Therefore Go, Οὖν

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“Our Easter joy is offered in order to be shared with others. … A pious custom among Orthodox Christians is to share with others the light of Christ the moment their candle is lit. This sharing of Christ’s Light highlights the duty of the faithful to evangelise, to spread the Evangelion (Ευ-Αγγέλιον), the Good News of our Lord’s Resurrection, like the Apostles. Our resurrected Lord said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  And He added:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). Πορευθέντες οὖν.

So, there is one consequence, one “therefore”, one “οὖν”: Don’t limit yourselves to your own personal salvation and joy; you have a holy responsibility to spread this Evangelion to all those who ignore this Truth. This Hope must not be kept hidden, must not be confined to only one community. This Hope is for all peoples, for the renewal of all mankind.” (Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, Easter Message 2017)

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“A Candle Before the Icon”: Archbishop Anastasios

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“As a young person I had been moved by stories of Father Damian, a Catholic priest who served lepers in Hawaii, and also Albert Schweitzer. I asked myself whatever happened to our missionary tradition in the Orthodox Church? Where were the Orthodox missionaries? What are we doing to share our faith with others? What are we doing to reach all those people who have never heard the Gospel? I realized that indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ. How had it happened that a Church called to baptize the nations was so indifferent to the nations? Saint Paul brought the Gospel to Greeks. Who were we bringing it to?”

It was a pivotal question that would shape the rest of his life.

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Indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ.

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‘Krishti u ngjall, Zoti eshte me ne, lavdi Zotit!’ — ‘Christ is risen, God is with us, Glory to God!’

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While his official title is Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania, Anastasios has occasionally been called the Archbishop of Tirana and All Atheists. It isn’t a title he objects to. “I am everyone’s archbishop. For us each person is a brother or sister. The Church is not just for itself. It is for all the people. As we say at the altar during each Liturgy, it is done ‘on behalf of all and for all. Also we pray ‘for those who hate us and for those who love us.’ Thus we cannot have enemies. How could we? If others want to see us as enemies, it is their choice, but we do not consider others as enemies. We refuse to punish those who punished us. Always remember that at the Last Judgment we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person. The message is clear. Our salvation depends upon respect for the other, respect for otherness. This is the deep meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan — we see not how someone is my neighbor but how someone becomes a neighbor. It is a process. We also see in the parable how we are rescued by the other. What is the theological understanding of the other? It is trying to see how the radiation of the Son of God occurs in this or that place, in this or that culture. This is much more than mere diplomacy. We must keep our authenticity as Christians while seeing how the rays of the Son of Righteousness pass through another person, another culture. Only then can we bring something special.”

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People look at the difficulties of life here and say to me, ‘How can you stand it? It is so ugly!’ But for me it is so beautiful! It is God’s blessing to be here — not the blessing I imagined but the one I received. …

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“People sometimes ask me about my expectations, but I don’t know about the future! You can only do your job with love and humility. I am not the savior of Albania, only a candle in front of the icon of the Saviour.”

For more insights into Archbishop Anastasios legacy go to “A Candle Before the Icon: Archbishop Anastasios”, from Jim Forest’s book Resurrection of the Church of Albania, WCC Publications

Fixing Our Eyes On What Is Unseen….

Very timely blog post, by a Missionary in Nepal, for the little city hermit, whose journey of faith has truly led him places he never dreamed of going, led him to do things he would never believed possible, and to be used of Him in ways unimaginable. To his shame, he often gets discouraged …

missionary blog faith in God Divine providenceThis morning as I was walking the kids to the bus stop, I caught a brief glimpse of the mountains, but then moments later they were no longer visible. When I got back to the house, I went up on the roof and there they were, just peeking out from above the clouds.

And I realized something.

The mountains are always there. They are.

But most of the time they are invisible to the human eye. Covered with smog and clouds. Yet they are there.

Then I was reminded that isn’t that just like God. He’s always there, but most times we can’t see Him because “life” covers Him up, kind of like the clouds.

Even more so His plans for our lives.

Every now and then He gives us a glimpse of what is next. Just a little view. Then when we can no longer see, He says follow Me…

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In Love, For Love, and By Love: Missionary Series IV

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

 

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

RTE: How has it been having your family in the mission field?

