Friday, December 01, 2006
NEWS FROM THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MISSION CENTER (OCMC)
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Cardiff-By-the-Sea, CA – The hum of cordial conversation gave motion to a room adorned with still and elegant beauty. Amidst white table-topped islands, crowned with carefully arranged yellow and gold flowers and plates of colorful culinary confections, Orthodox Christians of varying backgrounds, schooled together in preparation for a night recognizing the reawakening of a profound movement within the Orthodox Christian Church.
From the head table, His Grace Bishop Benjamin of Berkeley rose to address the nearly 200 pairs of eyes that were immediately fixed upon him. With the mystical spirit that flows from all Orthodox prayers, Bishop Benjamin blessed the evening’s meal and eloquently set the tone for the night’s theme, Orthodox Christian Missions. No place could have seemed farther removed from the majority of Orthodox mission theaters. Yet at that moment, in the Great Hall of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, nestled in the rolling hills of the southern California coast, the attendees of that evenings Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) Benefit Banquet were closer to the African highlands and the slums of Calcutta than they had been mere moments before.
A procession of speakers addressed an audience, well versed on the most ancient Christian Tradition, but who greatly desired to help it reach new frontiers. “There has always been, and always will be, a hunger for truth in the world. Christian missions are a way to feed this hunger,” states Cliff Argue, OCMC’s Board President. “The American Orthodox Churches are primed to fully engage in this life-saving work, as our communities have been well established making the resources needed for global missions now available.”
Presenter, Dr. George Christakis, shared his life of dedicated missionary service with the audience. Being joined by his three sons, Dr. Christakis was honored for his four decades of mission service by Cliff Argue, Dr. John Demakis, the OCMC Healthcare Committee Chair, and Fr. Martin Ritsi, the Mission Center’s Executive Director as well. Appointed to the initial Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Missions Committee in 1965, Dr. Christakis was amongst some of the first Orthodox Christians sent by the Mission Center to Africa in 1985. In the years that followed he would travel to Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Russia, and Serbia setting up medical clinics and ministering to the local people. He established the concept of healthcare missions for OCMC and has inspired many healthcare professionals to spread the Gospel of Christ through medical service abroad.
The nights keynote speaker, however, was Fr. David Rucker, OCMC’s new Associate Director. Fr. Rucker’s engaging presentation told of his upbringing in a Protestant missionary home, only to then discover the Orthodox Church later in life. His former experiences inspired his dedication to the growth of Orthodox missions. Fr. Rucker’s story is common among converts to the Orthodox faith who bring with them true missionary zeal and experience from other Christian denominations. “To be an Orthodox Christian is to be involved in missions,” believes Fr. Rucker. This inherited vigor for service is revitalizing otherwise stagnant communities, giving them a new purpose by shifting their perspective outward and encouraging participation in the growth of Orthodox Christianity as a whole.
The Orthodox Church has always been a collegial, yet hierarchical, body comprised of a wide range of jurisdictions that transcend national boundaries. And the many faces of Orthodox Christianity were well represented at the banquet. This reflected the Pan-Orthodox sentiments within the Orthodox communities of the San Diego area, and the diligent work of that regions Orthodox clergy brotherhood, spearheaded by Fr. George Morelli. Orthodox communities in the United States are discovering that through missions outreach, they are also able to foster Orthodox “inreach”, reinforcing a sense of commonality and unity within the faith.
“There was a lot of energy in the room,” noted one attendee. This energy was what inspired the organizers of the banquet in the first place. Jeannie Ranglas, along with the Saints Constantine and Helen ladies philanthropic society, known as Philoptochos, organized the evening’s festivities out of a dedication to the missions movement within Orthodoxy.
Mrs. Ranglas and her husband Gerry were also honored at the banquet for their dedicated service to the Mission Center by Fr. Martin and Helen Nicozisis, a former OCMC Board President. They were given an icon depicting the great commission as outlined in Matthew 28:19-20 where Christ calls His faithful to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and, the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This banquet was one of many such events that are held whenever the OCMC Board of Directors convenes. Proceeding along the missions path as one body means that functions like the one held in Cardiff-By-the-Sea will need to become a more frequent occurrence. Awareness and support of the Mission Center’s many efforts are crucial to its success and the continuation of the Orthodox missions movement in America. The OCMC is the official international mission agency for all Orthodox jurisdictions in America, whose hierarchs, operating under the auspices of an organization known as the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), issued the Mission Center a mandate in 1984 to engage in mission work on its behalf.
Fulfilling this mandate, missionaries live as a witness to the Gospel of Christ. This witness often manifests itself in the spiritual and physical care for one’s neighbor. In his closing remarks, Fr. Martin, who’s own life has been devoted to mission service, made an analogy that reminded the audience what the term ‘neighbor’ really means. “If the world’s poor were before our eyes everyday,” he began, “we would be much more concerned for their well-being. It is events like this evening’s banquet that bring this spiritual and physical hunger before us, forcing us to acknowledge it and do something about it.” This appeal and the giving hearts of those present resulted in sizeable donations to the Mission Center for its many ministries. OCMC deploys long-term missionaries, the supports mission priests, send Orthodox mission teams, and offers scholarships for the theological training of those called to the priesthood in developing countries.
“The evening left everyone feeling really good about Orthodox Missions,” noted Mrs. Ranglas. “I think a lot of interest was generated regarding this type of work.”
As mission mindedness amongst Orthodox Christians continues to grow, the Church hopes it will find itself in a unique position in the coming years. It will have within its ranks an incredibly dedicated and capable clergy and laity ready to travel to the four corners of the world spreading the Gospel of Christ. They will also have a unified support structure that is able to effectively and uniformly facilitate this work. Events like the benefit banquet in Cardiff-By-the-Sea will be one of many matches struck in the re-kindling of an Orthodox flame that, its believers hope, will spread to the ends of the Earth.
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