25 Years Of Mission Work At St. Mary’s Cathedral

By Mary Varian

The following account is another example of the variety of ways one parish has responded to the needs of other Orthodox communities near and far. (See also Resource Handbook article, “Charitable Giving” by A. M. Gidus-Mecera, Vol. II, ‘92,2.)

Things are usually started because there is a need. St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral of Minneapolis, Minnesota started their “Mission Project” for that reason. The topic of “Missions” (or Aid to others) first appeared on the agenda of an “O” Club meeting (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America - an official organization of the Orthodox Church in America) in March, 1971. This was twenty five years ago so we are celebrating the Jubilee this year. Presently we have 24 dedicated people on our Committee. Father Nicholas Gabora, pastor of our parish at the time, expressed the need to support “Missions.” Our first project was to help Juneau, Alaska. The parish there needed a furnace for the church and the parish home, so in April, 1971, we launched a drive to cover the costs. In addition to money raised by the church, the Jr. “R” Club held a “Walk for Juneau.” The grand total of almost $4,000 enabled us to provide warmth for both facilities. Fr. David Homiak was the priest there at the time.

Since that initial project, many others have been undertaken. We had eight Talent Shows within eight years with proceeds of over $7,000 being sent to the church in Alaska. Two Luaus were held. Profits from the one were sent to Alaska, from the other to Mexico. Parishioners of St. Mary’s also helped the church in Alaska by making a down payment on a van to bring the Miraculous Icon of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Kazan to the “lower ‘48.” After bringing the icon down, the van then went back up to be used by St. Herman’s Theological Seminary.

Aid To Orthodox Across The Ocean

In 1989, Fr. Kwami Labi and his wife Gertrude, of Ghana, were guests of the Cathedral. In telling us about Orthodoxy in their country, they indicated that a group was being formed from the United States to go to Ghana and help put up a building to house a parish home and an office. Kathy Jurichko, representing our parish, became a member of that group. The experience she had, helping to erect the building, is one she says she’ll never forget. Material for cassocks was also given to the church in Ghana.

St. Mary Magdalene Church, Jerusalem, Israel is located on the slope of the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the place where Jesus spent His last night on earth. As a historic landmark, it should be preserved, but it is in a bad state of deterioration. A Gethsemane Restoration Project has been launched by the Convent there, and the Mission Committee sent a contribution.

Another project was to help the Lineer Family, parishioners who had gone to East Germany with a non-OCA group called “Youth With A Mission Family Ministries.” Their particular purpose was to teach people about Orthodoxy. Life was difficult for them there, and our Mission Committee sent them funds to help with their living expenses. They have since returned to our parish.

Projects In Eastern Europe

In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, a number of projects offered aid to our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe. Money from our parishioners first of all, helped to build the church in Bardejov, Republic of Slovakia. In 1990, we restored a 100 year old Slavonic Gospel that we had in our Cathedral. Money collected from 3 coffee hours paid for the restoration as well as for a cross. These 2 items were sent in memory of Fr. Karp Pateyuk (a priest of our parish) to the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church in Liahovtcy, Belarus. This was the first church Fr. Pateyuk served in after his ordination to the priesthood.

In 1992 we received a Sister Parish, St. Nicholas Cathedral in St. Petersburg. We collected and sent them clothing, shoes, clergy shirts, and gave them a money gift as well.

Since 1992 we’ve participated in four OCA Humanitarian Aid collections, gathering large numbers of boxes of food, clothing and medication for Petrozavodsk, Moscow, cities in Belarus and Ukraine. Our donation included medical equipment, a gift from the University Hospital in Minneapolis, 105 cartons of medical supplies and medicines, and a cash donation to buy additional medicines.

We sent books on Orthodoxy and Bibles from Light and Life Publishing Co. to Fr. Daniel Hubiak, our OCA representative in Moscow, to use and distribute. The Committee has also agreed that the organization, Religious Books for Russia, needs our help. We recently sent them $500 for the printing of books for children.

Money was also donated to Fr. Hubiak’s church, St. Catherine’s, when four of our church school teachers went to Moscow in 1995 to share church school teaching methods with Russian church school teachers. Our teachers took along lots of church school supplies as well as medical supplies.

Closer To Home

Here in the US, the Committee has supported a number of missions and churches with donations for various needs. The parishes included

SS Peter and Paul in the heart of Salt Lake City
St. Innocent, Tarzana, CA to help repair damages from the earthquake
St. Nicholas Mission, Billings, Montana
St. Andrew Mission, Minoqua, WI
St. Matthew Mission, Green Bay, WI
Holy Resurrection Church, Clinton, MS
St. Herman Seminary, Kodiak, AK

Current Projects

The following are four of our current projects:

1. We learned that the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, FL has a “Support A Mission Priest Program.” Its goal is to generate enough funds to provide $50 per month for every indigenous Orthodox priest in Africa and Asia. Many of these priests have an annual income of less than $300. Some subsist in poverty on an income of less than $10 per month. There are about 100 of these priests and most have only foot transportation. Nevertheless they are called upon to serve several parishes in an area and must walk many hours to go from one parish to the next. Some use bicycles. This year St. Mary’s will adopt one priest for a year with a $600 donation.

2. In June, 1996 the Committee funded a workshop on “How to Evangelize from an Orthodox Perspective” given by Frank Schaeffer Jr. at the St. Matthew Orthodox Mission in Green Bay, WI. Over 100 people attended. The Mission, in thanking St. Mary’s for their help, noted that many more people are now aware of the Orthodox presence in their community. More than a dozen participants expressed an interest in attending a class on Orthodoxy, so the Mission has responded by setting one up.

3. Zachary Rose, a college member of our parish, spent this past summer building homes with Project Mexico. He videotaped some of his experiences there and showed it to the parish. The Committee was touched by the presentation and sent Project Mexico a monetary gift to continue its efforts.

4. Christ of the Hills Orthodox Monastery in Blanco, TX has had no rain since 1995. Water is expensive and hard to come by. The Committee sent a donation to help build cisterns so that when the rain comes, it can be stored.

Church-Wide Participation

On January 14, 1994, St. Mary’s “O” Club voted to turn the Mission Project Committee over to the Parish. This helped to increase the number of people we now have on the Committee.

Four different chairmen have worked with the Committee during these twenty five years. Four members of the present committee have been on it since its beginning. All of the members are volunteers.

One of the very effective ways we are raising money now is through our envelope system. Our parishioners receive offering envelopes each month. One envelope per month marked “Missions” is included. Our parishioners have been very generous through this system and we thank them wholeheartedly.

Our St. Mary’s Mission Committee suggests that everyone should get involved in mission work. As Orthodox, it is our Christian duty. It is a very satisfying and rewarding experience. Our Orthodox faith is the best kept secret. Through mission work, let’s help spread the word of Orthodoxy.

Questions for Discussion:

1. What is the mission and aid program in your parish? Who are some of the people that you’ve helped?

2. Which project experiences have made you feel closest to the Lord? Why?

3. What other aid projects might be good for the parish to consider?

Mary Varian is the present chairman of the St. Mary’s Cathedral Mission Committee, Minneapolis, MN. She and her husband, Protodeacon Peter Varian are among the Mission Committee’s founding members.