We need missions. A query often fielded by the Department of Missions and Evangelism is: Are we starting new missions? It’s a fair question. Should one truly wish to engage the issue, it might be answered: I don’t know; are we? Forgive me: Departments don’t start missions. Parishes do. People do. Attuned listeners may be thinking: God does?
A story is told without any names and paraphrased of a bishop who called an abbot to a meeting. The bishop asked, “Fr. Anonymous, how many monasteries have you started?” “I have started none, Your Grace. God has started 17.” “Well, then, how many more does God wish to start?” replied the bishop.
Think about it. Wrestle with that story a bit before judging its worth. After all, witness the Scripture and the saints: God works through people.
Yes, new Orthodox communities are being formed. A good percentage of these new missions are Arabic-speaking communities. Orthodox Christians who have found each other in a new place or newcomers to America having moved to the same place from an old country. As for American old-timers, to put it tersely, there are few things easier than starting a new mission. This is done by gathering like-minded folks with a desire for salvation in the true faith. Flip that statement over and one might find there’s nothing more difficult than sustaining a mission to full and flourishing parish status.
The struggle is, of course, people. Without people, you cannot have a mission. Without struggles, you can’t be saved. Thus, for a mission to prosper, spiritually and temporally, you need a goodly number of sacrificial people to tackle salvific problems.
These mission-minded folks wear no capes. They have no superpowers. Still, they are dedicated whole-heartedly to the task of salvation and the fruition of the Church. Some people are naturally mission-minded. These are people who are willing to make the essential sacrifices to sustain a new community of believers. They also don’t mind worshiping with a mere handful of folks. They maybe even prefer it. Want to start and/or sustain a mission? Pray God’s blessing. Pray that he blesses you with these people.
We need monasteries. Years ago, at the question-and-answer period at the end of a retreat, someone approached the microphone and lamented at length the lack of monasteries in America. There were nods of agreement, murmurs of acclaim—that is, until a tall man in a cassock, hat, and veil stepped up to the mic and said, “I’m a monk. I live in a monastery. But it has not always been so. I had parents who nurtured me in the faith, who taught me to love God, prayer, and the value of sacrifice. I stand before you in agreement. Yes, we need monasteries. But for this to happen, we need monastics. We need your children.” The murmurs of acclaim having been quelled by the monk, most folks went back to staring straight ahead or looking at their fingernails. It’s like the old spin on Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I, Lord—send someone else.”
In a culture where hyper-productivity and upward mobility are viewed as virtues, a life of manual labor, contemplation, and prayer does not register on our societal radar. Face it. How many of you parents pray that your child grows up to be a monastic? It’s a romantic temptation to envision bricks and mortar, icons and rugs, bell towers and Byzantine chant, long beards and ascetic wisdom—without the struggle of sacrifice. This beautiful garden of salvation, monasticism, requires more than our desire for the old country experience and exotic place of pilgrimage or the longing for a quiet place to pray. Indeed, monasticism needs monastics—our sons and daughters.
We need moms. There is more than one method to grow a church. Chief among them is the old-fashioned way: babies. Faithful Orthodox married couples should bear more children. After decades of selfish seduction and secular indoctrination, the God-pleasing vocation of motherhood is often seen as a big burden or a small bonus. Would that we valued family and motherhood enough to fill our temples! Would that we raised our daughters to aspire to the high calling of motherhood! Moms are needed to bear and nurture and offer children. Our vocation is not to offer our children to the world; rather, our calling is to offer our children to God.
As the royal martyr, Empress Alexandra, notes, “No work any man can do for Christ is more important than what he can and should do in their home. Men have their part, a serious and important part, yet the mother is the real homemaker. It is her sweet life that gives the home its atmosphere. It is through her love that God comes first to her children. Loving mothers equip sons and daughters with the implements for spiritual warfare, the virtues.”
As St. John Chrysostom notes, “This training begins in the home. Let everything take second place to the care of our children, our bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love wisdom, they will have greater wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches. If you want to make your child rich, teach him this: He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing. Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible. Children about to go out into the world stand in greater need of scriptural knowledge.”
We need men. We need men to shoulder responsibility, follow Christ, raise up families, and shepherd souls. Men are needed as husbands and fathers, pupils and teachers, coaches and mentors. Frankly, we need more men to be men. We need men who understand their physical make-up is more than a genetic accident. Maleness is not the same thing as being a man. In a day and age when being male is often misunderstood as a handicap, being a man has gotten a bit harder. Thus we need men, shaped by godly mentors, the witness of Scripture, and the saints.
To be a man, males need to study the God-man, Christ: the Scriptures that foretold him, those that witnessed him, and those that proclaimed him. We’re talking here about Christian men. Let us attend.
We need more… If you’ve made it this far with me, you might have thought of another M-word: money. As any parent will tell you, if you wait until you have enough money to have children, you’ll never have children. All is from God, and God has all the money. A believing community learns over and over: if they are faithful, just how faithful God is. Missions aren’t built on money. Missions, parishes, monasteries, and families are built on faith. That is, on the prayers and labors of faithful people. As His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph has stated, “How can we radiate the joy of salvation when we constantly worry needlessly? Obedience, chastity, poverty—where is the shame in these in the eyes of God? Yes, the world calls these shames and tempts us with earthly pleasures. Yet we know that even with financial security, fame, and power, a man can be perfectly miserable. Happiness is found within us when we genuinely trust in God’s providence.”
Alas, we have a shortage of priests. What this means is that we have a shortage of men, offering themselves, unworthy as all are, to serve Christ’s Church in ordained ministry. Without the priesthood, we have no Church. Without men, we have no mothers. Without mothers, we have no sons and daughters, and monks and nuns. And without people and problems, there is no salvation. Are we starting new missions? Dear me! It seems if we concern ourselves with these fundamental missions—men, moms, monastics, and mission minds—God will provide the increase!