Off the Shelf – Mission in Christ’s Way, Part 1

By Fr. Aris Metrakos

Mission in Christ’s Way is a compilation of papers and addresses made by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania which articulates his perspective and philosophy toward mission and an Orthodox theology of mission. Please find following some of the salient points presented in this volume that are particularly noteworthy when considering our efforts to share the Gospel in America.

The Catholic and Apostolic Church

If we truly believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, then we must accept that being “Apostolic” means more than “Apostolic succession.” The Church has the obligation to spread (share, not impose) the Gospel, and failure to do is a denial of our Orthodoxy.

The Archbishop repeatedly affirms that Christ came to redeem the entire universe. Jesus Christ is not only the Savior of souls, but of the entire human being and the whole material-spiritual creation. “We cannot forget that we belong to the Catholic Church, which embraces all things, the whole of humanity, all of life. No local church has the right to individually enjoy the Christian tradition and keep it exclusively as her own treasure. The basic duty of every local Catholic Church remains to live the whole tradition and offer it in its fullness, peacefully, but decisively, in universal perspective.”

God’s Commandments

We do not have the luxury of choosing which Commandments to follow and which to ignore. “We speak fluently for freedom, love, human community, but we stammer when speaking for self-control, humility, repentance, crucifying the old person, the narrow gate and in self-sacrifice.” Nor do we have the option of ignoring the Great Commission.

God’s Will

An understanding of the meaning of God’s will informs our approach to mission. God’s will is unfolding before us and we are called to conform our will to His. “Unfortunately, many of us, in critical situations, while we easily say that “Thy will be done,” in practice add: not as thou wilt but as I will. This overt or secret reversal of the Divine will in our decisions is the main reason and cause of the failure of many Christian missions and initiatives.”

The Holy Trinity

Archbishop Anastasios emphasizes the need for a Trinitarian theology, in the face of Western approached to mission that he regards as being at times overly Christocentric (i.e., institutional); as such, he reminds us of the importance of the Holy Spirit in God’s plan for our salvation. At the same time, he rejects associating the Spirit with pietism.

“Any community that receives the spirit should be aware that it is not to be a possession or property of a few individuals or for personal enjoyment and ecstasy but for a worldwide mission. At Pentecost all the barriers and borders that divide human beings were destroyed by the mighty wind and the tongues of fire. Pentecost is the overcoming of the confusion of Babel; it inaugurates a new relationship of trust and love with God and human beings; a new decisive possibility for communion between God and humankind. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is not limited to ecstatic phenomena; rather, it refers to the transformation of personal relationships. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. P. 149”

The Resurrection

The Resurrection and Mission are inextricably linked. Before the Resurrection, the Apostles were sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The Great Commission is given after the Resurrection. In a certain sense, a Church that focuses only on finding her lost sheep while ignoring the Great Commission lives negates or denies the Resurrection.

He goes on to say:

“Any polarization of interest between internal and external mission should be avoided; each reinforces and stabilizes the other (P. 125)…Mission and pastoral care characteristically go hand-in-hand in all Orthodox communities. Strengthening and spiritually assisting the faithful, as well as attracting new Christians (P. 75).” But “Mission is not accomplished by just attending to the care of our own. It is not synonymous with pastoral care, even though it is closely linked to it. It is not right to call every spiritual effort mission and to be content and at ease with ourselves that we have fulfilled our missionary duty by a few pastoral activities. Mission is principally the binding of non-believers to the Church.

Next week we’ll conclude this review of Mission in Christ’s Way with selections on Social Justice, Relationship with Non-Christians, and Problems Inhibiting Christian Witness.

Mission in Christ’s Way. Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos. Holy Cross Orthodox Press. 2010. 346 pages