A New Era Of Evangelistic Fervor

By Fr. Michael Simerick

I’m not an expert on matters of evangelism, yet the Scriptures are clear on calling us all to be instrumental in baptizing all nations in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In my 33 years of pastoral ministry, I had concluded, as I am sure many cradle Orthodox clergy and lay had, that I had been faithful to our Lord’s mandate to evangelize. Over the years I looked for opportunities to teach principles of the Orthodox faith to non-Orthodox, in particular those involved with members of my parish. I participated in ecumenical forums in order to provide Orthodox witness.

All of my counseling as a parish priest, and especially as a U.S. Navy chaplain for 20 years, was deliberately predicated on sound Orthodox theology. I did so, hoping that those who were not of the Orthodox faith might come to know something about Orthodoxy through their counseling experience. I attempted to serve the divine worship services with dignity and the solemnity they deserved that they not only be meaningful to Orthodox participants but also to non-Orthodox who might be present.

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So confident was I that I was fulfilling our Lord’s mandate to make Orthodox Christians of all nations, that I became irritated when convert priests to our Orthodox faith reminded me personally or through group sharing of the greater need for concern regarding evangelism in our Church. I further justified my resentment to the notion that our Orthodox churches in America were falling short of their evangelistic responsibility by reflecting on my military experience. Many of the non-Orthodox chaplains with whom I served belonged to faith groups that almost exclusively existed for the purpose of evangelization. They would do anything to make converts, and yet from my observations, they would bring these converts into traditions that, it appeared to me, did not have sustaining faith values.

In addition, it became apparent to me that frequently the conversions obtained by these groups were the result of the charisms or personalities of the individual converters. In some instances these clergy evangelists would become lax in their faith, or being military chaplains, were transferred, causing their converts to suffer demoralization and the feeling of abandonment. The above factors led me to believe that by being open to conversion, but concentrating on the pastoral responsibilities I owed my congregation, my ministry was on target.

Realizing The Need For More Aggressive Evangelization

However, I began to slowly change my opinion and to see the need for a more thorough and aggressive plan for bringing people to Christ via the Orthodox faith. I began to realize that some non-Orthodox denominations and Satan himself were responsible for diminishing the zeal we Orthodox should have for evangelization. As cradle Orthodox priests and laymen, we have come to accept the notion that although we have the fullness of truth, other denominations also bear witness to truth. Add to this the current climate of political correctness and somehow the steam is taken out of our drive to evangelize.

Making one feel guilty for claiming their faith group teaches the fullness of the truth is a powerful weapon in defusing one’s zeal for evangelizing, especially living in a secular society that has adjusted to existing in the realm of half truths. Yet, this is our commission—to bring mankind to the knowledge of the truth that they might be saved through their death to the old man and rebirth of the new man in Christ Jesus.

Are we truly living in a Judeo-Christian society, or have the fundamental tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as its moral and ethical constructs, been compromised? I think most would agree that they have been compromised, not only in the society at large, but even in western Christianity and Judaism. Some western Christian denominations no longer believe in the Incarnation, the virgin birth, the divinity and the humanity of Christ’s natures. Many Christian and Jewish leaders alike have capitulated to granting homosexual marriage and ordination, and to supporting abortion. New Age narcissistic feel-good theologies have become the norm in some of more traditional western Christianity and Judaism. “If it feels good for me, it is right, and who are you to tell me otherwise?” Frequently, these non-Orthodox groups are offended when they hear us speak about having access via our Orthodox faith to the fullness of the truth.

Some of my non-Orthodox friends in the military were often infatuated with ancient Oriental religions in which Ying and Yang, meditation, fasting, and contemplation were all seen as worthwhile elements to be embraced. However, frequently these philosophies and disciplines were found to be ends in themselves. All of these factors began to disturb me, and it became evident that a real program of evangelization was needed.

Evangelization Possibilities In An Inner City Parish

Over four and a half years ago I was assigned to Saints Peter and Paul in Detroit, an inner city cathedral parish that rode out the collapse of the city’s infrastructure and now finds itself an island in a sea of mostly Hispanics who do not have a clue about Orthodoxy. Only a handful of the original Orthodox faithful live anywhere near the church complex. The questions became “What would God have us, the faithful of SS Peter & Paul, do?” He would certainly want us to try and bring back lapsed members and restore them to the parish rolls. He would desire that we seek out Orthodox Christians who were not participating in area churches and bring them into the fold. But most importantly, He would have us take seriously the humanity outside our church doors and convert them to the Holy Orthodox Catholic faith.

This point was made poignantly clear to us as a church community when we reflected on the gospel of Lazarus and the rich man, and heard it with new ears and new hearts. We concluded, “Are we not the rich eating lavishly from the altar table of our Lord and stepping over those outside our church doors who are starving for the Lord’s eternal sustenance?” This revelation made it clear to our parish members that we would not have a future unless we took the Lord’s commission seriously to go and baptize all nations. From this point on, evangelism took on a whole new meaning. We realized that God could not bless our endeavors unless we were obedient to His commandments—that He would not help us to reach out to others and bring them the life-changing faith of Orthodoxy unless our own parish life was in order. Therefore, the need was born to revitalize our parish and, by His grace, to develop a plan that we might fulfill His commission to evangelize.

First Steps

In June of 1999, two of my parish council members and I were fortunate enough to participate in the first organized training seminar for evangelism and church growth sponsored by the OCA Office of Church Growth and Evangelism. The training program, termed “Boot Camp” was held from June 7-11,1999 at the Romanian Vatra in Grass Lake, Michigan. The fact that the training session was termed “Boot Camp” made it very easy for an old sailor like me to relate. The following is some of the information we discovered during that seminar:

For evangelism to be taken seriously in the parish and for it to be effective, a real plan is imperative.

The whole parish must be made aware of the importance of the program, and all the faithful must be willing to take ownership of it and participate in it.

In addition to recruiting converts, we must have in place a process for bringing them into the mainstream of parish life. The physical parish complex must be well maintained and conducive for church growth.

There is a scriptural adage that suggests new wine cannot be put into old skins. This might lead some to believe that old parishes cannot change their ethnic biases and become open to peoples of different ethnic and racial diversities. Yet if the old skin is lined with a new fervor to be faithful to Christ’s commission of baptizing all, then this transformation is possible.

Multifaceted Plan

Our plan for evangelization and church growth at SS Peter and Paul has become multifaceted. Due to our predominantly Spanish-speaking neighbors, akathist services in the Spanish language have been held periodically, particularly when the Weeping Icon of the Mother of God of Livonia can be present.

The following information relates to what our parish attempted to do in the past in order to foster better community relations, and what we are now attempting in our program of evangelization:

Food Distribution Center

For eleven years our parish offered its services as a food distribution center for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. We were there to help our neighbors, and in so doing, we avoided much of the damage that was done to other buildings in the area in the years when some struck out in restless rebellion. A few years ago, the St. Vincent de Paul Society closed the food program and moved to another area where they are concentrating on summer camps and clothing.

Head Start and Latch Key Program

We were then able to offer our building for a Head Start (Vistas Nuevas) Program where nearly 100 children from three to five years of age attend pre-school instruction from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. We are now contemplating initiating a Latch Key Program to accommodate the siblings of our Head Start children. The Latch Key Program will operate from 6:00-8:15 a.m. and from 3:30-6:00 p.m.

