"Orthodox Mission: Past, Present and Future"

Orthodox Mission: Past, Present and Future

Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania


Orthodox witness is imbued with the desire to carry out God's will in a loving and heroic manner. The "living in Christ" and the "following in his footsteps" has always been the ideal, the heart of Orthodox spirituality. The central longing of Orthodox worship is expressly stated in the supplication of the liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts, when the faithful pray to the Father. "That partaking ... of these divine gifts, and receiving new life through them, we may be united unto thy Christ himself... that with thy Word, O Lord, dwelling in us, and walking in us we may become the temple of thy Holy and ever venerated Spirit..." The transforming glory and power of the Trinitarian God must shine forth in time, in every manifestation of human life, and throughout the creation, through the mission of the church.

Since the key word "mission" – around which our discussions will revolve – is  often used with different nuances, it is necessary to state that by this word we mean witness to the living Trinitarian God, who calls all to salvation and binds human beings together in the church, who otherwise would not belong to it or who have lost their tie to it. This characteristic distinguishes it from mere pastoral care, which is directed towards those already incorporated in the church. The field of Christian mission today is both the distant geographical regions of the third world (more precisely, of the world of two-thirds of the total population), and the rest of the inhabited world.     It is henceforth a question of mission to all six continents.    For every local church, mission is "inward" or "internal," when it takes place within its geographical, linguistic and cultural bounds, and "outward" or "external" when it reaches beyond these bounds to other nations and lands.

The church, "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," is obliged to witness to those near and afar, and to show interest in the whole human being, both on a personal and a social level, for the progress of the whole world. Nothing relating to human existence is out of the scope of interest for Orthodox mission.






When, more than thirty years ago, there was a revival in contemporary Orthodoxy of the ideal of an external mission – especially following the "Porefthentes" movement, which sprang from the Fourth General Assembly of "Syndesmos" here in Thessaloniki (1958) -- we had to face two difficulties: the amazement of westerners, who thought the Orthodox church was introspective and uninterested in mission; and a pathetic internal opposition from Orthodox, who considered such an interest as something imported. For this reason, during the first decade, not only was external mission stressed as an Orthodox theological and ecclesiological necessity, but a special attempt was made to study its history.

From the relevant documents published during these last decades, it has become ever clearer that the "apostolic" duty is a basic element of being Orthodox, even if, under certain historical circumstances, the evangelical activity of certain local churches has slowed down and interest in mission has become lethargic.

This year's anniversary of the millennium of the Baptism of Rus' sheds further light both on the missionary initiatives of the Byzantines and on the apostolic activities of their Russian disciples in later centuries.

a) Throughout the millennium of its existence, Orthodox Byzantium concerned itself with the broadcasting of the Christian faith, either to the heathen within its boundaries, or to the pagan tribes pouring into the Empire, as well as to neighboring countries. More particularly, we can distinguish two periods of intense missionary zeal: a) from the fourth to the sixth century, culminating at the time of Justinian, and b) during the ninth and eleventh centuries, under the Macedonian Dynasty. In the first and second periods, apostolic activity was combined with a deeper theological search and a spiritual blossoming.

During the first period, the missionary task fell to enlightened bishops, such as St John Chrysostom (+ 407), and to holy monks, such as the Saints Hilarion (+ 371), Euthymios (+ 473) and Sabbas (+ 532). The Byzantines took an interest in the evangelization of peoples bordering on the Empire, such as the Goths, the Huns, the Iberians and certain tribes of Colchis and the Caucasus. Following the Christianization of the Ethiopians, they even took an interest in the evangelization of Nubian tribes to the south, and to the northern reaches of what is today Tunisia. Because this missionary activity took place in areas where there was later to be a great mingling of populations, little is known about this first period.

The second period, linked to the conversion of the Slavs, has been better investigated; especially during the last few years, worldwide interest has focused on the 1100th anniversary of the missions of the Saints Cyril and Methodius, as well as on the afore-mentioned millennium.

The Byzantine mission was based on certain clear-cut and essential principles. At the forefront was a desire to create an authentic local Eucharistic community. Thus precedence was given to translating the Holy Scriptures, the liturgical texts and the writings of the Fathers, as well as to the building of beautiful churches which would proclaim – with the eloquent silence of beauty – that God had come to live amongst humanity. The importance attached by Byzantine theology to a life of worship and "divinization" did not prevent direct interest in the social and cultural dimensions of life. Together with the gospel, the Byzantines transfused into their converted peoples the whole of their experience -- political, artistic, economic, cultural -- permeated by evangelical principles and the Christian vision of life. They contributed to the self awareness developed by the young nations, along with their own culture.

Together with the power of the gospel, which it infused into the waves of uncultured peoples overrunning Europe, Christian Byzantium brought them a completely new life: spiritual, social and political. The flexibility and understanding with which the Greek missionaries adapted the Byzantine liturgy and tradition to local circumstances gave them an ecumenical character and caused them to serve as a bond among the various Orthodox peoples. At the same time, the development of the vernacular and of a national temperament among these peoples – for which many Byzantine missionaries toiled with such reverence and tenderness – helped preserve the personality of the converted peoples. Far from indulging in an administrative centralization and a monolithic conception of the church, the Byzantine missionaries saw the unity of the extended church in its joint thanksgiving, with many voices but in one spirit, and in the sacramental participation of all in the cup of life, "For as there is but one bread, so we who are many, are but one body." Finally, missionary work in Byzantium was not carried out by a handful of "specialists." Bishops, priests, monks, emperors -- whether of great or of medium stature -­princesses, diplomats, officers, soldiers, merchants, mariners, emigrants, travelers, captives, were all involved. The modest and patient heroism shown in this direction by thousands of known and unknown Byzantines during the centuries-long life of the Empire, forces the student of history to agree with what Charles Diehl wrote concerning the conversion of the Slavs: "Missionary work was one of the glories of Byzantium."

