Published by Solia The Herald, January 2004
"DOUBLE? OR NOTHING?"
"A Word to the Wise is Sufficient!" so goes an ancient proverb. The title
of this article, however, is based not on a wise proverb but on a gambler's
call. Does it speak of recklessness or of solid assurance of
success? Laying aside any reference to gambling, this call could be aptly
applied to the mission effort of the Church in North America in her service
to her Christ.
The true nature of the Church is, by her divine calling, missionary.
Mission can be within a nation and to the outside. The concern of this
article is mission within the nation. In this regard, nation refers to
Canada, as well as, to the United States. Mexico has its own particular needs.
Orthodoxy was brought to North America both through the planned mission
program of the Church of Russia and through the un-planned establishment of
parishes by immigrant faithful from other Orthodox nations. In the first
instance, the Church of Russia instituted an authentic mission program to
reach the Native Alaskans. In the second instance, immigrants brought their
faith with them to nourish and comfort them in the New World with little
concern to reach out to others. One reached out to establish the faith, and
the other turned inward to preserve the faith.
After two hundred years of the existence of Orthodoxy in North America, we
find that these two missionary efforts continue: mission to the outside
mostly through the work of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center
(O.C.M.C.), while mission within is in the hands of hierarchs.
Every jurisdiction establishes new (mission) parishes. In most cases,
mission means establishing a worshiping community for a particular ethnic
group. In other words, it is the continuation of the activity initiated by
the early immigrants to these shores and tends to be more conservative than
missionary. Even those parishes which are established as American often
have ethnic founders upon whom the new community was based, and this
patchwork gives the mission a unique flavor.
There is a particular mission recently established under the jurisdiction
of an ethnic hierarch whose priest sends out postcards reminding
individuals of the forthcoming service schedule. Around the edge of the
postcard are invitations to Greeks, Russians, Romanians, Serbians,
Ukrainians, etc., to attend. This is an effort to reach out to those who
are already Orthodox but who have no "ethnic" church to attend and who
accommodate to a multiplicity of liturgical languages along with English.
The Greek-American Community, unlike the former Iron Curtain Nations (ICN),
has enjoyed continuous immigration over the decades since the Russian
Revolution. Its ethnic identity remained strong while those of the ICN
nations were weakened by the shame of belonging to a people labeled as
communist and as the Red Threat.
With the apparent change of governments in the former ICN, Orthodox
immigration to North America has increased greatly. A multitude of new
missions for ethnic identifiable immigrants has been established for
Romanians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Russians, Ukrainians and
others. Thus, the growth in certain ethnic jurisdictions is based on this
mission within rather than mission to the outside. The Church is taking
care of her faithful wherever they may roam.
With the playing field of Orthodox immigration more or less leveled out, is
the Church effecting mission within the nation or is it still merely
maintaining and establishing communities for particular ethnic groups? How
strong is the hierarchs' conviction to reach out beyond a particular ethnic
pale? Is there a real concern? Only each hierarch knows his own
conviction. We do suggest that not enough is being done to serve those of
the ethnic groups who do not speak the language in which the Divine Liturgy
is being served in their particular parish. Thus, the choice of the title,
Double or Nothing. Both language groups must be served. A hierarch who
establishes English language parishes is acting in a pastorally-responsible
way befitting his role as shepherd of the reason-endowed flock.
Does it not make sense and is it not a responsibility to create new
parishes using the English language for those faithful? Over the decades,
every ethnic church has lost the majority of their faithful, because they
no longer understood the language of the Divine Services. They were lost,
too, because their non-ethnic spouses were not welcomed and the spiritual
education of their children ignored. They were lost, too, because they
were judged as not being able to fit into the inner-circle of the ethnic
parish. They were lost, too, by the droves, swallowed up by those who did
serve them in an understandable language, and large numbers enrolled in
How often has hierarch, priest or layman said, "If they can't learn the
language then let them go elsewhere!" Among the many stories reflecting
this devastating attitude is that of a certain priest who, when approached
by a small group of his faithful interested in learning more about the
Bible in English, informed them that it was not necessary and that they
should spend time learning the language of their forefathers. Today, that
group is enlarged and exists as a Pentecostal Community of Christians who
study the Bible but are now bereft of the sacraments and teachings of the
Some of the leaders of the Church, of thrice-blessed memory, Metropolitan
Anthony Bashir, Archbishop Valerian Trifa, Archbishop Metrophan Noli,
published by-lingual liturgical texts for use in their ethnic parishes. We
can also glory in the efforts of our Holy Fathers Among the Saints, Bishop
Innocent and Metropolitan Tikhon who championed the use of the spoken
tongue of the Alaskan Christians, in addition to using Old Slavonic.
Possibly the merit goes to the Antiochian Church in North America that
first established English-speaking parishes, and most of the Dioceses of
the Orthodox Church in America establish new missions with English as the
There is another story about the famous Orloff liturgical texts in English
printed in St. Petersburg at the end of the 19th Century and shipped to
North America. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Church in America turned
inward, became defensive, insisted on the use of Old Slavonic over English
and stored those beautiful books in the recesses of some basement area.
This conservative attitude can be observed in all the ethnic Orthodox
groups in North America which were affected by control of their homelands
by atheistic communist governments. They must have felt as if they would
become the remnant. Although new generations did not learn the ethnic and
liturgical languages, neither did the Church learn the English language of
the land to sanctify it.
Furthermore, is it not incumbent upon the hierarchs to reach out to the
un-churched in a language they can understand? The most famous example of
the Slavonic-speaking Greek brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodios of
Thessalonika, bears witness to the absolute necessity for intelligible
communication of the teachings of Christ. There is both the need to
establish more English-speaking missions to serve our faithful who do not
speak one of the liturgical languages, as well as to establish totally new
missions to reach out to bring others into the Church.
If the hierarchs, individually but much better in a synodal/collegial way,
were to establish parishes for their faithful who no longer speak the
ethnic language or cannot understand an archaic form of liturgical
language, the service to our Lord would be doubled! If the hierarchs also
established new missions as an outreach to the nation, the witness would be
quadrupled! Thus, there is a need for two kinds of English speaking
missions: those for the Orthodox who would be lost because of the
incomprehensibility of liturgical language and for missions to the nation.
If we plant nothing, we reap the fruit of nothing. If we plant not, others
do and reap our faithful. Isolated from each, our left hand knows not what
our right is doing. We duplicate; we exacerbate; we complicate. The Holy
Spirit is economical and blesses that which is well-planned. It is the same
Holy Spirit, the Paraclete that gathered the hierarchs together 10 years
ago in Ligonier. The two documents born of that unique SCOBA meeting held
under the power of the Spirit of Truth are the touchstone to what was
stated, what was promised and what has been implemented. We cannot gamble
that which does not belong to us, the faith given to us by the Lord. We
have everything to lose but also everything to gain! AA reminder to the
Wise is sufficient.
Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America