Open House

For several years now we have offered an Open House program around Halloween for adults and neighborhood children alike. The program consists of day-long events with sessions on the Orthodox faith and a Head Start orientation segment, lunch, pony rides, petting zoo, moonwalk, magician, clown, games and prizes. All is provided by our church free of charge. We publicize the event via posters, the distribution of flyers, and recently we have added a bulk mailing to all the residents in the area with information pertaining to the event. We have had as many as 300 in attendance at this event.

We have made some adjustments in the program since its inception. In the beginning, we attempted to offer informational sessions to the adults while the children partook of the other activities. However, the Spanish people, being very family-oriented, did not want to be separated from their children. Thus, we suffered poor attendance at the informational sessions. We corrected the format and now hold the information sessions for the whole family before lunch. Upon the completion of the session, the family receives tickets that enable them to participate in the rest of the day’s activities. It is important to emphasize that the tickets are free. We did have a few situations where families did not participate because they thought they would have to buy the tickets.

Advent / Nativity Concert

This past Advent/Nativity season, our choir conducted a concert on Sunday, December 16th at 3:00 p.m. Over 50 Hispanic parents and children attended the concert of traditional Orthodox Christmas music. Immediately following the concert, a punch and cookie reception was held in our parish hall. Santa distributed stuffed stockings to the children as they left the church.

Mexican Priest Assigned For The Summer

We have been fortunate to have the assistance of a St. Tikhon’s Seminary student, Fr. Emmanuel Rodriguez, recently ordained. He and his wife, Matushka Nancy, spent some of their winter and summer vacations with us prior to Fr. Emmanuel’s ordination. Fr. Emmanuel has recently been assigned to us for the second time in connection with the OCA Seminarian Internship Program. Now that Fr. Emmanuel will be with us for the whole summer, a full range of programs is planned: weekly “obednitsas” (pro-liturgies) in Spanish, orientation classes to the Orthodox faith in Spanish, door-to-door visitations of our Hispanic neighbors, translation of additional Orthodox materials into the Spanish language for distribution, and periodic articles in the local Hispanic paper regarding the Orthodox faith and programs offered at our parish. Two other programs being considered are classes in English as a second language and computer usage.

Obstacles To Evangelization

Recently we have been made aware of some of the obstacles preventing our Mexican brothers and sisters who live in the area around our church from coming to the Faith. We have found that those who left the Roman Catholic Church and have had some involvement with Protestant churches, see the Orthodox Church as simply another Roman Catholic Church, and they seek no information as to who we really are.

Disenchanted Roman Catholic Mexicans still attending the Roman Catholic Church view the Orthodox Church as a Roman Catholic imposter, and shy away from involvement.

Other Mexicans who have resettled here without a faith tradition frequently are enticed by the greater and greater opportunity to gain wealth and material luxuries. They are willing to work a six or seven day week in order to acquire “the good life.”

Although participation by the Hispanics in our parish life is slow in coming, we will not be discouraged. We recently had the baptism of an African American. We never know who will come to our doors or where the seed of faith will take root. Our parishioners are committed to opening our church doors to all. The Boot Camp experience of my parish representatives and the information imparted at those sessions made a favorable impact on my parish as a whole. Although we have the will to follow the gospel with regard to its emphasis on evangelism, change is always difficult, and for some members of the parish it is more difficult than for others. Our prayer is that our parish will always be here to reach out to the unchurched and to be a haven of salvation for its Orthodox members.

I believe we have entered a new era of evangelistic fervor because the present time is now the right time. Ultimately it is God who decides when the time is right for all that occurs. Many are searching desperately for the truth that only our holy Orthodox faith can provide. Let us courageously, with dedicated resolve, seek God’s guidance in bringing the unchurched to the knowledge of the truth that they might be born again of water and the spirit for their salvation and the building up of His Holy Church.

Fr. Michael Simerick is pastor of SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in Detroit, MI

OCLife-DC: Getting Started with Orthodox Christian Pro-Life Action

By Lisa Jones

OCLife-DC is the Washington DC area chapter of Orthodox Christians for Life, the national Orthodox pro-life organization. The chapter focuses on prayer services and donation drives for local crisis pregnancy centers.

OCLife-DC was organized in1996, although individual Orthodox Christians in the
Washington DC area have taken part in pro-life activities as early as in the 1980’s, most notably in 1989, when Mr. James Jatras, Esq of St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, Falls Church, VA, co-authored a brief that was submitted before the United States Supreme Court. The complete text explains why the Orthodox Church has opposed abortion since the time of the Apostles. It is available at http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/OrthodoxAmicusBrief.htm.

Coffee hour discussions at SS Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, Potomac, MD created interest in a local Orthodox pro-life organization. The first step was to bring together as many interested DC area Orthodox as possible to consider various courses of action. When Fr. Milorad Milosevich of St. Luke Orthodox Church in McLean, VA offered to host the first organizational meeting, flyers announcing the place, date and time were mailed to every parish in the area.

First Meeting

At the first meeting, participants expressed a desire to establish a ministry offering alternatives to abortion, carried out along Orthodox principles. Several participants had been volunteering at local crisis pregnancy centers and realized that a ministry and Christian witness could connect with Orthodox Christianity, its sacraments and the Patristic teachings on chastity and family life.

As the months went by, more meetings took place at churches around the area. Meanwhile, a list of regular mail and email addresses of people expressing interest was assembled. Each meeting was announced by sending flyers and e-mail follow-ups to interested people and also to each parish. In addition, people who attended the meetings took responsibility for making sure OCLife-DC activities came to the attention of their own parish priest, the parish council and the parishioners.

One fact of suburban Orthodox life in the 21st century became clear—there is no good time to have a meeting. Most participants were family people, already actively involved in their own parishes. One participant recalls that for every person who attended a particular meeting, at least one other person indicated that they would like to have attended, but had already been committed to another family or church activity—absences “worthy of a blessing.” So how could OCLife-DC serve the local Orthodox community by mobilizing local interest and energy and talent without taking this interest, energy and talent away from parish and family efforts? Therefore, rather than act as a forum for debate and discussion without offering “next steps” for action, it was concluded that
OCLife-DC should act as a service organization. It settled on a three pronged strategy:

- to offer regular prayer services to unite people spiritually under the guidance and protection of the Church;

- to contribute donations to ongoing ministries to mothers in crisis pregnancies;

- to educate the local community about what the Church has always taught about abortion.

Prayer

Periodically special Vesper Services are held at area Orthodox churches. The services include intercessory prayer for mothers in crisis pregnancies, for babies at risk of abortion, and for guidance and strength to those who seek to protect the babies and minister to the mothers, as well as prayers for the unborn, in general. These services are usually weekday Vespers with petitions taken from the OCA Sanctity of Life Sunday texts. (Texts for the petitions are available on the OCA website: http://www.oca.org.) There have also been molieben and paraclesis services.

Members are also encouraged to pray daily to intercede:

  • That our hierarchs, priests and faithful may have wisdom to speak out effectively against these evils
  • That our parish communities may reach out to share our resources on behalf of those under siege from the Culture of Death
  • For pregnant women in crisis that they may find grace and support to bring their babies to term,
  • For strength and insight for pro-life workers to protect the helpless
  • For the babies that they may come to safe delivery and to Christian nurture in a loving home
  • For abortion providers to cease their practice and come to repentance
  • For the ill and the elderly that they may live out their days surrounded by care and attention.

