Answering the Call
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
I remember performing one of the most beautiful baptisms I have ever done as a priest when I was serving as a young missionary in Albania. In the Church baptistery was a crowd of 30 people, 25 of whom were Muslim. It was the first time for most of these people to step inside a Church. They came for the baptism of Luljeta, a 45 year old Muslim woman with Muscular Dystrophy. For 23 years she has been unable to move anything but her head and hands. She has lived in a hospital room for the past seven years.
Two years earlier she had met Daniel, a second year seminarian, in the hospital. Daniel spent hours talking about the hope he derived from his own newfound Christian faith. He also came from a Muslim background. Through their friendship, Luljeta came to believe in Christ.
This baptism touched me not only because of the path with which Luljeta came to Christ, but also because her baptism offered a witness to 25 non-Christians. I carefully explained all that occurred throughout the service, and by the end, several of the Muslims expressed their gratitude for attending such a moving ceremony.
This is one of countless opportunities in Albania to share the good news of our Savior. But the saying of Christ resounds true here: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Albania is a country with 3.5 million people. Possibly 700,000 identify themselves as Orthodox, but few fully understand their faith. The Church reopened in 1991 after 50 years of militant atheism, and positive changes have occurred. There are only a few missionaries, however; together with the new indigenous Albanian leaders, they are struggling to serve the Orthodox community, while also reaching out to the 65% of the country that is non-Christian.
Statistics worldwide reveal that more than 400,000 foreign Christian missionaries served cross-culturally last year. A very generous estimate of Orthodox missionaries could be 500. Why is it that Orthodox Christians make up approximately 12.5% of all Christians, but Orthodox missionaries make up only 0.00012% of all missionaries? Is God not calling the Orthodox to fulfill His Great Commission?
St. Paul writes, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:13-15).
We are either consciously ignoring or disobeying His Call; maybe we’re not even in the proper spiritual condition to hear His Call.
Three indispensable elements of hearing God’s Call are 1) striving to live a faithful life within the Church by actively partaking of the Holy Sacraments and obeying His commandments; 2) being open to whatever God asks, without placing limits on what we are willing to offer; and 3) consciously seeking out the will of God through sincere prayer, fasting, study of Scripture, and a life of repentance.
After hearing the Call, we then must find the strength to overcome our fears by trusting in the grace of God. Answering the Call can be scary. And yet, this is when we must, as Archbishop Anastasios often says, “Make the sign of the Cross, and go forth.”
Yes, God is asking some of us to answer His Call to go forth to all nations. It isn’t a call only for missionaries of past generations. It is also a call for us today! May some of us open our hearts, accept this holy mission, make the sign of the cross, and go forth!