The Orthodox Church has been a missionary church right from the beginning. Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven He said to his apostles “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” In other words, the apostles were to bring the Christian message to the peoples of the world and to baptize them. The apostles were called to be missionaries.
We can see the beginning of this preaching in the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles is the fifth book of the New Testament and tells the history of the early church. It begins with St. Peter preaching to the Jews in Jerusalem on Pentecost. St. Peter himself reaches beyond Judaism with the baptism of the Roman Centurion Cornelius. We read about the conversion of St. Paul from being a persecutor of the church to becoming an apostle. St Paul spreads the Gospel throughout the Roman world, even to Rome itself where he was martyred.
Even though the church was persecuted by the Roman Empire through the early centuries, missionary activity continued and the church grew. After Emperor Constantine put an end to the persecution, both the Eastern Church and the Western Church spread the Gospel to many people in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East.
In what is known as the Age of Discovery (15th to 17th C) and afterward the nations of Europe brought the Gospel to many parts of Africa, Asia and South America and the church continues to grow in those places even today.
St. Thomas the Apostle is an example of a first century missionary. We remember from St. John’s Gospel that St. Thomas doubted the story of Christ’s resurrection but when he encountered the risen Christ, he believed and became a zealous missionary. According to early tradition he went to India in 52 AD and spread the Gospel there, founded churches and was martyred there. Even today many Indian Christians refer to themselves as Thomas Christians. There are Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Thomas Christians and many of them have come to the United States within recent years.
St. Innocent of Alaska was born in Irkutsk. After graduating from seminary he got married and was sent to Russian America as a missionary. He mastered many native languages and even devised an alphabet for languages that hadn’t had one before. He was a tireless missionary traveling through his enormous parish, preaching the Gospel.
On a return visit to Russia he learned that his wife had died so he became a monk and then a bishop before being sent back to Alaska. He continued his ministry in Alaska as a bishop for nine years, being based in Sitka. He became an archbishop and moved to Yakutsk. Finally he became Metropolitan of Moscow.
Both St. Thomas and St. Innocent worked to spread the Gospel under the most difficult of conditions and have left behind churches which have survived to the present day and are examples for all of us, clergy and lay people alike. They show the importance of participating in and sharing the living Christian message in whatever way we are called.
Holy, Glorious Apostle Thomas
Troparion — Tone 2
You were a disciple of Christ, and a member of the divine college of Apostles. Having been weak in faith you doubted the Resurrection of Christ, but by feeling the wounds you believed in His all-pure Passion: pray now to Him, O all-praised Thomas, to grant us peace and great mercy.
Kontakion — Tone 4
Thomas, the faithful servant and disciple of Christ, filled with divine grace, cried out from the depth of his love: “You are my Lord and my God!” St Innocent the Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas
Troparion — Tone 4
O Holy Father Innocent, in obedience to the will of God you accepted dangers and tribulations bringing many peoples to the knowledge of truth. you showed us the way, Now by your prayers help lead us into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Troparion — Tone 2
You evangelized the northern people of America and Asia, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the natives in their own tongues. O holy hierarch Father Innocent, Enlightener of Alaska and all America, whose ways were ordered by the Lord. Pray to Him for the salvation of our souls in His Heavenly Kingdom!
Kontakion — Tone 2
A true celebration of the providence and grace of God is your life, O holy father Innocent, Apostle to our land. In hardships and dangers you toiled for the Gospel’s sake and God delivered and preserved you unharmed. From obscurity He highly exalted you as an example that the Lord truly guides a man in the way he should go.
Kontakion — Tone 2
Your life, O holy father Innocent, Apostle to our Land, proclaims the dispensation and grace of God! For laboring in dangers and hardships for the Gospel of Christ you were kept unharmed and exalted in humility. Pray that He may guide our steps in the way we should go.