The reflections of Archbishop Anastasios as he was deciding to become a missionary...

"Is God enough for you? If God is enough for you, go! If not, stay where you are. But, if God in not enough for you, then in what God do you believe?"
(Archbishop Anastasios of Albania)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Help Support the Gilman Bendo Family

I recently started a Facebook Cause for Georgia Gilman Bendo who is serving as a missionary in Albania. Please visit and join the Gilman-Bendo family cause on facebook ( or visit their OCMC profile at(

Georgia Gilman Bendo grew up with her nine brothers and sisters in North Carolina. Her parents had converted to Orthodoxy several years before she was born and thus she was raised in the faith. At Duke University she majored in Russian language and literature and was able to spend 6 months in St. Petersburg. She feels that this time in Russia together with visits to Greece during these years strengthened her in the faith and made her certain of her calling to work for the Church. She spent two years preparing for mission work after her graduation and arrived in Albania in 2004.
Since then she has been teaching English and an after-school catechism class at Protagonists Elementary School, a school started and operated by the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania. In addition to teaching, her work includes curriculum development for the English and catechism program, supervising the Albanian English teachers, translations into English for the Churchs website ( and taking part in a number of youth camps and conferences.
In January 2008 she was married to Theodore Bendo, who also works for the Albanian Orthodox Church.
On November 21, 2008, God blessed Georgia and Todi with a son: Vasili Thomas Bendo, was born on the Feast day of the Entrance of the Theotokos. He was 20 inches (51 cm) and weighed a healthy 8lbs 8oz (3.85 kilos). Vasili Thomas Bendo is named after St. Basil the Great, St. Basil of Ostrog (Montenegro), Vasili (Todi's grandfather), and Thomas (Georgia's great-grandfather).
Georgia needs your ongoing prayer and financial support in order to serve in Albania.
(taken from:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Jason's Pre-Deployment Checklist: St. Kosmas Aitolos

Jason's Pre-Deployment Checklist: St. Kosmas Aitolos: "Tuesday August 24th marks the Feastday of Saint Kosmas Aitolos. He is among the most beloved Saints for the people of the Balkans - especial..."

St. Kosmas Aitolos

Tuesday August 24th marks the Feastday of Saint Kosmas Aitolos. He is among the most beloved Saints for the people of the Balkans - especially in Albania where he was martyred and where his relics can still be venerated today. May he always pray for us!


By teaching the Divine Faith, thou hast richly adorned the Church and become a zealous emulator of the Apostles; for having been lifted up by the wings of divine love, that hast spread far and wide the message of the Gospel. O glorious Cosmas, entreat God that He grants us His great mercy.
The Following from the introduction of "Father Kosmas Apostle to The Poor" by Michael Vaporis.

One of the most important and attractive individuals to appear among the Greek people during the period they were subject to the Ottoman Turks was a diminutive monk named Kosmas. Because he was a native of the province of Aitolia in western Greece, he is best known as Kosmas the Aitolian, although among the people of his time he was simply referred to as Father Kosmas.
His love, concern, and tireless labor among ordinary people, his honest and forthright preaching, his unassuming character, his sterling and uncompromising personality, and his great love for and dedication to Jesus Christ earned for him the titles of 'Equal to the Apostles,' 'Teacher of the Greek Nation,' and the 'Apostle of the Poor.'
The impact Father Kosmas had on the people-both lay and clergy-was such that he was considered a saint many years before he was cruelly put to death by the Turks. The secret of his great success was due, above all, to the fact that he not only preached the Gospel but lived it in such a way that many who heard him were moved to follow in his footsteps.
According to Kostes Loverdos, a writer of the past century:
The anchorite and hieromonk Kosmas arrived [in Kephallenia] in 1777. Initially, he preached in the rural areas and then in the city, being followed by thousands of inhabitants of every class and sex. The austerity of his character, the evangelical simplicity of his words and the power of his arguments brought about such a transformation of life that families that were enemies were seen living together as brothers, having exchanged the kiss of peace and asking of each other forgiveness. Men who had committed serious crimes were seen crying bitterly over their sins. Broken marriages of long standing were restored again. Prostitutes abandoned their shameful work and returned filled with repentance and prudence. Rich upper class young ladies gave away their valuable jewelry to the poor or to churches. Court trials ceased. Stolen articles were returned. Insults were forgiven. Depraved men took up the monastic habit and followed the preacher. In a few words, the appearance of the island was transformed." (See Historia tes nesou Kephallenias. . . [Kephallenia, 18881, pp. 171-72.

