Orthodox mission in America (no, not the history, the future)

Rereading the post where I argue that the contemporary definition of Hellenism is truncated (an Islamic captivity? dhimitude?), I see it fits into an article I reread earlier this morning and posted on OrthodoxyToday.org again: Orthodox Mission in the 21st Century by Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church.

A highlight:

Sts. Cyril and Methodios

Sts. Cyril and Methodios

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’ (Matt. 28:19). A Christian community that would lose this missionary zeal and purpose, that would become selfish and self-centered, that would limit itself to ‘satisfying the spiritual needs of its members’, that would identify itself completely with a nation, a society, a social or ethnic group – is on its way to spiritual decadence and death, because the essential spiritual need of a Christian is precisely that of sharing the life and the Truth with as many men as possible and ultimately with the whole world. Mission thus is the organic need and task of the Church in the world, the real meaning of Church’s presence in history between the first and the second advents of her Lord, or, in other terms, the meaning of Christian history. Obviously not all members of the Church can go and preach in the literal sense of the word. But all can have a concern for the missionary function of the Church, feel responsible for it, help and support it. In this respect each diocese, each parish and each member of the Church are involved in the missionary ministry.

The current sluggishness, even outright hostility, to bringing the Gospel to America need not thwart those Orthodox who understand that this missionary imperative and the revitalization of the Church in America and all that implies (cleaning up corruption, proper catechesis — especially for adults, the cultivation of capable priests and bishops, an educated laity, care for the poor with increasing support of organizations like FOCUS, etc.) go hand in hand. Don’t despair. You are on the side of the angels.


  1. Boy does ‘sluggishness’ ring true as you write. So many would have us dancing and singing because our leadership has required permission and in a limited fashion has been given permission to continue to meet under a new name and to speak with one another.

    Just think about it for a bit– those supposedly Christian bishops requring permission before speaking and meeting with one another.

    To borrow an apt phrase: What an idea!

    • Speaking of sluggishness lets also remember that the GOA has not blessed FOCUS. Christ commands and blesses his children to help the weakest among us yet this great commandment is secondary to 79th Street politics and the “Omogenia”.

      How is it that in 2010 GOA Bishops in America withhold their blessing and support for those who serve the poor? This is an embarrassment of the first order.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Andrew, exactly right. The more I think about the EA for the US, the more I realize how it’s probably not going to amoung to anything much, simply because of little back-biting things like this.

        Recently, I was mortified to learn from an acquaintance of mine in the Philoptochos, that a certain GOA “metropolitan” demanded a significant 5-figure contribution from her chapter for the construction of his Incredibly Massive and Expensive Retreat Center and Barber College. This happened recently at the recently-concluded and ill-attended Clergy-Laity Congress. She had the fortitude to remind him that this money was for the poor, not for Mausolea. I don’t know if the other Philoptochos chapters in this “metropolis” gave into him or not.

        • When most see a proposal for a project there are these materials which show the extent of expected use and how that will balance against the cost of making it. There are all these Christian and other very fine camps dotting the midwest that are idle for great stretches of time, can we not simply purchase such time as we require in one of these? Why is buying and building a whole new one a good idea? If bullying is involved that’s a red flag.

          I’m not against big ideas because they are big, but the bigger they are the more economic sense they need to make. Also, you know, the midwest is a really big place and it makes dubious sense to have to travel hours and hours past plenty of perfectly good and available campsites. Unless this is just a Chicago-land project and they are hard-up for available camp space and need one.

          How have other diocesan camps turned out economically? Perhaps they are so good that they are rented to others during the times we aren’t using them. I think there’s one in New England, one in Atlanta, others?

  2. George Michalopulos :

    Fr, excellent summation. I’d like to think that the present turmoil in American Orthodoxy is the prelude to something greater, perhaps the re-evalutation of Hellenism and what it really means?

  3. alexis banias :

    The mission of Orthodox evangelism in our American contemporary culture is greatly hampered not by the usual moral ills of society and the devil but by the tens of thousands of protestant fast-food churches and their self-serving leaders. These churches seem to be “cults of personalities,” more inclined to catering to the insatiably narcissistic appetites of current and prospective members. These type of “yahoo” churches make the “dog-and-pony” show its focus while the Lord becomes second banana. It’s not about reverent and obedient “worship” to the Almighty Alpha and Omega but a self-centered experience resulting from an entertainment extravaganza.