O LORD JESUS CHRIST, the only-begotten Son of the Father, True God, source of Life and immortality, light of light Who has come into the world to enlighten it; You were pleased to be conceived in the womb of the Theotokos by the Holy Spirit for the salvation of our souls; O Master, Who came that we might have life more abundantly, we beseech You to enlighten the hearts and minds of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception and that the unborn are already adorned with Your image and likeness in the womb. Enable us to cherish and protect the lives of all who are unable to care for themselves, for You Yourself are the Bestower of Life Who brings every person from nothingness into being and seals each person with divine and infinite love. Be merciful, O Lord, to those who through ignorance or willfulness affront Your divine providence through the evil act of abortion. Bring us all to the light of Your truth that we may all glorify You the Giver of Life together with Your Father and Your all-holy and life-giving Spirit. AMEN

Almsgiving

The annual Dormition Fast Donation Drive (DFDD) is held each August when OCLife-DC members representing all Orthodox jurisdictions organize and publicize parish wide collections of baby and maternity items for donation to two DC area pregnancy care centers. The Drive also brings crisis pregnancy centers and their work to the attention of Orthodox Christians.

The centers, Shady Grove Pregnancy Center in Gaithersburg, MD and the Marih Center in Alexandria, VA offer free pregnancy tests to any woman who calls or walks in, followed by counseling that explains how abortion kills a living child. It offers practical support if the mother decides to have the child, e.g. low-cost prenatal medical care. Several Orthodox Christians volunteer at the Centers, and Fr. Miles Zdinak, pastor of Holy Resurrection Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, Potomac, MD serves on the board of the Shady Grove Pregnancy Center.

Education

Mr. Michael Thompson of St. Mark Orthodox Church, Bethesda, MD, composed a presentation package known as the “Pro-Life Parish Challenge,” a 20 minute talk explaining three important abortion issues in simple terms: “What really happens during an abortion,” “What the Orthodox Church has always taught about abortion,” and “What Orthodox Christians can do to live out their faith in this regard.” Many Orthodox have never had a brief, yet comprehensive presentation on the Church’s authoritative teachings on abortion, and thus, have not been able to realize that opposing abortion is fundamental to the Orthodox faith. A script of this presentation is available from the OCLife-DC contacts listed below.

March for Life

OCLife-DC hosts the annual March for Life Vesper Service at St. Nicholas Cathedral,
Washington, DC the evening of January 21st, just prior to the Annual March for Life that thousands of marchers attend. Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America has presided at this Vesper Service since his election as primate in 2002 and has walked in the March for nearly two decades.

The March for Life is held on January 22nd, unless that date falls on a weekend. Then it takes place on another designated day. It begins with a rally at Noon on the Ellipse near the White House. Hundreds of Orthodox hierarchs, clergy and laity from many states gather under the large banner with the icon of the Theotokos, Our Lady of the Sign. The March proceeds up Constitution Avenue, ending at the Supreme Court Building where a Memorial Service is offered by the Metropolitan and the bishops.

OCLife-DC continues to work to add new members, to educate more parishes, and to maintain the pro-life Vespers and the donation drives. An OCLife-DC pamphlet is available that offers practical ideas on how to get started on your own OCLife Chapter.

To receive the pamphlet and for more information on OC-Life-DC, please contact: 
Lisa Jones at ljones@erols.com

Fr. Alexander Webster

St. Mary Orthodox Church

7223 Roosevelt Ave.

Falls Church, VA 22042

OC Life National Headquarters

P.O. Box 805

Melville, NY 11747

Email: OCLifeHQ@aol.com

ORTHODOX PRO-LIFE RESOURCES:

The Sacred Gift of Life: Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics, Fr. John Breck, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, ISBN, 0881411833

An Orthodox View of Abortion, Fr. John Kowalczyk and Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Light and Life Publishing, 1987, ISBN 0686270703

Real Choices, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Conciliar Press, 1997, ISBN 1888212071

The Right to Life: The Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Abortion, Dumitru Macaila, Regina Orthodox Press; 2002, ISBN 1928653057

Abortion: What Does the Church Teach? (Booklet) Conciliar Press

Abortion, Economia and the Hard Cases, Mat.Valerie Protopappas, pdf. Format, OCLifeHQ@aol.com.

Orthodox Christians for Life Pro-life Handbook, Fr. Dn. John and Mat.Valerie Protopappas, pdf. Format from http://www.oclife.org.

“Politics is not a Dirty Word”, Fr. Alexander Webster, Ph.D. AGAIN Magazine, Conciliar Press, Vol. 22 number 3 (July - September 2000)

“Against Abortion but What Can We Do?” Becky Thurner, The Handmaiden. Conciliar Press, Vol. IV, No. 3, Summer 2000.

http://www.oclife.org Orthodox Christians for Life, Headquarters

http://www.prolifeinfo.org These links take you to most of the major pro-life organizations.

http://www.oca.org “Official Documents”

-ON MARRIAGE, FAMILY, SEXUALITY, AND THE SANCTITY OF LIFE. (1992)

-EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY (October 2001)

Lisa Jones has been the OCLife-DC Coordinator since its inception. She is active in parish ministries at St. Mary Orthodox Church, Falls Church, VA.

Philokalia Orthodox Bookstore

By Patricia Madden

The following pages offer an outline and suggestions gleaned from our experience with developing an Orthodox bookstore at Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, W. Columbia, South Carolina. We started in the corner of our coffee room in the old church. After a short period of time, we realized that we would need a “real” bookstore if we were to be a viable Orthodox presence in the area. A storefront was found at a very reasonable rent that enabled us to start this ministry… and a ministry it is.

While it is necessary for us to receive a steady income from the sale of books and other items, the main focus is “Come and See.” We chose the name “Philokalia,” which in Greek means “love of beauty,” so that our store might reflect the love of beauty in our theology and Church. Our mission is to share this with anyone who comes our way.

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About a year and a half ago, when our first church building became too small because of the growth in parishioners, we moved to our present, much larger building, which has a separate office in the front that opens onto the street. This office became our new bookstore. We are Philokalia Orthodox Bookstore, located at Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, 724 Buff St., W. Columbia, SC, 29169; tel: (803) 926-8744. Our hours are 10—5 Tues., Thurs., Fri., Sat. The store may be closed on some Feast Days, during Holy Week, and on the weeks after Pascha and the Nativity.

Organizing: How to Decide What to Offer; How to Generate Interest in It

1) Ask your community what they want to know more about.

2) Look at the surrounding area. What denominational churches are there?

3) Refer to lists of books that may address the above.

Some ideas to generate interest might be “reading groups,” individuals who will read the same book and then get together to discuss it. Difficult passages can be referred to the priest for further discussion.

If your priest is available to speak to other churches or groups that invite him, and he acquaints them with the existence of the bookstore, this may also bring in some interested people.

Classes taught by the priest at the bookstore on such topics as “Introduction to the Orthodox Church” encourage interest.

Include publicity, reviews of new books, bookstore hours in the parish bulletin.

Take a table at festivals, flea markets and fairs to sell your books and other items.

There are things besides books that can be made available for sale—prayer ropes, incense, CD’s, tapes and DVD’s, handmade gift items, cards, charcoal, burners, head scarves, vigil lamps, prosphora seals, and candles, to name a few.