Kosmas, who was baptized Konstas, was born in a mountain village named Mega Dendron (Great Tree) in 1714 to parents who hailed from Epiros but had moved to the province of Aitolia, where they worked as weavers. Kosmas remained and worked with his parents until the age of twenty. He had received little or no formal education during this time, although his brother Chrysanthos had given him the rudiments, of an education when he was much younger.

Unhappy with his life and with his inability to understand the Gospel which he loved to hear in church, Kosmas decided to leave his village and his parents to receive an education.
Kosmas first attended the school in the village of Segditsa. Later he moved on to the School in Lompotina, where he studied with the teacher Ananias Dervisianos. In four years, Kosmas had made such progress in his studies that he was appointed an assistant teacher in the same school.
Kosmas, however, did not confine himself to teaching; he often preached in the church as well, thus giving an early expression to what would be his life's work.
From the village of Lompotina Kosmas moved on to the school in the village of Gouva, in the area of Vragiana, whose school was directed by his brother Chrysanthos. There Kosmas studied Greek, theology, and even some medicine. The latter would prove very useful to him during his ministry among the poor and often illiterate mountain populations he felt called to serve.

How long Kosmas remained in Vragiana is not known. Nor do we know many details of his life for the next ten years, for Father Kosmas rarely spoke of himself, and his biographer and disciple, Sapheiros Christodoulides, adds few facts. Father Kosmas was too modest, while Christodoulides was more interested in the Teaching of Kosmas and in the miracles that accompanied his preaching and work than in biographical details.

Once, feeling the need to introduce himself to his audience, Kosmas said:
My false, earthly, and fruitless homeland is the province of Arta, in the district of Apokouro. My father, my mother, my family are pious Orthodox Christians. However, I too am, my brethren, a sinful man, worse than anyone. But I'm a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified - . . . Leaving my homeland fifty years ago, I traveled to many places . . . and especially to Constantinople. I stayed the longest on the Holy Mountain, seventeen years, where I wept over my sins. (See page 157)

We know that Kosmas went to Mount Athos in 1749 to attend the Theological Academy established there in the same year by Patriarch Kyrillos V (I 748-5 1 ; 1752-57) at the Monastery of the Great Lavra. At Athonias, the name by which the Academy was known, Kosmas studied under such well-known clergymen-teachers as Neophytos Kafsokalyvites, Panagiotes Palamas, and especially Evgenios Voulgares, who was the school's most distinguished director and teacher.

Unfortunately for theological education, within ten years trouble and conflict arose in the Academy which resulted in Voulgares' departure. Months later, Kosmas also left (the Academy would close within the next year) and entered the Monastery of Philotheou where he became a monk, changing his name from Konstas to Kosmas.

In Kosmas' own words: "I stayed the longest on the Holy Mountain, seventeen years, where I wept over my sins. Among the countless gifts which my Lord has granted me, he made me worthy to acquire a little Greek learning and I became a monk." (page 15)

Months later, Kosmas the monk responded to the invitation of his fellow monks and was ordained deacon and then priest. But the life of a cloistered monk was insufficient for Kosmas. He felt the very strong need to leave the quiet of the monastery to enter the 'world' and serve his fellow Christians. "Studying the holy and sacred Gospel," he said, "I found in it many and different teachings which are all pearls, diamonds, treasures, riches, joy, gladness eternal life. Among the other things I also found this teaching which Christ says to us: no Christian, man or woman, should be concerned only with himself, how he can be saved, but must be concerned also with his brethren so that they may not fall into sin." (pages 15-16)

Convinced that he had a call to preach, Kosmas received permission from Patriarch Sophronios 11 of Constantinople (1757-61). For the next nineteen years, beginning in 1760, Father Kosmas became an itinerant preacher, spending most of his time among the poorest and most unfortunate of his fellow Orthodox Christians. Traveling on foot, by donkey and by ship, followed by scores and often by hundreds and even thousands of men and women, priests and monks, Kosmas undertook three 'apostolic' journeys. The first took him from Mt. Athos to Constantinople (Istanbul), through European Turkey and Macedonia, Thessaly, and Aitolia, crossing over to the island of Kephallenia. On his second journey he covered much of the same provinces except that he visited the islands of Skiathos and Skopelos instead of Kephallenia and spent much additional time in Aitolia, going northward into Epiros and southern and central Albania. His third and final journey was spent primarily in Albania, Epiros, Aitolia and Thessaly, but also included the Ionian Islands, the Kyklades, and even some of the Dodecanese Islands.

