"A Sacramental Vision of Mission"
A Sacramental Vision of Mission
Fr. Edward Rommen
According to Orthodox thought the Gospel is not information about a person but rather the person of Christ himself. He is the good news. For that reason we understand the primary task of mission to be personally introducing Christ to those who do not yet know him so that they, through faith, can enter into communion with him and begin the journey to salvation. We know that the ascended Christ is generally present everywhere. But we also know that he specifically manifests himself regularly in certain places, in particular the Eucharistic assembly of the Church. The faithful who celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Church experience the real presence of Christ and are then dismissed out into the world to invite others to come and see Him for themselves. This has been called “the Liturgy after the Liturgy.” (Bria 1996). The Church and its sacraments are thus seen as the beginning and end of its mission.
1. God’s redemptive purpose in history.
The point of departure for this understanding of mission is the personal nature of the tri- hypostatic God that all true Christians worship. We confess that God exists as one nature (essence) in three persons. That is, the divine essence is hypostasized (Zizioulas 2004) as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This tri-hypostatic union is sustained by a self-giving (kenotic) love by which the Father begets the Son who reveals the Father and from the Father there proceeds the !1 Chapter in The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Discussion. Edited by Craig Ott, 2016 Holy Spirit who rests on the Son and facilitates the revelation of the Father through the Son. (Rommen 2013, 2-4)
This kenotic communion is the mode of God’s existence. This inter-trinitarian communion is part of the essence and the life of God who exists as eternally three, as relationship fulfilled, simple, without motion, devoid of becoming. There is nothing toward which God is progressing, no temporality that could be measured by time, he has no spacial dimension that might be contrasted with another place. In other words, the tri-hypostatically existing God is all that there is, He is the very fullness of being.
This inter-trinitarian communion is as stated personal. (Zizioulas 2010) This emphasis causes us to ask ‘who’ God is rather than ‘what’ he is. God does not exist simply as substance (ousia), but rather as person (hypostasis), three persons. The ‘who-ness’ of God is obviously tied to the inter- trinitarian relationships: the Father, for example, revealed by his relationship to the Son and the Spirit. Thus, while each divine person freely posits His own being and is independently self- aware, this is done tri-hypostatically so that each hypostasis shares equally in the I-ness of divinity without losing individual characteristics. However, that I-ness is not a self-serving being, but rather the self-emptying freedom of person in service to the other hypostases, not a defining of the boundaries of its own being, but rather a transcending of those boundaries for the sake of the Others. So self-awareness includes an awareness of non-I, Other (Zizioulas and McPartland 2006) which allows for the self-actualization of or the self-determination of personhood. But again, divine personhood does not exist by itself, but rather in relationship to Other, thus overcoming the I/non-I distinction by sharing essence and I-ness so completely that it is possible to speak of the divine person, a divine I, the ‘who’ of divine existence. One thinks here of Jesus’ words “I and my Father are one” (John 10:32) and “I am in the Father and the Father is in me (John 14:11). There is then within the Trinity a sharing of knowledge which is complete, having no beginning, no ending, no becoming. God is as the eternally existing, tri-hypostatic divine person.
Because the three Persons of the Trinity are of one essence, they share unmediated participation in every aspect of divine being—all knowledge, every thought, and all truth. Each is equi-divine, equi-pre-eternal. So saying that the Son and the Spirit are of the same essence or substance as the Father implies that divine substance possesses a relational character. It is only as the Father-Son- Spirit relationship that God fully and eternally exists as uncreated divinity. For God to be means that he must be in relationship. In other words, the very substance—the ontological essence—of God can be conceived of as communion.
If God’s being is by nature relational, and if it can be signified by the word ‘substance’ can we not then conclude almost inevitably that, given the ultimate character of God’s being for all ontology, substance inasmuch as it signifies the ultimate character of being, can be conceived only as communion? (Zizioulas 2004, 84)
So the most important affirmation we can make about God is not about his nature, what he is, but rather about his person, who he is. This has profound implications for our understanding of creation, in particular the creation of human beings. God, who is a personal being, inscribes something of his own personal nature into humanity by fashioning human beings after his own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26,27). In Orthodox theology these two terms “image” and “likeness” are considered to be distinct aspects of human being. The image of God is that which reflects God’s personal nature in human beings. It is that which all human beings have in common and that which constitutes the human person. It is the static or constitutive aspect of human being (Mantzaridis 1984, 21). By breathing into humankind His own Spirit (Gen.2:7), God creates a link between his own person and that of the human being and with it the human capacity for the personal experience of God. Human personhood is contingent upon this divine- human link and thus exists in the likeness of God.
However, this likeness is just a beginning, a point of departure. It is the dynamic aspect of human being that points to the potential of becoming increasingly and finally completely like God in his personhood and character. The consummation of this likeness is the end toward which all human beings have been destined, it is in a word salvation. According to Mantzaridis, the likeness is something we must acquire ourselves, having received the possibility of doing this from God. To become like God depends upon our will and is acquired in accordance with our own activity.
Likeness to God, while it constitutes the goal of human existence, is not imposed on man, but is left to his own free will. By submitting himself freely to God’s will and being constantly guided by His grace, man can cultivate and develop the gift of the ‘image’ making it a possession individual, secure and dynamic, and so coming to resemble God.” (Mantzaridis 1984, 21-22).
In order to progress along this path toward God-likeness, what the Orthodox call the journey of theosis, the individual has to maintain a personal relationship of faith to God, who is the source of all life. Or to put it another way, they have to be in and actively maintain communion with God. If that personal relationship is neglected or even denied, the individual is cut off from the very source of humanity and drifts toward ever-increasing corruption of character and person. This is exactly what happened when our fore-bearers defied God’s instructions and set out ontheir own, bringing corruption and ultimately death as well as a propensity to sin. The process of theosis was disrupted.