    There is nothing more discouraging than studying and praying the Orthodox Faith, listening to its beautiful ancient hymns, and then going out refreshed only to be slapped down by the syrupy irreverent palaber spewed by Christian rock-n-roll music and its artists aided and abetted by the CCMI; counterfeit revivalism; and questionable self-help doctrine dictated by women preachers dolled up in excess makeup and cocktail dresses. In other words, Orthodox Evangelism in the USA has a big obstacle, and it’s not the devil but the cheap marginalization of Christianity by protestantism and protestantized Catholics.

    • Alexis, So many ‘Protestants’ and ‘Protestanized Catholics’ eh? Notice the thing you don’t like is the variability you find among them. Notice too that with them being about the size of the sun compared to us being about the size of Australia there are bound to be many, many more of them who would find what we do a very very good thing– if only we had our own house in better order. We need to see to that as that is the only thing we really can do something about. I don’t think our evangelism is in any way hampered by what you worry about because the people who want that won’t want what we have to offer — and not a few people who have tried that for a time explore it and recognize what it is missing and then find us. Will we be ready? So far, you know, the numbers say not so much.

  4. alexis banias :


    Too many voices, too many choices and much confusion. I strongly feel that the devil uses this overstimulation – this religious cacophony – to the senses of various denominations to discourage, overwhelm, and disorient those looking for the fullness of the faith – that is, if we who call ourselves “Orthodox” truly believe that this church is (or isn’t). Playing devil’s advocate here, I can think of no better way to destroy Christianity than doing so from within, an implosion, as clearly explained in C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters.” It would fragment into various denominational pieces – to total chaos. Faith aside, Lewis was a visionary here.

    I am also reminded of three additional books: Frank Schaeffer’s “Dancing Alone;” Dr. Alexander Kalomiros’s “Against False Union;” and Timothy Gallatin’s “Thirsting for Water in a Land of Shallow Wells.” The Orthodox Church needs work because it’s comprised of fallible human beings; and you’re right that people have the right to choose in their and God’s own timing. However, to not recognize this epidemic, that “the” American religion is “Christian Denominationalism,” where every Sunday, the most segregated day of the week, in this great country is a punch line to some diabolical joke, is tantamount to declaring “there is no sun in addition to there being no continent called Australia.”

    I refer you to 1 Timothy 4:16 and how it relates to the aforementioned and in the context of what I am discussing. The Holy Scriptures discusses “one church, one faith, one Lord, and one baptism,” yet various churches do not believe baptism is important. Just because something is inevitable because of its size and circumstances doesn’t make it correct. I recall a GOA seminar on evangelism I had attended 4 years ago where we had discussed these same aforementioned issues, clearly recognizing the affront that american protestantism and catholicism (not to mention all the other belief systems)pose and how to deal with them. Sadly, there were no solutions because… and I hope you can fill in the rest.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Alexis, you bring up an excellent perspective that hasn’t occurred to me. Living as I do in the Bible Belt, I know whereof you speak. (I guess it’s a matter of being a fish and not knowing it’s wet.) I can’t tell you how repulsed I am by the latest whims of the moment that pass for “praise and worship.” I’ve always loved Rock-n-Roll but “Chrsitian rock” is quite the abomination in that it concedes too much to the culture and risks having the Church conform the world rather than the other way around. It is indeed a formidable obstacle to Orthodoxy ever even getting out of the starting gate.

      Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about all that. It, like Islam, is what it is. The only thing we can control is ourselves. And we must look critically at how we conduct our affairs. The recent idiocy imposed on the Antiochians by +Philip is part of what I’m talking about. The Riverboat Cruise by the EP is another example. Of course, the kibbitzing and back-biting by several bishops against FOCUS is yet another. I could go on but I’m already too depressed for words.