FR. LUKE: When my wife and I first went to Albania, many people thought that it was going to be very dangerous and that our children would suffer: “You are going to deprive your children of all the benefits of life in America.” Contrary to that expectation, we feel that our three children who were raised in the mission field were immensely blessed by the experience of learning another culture and language. They always appreciated what they had in America when they went back, but they also appreciated their mission home in Albania, which they thought of as their “real” home.

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They’ve grown up with a very different world-view. They appreciate things that they would never think twice about if they had grown up in America. During our first years in Albania, we didn’t have running water every day. So, the kids learned to appreciate it. When we had water, we’d say, “Thank God for water. It’s great to have it.” During different periods, for months at a time, the electricity is off about five hours a day; in winter, maybe seven or eight hours. So they got excited when the electricity came on. Or, if we did have electricity, the tension was often so low that we couldn’t do something as simple as watch a video. I remember on one of our visits to the U.S., they wanted to watch a video, and came to my wife saying, “Mommy, if there’s enough tension can we watch television?” They still flip the switch to see if the electricity is working.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

Next to our house in Albania we had a very tiny shop, nine by fifteen feet, with all different types of food – this was where we did most of our shopping. Once, when we were about to go back to America, my son Paul asked his mother, “In America, will they have shops as big as Uncle Soorie’s?” We laughed. It was beautiful to see how they were exposed to a different way of life. We lived in Tirana, the capital of Albania, and we were constantly exposed to beggars, poor people who came to our house every day asking for help. It was wonderful for our children to see this, day in and day out. They got used to getting things for the beggars, answering the door and coming and saying, “Oh, so-and-so is here.” We got to know these people by name, we visited their homes. When you live in suburban America you aren’t even exposed to them unless you go downtown. Many of these beggars truly became friends, and our kids loved them. They loved playing with them and saw them as human beings, not as beggars.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

Another blessing of raising children in the mission field is community, both the indigenous Albanian community, the wonderful local people that were part of our life, and our co-missionaries who themselves had numerous children. At one time we had fifteen missionary children in the field, and they created such bonds of love and friendship. They weren’t exposed to the busyness, to the constant activities that American children are involved in. Their lives were very simple, and very fulfilled.

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Neither my wife nor I have any sense of their being deprived, and one of our greatest regrets in leaving Albania after ten and a half years is that we have left at a time when our children are still young, and we are not sure how much they will remember. We often talk about going back into missions when they are a little older so that they not only remember, but can participate more fully. Even though they were young, we tried to get the idea across that they themselves were missionaries, that they needed to be witnesses. To whatever degree they could participate in our different activities, they did.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

RTE: Growing up with cultural diversity must not only teach what is universal in human nature, but how to deal with differences early on.

FR. LUKE: Right. We Americans, unfortunately, are quite isolated from the rest of the world. The universal business language is English, so we think we can get anywhere speaking English. Having only Canada to the north and Mexico in the south, we aren’t exposed to many different cultures and languages and this is a great loss for us. It’s so enriching to be around the diversity found in a mission field, and to learn to see beauty in such diversity. One thing I tried to get across to the Kenyans, and later to the Albanians, was, “Sure, in America we have things that are nicer than in Kenya or Albania, but you have many aspects of your culture and life that we Americans can envy. Family connectedness, the support you have for one another, hospitality – how beautiful these things are! Don’t ever lose these aspects of your culture and think, ‘We want to become western, or American, because America is better in everything.’ There are certain things you can adopt from America that are beautiful, but don’t lose the beauty and richness that you have in your own tradition.”

