As the deacon or priest elevates the Holy Gifts during the Divine Liturgy, he says, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.” These words, based on I Chronicles 29:14, remind us that the Liturgy is not “ours,” because it is offered for all people. The words also remind us that we have no gifts to offer God that are “ours” and not already His. In fact we have nothing that is ours–but we do have a God Who graciously “deigns to accept at our hands” that which we offer Him.
Guiding our actions by these words is one way for each of us to “expand the mission” in our own parishes. Many of our parish communities happily welcome and accept visitors and newcomers. But there are still parishes in which visitors may be ignored, treated indifferently, or made to feel downright uneasy. Perhaps that happens when parish members forget that the Liturgy, the Church, the coffee hour are not “theirs”–at least not according to the words they hear each time the Holy Gifts are offered.
We all know people who became part of the Orthodox Christian family because someone welcomed them on their first parish visit and encouraged them to continue exploring the faith. These seekers-who-became-members bring diverse personal abilities to the Church, including skills that strengthen our collective effort to reach out to more people. In other words, they help us “expand the mission.” How can we do less than welcome them, in the name of the One to Whom everything belongs, and from Whom everyone receives?
Matushka Valerie Zahirsky (SVOTS ’74) chairs the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Education. She is the wife of Archpriest Michael Zahirsky (SVOTS ’75), Rector of Saints Peter and Paul Church, Moundsville, WV. This article first appeared in the commemorative book for the 18th All American Council and is republished here with permission of the author.