Orthodox Christian Mission Center
The Orthodox Christian Mission Center is the official Orthodox Missions and Evangelism Agency established by the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, and now an agency of the Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America. The headquarters of the OCMC is in St. Augustine, Florida. It supports Orthodox missionary activities world wide and currently includes training and sending missionary teams to countries such as Argentina, Paraguay, Uganda, Tanzania, Albania, Korea, Puerto Rico, and Philippines. The teams preach, teach, and baptize as well as minister to the poor, hungry, suffering, and orphaned. They also strive to strengthen the infrastructures of the local churches through development of local leaders.
The roots of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center go back to the late 1950's, when students at Holy Cross School of Theology began to accept students from sub-saharan Africa. Other members of the student body began a Missions Committee to raise support for their fellow-students, and to raise consciousness in general about the work of the Church in Africa. Among the leaders of this effort was Alexander Veronis, later to become the founding President of OCMC.
As the students touched by this outreach graduated and began to serve parishes in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, their interest in mission followed them and began to have an impact across the Archdiocese. In response to a proposal at the 17th Clergy-Laity Congress in 1966, the Archdiocese organized the Standing Committee on Missions. This committee, composed of twenty volunteer clergy and lay members, conducted an annual solicitation for overseas Missions throughout the parishes of the Archdiocese, primarily directed at providing scholarship assistance to Mission students from Uganda, Kenya, Korea, and Mexico. Bishop Silas of Amphipolis was the Chairman of the Standing Commitee. Fr. Alexander Veronis and Fr. Alexander Doumouras served to coordinate the efforts of the Committee, but there was no salaried staff dedicated to the committee or to missions efforts.
St. Augustine, Florida
In 1984, the 27th Clergy-Laity Congress approved the creation of a permanent office for the mission effort, as well as the appointment of a salaried Executive Director. Fr. Dimitrios Couchell was appointed by Archbishop Iakovos as Executive Director of what was now called the Archdiocesan Mission Center. St. Photios National Shrine in St. Augustine, Florida provided the first offices for the Center. The first edition of the Mission Center's semiannual publication "Mission," identified the continuation of scholarships to ten mission students as a key priority, along with direct support to the Makarios III Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi, St. Herman's Seminary in Kodiak, indigenous priests in Ghana and Korea, and support for missionaries from the Church of Greece serving in Africa. By the end of 1985, the Mission Center had announced the appointment of the first full time missionaries to Africa (Fr. Daniel and Nancy Christopoulos), as well as sent a study team to Ethiopia, Ghana, and Kenya.
An early project of the Mission Center was the establishment of Mission Teams, groups of short-term workers from America that would visit mission communities in the developing world, ostensibly to work on building projects, but also in doing so to provide witness to the local communities. The first team, under the leadership of Fr. Paul Costopoulos, visited Laikipia, Kenya in 1987 to build the Nativity of Christ Orthodox Church. The following year, another team led by Fr. Alexander Veronis constructed a medical clinic in Chavogere, Kenya. The Mission Board followed up by supporting the provision of medical personnel and funds to support the clinic. According to the website of the OCMC, by 2007 twenty teams annually were being organized and sent to ten countries.
The Mission Center also organized fundraising programs designed to raise consciousness at home and to creatively tap new sources of revenue. An early effort was the Support a Mission Priest program, which sought to identify monthly donors to provide for the payment of regular stipends to indigenous clergy working in developing countries. The Agape Canister Program placed collection boxes in restaurants, stores, and other businesses with large volumes of foot traffic. Members of the public were invited to support humanitarian efforts globally by dropping coins and bills into the boxes, which were collected by volunteers who forwarded the funds to the Mission Center. To encourage business owners who might have concerns about soliciting for religious purposes, the Mission Center identified specific humanitarian projects to be the recipients of the monies collected through the canisters.