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Hospitality was something that always left the greatest imprint on me. I could travel to the poorest village in Africa and they would put on a feast. It was their responsibility to show love and hospitality to guests. It is the same in Albania. I don’t know who is more hospitable, the Albanians or the Kenyans, but they would put anyone in the West to total shame. Having almost nothing, they share whatever they have with whoever comes.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

RTE: An American seminarian at Holy Cross Seminary told me about a depressed acquaintance who called one night, feeling suicidal. The seminarian invited him to come to the seminary for a few days for a change of scene and to be in a calm atmosphere. He agreed and the seminarian made the arrangements and cleaned an empty dorm room so that he could have his own space. The day his friend moved in, one of the Greek-born seminarians found out what was happening and insisted that the man take his own room, which contained his books and belongings, icons that were prayed in front of, and was a real home. The Greek seminarian slept in the hall on a couch outside the door so he could check on him through the night. The American seminarian said, “You know, I was so pleased that I’d found him his own space where he could have some privacy, where he could put his own things up – but actually what he needed was to be taken into someone else’s home and taken care of. I didn’t get it until I saw it.”

FR. LUKE: Yes, this virtue of hospitality is something missing in our American way of life. As missionaries, my wife and I saw hospitality as one of the greatest ways to express God’s love to the people. We wanted our home to always be open to people. We married right at the beginning of our time in Albania and it is interesting to think that my wife and I slept in our house alone perhaps three months out of the first five years of our marriage. We always had people coming, numerous people staying for months at a time. Our open home was a hallmark of our ministry. Even after the children started coming and we didn’t have as many overnight guests, we always had an open-door policy. There were people at our house every day. One of the difficult counter-cultural adjustments in coming back to America on sabbatical was that although we lived on campus at a seminary, no one came to visit. We lived there for four months and maybe a handful of people came to our house. And even when people came, they’d say, “I’m just here for a minute, I’ve got to run…” They’d stay briefly and then go on with their day.

Single Missionaries

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

RTE: We’ve been speaking here of missionary families. What opportunities are there for unmarried men and women? And in view of cultural differences, are single women limited as missionaries? What part do they play on a mission team?

FR. LUKE: The mission in Albania offers a good response to this question.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

During the years I served there, of the 20-25 missionaries we had at any one time, we had a nice mix – usually about eight monastics, eight married missionaries, and six or seven single missionaries. Of the two dozen missionaries, about half were men and half were women. Also, about eight were clergy, and the rest laity. The unmarried missionaries played an important role in the overall outreach of the Church. In Albania, we had single missionaries who headed up our medical clinic, our elementary school, our post-secondary professional institute, as well as our development and emergency relief office. We also had single missionaries who taught at our seminary, who taught English in a variety of contexts, taught catechism, worked in administration, and who participated in our university ministry, among other things.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

The Body of Christ has a need for everyone – men or women, married or unmarried. It is the same for the mission field. In fact, when a missionary team has a variety of members, it makes the overall witness that much more effective. Some people will relate well to a monastic. Others feel more comfortable with a married priest. Some prefer to approach a mother, or a married woman. Still others will listen to a single man or woman. All are part of one body, offering a unified witness. So there are surely opportunities for the monastics, the married, and the unmarried! In some countries, it isn’t appropriate for men to approach women and talk with them in public. Such societies need women missionaries, and this means both married and single women.

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In the Protestant world of missions, single women really weren’t encouraged, or even allowed, in the mission field until the 1800’s. By the 1900’s, women outnumbered men as missionaries. Today, women far outnumber men, and this includes many single women. Women had to overcome many obstacles and prejudices before being allowed to serve in a variety of capacities, and this may be the same for the modern Orthodox missionary movement.

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RTE: Do you have any specific counsel for unmarried missionaries?

FR. LUKE: My advice for single men or women is that they must be ready for some additional challenges. The loneliness of a new culture, the challenges of entering a new country, the frustrations of learning a language, and the normal difficulties and disappointments of the mission field can be overwhelming. As a married missionary, you have your spouse to support and comfort you; the monastics may be living in community and have another type of support; but the single missionary can feel the loneliness and frustration in a magnified manner. A single person has to be ready for these added challenges. He or she needs to be a strong person, and also be able to find support in time of need. Their co-missionaries need to be sensitive to this extra burden, and try to reach out to them.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

One way to help overcome these additional struggles would be for single missionaries to live in community, either with other missionaries of the same sex, one of the missionary families, or even with an indigenous family. Living with a family of the country can be one of the fastest ways to learn the language, culture, and ways of the host country. Of course, other challenges may arise as cultures clash and one’s privacy may be lost.

