Word Magazine April 1990 Page 20/21
THE MISSION OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN
By Jacqueline Walker
Midwest Oratorical Winner
All of us and every human endeavor must have a sense of purpose or mission in order to be successful in life. I work at a children’s museum, and my work consists of taking care of the animals that are used to entertain ad educate children in the animal shows that we do. Some of my favorite animals are the beautiful pythons and boas. Incidentally, I know that two of them are undoubtedly Orthodox by their names — Vladimir and Gideon! When I have to hold one of these beautiful pythons or boas (which are over six feet long) for children to pet, they learn about these beautiful creatures God made. They are also entertained. That is the mission of our museum. All of us at the museum find it very fulfilling when we accomplish our goal.
The Orthodox Church in America has a mission, also. The question is, what is that mission? I would assert, that it is the mission of the Orthodox Church to introduce to North America in a vital way the fullness of the true Christian Faith. Orthodoxy is, of course, that Faith. By definition, “Orthodox” means straight or true worship and straight or true teaching. In order for this true worship and teaching to be known, we must find more and better ways to teach it. We must express worship in such a way as to truly please God and attract those who desire true worship. As Christ said in John 4:24: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
North America does not know much about Orthodoxy, and this is where we have failed. In other countries, Orthodoxy has gone there for evangelism and mission purposes. But in North America, Orthodoxy was not brought or propagated by missionaries but by immigrants. It made the move from the old country less difficult if they could bring their Church with them. Some of them saw the need for mission and evangelism, but most were content to keep things as they were. Thus among many Orthodox there was almost no effort made to reach out to the rest of American society. Let me hasten to say, there is nothing wrong with keeping in touch with our heritage. But it must not become so important that it keeps our church from being able to reach out to those without the same ethnic background. As I have said, we do not need to cut off our roots. We just need to focus on our heritage from Jesus Christ, his disciples, and the early Church, which is the true foundation of Orthodoxy.
Another problem the Orthodox Church in North America has that hinders its evangelism attempts, is that many people in it do not know their faith well enough to teach it. We must learn about our faith and not remain ignorant. All of us know people of the Protestant religion. It is worth noting that many of them know their faith well enough that they can evangelize very successfully. One reason they know it so well, though, is because, as you and I know, there is not much to know. There is so moth to our faith that it is impossible to learn it all, but everyone needs to know enough to explain it to those who live around us. This is probably one of the greatest problems facing us in evangelizing, but this obstacle ran be overcome by making the study of Orthodoxy a life-long pursuit.
Knowing our faith well is not enough, though. We must live it. If we live ungodly lives, but claim to be Orthodox, we make our faith look bad. When people see us living bad lives, it gives them the wrong impression. We must learn how to relate to the secular and materialistic American society that surrounds us, without compromising with it. We need to know where society is coming from, and work to change it. Learning how to relate to this society and compromising and joining into it fully are two different things. Some people of the Orthodox Faith have confused the two, which is a tragedy. We should change society for the better, not accept and embrace everything in it. In changing it, though, we obviously cannot ignore it. Divorcing ourselves would be a continuance of the present situation. It is sad that we have not yet reached out to our culture and those around us sufficiently.
There are many ways to reach out to those around us. We need to learn these ways if we wish to be successful in our campaign. One way to reach out to people is by simply living out our lives in a godly way. That can sometimes be a more successful testimony to God and our Faith than any other technique. People take notice of those around them and the way they live their lives. I was deeply touched when a fellow student once said to me that I was an inspiration to her because of the way I had chosen to live. This method really does work, and should be the premise upon which all other methods of evangelism are built.
Another way to evangelize people is to simply be their friend. This is sometimes called friendship evangelism and it can help show a person what a real Christian is. This is a method that requires patience but it can be very effective and rewarding. My parish has decided to use a form of this method by taking in refugees from World Relief and befriending and helping them to re-establish their lives in an atmosphere of Christian love and care.
A third method that could be used to win people for Christ and Orthodoxy is to talk to them straightforwardly about it. This can be done with people you barely know at work, school, or any other place where the opportunity occurs.
These are ways that can he used by anyone in the Orthodox Church, and not just the priest. The Church can learn from many sources how to evangelize, but the best sources to refer to are, of course, the Bible and Church history. The early Church Fathers and the disciples are the best examples of successful missionaries. They should always be looked to for help. The Orthodox Church has a rich history of successful evangelization. We must study our past efforts and then concentrate on and cooperate with the contemporary efforts being made by our departments of Mission and Evangelism and Campus Ministry.
As I said earlier, when Orthodoxy has gone to other countries, the purpose was to missionize. It is now time for our Church to become a missionary Church by reaching out to every segment in North America. In my opinion this would be accomplished faster and more effectively if our Church were unified into one Synod. When this unification takes place, the world will recognize the validity and truthfulness of our Faith. As Jesus said in John 17:21, “that they all may be one as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that You sent me.
This Church is the true Church, but we must no longer go on hiding the truth. We must set the goal to make America Orthodox. That may seem like an impossible goal, but as my father says, “he who aims at nothing will surely hit it.” We must see and understand our mission and then make the wholehearted commitment to live it out. We must live our faith and share it with others. We must not hide the truth any more! Jesus said it best in Matthew 4:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Jacqueline Walker is a member of Holy Trinity Church in Franklin, TN.