The Orthodox Church dates back to 33AD, on that day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ's disciples. They immediately began proclaiming the Gospel in languages which everyone around them could understand. Some 3000 souls were added to the Church that day! Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, could be thought of as the first Orthodox evangelism event, and the Church has continued to bring salvation to the world ever since! St Paul carried the light of Christ to the Greeks, Romans, and other gentiles, establishing and nurturing missions everywhere he went. Through his and the other apostles' efforts, and the efforts of all Christians, the faith spread rapidly. The Holy Spirit accomplished this enormous expansion through the preaching and teaching of great Church luminaries, and through faithful personal witnesses from friend to friend.
Orthodox missionaries took the Gospel outside the Roman world, converting the Irish, the Germans, and the Slavs to name a few. The zeal for evangelism shown by such saints as Cyril and Methodius and Innocent of Alaska serves as an example to all Orthodox Christians. In recent centuries, others have brought the Orthodox Christian faith to places like China, Japan and Indonesia. In the United States, thousands of Byzantine Catholics found their way back into the Orthodox fold through the evangelistic efforts of St Alexis Toth in the late 1800's. Most recently, the 1987 entry of 2000 former evangelical Protestants en masse into the Church has spurred a renewed drive to bring America to Orthodoxy.
Evangelism, or Christian outreach, is the responsibility of every Orthodox believer, not just the clergy. Our witness of Christ begins at home with what we teach our children, and moves from there to friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Most are not called to preach before large crowds, but we are all called by God to be witnesses in some way - both in deed and word. We must demonstrate our faith through how we lead our lives, and, to paraphrase St Paul, be prepared to express that faith when necessary. We remember St Photeine, the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well, who simply told people of her town about her experience with Jesus, and many believed in Him.
Why are sharing our Christian witness and establishing missions so important? Most simply, because that is Christ's Great Commission to us - to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28: 19). But more deeply, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the hopeless, The Way of salvation. God in His love and mercy towards us has drawn us to His Kingdom, and we have been blessed with the awesome privilege of sharing that "pearl of great price." And as Orthodox Christians, we believe the fullness of the Christian Gospel is found in the Orthodox Church. Thus, it is out of love and obedience to God, and love for our friends, neighbors, community and nation that we lead others to faith in Jesus Christ, add them to His holy body the Church, and raise up new missions to His glory.
O Christ our God, long-suffering, plenteous in mercy and most compassionate, You are worshipped and glorified, at all times and at every hour, in Heaven and on Earth. You love the righteous and have mercy on sinners. You call everyone to salvation through the promise of good things to come: assist us in fulfilling Your command to gather individuals from the highways and byways of our community so that we might fill the banquet hall of Your Church. Grant us wisdom in our conduct toward outsiders that we might make the most of the time. Let our speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that we might know how to answer everyone. Awaken all to Your salvation, and in due time make them worthy of the washing of regeneration, the remission of sins and the robe of incorruption. Unite them to Your Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and number them with Your chosen flock. That with us they may glorify Your all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.