Reacquainting ourselves with what God has called us to be

18th All-American Council

Archpriest Basil Rhodes – March 2015

The theme of the 18th All-American Council is “How to Expand the Mission.” What is the “mission” of the Orthodox Church in America anyway, and why does it need expanding?

According to the Mission Statement of the Holy Synod of Bishops, “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in America, the local autocephalous Orthodox Church, is to be faithful in fulfilling the commandment of Christ to ‘go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all [things that He has] commanded,’ so that all people may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth: 1) To preach, in accordance with God’s will, the fullness of the gospel of the Kingdom to the peoples of North America and to invite them to become members of the Orthodox Church. 2) To utilize for her mission the various languages of the peoples of this continent. 3) To be the Body of Christ in North America and to be faithful to the tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church. 4) To witness to the truth, and by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to reveal Christ’s way of sanctification and eternal salvation to all” [Adopted by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, 1990].

The Mission of the OCA is to incarnate the words of the Tomos of Autocephaly — in other words, to BE the autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America. To expand this notion is first of all to reacquaint ourselves with what God has called us to be, and secondly to embrace that calling with renewed vigor and renewed dedication. The word “mission” also means “a calling to action.” This calling is to spread the Word of God as rightly preached and rightly practiced to all the peoples of North America. God has not called us to be a museum conserving religious artifacts. He has not called us to be a cultural preservation society for any particular people. God has not required of us any affiliation with any particular ethnic or national identity or cause other than our own. We are Canadians, we are Americans, we are Mexicans… and we are Orthodox Christians. This does not mean that we do not recognize traditional, “Old World” communities within our larger context. On the contrary, we DO, and we celebrate them. We honor and respect them. But “mission” means “to expand and to grow,” bringing the word of truth to those outside of the traditional Old World communities, communicating the Holy Tradition in a way they can appreciate, and in a language that they can understand.

Some have suggested that the only way to accomplish a unified North American Orthodox Church is to surrender our vision and our mission to that of others. I disagree. We may be small, but David was small. We may be weak, but as Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. We may be unrecognized by many, but so was the Lord Jesus Christ [John 1:10]. No, surrender is not the way. Expand the mission, celebrate the mission, extol the mission, empower the mission. In this way, we not only fulfill the mandate given to the Church by God, but we each, as individuals, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14].

Archpriest Basil Rhodes, is Rector of Saint Nicholas Church, Saratoga, CA.