Jesus Christ valued many things, but at the top of His priorities was the salvation of each person. “The Lord does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2Pet.2:9) His love for each person is so great and unfathomable that He “emptied Himself, became a servant, born in the likeness of men, and humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philip.2:7-8) Jesus’ closest disciples, the Apostles who knew Him best, went out after His resurrection to the farthest ends of the world with this same love burning in their hearts. They carried Jesus inside them through the presence of the Holy Spirit, and they therefore hastened to carry out His desires and commandments. Out of love for their fellow human beings and a desire for their salvation, they endured every hardship, deprivation and even gave up their lives that others might hear the Gospel and find salvation. Motivated by the love of God, they continued to preach and teach the same message as their Lord Jesus Christ to their own disciples, the Christians of the next generation. Their actions witnessed the evangelical essence of the Christian Faith and Gospel. The Apostle Paul exemplifies this evangelical and mission-minded essence when he says: “How are men to call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!’” (Rom.10:14-15)
This mission-minded and evangelical foundation of the Christian Faith and life were not only foundational in the early Church, but they have been a foundational aspect in every generation. It would be impossible to find a Saint of the Orthodox Church who did not embody the love of God and His desire that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. We cannot resemble Christ if we do not share His same burning love for others. It is a Christian necessity to believe that our Faith is good news and life saving and meant for every human person. We are not meant to become a Christian and a member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and then keep this good news to ourselves. We must consider that we have the fullness of truth, the antidote to death and the medicine of immortality, and then actively and lovingly share with those around us who, without it, will perish for all eternity.
This is why it is absolutely vital that every parish in our Metropolis have a ministry team that works with the priest and Parish Council dedicated to missions and evangelism. To grow the Orthodox Faith around us and up and down the West Coast means that we be willing to share our faith with our non-Orthodox family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors and acquaintances. This presupposes that we know our own faith well enough to realize what a priceless treasure we have. It also presupposes that we are living our faith enough to be excited about what Christ is doing in our lives to tell others. This is neither easy nor automatic. It requires intentional training, education, encouragement and leadership that a Missions and Evangelism Ministry can provide. It is for this reason that the Parish Regulations of our Archdiocese list by name this exact ministry as one that is required of every parish.
For too long, we have under emphasized this central and foundational aspect of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. The Office of C.O.M.E., the Commission for Missions and Evangelism, a ministry of our Metropolis, is dedicated to helping each priest and Parish Council form this vital ministry to equip our faithful to be better bearers of the Good News. As we each grow in our own faith, one inevitable fruit will be an increased mission-mindedness, personally and collectively as a parish. A second fruit will be a healthier parish. And a third fruit will be the need for more and more Orthodox churches, growing the Church and expanding God’s Kingdom.
This article was written by C.O.M.E. Director Fr. Theodore Dorrance, who serves at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Beaverton, Oregon.