When it comes to missionary work, is there a certain tension between trusting in God’s providence (Luke 10:4), and planning ahead (cf. Acts 15:36, 20:13)? If there is, it can only be attributed to our fallen human nature, where our own will is constantly trying to supplant God’s; among those who have grown in holiness, this tension is disappearing or has disappeared completely, as the case may be. Practically speaking, when we look at the example of the greatest missionary, St. Paul the Apostle, he carefully planned his journeys and work, but was always open to changing them if God called him to do so (Acts 16:7-8).
In this spirit, we offer our current mission plan, which we have developed through our experience in planting missions in North Carolina from 2006 to the present. Should we understand as time progresses that God wills that part or all of our plan should be altered, we will resolve to do so. But being open to God’s will does not negate the necessity of planning, preparing, and sharing our vision, especially because by so doing, we are already alerting others to what is occurring and inviting them to join us in our work, and opening ourselves up to feedback and constructive criticism from the bretheren, which will refine our objectives and methods.
Our primary objective must be clearly stated: we seek to bring those who do not know Jesus Christ to faith in Him, for Christ Himself says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). We must be careful, at the same time, to not assume that just because someone professes faith in Christ or even attends a Church, that he or she has made Christ the Lord and Master of his life, has submitted himself or herself unconditionally to Christ, or has the tools and knowledge of Christ—the context, as it were—to grow as a Christian. As Orthodox Christians, we further understand that when St. Paul confesses that the Church is the “pillar and ground (foundation) of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15), that this refers to a visible Church, with real teaching authority, which has existed from the time of the Apostles to today. This is at variance with what the majority of Christians in Eastern Carolina believe, and so we must tread carefully, and oftentimes recognize that a different approach may be required with different people, never assuming anything.
Orthodox Churches require priests, an ordained office, to conduct baptisms, weddings, funerals, and the Divine Liturgy—the communion service of the Orthodox Church. This makes mission work different from many Protestant models. At the same time, unlike the clericalist model which dominated much of Roman Catholic thought and practice for the past millennium (but which is thankfully abating to some extent), laypeople have always had a central position in the maintaining of and prorogation of the faith, and responsible non-clergy can be appointed to lead prayers among laypeople. Our work then is a synergy of the various offices that Christ established: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).
In our present time, there is a shortage of priests. In reality, there has always been a shortage of workers. As it is stated in Scripture: “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). We find in our work that adult converts are often the most fervent Christians, and therefore we have confidence that among the great harvest are found laborers, who can be added to our work through prayer. We never know when that email or phone call will come, where a new person is volunteering to help, yet they do come unexpectedly, when our need is greatest, and give us encouragement.
We will now turn to our present situation in Eastern Carolina. We have one priest who serves both Raleigh and Greenville, Fr. Anastasios Hudson, who travels back and forth, offering three liturgies in Greenville each month and two to three in Raleigh. Members come from all over Eastern Carolina to attend services in the Greenville mission: from Greenville proper, and from New Bern, Belhaven, Beaufort County, and other neighboring locales. We pray that as the Orthodox Church in Greenville, NC grows, two things will happen. First, we pray that God will raise up a local man (or men) to serve as priests there. As St. Paul established missions, he selected able men to take the leadership of the communities, while not completely leaving them to their own devices—he maintained a fatherly oversight. So we envision that Fr. Anastasios’s work in Greenville would include helping the bishop identify a candidate for ordination, training the candidate, and then giving him mentorship for several years as he would take on more and more responsibility, until he finally would be autonomous, but never separate from the other clergy working in the area.
The second thing we would pray to see is areas where there are more than one family residing who are commuting to Greenville. For instance, perhaps in the future there will be three families coming from Wilson, or two families from Rocky Mount. Especially in cases with multiple children, commuting every week might be difficult, and in addition, it is harder to invite one’s family, friends, and neighbors to a Church that is far away. We would bless these families to meet together in their own towns on the weekends they do not make it to Greenville’s Church, to pray together and invite others to learn about Orthodox Christianity. This might be somewhat akin to what some Protestant churches do with “small groups.” As these local groups grow, and as priestly availability permits, liturgies and talks could be scheduled in these communities, leading them to become missions of their own. As they grow, they could then become the bases for further, future expansion, thus repeating the process.
Dare we hope for a time, in our lifetime, when Eastern North Carolina is dotted with Orthodox Churches and missions? We would say yes! Since we established the parish in Greenville, we have witnessed how Orthodox faith in Christ Jesus changes lives and draws people together, renewing and strengthening the bonds between men. Families have already dedicated themselves fully to this work, and we believe that as more are exposed to the faith, they will join us in our effort, and as more join us in our effort, more will encounter the Church of Christ.