Eleven seminarians from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and St. Vladmir Seminary joined Fr. Luke Veronis, OCMC Missionary Nathan Hoppe, and Fr. Paisius Altschul on a short-term trip to Albania. This mission practicum was combined with a three credit academic course entitled “The Missiology of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania,” where seminarians studied the missiological writings of the one of the greatest contemporary Orthodox missionaries, and then visited and participated in the actual mission occurring in Albania.
This inaugural mission class and practicum reflected a cooperative effort between the newly established Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity and the OCMC. The Missions Institute is a new entity which has a specific mandate to create and offer inspiring and educational programs for theological students studying at the Orthodox seminaries in the United States. “Our hope is that through the programs and courses this Missions Institute will offer,” noted its director, Fr. Luke Veronis, “No student will graduate from our Orthodox seminaries without having some knowledge of a missions-minded ministry. Simultaneously, we hope to challenge some students to seriously consider dedicating part or all of their lives to cross-cultural missionary ministry.”
The course ran from May 19 – June 6, 2010, and included one week of class work at Holy Cross, followed by two weeks of a mission practicum in Albania. The experience created an incredible enthusiasm and enlightenment for all the participants. “This was the greatest experience in my life,” emphasized Holy Cross seminarian Kosta Kollias. “It has opened up my eyes in ways I’ve never dreamed of before. My mission experience has helped me to understand the Church in a much healthier, more universal manner.”
Not only did the course readings challenge the students to understand the imperative nature and need of cross-cultural missions, but the practical experience of witnessing one of the most vibrant mission fields in the contemporary Orthodox Church, meeting Archbishop Anastasios and his indigenous co-workers and leaders of the Church of Albania, while also participating in the mission itself through outreach projects at the University of Tirana, at the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy, at a Student Conference, and at the Children’s Home of Hope inspired the seminarians to understand missions in an unforgettably refreshing and even life-changing way.
A highlight of the trip was a pilgrimage with Metropolitan John of Korca. The group spent the first night in the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Voskopoja, and walked 12 miles to the Monastery of St. Peter and Paul in Vithkuq. Throughout the pilgrimage, Metropolitan John shared stories about life under communism, faith and persecution, life in America as an immigrant, his time as a seminarian at Holy Cross, and then his return and service back in Albania. Throughout all the stories the Metropolitan challenged the students to dedicate their lives in radical ways to serving Christ. The personal interaction and wisdom offered by His Eminence impacted all of the seminarians.
During the two week trip in Albania, as well as in the follow-up, six of the eleven seminarians expressed serious interest in possibly pursuing cross-cultural missionary service following their graduation from seminary, while the others affirmed that the entire experience solidified their understanding of missions and strengthened their commitment to creating Church communities that will support the missionary work of the Church.