We had a wonderful dinner yesterday at our place with four of the people in the mission. It was very satisfying to hear them share their stories and watch them get to know each other. For a small town the difference between them – and how they found (and are finding) the Church – is amazing. No two of the dozen or so people that have responded have similar stories.
And I’m thrilled to say we have a commitment to keep the chapel open while I’m gone next school year! Now I just need to find priests (with Readers) between here and Dallas that will be able and willing to come once a month to serve them.
I’m going to teach as many as possible how to do the Hours and/or Compline so they can continue to do prayers during the week as well. I have one person other than Bev who has expressed a desire to learn – I’m praying for a couple more so I can structure regular prayer to continue in the space. I was really dreading packing everything up and putting it in storage and leaving the space – especially after Fr. Michael served the Divine Liturgy there. To be leaving this behind, having this space and these people to come back to, is so much more than I had thought would happen this summer. It’s just another aspect of how this experience has not been what I thought it was going to be.
I’m finding that coming to an area that has never had an Orthodox church is a different kind of mission field all together. In addition to it being a minimum two-person task, it clearly has to also be taken in stages: establishing the presence and foundation of prayer in the smallest space the budget allows and calling all Orthodox. Then the slow process of building the mission (one person/family at a time) and moving into a larger transitional space that will suffice while the last/permanent space (and mission) reaches parish size and maturity.
This first stage that we’ve done this summer is pretty well done. God guided us to a place to do the services and then find the Orthodox people in the area. As I’ve detailed those tasks in previous accounts I won’t go into them here – suffice it to say besides also finding and securing real estate, the other important task was to secure as much advertising (traditional and web-based) as the budget allowed.
As I’ve also noted, it requires doing as many of the Reader’s services as possible and if one of the ministers is a priest, serving the Divine Liturgy twice a week if possible…Realizing it’s essential to have both the blessing and pastoral support and supervision of the diocese because it’s easy to over-shoot this and take on more than can be done; but the inquirers & baptized members must be allowed to come as they have the ability and feel the need to come. This means having the maximum options for them with the minimal expectations they can (and will) take advantage of the services at this stage of the mission.
I think at this point it’s helpful to talk about the Orthodox in the mission areas. Some of them may be those that make the drive occasionally to the larger cities to attend services, but most are going to be people that have been separated so long that has not been possible to keep up, and they’ve been going to other Christian confessions – including participation in their sacraments. These will mostly be cradle Orthodox but some will be converts as well.
I’m finding pastorally there is a very delicate balance that must be struck and maintained. On the one hand the purity of our dogma and practice is what makes us who we are and is simply non-negotiable. On the other hand these Catholic parishes and Protestant congregations have made a home for our stranded people and I believe should be respected (as being here first) and also appreciated. I’ve not heard of a single case of these Orthodox people having joined because they were proselytized – although that would have been my assumption here in the Bible-belt. At least with this group (who are mostly baby-boomers and a little younger) they were looking for a place to worship God where they lived and were simply welcomed as they visited.
I hear of Orthodox pastors in Russia and Greece reclaiming their Orthodox people (from the Protestants especially), and I’m sympathetic with their reminding them that to leave the Church to join these is apostasy and that Protestant doctrine is heretical. (In that most would say “Amen!” to iconoclasm and Barlaamism). However as I see it, history and geography must be taken into consideration as we formulate how to respond to this situation here in the US.
Apostasy and heresy involve knowing and having access to the truth and departing from it. For any of us who are Orthodox and are reading this, to decide to leave our local parish to attend a Catholic or Protest congregation (and especially to take the sacraments) is apostasy. Likewise, to adopt for example the belief that all we need is Jesus in our extemporaneous prayers rather than constantly invoking the Holy Trinity in the prayers of the Church, or that all we need to interpret the Bible are literacy and lexical aids rather than the Fathers of the Church, can only lead to apostasy.
But can we say, should we say, the same is true for those who have never had the historic truth? Who simply believe what they have been taught either from infancy or from a source in a place where the Patristic teaching of Orthodoxy and Apostolic Tradition has never been seen or heard? They haven’t had anything to depart from, they haven’t left anything. I’m reminded of the twelve Ephesian disciples in Acts who were baptized (and maybe also baptizing) without the Holy Trinity because, as they told the Apostle Paul, “we didn’t even know there was a Holy Spirit.”
I believe the enormous contrast in the way the Apostle Paul deals with the error of St. Peter as opposed to the disciples of St. John the Forerunner is key. St. Paul confronted the chief Apostle publically to his face (Gal.2) because he “was to be blamed” for deviating from what they all knew was the truth by allowing the Judaizers to retain aspects of the Law they had, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, done away with.
However in Acts 19 we have this very different response from him to simple Ephesian disciples who were in far greater error than Peter:
“And finding some disciples he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ So they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ So they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”
They were corrected – but treated with gentleness and respect because, as St. John Chrysostom notes, they hadn’t deviated from the truth – they simply didn’t know what that was. Certainly in Ephesus at that time there was teaching about Christ and the Trinitarian baptism He instituted. However the Apostle Paul didn’t ask because it clearly didn’t matter. These are not Church teachers and leaders from their midst who should know better. For whatever reason, possibly because of their own negligence, but also clearly because they were from a specific area that was not yet saturated with the fullness of the Gospel of Christ. In ignorance they believed something that, had they known the truth, would have been heresy in what it omitted.
Who they were and where they were from is the basis he used for treating them completely differently. I think the same is true for those who are doing missions in places where there may be a very strong Catholic or Protestant presence but where Orthodoxy is relatively unheard of. If the local people were baptized but have been separated and not raised or catechized properly in the Church; or are converts who’s catechism was inadequate or incomplete (which is more common than we know) then we should respond to them, in my opinion, as the Apostle Paul did to the Ephesian disciples of Acts 19. Corrected not by condemning or delineating the heresy, but by continuing to build the truth on whatever, and from wherever, the foundation of truth exists.
As St. John Maximovich always did in dealing with heterodox beliefs and practices during his life in non-Orthodox countries; simply present Holy Tradition with our life and words…with the virtues rather than confrontation.