Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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. (Matthew 28:19-20)
This Commandment of our Lord also applies to all Christians from every age in history; every person and every nation who has ever existed.
It is reflected in the Creed that Orthodox Christians pray every day when we boldly proclaim: ‘I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’. What does Apostolic mean? Apostolic has three distinct, yet interconnected, meanings: 1. There is a physical continuity between the Apostles and the Church of today through the Mystery of Holy Ordination; 2. There is a Spiritual continuity of the teachings and traditions of the Apostles which have remained unchanged within the Church; and, 3. The Apostolic mission of preaching God’s Word and making ‘disciples of all nations’ is at the core of our Faith.
The Synaxarion (books with the lives of the Saints) contains Saints of all cultural backgrounds, all ages, all geographical locations, all with different paths to holiness: monastics or married, physicians or fools for Christ, Patriarchs, and simple people. All are unified by their Faith in Christ. From the time of the Chief Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, the Way spread from Jerusalem to Antioch, where the followers of the Way were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26). It continued through Greece, Italy, the rest of Europe, Asia Minor, Egypt, Ethiopia, and as far as India.
In addition to the many martyrs the Church has many early Saints who followed the path of the Apostles with zeal. They include St Nina Enlightener of Georgia, St Patrick Apostle of Ireland, St Olga of Kiev, St Gregory Illuminator of Armenia, St Sava the Enlightener of Serbia, Saints Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, St Olaf King & Enlightener of Norway, St Remigius, Apostle to the Franks, and St Alban Protomartyr of Britain.
We also have more recent Apostles and missionaries to the ‘New World’: St Innocent of Alaska, St Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, leader of ex-Uniates into Orthodoxy, St John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, St Raphael Hawaweeny of Brooklyn, St Peter the Aleut, the Protomartyr of America, among many others. In Australia Orthodoxy came through mass migration from Europe, by those fleeing from poverty and war. Fr Roman Braga (a Priest who has imprisoned and tortured in Romania during Communism) says that this was part of God’s plan to bring Orthodoxy here. We are now blessed with Apostles and Missionaries in countries where Orthodox Christianity is unknown, such as Archbishop Chrysostomos in Albania, Fr Themistocles Adamopoulos in Sierra Leone, Metropolitan Amphilochios and Archimandrite Meletios in Fiji and Tonga, Fr Chrysostomos Manalu in Medan, Indonesia, and new Orthodox missions being established in East Timor and Samoa.
This article is the first amongst a series which will describe the Saints and their missions all over the world. We hope that their lives and zeal will be edifying and inspiring for all faithful Orthodox Christians.