Among the factors contributing to Kosmas' enormous success as a preacher were his humility and his identification with the people among whom he moved and worked.

"Not only," he said of himself, "am I not worthy to teach you, but not even worthy to kiss your feet, for each of you is worth more than the entire world." (page 14) On another occasion he said: "I'm a servant of our Lord God Jesus Christ who was crucified. Not that I'm worthy to be a servant of Christ, but Christ condescended to have me because of his compassion." (page 15)

He spoke in their language, taking his illustrations from the experiences and surroundings with which they were familiar. He was selfless, ex ' pending all of his time and energy in the service of others, while never accepting any payment for his services.

Hearing, my brethren, this sweetest teaching which our Christ spoke, that we should labor among our brethren without charge, it seemed to me in the beginning to be very hard. Later, however, it seemed very sweet, like a honeycomb, and I glorified and glorify my Christ a thousand times because he guarded me from the passion for money. So with the grace of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, I have neither purse, nor house, nor chest, nor another cassock from the one I am wearing." (pages 16-17)

Although he was a monk who believed monks could only be saved if they remained in monasteries, Father deliberately took Ms chances:

A monk can't be saved in any other way except to escape far from the world . . . But you may say, you too are a monk. Why are you involved in the world? I too, my brethren, do wrong. But because our race has fallen into ignorance, I said to myself, let Christ lose me, one sheep, and let him win the others. Perhaps God's compassion and your prayers will save me too." (page 111)

In addition to feeding the soul, Father Kosmas attempted to feed the body as well as the mind. He spoke out against social injustices, against the abuse of the poor and uneducated and against the inequities that existed between men and women. Moreover, Kosmas was a great foe of illiteracy and a strong advocate of education.
Against social injustice and the abuse of the poor by the economically more affluent he said:

We too, my brethren, if we wish to call our God father must be compassionate, and cause our brethren to rejoice, and then we can call God father. If, however, we are merciless, hardhearted, and we cause our brethren to be poisoned, we put death in their hearts." (page 22)
On another occasion he urged:

You elders who are heads of the villages, if you wish to be saved, should love all the Christians as your children and should apportion taxes according to each person's ability to pay and not play favorites. (page 53)

Against what today we could call male chauvinism, Kosmas boldly preached to the mountaineers of Epiros and Albania:

Don't treat your wife like a slave, because she is God's creature as you are. God was crucified for you as he was for her. You call God father; she calls him father too. You have one faith, one baptism. God does not consider her inferior. (page 28)

On another occasion he said:

There are women who are better than men. If perhaps you men wish to be better than women, you must do better works than they do. If women do better works they go to paradise and we men who do evil works go to hell. What does it profit us if we are men? It would be better if we were not born. (pages 97-98)

On the subject of schools and education, Father Kosmas said:
It is better, my brother, for you to have a Greek school in your village rather than fountains and rivers, for when your child becomes educated, then he is a human being. The school opens churches; the school opens monasteries. (page 77)

He advised the people of the town of Parga: "Take care to establish without fail a Greek School in which your children will learn all that you are ignorant of." Kosmas believed that our faith wasn't established by ignorant saints, but by wise and educated saints who interpreted the Holy Scriptures accurately and who enlightened us sufficiently by inspired teachings." (page 145)

Father Kosmas was persuasive enough so that in over two hundred towns and villages he was instrumental in establishing schools where none existed before. His moral authority was such that he was able not only to raise the money needed to establish the schools and to maintain them, but with the consent of the inhabitants to appoint teachers and overseers for those schools, as illustrated from his letters.
I appointed, with the consent of all, Mr. Ioannes, son of Panos, trustee; and Mr. Demos, son of Ioannes the priest, and Mr. Stavros, son of Demos, overseers and his assistants to govern the school as the Lord inspires them. '(page 150)

Kosmas' invaluable and fundamental contribution to education has caused the Greek people to regard him as a 'National Saint' and a 'Teacher of the Nation.'

"My beloved children in Christ," he said, "bravely and fearlessly preserve our holy faith and the language of our Fathers, because both of these characterize our most beloved homeland, and without them our nation is destroyed." (page 146).

