Reflections on Missions

A series of reflections by Rev. Mikel Hill on the meaning of missions:

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Who Me, a Missionary?

Love cannot be content to see even one sinner go through this life and not come to know God in the fullness of His Church. The greater we realize from what we have been saved, the greater will be our love of God and we will pray with zeal that all might find this same salvation. To have in our hearts an echo, “God desires not the death of a sinner but that he return from his way and LIVE!”; this is what it means to be a missionary.

Every Christian is a missionary in as much as every Christian has experienced the Grace of God poured into their heart through Baptism and Chrismation. The Christian cannot help but to witness to the great things God has done for them, in their life, words, and actions. To be a missionary is simply to be a Christian. Thus, the real question is: am I a Christian?

To be a Christian is to be Christ’s christ, that is to be a follower and imitator of Christ, not only in His burial and resurrection (through Holy Baptism) but in every aspect of our life. We must each ask ourselves, “How is my life a mirror of Christ’s life?”Perhaps, we should first of all ask, “Do I even know Christ’s life and teachings?” “Do I daily read the Gospels to learn more about His life?” “Do I daily spend time in undistracted prayer to Him?” “Do I make every effort to be with Him at the services of the Church?” “Do I frequently utilize the opportunity to confess my failings to be like Christ and to see more clearly the path to becoming more like Him?”

Christ was a missionary in the fullest sense, not sparing His own life but offering it freely out of His great love for us. It is true that if even one person remained lost, Christ would have died for that one. Therefore, we who bear the name of Christian cannot do anything less than to follow in the footsteps of our Lord in His self- emptying love for the whole world. Until all are saved and brought into the healing embrace of our mother, the Church, every Christian is a missionary.

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At the “Barn”

What is a Mission?

Missions exist to serve others. We should seek growth because we have something to share with non- Orthodox, not in an insular effort to survive. At the same time, while we might enjoy our little “family,” we should not harbor a selfish reluctance to open our doors and hearts to newcomers. We should come to services and events with the thought, “What can I offer, what can give, how can I support?” Our Church is a hospital, not a refuge and while we certainly need care ourselves, we are also the doctors and nurses of this hospital and seek healing primarily so that we can, in turn, heal others.

Missions engage their local culture. We each come from a particular ethnic and cultural background. This is an indelible part of who we are. However, in our effort to serve the other, we must relate and engage with the culture in which we find ourselves. This means laying aside our own cultural interests and seeking to learn about what interests them, what cultural traditions do Northern Ohioans celebrate? It is not enough to be “pan- ethnic,” missions must be “trans-ethnic.”

Missions must be faithful. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are missions. Building a Church community takes many, many years of worship, prayer, hard work, and sacrifice. We must “count the cost,” are we willing to make the mission of St. Nikolai our first priority? Are we willing to be present, week after week, month after month, at the services and events of our community? Are we willing to fervently seek our own salvation so that we might be a saving influence on those who come to us, hurt and broken? Are we willing to be faithful, even though “success” seems a distant reality?

Receiving a blessing

How do we “preach to Gospel?”

The best and surest way that each of us can “preach” the message of the Gospel to “all nations” is to struggle for our own, personal salvation in the secret of our hearts. The Great Commission is not only to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, risen from the dead, but also to lead others to “observe all that He has commanded” through the quiet example of our own lives. Therefore, all of us who are missionaries should strive, first and foremost, to acquire the peace that “passeth all understanding,” so that “our light may shine before all men.” The missionary is guided by a single ambition: to repent and seek forgiveness for their own sins, humbling themselves and putting themselves below all others. This is the most effective “sermon” we can ever preach.

How do we do this? By frequently gathering together as a community for prayer, psalms and spiritual songs (i.e. hours, compline and vespers), teaching and exhortation (i.e. bible study, retreats, etc.), and above all else, the Divine Liturgy (on weekdays and feast days, in addition to Sundays). If we acquire some measure of God’s Grace, our interactions with others in our workplaces, our schools and our homes, will reveal Jesus Christ, who alone is the Savior of the World. With hearts made receptive through these relationships, others will seek that peace and life that they first observed in our lives and, God speaking to their hearts good things, they will desire to join our community. Growth that occurs for any other reason of than people seeking a place of repentance and salvation will be abortive.

