By Fr. Aris Metrakos
Today’s review is part 2 of our post from December 14, 2018, which brings forward points from various chapters of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania’s book, Mission in Christ’s Way.
Archbishop Anastasios writes that Orthodox mission gives full meaning to the concept of Social Justice. We are called to help those who suffer injustice, but the greatest injustice is not to know Christ and the greatest human right is to be in communion with Him.
Our Relationship with Non-Christians
Archbishop Anastasios points out that “Jesus Christ went about doing good among people of other faiths.” Christ’s example shows us that are called to engage people of other beliefs without a diminution of our own faith that is a “double betrayal.” We can be critical of other religions, but not other people. Nor should we allow the concept of “Seminal Logos” to lead to perennialism1—remember that “seminal” means “seed” and a seed in other cultures and religions must be given the opportunity to grow.
The Role of the Relationship with Christ in the Life of the Missionary
“In order to be at all times a living witness of the presence of Our Lord, the missionary must be in continuous personal relationship with him. Therefore, the crucial problem, for every missionary is how to maintain a close relationship with the Holy Trinity. Our supreme concern must be not what we will do but how we will be a living witness to the presence of the Lord in the world. If the missionary is unable to transmit a sort of Glory which is not of the world, and thus not a reflection of civilization, wealth, and knowledge, but the glory of God as it is revealed in the mystery of kenosis, of Resurrection, and of Pentecost, then he has nothing essential to offer.
Problems Inhibiting Orthodox Witness
The Archbishop is frank with regard to these problems: There is a certain spiritual malaise in the body of the clergy. Modern theologians should operate in a climate of repentance. Many administrative structures prove insufficient and are unable to meet present-day requirements. There is a tendency for the membership of the Church as a whole to display a kind of somnolence, which results in inertia and passivity. Endless discussions in committees and assemblies often drown our actions. There is a lack of continuity and commitment.
On the Orthodox Incarnational Approach to Mission
“The end of the road of an orthodox mission must however be the growth of an indigenous Church … First and foremost, we are to have respect for the past of every people (P. 33)…We must endeavor not only to ‘adapt,’ but to ‘incarnate’ the Logos of God into the language and customs of the country (P. 53)… For the re-evangelization of the world, the Orthodox Church does not need to rely upon authoritative and insincere methods, which from time to time have traumatized the integrity of various Christian missions. The Church respects the particularities of the persons and his cultures, but the Church shares with those her persons and cultures her unique gifts: her liturgical life, the offering of her sacraments and her unfeigned love.
The price to be paid for not incarnating the Faith in a culture can be found in the Middle-East:
“The uprooting of Christianity from the life of the Arabic people is attributed also to the fact that they did not have the biblical and liturgical texts in their own language (P. 122)…The weakening of interest in Byzantium for a proper, consistent, and perpetual external Mission contributed to the evolution of a spiritual vacuum that propelled Islam in the Arabic were older, and finally to the collapse of the Byzantine Empire. P. 199”
In this book, Archbishop Anastasios captures the spirit of Orthodox Christian Mission. Mission is predicated on a faith that is alive and in theology that leads to action. He reminds us that we are called to follow the incarnational approach to mission and that there are consequences when faith is synthetically overlaid on a culture. Finally, His Eminence reminds us to be unabashedly Orthodox and Christian in our work; to love all people without hiding behind the sloganeering of theological and social trends, knowing that that greatest injustice that someone to suffer is not to know Christ.
Mission in Christ’s Way. Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos. Holy Cross Orthodox Press. 2010. 346 pages
1. Perennialism is a perspective in modern spirituality that states that each of the world's religious traditions shares a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which their respective doctrine has grown (Wikipedia article entitled “Perennial Philosophy,” retrieved 11-8-2018). In contrast, Orthodox Christians subscribe to the ancient philosophy of the Seminal Logos, which teaches that while reason generated from one source of reason and Truth, and will return to the same, this is not to say that each religion fully expresses and manifests that Truth.