Monday, December 11, 2006
The Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas
8 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10021
A New Era for the Orthodox Christian Mission Center
Cardiff-By-the-Sea, CA – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…,” reads the beginning of Matthew 28:19-20. At first glance, this appears to be one of the more straightforward verses in the New Testament. Known as the Great Commission, it a clear and concise call to all Christians to share the Gospel with the world. How they are to accomplish this feat has been the source of numerous prayers, spirited debate, and sometimes bloody conflict.
The question of how to most effectively and appropriately enhance its Orthodox Christian missions outreach was the question that OCMC’s Board of Directors tried to answer in its Fall meeting at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Cardiff-By-the-Sea, California. The Board consists of dedicated clergy and lay people from various Orthodox jurisdictions in America.
Amid the routine business reporting that included the Mission Center meeting its 2006 budgetary goals, having a record number of short-term team participants, and receiving a glowing audit of its financial reporting, as well as adopting the 2007 budget and considering a framework for possible By-law revisions, more fundamental and philosophical issues were also addressed.
Prior to the commencement of the 2006 Fall Meeting, Board Members worshipped with the host parish at a Divine Liturgy, which set the tone for an introspective, organizational self-examination. “We serve on this board as part of the body of the Orthodox Christian Church,” noted Cliff Argue, OCMC’s Board President. “We approach this service prayerfully, conscious of more than just the business dealings of the Mission Center.”
An Orthodox Christian liturgy, rife with the smell of fragrant incense, transcendent chant, and mystical iconography engages all of the human senses in a way that draws the soul inward. From this place the OCMC Board pondered fundamental questions that would radically propel the organization along its already storied course.
A clear understanding of Orthodox missiology was outlined by Fr. Martin Ritsi, the Executive Director of the Mission Center, and Fr. David Rucker, OCMC’s new Associate Director, both of whom have served in the foreign missions field for many years. These “back to basics” presentations and discussions put a fresh pallet before the Board, through which they could paint a broader picture of what the Mission Center should be and how it should proceed.
Growing from a small Foreign Missions Committee of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese formed in the mid 1960’s, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center has been the official international missions agency of American Orthodox Churches for over a decade. Under the jurisdiction of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), the Mission Center has been deploying long-term missionaries, supporting mission priests, sending Orthodox Mission Teams, and offering scholarships for the theological training of those called to the priesthood in developing countries. Awareness of these efforts is starting to grow as Orthodox Christians are seeking ways to share their faith and serve their neighbor.
Following the concise education on missions by Fr. Martin and Fr. David, the OCMC Board of Directors prayerfully adopted a new five-year strategic plan for the organization. The plan focuses the efforts of the Mission Center on establishing new churches, developing indigenous leaders, and strengthening infrastructure, primarily but not solely in countries where Christianity is a minority religion, as a witness to the Gospel of Christ. To implement this plan the Mission Center has recently supplemented its staff and is in the process of developing a comprehensive education plan to foster support of its ministries. The Mission Center also hopes to re-engineer its brand, making it more relevant and recognizable to its varied constituents.
At its core, however, the plan calls for the development of very specific field plans for each country OCMC serves or may serve and proactively addresses the need for continued awareness of its ministries and the growth of mission mindedness amongst the Orthodox faithful. The benefits of this plan, to both the laity and clergy of the Orthodox Church, are a way to live a more complete life in Christ. It is hoped that by securing the participation and support of the inter-jurisdictional Orthodox community through missions, that the great spiritual thirst that exists in the world will be quenched and that many parishes across the country will be revitalized.
Mr. Argue, who was also honored with a certificate of appreciation by the OCMC staff at the meeting, offered this thought following the meeting’s conclusion, “It was exciting that the course we are now taking is validated by a clearer understanding of what Orthodox Missions are, and the obvious need for them that exists in the world today. I pray that growth from inside and outside the organization continues, so that we as Orthodox Christians can more maturely address Christ’s Great Commission.”
As the Mission Center continues on its path of dedicated service, the Board of Directors, staff, missionaries, supporters, and the countless lives touched by its efforts will be challenged to explore the depths of Christ’s words in the Great Commission. The success of these endeavors, however, is assured for Matthew 28:19-20 concludes by stating, ‘…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ Amen.”