How Philokalia Bookstore Is Organized

To help find categories of books, we have placed icons on all four walls, these being Christ, the Theotokos, Old Testament figures, and the Saints. When asked about a particular book, we direct them to the area of a particular icon.

The books are organized roughly into categories, but we have found that people get so used to seeing them, that they do not really see them… If books are moved around every so often, or are featured, then they are more noticed. Generally, they can be placed according to history, theology, saints, monastics, spiritual writings, whatever category works for your collection.

We try to make pamphlets and selected articles from the website available as handouts.

We have a comfortable couch where people can sit and browse through books, look over our articles (which are available for copying) and chat.

Some Thoughts and Ideas Gleaned from Our Bookstore Experience

Frequently asked questions from non-Orthodox inquirers are: “What is the Orthodox Church?” How does the Orthodox Church differ from…?” We ask for their background which gives us an idea where the questioner is coming from. Sometimes their experience includes several denominations. The time-line folder of how the Christian Church developed (available from Conciliar Press) is helpful here.

As a general rule, Protestants have questions such as “Why do you have Tradition?” “Where does it say in the Bible that…?” The single most difficult thing for them is their refusal or reluctance to consider “extra-biblical” sources, such as the writings of the Church Fathers. The King James Version, used in the Orthodox Study Bible, is a good help since it uses the translation most familiar to them. However, it is currently limited to the New Testament and Psalms.

Knowing which denominations are in your local area, you can have books that address Orthodoxy’s “answer” to questions that members of those churches might pose to you. One particularly good book for Protestants is Matthew Galliton’s Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells (Conciliar Press). He writes of his experience in several denominations and his studies at a seminary that then led him to the decision to enter the Orthodox Church. The book is written in a gentle, kind way. Another book useful as a resource is Orthodox Worship—Continuity with the Synagogue by Williams/Anstall (Light and Life Publ.). The book covers such topics as the development of Christian worship, the interior of an Orthodox Church, a description of the Orthodox Liturgy, and an overview of the ancientness of Orthodoxy. Generally, books by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. John Meyendorff and Fr. Thomas Hopko are foundational.

Questions About Icons

About icons, we are usually asked what these “pictures” are. Why do we have them all over? My personal favorite task is to explain icons, using the Nativity Icon, done in the Old Style Russian or Greek, because it clearly follows biblical teachings, i.e., Joseph questioning the situation, the Theotokos sometimes looking away, as though keeping things in her heart, perhaps anticipating His suffering, Christ wrapped or swaddled, but then looking closer, in the fashion of a deceased person, foreshadowing His death.

The concern Protestants have for “worshipping images” can be addressed somewhat by showing the icons that are images of events in the Bible, e.g., the Annunciation, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, the raising of Lazarus. Then, sometimes, I show a saint, like St. Nicholas, who was a bishop. In these there is nothing magical or esoteric.

We have the luxury of having the church right next door, so the next step would be to show the icons in the nave and the sanctuary. Then the questions become: “What, no organ? no pews? an iconostasis?” There is lots to talk about.

We are blessed to have Fr. Thomas teaching an inquirers’ class each week. I attend it because it gives me a chance to hear his answers to the questions and concerns that are raised so that I am better prepared to answer similar questions at the bookstore.

There will be times when no one comes into the store. This is the hardest aspect for me to experience. I had to learn that it is God’s work, not mine. All I have to do is be there. It is a great time to spend reading, praying and working on projects. There is always something to do.

Feel free to contact us if you have questions about organizing and running an Orthodox bookstore.

BOOKS/AUTHORS THAT ARE POPULAR IN OUR BOOKSTORE

In addition to the books and authors mentioned earlier, some of the following books are recommended:

Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament and Psalms), Conciliar Press, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press

Orthodox Daily Prayers, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press

The Divine Liturgy, Vols. I and II, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press

Abridged Typicon, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press

Priest’s Service Book, OCA Diocese of the South

Festal Menaions, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press

Lenten Triodion, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press

The Living God, Vols. I and II, SVS Press

Orthodoxy for the Non-Orthodox, by Fr. John Garvey, Templegate Publ.

How Then Are We Saved?, booklet by Bishop K. Ware, Light and Life Publ.

An Eastern Response to Evangelistic Claims, booklet by P. O’Callaghan, Light and Life Publ.

The Way to Nicea, by John Behr, SVS Press

Father Arseny, by V. Bouteneff, both volumes, SVS Press

Stages on Life’s Way: Orthodox Thinking on Bioethics, by J. and L. Breck, SVS Press

The Desert City, by D. Chitty, SVS Press

A Beginner’s Introduction to the Philokalia, by A.Coniaris, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press

The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain, by Golitzin, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press

The Papacy, by A. Gutee, Light and Life Publ.

Unseen Warfare, by St. Theophan the Recluse, SVS Press

Evening Worship, by N. Uspensky, SVS Press

The Meaning of Icons, by N. Uspensky, SVS Press

The Theology of Icons, by N. Uspensky, SVS Press

ADDRESSES OF BOOKSTORES AND PUBLISHERS FROM WHICH YOU CAN GET CATALOGUES AND RECOMMENDATIONS:

Orthodox Christian Publication Center
4653 Memphis Villas S. 
Brooklyn, OH 44144
Tel: 216-531-1838
Web: http://www.oca.org

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Bookstore
575 Scarsdale Rd.
Crestwood, NY 10707
Tel: 800-204-BOOK
Web: http://www.svspress.com

St. Tikhon’s Seminary Bookstore 
St. Tikhon’s Rd. 
South Canaan, PA 18459
Tel: 888-454-6678
Web: http://www.stspress.com
  
Conciliar Press 
P.O. Box 76
Ben Lomond, CA 95005
Tel: 800-967-7377
Web: http://www.conciliarpress.com

Holy Cross Bookstore
50 Goddard Ave.
Brookline, MA 02445
Tel: 800-245-0599
Web: HCBRS@HCHC.edu

Light and Life Publishing
4808 Park Glen Rd.
Minneapolis, MN 55416
Tel: 952-925-3888
Web: http://www.light-n-life.com

Templegate Publishers
PO Box 5152
Springfield IL 62705
Tel: 800-367-4844
Web: http://www.templegate.com

Additionally for icons: 
St. Isaac of Syria Skete
25266 Pilgrim’s Way
Boscobel, WI 53805
Tel: 800-814-2667
Web: http://www.skete.com

For icon pins, medallions, bumpers stickers, banners:
Festal Creations
3827 Bluff St. 
Torrance, CA 90505
Tel: 800-747-9245
Web: http://www.festalcreations.com

Patricia Madden is the Voluntary Bookstore Manager at Philokalia Orthodox Bookstore and is an active member of Holy Apostles Church, West Columbia, SC.

A Bridge That Goes Both Ways: Orthodoxy in the South Texas Borderland - St. George’s Orthodox Church

By Elizabeth Perdomo

Location, Location, Location!

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In the business world, location is everything. To grasp the vital connection that St. George’s and its various “bridging” ministries provide on behalf of the entire Church, one must first understand where Christ planted this parish. Here on the South Texas border, international river bridge crossings are a vital component to daily life and culture, evening newscasts and the local economy. La frontera in Spanish, this unique region is interlaced with complex national, historical, geographical, linguistic, and spiritual paradox and juxtaposition. Although officially part of the United States of America, in “real life” the region is neither like the rest of the state of Texas and its vast southern ranchlands, nor like the border region of northern Mexico.

