The Brotherhood of St. Herman of Alaska was established at the podvorye (dependency) of Valaam Monastery in Moscow in 2014 on the initiative of a group of parishioners to carry on missionary, educational and parish activities. The nucleus and initial team of the brotherhood were formed at the courses of the Missionary Center in honor of the martyred Fr. Daniel Sysoev. The Brotherhood’s confessor is Igumen Joseph (Kryukov), rector of the Moscow Church of Sts. Sergius and Herman of Valaam (the Dependency of Valaam Monastery).
An important element of the activities of the Brotherhood members is street preaching.
Some five or seven years ago the words “street mission” provoked conflicting feelings among the Orthodox faithful. Some said with confusion, “Should we, Orthodox Christians, go out into streets and preach to strangers, like sects?”, whereas others argued, “We must witness to Christ by our lives and good deeds, while evangelism is a business of saints. As soon as you become a saint you will be able to reach out to people and ask questions about God.” But some time has passed, and today very few Orthodox people still ask themselves these questions. You can’t throw words out of the Gospel: Christ clearly calls upon all His followers to spread the Good News, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations (Mt. 28:19). And our tradition teaches us the same. According to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, time is coming when the mission will become the main focus of the Church.
Just over a year ago the Missionary Brotherhood of St. Herman of Alaska set itself an objective: to bear witness to and spread the Gospel of Christ among strangers in the streets. In modern Orthodox reality it is called “street mission”, and from a perspective of the New Testament – evangelizing those people who for some reason are unaware of or don’t understand the Holy Gospel.
Speaking with strangers in streets about the innermost things is a real challenge, a personal podvig [an exploit, a heroic deed] which can only be performed by somebody who came to wholeheartedly believe in the Truth and strives to live according to Its will. But if your faith is not firm enough or your life contradicts your message, then you will find thousands of lame excuses in order to get out of this God-pleasing work as soon as possible. Such Christians don’t want to bear in mind what the Lord prepared for those who love evangelism, Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins (Jam. 5:20). Only he who above all longs for the salvation of his soul from spiritual death is able to comprehend the words of Apostle James.
Sunday is a good day for street evangelism. You can start your talk with a passer-by with these words, “Happy feast!” The inexperienced stranger will ask you, “What feast is celebrated today?” Thus he will create favorable circumstances for evangelism without knowing it.
“When we come up to people we say that we are from the Russian Orthodox Church and ask them if they wish to talk about God,” Dmitry Zakharkin, President of St. Herman of Alaska Missionary Brotherhood, relates. “If our opponent agrees, then by leading questions we determine the level of his integration into Church life. Yet the greatest and most responsible task is still ahead—to proclaim the Good News of Christ to him and help him overcome false stereotypes. It is also necessary to determine the areas for special emphasis: If the person in question doesn’t believe in God, then we need to provide evidence of God’s existence; if he doesn’t believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we need to explain the criteria of the Word of God; if he feels confused by Church discipline or some rules, we need to give a clear, precise and substantiated reply based on the Holy Scriptures. There can be quite many various situations, and a missionary ought to be prepared for the most widespread ones. Thus, we always depart from the needs of people we talk to. Our duty is bearing witness to the Truth—the rest is the work of God.”
Members of the Missionary Brotherhood are sent out to streets by two, as the Savior Himself taught the apostles (see Mk. 6:7). Preaching must always be preceded by the missionary’s prayer, “Lord, even as Thou hast laid down Thy life for them…” While one missionary is talking with somebody in the street, his companion is repeating Jesus Prayer quietly to himself. Prayer accompanies every missionary at any time—before, during and after preaching. It guarantees spiritual strength and shields him from the snares of devil. Unless a missionary prays (not only during preaching, but in his everyday life in general), the Lord stops working through him and he is mocked by demons.
“Unfortunately, in my practice I have seen these excuses for missionaries more than once. They don’t try to lead a spiritual life and are under various delusions,” D. Zakharkin goes on. “The evil one jeers at such people in a particularly sophisticated manner as every missionary is automatically the satan’s personal enemy. Sometimes a person begins to feel panic at the very thought of preaching, cannot utter anything, finds lame excuses for avoiding his mission or behaves inappropriately prior to or during preaching. Some think that street evangelism is not a very important and serious cause, that you are allowed to behave in different ways, that you may go or not go preaching depending on your mood… These people err seriously, …not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God (Mt. 22:29).”
Once the martyred Fr. Daniel Sysoev—a prominent missionary priest—said that any missionary is unworthy of this ministry, even if his activity is very successful. “Though I am unworthy, I am going on a mission as the Lord has called me,” this is what Fr. Daniel used to say, as if responding to the opponents of this ministry. Despite being sinners and realizing their unworthiness, members of St. Herman’s Orthodox Missionary Brotherhood respond to the calls of Christ and the Holy Church to go out into the world and proclaim the Good Tidings of Christ.
“I hold that if you happen to end up at a missionary club, or fellowship, or association, it is truly God’s call to serve the great mission of the Orthodox Church,” D. Zakharkin believes. “It is essential for you to hear this calling and follow Christ, no matter what doubts may emerge at that point. It is a crime to give up your missionary activities after you were called by Christ Himself.”
Today there are only a handful of missionary teams that are engaged in street mission in Moscow. The work of only fifteen to twenty missionaries covers Moscow—this huge megalopolis with twelve million residents. There are priests among them, but you could count them on the fingers of one hand… St. Nicholas of Japan spoke about the problems of missions more than 100 years ago, “We lack missionary awareness. It has to do with the baneful idea, or, to be more precise, feeling that Orthodoxy exists only for you.” We, Orthodox Christians living in the twenty-first century, can only agree with these words.
What gives us hope is a modest yet well-formed movement of young missionaries who are eager to bring the Light of Christ to the world all obstacles notwithstanding. Missionary communities are becoming stronger and the cooperation (including practical cooperation) between missionary centers is developing. St. Herman of Alaska Missionary Brotherhood is conscious of it and attracts ever more attention by organizing various missionary initiatives and events that increase awareness of the goals and objectives of the modern mission.
The era of mission is at hand. Where should we begin? First of all, reach out to the seekers of the Truth. Let us bear in mind the words of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia: “We need to go beyond the Church gate and move forward independently… Where? To the street… Now I am going to say something that will shock many: We need to go to factories and farms, to railway stations and on trains, to crossroads… To walk just as the apostles did. It is because preaching is an activity associated with moving towards others.”