Having left its divinely established trajectory, humankind is cut off from life, unable to correct or save itself. Without divine intervention all of creation would be lost. And so God chooses to personally engage humanity by taking on human form, coming to us in the form of a personal being. In the incarnation Christ demonstrates the ultimate end of humankind (especially in the Transfiguration), the perfect human being, and guides us toward that end. On the cross, of course, he does much more than that by voluntarily sacrificing himself to free us from the curse of the law and from the guilt of our own sin. In the resurrection he defeats death and provides the hope of the resurrection to all who believe on him.
So we are correct in associating the Incarnation with the redemption of humankind, a divine response to the fall. Nevertheless, the Incarnation is not just a divine afterthought brought on by human fallenness. The Scriptures clearly teach that the Incarnation was “predetermined before the creation of the world” (1Pt. 1:19-20, 1 Cor. 2:7, Eph. 1:4), that is before the Fall (Bulgakov 2008, 168).
These texts make clear that the coming of the Son into the world is not only an act of God’s providential government of the world, an act proceeding from God’s interaction with the world. It is also God’s primordial grace, existing before the creation of the world, that is, constituting the very foundation and goal of the world. One can even say that God created the world in order to become incarnate in it, that he created it for the sake of his Incarnation (Bulgakov 2008, 169).
This predetermined necessity of the Incarnation points to the divine-human relationship itself that, while after the fall it contains the need for redemption, is nevertheless set into a larger context, namely the divine desire to personally commune with human beings and to personally communicate divine life so that creaturely becoming can find its end in complete communion (likeness, theosis) with God. As St. Athenasuis put it “for He was made man that we might be made god (theopoie, i.e., to make divine); and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father” (Athenasius, 54,3). The same idea is expressed by St. Irenaeus who points out “the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself” (Irenaeus, V, Preface). Again he says that “it was necessary, at first, that nature should be exhibited; then, after that, that what was mortal should be conquered and swallowed up by immortality, and the corruptible by incorruptibility, and that man should be made after the image and likeness of God” (Irenaeus, IV, 38). It is to this end that Christ came into the world, as an example of the benefits of communion with God and to make that communion possible.
How, then, do we to appropriate the things that Christ accomplished in his life, on the cross, and through the resurrection, now that he is no longer physically with us? How is a personal relationship with one who is absent even possible? Presence-in-absence is possible if the absentee leaves something of himself in the void created by the departure (Zizioulas and McPartland 2006, 162). This is clearly the case when an artist’s presence is mediated through a painting left for others. As part of his Ascension and glorification, Jesus asks the Father to send “another Comforter” (John 14:16). When the events of Pentecost are read in the context of Jesus’ last discourse (John 14-16), it becomes apparent that the real significance of the the event is the personal or hypostatic descent of the third person of the Trinity. Jesus speaks about him abiding with the disciples forever, teaching them, and reminding them of all that Christ taught them (John 14:26). The Spirit’s personal character is evident in references to such activities as searching, helping, groaning in prayer (Rom. 2:10, 8:26), and in the possibility that he can be grieved (Eph. 4:30). So in this case the now “absent “Christ, puts something of himself, not an object, but another person of the Godhead with which he is one, into the void. So the Incarnation and Pentecost have the same content and the Holy Spirit continues to personally mediate the presence of Christ.
This gift of the Holy Spirit represents a release of divine personhood, a kenotic transcendence of divine-human boundaries that allows Christ to remain personally present-in-absence.This abiding presence is expressed in a prayer near the end of the Divine Liturgy.
Attend, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, from thy holy dwelling place and from the glorious throne of thy kingdom, and come to sanctify us, O thou that sittest with the Father above, and that art invisibly present here with us. And vouchsafe, by thy strong right hand to impart to us thine immaculate body and thy precious blood, and through us, to all thy people (Dmitri 2003, 155)
The salvation of a human being, then, depends on a personal relationship, communion with the resurrected and ascended Christ. Our lives, our destinies are contingent upon this relationship. That being the case, the most pressing duty for the Christian witness is to introduce the person of Christ to those who do not yet know him. This is not simply a matter of transmitting information, but rather of bringing two persons together in a salvific union of faith. Ultimately, it is this personal encounter between Christ and the sinner that is decisive for salvation.
2. The Role of the Church
When a person meets Christ and re-establishes a personal relationship with him through faith, they are returned to a prelapsarian state, something the Fathers see happening through what they call a recapitulation. The basic idea here is that Christ has reversed or undone the damage done by Adam’s fall into sin, that is, death is overcome and sin is forgiven (Irenaeus, 5,21,1). The individual comes into renewed communion with Christ. But being put back on the path is no guarantee that the individual will remain there. In fact, given the general fallenness of the world and the myriad temptations and dangers, the chances of doing any better than our fore-bearers did are rather slim. For that reason God in his wisdom has given us the Church and its sacraments, a safe context for living out the faith as well as the practical tools needed to remain in communion with Christ and to sustain the process of becoming like God.