Outreach is a natural part of “preaching the Gospel”, because outreach to those in need is the natural consequence of a life in Christ. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned is the fruit of each Christian’s personal struggle for salvation and the evidence of a healthy mission Church. Most often, outreach occurs organically with the people with whom we interact on a regular basis, as we daily strive to put other’s needs ahead of our own. Outreach is therefore manifested in a myriad of ways: from comforting a co-worker after a tragic divorce, to sacrificing fifty-dollars and an afternoon in order help a troubled young man with a job interview.

Outreach also takes the form of giving to charities. St. Nikolai supports several local charities and it’s important to know that when we put money in the collection plate, a portion of this goes to supporting local families in need. As missionaries, we should be striving to give at least 10% of our income to the Church to support Her work, including outreach to the poor.

At the same time, we also recognize that material help alone is not enough and that the greatest wealth that our Church possesses and is mandated to dispense is spiritual Grace and participation in the One Body of Christ, which is offered up “on behalf of all and for all.” We should always be eager to share this “wealth” with others.

 

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St Nikolai’s Celebrates Re-Opening

On June 9th, 2018, the community of St. Nikolai celebrated the re-opening of their doors after the devastating fire that was set by an arsonist on August 27th, 2017. They were led in the Divine Liturgy by His Eminence, Archbishop ALEXANDER and were joined by several priests (Fr. Don Freude, Fr. Andrew Jarmus, Fr. Basil Stoyka, Fr. John Kennerk, Fr. Jonathan Lincoln, and Fr. Dn. Samuel Slimak), and many faithful from near and far.

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After the fire demolition, down to the framing

The Divine Liturgy was followed by a festive meal, hosted by the nearby Roman Catholic parish of the Sacred Heart of Mary, where the community worshipped for several months while re-construction on their temple was taking place.

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The home away from home from September, 2017 through February, 2018

An open house was held in the afternoon where many area pastors and residents took the opportunity to see inside the beautiful little building along the much travelled State Route 173.

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The Community on June 9th
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A view at sunrise from State St (St. Rt. 173)

Ministry Highlight: Mr. Black

Our relationship began at a Tuesday night free community dinner held each week at Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance and sponsored by The Alliance of Churches.

Mr. Black is like many of our area residents in one of Ohio’s poorest areas. Alliance was once one of Ohio’s largest producers of steel. But, in the last two decades, factory after factory has closed, leaving thousands without jobs and depressing the entire economy. Like many, Black started out working in a mill, feeling no need to get a higher education as working in mills and construction was quite lucrative . . . thirty years ago. Now, Black is without a job, without education, and struggling to keep possession of the one thing standing between him and homelessness, his house.

A few months ago, St Nikolai’s council voted to allocate some of its local charity funds to help out Mr. Black. However, we wanted to do something more than just offer a hand out. One of the largest issues facing people like Mr. Black is a sense of value. They’re used to people feeling sorry for them and offering them money, but what they really want is a good job, steady income, and a sense that they’re contributing to other’s well-being.

Since February, Mr. Black has been working once a week for St. Nikolai’s, offering his mechanical skills in assembling items and performing a bulk of the necessary weekly cleaning. In return, Mr. Black receives a small stipend.

One of the struggles that many of our area’s poor experience is an almost routine loss of utilities due to the inability to pay for gas, electric, and water. There are programs to help people such as Mr. Black, but often the application process is so difficult and humiliating that many just give up and do without. Mr. Black had been without running water since November and as a result of this and the lack of a steady source of heat, his water supply lines burst in several places.

This past week, thanks the the generosity of several other area agencies, Mr. Black was able to get his water service turned back on. Fr. Mikel was able to offer his plumbing experience in repairing the broken pipes and we are glad that, after five months, Mr. Black has running water once more.

Please keep Mr. Black in your prayers and, if you see him at one of our services, say hello and let him know how much we value him as a person and for his help at St. Nikolai’s.

