Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Universal Mission of the Church

As mentioned before, I am posting some of the articles that I wrote for our monthly bulletin. The following is the article for April.

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Our journey through Lent has reached its glorious finale. The church has been decorated, the altar doors have been opened wide, the news of the resurrection has been proclaimed to the world. It is Pascha and the whole Church rejoices. However, for the Church, this is only the beginning. After the Resurrection, Christ told the disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Later, He says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). These words were spoken not only to the apostles, but also to us, who follow in their steps.

The Church reminds us of the universal mission of the Church when it brings us together for the service of Agape Vespers on the afternoon of Pascha. During this service we read the Gospel message in many languages. Over the years I have had the opportunity to hear this Gospel in many languages such as Korean, Basque, Japanese, Turkish, and Kikuyu. Sometimes these languages were read by native speakers, other times by people who had the opportunity to live where these languages were spoken and to see the Church at work in those places.

As Orthodox Christians we are part of the united family of the Church. We are connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ in every place where the Church in present. We become one with them in the Eucharist we share. We are connected to one another in our worship, in our love for God, the Church, and one another, as well as in our mission to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.

The meaning of Agape Vespers extends even further. Psalm 24 says: "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Ps. 24:1). The reading of the Gospel in many languages reminds us that God's love extends over the entire world. We, as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9), are the messengers of God's love. It is to us that St. Paul says: "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). To us Christ says, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We cannot, therefore, remain indifferent to suffering, whether it is near or far. The Orthodox Church here in the United States has provided avenues through which each of us may help others.

The recent Kenyan crisis, in which at least one Orthodox church was destroyed and several priests were left without shelter during the violence, was a different kind of reminder of the mission of the Church. The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), a ministry of the Standing Council of Orthodox Bishops of America (SCOBA), which was already on the ground working with the Orthodox Church in Kenya, sent out appeals for help so that they could meet the needs of those who had been hurt. OCMC focuses on the spiritual work of the Church. Through our support of OCMC, missionaries go to places like Albania, Kenya, Romania, and Tanzania. Among their activities there, they help build churches and schools, start drug and alcohol counseling programs, and organize health care programs. When the need arose in Kenya, because OCMC was in the best position to offer humanitarian help, it took on that aspect of the Church’s ministry.

In most situations, however, it is the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) that does the almsgiving and support work on behalf of us, the Church. In the summer of 2005, Romania suffered catastrophic flooding; later that year, hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast; last year Greece endured fires that endangered thousands of lives and livelihoods. Every time, IOCC, the official international humanitarian organization of SCOBA, acted swiftly in providing relief to the affected regions.

These two organizations continue to do important work for and on behalf of the people of God: helping those in need, spreading the good news of Christ, and bringing hope to many parts of the world. This year, IOCC offers volunteer opportunities in the Gulf Coast to help rebuild homes that still have not been restored after hurricane Katrina. OCMC provides opportunities for both short and long term service in Alaska, Albania, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Romania, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. Members of these service teams will help build and restore churches, teach English as a second language, teach catechism, care for orphaned children, provide substance abuse counseling, and provide general health care. Among so many worthy projects, each of us can find one to take to heart and support. Our support is essential in order for IOCC and OCMC to continue to follow Christ's mandate to serve. This support can come in a variety of ways: we can pray for these ministries, support them financially, or listen to the call to become a volunteer. Perhaps next year one of our own Holy Trinity family will tell first-hand stories of the work the Church is doing in far-away lands and add a new voice to those reading the Agape Vespers Gospel in many languages.

For more information on the work being done by these important outreach and evangelism organizations of the Church and for more ways in which we can show our support, please visit: http://www.iocc.org and http://www.ocmc.org.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Marnina said...

Great work.

5:24 PM  

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