 

In Love, For Love, By Love: Missionary Series III

How can I become a long-term missionary?

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

Long and Short-Term Missions

RTE: Can you tell us what it takes to be a long-term missionary? You’ve spoken of the beginning stages, how about later?

FR. LUKE: Archbishop Anastasios has good advice for people thinking of going into the mission field: “It’s always better to say you are going for one year and stay for ten, than to say, ‘I am going for ten years,’ and after the initial enthusiasm fades away, you realize you can’t handle it.” There is wisdom in this: go step-by-stepand God will give you grace and strength.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

The goal of missions is to establish an authentic Eucharistic worshipping community in the people’s own language and culture

In my early 20’s, when I attended Pennsylvania State University, I contemplated entering the Peace Corps. When I learned more about it though, I was afraid, because I wasn’t sure I could handle the two-year commitment to leave my country and live in an impoverished third-world village. I turned down the opportunity, but God in His own way took me step-by step. He didn’t reveal to me, “In the future you will spend ten years in Albania.” No. First, I went on a short-term mission team for one month to Kenya. The following year I returned for a six-month commitment, and these six months turned into a year of service. After returning to Africa three times over the next four years, I began looking at Albania as a place where I could serve as a long-term missionary. I suggested to my wife, “Let’s make a three year commitment, and then see.” God took us through those three years and gave us the strength we needed. Those three years turned into five years, seven years, a decade. We might have been frightened, had we known at the beginning that we would serve in Albania for ten years, but God took us by the hand and led us.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

Don’t frighten yourself by thinking, “How can I become a missionary and live in another culture for so many years?” Just go, make the sign of the cross, and start working. Be open and willing to stay for longer, but tell yourself, “I am going for one year or for two years, and see how it works.” But keep praying, “Lord, if You give me the grace, I will stay as long as You want me here.”

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

RTE: You mentioned the short-term mission teams of two or three weeks. I imagine that it’s helpful for people in a foreign country to feel that others appreciate them enough to come, but what are the real benefits of this short-term experience?

FR. LUKE: One has to be very clear about the purpose of missions. The goal of missions is to establish an authentic Eucharistic worshipping community in the people’s own language and culture. If one is going to serve in a place that isn’t yet Christian, this will take many years and involve great effort, sacrifice, and struggle. To achieve anything, the missionary must commit himself to living among the people long-term and learning the language and culture.

With the ease of travel and technology, a new phenomenon has arisen in the past thirty years in the mission field – “short-term mission teams” – which send people for a week or two, or a month, to a certain area. They often have a specific project: to build a church, run a catechetical program, etc.

Orhtodoxy missionary work

There is value in these short-term projects, and the first and greatest value is for those who are going. It exposes them to a different culture, a different people. For westerners it is often the first time they’ve seen a third-world country up close, with of all its poverty and hardship. It’s an eye-opening experience. For many, this initial experience is an exciting adventure, and although these short-termers go with the intention of offering something, they receive much more than they can offer, and usually return to their home country full of enthusiasm. They often become ambassadors for the missionary movement; they speak in churches and their enthusiasm is contagious. It’s great for them and for the church that sent them.

But what did they really offer for the week, or month, or two months they were in the mission field? They offered something. Perhaps they built a building – but I’m sure the indigenous people could have built the building themselves if they’d had the money. Perhaps they created some nice friendships, and that’s important to encourage people, but they have to realize that what they offered was very limited.

It is not going to transform, convert, and change people’s lives. At best it is going to complement the work that’s already being done by the long-term missionaries and the local Christians who live there. Some churches are now sending many short-term teams; you can get the people, they’re enthusiastic, it motivates people back home. But people are still afraid to go into long-term mission and this “short-term” trend can create a great danger for the future.

Short-term teams are not the goal of missions, but they can support the overall effort, and short-termers need to be challenged as to where they are going to take this experience when they return home. In any group of twenty short-term missionaries who go somewhere for a month, my goal would be that at least one or two of them seriously consider long-term mission work.

