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Fwd: Orthodox Churches Reviving Missionary Tradition Around the World

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  • mfignatius <maurnicus@aol.com>
    ... wrote: Orthodox Churches Reviving Missionary Tradition Around the World By Ann Rodgers-Melnick PITTSBURGH, January 7,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 14, 2003
      --- In OzInterOrthodoxUnity@yahoogroups.com, "Hosny
      <Hakimhosny@j...>" <Hakimhosny@j...> wrote:
      Orthodox Churches Reviving Missionary Tradition Around the World


      By Ann Rodgers-Melnick

      PITTSBURGH, January 7, 2003 (PPG) -- As many of the world's 250
      million Orthodox celebrate Christmas today, Orthodoxy is beginning to
      reclaim its long, but nearly forgotten, heritage as a missionary
      faith.

      While vastly outnumbered by Protestants and Catholics on the mission
      field, Orthodox missionaries from the United States serve from
      Guatemala to India. There is a thriving Orthodox mission in
      Indonesia. And Romania, itself the focus of Orthodox mission efforts,
      has sent missionaries to the Holy Land.

      "There has been a definite resurgence in missions," said the Rev.
      John Chakos, pastor of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Mt.
      Lebanon and a board member of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center
      for 16 years.

      The Rev. Martin Ritsi, 43, is now executive director of that center
      in St. Augustine, Fla., which is supported by all of the ethnic
      Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States. But two decades ago,
      after he renewed his faith and felt called to the mission field, his
      church didn't know where to send him.

      "At the time there was no mission center. We weren't sending
      missionaries," Ritsi said.

      "But my wife and I had learned about places in the world where there
      was no clergy and no church around the corner. Our hearts were
      touched to go and offer ourselves where the need was great. That
      interest had been in our hearts forever.. I'm sure that God put it
      there."

      In 1985 the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese started the mission center. In
      1987 Ritsi became its second missionary. In 1994 the Standing
      Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas adopted it
      as a pan-Orthodox project.

      It has a modest $1 million annual budget. But during four years under
      Ritsi, full-time missionaries have more than tripled from six to 21
      and the short-term volunteers from 50 to 150 per year.

      The goal is 100 full-time missionaries by 2010.

      By comparison, while there are generally believed to be just over 2
      million Orthodox in the United States, the Assemblies of God with
      about 2.5 million members send 1,800 missionaries overseas.

      Orthodoxy shares with Catholicism an early missionary history that
      includes St. Paul in Asia Minor and southern Europe and SS. Cyril and
      Methodius in Eastern Europe. The 15th century conquest of
      Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks stopped much of the missionary
      work, but Russia continued to send missionaries until the 20th
      century, when the communist revolution suppressed nearly all church
      activities.

      "Our history is of spreading the gospel. We stopped because of
      political and physical circumstances. As soon as those lifted, we
      turned right back to it," Ritsi said.

      The goal of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center is to serve regions
      that are predominantly non-Christian. But the center has projects in
      predominantly Christian nations with severe needs, such as Honduras
      and Romania, Ritsi said.

      Requests for missionaries often come from native people who have
      discovered Orthodoxy through study of early Christianity, Chakos
      said. It often has more appeal than Catholicism or Protestantism,
      because there was no association between Orthodoxy and modern
      colonialism in the Third World, he said.

      Many of the regions they are called to are predominantly Muslim.
      Orthodox missionaries are taught to deal respectfully with Muslims
      and never to insult their faith. But if a Muslim is interested in
      learning about Christianity, the missionaries will offer them the
      gospel, Ritsi said.

      While serving in Albania, "one of my most moving events was to
      baptize over half of a Muslim village in a river," he said.

      Ritsi believes Orthodox missionaries have an advantage in Muslim
      societies because both faiths were forged in Eastern culture. Both
      stress prayer at certain hours of the day, have similar blessings for
      passages of life, similar music and emphasize fasting.

      In Albania, "It was not so much of a leap for Muslim people to become
      Orthodox as it would be for them to adopt a western form of
      Christianity. They don't have to jump cultures," Ritsi said.

      Albania had endured an extreme communism that tried to eradicate all
      faiths. The nation, which was once nearly 70 percent Muslim and 30
      percent Orthodox, emerged from the Cold War as the poorest in Europe
      and one of the poorest on Earth.

      Much of the nation had no electricity, and farmers didn't know how to
      organize their own work because the government had done it for them.

      Villages carried a memory of having been Orthodox or Muslim, but few
      people understood what that meant. Only four elderly priests remained
      alive.

      To that nation came Archbishop Anastasios, viewed as a living saint
      by many Orthodox. He started humanitarian work to help all Albanians.
      And, with the aid of six missionaries, he began to rebuild the
      church.

      When Ritsi arrived in 1992, he taught in a seminary. The first 30
      students were recruited from historically Orthodox villages that
      wanted to have a church again. Six years later, 100 Albanian priests
      had completed the three-year program.

      As the Church of Albania developed its own priesthood, Ritsi's focus
      shifted to helping the church develop social services, particularly
      schools and clinics.

      He believes both spiritual and material miracles have been worked in
      Albania over the past decade.

      Today most Albanian homes have heat, electric stoves and
      refrigerators -- in large part due to Albanians who left the country
      to work but send money home, he said. And while it is very difficult
      to get a current estimate, about 25 percent of Albanian citizens are
      now believed to be Orthodox.

      "Compared to what happened in other parts of the world during the
      first five years they were emerging from communism, it was a
      miracle," he said. "You look at the number of people who came into
      the church as converts, who were trained, who built churches. The
      growth in the church was phenomenal."

      Requests for missionaries continue to come to the Orthodox Christian
      Mission Center from all over the world. One of the most recent was
      from Micronesia.

      "Knowing that I don't have 50 people to send hurts," Ritsi said. "I
      believe God is calling people, but many people don't realize it yet."

      The Orthodox Christian Mission Center is on the Web at www.ocmc.org
      --- End forwarded message ---
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