b) The Russian missionary epic is also fascinating and extraordinarily rich: during the first period, which extends from the baptism of the inhabitants of Kiev to the Mongol conquest (988-1240), monasteries and convents sprang up, and there was a great missionary impulse as enlightened bishops, priests, and monks worked heroically for the evangelization of the Slavic tribes to the north. In the second period, from the Mongol invasion to roughly the end of the fifteenth century, a great number of monks retired to the forests and built hermitages that became centers of missionary and cultural activity. Prisoners of war became the first "apostles" of the Tartars. Apart from the anonymous bearers of the gospel, this period is famous for its great missionary personalities, such as Stephen of Perm (+ 1396). During the third period, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Muslims from the local population around Kazan entered the church. As the Empire extended into Siberia, where Christianity was, until then, unknown, churches and monasteries mushroomed, yet their number was insufficient to cover the local needs. At that time, state policy was often hostile to mission. Nevertheless, great missionary figures, such as St Trifon of Novgorod (+ 1583), who brought the gospel to the Lapps, Bishop Filotei of Tobolsk (+ 1727) and others, through their missionary zeal, drew thousands to Christ. The fourth period, lasting from the nineteenth century to the Russian Revolution (1917), bears a more ecclesial stamp and is most fruitful. The missionaries are numerous: bishops, priests, monks, laypersons -- people like the monk Makary Glukharev (+1847), apostle of the warlike tribes of the forbidding Altai mountain range; Bishop lnnokentiy Veniaminov (later Metropolitan of Moscow), who worked among the Aleutians, the Eskimos and other Alaskan tribes; St Herman, also in Alaska; the merchant Sidenikoff among the Samoyeds; the philologist and theologian llminsky, who introduced new methods of translation and missionary work among the Tartars. Many were the tribes towards which the Russian missionary effort was directed; many were the languages into which the gospel was translated.

In all this, a great contribution was made by the Orthodox Missionary Society, which was founded in Moscow in 1870 and which undertook to give financial support to the Russian missionaries. Another great contribution was made by the Kazan Academy, which became a centre of missionary studies, its department of translations published books in dozens of languages belonging to such regions as the Volga, Siberia, the Caucasus, etc.

Russian missionaries were active, too, outside the Empire, in China, Korea and Japan; their number included such champions of mission as Bishop Innokentiy Figurovsky in China and Archbishop Nikola Kasatkin (1836-1912) in Japan. The Russian missionaries were inspired by the principles of Byzantine Orthodoxy and developed them with originality and daring: the creation of an alphabet for unwritten languages; the translation of biblical and liturgical texts into new tongues; the celebration of the liturgy in local dialects, with systematic philological care; the preparation of a native clergy as quickly as possible; the joint participation of clergy and laity, with an emphasis on the mobilization of the faithful, care for the educational, agricultural, and artistic or technical development of the tribes and peoples drawn to Orthodoxy. Continuing the Orthodox tradition, they gave importance to liturgical life, to the harmonious architecture of the churches, to the beauty of worship and to its social consequences. Certain fundamental principles, only now being put into use by western missions, were always the undoubted base of the Orthodox missionary efforts.

c) Many Orthodox churches, forced to live under Islamic regimes -- four centuries of Turkish occupation in the Balkans and thirteen centuries of Arab domination in Egypt -- were, of course, not in a position to organize missions abroad. On the contrary: in order to ward off the terrible danger of the conversion of the Christian population to Islam, they were obliged to fight hard to keep control of their flock and to win back, from time to time, those who had strayed. This lengthy effort, which amounted to an heroic resistance to varied and powerful non-Christian pressures, added thousands of new martyrs to the churches. Even in the twentieth century, in countries where fanatical anti-religious regimes have taken power, the Orthodox Church has lived its missionary task in the form of resistance – firmly, calmly, in accordance with the ethos of the early Christians. It has provided some of the most heroic and authentic chapters of church history, which await a systematic study.

d) We should look, however, at another aspect of the past. When we Orthodox find ourselves in a western setting, we automatically tend to describe our church in glowing colors. We often have also a tendency to compare our own achievements with the shortcomings of others. It is now time, when analyzing the past, to become more objective. This is, moreover, imposed by the Orthodox ethos, which is guided by the light of the Holy Spirit. Studying historical facts in such an "Orthodox" spirit, we need to pay attention not only to the high-water marks of Orthodox mission, but also to periods of bleakness and lethargy. The former led to new creations, such as the baptizing of numerous peoples, and especially the Slavs. The hours of lethargy and omission provoked historical evolutions and socio-religious upheavals that were unbelievably costly for Orthodoxy.         

The lack of interest in Byzantium for a proper consequential and perpetual outward mission contributed to the evolution of a spiritual vacuum that encouraged Islam in the Arabian world, and finally helped to bring down the Byzantine Empire. If, in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, the Byzantine church had made a proper translation of the scriptures into Arabic, to foster a cultural identity among the Arabs, as it did later -- in the ninth and tenth centuries -- for the Slavs and the Russians of the north, developments in the south, and its own fate, would have been quite different.

Later on, too, the lukewarm "internal mission" of the Russian steppe, the lack of sensitivity to social developments and to the application of Christian ideals in the social and political spheres, contributed to the development of Marxism-Leninism, which has taken hold of most of the Orthodox countries in our century. Both of these utterly divergent socio-political realities -- Islam and Leninism -- sprang from geographical, and also frequently cultural, areas in which Orthodoxy had developed and which allowed them to blossom out, each eclectically absorbing diverse elements of it. One could even be so bold as to see in these two systems radical "heresies" of the Orthodox East. Islam adopted fragments of Orthodox Christianity, twisting them into odd shapes, while Lenin's socialist ideology transformed other characteristics of the Russian Orthodox mentality, such as the heroic ideal of the spiritual struggle and the eschatological vision of a brotherhood of humankind.


II. Contemporary Period: Development of New Orthodox Missions


Socio-political conditions, such as have developed in many local Orthodox churches, and the danger of deviation on the part of the people, have, in our time, brought about a particular emphasis on "internal mission" (that which is carried out within the geographical, linguistic and political confines of the local church). We can distinguish three separate settings in which the local Orthodox churches have been obliged to live and give their witness today: a) the Muslim setting, in which move chiefly the bishoprics belonging to the ancient Orthodox Patriarchates; b) the socialist-Marxist setting, in which many churches continue to develop in eastern Europe; c) the new, secularized, pluralistic and technocratic setting, with its swollen agnostic current, in which the Orthodox churches of the "Diaspora" find themselves in western Europe, America and recently in Greece.

