St. Augustine: The Center for Worldwide Orthodox Missions
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
Little did the first Greek immigrants to the United States know that their indentured servitude would transform this city into the center of worldwide Orthodox missions.
The City of St. Augustine is unique in that not only is it the oldest city in America, it serves as home to the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the St. Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). Hence, the oldest city in America is home to the Shrine dedicated to the first Greek settlers who practiced the original Christian faith and the OCMC, whose mission it is to spread Orthodox Christianity throughout the world.
The present-day shrine is housed in an old home called the Avero House, built by a Spanish family in 1749. The first Greek immigrants to arrive in the United States came to Florida in 1768 and after a disastrous attempt to settle a small colony in New Smyrna, south of St. Augustine, 291 indentured Greek settlers fled and found refuge in the English city of St. Augustine. The English governor provided the Avero house to the refugees as a place for them to gather and worship, but eventually the home passed to private ownership. When the local Greek community learned of the home’s availability on the market in 1965, plans were made to purchase it. Work was completed in 1982 making it the only Greek National Shrine in the United States, the St. Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine. The Shrine now houses a reliquary containing bone fragments from 18 saints and certified by the Vatican.
In 1962, a Foreign Missions Committee which emphasized foreign cross cultural Orthodox missions was formed by Fr. Alexander Veronis in Lancaster, PA. This committee evolved into the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan (GOA) Mission Committee in 1966, and later into the GOA Mission Center (1984) located in New York City at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States. In 1984, this GOA Mission Center was transferred to the St. Photios Shrine here in St. Augustine, and Fr. (later Bishop) Dimitrios Couchell was appointed as the Executive Director.
By 1987, the GOA Mission Center outgrew the facilities of the St. Photios Shrine and purchased its first Mission Center House located in the center of the city. The Board named it the “Father Alexander Veronis Orthodox Christian Mission Center”. It would serve as the administrative headquarters of the Missions Center for the next 20 plus years. In 1994, the GOA Missions Center expanded into a Pan-Orthodox Mission Center and took the new name of OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center).
The GOA Missions Center began sending short term mission teams from the United States to East and West Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana) in 1987 and later to 25 other countries. The purpose of these teams was and is to spread the gospel, to build Orthodox churches, schools, medical clinics, and to strengthen the Orthodox Church and faith as needed. They also introduced Orthodox Christians from the United States to cross-cultural Orthodox missions.
Today, thousands of short-term and hundreds have long-term missionaries have served in more than 30 different countries under the OCMC. They consist of clergy, physicians, nurses, teachers, catechists, social workers, church builders, translators, and volunteers of all ages.
In 2010, the OCMC expanded again and erected and dedicated a new mission center on 20 acres of land in St. Augustine to accommodate its expanded ministries. The new building was named “The Archbishop Anastasios and Archbishop Dimitrios Mission Training Center and Administration Building”. Both hierarchs, whose names appear in the title, have been strong promoters of cross-culture missions during the growth of the OCMC. The new Center contains facilities for training and housing missionaries, as well as OCMC administrative offices.
The goal of the OCMC is to make disciples of all nations by bringing people to Christ and His Church based on Christ’s Great Commission. “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
The vision of the OCMC is that all people may come to know the saving love of our Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The OCMC values 1) proclaiming and witnessing Christ to all people with priority given to those who have never heard or accepted the Gospel; 2) sharing the love of Christ for the care of the total person, spiritual and physical; 3) ministry in the language and culture of the people. 4) well-trained missionaries, staff, board, supporters, indigenous leadership and those being served; 5) communities, parishes, and individuals that are mission-minded and have active mission involvement; 6) being an open and transparent agency that promotes the gifts of stewardship provided by the faithful.