Father Kosmas' primary interest in education, however, was religious. He saw in education an indispensable tool for the understanding of Orthodoxy. "Schools enlighten people. They open the eyes of the pious and Orthodox Christians to learn the Sacraments." (page 91 ) In another Teaching he said: "Schools may open the way to the church. We learn what God is, what the Holy Trinity is, what an angel is, what virtues, demons, and hell are." (page 108) Elsewhere he noted: "Blessed Christians, a large number of churches neither preserve nor strengthen our faith as much as they should if those who believe in God aren't enlightened by both the Old and New Testaments." (page 145)

In the eighteenth century the Orthodox Church was faced with a growing number of defections among the poor and illiterate Orthodox to Islam, especially in the areas of Albania and western Greece. There the Orthodox were under especially severe social, economic, and religious pressures by the dominant Moslems. It was Father Kosmas' belief that the establishment of schools where the Orthodox faith would be taught would be able to stem the tide.

So, my children, [he advised the people of Parga] to safeguard your faith and the freedom of your homeland, take care to establish without fail a Greek School. (page 145)

But Father Kosmas was realistic enough to know that this was not enough. "How can our nation be preserved," he asked, "without harm in its religion and freedom when the sacred clergy is disastrously ignorant of the meaning of the Holy Scriptures which are the light and foundation of the faith?" (page 145)

The only schools available at that time, besides the Moslem schools, were those conducted in Greek. This is why Kosmas discouraged the use of other languages (Albanian and Romanian) and strongly urged the Orthodox to use Greek. "Teach [your children] their letters, and especially Greek, because our Church uses the Greek language." (page 80)
Perhaps the most significant of Father Kosmas' teachings is his treatment of Christian love. For this 'Apostle of Love,' love is not something a person theorizes about, but something that one practices.

Kosmas never tired of saying:
God has many names ... but his principle name is love ... All Christians must have two loves, one for God and one for our fellow human beings. Without [these two loves], it is impossible to be saved. (pages 90-91)

Standing on a low pulpit a gift of one of the local Turkish officials-in front of a large wooden Cross, as was his custom, Father Kosmas was not content merely to repeat the above words concerning love, but he immediately challenged people to love and translate this love into effective and meaningful assistance to those in need. Agreeing that love was important and necessary was meaningless for Father Kosmas unless one was willing to prove it with deeds.

"How can I determine, my son, whether or not you love your brethren?" he challenged someone in his audience.
"Do you love that poor boy?" "I do," was the reply.
"If You loved him you would buy him a shirt because he is naked ... Will you do it?"

"Yes." (page 22)

Father Kosmas was able to challenge his listeners to respond Positively to the call to love because he himself was an example of that kind of love. Therefore, when he said: "Perfect love is to sell all your possessions and to give alms, and even to sell yourself as a slave, and whatever you get to give in alms," and "whoever has wronged any Christian, Jew or Turk, return what you have taken unjustly because it is cursed and You'll never get ahead," his listeners responded immediately and Positively. (pages 46, 63)

Father Kosmas took his vow of poverty very seriously and never accepted anything for himself. But money was given to his followers and disciples. This money, however, was used to buy various articles which were distributed by the thousands among the people: kerchiefs, combs, crosses, prayer ropes, candles, booklets, and even baptismal fonts.

Consequently, when he advised men to allow their beards to grow, he provided them with combs which they could not buy for themselves. When he urged women to cover their heads, he gave them kerchiefs. When he advised parents to baptize their children, he helped provide various churches with baptismal fonts, and finally, when he counseled Christians to practice the Jesus Prayer he distributed prayer ropes to aid them in their concentration.

Any preacher who deals with social issues is bound to alienate some people whose interests are threatened. This happened to Father Kosmas as well. This attempt to elevate the educational level of the people and to eliminate illiteracy displeased those who preferred people ignorant. Village elders, landowners, and wealthy merchants felt their interests threatened when Father Kosmas called for just taxation, fair prices, and equitable rents.

The atmosphere created by the unsuccessful revolution of the Greeks in the Peloponnese in 1770, inspired and led by the Orlov brothers, together with the real and imagined presence of Russian agents among the Orthodox people of the Balkans, made it easy for the Ottoman Turks to believe that Father Kosmas was himself an agent. Undoubtedly, the thousands of people who left their fields and jobs to follow Father Kosmas from place to place added to the uneasiness of the Turks and raised grave suspicions about his activities.

Father Kosmas waged a strong battle against the desecration of the Christian Sabbath. Town fairs and country bazaars were often held on Sundays, something Kosmas opposed and did everything in his power to change. He insisted that they be held on Saturdays. In this he was opposed by Jewish merchants, who naturally did not wish to engage in commerce on their own Sabbath. Allied with them were Christian merchants for whom Sunday was also more convenient. Consequently, Father Kosmas' death was fashioned by many interests: Christian, Jewish, and Turkish.