All these settings exercise a wide variety of pressures, often with pulverizing results, on certain local churches. Other speakers at our consultation have taken it upon themselves to present the particular circumstances and problems of the local, traditional Orthodox churches. Here 1 shall restrict myself to mentioning some facts relative to the new churches formed in our day and age, in Africa and Asia, and the centers responsible for supporting external missions. The missionary Orthodox churches of Africa and Asia, though numerically small, have opened up an important chapter in the history of Orthodoxy. They are contributing to the transplantation of Orthodoxy into new regions, although their number is not impressive. Compared to other churches, the results are poor. But in comparison with the past, they show serious growth, and are a hopeful "nursery" for the future.

a) We shall start with the mission being carried out under the immediate ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Orthodox Church in Korea today has four church buildings and parishes in relatively big cities, two Korean priests and about 2,000 members. They are supported by two missionary priests, two laymen and three nuns, all from Greece. To prepare native staff, a seminary functions three afternoons a week. In recent years, many Orthodox books have been translated into the Korean language, both liturgical and of a more general, historical or edifying nature. Orthodox groups have also been developed in Hong Kong and Singapore. In India recently two Orthodox parishes in Arabah, 100 km from Calcutta, have been created. Two Indian priests have been ordained, and a missionary is working there.

b) More extended is the missionary effort undertaken under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. The first Orthodox groups have been formed in East Africa through the initiative of the Africans themselves. Today there are roughly 210 Orthodox parishes and small communities there, served by 75 African clergy and 50 reader/­catechists. The main body of Orthodox is to be found in Kenya, where there are 85 parishes and 67 smaller communities. They run 10 nursery schools, 5 primary schools, 1 secondary school and 3 dispensaries. The number of faithful exceeds 60,000. The missionary team consists of the bishop, a priest, 2 nuns and 8 lay people, sent and financed by the churches of Greece, Finland, America and Cyprus. This pan-­Orthodox collaboration is a new trait in the history of Orthodox mission.

The Orthodox Church in Uganda has 29 parishes, served by an African auxiliary bishop and 14 African priests. The number of faithful is roughly estimated to be 10,000. Quite a number of Ugandans have studied abroad. The mission runs 2 secondary schools, 10 primary schools and a polyclinic managed by a doctor who has studied in Athens. There are also 4 dispensaries. The country has suffered from civil war, and many plans for rebuilding churches and other centers are behind time.

The Orthodox Church in Tanzania, which has taken shape in the last 8 years, has 9 parishes, 21 small communities and 9 church buildings. The number of faithful is put at 8,000. Recently 3 dispensaries were built and equipped. The African clergy totals 4 priests and 2 deacons.

In Nairobi, the "Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary Makarios Ill, Archbishop of Cyprus" has been functioning since 1982. At present it has 12 teachers and 47 students.

The Orthodox of East Africa belongs to different tribes. To meet liturgical needs, the divine liturgy of St John Chrysostom has been published in Swahili, Kikuyu, 'Luya and Luganda; other liturgical translations have also been made into these languages, as well as into Haya and Lufo, and translations with a view to publication are being made into Nandi and Lango.

In Central Africa, two big missionary centers have been established, one in Kanaga and the other in Koluwezi, Zaire. There are 49 parishes and roughly 9,000 Orthodox in the country, served by 22 Zairois clergy. The local church is assisted by two Greek archimandrites and 12 lay people. There are also secondary school, a primary school, a small seminary for future priests, a hostel for young people and a foreign medical service. For purposes of worship and catechism, French, Swahili and local dialects are used.

In West Africa there exist: in Cameroon, one Orthodox community with 2 native priests; in Ghana (since 1977), 12 Orthodox parishes, with 9 church buildings served by 5 native priests and 2 deacons. The Divine Liturgy, a summary of church history, and the services of baptism, marriage and burial have all been translated into Fanti. In Nigeria there are 16 parishes served by 1 missionary priest and 9 native priests, with 12 church buildings, 4 primary schools and a number of nursery schools.

The spectrum of missionary work is wide.    And it grows ever wider, for example, when we meditate on the responsibility that every local church has for helping the people in matters of sanitation, education and culture. All the expressions of human life need to be transformed through the grace of the Trinitarian God.

The prayer and vision of all of us is to see the establishment of true local African churches, capable of assuming by themselves the preaching of the gospel, self-governing and self-supporting. But in order to consolidate these churches, there needs to be given, during the coming decades, serious and continuous assistance from the older Orthodox churches, coupled with theological and pastoral guidance.

c) The Churches of Alaska, Japan and China are special cases. The first one is now within the USA, and is mainly concerned with mission as an internal affair, consolidating the population there (Aleutians, Eskimos and others) in the Orthodox faith resisting the technological current of American society, which is undermining their racial tradition and, with it, their Orthodoxy. The church there is served by 26 native priests under a Russian bishop. The training of native clergy is carried out by St Herman Seminary, which has been functioning on Kodiak Island since 1972 and has close ties with St Vladimir's Seminary.

The Church of Japan is already a hundred years old. The leadership and all the activities are in Japanese hands. Like a tiny islet amid the archipelago of Japanese society -- so dynamic, hastening so dizzily towards the new era of electronics -- it has also to face the great technological provocation upsetting the western world. At the moment, the Japanese Orthodox Church has in its bosom some 30,000 Japanese Orthodox, who attend to the upkeep of 150 church buildings and are served by an archbishop-metropolitan and 35 Japanese priests. It is certain that cooperation with the older, bigger Orthodox churches will contribute to its development. The type of spiritual assistance required will be decided on by itself.