It all begins with the sacrament of baptism through which God responds to our faith and initiates the spiritual journey, putting us on the path toward salvation. During the rite of baptism the priest calls down the Holy Spirit to bless the water and the oils used in the ceremony. Mediated by the Holy Spirit, Christ is thus present and active in washing the candidate clean, forgiving sins, and putting him on the way to salvation. This is immediately followed by the rite of Chrismation, during which the newly baptized person is anointed with a special oil, chrism, which entails the Church giving the candidate the gift and the personal presence of the Holy Spirit, without which the spiritual life would be impossible. As it is explained on the OCA’s web site
In chrismation a person is given the “power from on high” (Acts 1-2), the gift of the Spirit of God, in order to live the new life received in baptism. He is anointed, just as Christ the Messiah is the Anointed One of God. He becomes-as the fathers of the Church dared to put it—a “christ” together with Jesus. Thus, through chrismation we become a “christ,” a son of God, a person upon whom the Holy Spirit dwells, a person in whom the Holy Spirit lives and acts—as long as we want him and cooperate with his powerful and holy inspiration. Thus, it is only after our chrismation that the baptismal procession is made and that we hear the epistle and the gospel of our salvation and illumination in Christ (Hopko 1997)
Once initiated communion has to be maintained and so we are given the sacrament of penance. In light of the sinfulness of the world and the weakness of the human person, post baptismal sin is all but inevitable. This, of course, disrupts communion with Christ and the Church. The means of dealing with this is confession. Here the individual confesses his or her sins to Christ in the presence of a priest and then receives from the priest the promise of divine forgiveness. In this way the burden of sin is periodically removed rather than being allowed to accumulate and crush the individual.
The sacrament of penance exists in the Church to allow for the repentance and reconversion of Christians who have fallen away from the life of faith. There are three main elements to the act of formal penance. The first is a sincere sorrow for sins and for the breaking of communion with God. The second is an open and heartfelt confession of sins. At one time this confession was done publicly before all men in the midst of the Church, but in recent times it is usually done only in the presence of the pastor of the Church who stands in behalf of all. The third element of penance is the formal prayer of absolution through which the forgiveness of God through Christ is sacramentally bestowed upon the repentant sinner (Hopko 1997)
With one’s relationship to Christ and the Church restored the individual can then participate in the central sacrament of the Eucharist. “The fulfillment of penance consists in the reception of Holy Communion and the genuine reconciliation of the repentant sinner with God and all men according to the commandments of Christ” (Hopko 1997). During its celebration the priest calls down the Holy Spirit to consecrate the bread and the wine and thus mediate the real and personal presence of Christ to the participants. For the believer this is the most intimate form of divine-human communion. Through this communion with Christ the faithful receive the spiritual nourishment needed to continue the spiritual journey. This can be seen in the manifold benefits of taking communion. According to St. Basil, we receive the consecrated bread and wine for
the healing and purification and enlightenment and protection and salvation and sanctification of body and soul, for the turning away of every phantasy and all freely evil practice and diabolical activity working subconsciously in my members, for confidence and love towards Thee, for reformation of life and security, for an increase of virtue and perfection, for fulfillment of the commandments, for communion with the Holy Spirit, as a provision for eternal life, and as an acceptable defense at Thy dread Tribunal, not for judgment or for condemnation (Basil, 5,21,1)
So these sacraments in the context of the Church provide the believer with a safe haven, an operational context, as well as the practical tools and spiritual food needed for the journey to theosis. Actively participating in the life of the Church is the key to spiritual survival and growth. All of this advantages those who have met and believed in Christ, are brought into it by Him and are sustained by his ongoing presence in the Church.
What, then, of those who do not know Christ? In what way(s) does the Church provide or offer an opportunity for those who do not yet know Him to come and see him? Once again we have to come back to the Divine Liturgy and especially the Eucharist. We know from our study of history that the early Christians came together on the first day of the week for one purpose alone, namely to celebrate the Eucharist. In fact, it is in this eucharistic gathering that the Church is born and constituted. In order to serve the world, the Church has to begin by becoming fully itself, a context of Christ’s presence, and it does that by practicing weekly communion. The significance of this practice is rooted in the fact that Christ is really and personally present in the Eucharist. We know that he is generally present in all places. And we know that scriptures speak of God’s specific presence in certain places and at certain times. He was in the burning bush, the pillar of fire, on Mt Sinai, and had an ongoing presence in the tabernacle and the temple. So where does he manifest himself today, after the ascension, after he has been physically taken from us? The most obvious and historically affirmed answer is in the Eucharist. Here in the Church we encounter the very real, personal, actual presence of Christ. So we concluded that the Church is the privileged place of divine presence today. That being the case the Church and its celebration of the Eucharist offers a place to which we can invite people to come and see Christ. Here they can personally meet the risen and ascended Christ. That is certainly the experience of the faithful who participate in the celebration. That is expressed at the end of the Liturgy when they sing “we have beheld the resurrection,” “we have found the one true faith” and strengthened by the very presence of Christ they are sent forth into the world to bear witness to the divine presence they have experienced. In that sense the Liturgy and the Eucharist are being celebrated not only for the benefit of the faithful, but as a bridge to the non-believing world, as a service to those outside the Church. No wonder, then, that one of the prayers of preparation talks about Christ being “sacrificed for the life and the salvation of the world,” about his sacrifice being the “food of the whole world.”
Seen this way the Church is both the beginning and the end of all Christian witness. It is on the one hand the context of divine presence and thus the context in which the faithful meet Christ and from which they are dismissed into the world as witnesses of what they have seen. It is, on the other hand, the place to which the witnesses of the resurrection invite seekers to meet Christ personally. Because of this understanding of Christ’s presence in the Church, every one of the faithful bears the responsibility to go forth and witness. Whether or not they take that responsibility seriously is up to the individual believer. All too often the “come and see” idea has been used to justify an extremely passive witness or no witness at all. However, this is a misunderstanding of the Church’s place in the world and with careful instruction, ongoing reminders, and a little encouragement, the members of the Church can, and as history bears out, have been a powerful witness.
