Orthodox America

  The Best Kept Secret

Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel..? (Mark 4:21)

In England, an Evangelical Christian interested in Orthodoxy' came to the conclusion that in that country "Orthodoxy generally is a well kept secret....It took me 18 months of detective work to contact someone near enough to my home (90 miles!) of whom I was able to make serious enquiry. This included a gentle rebuff by phone by a priest who suggested that I would do better by reading books..." A similar observation has been made in this country. An article in The Atlantic (May 1989) quotes an Orthodox hierarch as saying that Orthodoxy is "the best kept secret"--a simple statement of fact that may be resented by some, but is nonetheless crushingly true.

      Few Orthodox realize that, taken altogether, there are as many Orthodox Christians in the United States as Episcopalians, and almost as many as there are practicing Jews: yet we are almost unknown to the population of this country at large. Those few who do know, see us as essentially "Russian," "Greek," etc., and almost never realize that we are the Apostolic Church of Christ and the historic Mother of all Christianity. In part, this is our fault. Our "public face" is too often one of Greek "festivals," Russian bake sales or concerts, and divine services predominantly in any language but the language of this country. It's no wonder that society sees us as "ethnic enclaves" rather than carriers of the most ancient, authentic, and historic Christian tradition, let alone the "fullness of the faith, delivered once and for all to the saints."

      In the religious section of every newspaper one can find advertisements by a multitude of sects and denominations--everything from free Christian Science lectures to presentations of New Age philosophies and practices--yet one almost never sees ads for presentations of the Orthodox Faith. St. Paul stood in the market place of Athens and preached the Gospel, converting many, yet who among us Orthodox--who profess the True Faith--would do this today? In fact, many are disdainful of any missionary outreach into the local community, and while we squabble among ourselves, raise money for new cathedrals and memorial bell towers, millions of souls are quite literally perishing around us!

      In the 18th century the holy martyr, St. Kosmas the Aitolian, served bravely as an itinerant missionary among his own people, in his own land, saying on one occasion:

      "If, my brethren, it were possible for me to climb up into the sky, to be able to shout with a great voice, to preach to the entire world that only our Christ is the Son and Word of God, true God and the life of all, I would have done it. But because I can't do such a big thing, I do this small thing: I walk from place to place and teach my brethren as I can, not as a teacher but as a brother" (Rev. Nomikos Vaporis, Father Kosmas, the Apostle of the Poor).But who will do this today?

      Roman Catholic bishops in this country have expressed alarm that Spanish-Americans, dissatisfied with the Church of Rome, are leaving by the thousands to join the Jehovah's Witnesses, Charismatic and Pentecostal groups, and other sects.

       But who among the Orthodox will lovingly reach out to bring these thirsting souls into the flock of Christ's Orthodox Church?

       Today, various studies report that confidence in Western Christianity is rapidly declining, with fewer than 50% of Americans and Europeans reporting any kind of active church affiliation. In fact, The Christian Encyclopedia projects that by the year 2000 fewer than 15% of Americans will be associated with any kind of traditional Christianity) (We need not speculate on how infinitesimally small the Orthodox "slice" of that pie will be--some Orthodox dioceses report that burials are now outnumbering baptisms by five to one!) Something is very' wrong.

      The Saviour commanded His followers to go and preach the Gospel to ALL nations, baptizing them... THIS COMMANDMENT REMAINS LARGELY UNFULFILLED IN THE WEST. It is quite simply not enough that we have parishes of various jurisdictions throughout the land if we remain "the best kept secret"! Nor is it sufficient that we welcome converts who happen to stumble upon us by the grace of God, but insist that they become "Byzantines" or 'slavophiles" and learn to worship in a foreign tongue, however venerable those historical developments are. This was NOT the message of Pentecost nor the Church Council described in the Book of Acts.

      Upon the occasion of his appointment as bishop of Munich and Southern Germany in 1980, Bishop Mark (Arndt) of the Russian Church Abroad, himself a convert, said that the difficulties Orthodoxy is experiencing today are because we "have not yet adapted to a new approach to those who believe and to those who wish to believe. Life in an unchristian society and in the neo-pagan world insistently demands such a new approach, Our approach, our actions and ideas, too often reflect the imprint of the historical form of Christianity, when it was a state religion. In our times, different paths must be sought to reach souls thirsting for the true faith of Christ."

What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in the light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. (Matt. 10:27)

The late Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) wrote: "Divine Providence has dispersed Orthodox Christians throughout the world, not by chance, but to be witnesses of Christian Truth and examples of Christian life Today our very existence in non-Orthodox lands is a missionary witness" but not if we remain "the best kept secret"!

       And Blessed Archbishop John (Maximovitch), a man of immense and apostolic missionary zeal and heart, spoke even more bluntly when he said that Orthodox Christianity in the diaspora must be 'reborn spiritually...or else be finally rejected by God...until gradually [we] will degenerate and disappear" in the West.

       Brothers and sisters! whether bishops, priests, or laity--let us "gird our loins" in the Last Days. The harvest is great! The sickle (Christ's Gospel) has been put into our hands. Let us at least "do this small thing," as St. Kosmas said, and reach beyond the comfortable confines of our lovely Byzantine and Russian-style parish churches and TELL OUR "SECRET' TO ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN. By God's Providence we possess the path to eternal life; let us now urgently reveal this path to others!

Fr. Alexey Young, Editor