The case of the Church of China is more complicated. All that is left of the endeavors of the Russian Orthodox missionaries is a flickering candle-flame. Most of the Orthodox Church buildings have been pulled down (Peking, Tien-Tsin, Harbin). In 1983 a church building was inaugurated in Harbin, and it is now served by a Chinese Orthodox priest. Recently there have been rumors of another Orthodox community in Urumchi. The most immediate problem is the preparation and ordination of new Chinese Orthodox clergymen to look after the "small remnant" of Orthodox in this vast country, allowing that the installing of foreign missionaries is strictly forbidden. It may be that the new candle of Orthodoxy lit in Hong Kong, will prove valuable for preserving the flame of Orthodoxy in China.

d) In many local Orthodox churches, alongside a growing interest in biblical studies, patristic texts and liturgy, we are still living a simple flowering: first, a longing for monasticism, with, at its peak, the renewal taking place on Mount Athos and, second, a revival of missionary zeal. Its first goal has been "internal mission," and during the last few years it has been complemented by the return of "external mission." The resurgence of the monastic ideal, with its insistence on personal metanoia as a way of life, expresses the need for a closer adherence to the spirit of the gospel; it is doubtless contributing to the coming of God's kingdom and the carrying out of his will both in personal living and in the world at large. The missionary revival, with its accent on the apostolicity and catholicity of the church, is a reminder that the gift of metanoia and salvation should by no means be turned into a private, individual affair. Our duty is to live a life centered on the church, making its horizons our own -- and these horizons extend worldwide, "ecumenically." It is a gift destined for the whole world, to everybody, given so as to transform all things. Christ was crucified for the sake of the whole world. And those who are crucified with him are crucified for the sake of all. They are set apart from the world, but their prayer, attuned to the prayer of Christ, embraces the suffering and the hopes of all humanity and all creation.           "Blessed is the monk who is separated from all and in harmony with all," maintain the first books of the Philokalia.

I believe that from those two currents, and especially from the combination of the monastic rebirth and the revival of the Orthodox missionary awareness, fruits will ripen to maturity and be of benefit to contemporary Orthodoxy. The whole world is secretly longing for an authentic presentation of the gospel of truth, of freedom, of love and of the new life in Christ. It is yearning for holiness. More particularly, during the past thirty years, great strides have been made in the development and support of external mission. Centers and groups have been created with this as their sole aim. The oldest of these associations, Porefthentes, is an offshoot of the Orthodox youth movement Syndesmos -- as we have already stated. It blossomed out at the beginning of 1959 with the publication in Greek and English of a magazine of the same name, which continued to appear for ten years. For its irreproachable collecting and managing of funds, it received legal recognition in Greece (1961), but never lost its inter-Orthodox approach to matters. Later its example was followed, on a local level, by Hoi Philoi tes Ougandas (The Friends of Uganda) in Thessaloniki (1963), which later on took the name Hellenike Adelphotes Orthodoxou Exoterikes Hierapostoles (Greek Brotherhood of Orthodox External Mission), and by Ho Protokletos (The First-Called) in Patras (1974). Recently smaller groups have been formed in various Greek towns.

From its inception, Porefthentes declared that it was not aiming at founding a separate movement, but was putting all its efforts, projects, programs, research, publications and personnel at the church's disposal, for the creation of a wider ecclesiastical missionary activity. So, with members of the Porefthentes staff as pioneers, the Grapheion Exoterikes Hierapostoles (Bureau of External Mission) was founded in 1968 within the framework of the Apostoliki Diakonia of the Church of Greece, and a Week of External Mission was adopted by all the Metropolias of Greece. In 1969 its director was invited to assist in the creation of the Desk for "Research and Relations with Orthodox" at the World Council of Churches. In 1971, the Kentron Hieraposiolikon Spoudon (Centre for Missionary Studies) was organized, with the collaboration of the Holy Synod and the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens, and functioned up to 1976.    In 1972, the first ladies' monastic group was set up, which later developed into the Convent of St John the Precursor, Kareas, with the aim of serving and supporting missionary work; in 1976, at Athens University, there was created a Chair of Missiology. Since 1981 Porefthentes has taken on the editing of the official missionary magazine of the Church of Greece, Panta to Ethne (All Nations).

At the beginning of the 1960s, efforts were made to extend the organization of Porefthenles to other Orthodox churches too, and similar groups of "Syndesmos" were created in Finland, America and other countries where there were Orthodox youth movements. However, the well-known autonomy of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions did not favor this effort at coordination and, finally, in each local church there developed other structures, in accordance with local conditions. In Finland, a "Mission Office of the Finnish Orthodox Church" (Ortodoksinen Lahetysry) has come into existence (1981), while in the Americas there exists the "Mission Center of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America", the latter was organized on a permanent basis in 1985, systematically extending the work of the old "Commission for Mission," which had begun in 1963.

In the realm of theoretical investigation into mission in the Orthodox tradition, a significant contribution has been made by the "Desk for Research and Relations with Orthodox," named later on "Desk for Orthodox Studies and Relationships" of the World Council of Churches, which has organized a series of consultations on specific themes$. Thus an opportunity has been given both to Orthodox circles making a systematic study of mission, and to ecumenical missionary bodies, with a view to enriching their experience through contact with Orthodox concepts.

e) In spite of the facts mentioned so far, we have to admit that the missionary work of the Orthodox Church on new frontiers in non-Christian regions remains very limited. Of course, we have never stopped confessing our faith in the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church." Yet, it would not be an exaggeration to say that, in many cases, Orthodox identification with the catholic and apostolic aspects of the church is expressed rather weakly. The fault lies, to some extent, with the excessive nationalism of the local churches.        Certainly, every nation that has become Orthodox owes a lot to Orthodoxy, which has strengthened not 'only its sense of personal dignity, but also a sense of the value of its nationhood. But this national gratitude and self-consciousness has often led to a turning inward, to a dangerous deviation theologically, and to a nationalistic, psychological imperviousness. There is thus a syndrome that often inhibits Orthodox mission: the idea that our own responsibility is restricted to our own area, and that the problems of others are "none of our business."           But on this planet, no people and no social unit can live in isolation. There is a reciprocal influence. And in our times, interdependence is growing rapidly.