On 24 August 1779, Father Kosmas was in the city of Berat, Albania. Permission to seize him was secured from the local governor, Kurt Pasha, who was generously bribed and who heard Kosmas falsely accused of various crimes. To prevent any demonstration on the part of Father Kosmas' followers, he was apprehended in secret and many of his closest friends were imprisoned in a neighboring monastery.

Father Kosmas was taken to the neighboring village of Kalinkontasi, where he was hanged. After he died, his body was thrown into a nearby river from which it was retrieved a few days later by the priest Markos of the same village. Father Kosmas was buried in Father Markos' church with Metropolitan Ioasaph of Velegrada in attendance.

It is interesting to note that the initiative for the first church to be built in memory of Father Kosmas was taken by the Moslem ruler of Albania, Ali Pasha, who held Father Kosmas in high esteem not only because he believed Kosmas to be a holy man but also because Kosmas had earlier predicted great success for him.

In 1810 Ali Pasha became master of the city of Berat and its environs. Within four years he succeeded in raising the money required to build the first church in honor of St. Kosmas. Moreover, he personally contributed not only toward the building of the church but paid to have a silver reliquary made in which Kosmas' skull was placed and saw to it that the Saint's service (akolouthia) was composed. It was later printed in Venice by the Epirot printer Nicholas Glykys.

The people whom Father Kosmas loved and served did not wait for any official proclamation of his sainthood (this took place almost two hundred years later on 20 April 1961) to honor him as one of God's special servants. Father Kosmas became one of the most popular saints among Greek and Albanian Christians, a popularity which has increased as time has gone by.

Seminarians Have Life-Changing Experience as Part of an OCMC Mission Team by. Fr. Luke Veronis (8/12/2010)

This article was recently posted by Father Luke Veronis on the OCMC website. Fr. Luke among other places was a missionary in Albania for ten years, and is a major source of wisdom for people like us who are learning about what goes on in the Mission field. His Book "Go Forth" is an excellentvresource for anyone who wants to read first-hand about missionary life in Albania. 

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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Please Help Support the Children of the Orthodox Home of Hope in Shen Vlash Albania

taken from
Five years ago, in the summer of 2003, the doors finally opened on a long awaited ministry of the Orthodox Church of Albania – The Orthodox Home of Hope. This family-structured home for children in need was started with the blessing and funds secured by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios. It was built on the beautiful campus of the Theological Academy “The Resurrection of Christ” at the Monastery of St. Vlash near Durres. Although it began with only 8 children, within a very short time it reached its maximum capacity of 30.

This home is a blessing and gift to the children, ages 5-18, who come from particularly difficult backgrounds. Some came from dire economic situations, others from unstable or misfortunate families, while others from families where one of the biological parents had died or left. As with all children, their needs are many, but more than anything they need unconditional love from the people who surround them. They also need to feel safe, valued, respected, and not be treated differently than any other kids their age. This has been the ongoing focus of the caring people who work at this home.

As in any family, the directors, like good parents, try to attend to all the needs of the children: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

The Home provides the children with 3 healthy meals a day (prepared by a staff of cooks at the Home) and the children make regular medical and dental check-ups. The children are able to stay healthy and happy also through free time and organized time for games and sports.

Some of their clothing comes from donations, but to ensure that they have all they need; the Home also employs a seamstress who makes everything from curtains to Sunday dresses!

A number of the 28 children, who presently reside in the Home of Hope, had not been attending school before they came to stay there. Some of the children were even completely illiterate although they were well into school age. Now all the children (19 girls and 9 boys) attend the local public school, from 2nd – 10th grade. Their education is further supported at the Home where tutors work one on one with those who need extra help and they are all given ample time and encouragement to study and complete homework. With this extra attention all the children get along fine at school, some even receive the highest grades in their classes.

Often the children who have come to live at the Home of Hope have passed through severe family traumas and need psychological and social support and stimulation.

This too is offered by specialists and many of the children have recovered basic social skills and a lost sense of joy thanks to this and to the loving atmosphere in which they live. Some of the changes noted in the children have been dramatic. Over the years very aggressive children, others with serious emotional problems, or some who were extremely introverted, have made great strides and are now noticeably more child-like and well-adjusted. The children are always encouraged to have healthy self-esteems and to realize their ability for continuous improvement in life. All of their development in this field is naturally aided by their faith which is an ever-present aspect of life at the Home through morning and evening prayers together and frequent attendance in Church services.