      As much as I’m repulsed by Pastors Billy Jim and Brenda Sue Pompadour and their $2,000 Hugo Bos suits, lacquered fingernails, and 4,000 sq ft McMansion, the fact remains that their mega-church is caring for the poor. Indeed, I’ve yet to find one mega-church that does not provide philanthropy on a massive scale. There’s no back-biting or byzantine politicking against the other mega-churches. Yes, their doors are revolving and turnover is indeed high, but God bless ’em, they’ve got clinics that provide alternatives to abortion, soup kitchens on skid row, and provide vouchers for prescriptions for anybody who needs them.

      All our bishops seem to care about is who’s on first. Against such a scenario, we’ll never amount to anything.

  5. Honestly, I could care less about Hellenism. While the origins of the Church may be considered ‘hellenic’ what is passed off on us is ‘helladism.’

    This term has not been in use by the fathers and saints and missionaries of the Church, practically ever.

    For any reason other than to distinguish it from other ‘-isms’ it should be, for all practical purposes, obsolete, and indeed it is.

    It is, however, a barrier to true united Orthodox witness and missionary activity. Just look at Indonesia, and the glorious disjointed mess that Met. N. left there. Indonesians did not need to learn Greek to ‘do services’ they needed the Gospel. What they got was incompetent leadership with its own self serving agenda.

    Tell me again why we should use it?

    No, hellenism should be relegated to the history books as a term, and apostolic should be returned to our missionary vocabulary.

    Just my two drachmas.

    • Just make sure they’re not macedonian or perhaps albanian drachmas and
      I’ll accept your point – otherwise I have absolutely no idea
      what you are talking about

      serbian drachmas, maybe. just as long as they’re not too
      russian looking.


      Time to pray!

  6. The Orthodox Church in North America will never be united, because the Greeks are far more concerned about being Greek than they are about being Orthodox.

  7. George Michalopulos :

    James, you may be right in the main. It is probable that there will always be certain retrograde ethnicity-uber-alles factions within all of the colonialist eparchies (not just the Greeks) but I’m not sure that’s something that we need to get worked up about. If this is true, then it’s up to zealous Orthodox to simply take stock of the situation and unite among themselves. I’m afraid that We OCL-types have been working ourselves up into a lather over unity all the while forgetting what it means to be a Church. True unity can only come with true repentance, which is a fruit of love. I simply don’t see this on any widespread basis, even among the laity. Certainly not among the greater part of the hierarchy.

    Think about it: after all the folderol of the first EA, has anything happened? Has any bishop waxed eloquent about it? How about the parish priests? There’s been a thunderous silence. Under such conditions, we need to be aware of the danger of the idea of unity at all costs. It’s nothing but a ruse to frustate evangelism and Americanization.

    One thing we don’t need to be is like the American Catholic Church which is 100% administratively united but liturgically and theologically divided as all get-out. I still can’t see ROCOR/MP parishes coming under the omorphorions of worldly GOA “metropolitans” or newly-dethroned Antiochian auxiliaries.

    I would hate for American autocephaly to be subsumed to an overseas-dominated metropolitan, all the while being assured that anyday now, Orthodoxy is going to “break out” into the American consciousness, we just gotta wait for the old guard to die off. The old guard is always replaced with a new old guard and in the meantime, another 80% of our children leave to become Evangelicals, Mormons, or seculars. When the beautiful parishes of the East Coast start becoming museums, then it will be too late.

    • George, I would like to point out that the OCL has been a failure with regards to the EA. How much OCL money got flushed down the EA drain. The OCL should be putting pressure on the EA for transparency at all levels and a strong moral witness yet the more I see the more one believes the OCL has been seduced by the idea of unity at all costs.

      OCL has lost alot of credibility lately.

      • Re: OCL – I was amazed along the lines Andrew mentioned to see a Fr. A L being invited to speak to the OCL. I’ve been reading his postings on the Orthodox-Forum at Yahoogroups for quite some time and if ever there was someone who is all about the letter of the canons and the joys of 19th century Russia, and simply not dealing with what is but doesn’t fit the desired destination.