The lack of continuity in Orthodox missionary endeavor has been and remains another of our basic weaknesses. Frequently the call to mission appears as the sudden spiritual exaltation of an era, as an exception, which does not leave in its wake structures and institutions on an inter-Orthodox basis, to ensure an Orthodox presence on difficult fronts. It is time we asked ourselves why the Orthodox mission to China, after centuries of hard struggle, has had such poor results.

As the snows of persecution are melting in China in our days, and while, like ears of corn, hundreds of Protestant and Roman Catholic communities are sprouting again, the Orthodox are only two. Was the Orthodox mission perhaps tainted with too much nationalism? Why, in these twentieth century trials, were not other Orthodox moved to carry on the relay and rush in to help? That happened, for example, when the German Lutherans in East Africa turned over the responsibility for continuing their mission to the Scandinavians. Also: why, while the Orthodox mission began almost simultaneously with the Protestant in Korea, do the Protestants in that country today number five and one-half million and the Orthodox a bare 2,000? Still other painful questions need to be asked when we review sixty years of Orthodox Church presence in Uganda. Can its development be considered satisfactory in comparison with the progress of the other churches?      We should stop generalizing, simplifying and embellishing the facts. Clear-headedness is needed, and an unbiased study of the past. Not, of course, in order to judge or to condemn others.    But to set out aright on the path to the future, with a sense of responsibility, with sufficient seriousness of purpose, and in accordance with our possibilities.

Finally, there is the danger of thinking that the missionary task is fulfilled when the faithful indulge in mutual support. Mission, however, is not accomplished by just attending to "our own folk." It is not synonymous with pastoral care9, though it is closely linked to it. It is not right to call every spiritual effort "mission," and to reassure ourselves that our missionary duty ends with church activities. Mission is principally the binding of "nonbelievers" to the church; those who have become indifferent or hostile to the faith; those who refuse, in theory or in practice, the teaching and principles of that faith. The type of sensitivity needed is one that leads the bishops, priests and frequent church-goers to another attitude towards those outside the faith.         Not an attitude of antipathy or of crossing swords with them, but an effort to understand their language, problems, reservations, temptations, questionings, sinfulness, even their enmity. It leads, finally, to an attempt to overcome existing barriers through the strength of truth, prayer and love.




For the growth of Orthodox mission in the future, two things are of fundamental importance. First, the development of missionary thought and awareness by all members of the church that mission is not a supplement or an appendix, but rather a basic expression of our ecclesiastical self-understanding and self-conscience, and it is necessary that this be transferred to our ecclesiastical structures. Second, a sober study of the modern world, the new, electronic, universal civilization that emerges from the setting of the second millennium and the understanding of its pluralistic character is necessary.

1. The theological understanding of mission is not a necessity for the theologians only. It is of decisive importance for the whole church. For this reason, we must briefly underline some fundamental theological truths.

a) A firm basis of every missionary effort is taking into consideration and moving in the light of the Revelation and especially of the mystery of the Trinity.       The starting point of any apostolic activity on our behalf, is the promise and order of the Risen Lord in its Trinitarian perspective: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you ... Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:21-22).    The love of the Father has been expressed through the sending of the Son. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.... For God sent the Son into the world" (John 3:16-17).

The Son then sends his disciples, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to call all the children of God, who were dispersed, in his kingdom. All, men and women, created in the likeness of God, must return to the freedom of love, and share in the life of love of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. God's glory, which radiates upon all creatures, has to transform all things, and "to be raised upon the earth and upon the heavens."

The sending of the Son forms the beginning, and defines more especially Christian mission. The work of the Son is not simply an announcement, it is an event. The Incarnation, which is the "assuming" of human nature, is the most predominant event in the history of the universe, the recreation for its regeneration within the life of the Holy Trinity. It opens the way for the eschaton, the fulfillment of the world's evolution.

This "assuming" in love, the continuous transfer of life in love, the transfiguration of all things in the light of God's glory is being continued in space and time through the mission of the church, the body of Christ.

The conjunction "as," which is found in John 20:21, remains very decisive for Orthodox mission. It is I who always remains your model, Christ stresses. You must walk in my footsteps and follow my example. Christological dogma defines the way of the mission of the Trinitarian God, which the faithful continue. The most crucial point in mission is not what one announces, but what one lives, what one is. Humankind is "becoming" as much as they remain in Christ. "Being in Christ" forms the heart of mission. "He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

From the very beginning, the Holy Spirit shares in the sending of the Son. The Incarnation is realized "by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary." The Spirit cooperates with the one who is the best of humankind: the all Holy Virgin Mary, who without reservation and with much joy submits herself to the will of God, for the realization of the mission of the Son. It is the Spirit in the form of a dove, who at the Jordan River seals the beginning of the public ministry of the Son.     In the form of tongues of fire and "like the rush of a mighty wind," the Spirit creates the church, transforming the scared disciples into brave apostles, full of divine light, knowledge and power.      It is the Spirit that unceasingly gives life to the church and all members within, transforming them into a living temple of the mystical body of Christ, enabling them to share in the safeguarding of Christ's mission for the salvation of the whole world. The energies of the Trinitarian God are always personal, "from the Father through the Son in the Spirit." This Trinitarian faith is to be found in the depth of our thoughts and actions.

b) The strengthening of the Orthodox missionary conscience brings about a deeper understanding of Orthodox ecclesiology, and vice versa. In the era of the New Testament, when so many terms had defined the different religious communities, groups and societies, the first faithful, in order to define and express their self-awareness, chose the word "ecclesia," a word that means the gathering of the people of the whole city. In this new reality, in the new eschatological "city," which was erected upon the cross and the empty tomb of the resurrected Lord, God is calling upon us, the city, which is the whole oikoumene, the inhabited earth. During the reigns of the various empires and kingdoms, the new community gathered by the Triune God, choosing the term "ecclesia" as a name of identity, wanted also, through it, to underline the responsible participation of all its members.

