and searching for the refreshment and salvation, time is of the essence. We cannot delay in reaching out to them.
Therefore, the challenge of this Great Commission is not mustering up what is needed to buy land, or to build a building, or to acquire material things in the name of the mission. Certainly, these are important, and God willing, they will come to you according to God’s Will . . . but never forget . . . these things are secondary in importance. Your primary job is not to gather stones to build a church building, but rather to gather living stones to build the Body of Christ. Of all that you will do, this requires the greatest courage . . . the courage to witness to your Faith.
To help us, we have a powerful missionary model to inspire us. This is, of course, St. Paul the Apostle and great missionary. Whenever the obstacles that we think that we have to overcome in establishing and growing a mission daunt us, we only have to look at what St. Paul had to overcome as he preached the Gospel and established churches. Can you imagine taking our concerns to St. Paul, telling him what a difficult task we are facing?
One of the great encouragements that we can gain from the example of St. Paul’s life as a missionary is to realize that the entirety of his work was a miracle in itself. There is nothing natural about persevering for the many years that he did, giving up everything . . . personal wealth, personal safety, and personal comfort . . . to spread the Gospel message.
St. Paul himself recognized that his work was miracle . . . a supernatural gift from God when he said in First Corinthians: “I worked harder than all of them . . . but yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Cor 15:10). This is also reflected in Second Corinthians when St. Paul said: “Not that we’re sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor 3:5). In other words, St. Paul’s missionary labor was not his own; it was God’s labor.
If we are to draw encouragement from St. Paul to meet the challenges encountered in today’s society in our missionary effort, we must know the source of his inspiration. St. Paul was responding to the following words of Our Lord: “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” (John 15:5). Finally, we can understand what St. Paul meant when he said: “. . . it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me . . .” (Galatians 2:20).
If you think that you have what it takes to be a missionary on your own ability, you are certain to fail. If you are to bear fruit here in Columbus, you must be certain that you utterly unable to do this work . . . on your own, that is. You must be convinced, therefore, that only with the help of God will you succeed in accomplishing your missionary effort.
This is how we draw the encouragement that we need from God. Godly encouragement is an instrument of God’s grace. Knowing that He is with us every step of the way, giving us the comfort and the challenges that we need to succeed. When the way seems to be steep and too rough to travel, we receive His divine encouragement to continue. So how do we hear God’s Word’s of encouragement?
There is a story about the Boston Marathon, which is one of the world’s best known races. One of the most infamous portions of the 26-mile, 385-yard course is “Heartbreak Hill.” It’s there, along that hill that thousands of spectators gather. They stand and cheer as they see weary runners about to collapse. During one race a young man was near total exhaustion as he approached the foot of Heartbreak Hill. It was doubtful he could go a step farther. About halfway up the hill an older man, who was obviously in better shape, came alongside the younger man, put his arm around him, and spoke quietly to him. Together, step by step, they painstakingly made their way up Heartbreak Hill.
St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians said: “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you are doing” (1 The (5:11). St. Paul’s words are demonstrated in the story of the older man helping the young runner. As a community, you are not doing your work alone – you are laboring together for a common purpose. As in my story, and the Apostle’s words, you must encourage one another to move your mission forward. The personal sacrifices that you must face as you build your mission do not have to be a “Heartbreak Hill”, as in the Boston Marathon. With the help of God and the godly encouragement you offer each other, you can . . . and will . . . succeed, according to God’s Divine Will.
My beloved in Christ, this is why I am here to be with you today – to offer you God’s encouragement. I believe that what you have accomplished is pleasing to Him – and I know that you have much work ahead of you. It is my prayer that God will give you:
· The courage to realize that the work that you are doing requires great personal sacrifice
· The courage to establish a unified, realistic and godly vision for the community that you are building
· The courage to organize all of your efforts to serve that unified vision.
· And finally, the courage to keep your faith and determination strong and alive.
You will accomplish all of this if you are willing to:
· Commit all of your work to God with prayer
· To make certain that the Liturgical life of your mission is vital and well attended
· To trust in God that He will aid you in all of your endeavors
· And never forget, you must love and trust one and another, offering encouragement to one and another as St. Paul directs us to do
These aspects of the life of your mission must form the foundation of all of your efforts.
I want now to highlight two important areas of focus that are an integral part of your outreach to the Columbus community.
1. The first is the publicity that you have done to make your presence known, and
2. the second is the support that you have given to our students here at the University. Both of these are extremely important in moving your mission forward, and I urge you to continue to develop them.
As I said before, you must realize that you are not alone. There are many resources available to you that you can take advantage of, and I encourage you to do so. You have available to you the various departments of our Archdiocese. There are many vital organizations, such as The Order of St. Ignatius, the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, The Antiochian Women, and Teen SOYO who are doing great work in supporting of the parishes and missions in our Archdiocese and the ministry of the laity. There various symposia offered throughout the year, focusing on supporting particular aspects of parish life, such as Sacred Music, the work of the Parish Council, and Christian Education. Finally, we come together as the Body of Christ at the National and Regional levels at our Archdiocese Conventions and Parish Life Conferences.
As you know, Toledo is only two and one half hours away from Columbus. I invite all of you to visit your home, the Toledo Chancery, whenever I am there. You can come to talk and to learn . . . to bring your adult and youth groups, so that we may fellowship together. I also invite you to come and pray in the Sts. Peter and Paul Chapel located at the Chancery.
We must engage the work that you are doing here together as a unified effort. As your Bishop, your welfare is of the greatest priority. I will continue to monitor closely your progress, and if there is anything that I do that can be of assistance to you, I urge you to contacting me at any time.
I want to take this opportunity to thank each member of this mission for your great sacrifice and your hard work. As I have said, your work is vitally important because it glorifies God and is the forefront of the up-building of His Church. I also want to thank all of the dedicated clergy who have energetically attended to your spiritual needs.
Finally, the greatest help that I can offer to you, is to assure you that you are in my continued prayers . . . that God will aid and assist you as you labor in His mission fields by instilling in each of you the courage that only God can inspire. May He be with you in all that you do, and may He shower this holy mission with His choicest blessings.