One of the most important aspects of the Home is that it keeps the children in constant contact with their parents and relatives (when possible), always keeping in mind the goal of returning them to their families. With this view, the staff not only sees to the immediate needs of the children, but also gives a lot of support to their families, trying to improve their circumstances and encourage a safe and stable family environment. Furthermore, the Home of Hope does not care only for those currently within the Home, but continues to look after those who have left, taking interest in their well-being and education. This is evident in the case of two children who returned to their biological family last year and also a girl who is in her senior year of one of our Church’s high schools where she lives in the dormitory there and makes excellent grades.

In the “Orthodox Home of Hope” children are raised as unique individuals, respected in all their rights and needs, both material and spiritual, always with the purpose to allow them to be well-adjusted and positive people in the future society.
To my Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Orthodox Home of Hope has been such a rich blessing from our Lord for the Church of Albania from the time of its founding in 2003. It truly warms my heart to share the good news of the hope and progress that I myself have seen from my recent visit to Albania earlier this spring from spending time with the children there with the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC).
However, we still must always remember that any momentum of progress needs our cooperation by means of prayer and financial stewardship.

It is with great humility and love that I make my appeal to you as my brothers and sisters in Christ to consider supporting the Orthodox Home of Hope.

In His Service,
Jason Dickey

If you are interested in supporting this cause, please visit our facebook website
payments can also be sent to
OCMC 220 Mason Manatee Way, St. Augustine, FL 32086, Attn: Home of Hope

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Our Lady of Bishkek: The Story behind the Black and White Icon of the Mother of God

Social networking can be a very wonderful thing. It has given me a chance to get to know those of you who have taken the time to read my blog and who have endured my postings on facebook. Many of your responses have given me quite a bit of encouragement and perspective on many things. 

Some questions of yours have encouraged me to make this posting that might be helpful for the purposes of helping you get to know more about myself and about the process for anyone else who might be trying to discerning how they themselves might be able to serve the mission field in the future by the gifts that God has given them along with the circumstances He has allowed them to experience.

One of my greatest motivations for serving in the mission field revolves around my travels that took place at the end of my two combat tours in Afghanistan eight years ago. In fact, this is where my first encounter with the Orthodox faith took place. I suppose that this experience has gone hand in hand with my becoming an Orthodox Christian! Thanks be to God!

Afghanistan confronted me with many things. One of these confrontations was the damage that was committed by the Soviets on the Afghan people as well as the entire countryside throughout the course of the 1970’s and throughout the early 1990’s. I was also given the opportunity to travel back and forth from the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan during this time. When I think about the damage that was done to those two countries as a result of the abuses of the former Soviet Union, it’s impossible to not sympathize with people who have struggled to regain their Christian identity after the fall of communism throughout eastern Europe.

In my own experience, it seems that the need for outreach may not as recognized in countries such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan on account that they do not share the fame and notariety of Afghanistan. Yet, these countries clearly have their own share of problems that include everything from ethnic violence, abusive governments, the Russian Mafia, landscapes that are littered with chemical bunkers, and fields of unexploded ordinances.

Regardless of these circumstances I still have to remember that it was in Kyrgyzstan where I was first encountered the Orthodox Faith, and it was at that moment where I was welcomed into the fullness of Christ. I mention this because was there where I was welcomed home by the Mother of God as I was wandering through the airport of Bishkek on my way back from my second and last combat tour in Afghanistan.

The whole ordeal at the airport was a very surreal experience for me. Originally I was wandering through an empty airport terminal at the crack of dawn to stay awake on my way back from a war zone. When I suddenly looked to my left hand side to see the the Mother of God and our Lord looking right at me, there is nothing that I can say now other than it was and still is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Having been in a very harsh environment for longer than I had ever wanted to, seeing such a thing reaching out to me was like having my family reaching out to comfort me when I didn't expect them to. I had never experienced anything like this in my twenty-one years of life.

I almost missed my connection flight to Germany on account that I had such a difficult time leaving this icon. I thought I would miss something if I would have left. Maybe I did? At any rate, after pacing back and forth from the terminal about seven or eight times, I did my final cross (I knew how to do this because I was raised Catholic!), I snapped the last picture with my cheap CVS wind-up camera and I left to make it on time for my flight.

The complete significance of my encounter with the Mother of God that day didn’t actually occur to me until about seven years later when I was listening to a sermon by a priest who was on a furlough from his mission in Kyrgyzstan. He was speaking at the Chapel at Holy Cross this past year during the OCMC missions week. While I have no doubt that God does as he pleases and could have placed the icon there by his own direct intervention had he chosen to do so was the fact that an entire process of labor and witness of a group of people had actually taken place for a specific reason before I wandered up to it.