In addition to this everyday “army” of witnessing believers, the Church has also formally authorized certain individuals to engage in specific and sustained extending the Church. St. Augustine, for example, was sent by Pope Gregory to Britain around 596, St. Boniface was given full authority to preach the Gospel to the heathens in Germany in 719, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius being sent to the Muslims and later to the Slavs on the authority of a Synod called by Emperor Michael III in the 9th century (Schu?tz 1985, 34). More recently an Ecclesiastical Mission was assembled at the Valaam Monastery in 1793 and sent to preach the Word of God in Alaska (Korsun 2012). In 1991 Abp. Anastasios was appointed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to oversee the Orthodox mission to Albania (Veronis 2009). Armed with the confidence that comes through the personal experience of Christ’s presence in the Church and undergirded by the authority that comes from hierarchical legitimization, these pioneers (re)established the Church and introduced thousands to the living Lord. Throughout its long history the Orthodox Church has sought to bear witness along these two fronts, the large body of believers enlivened by Christ’s presence in the Church and the select few authorized by the Church to go forth and plant the Church, new places to which non-believers can be invited to come and see.
3. How this approach might differ from or augment other emphases.
As I see it the Orthodox approach to Mission differs from other models in at least three ways: a) it emphasizes the personal nature of the Gospel, b) it understands salvation in the larger context of theosis, and c) it gives the Church a more central role in facilitating and legitimizing mission.
a) Information versus Person. The most obvious difference between the Orthodox approach and those of our Western friends is the designation of the Gospel as Person rather than information. The Eastern Church has always been more interested in who God is as opposed to what he is. I clearly recall my own work as an Evangelical and I was very much committed to a frame of reference that viewed the Gospel first and foremost as information about Christ. In our 1989 book Contextualization: Contextualization. Meanings, Methods, and Models, David Hesselgrave and I defined contextualization as
the attempt to communicate the message of the person, works, Word, and will of God in a way that is faithful to God’s revelation, especially as it is put forth in the teachings of Holy Scripture, and that is meaningful to respondents in their respective cultural and existential contexts. Contextualization is both verbal and nonverbal and has to do with theologizing; Bible translation, interpretation, and application; Incarnational lifestyle; evangelism; Christian instruction; church planting and growth; church organization; worship style—indeed with all those activities involved in carrying out the Great Commission (Hesselgrave and Rommen 1989, 200)
This clearly puts the emphasis on information, on adapting a particular message to the various contexts we encounter around the world. Our primary concern was to figure out how to communicate the message of the Gospel in a way that was understood by the recipients. That practice focuses on the communication of a message about a person but not the introduction of the person proper. Obviously we need to mediate a certain amount of information about, among other things, the person of God. But, in the case of the Gospel, which is so clearly focused on an relationship between the risen, living, ever-present Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20, II Pt. 1:4) and the human being, an indirect presentation via information will prove less than effective. So, whatever else it might be, the mission of the Church involves the facilitation of a personal encounter with the Lord of life, Jesus Christ.
This approach is clearly shown in the account of the Apostle Nathaniel’s incorporation into Jesus’ band of disciples (John 1:43-51). We are told that Christ was introduced to Phillip then he finds Nathaniel but cannot introduce Christ directly, so he gives him information about Jesus, namely, that he is the one “...of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” But Nathaniel responds skeptically. Obviously information about Jesus was not enough. However, Phillip doesn’t argue the point. He simply says come and see for yourself, in other words come and meet him.
b) The Larger Context of Salvation, Theosis. According to almost every Christian Confession the doctrine of salvation is central to its teaching. This is also true of Orthodox theology. As Fr. Michael Pomazansky puts it “The dogma of salvation in Christ is the central dogma of Christianity, the heart of our Christian faith.” (Pomazansky 1994, 195) However, Orthodox theology has not produced the precise, logical systems so typical of Western thought. (Bajis 1996, 230) “In the Eastern Church there is no official pronouncement on the doctrine of salvation. The tradition of the Church concerning our reunion with God in Christ, our redemption or salvation or justification by God in Christ, has not been challenged in the East” (Agourides 1969, 190). For this reason we do not find many fixed dogmatic assertions on salvation even among the Fathers. What we do find is a universally held tradition that locates human salvation in the larger context of theosis. This allows the Orthodox to think about the redeeming effects of the cross and the resurrection without isolating them from the other aspects of salvific history such as the Ascension and Pentecost or from the overall context of the ultimate goal of humanity.
Many in the West have lost sight of this end and have developed a very narrow focus that emphasizes just a few aspects in the salvific process of to the exclusion of others. In most Western theology, including both the Roman and some Protestant, the context for understanding salvation has been largely limited to an axis defined by sin and redemption. There is no doubt that these are vital elements of soteriology. However, this narrowed approach leads to a truncated doctrine, because there is, on the one hand, no way of effectively relating these elements to the larger context of creation and the ultimate goal of humanity, deification. On the other hand, developing these teachings in isolation from the larger context, tends to distort, by over- or underestimating the importance of fundamental components of soteriology. For example, this approach allows some to emphasize, so completely, the idea of justification that, once achieved, it becomes the never-to-be-lost end of the salvific journey.