Designated the Rio Grande Valley, the region is not a valley at all. Rather, the geographic area is an ancient seabed, long since reshaped by geologic processes into a broad river floodplain. The “Rio Grande Valley,” however, is much more commercially appealing nomenclature than the “Rio Grande Floodplain.” Sometimes roamed by indigenous peoples, alternately claimed by Spain or Mexico, the region has been populated by outlaws and bandidos, Apaches and U.S. cavalrymen, Texas freedom fighters and Mexican troops, well-heeled speculators and early citrus agriculturists, and countless new legal and “illegal” residents who have immigrated from the south. In certain sectors, “real” English and “real” Spanish are actually spoken. However, the most common culture and language is an unofficial and varying blend, dubbed “Spanglish.”

Most of the local population remains Roman Catholic, with some strong Protestant sectors and, as everywhere now, the more radical, door-knocking cults. The Orthodox population in the Valley remains widely varied in its ethnic backgrounds and national origins. There are Greeks, Lebanese, Romanians, Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Ethiopians, Mexicans, and more. About half of the members of St. George’s are converts to Orthodox Christianity. St. George’s Orthodox Church, the only Orthodox church in this region, draws its parishioners from Brownsville, on the Gulf Coast, to Rio Grande City. The Orthodox church nearest St. George’s is in Corpus Christi, a three-hour drive up the coast from the Valley.

Needless to say, St. George’s is isolated from local Orthodox fellowship and support. Despite and perhaps because of this, St. George’s and its affiliated ministries attempt to be a regional bridge for Orthodox Christianity—a bridge that goes both ways—from north to south and de sur a norté. This vast and challenging fronteraregion in which God has placed our parish and people is ripe with opportunities for Orthodox witness, outreach, and ministry.

PRO-ORB: Orthodox Rio Bridges ~ Puente del Rio Ortodoxo

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The overall description of the many outreach ministry efforts offered through St. George’s parish was officially “named” in the summer of 2005, during the long drive back to Texas from the All-American Council in Toronto. Although St. George’s Food Pantry and Icon Bridges to Mexico began long before that summer, we recognized that these two projects and our additional ministries were all little “bridges.”

Born in the Dominican Republic, St. George’s pastor, Fr. Antonio Perdomo, is a native Spanish speaker. His linguistic and cultural skills, plus the many years and variety of outreach ministry experiences that Fr. Antonio and his family have shared, greatly aid the parish in taking up its cross and being faithful with those people and ministries that Christ has given. Each border bridge ministry is briefly described below. To learn more, see: http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/riobridges.html

Icon Bridge Helps Mexican Missions

Each Theophany season for the past 30- plus years, Archbishop Dmitri, of the OCA’s Diocese of the South and Hierarch of the Exarchate of Mexico visits our OCA Cathedral of the Ascension in Mexico City. For the past several years, accompanied by his older daughters, Fr. Antonio has joined Archbishop Dmitri, Bishop Alejo, Auxiliary Bishop of Mexico and many clergy and laity from the Mexico City area who gather during this annual celebration.

This past year, many new and used icons and some liturgical items were donated to the Church in Mexico by people throughout the United States. These were collected by the Perdomo family, packed up, and hand-delivered to Archbishop Dmitri and Bishop Alejo at the Theophany gathering. Icons were later distributed by Bishop Alejo for use in various mission churches and new missions developing throughout Mexico. Photos of the 2006 icon distribution can be found at: http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/iconbridges.html.

It is far safer collecting items on the U.S. side of the “bridge” and personally hand-delivering these holy items, rather than making some attempt at shipment to Mexico. So, each year the Perdomos will continue this ministry. You can help support this effort by sending new or used icons, vestments, and other liturgical items to St. George’s Orthodox Church, c/o Fr. Antonio Perdomo. (See shipping address at the end of the article. See photos of mission trips to Mexico at: http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/mexicotravels.html.)

St. George’s Food Pantry: A Bridge for Feeding Local Poor

The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise Him
their hearts shall live forever!

Los pobres comerán y serán satisfechos,
y los que buscan al Señor lo alabaran; 
¡Sus corazones vivirán para siempre!

Hidalgo County, Texas, is located on the Rio Grande right on the Texas border with Mexico. It is one of the most financially challenged counties in the entire United States. Fr. Antonio arrived in the Rio Grande Valley to be the pastor of St. George’s Church in January 2002. Soon it became apparent that the need for food and other assistance was very great indeed, as testified by the frequent requests for food from those who came both to the church and to his nearby home. St. George’s Food Pantry was created as an organized response to better serve those who already came to the church hungry and in need. Within a few months, St. George’s Food Pantry grew, primarily by word of mouth. It now shares with more than 50 families each time it is open.

Unlike food ministries elsewhere that primarily serve the needs of the homeless, St. George’s Food Pantry for the most part assists recent immigrants and the unemployed or underemployed people who need some help making ends meet or in starting their new life in this country. Most of our Food Pantry clients speak Spanish and very little English.

Initially, the Pantry was available as a weekly service. However, due to financial constraints, it is now open just twice a month. In addition to food boxes, it has shared warm clothing, blankets, bedding, mattresses, school supplies, toiletries, and house supplies, as well as Christmas goody bags prepared by our own OCA Youth Group for the many young children served by this ministry. During the Nativity Season, PRO-ORB Youth Service Retreat attendees also distributed OCA-provided Christmas Stockings to the children of St. George’s Food Pantry recipients. For more information about St. George’s Food Pantry and to view some wonderful photographs, see: 
http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/foodpantry.html

http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/foodpantrywinterretreat.html.

Most of the food distributed is purchased from the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, whose website is: http://www.foodbankrgv.com, at a cost of only 14 cents per pound. In addition, food gathering and fund-raising is accomplished through St. George’s International Bake Sale’s inclusion of a “Give a Can; Get a Cookie” component for collecting canned foods (see: http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/giveacan.html). Local businesses and residential retiree communities have also been collection sites for canned goods.

However, we long to make this a truly Pan-Orthodox effort! We pray for “partners” within the Orthodox Christian community - parishes, individuals or families, youth and college groups - within the region or on this North American continent. Some current “partners” make regular, monthly donations, deducted directly from their bank accounts. Even $25 a month is extremely helpful! Other donors mail in checks when they can.

Setting up a simple food pantry such as the one at St. George’s is quite easy, taking only a small up-front cash investment and minimal staffing. Few Orthodox missions or parishes in the U.S. have any legitimate reason not to create some sort of food pantry ministry.

An International Orthodox Bridge for Youth and Young Adults

PRO-ORB hosted its first internationally attended Orthodox Winter Youth Service Retreat during the Nativity Season of 2005-06. What an incredible experience for all who attended, both youth and adult chaperones alike! Participants included Orthodox youth from Mexico and the U.S. Youth helped with St. George’s Food Pantry, a trip to Casa Amparo Orphanage in Mexico, and swam at the beach on South Padre Island. It is our hope to host annual “repeat” sessions at Christmastime. Eventually, we would like to become a host site for the Orthodox Christian Fellowship’s “Real Break” activities as well. Our future dream is to sponsor summer vacation mission trips to interior Mexico for older youth and young adults. See and read about what we’ve done so far at:

http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/riobridges.html

http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/retreatwriteups.html.

