RECONCILIATION, EDUCATION, EVANGELIZATION
A THREEFOLD SCHEME FOR THE SOUTHERN DIOCESE
At a local pastoral conference for Florida clergy of the Diocese of the South, held at Miami’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, on May 30th, 1979, His Eminence Archbishop Dmitri (then, His Grace Bishop Dmitri) revealed his vision for an ever expanding witness to Orthodox in the (then) infant diocese. The main thrust of his message, reprinted here as reported in the June 1979 issue of The Dawn, is just as pertinent to us now as it was 20 years ago.
"At the above mention gathering the bishop placed great emphasis on the active seeking of converts to the Faith. During the day-long … meeting he evolved and presented to the assembled priests a three-pronged program that would seek to present Orthodoxy to the Southern States in a "language that all can understand." With the goal of unashamed evangelization of the dominantly Protestant South, the bishop warned that both reconciliation and education are necessary within the existing establishment if true evangelization is to be undertaken.
In speaking of the priesthood, His Grace recognized the "diversity of gifts" that exists within any body of priests, and the natural fact of personal idiosyncrasies. "But," he said, "we must be always aware of the company to which we belong," avoiding a "routine" concept of the priesthood. "In this way," he stated, "the priest can escape a sort of spiritual paranoia, recognizing that his attitude toward other priests must be one of unity in love." Underlining that the way priests think of each other can undermine their effectiveness with those to whom they have been appointed pastors, the chief hierarch presented the concept of the priesthood as "the awesome, enormous responsibility to guide men’s lives in the way of salvation." Acknowledging that such a task produces "tremendous strain and fatigue," he said that "we must be on our guard at all times or rivalry and competition can develop. We have a priesthood," he continued, "that is not our own, but Christ’s; it is He who gave it to us as the High Priest of God."
Repeating again and again the theme of reconciliation among the priests, the bishop declared: "the faithful must be aware that we are all of one company, centered on the Altar, expressing the solidarity of the priesthood under the bishop."
Turning to the second theme of his program, Bishop Dmitri pointed out the necessity for "two-phase" education: that of the Orthodox Christian already in the Church, and that of the unchurched and those of other faiths to whom the True Faith must be presented.
Touching on the education of those who are already Orthodox and members of parishes or missions in the Southern Diocese, His Grace spoke of the danger of parochialism, of reducing the Church to the limits of the local parish, with a consequent lack of understanding of the complete message of Christ, and the unity of His Body. There can be no exclusivity in the Church, he said; no one should think in terms of "my" church, or "my" parish, to the exclusion of others. He also spoke of the tendency in some places to "mummify" the Church, resulting in the presentation of a "role," a national heritage that is too often confused with true faith, an ethnic consciousness that takes the place of Orthodoxy, and pushes away people who would otherwise embrace the Church.
Without detracting from the richness of any national heritage, Bishop Dmitri underscored the necessity for the proclamation of Christ and His Church, and questioned the validity of a "caretaker" view. He branded blind ethnicism as heresy in that it denies the Symbol of Faith, the Creed of the Orthodox Church, which proclaims ONE Church.
Considering the matter of the proselytization of Christian groups that are not Orthodox, the bishop declared that the winning of non-Orthodox people to the Church is the duty of every Orthodox Christian, not, as some have been taught, an unchristian invasion of private belief. He reminded those present at the conference that the Orthodox Church had always been a proselytizing (missionary) Church, until the time of the Turkish invasion of Constantinople. The present tendency to regard the Church as a "passive" witness to Christ, he stated, is the result of centuries of Arab-Turkish rule, and the subsequent condition of the Church as a captive socio-religious group within a non-Christian nation. Such an attitude in a free country, the bishop maintained, denies the command of Christ to "preach the gospel" which He gave His Church. Calling upon all Orthodox Christians to "tell the people what the Church is," the hierarch stressed the responsibility of each one to proclaim the "full doctrine of Christ," and to see each individual as a soul in need of the whole Truth that is the heritage of Orthodoxy. "We are responsible," he said, "for all with whom we come in contact – on the street, in the community, and in the family."
In discussing practical suggestions for evangelization, the following points were made:
In summing up, the bishop strongly emphasized that "the only, and total, mission of the Orthodox Church is to see – and direct – the individual soul to salvation. It is not to preserve a culture, but to proclaim salvation to all mankind!"
From The Dawn
Publication of the Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America