And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18-20
I refer to my parish, St. Basil the Great Orthodox Church in Hampton, as the church of the motley crew. Pretty much anyone who can breathe can find a home among us. We are an Antiochian parish. But, we are more Eastern European than Lebanese or Syrian. One Russian sister told me she was from the capital. I’m thinking of Moscow. “No, Taskent.” She lived in Uzbekistan. Our music minister is the son of an OCA (Orthodox Church of America) priest who studied at a Serbian monastery before returning to the US. Despite the schism between the Eastern and Oriental Churches, Ethiopians are among the St. Basil family. Like any other parish, we are not perfect. But, I think we do try to be hospitable and welcoming to all who enter our doors.
This is a challenge for evangelizing Orthodox Christianity in this country. There are cultural divisions in the Church based on national identity (Arab, Greek, Russian, etc.) and our nation is accustomed to division (“11 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” Martin Luther King, Jr.). In addition to ethnicity and race, we are further divided by economic classes, political leanings, social standings. On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12) the Holy Spirit brought a diverse crowd to hear the Gospel, repent, and join the body of Christ. Deacon Philip was sent on a lonely road to share with and baptize an Ethiopian official (Acts 8:26-39, known as St. Djan Darada). The Apostle Peter would also see the Holy Spirit fall down upon Italians (Acts 10:1-48). It should be obvious that as Christians we are to strive to bring people together and not complacently settle into earthly divisions. But, how do we do this?
In the story, Philip listened to what the Ethiopian was reading before he gave an answer. Before going to the house of Cornelius, Peter was in prayer. St. Herman was recruited from the Valaam Monastery to evangelize in Russia’s Alaska Territory because he had a reputation as a man of prayer. In the 19th century, He listened to and watched the Aleutian culture and customs and found some things that were in line with Orthodox doctrine. He translated scriptures and prayers in the native languages. He spoke up on their behalf against abusive settlers and traders. He loved the people and they knew it. Some families continued to seek his spiritual guidance after he became a hermit on Spruce Island.
Pray to God as a part of life. Listen to where people are on their walk with God and assist in bringing out their best. Love people despite the difficulties and opposition. Herman and other monks in Alaska saw the lessons of Peter and Philip and applied them to their evangelistic work. May we do likewise.