Missions experience for seminarian - 05/21/12

Being recipients of the Church's missionary efforts here in Alaska, it is a special joy to see seminarians participate in the work of missions to others. This summer, St. Herman Seminary student Oscar Olsen III had the opportunity to go to Albania on an OCMC missions team with 11 other seminarians, learning about the missiology of His Beatitude Anastasios, Archbishop of Tirana and all Albania. This team was led by Fr. Luke Veronis, who taught a seminar on missions here at St. Herman Seminary this past spring. Here are some of Oscar's thoughts on this trip:

"This summer God gave me a wonderful experience that broadened my perspective of the Church. I was given the opportunity to study in depth the life, missiology and writings of Archbishop Anastasios with eleven other students. We were also able to learn about the resurrection of the Church in Albania, visit Albania and see what has been done and what still is being done there. Learning and seeing these things not only inspired me to delve into the life of the Church both inwardly and outwardly it also has opened my perspective on how we can be witnesses to the Faith. This experience was very 'eye-opening' in my understanding of the life of the Church.

"Studying the life, missiology and writings of Archbishop Anastasios was one way that broadened my perspective of the Church. We not only got to study his life, missiology and writings but we also got to meet him. When we talked with him and even while reading his books he didn’t seem like he was trying to convince us to believe a new belief, but to bring us into the realization that being witnesses through missions has always been a part of who we are and that we have 'forgotten,' or lost sight of this, and that we, the Church, should be more 'apostolic' like we used to be. He talked about this not only while we were with him but throughout his life in serving the Church. He not only talked about this throughout his life but acted upon it in many ways, one way was by the resurrection of the Church in Albania.

"Archbishop Anastasios says that witnessing the faith is central to who we are. There are many ways of offering a witness to our faith. One way of witnessing our faith is like what St. Seraphim of Sarov says, 'Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved.' Another way is like St. Innocent of Alaska, who actually went out with a purpose of bringing the good news to people. This second way of being a witness is what the missiology of Archbishop Anastasios is focused on.

"He points out that God is the first to show this missionary zeal towards all mankind throughout the Bible. He says a 'Universal Spirit' started from the very beginning when God created man and woman, showing that we are family. In the Old Testament God had chosen people not because he favored them, but He had chosen them so that they can bring all nations back to Him. These New Testament verses show God’s missionary zeal: 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved' (John 3:16-17). So after looking at the perspective that the Father sent the Son, Archbishop Anastasios points out that Jesus, the Son, now sends us out as missionaries, using Jesus’ last commandment, 'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' (Matthew 28:19). He also uses many other examples in the Bible to point out that we are a missionary Church, such as Christ’s first time speaking in the synagogue, St. Symeon’s prayer, the whole book of Acts, etc. Archbishop Anastasios speaks often about the Church being Apostolic.

"He not only put emphasis on the 'apostolic' view of our Church but also on the 'catholic' perspective of our Church. He points out that we are a global Church. He says that to be 'catholic' we shouldn’t have an attitude that only takes care of 'our own' (i.e., our local parish). He points out who 'our own' is. He says that we shouldn’t have a local understanding of 'our own' but a global understanding. 'Our own' is not only the people we see, but also everyone in the world that is part of the Orthodox Church. So with this understanding of who 'our own' is, we will really know what it means to be a catholic Church. I was very busy studying in Boston, but it was great to know that I would be heading to Albania afterwards.

"After studying in Boston, we were given the opportunity to visit Albania. It was an amazing experience. We spent two weeks in Albania, but in those two weeks we did at least two months’ worth of activities and events. We had a very busy schedule. We got to see the development of the Church in Albania, meet many wonderful and inspiring people and see a lot of the programs run by the Orthodox Church. We traveled to many different places in Albania as well.

"Since the time of St. Paul there has always been an Orthodox Church in Albania. When St. Paul speaks of preaching the Gospel in Illyricum (Rom. 15:19), he is speaking of Albania), but since Communism banned religion in Albania from 1967-1991, the Church there dramatically collapsed. In 1991, just after the fall of Communism, Archbishop Anastasios became the head of the Orthodox Church in Albania, and it has been developing ever since.

"Although it has developed in many ways, it is still developing and much attention is still needed in Albania. There are many people in Albania that we’ve met who have dedicated a lot of their time to the development of the Church in Albania, including Archbishop Anastasios. There are many programs that are very inspiring in Albania. One such program is 'Diakonia Agapes.' This program is inspiring because it tries to be a witness to the faith in any way that it can. The program’s theme is 'Love That Makes a Difference,' which is apostolic in itself. There are also missionaries from America that we’ve met who are helping in Albania in any way they can. They are all contributing a lot of time and effort into the development of the Church. I will always remember the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen in Albania.

"After studying in Boston and experiencing Albania, I couldn’t help but to want to delve into the life of the Church both inwardly and outwardly. There are many ways we are able to offer a witness to the Faith.

"No matter how we offer a witness to our Faith, the first and foremost way to share the good news is to live a life for God. Again, I will say that St. Seraphim of Sarov spoke of this way when he said, 'Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved.' To witness our faith is not only to share it but also to live it. St. Francis of Assisi says, 'Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.' We all have our own part in the Body of Christ. The Bishop, Priest, Deacon, Subdeacon, Reader, Altar boys, choir director, starosta, missionary, laymen all play a part. We all have our own part to play in the Church. We all have our ways of serving God. One way may be more honored and have more responsibilities than another, but that doesn’t mean one way of serving God is less important than another. I’m not saying that we should stop showing respect to Bishops, Priests, etc., when I say that one way is not more important than another; we still have to honor people given a position in the Church because God gave them that position, but I’m saying that we are all called to serve God in different ways.

"Another way we can witness our faith is to be missionaries. To choose to live among a foreign people, to try and understand them and at the same time offer a witness to the Faith. I’ve learned that being a missionary is not just going to another country and giving big theological speeches about our Faith to many peoples but it’s as 'simple' as just living with other people, talking with them, and at the same time submitting ourselves to God. I understand that many of us won’t be called to be missionaries, but there is a way we can be missionaries while still being at home. One way to do this is to help out a missionary in any way that we can. By helping out a missionary we participate in what they are doing because we make some of the things they are doing even more possible. (If anyone wants to help out a missionary there are places missionaries and details about them can be found at the OCMC website.)

"Another great way we can offer a witness to our faith is to participate in the life of the Church in our very own communities. We can be witnesses to the Faith not just by attending services, but also by starting programs. Programs can be simply coffee hours, Sunday Schools, choir practices, Bible studies, youth Bible studies, gathering to read an Orthodox book together to learn more about our Faith, chanting practices, youth camps or activities, starting an Orthodox store, etc. There are many programs that can be done and these are very good ways of being witnesses to the faith.

"Altogether, this trip was an amazing experience. It has broadened my perspective in many ways. Studying in depth the life, missiology and writings of Archbishop Anastasios and seeing the resurrection of the Church in Albania have 'opened my eyes' in many ways on how we can be witnesses to our Faith. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to have this experience."

Take some time to look at the extensive photo album that shows some of Oscar's experiences in Boston and Albania.