        I was quite active in the OCL for some years. A few there in higher leadership had a limbic aversion to actually undertaking what’s needed to be accurate concerning the truths about those who do not live according to the requirements of high office- that these ought not continue to occupy those positions. And that this is why their decisions were inexplicably as we saw when it counted. Instead their policy was to solicit funds and conduct education and generally make appeals genreally with an academic flair of one sort or another to many including the aforementioned in hopes of generating better decisions leading to growth and a future.

        Sometimes I think the red-herring of female priests was generated on purpose at the OCL so as to damage credibility and otherwise never reach the issue of the restoration of the married episcopacy as a remedy to the sort of brazen misdoing we saw. The attempted coverup of the archimandrite drunken gay assault upon an isolated undergraduate boy. The lifting of the suspension and not defrocking a clergyman in a threesome with a gay massuer. How can we be shocked at the lack of fatherly skills among those who themselves were never fathers and who do not know the names of ‘their’ priests families nor could recognize them from a group?

        I think for a time several were there whose participation in the OCL was upon instruction in order to turn it into a safe venting function but of limited actual impact, those who deemed it wise to create a place people who had concerns could gather, have coffee, vent and then go home– people who thought it verging on daring action to publish thoughtful statements and letters honestly written and chock-a-block packed with well researched actual thought-through truth.

        If the OCL was what it should be– why do people who want news look for information on OCANews? Why wasn’t it the publisher of Voithia? It reprints some of the news it finds elsewhere. They have money to do much — while those who do the better read efforts are volunteer one-man-shows: and arguably more effective, more read, more watched. Why? They go report the news and they generally get it 100% correct. Why doesn’t the OCL with more money do it better than unpaid one-man shows?

        We need to understand– getting the people who possess the frame of mind to make good decisions in positions to make those decisions every day is the only way forward. When enough of them predominate in synods and decision making circles they will react correctively to the reports of the watch-dog groups. Certainly they will not feel the need to wait for permission from overseas overlords before feeling free from fear enough to chat and meet with their ‘brother’ bishops whenever the occasions might arise.

        There was a time in the OCL under George Coupounas where they tried being very active and spoke from one end of the country to the other and indeed they made a most important difference at a key moment. This they should recall with due satisfaction. At that time the OCL effort was a difference that made a difference.

        • RE: OCL…Just imagine if the $20,000 OCL dumped in the EA was used to webcast the proceedings of the EA online or help put up an interactive EA web site. This would have been a gift to all Americans. Instead does anyone know what the $20,000 went to…..

          OCL is fast becoming an organization that is simply of bunch of ecclesial bureaucrats waiting to take their turn on various diocesan councils and committees.

          No sensible Orthodox Christian should donate money to OCL if the OCL is simply going to use that money to give America’s hierarchy a couple of flashy nights in the Helmsley Hotel.

          As Harry points out OCL today is anything but serious…..

        • In other news,
          the moscow patriarchate announces support for a separate
          priesthood for south ossetia.

          serbian youths riot at a gay pride parade, harming orthodox
          businesses in the process.


          Time to pray.

  8. alexis banias :

    I appreciate the views of George, Harry, and James. I totally agree with James that denominations aside, Orthodoxy does have its problems within regarding ethnic divisions and jurisdictions which are not helping in providing a united front for Orthodox-American evangelistic efforts. I would like to see a Pan-Orthodox American Church, but money and power seem to infiltrate many facets of life, if not all. I like Harry’s point about various Christian denominations doing wonderful things for the community, especially our poor, and along that positive thought process, I’m reminded of yet another book, Father Peter Gillquist’s “Coming Home,” in which he states that these denominations are stepping stones to the fullness of the faith. We have considerable obstacles in our path when it comes to Orthodox Evangelism in America, and it would seem much more difficult sharing this Faith with those in Christian denominations than with agnostics, atheists, and others of various belief systems because we would be “preaching to the choir” about Jesus Christ in the former. The key is recognizing the barriers and steadfastly in loving prayer, fasting, and spiritual vigilance, “run the race” as Saint Paul has so astutely declared. Actions truly do speak louder than words.

    • Don’t let the denominations get you down. There may not have been *40,000* heretical sects in the Roman Empire in the first 3-4 centuries of Christianity, like in the world today, but there were still alot. We managed to do the job pretty well anyway, or rather, God did!

      –Leo Peter

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