We can use the help of others, especially bilingual Orthodox Christians, who want to help us continue to create, develop, and host this youth outreach ministry as a long-term service to the Church. Let us know if you have questions or are interested in helping out or in attending a future youth activity.

A Bridge to Orphaned Girls: Visiting Casa Amparo Orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico

(This section written by Michael Price.)

The diminutive nun broke into a welcoming smile on seeing the drivers of the two vehicles arriving unexpectedly in her driveway on January 3, 2006. Mother Navidad, “Mother Navi” to her colleagues and charges at the orphanage, knew the travelers were due sometime soon, but a glitch in cross-border communication prevented her from knowing exactly when. “Feliz Nuevo Año,” she said, hugging Reader Stephan and Sonia Shepherd, Fr. Antonio Perdomo and his two daughters, Ana and Cristina and Mike Price. “Welcome, welcome.”

Mother Navidad is the Mother Superior of a group of Catholic Sisters of Charity. They operate a girls’orphanage and shelter in Reynosa, Mexico. The orphanage cares for more than 80 girls ranging in age from 4 years or younger to 23. The reason for the visit was to deliver food, clothing, school supplies, sewing materials, and Christmas candy which filled the Perdomos’ truck and the Shepherds’ car. These items and other donations are collected by church members and the local community in Pharr year-round. Donations are delivered whenever enough has been collected to justify the cross-border trip.“We always make at least one trip around Christmastime and another after Pascha ,” Fr. Antonio said.

” We have built and sustained ourselves on the Providence of God,” said Mother Navi. “We depend entirely on the donations of many winter Texans and good people from McAllen and the rest of the United States.”

In addition, some people from Kansas have provided a school bus, sewing machines and the means to pursue construction projects over the years. In fact, many of the buildings in the orphanage’s compound exist only because of donations of labor and materials of winter Texans from the Rio Grande Valley and other volunteers who have given of themselves over time.

The purpose for all this is, of course, to benefit the girls who live at the orphanage. “We try to teach each girl how to take care of herself, give her an education and a trade while she is here so she can have a chance when she leaves us,” said Mother Navidad. So in addition to school, the nuns use the bakery to teach all the girls commercial baking. The products they make are sold to nearby factory workers and others. With the sewing machines, materials, and supplies that have been donated over time, the nuns have set up a large sewing room where the older girls learn how to sew. In addition to clothing projects, the girls design, cut, and sew matching bed covers, pillow shams and other accessories for the dormitories.

A donation of computers from the U.S. allowed the sisters to set up a computer classroom/lab where the girls are becoming computer literate, and lately the nuns have begun teaching some of the girls English. “If they can speak English,” Mother Navidad said, “more doors are opened to them.”

When asked what, besides food, the orphanage most needs does not now have, Mother Navi smiled and motioned to follow her. She led the group into a tiny store on the edge of the property. “We recently opened this second-hand store to serve the neighborhood with an affordable place to buy things and to give us a small income to cover costs that donations don’t,” she said. “I would ask the good people from the Rio Grande Valley for any good, used items they could spare for our little store.” To donate money, food, or items to the orphanage, contact Fr. Perdomo. The 2005 PRO-ORB Winter Youth Retreat included a visit to Casa Amparo. During the retreat visit, youth participants distributed OCA-donated Christmas Stockings. To learn more about Casa Amparo, and to see photographs of trips to the orphanage, please visit:

http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/casaamparo.html

http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/orphanagevisit.html.

Bridge to Orthodox Spanish-Language Outreach and Resources

Both in the U.S. and in nations south of our borders, there is a great need for sharing the Orthodox faith in the Spanish language. In recent years, the U.S. has experienced a major increase of primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants. Many inner-city Orthodox churches are now surrounded by neighborhoods of Spanish-speaking people from many nations. In response to this need, PRO-ORB is working in conjunction with the Church in Mexico to make Orthodox brochures, articles, liturgical services and liturgical music already translated into the Spanish language more widely available. This is now done exclusively on and through our website at these links: 
http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/iglesia.html

http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/mexicolinks.html

http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/spanishtranslations.html.

The OCA’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in Miami has long kept republishing and making available Orthodox liturgical services that were translated into Spanish for the Exarchate of Mexico back in the 1970s. In addition to this resource, we regularly add internet links and sources for Orthodox services, lives of saints, and connections with various churches and jurisdictions in Mexico, South and Central America, and Spain. In the future, we hope to have both a source bibliography and a steady stock of Spanish-language Orthodox services and materials available for sale and ready for shipment.

We accept donations to help print Orthodox materials in Spanish. We could use website help, from an intern or other volunteer, especially one who can read Spanish. Many more materials need to be translated and published. In future years, we pray to organize and host an international Orthodox Christian conference for those serving in Spanish-language settings and ministries. Let us know if you would like to help or participate!

Hisporto: A Spanish-Language Orthodox Internet Forum Bridge

Created on June 23, 2000, Hisporto is a Pan-Orthodox Christian forum for Orthodox clergy, laity, missionaries, and inquirers who speak Spanish, as well as for those who serve in Spanish-speaking communities. Hisporto has members from throughout the Americas and Europe. The purpose of Hisporto is manifold. Its intent is to be a forum dedicated to the creation of networking, fellowship, and mutual support opportunities for those who serve in or who originate from Spanish-speaking communities throughout the world. It was also created to help advocate Spanish-language resources and outreach throughout the Orthodox Christian world. You are invited to join Hisporto and share this resource with other Spanish-speakers who might benefit from participation in this Orthodox forum. Fr. Antonio is the founder and moderator of the Hisporto Internet Forum. To learn more or to subscribe, go to:

http://espanol.groups.yahoo.com/group/Hisporto/ or Hisporto-subscribe@gruposyahoo.com.

A Bridge to OCA Mexico and Missions

Monterrey is the third-largest city in Mexico. Currently, no Orthodox Church of any jurisdiction exists there, despite the fact that a number of Orthodox Christians of various backgrounds as well as Mexican national inquirers reside in Monterrey. In 2005, Bishop Alejo of Mexico City asked Fr. Antonio to begin forming a new mission in Monterrey. With the blessing of Archbishop Dmitri, in addition to his pastoral responsibilities at St. George’s, Fr. Antonio began this work in late 2005. Monterrey is located in northeastern Mexico, a three-hour drive or bus ride from the Rio Grande Valley. Any clergy serving it from Mexico City would have to travel more than twelve hours to get there! Fr. Antonio now visits Monterrey on an almost monthly basis. He meets with people and teaches about the faith and he has plans to hold liturgical services. If you are interested, or know of others who live in the Monterrey, Mexico, area who might want to participate in this new mission, please contact Fr. Antonio. To learn more, see:

http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/ocamexico.html and
http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/monterreymission.html.

Short- or Long-Term Internships

A mission-minded but small parish with limited financial resources, St. George’s welcomes assistance from short- or long-term internship volunteers. Assistance is needed in all of our various ministries, including continued work on the website, St. George’s Food Pantry, visits to Mexico and much more. An internship of a few weeks, months, or even years, living in the bilingual borderlands, is an excellent experience for a service-minded Orthodox student of Spanish, a seminarian or pre-seminarian student, or a retiree who would like to spend a period of time in full-time or part-time volunteer service to the Church in this region. Unfortunately, there is currently no funding presently for interns. They would have to assume all of their personal expenses.

Winter Texans Wanted: Turn Winter Retiree Vacations Into an Adventure!

