THE CHARACTER AND PATH OF THE ORTHODOX MISSION

Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. St. John 4: 35·6

WHEN OUR LORD Jesus Christ began to serve the people, He called upon simple-hearted men to follow Him. Sensing with their hearts the Divine nature of the new Teacher, they abandoned everything and followed Him, becoming then, and for two thousand years to come, witnesses of His Divinity before the entire world. At the same time they began to resemble Him, His heavenly qualities reflected in them. It was this Divine love, like a holy fire, that wounded their hearts, and they could not but exuberantly proclaim His teaching of the new birth. I am come to send fire on the earth (St. Luke 12: 49), said our Lord,  and the hearts of His followers became alight with His Divine supernatural light. Think ye that I am come to give peace on earth? l tell you, Nay, but rather division (St. Luke 12: 51) , said our Lord, and His followers cut  themselves off from the world that lies in evil (I John 5: 19) to become partakers of Heaven, which already in the flesh they bad begun to experience. Follow Me, said our Lord, and His disciples followed, calling to others: Come and see our Divme Master (St. John 1: 4}, 46). And they too went and became new beings.

Such is the nature and the fervor of the Orthodox Mission. At no particular period of Church history can it be said to have attained perfection, for it has always been a prominent part of the Orthodox life,  the life in Christ. The Apostles began this mission, the Martyrs strengthened it, the Church Fathers defended it, and all Orthodox Christians throughout the centuries continue it by living and witnessing Christ. The Orthodox Church has never devised a plan nor organized an administrative apparatus for the persuasion and conversion of the heathen. The Orthodox approach has always been direct, the call to share the Church’s life of grace being most effectively preached by the life of holiness the missionary himself leads. The extraneous means used in the Western missions to attract converts are foreign to the Orthodox idea of mission.

Perhaps the most exemplary, and certainly the most far-reaching, of Orthodox missions was that of Sts. Cyril and Methody, the 9th century enlighteners of the Slavs. In modern times, almost unknown to the West, there has been the splendid and fruitful eastbound missionary movement whose leading representatives came from the famous Caves Monastery of Kiev in the early 18th century. The one who took the lead among these missionaries was Metropolitan Philothey, a great podvizhnik, though as yet uncanonized. Others followed. St Innocent of Irkutsk, who manifested sanctity so radiantly that he was the first of these men to be canonized and thus became the heavenly protector of the newly-won lands; Sts. John of Tobolsk, Sophrony of Irkutsk, and Paul of Tobolsk; not to mention many others who have not yet been canonized. Thanks to the vigorous efforts of these men, by the end of the century Orthodoxy had reached distant America, where new apostles, the equal of the earlier missionaries and in the same spirit, were revealed.

All of these men were inspired by deep fervor and faith, gifts of God which they were impelled to share with those who were still in the darkness of unbelief. The vast new territory, out of the shores of the Amur River and the Pacific, gave them ample ground for their holy activity. They had a common approach to missionary labor. They would choose the most suitable place, build a monastic type dwelling enclosed by a fence against the ways of the world, with a church which served as the center of a Christian family-like community and where was celebrated the daily round of services; and then, having the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they would open the doors to those who hungered for the Word of God. The natives would come, and soon a family of the new brothers would be strong enough to carry on by themselves; and the missionary, God’s servant, would move to more distant regions to bring to others the heaven-sent tidings of the Kingdom of God.

Today, when the Christian Gospel has reached almost the last corner of the world and modern inventions have reshaped man’s whole mode of life, the Orthodox mission remains the same. Let not the wise of this world tempt young missionary vigor to seek new, “modern” ways that promote success; there are none outside the tested Orthodox Church. True, this path is narrow, hard, and dangerous·- but it is the shortest path to the goal, which is living contact with God. All other paths lead astray, inevitably bringing both pastor and flock to complete submersion in the spirit of worldliness, to a State of spiritual sleep hidden behind a facade of activity where they only fancy to be saving their souls. The multitudes of modern sects furnish numerous examples of a claim and a desire for Christian witness that are proved inadequate by the total absence in them of genuine experience of  the spiritual life, which is, in the words of Bishop Theophan the Recluse, an entirely different world, into which no human wisdom penetrates.

It is the Orthodox mission to open a door upon this other world, to manifest the right (ortho) teaching (dox) first of all in one’s own life, and then to invite those who stand outside to come and see and, if they have the heart to accept the new birth in Christ, to partake of the life of grace within the Church that is the only preparation here below for eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. My joy, says St. Seraphim, acquire the Spirit of Peace (the Holy Spirit) and thousands around you will be saved.

Orthodox Word, November-December 1965

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