We cannot forget that we belong to the "catholic" church, which embraces all things ("ta panta"), the whole of humanity. We Orthodox often stress the tradition of the ancient church, according to which, when speaking about the Catholic Church of a concrete city, is meant the "church" which is present in its fullness in each Eucharistic local gathering. As the whole Christ is present in the sacrament of the holy Eucharist, in the same way the church, his mystical body, keeps its fullness in the local "catholic" church.

Nevertheless, this basic thesis does not abolish the other great truth that, from the beginning, the apostles' perspective and aim had been to spread the gospel "to the end of the earth," to invite all nations to enter the Church. "Go ye and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). No person is excepted. No local church has the right to individually enjoy the Christian gospel and keep it exclusively as its own treasure. The basic duty of every local "catholic" church remains therefore to live the whole tradition and offer it "catholicos," in its fullness; in peace, but decisively, in a universal perspective. The word "Orthodox" was first used as an adjective: "Orthodox Catholic Church," that is, a truly "catholic" church -- having a true faith and a true worship -- with the two meanings previously mentioned. The understanding of these two sides of the "catholicity" of our church must be stressed more and more.

Furthermore, it is time for us to experience this "apostolicity" in a more consequent way, not only placing emphasis on the “apostolicity" of the tradition and the apostolic succession, but also by living the apostolic dynamic and self-conscience of the church and strengthening the apostolic mind and apostolic responsibility of all the faithful. When we confess our belief in the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," we simultaneously declare our duty to share in her "apostolic" mission.

The centre of Orthodox spiritual and missionary life is the holy Eucharist by which we become "one body with Christ." Thus, by sharing in his life, we share in his mission. The "being" in Christ is not expressed through a mystical or emotional escape, but rather in continuous following his steps. "He who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (I John 2:6).

c) By participating in mission we share in a divine plan, which is still in evolution and has cosmic dimensions. We are already moving within the eschatological era. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the formation of the church, and through the continuous presence of the Spirit, a process of transfiguration of human life has begun, which raises humanity and transforms the universe. Mission is a presupposition of the coming of the kingdom. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14). Within the eschatological era all things have universal dimensions. A basic element of this is surprise, the breaking down of things conventionally accepted. Neither "those who have done well" nor "those who have done evil" had ever thought that the basis of the Last Judgment would be how much they had been able to recognize Christ in the humble and poor of the earth with whom he identifies himself. "...As you did it not to one of the least of these..." (Matt. 25:45). Our participation in the suffering of people who are in need is essentially meeting the Lord who suffered for us. This view makes Christian eschatology ever and ever revolutionary, missionary and opportune at the same time.

According to Orthodox thought, the world is led to a transformation. The whole universe has been invited to enter the church, to become the church of Christ, in order to become after the end of centuries the heavenly kingdom of God.        "The Church is the centre of the universe, the sphere in which its destinies are determined"

The thought that has been developed mainly by the Greek Fathers, that the human person must comprise the whole world in his/her ascent towards the personal God, designates the Orthodox respect not only to every human person, but also to nature. All things (ta panta) will find their own logos (reason), which is Christ. "All things in heaven and things on earth." It is in this "mystery of the will of God" (Eph. I:9-10) that we participate when we work for mission. This perspective frees us from any individualistic piety, any tendency to marginalize the apostolic effort.

2. In the Gospel of St Mark, mission is connected more intensively with "the whole world" and "the whole creation." "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). We Christians must take this world and creation into serious consideration and study it continuously, in its evolution, multiformity, pluralism and dynamism.

a) Absorbed many times by the marked historical conscience that characterizes our church, many Orthodox have very often oriented themselves towards the past. Nevertheless, the eschatological dimension, which we have already spoken about, remains a basic aspect of the Orthodox theological inheritance.      The head of the Church is he "who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:8). Consequently, the future should be for us another basic field of vision.

In this scope, the serious theological study of the new emerging civilization and new means of communication, which combines together the whole of humankind and contributes to the interdependence and inter-penetration of thoughts, insights and customs, is necessary. It is incumbent on us to face seriously the tremendous revolution which is pushing humanity from the old industrial era to a universal electronic culture, to a world society of interdependence. The old passage from the oral word to the written one, formerly offered tremendous possibilities to humankind for storing knowledge and experience, and decisively accelerated human progress and evolution. The new passage from the written word to the "electronic word" has opened infinite possibilities for accumulating universal knowledge and created a new human intelligence. The gospel must also play a crucial role in the forthcoming new culture.

Closely related to this is the new type of life experienced in big cities. Today, city dwellers comprise about one half of the world's population and there are about 3,050 cities having a population of more than 100,000, and about 296 "megacities," each with over one million in population. But parallel to the search for the ways to spread the gospel of hope within these new situations and new languages is the need for an understanding of the new existential problems that are created by modern atheism, agnosticism, secularism: the being absorbed by everyday earthly activity, which pushes every spiritual interest into the shadow of indifference. The responsible and serious dialogue in modern currents of thought, which allows the accomplishments of science, is a fundamental task for us.

In many instances, the leadership of the Orthodox Church has been limited to a marginal, "worshipping only" role and has been indifferent to approaching the intellectuals and artists, who easily catch the vibrations of modern problems and then send them forth, thus creating new ones. This is a difficult area, which needs special sensitivity, patience and endurance. In any case, the church cannot be indifferent to this field. The word of life, freedom, justice and hope, which it continues to transfer through the centuries, has to reach, in a dynamic way, the thought and heart of its most restless children.

b) As our planet is becoming a "megalopolis" of which Christians constitute a minority -- less than one third -- the need for unity among Christians and the dialogue with people of other religious convictions are taking on new dimensions and special importance. In particular, the need for unity among all Christians is more direct and imperative. We Christians are now aware that we cannot offer our witness in a convincing manner as long as we are divided. Reconciliation and unity of Christians has direct missionary dimensions and consequences.

For the Orthodox, priority has to be given to a closer collaboration with the Ancient Churches of Africa and Asia, which lived throughout history being faithful only to the three first Ecumenical Councils. These are churches of resistance and martyrdom. Miraculously they survived, despite the terrible conditions they endured during several centuries. And yet, they are today fervently involved in spreading the gospel in Asia and Africa.