As the Orthodox see it, the context for soteriology is not fully defined by its most obvious and concrete benefit, i.e., redemption, but rather by God’s overall desire to commune personally with humankind in order to help them move towards their ultimate end, the complete likeness of God, that is by the wide context of creation and deification. So God creates the world to specifically facilitate this divine-human encounter and anticipates the incarnation as the concrete realization of that desire. Of course, the fall into sin and death, makes that move all the more urgent and Christ’s sacrifice puts things back on track (recapitulation). But that is not the end but rather the beginning of the journey. Faith in Christ and the sacrament of baptism puts one back on the right path—we have been saved. Our ensuing life in Christ is lived out on the context of the Church, sustained by the sacraments and leads us gradually toward Christ-likeness—we are being save. If we continue on this path to the end of our lives we enter into the Kingdom, where we partake fully in Christ-likeness—we will be saved. So this is a life long process of growth that depends entirely on initiating, maintaining, and improving our personal communion with Christ, our relationship with him. It is in Him that we move and have our being (Acts 17:28) and he has come to us in order to redeem us and in order to deify us.
c) A More Central Role for the Church As mentioned above Orthodox view the Church as both the place of the origin as well as the fulfillment of Christian mission. This understanding is rooted in the conviction that Church is the privileged place of divine manifestation today and that it is the weekly celebration of the Eucharist under the leadership of a canonically consecrated bishop or one of his ordained priests that actually constitutes the Church. “On the day of Pentecost the Disciples were filled by the Spirit and formed ‘into one body’ (I Cor 12:13) which they became in the Eucharist, accomplished by the Spirit and through the Spirit” (Afanas?ev and Plekon 2007, 1). “This Divine assembly of the People of God is realized each time in the Eucharist” (Afanas?ev and Plekon 2007, 9).
This practice became the pattern for the early Church. Confirming the New Testament pattern (Eph. 2:20, 2 Tim. 2:2) Clement of Alexandria states that “after the Resurrection the Lord gave the tradition of knowledge to James the Just, and John, and Peter, and these gave the tradition to the other apostles, and the other apostles to the Seventy... (Eusebius, II, I). So in the succession of bishops we have the continuation of Christ’s presence in the Church. Using excerpts from St. Cyprian of Carthage (Cyprian, 62) Thomas Lindsay summarizes the pattern which held sway until the Reformation.
According to Cyprian the bishop was the representative (antistes) of Christ in the community over which he ruled, and therefore he had the authority over that single congregation or church which our Lord possessed over the universal Church. He was the lord or viceroy over that portion of God's heritage. But Christ had this position of authority over His people because He represented His people in the presence of God; because He was their High Priest; because He had offered for them His own Body and Blood. The bishop, therefore, as the representative of Christ, is the priest of God, who in the Eucharist offers to God the "Lord's Passion," and "truly discharges the office of Christ" when he imitates that which Christ did "He offers a true and perfect sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered." The bishop brings the people into actual communion with Christ in the Eucharist, and they are united to Him in drinking the wine which is His Blood; whilst to God the Father is again presented the offering once made to Him by Christ (Lindsay 1903, 305).
Mediated by the Holy Spirit Christ is truly present in the holy mysteries of the Eucharist. It is here that the faithful “behold the resurrection,” rekindle “the one true faith” (Dmitri 2003, 161-162), and are given the unshakable confidence that comes from their personal encounter with Christ. Thus fortified they extend the action of the Liturgy into the non- or pre-ecclesial world around them.
The Church is also the core invitational context of mission. Knowing where Christ can be found the faithful invite, without hesitation, those who don’t yet know him to come and see, to meet him personally. Once that meeting has taken place the individual can be invited to enter into a saving relationship with him and become one of the faithful, at which point this evangelistic cycle begins again. So the real missionary potential of the Church lies not in special organizations or programs but in the Eucharistic assembly of the local Churches themselves. Obviously local Churches do not exist everywhere. But since the general witness of the faithful depends on the Church’s presence or rather Christ’s presence in the Eucharist we have to mention another aspect of mission, the more specific activity of establishing Churches where none exist. I think that in the West there has been the assumption that anyone who feels so called can engage in Church planting. The tendency toward self-authentication, which was known among the early heretics and schematics, was greatly exacerbated during the Protestant Reformation. At that time many groups simply discounted the need for such legitimization or, if they still felt the need for authenticity, simply assumed it. You see the implications of this non- ecclesially commissioned thinking in the missionary activity of the Moravians who went to Greenland in 1733.
However, in the Orthodox East the official extension of the Church into non-ecclesial areas has always involved the authorization of the missionaries by the reigning hierarchs. This pattern began when Christ conferred that authority upon the apostles, who in turn transmitted it to “their lawful successors in an unbroken chain to the present representatives of Christ upon earth” (O'Reilly 1907, 161-162). This pattern of apostolic transmission is already evident in the New Testament era (1 Cor 11:23, 1 Cor 15:3, 2 Tim 2:2). “The apostle hands down the doctrine of faith to the churches where it must be kept unharmed through the succession and continuance (diadoche) of individuals entrusted with the guarding of the doctrine” (Afanas?ev and Plekon 2007, 242). That apostolic continuance was an integral part of the early Church’s understanding of its mission and is clear from the words of Tertullian. Of the Apostles he writes
After first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judaea, and founding churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches (Tertullian, XX)
That Church planting is closely associated with ecclesial structures and authorization is clear in Irenaeus’ words.
obey the presbyters who are in the Church,——those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth (Irenaeus, Iv, Xxvi, 2)
This mission given by Christ to his disciples has both a material and a formal aspect (O'Reilly 1907) The material succession is found in the actual, unbroken chain of individuals who legitimately execute the mission of the Church. This actual succession was so important to the Church that it, from its earliest days, kept detailed records or registers of these apostolic successors. Tertullian, in challenging the heretics, appeals to just such documents.
Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,—a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed (Tertullian, XXXII, 2).
The formal aspect of the mission has to do with authority. “It consists in the legitimate transmission of the ministerial power conferred by Christ upon His Apostles. No one can give a power which he does not possess” (O'Reilly 1907) Thus only those who have received this authority from this unbroken chain of command can legitimately engage in the mission of the Church. For that reason St. Ansgar, who after being sent to Rome to secure permission for his mission to Scandinavia, received confirmation around 846.
The Pope confirmed this, not only by an authoritative decree, but also by the gift of the pallium, in accordance with the custom of his predecessors, and he appointed him as his legate for the time being amongst all the neighboring races of the Swedes and the Danes, also the Slavs and the other races that inhabited the regions of the north so that he might share authority with Ebo the Archbishop of Rheims, to whom he had before entrusted the same office (Rimbert).
Separating one’s self from this formal authority or simply claiming it for one’s self breaks the succession, destroys apostolicity, and nullifies the authority. So, no, not just anyone who takes a notion to do it can legitimately engage in establishing the Church in new areas. This is something that has to be done in, by, and through the Church itself.
4. Implications of this View for the Missional Praxis of the Church. As I see it this ecclesia-sacramental vision of the mission of the Church will require us to take some specific steps to safeguard and facilitate its basic elements: The Church and the Eucharist, the witnessing faithful, and the authority to extend the Church. So we will need to a) maintain ecclesial integrity by insisting on the centrality of the Eucharist, b) raise the level of spiritual maturity among the faithful, and c) actively participate in the apostolicity of the Church.
a) If the local Church is both the origin and the fulfillment of Christian witness, then the first missionary act will be to establish and maintain its ecclesio-sacramental integrity, that is make sure it is a Church.
The reason for this idea is that to the extent that the sacramental presence of Christ in the Church is diminished or neglected the missionary effectiveness of the Church is weakened or even lost altogether. What would it mean, for example, if a church or an individual refused to celebrate the Eucharist either by never doing it or by transforming the sacrament into something other than the Eucharist, a merely symbolic act without divine grace? It would mean, quite simply, that they are not a Church, that the special manifestation of Christ is not present, and that that church has ceased to be a missiological point of origin. While there are only a few Christian organizations that never celebrate the Lord’s Supper, there are many that neglect the sacrament by celebrating it only once a year or once every so many months. By removing it from its central place in the Church’s Sunday worship, that is, by deemphasizing the Eucharist in favor of other things such as the sermon or music, many have for all practical purposes removed the Eucharistic presence of Christ from the lives of the faithful. Of course some of the faithful opt themselves for non- participation, by actually skipping that service because it is longer or by saying that it is too sacred and they are unworthy of taking it every week, thus neglecting the sacrament. But,
As the very term “communion” suggests, through communion they become partakers of the body and blood of Christ. The other faithful are merely present during communion. By not communing, they do not participate in the Eucharistic mystery since in the words of Metropolitan Makarii, “The Eucharist is that mystery through which the Christian partakes of the real body and blood of his Savior.” The fundamental principle of the ancient church life became atomized: “Always everyone and always together” turned into the opposite “ not everyone and not together” but each one for himself and each one separately.
Whoever wanted to simply be an observer at the Eucharistic assembly, he would be excluding himself from eucharistic communion since there could not be non- participating observers at a Eucharistic assembly. There were only the faithful, the excommunicated and the catechumens (Afanasiev 1952, 18)
Of course, these forms of disinterest could be the natural consequence of downgrading the nature of the Eucharist. If, for example, it is reduced to a simple memorial, devoid of the real presence of Christ, devoid of any spiritual nourishment, then there would be little reason to practice it regularly and one would expect no particular benefit from doing so. If the celebration is just a ritualized act of remembrance, if Christ is not particularly present, if no special spiritual consequences are involved, then why would you feel the need to make the Eucharist central. But such practice runs counter to the teaching of the New Testament and the consistent practice of the Church right from its inception. Moreover, the Eucharist is the one thing that guarantees divine presence of Christ in the Church. So any Christian group that neglects the Eucharist is eliminating from itself the clear manifestation of Christ and thus loses its role as an invitational context.
So what can be done about this? While a wholesale rethinking of the sacrament might well be in order, I doubt that it will happen. However, I think we could at least begin to think about this issue by developing what we could call an index of Eucharistic centrality. On an institutional level we might begin by asking how often the communion is offered. As a base line we can take the weekly Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. The first day of the week, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, was the obvious choice of the early Christians. They gathered every time this day occurred in order to constitute themselves as Church in the Eucharistic assembly. Celebrating the Eucharist every Sunday according to the basic practice established by the early Christians is what makes them a Church. Departing from the ancient pattern leads to a precipitous decrease in the actual centrality of the sacrament in the life of a church. We could create a simple graph to illustrate this dynamic. Assume, for the sake of argument, that every celebration of the Eucharist by every Christian group was an equally valid expression of the true sacrament, which, of course they are not. Then, we could measure the importance of Communion with simple frequencies. If done every Sunday one would have it 52 times a year (100%), if monthly 12 times a year (23%), if quarterly only 4 times (8%) and so on. This clearly, albeit rather simplistically, indicates that, on a scale of one hundred, a quarterly observance of the Eucharist reduces its relative importance or centrality by over 90%. If that is the case, this particular group should probably not call itself a Church and is most definitely not a missiological context of invitation.
b) If achieving the goal of divine-human communion depends on being introduced in the context of the human-human communion of the faithful, then the second missionary act will have to be developing and maintaining a high degree of spiritual maturity in those believers.