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Mr. Black at our 5-year anniversary, third from left

 

 

 

Ministry Highlight: St Elizabeth’s

As part of our re-building process, our community has purchased most of the articles needed to re-furnish the altar area from St. Elizabeth’s Convent and Workshops, located in Minsk, Belarus. A few items are pictured here:

 

Not only does St Elizabeth’s produce vestments and liturgical vessels of the highest quality and beauty, the funds collected from the purchase of these items all go to help support their ministries. Below is a little about one of the ministries St. Nikolai’s has had the opportunity to support through our purchases.

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The Boarding home for children is located near St. Elisabeth Convent. The children who reside there are unable to take care of themselves and many cannot even move around without the help of others. The sisters from the Convent call them “Little Martyrs”. Their diagnoses vary from Down’s Syndrome and patrimonial traumas to inborn physical defects and accompanying diseases of internal organs. Approximately two hundred children, many of whom are orphans, permanently stay at this hospital.

In as much as the children need our help we in turn need them. People who come here for the first time ask why God has punished them and why the children have to suffer so much. Others cannot bear such suffering at all. Nevertheless, there are those who are able to surpass such emotions and then have a wonderful chance to feel something bright and pure because every child at the boarding home is a reflection of God’s love.

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An obedience at the children’s boarding home entails thinking not just about oneself. Here a person needs to forget selfish endeavors and begin to care for others, which is not always easy to do. The sisters do not ask, “Why the children are suffering?” but instead ask, “Lord, how can I help Your children?” They have their own difficulties and temptations and yet each day they return to the boarding home to serve God through the service of the sick.

A World, Where Everything is Clear and Simple: A Testimonial of the Sisters. People often expect a miracle to be something that stands out and something unbelievable but that can undermine those few minutes of quiet joy. The sisters who visit and help the children of the boarding home can testify that it is enough to hold a child in ones arms, hear a child’s voice or see them smile in order to understand what a real miracle is. Without parental love and care, these children are true miracles.

They do not need much to feel joy, to feel happiness. A simple ray of light in the window, a drop of rain that slowly makes it way down a glass window. Mother Martha, who is also in charge of the children’s art class, once said, “They are happy because they do not know anything else. Their whole life revolves around the boarding home and something that we call a catastrophe, they cannot understand at all. They live in their own world. A world without difficulties, where everything is clear and simple. That is what you call simplicity and happiness. We can learn something from them.”

The ministry of the sisters in the boarding home involves first and foremost helping the children participate in church services, in prayer, partaking of the holy sacraments, and talking to them about God.

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The children also participate in the workshops where they make small crafts and paint wonderful pictures. It is interesting that their favorite themes are angels, churches and domes with stars and crosses. Their innate sense of composition and color, as well as their inner freedom, is amazing.

The sisters organize various events, Christmas and Easter celebrations, trips outside the boarding home and performances in which the children are the actors. Most importantly, the sisters provide love, attention and care that these children need so much.

To Donate, please click here

To find out more about other ministries of St Elizabeth’s Covent, click here

Christ is Risen!!

St Nikolai’s journey’s through Holy Week, celebrates Pascha!

Thank God, we were blessed with a beautiful, prayerful, and profound Holy Week and Pascha. Enjoy the pictures below:

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Lenten Retreat with Mat. Meg Lincoln

Self-Worth and Self-Esteem: An Orthodox View

Report from St. Nikolai’s Lenten Retreat, March 17th

Self esteem and self worth are two much-discussed concepts these days. But the Orthodox faith takes a much different view of these concepts than those found in the media and modern society. That was the message of Matushka Megan Lincoln, chaplain resident at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland, who spoke at a Lenten retreat at St. Nikolai Orthodox Church in Marlboro Township. The advertising campaigns for nearly every product sold try to convince us that our self worth will go up if we buy it.  Kids in school are told they can do anything they want to do. Everyone is given a trophy. “But it’s not working,” Mat. Lincoln said. “We still have this nagging feeling that we’re not worth anything. The struggle with self worth can sometimes lead to self-destructive behaviors from eating disorders to road rage to school shootings. “Into such darkness and confusion, the word of God offers us light,” she said. “It also offers us peace. A peace that does not depend on what others think of you.”

The Orthodox faith also offers right belief and right practice. Internalizing those beliefs and practices helps them move from our heads to our hearts. “Why does right theology matter?” Mat. Lincoln asked. “Because how we think shapes how we feel. That affects how we react to things, and therefore, what we do.”