Orthodox Retirees—You are invited to turn your winter vacation into a winter adventure… in service to Christ and His Church! You don’t have to join the Peace Corps or travel to a foreign nation to help with the vital missionary and ministry work of the Church. If you are an Orthodox Christian retiree and like to leave the colder parts of Canada and the U.S. for warmer winter regions, consider making your winter holiday a gift of sharing and service to Orthodox parishes and service projects this or any year!

Pack up your motor home, RV, or car and come down to the warmer climate! Give South Texas a try—and also lend a hand to the St. George’s ministries. Come visit us for the winter season or for year-round retirement. We would be happy to help you and others hook up with a place to stay for the winter months. If you’d prefer to winter in another region of the country or in Mexico, we’d be happy to try to connect you with another parish that would offer you a winter church “home” as well as the opportunity to serve others! See our website section at: http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/for.html
and “Winter Texans Wanted” at: http://www.stgeorgepantry.org/wintertexans.html

Contact Information: How Can I Help?

For answers to questions or for more information, to become a “partner,” make financial or other donations, share icons or liturgical supplies, or to discuss ways your parish can create similar programs, contact Fr. Antonio Perdomo at: 956-781-6114 or 781-2388 or by e-mail at padreantoniop@aol.com. Mail inquiries c/o St. George’s Orthodox Church, PO Box 667, Pharr, TX 78577. To mail packages, please DO NOT SHIP to the PO Box! Rather, send parcels c/o Fr. Antonio Perdomo at: 520 W. Rosemary Ave, Pharr, TX 78577.

Elizabeth Perdomo is the wife of Fr. Antonio and is active in the ministries herself.

FOCA Mission HOTLINE: Providing Assistance to Orthodox Missions

By Betty Yanowsky Slanta

Interest in the Orthodox faith is at an all-time high! Orthodox mission parishes are opening all over the United States. The Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America (FOCA), an arm of the Orthodox Church in America, pledged to assist Orthodox missions in its mission statement which included this promise: “...to support and encourage the missionary growth of our Church.” We need your help!

The Mission HOTLINE, a project of the FOCA, is a church-article exchange (or donation) program that serves as a “broker,” transferring church articles from established churches to mission parishes requiring such articles. The FOCA Mission HOTLINE maintains a “wish list” of church articles. If your parish has any duplicate church articles, e.g., chalices, processional fans, Gospel covers, blessing crosses, seven-branched and altar candle stands, vestments, an Epitaphion, altar boy robes or other items, let the FOCA Mission HOTLINE know of the availability of the excess church items. Over the years, parishes receive many liturgical items from donors to commemorate an event, or in memory of a loved one, often more than a parish can use. Sometimes unused items sit in a closet or basement and may even be forgotten.

If your mission is in need of items, provide the name of your mission, address, phone number, and e-mail address, and the list of what you need, to the FOCA Mission HOTLINE. Your needs will be placed on the FOCA Mission HOTLINE “wish list.” When a church item becomes available that matches a mission’s need, the item will be forwarded to the mission. The established church is notified of the match and sent mailing instructions. Likewise the mission is notified that a particular item is coming and from whom it will come. At times, donations are also acquired from thrift or antique stores or from personal family collections.

Items Currently Needed

A few of the items now needed by Orthodox missions include:

  • Baptismal font
  • Chalice set and covers
  • Censer
  • Festal and Lenten Icons
  • Byzantine Cross
  • Altar boy robes
  • Vestments in purple, white, green, red, blue
  • Epitaphion (winding sheet)
  • Altar candle holders
  • Hand Cross
  • Processional banners
  • Gospel and cover
  • Fans
  • Tabernacle

Other ways that you and your parish can assist Orthodox missions and their parishioner

  • Adopt a sister “mission” parish.
  • Hold or attend a mission retreat sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (http://www.ocmc.org).
  • Volunteer for short-term or long-term mission service with the OCMC.
  • Provide books on mission for your church library.
  • Teach about Orthodox mission in your Sunday School class.
  • Donate books on Orthodox mission to your public library.
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The FOCA Mission HOTLINE, reactivated nearly 20 years ago, began in 1948 to serve Orthodox churches. Since then, the HOTLINE has served more than 60 missions from all canonical Orthodox Christian jurisdictions. FOCA Chapters and Districts assign specific members to monitor the program in their parishes. A notice or flyer kept on the parish bulletin board about the HOTLINE is a good reminder.

The FOCA Mission HOTLINE depends on established Orthodox churches to assist with mission needs. If your parish or you personally are willing to arrange for a donation to a mission parish, please contact the FOCA Mission HOTLINE at slanta@erols.com or write to: Mrs. Betty Yanowsky Slanta, Administrator, FOCA Mission HOTLINE, 6610 Cypress Point Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.

In addition to being administrator of the FOCA Mission HOTLINE, Betty Yanowsky Slanta is a board member of the OCMC, and a member of St. Nicholas Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Ten Simple Ways to Encourage Missions

By Fr. Eric George Tosi

At the 14 All-American Council in Toronto, this quote from Fr. Alexander Schmemann was presented: “To recover the missionary dimension of the Church is today’s greatest imperative. We have to recover a very basic truth: that the Church is essentially Mission, that the very roots of her life are in the commandment of Christ: ‘Go Ye therefore and teach all nations.’” (Matthew 28:19)

It is our essential task to be a missionary Church. The Church was missionary from its earliest times and continues to be missionary to the present. Our own very roots in North America are missionary from the time when the first group of Russian Orthodox monks stepped onto the Alaskan soil. It has continued to the present time . . . though we seem to forget this. We forget the struggles of so many established parishes that started out as missions. We forget the struggles of the parishes that came over to The Orthodox Church in America as missions.

But as Fr. Alexander states, we must recover this. No matter the size, age, or even the location, mission needs to be our priority. For many parishes, the largest group of potential converts and Orthodox are right at our own doorsteps. Yet they are ignored. For some parishes, a mission is just down the road, but it is never visited or assisted. For other parishes, the sinking numbers can be turned around by opening the doors and recovering a missionary identity.

This has always been and should always be part of the vision of The Orthodox Church in America. We are who we are because of missions. The wonderful news is that the missionary imperative is growing. In the last four years, we have started 40 missions, which matches all of the missions created in the last decade (or the previous decades prior to that). And there are more on the horizon. All of this takes hard work on an individual, parish, diocesan and even Church-wide level. We need to be bold and step forward. We should not fear that missions will grow at the expense of established parishes because precisely the opposite has been shown to be true. Any parish that supports missions, encourages offshoots from the parish and is involved in mission life, grows and replaces the numbers faster than they are broken off. That is a fact and one that we need to embrace.

With that being said, let us look at ten simple ways to encourage missions.

1. Pray for Missions. Simply pray for them so that we can be united in one spirit. St. Innocent in his “Instructions to Missionaries” wrote, “The first and most efficient preparation is prayer, which alone can open the spring of highest teaching and bring down a blessing upon every good beginning and work.” Pray for missions and missionaries so that they are never far from your or your parish’s thoughts.

As such, pray that God will bring people to your own front door. Mission begins as soon as you step outside the Church but is found in fullness in the Church. The wonderful prayer for the Catechumens is, simply put, a prayer for mission. So earnestly pray that prayer at the Liturgy. As one OCA bishop put it, “If you don’t have any Catechumens, go out and get some!”