The last forty years have shown that we Orthodox have the possibility, and also the obligation, to contribute in a decisive way to the ecumenical quest, using the richness accumulated through twenty centuries of theological experience in various historical and social circumstances. But also, our participation in the relative conferences and consultations of the World Council of Churches has proved fruitful, not only for the others, but also for us, due to the new insights for our theological problems, new issues coming from the experience, and the successes or the mistakes of the west.

c) In the case of the religious searches, we observe not only indifference but also explosive situations. Islam and the religious systems emerging from Indian thought express their points concerning the coming new era, and so they propose interpretations and solutions.       The issues of Christian mission and dialogue with people other faiths acquire new dimensions and new challenges.

In the new inter-religious dialogue, which has already begun, the Orthodox are given the opportunity to practice another kind of "Orthodox witness"; through a positive and clear unfolding of our church's theology and experience, which often helps to transcend the one-sided trends that have been developed in the thought and the ethos of the western churches. A serious study in the science of religion is to the general missionary effort what mathematics is for the growth of the physical sciences. In addition, we Orthodox, with our experience of the weaknesses and trials of the past, can counter-balance the accusation expressed towards Christianity, that it has been aggressive and colonial. We Christians of the Orthodox Churches have to give -- as a counter-weight to the pressure and the mistakes of western Christianity -- the weight of our own experience and our martyrdom in the long history of sufferings of and pressures by Muslim states and majorities (Middle East, Balkans, Egypt, Syria).

Concerning the theological understanding of non-Christian religious beliefs from an Orthodox point of view, I will confine myself to a brief exposition of the following thoughts. According to biblical history, several "covenants" between God and humanity took place early in time and still keep their importance and validity. The first was made with Adam and Eve, that is, with the representatives of the whole of humankind. The second was with Noah and the new humanity who were saved from the flood (Gen. 8). The third covenant was made with Abraham (Gen. 12), the head of a race of people who were to play a basic role within God's plan for the salvation of the whole human race. The last and final, the ever "New Covenant," took place in Jesus Christ, the new Adam. But all human beings, created "in the likeness of God," are in a relation to God through a covenant that he sealed.

Acknowledging the presence of inherent important values in the religious experience of others, even' spermatic word, we also admit that they possess certain possibilities for a new flourishing from within. Justin concluded his brief reference to the logos spermaticos with a basic principle which, strangely enough, is not stressed by those referring to his position. He emphasizes the difference between seed (sperma) and the realization of the fullness of the life inherent in it; and he also differentiates between inherent "force" (dynamis) and "grace" (charis). "Because a seed of something, a type given according to the inherent force, is not the same with this, through the grace of which the transformation and copying (of it) is realized" (II Apol. 13:6).

Religions are organic wholes but, as they are experienced by living human beings, they are "living wholes" in development and evolution. They have their own internal dynamism and enteleheia. They receive influences, absorb new ideas coming to their environment and adapt themselves to new challenges.

In view of this, Christian truths are penetrating and developing in various religious searches all over the world, through other challenges. Here, the contribution of dialogue can be decisive. To conclude : in today's existing search by the entire human race, the Orthodox Christian experience and ethos are condensing a unique richness for humanity. Our mission is to assimilate it, to live it creatively within the new situations, in deep love with our brothers and sisters of other traditions. Always keeping our antennae sensitive to the messages that the world sends forth, or better yet, God, through the world and creation, which are his. Investigating them seriously with realism, we are called to re-estimate our position and life in a Trinitarian, ecclesiological and eschatological perspective.

Mission, as everything in Orthodox life, is not only realized "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," but mainly, it is a participation in the life of the Holy Trinity, an expression of this love with all the power of existence, "with all (our) hearts, and with all (our) souls, and with all (our) minds." Mission is an essential expression of Orthodox self-conscience, a cry in action for the fulfillment of God's will "on earth as it is in heaven." I would like to stress here what we have been stressing for the past twenty-five years; that indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy.

Orthodox mission, internal or external, is through its nature "ecclesiastic." It cannot be understood as an individual-al or a group activity, separated from the body of Christ. Those who work for it, it is the church that they serve, the church that they represent; it is the life of the church that they transplant. No one is saved alone; no one offers Christ's salvation alone. We are saved within the church, we act within the church, and what we transfer is in the name of church.

All that the church possesses is for the sake of the whole world. The church radiates it and offers it, transforming all things (ta panta). "The whole world," "the whole creation," not only humanity, but the whole universe participates in the restoration, which has been realized by the redeeming work of Christ, and finds again its destination in glorifying God.

Mission is the extension of the love of the Trinitarian God, for the transformation of the whole world.




1.    A. Schmemann, "The Missionary Imperative in the Orthodox Tradiuon", in G.H. Anderson (ed.), The Theology of the Christian Mission, New York 1961, p. 250-257. G. Khodre, "Church and Mission", in Porefthendes - Go Ye 3 (1961), p. 40-42, 56-58. N. Nissiotis, The "Ecclesiological Foundation of Mission", in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 8 (1962), p. 22-52. A. Yannoulatos, "Orthodoxy and Mission", in S1 Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly 8 (1964), p. 139-148. By the same author, "The Purpose and Motive of Mission - From an Orthodox Point of View", in International Review of Mission 54 (1965), p. 298-307. By the same author, "Initial Thoughts toward an Orthodox Foreign Mission", in Porefthendes - Go Ye 10 (1968), p. 19-23, 50-52. By the same author, "Mission aus der Sicht eines Orthodoxen", in Neue Zeitschrift fur Missionswissenschaft - Nouvelle Revue de science missionnaire 26 (1970), p. 241-252. J. Meyendorff, "The Orthodox Church and Mission: Past and Present Perspectives", in St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 16 (1972), p. 59-71. E. Voulgarakis, "Orthodoxy Mission", in K Muller and Th. Sundermeier (ed.), Lexikon Missions­theologischer Grundbegriffe, Berlin 1987. 1. Bria (ed.), Martyria-Mission The Witness of the Orthodox Churches Today, Geneva, WCC, 1980.- For a broader presentation of the subject and a detailed bibliography cf. J.