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Example: If you’re turned down for a job you’ve applied for, you could take it in stride, or be totally devastated. You could feel like you’re being told you’re not worth anything. The lies about self worth are often subtle, especially in the media, she said. Psychologists tell us to make lists of our good points and engage in positive self talk. “But we’re still buying into the lie that our worth lies in what we do, or the qualities we have,” she said. “That can only go so far.” Another lie results from comparing ourselves to others, which can lead either to pride or to despair – two sides of the same coin.

So what is the truth?

“Our worth comes from God, period, not from anything we do, or qualities or skills we possess,” Mat. Lincoln said.  The book of Genesis tells us that God did not “create” man, like He did the animals, but shaped us from the dust and breathed life into him. He took us from lowly beginnings to higher than anything else in creation. “Every one of us has infinite worth, which cannot be lessened or increased by anything we do,” Mat. Lincoln said. “Again, we were made of dust but God raised us to the height of creation by infusing us with Himself,” she said. “We cannot earn our worth, or merit it, or get it from other people.” Orthodoxy teaches us that this union between God and man was the plan for Christ coming to Earth. God would become a human being and unite our created and uncreated natures. Even being a “pretty good” person does not satisfy, because we are meant for so much more.

Mat. Lincoln then presented three practices of the Orthodox Church and explained how they can be healing.

  1. Prayer. Only direct experience with God can bring healing. The cure is not just taking away the symptoms, like bad thoughts, but being connected to Him. That connection is maintained through prayer. Attention is key to prayer. Giving all your attention, all your energy to those words, is when God can change and heal you.  “If God is the source of life, then we need prayer like we need air,” she said.
  2. Confession. It is not just beating ourselves up for all the bad things we’ve done, but seeing ourselves honestly and truthfully. What keeps us from confessing? We’re scared to admit what we’ve done. Does this priest’s opinion of us have anything to do with our self worth? No. We need to stop justifying ourselves, or blaming others, and admit we are not the people we should be and want to be.
  3. Participating in services and, especially, in the Eucharist. Something real happens when we participate in Communion that brings us into God’s presence and His presence into ourselves.

“Right thinking, true thinking, is thinking of ourselves as having infinite worth, with God infusing us with Himself and giving us the ability to unite with Him through prayer, confession and the Eucharist – especially during Lent,” Mat. Lincoln said.

Also listening to her talk was her husband, Deacon Jonathan Lincoln, who is serving St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Olmsted Falls. The two met as students at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Mat. Lincoln was only the second female student in St. Tikhon’s history. They were married in October of 2016. Each graduated with a Master’s of Divinity degree in May of 2017.

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The Lincolns and Hills at St. Tikhon’s, 2017

“Jesus tells us, ‘Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Your self worth is not in your job, or your Facebook profile, or in other’s opinions,” Mat. Lincoln concluded. “We must lay aside all those things and come to Christ to find rest.”

Our gratitude to Barbara Mudrak for compiling this article.

The retreat began with Divine Liturgy, with Deacon Jonathan serving.

 

 

 

Alliance of Churches

Ministry Highlight: Alliance of Churches

The community of St. Nikolai’s believes in the importance of financially supporting, engaging with, and working alongside local, charitable organizations. One of the agencies that St. Nikolai’s supports is the Alliance of Churches.

The Alliance of Churches was founded in 1913. They are a 501(c)3 Non-Profit organization. The mission of the Alliance of Churches is “to be the hands and feet of God to those in need.” Their service area includes: Alliance, Limaville, Homeworth and surrounding townships. They are financially supported by local churches including St. Nikolai’s, Alliance Friends, First Baptist, Union Ave United Methodist, and many more. They assist an average of 5-7 families per month with utility expenses. All services are provided by volunteers. They also work with other agencies to refer and provide information and assistance in applying for other services in the community (HEAP, Ohio Benefit Bank, et al). They provide free tax filing for qualifying clients and maintain a bread bank at their office at Christ United Methodist Church. Their offices are open M-F from 9am-1pm.