As the Church moves on to the task of enabling its members to reach out to others they will have to develop the spiritual skills that facilitate interpersonal communion, namely self-transcendence, self-emptying love and complete freedom, the same things characteristic of inter-trinitarian communion. So if this invitation facilitating communion is going to develop, one thing that needs to happen is the full spiritualization of the witness. By this I do not mean courses in communications, the art of persuasion, and witnessing techniques. Rather, I am talking about a conscious and determined effort by the the Church to instill into the faithful, through the work of spiritual father and motherhood, a life of continual repentance, spiritual discipline, regular participation in the sacraments, and the resultant knowledge of God. This advanced spiritual state of the witness is a vital aspect of contextualization and is a prerequisite of invitation. With out it we run the risk of sending out the faithful completely ill-prepared for the spiritual challenges of witness.
It is only the mature believer that is in a position to initiate communion in a field of human- human presence by being fully present to others. The very act of inviting becomes a form of humble service, an unmistakable expression of love, given and received in complete freedom. It includes the ability to challenge another person’s beliefs, while at the same time showing itself to be a servant; the ability to direct attention to Christ’s presence in the witness’s own life without focusing on the self; the ability to call the other to an abandonment of self-love while demonstrating a self-emptying love of other. Obviously a spiritually immature person will not be able to do this. But the individual maturing into the knowledge and likeness of God is in a position to introduce Christ to someone else. In fact, I would suggest that this knowledge, this advanced level of spiritual development is a prerequisite for effective witness. For it is only in this state that the believer is able to transcend the self, truly love the other, to do so in complete freedom, to establish the intimate bond of human-human communion needed for an invitation. St. Theophan the Recluse confirms this idea when commenting on Zechariah 8:22. “Those who live always according to the Spirit of Christ are, without the use of words, the best preachers of Christ and the most convincing apostles of Christianity” (Theophan the Recluse 2010, 53).
c) If extending the Church into pre-ecclesial fields requires authorization, then the next missionary task will be preserving and practicing the apostolicity of the Church.
While there are many churches that claim apostoicity or apostolic authority for their missionary activities, there are, in fact, only a few who actually and fully tap into that authority. For that reason, every group that desires to extend the Church into non-ecclesial realms will have to assess the legitimacy of its own action. The first thing we will notice in a truly apostolic Church is a deliberately cultivated sense of historical perspective. Everything that the Church does should contribute to an understanding that we are part of something much larger, something that has flowed down through history from the time of the Apostles. This would be evident in the fact that the faithful are made aware that the liturgy celebrated is that of either St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil, both having their roots in the third century. During the Liturgy we also use prayers and hymns that have come down to us through the centuries. Rather than simply reciting or singing them we are often made aware of their authors/composers and the circumstances under which they worked. And here we will not pick and choose, as if according to a selective apostolicity that accepts one Council but not the other, one ancient practice but not the other. This historical consistency communicates to the faithful the fact that we are not alone, nor the first to use this material. Another indication of this historical awareness it the daily, and in particular the Sunday commemorations of the Saints. So on a given Sunday we might, for example, be remembering the Fathers of the first six Ecumenical councils and their contribution to the Tradition of the Church. I should also mention the recitation of the Creed, which ties us to this great stream of history, the Tradition we have received and which we seek to preserve.
A second area of apostolicity of mission is that of ecclesial authority or legitimacy. By what authority does the local group, its staff, do the work of the Church? Do they have the mandate necessary for the legitimate celebration of the sacraments, preaching, and outreach? Are these staff members legitimate successors of the Apostles or simply hired help? The only practical way to determine this is to ask Tertullian’s age old question, “who is your bishop.” For it is only in the material succession of the legitimate practitioners of the Church that its veracity can be established. Here we will find any number of variations. Obviously, if there is no hierarchy at all, there can be no succession and no true Church. Indeed, many groups have dropped all pretense of hierarchy, have simply done away with the idea of a bishop. Others have keep the office of bishop but dropped the need for apostolic legitimization to appoint them. So, who consecrates these “bishops”? Was it another group of legitimate bishops as required by the Apostolic Canons? Or was it a self-appointment to office without any succession, any authority? There is no such thing as a self-consecrated bishop or a bishop appointed locally by an independent group. In some cases, I suppose that there is actually a succession of sorts. I have often seen the pictures of congregational founders and pastors that hang in the offices of many churches. This is no doubt an expression of the deep-seated desire for historical continuity and belonging. Yet, this is hardly apostolic in its scope, it only reaches back a few generations. These founders are part of a very recently reinitiated series of individuals and yet they give us a sense of stability. Imagine how much greater that confidence would be if we could (and we can) trace our origins back to the Apostles themselves.
Finally, apostolicity will express itself in the way in which we go about extending the Church. Are we doing it under the guidance of an appropriately consecrated bishop? Or is it simply an expression of our own desire to plant churches? The way apostolicity should work is illustrated by the legacy left by ArchBishop Dmitri of the OCA’s Diocese of the South. The Diocese was established in 1978 out of the Southern Missionary District, with ca. 16 parishes and under ArchBishop Dimitri’s leadership it has now grown to over 70.