Stamoolis, Eastern Urihodox Mission t neotogy t oaay, maryrcnou, iv. T ., 1986.

2.  More see in our study "Byzantion ergon evangelismou" (Byzantium, Missions), in "Threskeviike kai Ethike Enkyklopaedia" (Encyclopaedia of Religion and Morals), vol. 4 (1964), cot. 19-59. CC F. Dvornik, Les . Slaves. Byzance er Rome au lXe sikh Paris 1929. M. Lacko, Saints Cyril and Methodtus, Rome 1963. M. Spinka, A History of Christianity in the Balkans, Hamden, Conn., 1968. A. Yannoulatos, "Monks and Mission in the Eastern Church during the Fourth Century", in International Review of Mission 58 (1969), p. 208-226. By the same author, "Les Missions des Eglises d'Orient", in Encyclopaedia Universalis, Paris, vol. 11 (1972), p. 99-102.

3.    Ch. Diehl, Les grands problimes de I'histoire byzantine Paris 1943, p. 17.

4.    Cf. Eu. Smirnofl; A Short Account of the Historical Development and Present Position of Russian Orthodox Missions, London 1903. Ous Cary, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Missions, Vol. 1: A History of Christianity in Japan, New York 1909. S. Bolshakoff, The Foreign Missions of the Russian Orthodox Church, London 1943. 1. Glazik, Die russisch-orthodox Heidenmission sail Peter dem Grosse, Miinchen 1954. J. Glazik, Die Islammisston der russisch-orihodoxen Kirche, Munster 1959. A. Yannoulatos, "Orthodoxy in China", in Porefthendes - Go Ye 4 (1962), p. 26-30, 36-39, 52-55. By the same author, "Orthodoxy in Alaska", in Porefthendes - Go Ye 5 (1963), p. 14-22, 44-47. By the same author "Orthodoxy in the Land of the Rising Sun", in Orthodoxy 1964. A Panorthodox Symposium, Athens 1964, p. 300-319, 338-340. E. Widmer, The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Peking during the Eighteenth Century Cambridge, Mass., 1976. P. D. Garret, St Innocent, Apostle to America, Crestwood, N.Y., 1979. J.J. Oleksa, "Orthodoxy in Alaska. The Spiritual History of the Kodiak Aleut People", in St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 25 (1981).

5.       Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, " Hoi Neomartyres" (The New Martyrs), 2nd ed., Athens 1934. J. Perantoms, Lexikon idn Neomariyrbn (Dictionary of the New Martyrs), 3 vols., Athens 1972. D. Constantelos, "The 'Neomartyrs' as Evidence for Methods and Motives Leading to Conversion and Martyrdom in the Ottoman Empire", in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 23 (1978), p. 216-234.

6.       The following reviews constitute an important source of information about recent developments in missionary churches. Greek and English Porefthentes - Go Ye, Athens, Vol. 1 (1959) to 10 (1968), Greek : Ph6s Eihn6n; Patras, Exoterike Hieraposiole, Thessaloniki, Panta To Ethne,


Athens. English : HierapostoleMission, St Augustine, Fl.. Finnish L6hetyswesk Helsinki.

7.       Nilus the Ascet, Homely on the Prayer 124, Philokaha i6n hier6n nepak6n, Athens, Vol. 1, 1957, p. 187.

8.       For a good synthesis of the results of these consultations cf. Ion Bria (ed.), Go Forth in Peace Orthodox Perspectives on Mission, Geneva, WCC, 1986.

9.       A. Yannoulatos, "Theology, Mission and Pastoral Care", in Savas Agouridis (ed.), Deuxiime Congris de Thiologie Orthodoxe, Athens 1978, p. 292-310.

10.     Other theological aspects of the same subject have been developed in certain of my previous studies, such as: "A la redëcouverte de 1'ethos missionnaire de I'Eglise orthodoxe", in Aspects de l'Orihodoxie, Strasbourg 1978, p. 78-96; "Culture and Gospel. Some Observations from the Orthodox Tradition and Experience", in International Review of Mission 74 (1985), p. 185-198; "Remembering Some Basic Facts in Today's Mission", in International Review of Mission 77 (1988), p. 4-11.

11.  Cf. VI. Lossky, Thiologie mystique de I Eghse d Orient, Pans 1944, p. 175.

Engl. trans, :    The mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Crestwood, N.Y., 1976, p. 178.

12.     D. Barret, "Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 1987", in International Bulletin of Missionary Research 11 (1987), p. 24.

13.     El. Voulgarakis, "Mission and Unity form the Theological Point of View", in International Review of Mission 54 (1965), p. 298-307. A. Yannoulatos, "Rbflections d'un Orthodoxe stir la coopëration interconfessionnelle dans la Mission", in 40e Semaine de Missiologie de Louvain, Louvain 1970, p. 101-110. J. Meyendorfl; "Unity and Mission", in Worldmission 26 (1975), 3, p. 39-42.


14.  More on this subject: L. Filippidis, Rehgionsgescluchie als Hedsgescltichie in der Weligeschichte, Athens 1953. N. Arsemev, Revelation of Life Eternal An Introduction to the Christian Message, Crestwood, N.Y., 1965. G. Khodre, "Christianity in a Pluralistic World - The Economy of the Holy Spirit", in The Ecumenical Review 23 (1971), p. 118-128. A. Yannoulatos, "Towards World Community", in Ecumenical Review 26 (1974), p. 619-636, with additions in : S.J. Samartha led.), "Towards a 'komonia agapes"', Towards World Community; the Colombo Papers, Geneva 1975, p. 45-64. By the same author, Various Christian Approaches to the Other Religions A Historical Outline, Athens 1971. By

the same author, "Emerging Perspectives on the Relationship of Christians to People of Other Faith. An Eastern Orthodox Contribution", in Iniernational Review of Mission 77(1988), p. 332-346. I. Karmiris, He pankosmioles en Chrisib s6ierias (The universality of the salvation in Christ), Athens 1981.