What occurred to me was that perhaps the most important aspect of my experience in the airport  was that the icon of our Holy Mother was placed there to reach out to me and to everyone else who would have been fortunate enough to walk by her. The icon was not hidden in an airport chapel or behind some desk, her presence and that of our Lord was a window to heaven, it was and still is a truly evangelistic witness to the life and Glory of God!

It may sound strange, but I actually spent days and nights completelly fascinated with how incredible it must have been for whoever put that icon on the wall of the airport terminal in the middle of the airport before I wandered up to it! I thank God to this day that I was able to take a picture of our Holy Mother with the last picture of my cheap wind-up camera. This photograph that hangs on the wall of my home today always serves as a reminder to me that Christ is always in our midst, and that the Mother of God is always comforting and interceding for us when we least expect her to be.

I can’t help but feel that as a soldier returning home from the war in Afghanistan that I may very well have been converted to the Faith by the fruits of the missionary efforts that resurrected the Church in the former Soviet Union. For this reason, I feel so much love for all people who under communist oppression.

This is one of the things that motivates for me in my love for the mission of the Church, and by God's grace I pray that I will be able to serve Him and his people in whatever capacity I can.

As a former member of the Special Forces and as the son of a Green Beret, this gives an entirely new meaning to the Special Forces motto: ("De Oppresso Liber" - "Free the Oppressed")

To God belongs the Glory. Amen.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Lord, it is good for us to be here" - St. Peter (Matthew 17:4)

I would like to first thank Ms. Pamela Barksdale for the article that she recently published about the visit of our mission team to the Roma/Gypsy camp on the outskirts of Tirana Albania. Pamela is a wonderful person and she is a long term missionary in Albania. Her article can be accessed on the OCMC website Please keep Pamela, all of the people on her team, and all of the people who they are ministering to in your prayers.

If any of you who are interested and would like help by donating to International Orthodox Christian Charities, or are interested in helping the efforts of OCMC missionaries such as Pamela and the other fourteen long-term missionaries, feel free to follow these two links:

While many of the details have been well documented in Pamela's article, I will mention a few key points before I continue with my reflections 1.) We did visit a Roma encampment at a certain point during our stay in Albania. 2.) I wish we could have spent more time there. 3.) This brief visit for me, although I have certainly seen similar things, or even worse things in my own experiences was very transfiguring for myself, the other people in our group, and I believe very strongly that it allowed us all to see how visiting our Roma brothers and sisters allowed us to fully realize the Greatest Commandments of our Lord which were summarized in the Law and Prophets and revealed on the Mountain of Transfiguration is to "love the LORD your God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind," and to "love our neighbors as ourselves." (Matthew 22:37-40)  

I suppose that each one person in group (as well as the Gypsies themselves) probably looked at this situation from their own perspectives. For many reasons I feel very comfortable meeting and talking to Indo-Aryan people with whom at first glance I would have almost nothing in common with. My time in Afghanistan where many Indo-Aryan peoples originate from broke me of the habit of what some people refer to as "culture shock" or "cross-cultural awkwardness."

This openness lead me to a particular family, and to a very fruitful conversation that I had with one of the older men of the encampment. God forgive me - I forget his name but he was a very dignified, sober, well dressed, and well spoken man. We were very blessed to have been able to understand each other on account that he could understand a little bit of Greek, and I could understand a little bit of muslim terminology (Most Gypsies in Albania are Muslim).

We spoke for about twenty minutes, and I just listened as he told me about his faith in God, and about how he is content with his life because he has God in his heart. After this, I expressed our wished and prayers of God's blessings on him and his family. After we spoke, the rest of our group caught up, and the man's daughter started teasing a few of the guys in our group as they came. I assume that this was the case because I think that she called one of our team members (Rob) a "German" which made everyone laugh.  

It was very good for us to be there! I suppose that one of the main differences between us and the disciples on Mount Tabor however was that there were already tents in place. Christ also wouldn't not have minded if we had stayed longer than an hour or so. We had to leave because we had a tentative schedule to follow. We had to go to a clergy meeting with His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios and the rest of clergy of the Archdiocese.

