Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | May 1, 2012

A Bystander’s Reflection on Missions

This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend my first Orthodox Christian Mission Center Banquet… oddly enough as part of the committee where I had to make some remarks. Like many a blogger, standing up front is a bit unnerving – especially in front of a convocation of collected clergy, and especially in leading a collection of fellow Orthodox in celebration and reflection on something I’ve never done – Missions. So I canned a bit of my remarks as “not ready for prime time”… and they’re still not. Time will tell. But even so, I wonder.

Seems that from my post in terms of energizing attendance and then following up with the reservations, I had the gift of seeing just how much people were committed to arranging and re-arranging their schedules to come. We had people who came out of chemotherapy, who came from knee surgery, who came after weeks of arranging babysitters, we even had a monk who came all the way from Greece. We had people from nine parishes, we had eight clergy, and we encompassed five jurisdictions. And here I was… a guy who’d avoided this on one pretext or another for years. And so I was not only gratified by the support to our appeal, but humbled by all these committed people. And as I thought more about where so many of us were years before… many weren’t even Orthodox. Some gave up parishes, parish families and friend, pensions and healthy salaries and benefits to become Orthodox and work (if at all) for a modest stip-end well below the poverty level. Others gave up the status of being in a mainline “made it” or widely celebrated and active church of some renown to attend with “those guys… ecccch!” Yeah… those guys. And it becomes hard NOT to see the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing all us together, to this place at this time across time and space and in commitment to spreading the Gospel of our Holy Orthodox Church… of Christ’s witness to the world.

With one of my unfinished Lenten readings, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica“, I found myself thinking what it is the Holy Spirit asks us to do now that we are together, and the purpose of our faith. And you seize on his reflection:

“The role of Christians in the world is to filter the atmosphere on earth and expand the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God. We can keep guard over the whole world by keeping guard over the atmosphere of heaven within us, for if we lose the Kingdom of Heaven, we will save neither ourselves nor others. He who has the Kingdom of God in himself will imperceptibly pass it on to others. People will be attracted by the peace and warmth in us; they will want to be near us, and the atmosphere of heaven will gradually pass on to them. It is not even necessary to speak to people about this. The atmosphere of heaven will radiate from us even when we keep silence or talk about ordinary things. It will radiate from us even though we may not be aware of it.” (p. 66)

And when you pair this with the quote from Isaac the Syrian said to be one of the elder’s favorites: “Make peace with yourself, and both heaven and earth will make peace with you”… the two seem to complement each other, providing a good sum of the quiet goodness in the Christian life.

Of course, I couldn’t help going there could I? You know where… the basement. That’s where my filter sits attached to the HVAC. It’s a fuzzy square thing on the side where all the air passes through. And just sitting there… seemingly passive, it strains the air, taking out all the bad things until it’s full. And by removing these particles, the expanse of the atmosphere truly is broadened… just like the elder says. And it’s hard to keep this from insinuating in your mind a different intent for confession… that of simply changing our filter so we can get back to work… of expanding the Kingdom.

But more than that… one begins to wonder how it is we don’t find ourselves wanting an alternate filter as well…. one that strains out the good and concentrates it as a healing medicine we can reach for when we or someone close – or even far from us – uncovers the need for Christ’s healing mercies. Perhaps this is the role of our monasteries and missionaries… to filter out not just the bad, but to collect the good they find… to make it more visible and apparent to those around us, and thereby to make the presence of Christ known to His people by their witness. So I am humbled by all of this… to find myself in the presence of so many who have set out on this path to places for the long-term as well as the short-term, and to serve others in these ways. These, too, have arranged and re-arranged their lives for this in ways not too dissimilar to those all of us did to get here tonight – only it’s an effort vastly scaled up, and vastly continued… and it speaks volumes to those of us who remain unblossomed flowers by comparison.

And yet I’m not always sure that’s entirely the case. Certainly the ambitions and intentions differ, but what is managed may not. For I tend to think the relationship between monastics, missionaries, and those of us here in the world is on-going, and we learn and help each other. We need each other. Can we do without each other? Surely, but we are lessened. In communion with each other… we don’t have to make that choice, and so we don’t, and we shouldn’t for we stand to be enriched in our faith through our collective efforts as one body in one faith and sharing one blood.

So I am thankful for all that our missionaries do because uplifts my heart to know that there are those out there who can and do those things I find daunting, and I am equally awed by the people here on the home front who do things which seem almost as amazing. We want the link between us to be strengthened. And we do that tonight be coming together to remember them, to give to their support, and to give thanks for their lives and witness as we do for each other.

And all of that is what I wanted to say… but given time and my limited ability to hang all of that out there on something that is more in my head and heart than something I know through the direct experience in the field, I played it a lot quieter and stuck with the more traditional second paragraph, let our star speaker do the edgy stuff and not try to “contribute”, and stayed with thanking our guests and volunteers. And gutless as that may have been, it’s about all I could manage at this time without getting lost in my emotions… thinking of the sacrifices of others and how imponderably amazing those are tends to choke a guy up… and leave him speechless and mouths around him dropped in wonder of the sort where the wonder is that he even went there… and how long this disaster will continue… and why he can’t find his way back off-stage. So I’m still clueless, thickheaded and all that. Duh. But we did raise some dough and have a great evening. And Fr. Martin and Presvytera Renee were wonderful.


  1. You had to speak in front of everyone?? Gee Skip, you are definitely not selling me on joining that group. 😉 You’re hardly a bystander. Perhaps you don’t do international missions, but you do your part. Definitely.

    • Gee Deb, thanks! Wasn’t fishing. Just hesitant to take a stab at things, venture what you think you see… when you really don’t have the sort of experience that might confirm it. So you’re left with your imagination… and it can tend to fill in gaps sometimes better left alone.

      Yeah, so my (co-)chair bailed on it and “hid” in the kitchen. As if…. but truly he did a great and essential job cooking and over-seeing the cooking of 95% of the food so that the proceeds went entirely to OCMC rather than a caterer. “Did the speaking bit last year. Didn’t work out well. You’re on.” “Gee… thanks?” And so he did 99% of everything else (other then promo and reservations) and a wonderful job… and my bit was small and not as unobtrusive as I’d preferred. If I get stuck with this next year at St. Luke’s… at least I’ll have seen what I’m supposed to do. I really had no idea what they wanted out of me… which was good and bad.

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