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Cooperating With The Work Of The Holy Spirit
By Father Andrew Harrison

On October 1st my wife Pat and I returned from a month long missionary experience with the Orthodox Christian Mission Commission (OCMC) in Calcutta. Our Lord and Savior promised that He would be with anyone who embarked on such a journey in His name. We both felt the fulfillment of His promise as well as the prayers offered by those who made our trip possible.

We returned to Chicago after an exhausting 18-hour flight from Calcutta. Our minds continue to sort out the many impressions made by the people of India. Looking back, I feel as though I entered into the pages of the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles of Saint Paul. I can compare the events of the New Testament young church directly to the struggles of the small mission in India.

I learned a very important lesson. Missionaries do not cause conversions : they cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit. I realized this when I asked a number of Indian Orthodox Christians how they discovered Christ. A new convert named Amit (his Orthodox Christian name is Cherubim) told me he was a regular worshiper in the temple of the Hindu god Kali. The temple is only 500 feet from the Orthodox Church in Calcutta. His friend told him about the church and out of curiosity, he attended a service one day. He kept going back. He said, "A deep sense of peace came over me every time I entered the church." I asked him and many other new converts about the main difference between being a Hindu and being a Christian. They said, "As a Hindu we felt god was outside; as a Christian He was inside us." One common result of becoming a Christian was to experience some form of persecution. It was either economic and/or loss of friends and family.

From the journeys and Epistles of Saint Paul, we know that the key to evangelizing is a committed leader with spiritual gifts. Two such leaders left their Christian mark on India. Father Athanasius was a priest who came as a missionary to India in the 1970's. Using the 75-year-old Greek Orthodox Church building as his base, he traveled to the farmland areas. He was able to gather a small nucleus of people and construct a small church building with several ordained native clergy. Upon his death the mission collapsed. Some members returned to Hinduism while others joined the Adventist Protestant denomination that has missions in India. A few remained faithful to Christ and the Orthodox Church.

A hieromonk from Mt. Athos named Father Ignatius Sennis came to India thriteen year ago to resume where Fr. Athansius left off. By this time the Greek Orthodox Church in Calcutta had been closed and was on the verge of being sold. Through the labors of Fr. Ignatius and the faithful native clergy, the mission has grown from a few to over 5,000 souls. Today there are 8 church buildings, 10 priests, 2 deacons, and 15 catechists. (A catechist is layman who is trained to do missionary outreach) And all of this was accomplished in a short 13 years! Like St. Paul, Fr. Ignatius incurred the scorn of the government. Presently he resides in Greece, but continues to administer the mission by phone. For some unknown reason, the authorities will not renew his visa. This has had a devastating effect on the operation of the mission.

In addition to missionary outreach, the India Orthodox Church has a very active philanthropic program. There is an orphanage with 183 girls. Pat stayed in the orphanage helping the very needy girls. She can attest to the administrative difficulties the orphanage is facing. In addition to the problems in the orphanage, there are needs in the group small houses built for the poor and the two construction projects are underway - a girls' vocational school and a school for the blind and vision impaired.

Having contact with other Orthodox Christians is as important today as it was in the early Church. Our role as members of the OCMC American team was to teach and encourage. The team consisted of myself, my wife Patricia, and Father Stephen Callos from Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland. While Pat helped at the orphanage, Fr. Stephen and I traveled four hours by car to the farming village of Akhina. A beautiful church has been built one mile from the village by Orthodox Christian donors from Germany. The church also includes a guesthouse which doubles as a medical clinic.

Fr. Stephen and I spent the month teaching the three-week long seminars attended by a total of 455 newly baptized Orthodox Christians. Fr. Stephen taught the life of Christ through the feasts of the Church and I taught the theology of the creed. Our day began at 7AM with Matins and breakfast. Fr. Stephen and I taught all morning and into the early afternoon at which time we broke for late lunch. Classes continued until Vespers. After Vespers we had a question and answer period and then dinner. All services were in Bengali and the classes were taught in Bengali through a translator.

A highlight of our experience in Akhina was the visit of his Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas of Hong Kong. Everyone is moved by his dedication to missionary outreach in Southeast Asia. He explained he has the world's largest total population of people in his diocese yet the smallest Orthodox Church. His vision is to plant churches in Pakistan, Thailand and Singapore. He is searching for clergy and catechists to help in this missionary effort.

My trip to India has left me with three questions. (1) Have I lost the vision that I am a missionary priest in America? (2) How can I apply what I leaned to my parish of St. Luke? (3) How can I help my parish increase philanthropic pursuits?

I haven't found the answers to these three questions yet, but I know the Holy Spirit will reveal them. He will also help me answer another question asked by the Christians of India and many of my parishioners as well. They ask, "Father, will you return to India next year?" All I can say is, "That is up to the Holy Spirit!"

For photos of the Mission trip please log on to our website at www.stlukeorthodox.com

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