2. Know Your Community. Mission begins at home. We need to know the people who are around us and pray with us at each service so that “with one heart and one mind we may confess.” So often in parishes we see the same people all the time but don’t even know their names, their jobs, their joys and their struggles. A community of God rallies around each other and prays for each other. And each of our communities is unique with its own dynamics and demographics. As the Gospel of John states, “I know my sheep and am known by My own.” And if we know our flock, then we can minister to them most effectively. In this way, we are evangelizing our own people, thereby strengthening our parish to receive whomever God brings to us.

3. Be a Part of Your Neighborhood Community. How few of us actually know our neighbors. We are often that “Russian” (Greek, Romanian, Serbian . . . etc) church on the corner. Yet we are not that. We are the Church of Christ. That is how the Church should be seen in this world. God put that parish there for a reason and as such, it needs to fulfill its mission of preaching the Gospel precisely where God put it. Some communities change, but the need for Christ in their midst does not. If the parish needs to change its membership to meet that change, then it is an opportunity, a call from God to minister. Open the doors and let the people come in. People are searching for precisely what we have to offer. Yet we too often “hide our light under a bushel.”

Meet the people living around the Church, talk to them, invite them. Now, more often, our parishes are becoming agents of change in the community, not by withdrawing, but rather by staying and ministering. This tells those in the area that they are worthwhile. Allow community groups to use the wonderful facilities that have been built up over the years, knowing that the Scouts and other such groups are extremely grateful for the help and support. Show your love for the neighborhood by being “the shining light on the hill.”

4. Be a parish (mission) of The Orthodox Church in America.This is absolutely critical to the life of a parish and to our mission in America. We are THE Orthodox Church in America, the indigenous Orthodox Church in North America, made up of native Americans, different ethnic groups, and converts. As such, it is our responsibility to preach the Gospel here, to establish the firm foundations that the great Saints and leaders before us envisioned. We should not pretend to be anything else, nor should we try to be anything else. As a parish of The Orthodox Church in America, let us embrace the rich traditions and diversity that we have in our midst.

This does not mean that we do not minister to the many new immigrant groups that are coming here. We need to embrace them as well. But we must emphasize that we are the local church for all people from all backgrounds. The Tradition and history that we have, we must embrace and promote.

5. Participate in the Annual Missions Appeal. This is so important to the life of missions in North America. The Annual Missions Appeal in February is the primary way of funding missions on a national level. The money collected goes directly into the hands of mission parishes to fund a full-time resident priest. In the three years that these select missions are on the Grant, they often average 30% annual growth and become self-sufficient by the time the grant is completed.

We are currently funding five missions a year and have funded over 21 missions since the inception of the program. They have all succeeded and, in some cases, have spun off additional missions. If we can increase our funding, then we can increase the number of missions that participate in this valuable program. If we would like to grow the Church by 100 missions in the next ten years (a goal we are already on the way to achieving), then we need to double the amount of money going to missions. Encourage your parish to participate in this important appeal. Fund the vision for our Church.

6. Look for potential missions in the region. Each parish should identify areas around them where missions could be established. Sometimes they are “on the other side of the hill,” and other times they are in a different neighborhood. Yet they all have potential. What is needed is an effort to identify and organize.

There is an old maxim that every Orthodox should be within 45 minutes of a parish. Believe it or not, that is actually beginning to happen. Places where the faithful had to drive two hours to church are now being missionized. And they, in turn, are establishing missions at the next place in the area. In fact, many of our parishes in the older dioceses were established in this exact way. If we consistently look around us for the next mission opportunity, we will find it.

7. Connect with a local mission and assist them. There are often cases where a mission has been established right down the road from an older parish. The older parish may feel threatened or simply disconnected. Yet these are our brothers and sisters in Christ, members of our own Orthodox Church. Meet with them. See what they are doing. Help them and pray for them. We will find that when we make this contact, new life can be infused into our own parish. These missions are surviving on minimal income. Helping them will put them on a firmer footing. Many of these missions are grateful for the contact and assistance as they grow in the Orthodox Faith. Liturgical items, rental space, special collections for them, and even fellowship can make a huge difference in the life of these missions. This, in turn, connects your parish to people who are walking the same path. And their enthusiasm is infective.

8. Invite a mission priest or a member of a mission to speak to your parish. Nothing replaces a person who can tell the story. It brings the theory of missions to life. The person can speak of the triumphs and joys (as well as the struggles) of the mission. This is a powerful witness that connects one with something outside of one’s own parish. Invite someone from the Department of Evangelization to your parish. Have him/her show the parish what is happening in the Church and demonstrate the great work that is being done. In turn, the parish will find interest and life in missions.

When listening to a personal account of life in a mission, the mission no longer remains a concept, but a person and a relationship. The speaker may have ideas that might work in your own parish. As well, your parish may have ideas that will work in their mission. This is especially important coming from your founding generation who can tell of the history and struggles of your own parish. It is valuable information that should not be lost and that can assist a mission in avoiding so many of the problems that were first encountered by your own parish. Make missions personal.

9. Open your funds to missions. This is a tough request with so many of our own parishes struggling financially. Our inclination is to take care of our own needs rather than to assist those around us. Yet, the Apostle Paul, himself, went around collecting money for the Church in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Some of our parishes have huge endowment funds that have been built up through the years by grateful parishioners. This money remains inactive. Consider this: how much money do parishes in the OCA give to banks through mortgages and interest? And how much are those churches with endowments making on interest in bank accounts and CDs? Even a simple, low-interest loan to a mission would pay more than the bank, and would have the demonstrated effect of building the Church. It is a difficult leap. Some parishes have been very bold in this regard and the rewards have been huge. As a parish, let’s consider helping missions by making our own money work for us. Even small loans make a huge difference in equipping or funding a mission. Every cent we spend on ourselves comes back to us. After all, it is God’s money and we must be responsible stewards of whatever gifts we are given.

10. Encourage your diocese to establish a missions director/missions board. Many Dioceses that are growing are doing so because they have established clergy and lay people to help set the direction of that growth. They have engaged people who are involved in the process, have an interest in missions and growth, and can assist in mission life. There is a central planning and accountability process. Sometimes it is in the person of a missions director, or a missions board or a combination of both. This gets experience in the field and allows resources and experience to be shared. Every Diocese should have some sort of mission structure established so that they can identify, plan and assist the missions. The best method of growing missions is not from some national strategy but rather from local people, knowing local needs, implementing local solutions. A mission in the Pacific Northwest may be different from a mission in the Deep South. Each Diocese needs to plan and work these missions out in their own way. Only then can a national strategy and implementation make sense.

Questions for Discussions:

- Are there enough opportunities for us to get to know one another in our parish? What about
“newcomers?” In what ways can we grow closer?

- How does our parish interact with the neighboring community? Are there other ways that we might interest our neighbors in knowing us better? How do we make visitors feel welcome when they do come into our parish? What other opportunities might there be to better support the neighborhood community?

- Where is the nearest mission to our parish? How is it doing? Has there been any interchange of members at services or at social events? Do we support this mission in any way? How might we be more in contact with it?

- Are there any areas in our deanery, in our diocese, or in the country where we would recommend a mission to be established? What would be the rationale?

- Does our Diocese have a Missions Board or a Missions Director? If so, what do we know of their activities. If not, how can we help to establish one?

Fr. Eric Tosi is Chairman of the OCA Department of Evangelization and pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Las Vegas.