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OCMC News - Archbishop Anastasios' Remarks at the Dedication of the New OCMC Missionary Training & Administration Building

by Archbishop Anastasios (Posted 5/26/2009)

OCMC News - Archbishop Anastasios
His Beatitude Anastasios, Archbishop of Durres, Tirana, and all Albania has dedicated his life to the service of the Church through missions.

Bless the Lord, o my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 102:2).  As we celebrate today the great blessing of the inauguration of this new missionary Centre of Orthodoxy, my thoughts go back to the beginning of the new Orthodox "external" mission that took place in the midst of the 20th century.  It sprang out as a problem, as a longing on the part of young people who had already dedicated themselves to “internal" mission.  I remember that in the evenings during the Christian Student Camps, biographies of outstanding personalities, such as David Livingstone, Albert Schweitzer, and other missionaries moved us and unfailingly kept our interest.

Toward the end of 1958, in an Assembly of the Inter-Orthodox Organization of Orthodox Youth “Syndesmos” in Thessaloniki, chaired by the lay theologian John Myenford, there was a discussion about the missionary silence of contemporary Orthodoxy.  This silence was more noticeable in the birthplace of the great Byzantine missionaries, Cyril and Methodius--up until those years there did not exist even one church dedicated to their memory.  Being at that time a lay theologian, I had the opportunity to present more vividly the theme of the need for an Orthodox external mission.  This Assembly approved our proposal for the formation of an “Executive Committee for External Mission” and elected the present speaker as its General Secretary.

We started the study of the issue with enthusiasm and decided to proceed to the edition of the periodical "Porefthendes—Go Ye" in Greek and English.  There followed several activities and informative speeches, for the most part addressed to the University students, having as a main theme “the forgotten commandment: Go and teach all nations.”

During the next General Assembly of “Syndesmos” in Lebanon yet another important step was realized by the establishment of the “Inter-Orthodox Missionary Centre Porefthenede,” which undertook further promoting the missionary efforts.  The articles that were published in the above-mentioned magazine were a surprise for many people, both in Greece and within the circles of the ecumenical movement; all had heard from officials that Orthodoxy was not interested in external mission.  Now they were suddenly seeing a new missionary flame within the circles of Orthodox Youth.  The vision of those of us who had begun the effort of rekindling an  external mission awareness was to develop inter-Orthodox cooperation.  Of course, this has presented in practice many difficulties; nevertheless, it has remained a standing orientation and persevering prayer.

Also in those years an analogous flame was lit here in America.  The students of Theology who came to Athens, among them Alexander Veronis, joined in those first steps.  It was with great satisfaction that we saw later the work of external mission consolidated within official ecclesiastical structures here in America, through the OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center) in which all the Orthodox canonical jurisdictions under SCOBA (Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops of the Americas) take part.  It is with particular joy, and all the while “blessing the Lord,” that we reflect on the work that the OCMC has offered to multiple missionary fields.  The present inauguration of this Administration and Training Center surely forms a very important landmark.

Personally, I would like to express my wholehearted thanks for the decision of OCMC to mention as well the name of my modest person together with the beloved Brother, Archbishop Demetrios of America.  As you are already aware, during more than sixty years (specifically, from our time of studying in the University in 1947), we have been on this journey and experienced together the theological search of youth (as after we left the “Zoe” movement around 1954), as we have served in different missionary frontiers.  With emotion I always think over our precious friendship and brotherly solidarity as much when I was starting out for Africa as also later, in difficult phases and, more recently, during my missionary efforts in Albania.  Undoubtedly, this fraternal friendship was one of the great gifts that God has given to me.  And I am grateful to Him, as well as to my precious Brother.

By God’s grace, during the last fifty years very important steps have been realized for the resurgence of the Orthodox Mission, in theoretical world-wide sectors as well as in the realization of concrete works.  The continuous development of missionary nuclei in various areas of Africa, Asia, and even in Europe, is a blessed reality.  The commandment of the Lord, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19) “to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8), touches more and more members of the Orthodox Church, who are already struggling to give witness of Jesus in new frontiers; “to the uttermost parts of the earth”; the eschaton with all its meaning: geographical, cultural, social.  Every day we realize more and more that, finally, we deny love and justice when we remain indifferent before their catholicity, their universal human dimension and consequences.

From the early years it was stressed that the problem was not simply to create some missionary groups.  The quest was how the Orthodox Church as a whole will be mobilized with this worldwide missionary vision; and, moreover, that in this new missionary effort the cooperation of all the Orthodox Churches must be sought.  The decisive step that the OCMC has realized in America through the working together of all the Orthodox jurisdictions is of significant value.

The culminating point of this new missionary self-awareness is found in the 3rd paragraph of the recent Message of the Primates of the Orthodox Chruches, made on October 2008 in Constantinople.  I remind you that it stated:

“Inspired by the teaching and the work of the Apostle Paul, we underscore first and foremost the importance of the duty of mission for the life of the Church and in particular for the ministry of us all in accordance of the final commandment of the Lord: “You will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  The evangelization of God’s people, but also of those who don’t believe in Christ, constitutes the supreme duty of the Church.  This duty must not be fulfilled in an aggressive manner, or by various forms of proselytism, but with love, humility and respect for the identity of each individual and the cultural particularity of each people.  All Orthodox Churches must contribute to this missionary effort, respecting the canonical order” (Message of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches—12.10.2008).

I believe that this declaration, so clear and unanimous, really forms a milestone in the history of the Orthodox Church.  As I was looking at His Eminence, the Archbishop of America, my Brother Demetrios, my thoughts returned to the year 1958 in Thessalonica, when both of us agreed that something must be done for the external mission.  And now, from responsible bastions of the Church, under the presidency of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, together with all the other Brothers Hierarchs (from all over the world), we have had the opportunity to officially stress this apostolic duty.

Since we are celebrating the inauguration of this missionary centre during the Paschal season, I would like to finish by recalling a personal experi

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Prayer for Missions

God of truth and love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Hear our prayer for those who do not know You. That they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world. Sustain, inspire, and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel. Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile. Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church, and raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world. Make us witnesses to Your goodness full of love, full of strength, and full of faith for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world. Through the prayers of all the missionary saints, Have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
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