Reflections on Diocesan Missionary Work in the Canadian Vineyard
In his letter to our 2009 Diocesan Sobor our Patriarch said, “We must always draw life from the Liturgy of our Church; and at the same time, we cannot forget to respond to the needs of our neighbour, especially during these difficult times in our world. The Church becomes the Church when it identifies with the most vulnerable.” These words sum up the essence of St John the Compassionate Mission which has been serving the poor and disadvantaged in Toronto since 1986.
If I may be forgiven for a personal note about how I have come to be at St John’s. I reached a stage in life when I was free (and finding myself not yet dead) was looking to do something directly for the Church. I was looking for a lay ministry. I looked in several countries without success until through the good offices of “St Google” found St John’s. If I may be so bold this diocesan Apostolate is something this diocese should be rightly proud of. This Apostolate exists due to the generosity, kindness and blessing of our bishop, Metropolitan Nicholas. Fr Roberto frequently reminds us that we are an Orthodox mission because we have a bishop, our bishop, Vladyka Nicholas. St John the Compassionate Mission is part of you, as you are part of us, because as Vladyka has said frequently we are one body.
What exactly is St John the Compassionate Mission? It is not a soup kitchen with a church attached. It is not a church with a soup kitchen attached. It is a community based on the solid foundation that each person is an icon of God. That each person is to be valued as a person, as an image of God, even when some are far from the likeness of God. It is a community with communities. The community of those who come from the streets: the community of the children of new immigrants who come to St John’s Academy; the community of families who come to our OIKOS program; the community of St John’s Bakery; the community of St John’s Thrift Store; the community that worships in the chapel of St Silouan; the community of those who work and serve at the Mission.
On a recent Sunday in his sermon in the cathedral Fr Frank Miloro said that this is a diocese that has evolved since its foundation in 1938; a diocese that has faced many challenges and difficulties and has faced them and grown through them. St John’s does this on a daily basis seeking to meet needs as they arise. The OIKOS program grew out of a need to help families in trouble. St John’s Academy grew out of the need to help immigrant children in a city where 47% do not have English as a first language. The retreat program at St Mary of Egypt Refuge grew out of a simple need to give people a chance to escape the constraints and problems of inner-city life.
Our newest program, the Lived Theology School (LTS) grew out of the desire to give to Orthodox people over the age of 18 an ORTHODOX opportunity to learn and grow in specifically ORTHODOX mission and to learn from the experience of 23 years of such life at St John’s.
A year to live a life of service,
- year of prayer in the Liturgy of the Church
- A year of reflective theological study,
- A year of community life.
For some this could be the beginning of a life time of such work. For others it will be a time of personal and spiritual growth; a time to find meaning, value and purpose in their own lives.
Although not restricted to members of our diocese we hope that the Lived Theology School will be a resource and an opportunity for the young and the not so young (but not yet dead!) in your own communities and parishes. LTS does not exist to produce clones of St John’s but to give back to your own communities persons who will have the skills, knowledge and depth to do what is appropriate in your own communities. Yes, there are foreign missions but there is also a huge mission field right there on our doorsteps. You don’t have to look for it, you just have to open your eyes and see it!
What will you get back from the Lived Theology School and St John’s? You will receive in return Orthodox Christians who will have begun to know and understand
- what St John the Merciful meant when he called “the Poor our Masters”;
- what St Silouan meant when he said “Our brother/sister is our life”:
- what St Maria of Paris meant when she spoke of the “Asceticism of the Open Door”.
You will receive apostles like Sts Peter and Paul for the mission waiting for you on your doorstep. You will receive back persons who have lived and experienced the Church identifying with the vulnerable, as Patriarch Bartholomew said to the Sobor and you will become “more Church”.
Bishop John said of the foundation of Camp Nazareth, “This is a stopover, a place to rest, a place to think, a place to meditate, a place to hear the message of God’s modern day prophets….Young hearts and minds will be shaped and formed and disciplined here to get in step not with the dances and gyrations of an upside down world, but with the rhythm of the message of Christ. They will be taught to perpetuate the traditions and to value the truths and treasures which you have lived in your lives.”
It is our hope that the Lived Theology School and the life lived at St John the Compassionate Mission will be, like Camp Nazareth, such a resource for our diocese: a resource for laity, for clergy, for seminarians. A little step beyond Camp Nazareth.
How you can help.
- by spreading the word about St John’s and the Lived Theology School (LTS)
- by adding our websites to your own: www.stjohnsmission.org and www.livedtheologyschool.org
- by sponsoring an intern at LTS
- by sharing our life for a shorter period as a volunteer guest worker
And, of course, by your prayers.
From an address at the 21st Diocesan Sobor by Sub-deacon Pawel (Mucha) of St John the Compassionate Mission in Toronto Canada