"Are we still a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness or a disciple-maker of all nations?"
The holy prophet Isaiah spoke saying, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight (Matthew 3:3).'" Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ gave us this command saying, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19)." Is the Orthodox Church still a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness or are we a disciple-maker of all nations? The Holy Orthodox Faith was established by God as Christ during His death and resurrection. In 33 A.D. the disciples of Jesus gathered at Pentecost and they all received the promise from Jesus of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them. On that day, 3,000 converts were baptized into the Holy Church.
The disciples of Christ didn't stop there; they pushed further and farther enduring much pain and suffering, yet much beauty as witnessing the conversions of many into the Holy Church. Christ's disciples baptized the people in the name of the Trinitarian God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The early leaders of the Church were visionaries, realizing their important task on this earth. They were instructed by Jesus Christ to go and preach the Word of God, not just by word of mouth, but also most importantly by example. For by living the Orthodox Faith, you make believers out of many.
The world is full of people of all kinds of cultures, languages, governments, and even religions. However, Christ tells us: "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)."
America is a unique environment for Orthodox Christianity. The light of Orthodoxy reached this land, first through Orthodox missionaries in Alaska, then later through the travel of Orthodox immigrants from all parts of the world. Many Orthodox Christians came to America in the hope of a "better life." These people gathered together in ethnic communities, thus preserving strongly their unique cultures and languages. The strong ethnic ties were imperative for their survival in this new land, for times weren't as easy as these immigrants had hoped. These Orthodox Christians struggled vigorously to produce a comfortable way of living for their families. Orthodox Christianity arrived on this continent in 1794, and has remained and prospered to this very day.
Unlike other Christian religions, who have divided and broken up numerous times throughout history, Orthodox Christianity has remained true to the Apostolic and Catholic Faith. The same Apostolic and Catholic Faith founded by Christ and organized by the early disciples of Christ. Orthodox Christianity is called "best kept secret." Yet this was not Christ's intention for His Church. Many people around the world have a terrible misconception about Orthodox Christianity, but their ignorance is our fault, all Orthodox Christians. Why are Orthodox Christians still only known for their ethnic cultures, which one sees in front of that church's name? Why do people believe that Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Romanian, Bulgarian, etc. Orthodox Churches are different in theology and practice?
Orthodox Christians living in America are faced with a great challenge in this day and age. We have an opportunity, living in the most powerful, influential, and world-leading country this earth has even known, to allow this "best kept secret" become the "light of the world." American policy weighs heavily in the minds, hearts, and souls of all who exist in this world. Issues, such as, sexual abuse, child abuse, abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, homosexuality, and injustices of all kinds, are important topics in today's American society. Yet, when faced with these issues, the Orthodox jurisdictions in America individually express their concerns. Do our concerns on such topics differ? I pray that our reply is a strong and vibrant: NO! All Orthodox Christians have the same teachings of Christ, writings of the Church Fathers, and canons of the Orthodox Faith. But where is the Orthodox Voice in America? The Orthodox Voice in America is divided up into numerous jurisdictions in this land, which is against the canons of the Church. Orthodox Christian hierarchs due to the delicate situations faced by the Orthodox Christian immigrants into this land has overlooked this canon-breaking set-up. No longer are we immigrants, foreigners, and strangers in America! The Orthodox jurisdictions in this land are no longer guests, but hosts in America. Orthodox Christians are Americans and Americans are Orthodox Christians!
Currently, the only somewhat unified Orthodox Voice in America is SCOBA (Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas), established in 1960, which brings together the canonical hierarchs of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. SCOBA is made up of nine member Churches. The purpose of the Conference is to make the ties of unity among the canonical Orthodox Churches and their administrations stronger and more visible. The hierarchs meet twice annually for discussions and decisions on matters of common concern. Various commissions and committees have been established to implement the decisions of SCOBA.
SCOBA, however, is simply a small step to what is needed for the Orthodox Christians in America. What is not needed for Orthodox Christians in America is Patriarchal leadership thousands of miles away. The physical distance is not what hinders the Orthodox Christians in America; the hindrances are the non-Orthodox influences upon these Patriarchal leaders. Prime examples include the lack of recognition of the Patriarch of Jerusalem by the Israeli government and the Turkish stronghold over the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Orthodox Christians living in America need Orthodox Christian leadership in and from America. Few Orthodox jurisdictions are taking the necessary steps for accomplishing the goal of a united and unified American Orthodox Church, but most continue to back-step this process. What are the reasons for not following in the footsteps of our early Church leaders? We must be visionaries, much like the apostolic fathers of the early Church. They realized the needs of the Orthodox communities abroad and allowed zealous and pious inhabitants to become Church leaders.
Christ commanded His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations! When saying His disciples, it is not meant only the people who knew Him. Are we not Christ's disciples also, much like them more than 2000 years ago? This command, then, isn't just for them, but for all of us, Orthodox Christians, especially in America for we are faced with the same important task. Christ is alive in us, for we are still walking with Christ this very day. His command is clear, it is not subject for interpretation: "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 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 (Matthew 28:18-20).'" Then where is the Orthodox Voice in America: are we still just a voice crying out in the wilderness or a disciple-maker of all nations?
Paul Fuller is the President of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) at the University of Kentucky and also serves as a National OCF Student Advisor Board member.