When I was first assigned as lay pastor, and later, as priest for the fledgling mission in Knoxville, TN, I asked my Archbishop for advice. He had served and been a successful Orthodox missionary in the South for better than 30 years. His simple advice to me was, “I have made it a rule always to accept an invitation to speak.” His method generally followed that model. He practiced hospitality and kindness to all. In the better than 30 years he has served as the hierarch for the OCA’s Diocese of the South, the diocese has added roughly 60 parishes, nearly 10 times the number it started with. The heart of his work has been his steadfast and simple proclamation of the Orthodox faith and a hospitality that is the mark of his Cathedral and any parish which he has had opportunity to influence.
In my own nearly 10 years, his rule has guided my ministry. I have tried to go where I was asked and to practice hospitality in my parish to whatever extent possible. We have gradually grown from about 12 to 15 people to over 150.
Today brought home the important of Vladyka’s admonition. Around four years ago, I received an email from an inquiring stranger. He lived in Utah and was married and had an interest in Orthodoxy. His background was Baptist. His questions were sincere and quite thorough. He gave no reason for contacting me (of all the priests you can find on the internet – I was not blogging as yet), but I responded as kindly and patiently as possible. The correspondence lasted maybe a month or so and that was the end of it – as far as I knew. I recall discussing occasional questions with my wife and taking time to answer them carefully.
But stories have a way of finding a better end. I did for him what I have done anytime the opportunity has arisen: followed the Archbishop’s admonition. My travel has not been that great – but a keyboard allows you to speak at great distances.
This morning (and the rest of the story is too long to fill in details) I received my Utah correspondent and his wife into the Orthodox faith and baptized their two children. They were part of a group of eight who were received into the faith this morning in our parish. Everyone had their own story. I took a delight when I discovered some partway into his catechumenate, the connection with my email correspondent of several years back. God is good. Today he has the good fortune to live in Tennessee and my parish has the good fortune of a new young family.
From time to time I have received private emails from readers of this blog who have found their way into the Church, or found their catechumenate strengthened by reading. I pray that I do more good than harm in writing and hope that this “virtual” space, is hospitable to all (though the sparks do fly occasionally).
I give thanks when I look back at my own life that when I first began inquiries into the Orthodox faith, I was consistently met with kindness and patience. Most of my questions were of the curious sort; my actions requiring more patience than my words. May God grant many years to the newly Chrismated and Baptized! May he give patience to all who do missionary work, and perserverance to all who seek the Truth.