"Losing Ourselves in Christ's Mission"
Losing Ourselves in Christ's Mission
by Father John Chakos
When the great missionary saint, Kosmas Aitolos, Equal to the Apostles, had prayed, fasted and wept for his sins over a period of 17 years on Mt. Athos, he felt a gnawing sensation, like that of “a worm eating away at wood.” It was calling him to leave the safe and tranquil confines of his monastery in order to evangelize his “lost” brethren:
“I looked out of my window and I perceived you wounded, bleeding, and crying for help. I saw you submerged by waves of ignorance, egoism, hatred for one another. And I decided that I should not tarry a moment longer out of consideration for my personal salvation. Yours matters to me above all else.”
It should be noted that in the monastic tradition leaving one’s monastery for the world was tantamount to the unforgivable sin. Despite this danger, he could not resist the greater call to serve: “I said to myself, let Christ lose me, one sheep, and let him win the others.”
Today, all of us are called to look out of our windows of comfort and ease to consider the spiritual and material welfare of others. In this way, we lose ourselves for Christ and the Gospel in order to find our true selves in serving, especially in serving those who lay claim to our love. The borders of church outreach should never be defined by the four walls of the local parish. Rather, the whole world is our parish. A few weeks ago, Presbytera Sandy and I traveled with 15 OCMC missionaries to the village of Aguacate to worship with the people of that village that borders Mexico. It was a very uplifting experience. The music of the Liturgy took on a Latino flavor, punctuated at times with the joyful percussion sounds of the marimba. The missionaries had never seen such spirited worship. The church was filled to overflowing. In this village, every Sunday seems like Pascha because almost every member attends and fully participates in the Liturgy. This was a parish whose faith was on fire. When Fr. Evangelos, the parish priest, and I began to give Holy Communion, the people kept coming and coming, so much so that our chalices were nearly empty. We had to run into the altar and refill, then refill again, such was the seemingly endless demand.
Then, when the Liturgy was over, our team sang a lively Latino worship hymn to the delight of the congregation. They reciprocated by singing music in their own Mayan dialect. Finally, as all the fellowship came to an end, we began passing out paper icons of “Christ the Sower” as a memento of our brief, but meaningful visit. While many had approached for holy Communion, even more, especially the children, came forward to eagerly possess the only tangible piece of Orthodoxy available to them in this remote locale. Most of the children had not as of yet heard the call of Christ (“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such that the kingdom of heaven belongs” –Matthew 19:14), since they were not permitted to commune until they were older. Hundreds upon hundreds of them, holding each other’s hands, or carried on the backs or in the arms of a parent, kept streaming in. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of children, I felt a profound sense of responsibility for them. This was the present and future of Orthodoxy and they were waiting for us to respond. A simple paper icon with a calendar on the back was merely a symbolic timetable for our mission. There remains so much more to be done.
To paraphrase the words of St. Kosmas, “We should not tarry a moment out of concern for our personal salvation.” Rather we should say, “yours matters to me above all else.” Is this not the very mission of Christ that all of us are called to or asked to support in some way? With St. Kosmas, may we not be afraid to lose ourselves doing it.