Orthodoxy missionary work

For others, hopefully, this incredible experience will help to transform them into more serious Christians. Lord willing, they will use this experience as a stepping stone in their own spiritual journey. Perhaps they won’t become long-term missionaries, but they will be more dedicated Christians in whatever they do. Hopefully, the majority of people who go will at least understand missions in a new way, and even if they never become long-term missionaries, they will become supporters and partners of those in long-term missions.

There are two results we don’t want from short-term missions. First, we don’t want these participants to think that they are missionaries who have fulfilled their responsibility in missions. They are not missionaries, but members of a missions team. They now have a responsibility to use the experience they’ve received for the glory of God and to spread the spirit of missions in the Church.

The second danger is that we don’t want short-term participants to return home and, after an initial month of excitement, put the experience away as a great adventure and go on with their life as they lived it before. We would consider both of these results as a failure in our short-term strategy.

Orthodoxy missionary work

I have participated on five short-term mission teams, four times as a leader. I have also received five short-term teams while being a long-term missionary. So I’ve been exposed to this concept of missions from a variety of angles. These short-term experiences radically changed the direction of my life, so I’m very grateful for the experience. They exposed me to the reality of missions work and led me to longer stays in Africa. Such trips filled me with enthusiasm and zeal for missions, and led me to eventually study theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as to study missiology at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions.

orthodoxy missionary work

When I was a long-term missionary receiving missions teams, I did all the prep work for the teams, and it took a month out of my schedule each time to accommodate them. In certain cases it was worth it. Some teams did great and really complemented the ministries we were already doing. But to be honest, other teams were very demanding and in the end, the benefit that they offered was minimal. In those instances, it became a very time-consuming project that didn’t have a lot of value for our overall mission. Short-termers need to be aware of this, and when they go, to be humble about it.

RTE: I imagine they are more like pilgrims than missionaries, guests of Orthodox missions who may be able to help out in a small way.

FR. LUKE: Yes, I always tell the short-termers that they shouldn’t call themselves missionaries. They aren’t missionaries. They should think of themselves as visitors to a mission field. Some don’t like to hear this. They would like to think, “I’m following the path of the great missionaries; I’m a missionary now.” That’s quite naive.

Orthodoxy missionary work

To Be Continued …

Go here for Part I

Go here for Part II

Missionary Musings

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All my previous days have been spent in quietness, stillness and intense studying. I have been reflecting on my Romanian monasteries’ pilgrimage and preparing for the next one to Cephalonia and Ithaca for the Dormition Feast. I have also been corresponding with my English brothers and sisters in Christ, preparing for my return to the UK by the end of the summer.

Central in all my thoughts, studies, activities and endeavours was the Holy SpiritOrthodoxy and Missionary work.

I started studying Archbishop Anastasios’ of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania life and works, and was inspired by his questioning of the establishment’s accepted apathy toward missions. Then, I turned to the Acts of the Apostles and marvelled at the workings of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles’ zeal and love for God and His Church! Next, I  examined various missionaries’ blogs and websites, and I also watched a number of very inspiring videos: Michael Harper‘s talk on the Holy Spirit, part of THE WAY, the outreach programme of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

Then

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a two-part documentary, where renowned British actor David Suchet undertakes an epic journey spanning the Mediterranean. His inspiration is a charismatic individual whose own travels through this region, two thousand years ago, changed the world forever – Paul the Apostle:

Do you remember how all this got started? By a disturbing comment by a ‘cradle’ Orthodox that all ‘others’ are ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’. Now after a week I know that such an attitude cannot be farthest from the Truth. I understand I have so much more to learn yet but I am already convinced that

The love of God is manifested in mission“,

Indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy“; 

“Inertia in the field of mission means, in the last analysis, a negation of Orthodoxy, a backslide into the practical heresy of localism”;

“Mission was not the duty of only the first generation of Christians. It is the duty of Christians of all ages … It is an essential expression of the Orthodox ethos.”;

“Church without mission is a contradiction in terms…. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged.”

May the Holy Spirit empower us to be faithful in fulfilling the commandment of Christ to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all Nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all [things that He has] commanded”,  so that all people may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.   “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven”!

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May we witness to the truth, and by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to reveal Christ’s way of sanctification and eternal salvation to all.