FISHERS OF MEN - WELOMING ALL NATIONS
FR LUKE VERONIS
“Do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishers of men.” Christ’s call to the fisherman Peter and his fellow fishermen was that instead of catching fish they would cast out the net of God’s love and share His Good News throughout all the world, drawing people from every nation into the family of God, the Church.
We often think of our Church as the Greek Orthodox Church and sometimes limit our understanding of the Church to the Greek and Albanian immigrants who started this church 100 years ago in Webster. Yet, the challenge Christ gave to His followers was that they would become fishers of people, bringing people from throughout the world into the Family of God.
Today’s inspiring Gospel reading is reflected in our icon entitled “Go and Make Disciples of All Nations.” This icon could be called “The Fishers of Men” because it is an icon depicting some of the greatest missionaries of our Church. Men and a woman who dedicated their lives to go to places which did not know Christianity, and inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit working through them, proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ and helped people discover a new life in Jesus Christ.
· The Apostle Paul spreading Christianity in the 1st century throughout the Mediterranean world. He said to his disciple Timothy that “God our Savior desires that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” And he traveled throughout Asia Minor and became the first to enter Greece and Europe to proclaim God’s Good News.
· St. Gregory of Armenia, who helped Armenia, a little country between Asia and the Middle East, become the first Christian country in the world. St. Gregory suffered for 14 years in prison by the Armenian king, being tortured for his faith, before he miraculously healed the king and led him and the entire nation to become Christian.
· St. Frumentios of Ethiopia, who was shipwrecked off the coast of Ethiopia, and became a slave there. Yet, after he found his freedom, he returned back to Alexandria asking the patriarch to send a bishop to serve the people in Ethiopia. St. Athanasios sent St. Frumentios to return to Ethiopia as its first bishop.
· St Nina of Georgia, one of the great female saints to bring Christianity to Georgia, the country just north of Armenia and east of the Black Sea.
· St. Patrick of Ireland, a British captive who was a slave for many years in Ireland, escaped only to listen to God’s call to return to this land of captivity and preach the good news there. He became its first bishop of Ireland.
· Sts. Cyril and Methodios were brothers who lived in Thessalonika and were surrounded by the Slavic people. They decided to create an alphabet in Slavonic, translate the Bible, and set into motion a great movement to bring many Slavic peoples to Christianity.
· St. Stephen of Perm, a Russian who worked among the Zyrian peoples.
· St. Kosmas Aitolos, the modern Greek missionary who traveled from village to village during the Ottoman Empire in what is today Albania and Northern Eipirus, and helped to stop the conversions to Islam, teaching the people and founding over 200 schools.
· St Herman of Alaska, was in the first group of missionaries to travel to Alaska. He ended up living there 50 years on the small island of Kodiak, defending the natives and offering a witness of a holy life.
· St. Innocent was the great Russian missionary who lived in Alaska for 20 years, even traveling 10,000 miles in one year by kyack and dog-sled to visit all the Christians of his diocese, and then serving for 20 years in Eastern Siberia establishing new dioceses. He ended his life as the Metropolitan of Moscow, founding the Russian Orthodox Missionary Society.
· St. Nicholai Kasatkin of Japan, who enter Japan in 1862 when no Christians existed in this country and 50 years later, left a church with 35,000 baptized Christians.
· And next to this beautiful icon of the greatest missionaries, we see an icon of the Martyrs of the Boxer Revolution, which reminds us of the Christians in China.
St. Peter once said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:35) The Evangelist John put it this way, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (Jn 3:16-17)
Even though our Lord Jesus was Jewish, and his first followers were Hebrew, He clearly commanded them to share His Good News with all people everywhere. The salvation of our Lord is never limited to any particular group. This is why St. Paul wrote, “For in Christ Jesus you are ALL children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)
This all embracing attitude set the tone for the early Church. Yet every generation has to be careful of its own egocentric temptations to limit the Good News of Jesus Christ to only its own group, to only “our own people” – whether we understand “our own” in ethnic, social, economic or some other limiting terms. The Gospel is Good News for all people!
Although this universal spirit seems so obvious in the teachings and life of Christ Jesus, it’s disturbing to see how Christians throughout the ages have tried to limit the Church’s universal nature. Too easily, we create a false, distorted God who hates the same people we hate, or excludes and rejects the very people we feel uncomfortable with. Our true, all loving God stands far above any limitations we may set on others.
This is why the Gospel quickly spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, embracing Greek and Latin as languages in which to proclaim the Good News and in which to worship God. In the following centuries, the Christian Church spread among the Coptic speaking Egyptians, among the Ethiopians and Armenians, each using their own language in which to worship God. The Church continued its spread into northern Europe, not only embracing the Celtic and Gothic languages, but even helping to create their literary languages, as well as going into the Far East and spreading through Persia and going as far as India itself. The Church evangelized the Slavic peoples, once again creating an alphabet, and continued her march literally into every country throughout the world. Today more than 33% of the world, or two billion people, call themselves followers of Jesus Christ!
Today, one can find our Orthodox Church in such places as Tanzania and Kenya and throughout Africa, in Indonesia and Korea and throughout Asia, in Mexico and Guatamala, and so many other places. Orthodox Christians are worshipping God in Swahili, Lua, Indonesian, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish and numerous other languages! The Holy Spirit sanctified all languages on the great feast of Pentecost, and revealed how the Church, our Orthodox Church is one, united in a common faith while not uniform in its language or cultural expression of faith.
Our Lord invites people from all nations to come to Him, and we all should never identify our faith too closely with any one nationality. As St. Paul clearly stated, we are “no longer Jew nor Greek… for our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil 3:20)
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