As we left, I noticed how terribly my hands were burning from shaking hands with the gypsies and having other contact with them (slapping them on the shoulders, petting their dogs, horses,etc). When I was in Afghanistan my unit was often responsible for working with local people for a variety of reasons and it was never an issue for me to have personal contact with people. The reason why I was never afraid to touch anyone was because I was always wearing thin leather gloves whenever I went outside of our camp. This was in the event I had to touch anything such as an over-heated such as a gun barrel, expelled ammunition, anything that might be sharp, or whatever might be "unclean."

This trip to the Roma camp was the first time I had ever had "real" physical contact with people who are living in unsanitary conditions, might be diseased, and by our own standards are considered to be unclean. Since then I have thought to myself: How similar was the scene and the people that we had encountered to the biblical age? How many times have I overlooked situations like this in Afghanistan? Would these people have been considered the unclean gentiles that would have been scoffed at had it not been for God coming into the world and the Church's mission to the gentiles? What can we do to help these people from where we are right now? How soon can I get back over there?

Thank God that now these people are not untouchable gentiles. They are just people in need of Christ who need of help. By God's grace we can offer them both. For me this was truly a glimpse of what the Church's mission can be. Amen.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From War to Missions: a personal reflection on Ezekiel 33:1-6

As a twenty year old paratrooper at Ft. North Carolina in 2001 I would often hear about Sgt. Alvin C. York. Alvin York was a Christian who lived a reformed life after living a life of alcohol abuse and violence, and he entered the First world war as a declared pacifist. Despite this however, while serving in the 82nd Infantry Division (This was before the Army introduced airborne infantry!) he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for killing 28 German soldiers and capturing an additional 132 when leading a small group of soldiers under heavy machine gun fire at the battle of Meuse-Argonne in 1918.

The reason that I bring this up on a blog that is dedicated to missions is for the reason that I have to admit that as a soldier I was both mystified and inspired by the scripture verses from Ezekiel 33:1-6 that Sergeant York's battalion commander used to persuade him to fight the Germans. He did this by comparing York to Ezekiel in Chapter 33 where God likened Ezekiel to a sentry who must man his post at all costs when his people are confronted by war ("the sword") in order to save them:

And the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 "Son of man, speak to the sons of your people, and say to them, 'If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman; 3 and he sees the sword coming upon the land, and he blows on the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. 5 'He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life. 6 'But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman's hand.' (Ezekiel 33:1-6)

I would like to make s few observations. 1.) Eight years ago in Afghanistan, as a twenty year old soldier in Twentieth Special Forces Group (Airborne) in assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, and then again as a twenty-one year old, I was nowhere near as brave nor as honorable as Sergeant York ever was, nor was I as holy as the Prophet Ezekiel. 2.) In retrospect of the past eight years, I can't help but feel that York's commander was wrong when he applied God's calling of Ezekiel as the sentry of Israel to York's need to take up arms. 3.) I've also misunderstood these verses over the years. God help me!

As an Orthodox Christian who prays for peace and for the salvation of all, it is now very difficult for me not to look at verses such as these without looking at them in the greater context of God's intentions of our own need to cooperate with Him by proclaiming the gospel despite the turmoil that exists in the world. Warlike themes are certainly present in the scriptures to varying degrees, and there is room for discussion as to the various directions that these themes have gone throughout the history of our salvation, but I no longer see this particular message as one of them.

The calling of Ezekiel to stand watch over his people shows how we have a profound responsibility as the people of God to share the good news that we have received - especially when our Lord has commands us to share the news of salvation with such a profound sense of urgency. Our situation of living in a world that has yet to fully realize the love of Christ might not be entirely identical to that of Israel's at the time of Ezekiel's ministry, but it is no less urgent.

What was once my own un-orthodox understanding of God's calling to Ezekiel in comparison to what I now see as a calling for us to engage in the life giving endeavor of the Church's mission, it almost seems as if I have been struggling between whether or not the scriptures in instances such as this and ultimately God justifies the waging of war, or does He desire that we proclaim his Word to those who are in need of it.

We know when look to the history of our Church that includes our warrior saints, and our canonical tradition that has canons that pertain to warfare, we know that the Church has always been aware that the self-defense of society at large, and the preservation of the Church will be a reality until all wars come to an end (Is 2:4; Mic 4:3). With this in mind, I suppose that choosing the former outlook joins us to the momentum of the corruption that brings about the conditions of war. But, perhaps choosing the latter outlook as our goal, and acting upon it as if it is something that can be fulfilled in the present age could be the difference between living by the sword and continuously dying by it (Mt 26:52), or living in the fullness of Christ in order to offer it to the rest of the world for His greater glory. Amen.