During Lent, the Alliance of Churches sponsors a weekly Lenten Luncheon, held this year at Vine St United Methodist (click here for a recent article in the Alliance Review). Fr. Mikel was the featured speaker for the March 5th Luncheon.

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Also during Lent, the Alliance of Churches sponsors a Holy Friday service at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, at which Fr. Mikel will also be a speaker. Fr. Mikel also serves on the Board of Directors for Alliance of Churches.

When I was in Prison, You Visited Me

Ministry Highlight: FCI Elkton

Since June of 2017, the community of St. Nikolai’s has been ministering to Richard, currently incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institution at Elkton, OH. Richard, his wife and son, were former parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lorain, OH and the spiritual children of Fr. Basil Stoyka.

Richard’s wife, originally from the Ukraine, together with their son were forced to return to the Ukraine shortly after Richard’s incarceration in 2012, where they have faced many hardships. However, their Orthodox faith has kept them from despair and after seeking the advice of a monastery elder, Richard’s wife and son decided to return to the USA. They will be residing within driving distance of Richard’s facility, enabling them to visit on a regular basis.

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Richard and his wife at a monastery in the Ukraine, 2009

Through the support offered by St. Nikolai’s, their airfare was made possible and the family look forward to being reunited in April. Fr. Mikel has been making bi-weekly visits to FCI Elkton to offer Richard support, confession, and the Holy Sacrament.

Please keep Richard and his family in prayers.

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Richard’s son during a recent trip to a monastery in the Ukraine

Note: To protect the identity of Richard and his family, no other personal information has been provided.

St Nikolai’s Participates in Inter-Jurisdictional Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers

Fr. Mikel Hill, who serves as president of the Stark County Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood, was joined by priests and deacons of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the Serbian Diocese, Antiochian Archdiocese, and the Orthodox Church in America, together with many of the faithful, for a solemn celebration of Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers. We also had the distinct honor and joy to welcome His Eminence, Archbishop NATHANIEL, Bishop of the Romanian Diocese of the OCA and to serve with him. Not only was this a celebration of the restoration of icons and the triumph of the Orthodox Faith, it was also a celebration of the unity that we share in the One, Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church, though separated, for the time being, administratively.

There are seven Orthodox communities in Stark county, many within blocks of one another. Through events, such as this inter-jurisdictional celebration of Vespers and the weekly Pan-Orthodox Presanctified Liturgies, the Stark County Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood hopes to work toward the realization of the unity of our Church and to demolish the artificial walls of separation that have been constructed by differing nationalities and languages.

We thank Archbishop NATHANIEL for his encouraging words at the conclusion of the service and Fr. John Nemish and the parish of St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church for hosting the service and the delicious meal that followed.

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St Nikolai’s Celebrates 5-year Anniversary

On Saturday, February 17th the community of St. Nikolai gathered to commemorate the five-year anniversary of its founding with a celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This event also marked the first Divine Liturgy served at St. Nikolai’s since fire, caused by an act of arson, left heavy damage on August 27th, 2017.DSCN6468The community were joined by several visitors, including Fr. John Kennerk of Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton, Ohio. DSCN6460“The joy and relief of being back in our own space is hard to describe,” said Fr. Mikel Hill, the priest and acting rector of St. Nikolai’s. “It is our hope that this day marks a new beginning in the history of our mission,” he added.

The people of St. Nikolai came together in the year 2013 for the purpose of forming an Orthodox Christian community that could worship in the English language, respect the diverse traditions of its individual members, and be a witness of Christian love to the surrounding communities of Alliance and Louisville. While the nearby cities of Akron and Canton, lying to the West, contain many Orthodox communities, the people of St. Nikolai’s observed that there was a large area to the East and South of Alliance that held no Orthodox presence. Under the Omophorion of His Grace, Bishop ALEXANDER of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese, the community of St. Nikolai held its first Divine Liturgy on February 17th, 2013 in the Mount Union University Chapel.

First Liturgy
First Liturgy

Since 2013, the community has gathered in a Byzantine Catholic church, a Roman Catholic church, a barn, and a picnic pavilion.

“It’s nice to be home,” was the general sentiment of the congregation as they gathered for a potluck meal after the anniversary Liturgy.DSCN6475