October 07, 2012

Archpriest Pimen Simon on Mission

We Orthodox Christians, probably because of our own sin of pride, often make comments that, very often, let’s say in Roman Catholic Churches now, and even Protestant Churches, they’ve become more social agencies than repositories of salvation. And we really need to understand, of course, that the first goal of the Universal Church and also of the parish church is to save souls. That’s its first goal. But we cannot deny the fact that when our Lord comes back — and we know this from chapter twenty-five of St. Matthew. — He makes very clear that his questions to us will not be ones such as: “Did you have a beard? Did you say the Vigil? Did you make prostrations?” He says “Did you feed the hungry? Did you clothe the naked? Did you give drink to the thirsty?” And so we know that Christian love and charity really is a prime obligation of the parish. We try very hard. I don’t think we did it well years ago, and we still have far to go in this area, but we’ve tried in the past thirty years. We work certain days, for example, at the Benedictine-sponsored soup kitchen. They have different groups come in every day and serve meals for the poor. Our parish serves at that soup kitchen one Friday every month. We serve at that soup kitchen on Western Christmas so that the nuns can celebrate their Christmas and the poor still have a place to have dinner on December 25th. We deliver food baskets to maybe forty, fifty, sixty families at Western Christmas so they can celebrate Christmas and have food enough to eat. We run a food pantry and are now delivering food to maybe forty or fifty families every other week so that they have enough food in their community. Even though it’s during the Nativity Fast, we have a Christmas party for about one-hundred and fifty really indigent children who are mostly from homeless families who have nothing, so we can give them something during Western Christmas. So there’s many ways that any ROCOR parish, even a small parish, can do things that don’t cost you a lot of money. In fact the food pantry I mentioned for the fifty families may sound really admirable, but there is a food bank here in the area, with most of the food being provided by them, and so we’re not paying for the food. We’re simply picking it up, distributing and so forth. Therefore, we can’t make the argument that we can’t afford to do that. It simply comes down to the fact that we can’t afford not to do this, because, once again, as we discussed earlier, how will we answer the Lord and say to Him, “But Lord, I didn’t know it was you.” If we do that, He will say to us, “Go onto the left side and be with the goats rather than the sheep.”

When the seminarians and I visited your parish. We were impressed by the volume of volunteer services that your parish provides to the local community. Can you tell us what social projects your parish runs and how a typical small ROCOR parish can initiate something similar?

Now that we can no longer claim the exclusiveness of the Russian Church Abroad, what should be our mission within both the Russian Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy in Northern America?

That’s a very interesting question, and one that I guess I should be use discretion answering. I prefer not to get myself into trouble, but I will answer honestly. I do think we must be very careful. We understand, of course, that the Church Abroad was founded by immigrants who fled because of persecution. The goal of the Church Abroad was primarily to preserve Russian Orthodox Christianity and also to preserve Russian Culture — and that was a valid goal. Now that we’ve reconciled with the Church in Russia, we really no longer need to be the repository of Russian culture and the Russian Christianity. What we need to be now is the Church that sees itself as being the repository of Orthodox Christianity for those outside of Russia, not only for Russian immigrants, and for second, third and fourth generation Russian people, but for the converts in many places who are coming into Orthodoxy. Vladyka Daniel used to be very adamant about the idea that some decades ago our mission changed. It was no longer to preserve Russian culture and Orthodoxy until we could go back to Russia (because most people haven’t), but that we see our role as this: Orthodox Christianity is the faith of our fathers, and we believe that it is the true heir of the Apostolic Church. Thus, our mission now is to offer Orthodox Christianity as an alternative for all those who are dissatisfied with the Christianity that is found in the West.

So I think that our mission now is really much more than merely the idea of reinvigorating our Russianness. Certainly we should rejoice in the fact that we are again united with our co-religionists in Russia, and we should share in that common faith with those in Russia, but we must make sure that they understand and that we understand that our mission is to be Orthodox Christians outside of Russia and to bring the word of God to those people in our adopted countries who look to Orthodoxy as an answer to their spiritual needs.

Taken from an interview with Archpriest Pimen Simon: http://www.rocorstudies.org/interviews/2010/06/23/erie-pa-june-23-2010-archpriest-pimen-simon-there-is-more-to-our-mission/

No comments: