On the first night of the conference, Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA addressed those in attendance about the church of the future. He told a story about his recent visit to the Republic of Georgia and the infant church there. He paid a visit to one diocese in the south of country where 10 years ago there were only 2 churches and 80,000 Muslims. The bishop decided that was not good enough and he set out on a program to in his words baptize the culture for the Orthodox faith. Now 10 years latter he has more than 200 churches and has baptized more than 80% of the diocese into the Orthodox Church.
There is another story of a group of mayn Indians and Aztec people in south America who have approached there church here in the US to bring them into the fullness of Orthodoxy. It is a long story of who they got to where they are today but their bishop is 70 years old and dying and wants to make sure his people are cared for. They have 250 churches with 70,000 people that will be welcomed into the Orthodox Church, please God, sometime over the next year. Praise God the church is on the cusp of an explosion.
In his great work, the Brothers Karamazoff Dostoyevsky tells a story called the old woman and the onion. It seems a wealthy woman awakes from her sleep and finds herself in the middle of a lake of fire. On the shore of the lake is her guardian angel. She calls out to him and tells him there must be some mistake as she is a good, well known person and should not be here in this lake of fire. The angel asks her if she ever did anything for anyone else. She thinks for a moment and remembers a time when she was gardening and an old poor woman came by begging. She told the angel, I gave her an onion and sent her on her way. The angel replied that he had the onion right here in his pocket and produced the onion. He reaches out with the onion and the old woman grabbed on and the angel started to lift her out of the lake of fire. The others in the lake with her saw what was happening and grabbed on to her and started to be lifted out with her. When the woman realized this she started to thrash about and kick the others and said let go this is MY onion, and at that the onion broke and they all fell back into the lake of fire!
Metr Jonah told us Thursday night that the greatest sin the Orthodox in America has committed is taking care of our own. He went on to say that we do need to take care of our own but not at the expense of others. He asked us, where are our schools, our hospitals, out soup kitchens. A recent study showed that among all religious people in America the Orthodox are the wealthiest, but we give the least amount. Where are our school, our soup kitchens, and our hospitals?
I have been having conversations with some of you over the past month about evangelism and how the orthodox evangelize. We could do what some do and go downtown on Saturday morning and set up a sound system and scream “The End is Near” “Repent” “You are all Sinners” Okay not my style and not the Orthodox Style. The Georgian Bishop did not have to run ads in the paper nor did he have to scream from the roof tops. No he engaged the culture and baptized the culture and changed the culture and the church exploded.
We say in the divine liturgy every Sunday, we have found the true faith… But no one knows we have it! We need to engage the community and show them by our actions what it means to be orthodox. Orthodoxy is not a religion it is a lifestyle.
I have said before if we are faithful to what God wants of us and if we are faithful to the Church of God, God will be faithful to us. Friday night, by all accounts we had the most successful Turkey Party we have ever had. I say this is for many reasons not the least of which was the hard work of Tommy Andrea and his team. But I say the reason is because we have been faithful this past year to the church and what God wants of us.
In our own small way we have been engaging the community for Christ. We began to be stewards of the church and not just members. We have given to the church out of love and not just out of obligation. We have begun to meet a need in the community through out community meal once a month. We have invested in the community and the community is investing in us. Just look at our picnic and all the new faces that came to the church, and the Turkey party. We need to continue to engage the community and invite them not only to our events but to our church. It is great that we can fill every seat in the hall and have to set up more tables and chairs, but just imagine how great it would be if we could fill every seat in the church and we had to set up chairs for the over flow!
Our Orthodox Church in America is on the cusp of greatness. We are engaging the community at every level. We have grabbed the great commission to go into all the world and we are not going to let go.
In the bible is the story of the fig tree. We all know this story. Jesus is hungry and he spies a fig tree. But when he finds that it does not bear any fruit he curses it and it dries up. The church is the same way. If we do not bear fruit we will dry up and die but if we bear fruit, and our branches are starting to bud, we will be blessed and we will have more fruit then we know what to do with.
Are you ready to take the next step? Are you ready to do the work that needs to be done to engage the culture and to change it and baptize it for Holy Orthodoxy?We have found the true faith! Don’t keep it a secret!