Mission Center becomes OCMC
Although an agency of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, the Mission Center had early in its life included members on its Board from other Orthodox jurisdictions under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, such as the Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America and the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese. In 1993, Charles Ajalat proposed to Archbishop Iakovos that the Mission Center become an agency of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, thus expanding the scope of its ministry. This concept was embraced by the Mission Center Board and the SCOBA members, and was approved by the 32nd Clergy-Laity Congress. Consistent with the change of ownership, the Archdiocesan Mission Center changed its name to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center.
The Board of the Mission Center was restructured. Previously, the Board had consisted of three members from each of the constituent dioceses in the Archdiocese of America. Under the new structure, each of the member jurisdictions of SCOBA was allocated seats on the Board, the Board members being appointed by the primates of their respective jurisdictions.
The Archdiocesan Mission Center had been responsible for both domestic and foreign (i.e., outside North America) mission efforts on behalf of the Archdiocese. Although the original intention was for the OCMC to have this role for SCOBA, some of the jurisdictions balked at moving their domestic ministries to the new entity. Accordingly, the Board determined to redefine its efforts to focus exclusively on foreign missions. Since this meant that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese no longer had a domestic mission agency, a new Department of Missions was set up under the umbrella of the Archdiocese.
The reorganization of OCMC coincided with the end of communism in Eastern Europe. Bolstered by the participation of the jurisdictions with roots in Russia and Eastern Europe, the OCMC became engaged in providing resources and mission teams to work with the newly emerging churches, especially in Albania, where the church was emerging from total suppression.
Fr. Martin Ritsi
Fr. Dimitrios Couchell was elected Bishop of Xanthos in 1998 and transferred to New York to take up new responsibilities as SCOBA General Secretary. Fr. Martin Ritsi, who had been a missionary in Kenya and Albania since the early days of the Mission Center, was selected as the new Executive Director. Fr. Martin brought a renewed focus on the sending of individual long-term missionaries, particularly couples with children. By 2006, the OCMC website reported that sixteen missionaries and mission families were serving, with a strong emphasis on assignments in Albania.
At its founding in 1984, the Mission Center shared facilties with the St. Photios Shrine in St. Augustine. It was quickly realized that the limited facilities were not sufficient to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding program. A property was acquired at 92 Cedar Street in St. Augustine, and proclaimed the "Fr. Alexander Veronis Orthodox Mission Center." With the support of several large benefactors and a major fundraising drive, the mortgage was paid off in 1990. By 2003, the OCMC had moved into a new facility at 85 South Dixie Highway, with plans to create an even larger facility which would allow for training and educational facilities in addition to office and storage space.
Board of Directors
- Clifford T. Argue, President
- Fr. Chad Hatfield, Vice President
- Fr. Raymond Valencia, Treasurer
- Fr. George Liacopoulos, Secretary
- Fr. Alexander Veronis, President Emeritus
- Fr. Nicholas Anctil
- Fr. John Chakos
- Fr. Louis Christopoulos
- George Conopeotis
- Patrick Crosson
- Cina Daskalakis
- John Demakis, M.D.
- Fr. Peter Gillquist
- Robert Gremley
- Fr. John Harvey
- Fr. Gregory Horton
- Fr. David Hudson
- Fr. Dimitri Leussis
- George Marangakes
- Fr. Constantine Mersinas
- Fr. Luke Mihaly
- Scott Mitchell
- Helen Nicosizis
- Fr. Ted Pisarchuk
- Fr. John Rallis
- Elizabeth Slanta
- Fr. Matthew Tate
- Fr. Nicholas Verdaris
- Gayle Woloschak, M.D.
- Andrew Yiannakos
- Fr. Martin Ritsi, Executive Director
- Fr. David Rucker, Associate Director
- Andrew J. Lekos, Mission Teams
- John-Paul Conners, Development
- Alex Goodwin, Communications
- Kenny Kidd, Agape Canister & SAMP
- Jack Klees, Finance
- Fr. Alexander Veronis, 1984-1988
- Fr. Paul Costopoulos, 1988-1992
- Fr. John Chakos, 1992-1996, 1998-2000
- Fr. Constantine Zozos, 1996-1998
- Helen Nicosizis, 2000-2004
- Clifford T. Argue, 2004-present