Fr. Luke A. Veronis serves as the Director for the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, pastors Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster, MA, and teaches as an Adjunct Instructor at both Holy Cross and Hellenic College. He also taught at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (2005-2008). Fr. Luke has been involved in the Orthodox Church’s missionary movement since 1987. Together with his family, he served as a long-term cross-cultural missionary in Albania more than 10 years (1994-2004), and as a short-term missionary in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana for 18 months (1987-91). Since 2010, he teaches a summer missions class which he takes to Albania for two weeks every year. He has led four mission teams from his church to build homes for the desperately poor through Project Mexico. His published books include Go Forth: A Journal of Missions and Resurrection in Albania (2010); Lynette’s Hope: The Witness of Lynette Katherine Hoppe’s Life and Death (2008); and Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations (1994). Fr. Luke teaches the Preaching course at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as numerous classes in Missiology and World Religions. His weekly sermons since January 2013 can be found at http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/ Fr. Luke is married to Presbytera Faith Veronis, and they have four children.
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The very first promise that Jesus made to His disciples and followers was that IF they would follow Him, He would show these fishermen how to “fish for people.” His first promise was not one of a special blessing that their life would become easy, rich, or comfortable. No! He promised them something much more important. “Follow me and I will use you for the kingdom of God. Follow me and you will become my co-workers, my partners in sharing the Good News and opening up the world to my eternal kingdom! Although you are simple, illiterate fishermen, I believe in you so much, and value you so much, that we will work together in changing the world for good! Come follow me and I’ll make you “fishers of men.””
I remember reading a study about workers in the workplace in America which showed that the most content and dedicated workers were those who felt valued by their employer, and who felt that they were doing something important! Even if these workers worked under difficult working conditions and did not receive the best wages, they still gave their all when they felt valued, and when they felt their work was important!
Jesus understood this long before any scientific study! Think about what Christ offered His first possible followers – Follow me, and you will have to deny yourself and take up your cross; follow me, and you will have to leave your family, and you will not have a place on earth to call home; follow me, and you may be despised by others, persecuted, and ultimately martyred; follow me, and life will surely not be easy!!! And yet, follow me, and you will take part in God’s divine plan for the world; follow me, and you will help to usher in the kingdom of heaven; follow me, and I will be with you always; follow me, and you will take part in the greatest movement in the history of the world!
To become partners with Jesus Christ and to be co-workers in His ministry! What an exciting and blessed opportunity. And this call was not simply for the first followers and disciples of Jesus. It is not simply a call and an opportunity, but more so a privilege and a responsibility which each one of us have today.
Today, in our parish, we celebrate Missions Sunday, and thus, this is a Sunday when we remember how each of us is called to imitate the response of the first disciples. We remember the privilege and responsibility we have in participating in our Lord Jesus Christ’s command to proclaim the Kingdom of God to all people and to “make disciples of all nations.” Why should we strive to offer a witness of God’s love to our friends, co-workers, and neighbors? Why do some people go to Kenya or Albania or Mexico, or to other countries throughout the world? Why? Because we are co-workers with God, and we want to share His Good News of hope and new life! Because we want to share the same blessings that we have received through our own faith with others! Because we want all people all around us as well as in every country around the world – regardless of who they are and what they presently believe – to know that they are each precious children in God’s eyes, and have the same opportunity as we have to discover the pearl of great price!
Sharing our faith and becoming bold witnesses for Christ is not simply a suggestion for some, but a command to all who truly want to follow Christ. He has honored us with the responsibility of acting as His ambassadors throughout the world to tell
His story and to share His love. Imagine! We each play an integral role in His plan of salvation for all people. We are His co-workers!
Fr. Thomas Hopko once said, “If a parish [or an individual Christian] has no awareness and consciousness of being ’sent’ by God to speak His words, to do His work, and to accomplish His will in this world, then that Church is not an Orthodox Christian Parish!” We are not living up to our Orthodox Christian identity if we don’t fulfill this calling to “go forth” and become Christ’s witnesses in the world around us.
When Jesus gave His disciples the new commandment “to love one another as I have loved you,” His followers never limited this love to a closed circle, to only one’s own people. “The other is my salvation,” saints in future generations would say, and they understood “the other” as all people everywhere. Unfortunately, too many of us today try to limit this universal love of God to solely a local level. “Charity begins at home,” I hear some say. “We have to take care of our own,” they say. “There are plenty of needs here. We can’t solve the problems of the world, so why do we go elsewhere?”
We should never limit our Christian witness, however, to an “either-or” decision. When people remain indifferent to the needs of the world, and allow their parochial worldview to question the necessity of supporting the global work and mission of the Church, they reject Christ’s universal love and vision. Divine love knows no boundaries and can never set any limits.
Since the divine love of God knows no boundaries, His people and the Church must make every effort to participate in witnessing God’s love at a local, national, and global level, all simultaneously. This universal and holistic vision acts as the antithesis of the egocentric temptation we all face in our lives, as well as the cure to the parochial, often ethnocentric or “spiritual ghetto” heresy our parishes and too many Christians often live. What happens in Albania, Mexico, Africa, Asia or South America concerns Christ, and thus, should concern us. An authentic and healthy Orthodox ethos, on an individual as well as a parish level, entails living our faith to its fullness, and an essential part of this faith is offering a witness of God’s love to the individuals we meet each day, to our local community wherever we live, to our country at large, as well as to the ends of the earth.
One easy way for each of us to participate in the universal aspect of missions is through supporting the OCMC, supporting Project Mexico, and supporting organizations like the IOCC and other global Orthodox ministries!
Remember, each of us have the blessed call to become a co-worker and partners with Jesus Christ. Just as He called His first disciples to “follow me,” we are also called to follow Him. And just as the first disciples would become “fishers of men,” we also have the sacred task of becoming “fishers of all people” – of working together with Christ in helping more and more people discover the path which leads into the kingdom of heaven!