As part of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, a mission parish in Kentucky, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a missionary. Planting a church is hard and rewarding work. The challenges of limited resources help make us extremely thankful for unexpected gifts. I marvel at the way other Orthodox parishes have supported and encouraged us.
Missionary work is not new to Orthodoxy, although historical circumstances have seemed to limit it in this part of the world. The more I learn about the Orthodox mission work in Alaska, the more I am amazed by the deep respect demonstrated for the Alaskan people. I hope that as part a mission in Kentucky we are also acting out this love and respect. I pray that we can communicate the Gospel well.
I believe we have been uniquely prepared for this mission work. Before we were received in the Orthodox Church in America, we were a mission church in the Evangelical Orthodox Church. In the EOC, we talked about and tried to live as an “Intentional Orthodox Eucharistic Community.” We have pondered and examined every one of those words and the combination of them as we together strive to love God more. (See Reader Gideon’s comments, for example.) When we were received in the OCA, we started talking about and acting on the idea that “those that join us are given to us by God for our salvation.” God knows what we need even when we do not. I believe these two ideas work together.
As we look at buying land (more on that in the future), it is good for us to consider what it means to be planting a church. The Antiochian Orthodox Church in the UK and Ireland has a terrific article called Planting New Parishes – How to Do It. Good words to read. Be sure to read the diversion about St. Nicholas of Japan and Orthodox Christian Mission, especially if you have never heard the wonderful story of this saint. Of course, if you want to really study Orthodox mission practice, you should get the book Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today by James J. Stamoolis.
At one point I believe we were a bit afraid to be treading on the toes of the other Orthodox parishes in Lexington. I believe it was Basil that expressed that we shouldn’t fear that since we are working on a parish in Nicholasville, Kentucky. It is that our vision was too small. Why wouldn’t we want an Orthodox parish in every city and community?
I hope we practice the Orthodox Approach to Mission and continue in our praying and seeking God and manifesting the Body of Christ. Lord have mercy.