The planting of our mission in Raleigh, NC is typical of missionary outreach under the constant guidance of a Bishop. Early in September 2000, a group of about 20 Orthodox faithful in the Raleigh area of North Carolina asked their Bishop for permission to start a new parish. +Archbishop DMITRI granted his blessing, approved the parish's name (Holy Transfiguration), !26 Chapter in The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Discussion. Edited by Craig Ott, 2016 and assigned a priest. Through the end of October 2000 we met for weekend services at the Holiday Inn in Cary. After an intensive search, we found and rented space in a light industrial complex off US-70. With the enthusiastic help of our members, that warehouse was transformed into a place of worship. At the same time, the national Church (OCA) and Diocese of the South awarded Holy Transfiguration a three year church planting grant. By the beginning of 2001 we were "up and running.” After only a year (January 2002), we had outgrown our facilities. Our next step was to rent the adjoining unit in our building. This allowed us to expand the original worship area and provide space for fellowship and church school classes. In January 2004, the church successfully assumed full financial responsibility when the church planting grant came to an end. Financially independent and still growing, the parish offered a full cycle of services with an average attendance of about seventy at Sunday Liturgy. By the beginning of 2005, we were once again on the verge of outgrowing our facilities-not only in the nave, but also in the fellowship area and the classrooms. The obvious next step was to locate and purchase property for a new church building. To that end, we had already established a building fund and organized a search committee. In spite of considerable effort, we could not find affordable property. However, we did find a church building for rent and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. The new facility gave us more space in the nave, an adequate fellowship hall with a kitchen, more classrooms, and offices. In June of 2006 we signed the lease for the new building and started necessary renovations. July 15, 2006, we began church services at our new location. On August 27, 2009 we completed the process of purchasing our present church building and its surrounding property. With the blessing of +Archbishop NIKON in August, 2012, Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, was granted full Parish Status representing Raleigh-Durham and the Triangle of North Carolina in the Diocese of the South beginning on September 1, 2012 (Cf. Rommen).
These applications of apostolic structure show how a base missionary context, defined in part by ecclesial continuity, is something that both the faithful and the missionaries need. Fledgling churches are often a small minority of the local population and are easily overwhelmed by that feeling of smallness. However, knowing that they are part of something that is larger, not only geographically but also historically, gives them courage and the stability to persevere, a courage which is not tied to the statistics of the immediate situation, but is rooted in the register of Bishops that can be traced back to the Apostles
Afanas?ev, Nikolai?, and Michael Plekon. 2007. The Church of the Holy Spirit. English language ed. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.
Afanasiev, Nikolai. 1952. "The Lord's Supper." YMCA Press Accessed 9/25/2014. http:// anglicanorthodoxmission.homestead.com/RussianTheology.html.
Agourides, Savas. 1969. "Salvation According to the Orthodox Tradition." Ecumenical Review (July).
Athenasius. "On the Incarnation of the Word." Accessed 9/25/2014. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/ 2802.htm.
Bajis, Jordan. 1996. Common Ground. Minneapolis: Light and Life. Basil, St. "Prayer Before Communion." Accessed 7/14/2014. http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/ church-and-sacraments/holy-eucharist/prayers-before-and-after-communion/.
Bria, Ion. 1996. The Liturgy after the Liturgy: Mission and Witness from an Orthodox Perspective. Geneva: WCC.
Bulgakov, Sergius. 2008. The Lamb of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Cyprian, of Carthage. "Epistle." Accessed 9/25/2014. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050662.htm.
Dmitri, Archbishop. 2003. The Priest's Service Book. Orthodox Church in America. Translated by Archbishop Dmitri. Dallas: Diocese of the South.
Eusebius, Pamphilius."Church History." Accessed 9/25/2014. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/ npnf201.iii.vii.ii.html.
Hesselgrave, David J., and Edward Rommen. 1989. Contextualization : meanings, methods, and models. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.
Hopko, Fr. Thomas 1997. "Worship (The Orthodox Faith, Volume 2)." St. Vladimir's Seminary Press Accessed 9/25/2014. http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/ chrismation.
Irenaeus. "Against Heresies." Accessed 07/14/2014. http://carm.org/irenaeus-heresies5-19-31.
Korsun, Sergei. 2012. Herman: A Wilderness Saint. Jordonville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Publications.
Lindsay, Thomas M. 1903. The church and the ministry in the early centuries the eighteenth series of the Cunningham lectures. 2nd ed. London: Hodder and Stoughton. microfiche.
Mantzaridis, Georgios I. 1984. The Deification of Man. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
O'Reilly, Thomas. 1907. Apostolicity. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Pomazansky, Michael. 1994. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Palatina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.
Rimbert. "Life of Anskar, the Apostle of the North, 801-865." Accessed 9/25/2014. http:// www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/anskar.asp.
Rommen, Edward. "Information." Accessed 9/25/2014. http://holytransfiguration-oca.org/ information.htm.
Rommen, Edward. 2013. Come and see : an Eastern Orthodox perspective on contextualization.Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Schu?tz, Joseph. 1985. Die Lehre Der Slawen Kyrill Und Method. St. Ottilien: Eros Verlag.
Tertullian. "The Prescription Against Heretics (20)." Accessed 9/25/2014. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/ anf03.v.iii.xx.html.
Tertullian. "The Prescription Against Heretics (31)." Accessed 9/25/2014. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/ anf03.v.iii.xxxii.html.
Theophan the Recluse, St. 2010. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year. Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.
Veronis, Luke. 2009. Go Forth. Stories of Mission and Resurrection in Albania. Ben Lomond: Conciliar Press.
Zizioulas, Jean. 2004. Being as communion : studies in personhood and the church. London: Darton Longman & Todd.
Zizioulas, Jean, and Paul McPartland. 2006. Communion and otherness : further studies in personhood and the church. London ; New York: T & T Clark.
Zizioulas, John D. 2010. Receiving one another : being in otherness. 1st ed, Contemporary christian thought series. Alhambra, CA: Sebastian Press. !30