Word Magazine October 1959 Page 8-11
THE FORGOTTEN COMMANDMENT
By Anastasios Yannoulatos
Committee on General Secretary, Orthodox Missions
The subject of Orthodox external missions is not, of course, touched here for the first time. Quite often, during the last decades, it was made the subject of informal discussions which, with very few exceptions,1 consisted of casual thoughts and youthful emotionalism that quickly faded into prolonged inactivity.
The existence of various external difficulties, imposed upon us by our environment, was often considered to be the reason for this situation. The truth of the matter, however, should rather be sought in something deeper: in the very fact that we do not fully believe in missionary work. A diffused skepticism freezes our missionary zeal, as soon as it springs to life within our souls.
“Well! But how can we deal with such a complex problem as missionary work?” or “Should we have such ambitious plans for abroad when there are so many needs at home?” These are the most common excuses, which have always led stagnation and lack of activity rather, than to the realization of the need for fervent prayer.
But it is only natural to question the validity of this way of thinking and ask: “Is this the right attitude? can we not do anything in the way of external missions?”
1) Fortunately, we do not have to answer this question. It has already been answered for us, in verse 19, chap. 28, of Matthew and verse 15, chap. 16 of Mark. If we consider the problem in the light of these verses, we cannot fail to see that the way of posing the problem in itself is wrong. It is not a question of “can we?” but of an Imperative command “we must. “Go ye therefore and teach all nations!” “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” There is no “consider if you can” there is only a definite, clear-cut command of Our Lord.
Christ entrusted His cause — the spreading of His Kingdom upon earth — for which He came down to us and sacrificed Himself, to His disciples. The Apostles took it to their heart as their only desire, aim and care; and upon leaving this world, they handed over the commandment, in their turn, to their own disciples. They too, lived up to it and again left it as a precious inheritance to the “generations that followed them. Every generation considered it its sacrosanct duty to carry the sacred torch of Faith one step forward. And now the torch is in our own hands, while millions of souls have not yet seen its bright flame. Do we have any right to pose and think as to whether we should obey this definite command of Our Lord, so dramatically emphasized by the blood, shed for it, by the generations which handed it over to us?
2) “Thy Kingdom come is whispered by millions of lips every day and yet it is quite obvious that God could have established His Kingdom upon earth, in no time, had He only wished it so. But as we are taught in our Church’s doctrine of salvation, He asks for the participation of the human factor in this work. What are we doing about this cooperation, to which we are invited with the holy aim of the spreading of His Kingdom to all nations? “Thy Kingdom come.” If only our prayer were a fervent, burning supplication said in support of a noble fight, it would be a most wonderful contribution to the cause. But even this prayer for the extension of His Kingdom has degenerated into a mechanical, loose, mumbling, which is hardly intelligible to ourselves.
3) We are proud of our Orthodox Church because it has zealously kept the truth of Christ clean of all impurity and we boast of it. Quite rightly too, because it is indeed a great blessing. But, have we ever thought of the burden of responsibility that this blessing involves? It is painfully emphasized by some U.N. Statistics that came out in 1956. Out of the total world population of 2,636,600,000 only 804,306,860 are Christians and out of these only a mere 128,887,917 are Orthodox. That is, we Orthodox are 1/6 of the total number of Christians, who in turn are only 1/3 of the total population of our earth.
We possess the Truth; but this is a duty rather than an honour. If the servant who received one talent and buried it was condemned by the Lord, what awaits us who have buried all five of them? Look at the tireless activity of those who have a single one and a false one at that. There are some tiny Protestant communities (which can hardly be called churches which have developed such wonderful activity in this field of propagation of Christianity (?) to the heathen.2 Statistics register a fall in the number of Orthodox. Perhaps the real fall is smaller than that shown in the statistics, but there it is. And if we try to discover the reason, it is as simple as that: With defensive tactics — such as the ones we are habitually using — no great conquests are ever made.
4) If we let ourselves rest peacefully in this habitual inertia in the matter of foreign missions, we art not simply keeping the pure light of Faith “under the bushel,” but we are betraying one of the basic elements of Orthodox tradition. For, missionary work has always been a tradition with the Orthodox Church. In the Byzantine times the development of missionary activity is really astonishing. Fervent preachers of the Gospel set off for all sorts of destinations. Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, Armenia, Phoenicia, Arabia, Noubia, Ethiopia, as far as the exotic lands of the Indians, the Mongols and the Chinese. 3
Others go forth to the north, to Bulgaria, Serbia, Moldavia, Bohemia, Greater Moravia, Russia, extending the radiant light of Byzantium and Christianity, “up to the farthermost edges of Western Europe”4 up to England and Sweden.5 The Great Fathers of the Church were the soul of this missionary drive. We cannot help mentioning the keen interest and activity developed by Saint John Chrysostom in the dispatch of missions to various peopleas.6 After the fall of Byzantium. Russia kept this missionary tradition.7
After all this, it has become we hope obvious, that missionary activity is not simply something “useful” or just “nice” but something imperative, a foremost duty, if we really want to be consequent to our Orthodox Faith.
No one, of course, questions the theoretical validity of what has been said. But usually there are two excuses, which tend to ease the shock we feel when we come face to face with the criminal negligence, which we display nowadays towards missionary work. The argument which forms the basis of the first excuse runs along the following lines, roughly. “We have so many needs in our own Church, so many gaps to be filled. Shouldn’t we convert our own fellow-countrymen into conscientious Christians before ever trying on others?” The second argument reinforces in the first. “In any case, we are so weak and poor, unequal to a task which calls for financial resources and powerful organizations and men..’ It is true, of course, the Orthodox Churches wherever not under persecution, as behind the iron curtain, are generally poor and unsupported, in a missionary effort, by powerful governments — as it is the case with western Christians. But let us never forget that the overstressing of any point, of any difficulty, comes dangerously close to a lie; for, a half-truth is often more harmful than a shameless lie for the simple reason that it can be easily disguised.
Coming from generalizations and abstractions to the concrete argument, we may make the following points on the first objection, which appeals to the needs of our home Churches:
1) This objection somehow reminds us of the excuse made by some middle-class families, when told of their duty to help the poor. “We do not have enough to live as we ought to, in our own family, let alone help others. Let the rich give. And in any case, what’s the outcome? Can we help all the poor families?” Apparently no one has ever asked them to feed all the poor in the world, nor does the indifference of the rich exempt the less wealthy ones from their obligations towards the needy. We hope that our thought has become clearer, although expressed in a metaphor.
2) But let us go on to the substance of the first argument. We often see young men from the cities and the big towns leaving their homes on missions to remote and neglected areas, with the aim of bringing Christ’s love to them. Could one seriously urge them to convert their neighbors and fellow-citizens first, into conscientious Christians and then set off for the village? “Well there is a basic difference between setting off for Greek villages and Congo” might one observe. But the difference appears to be real only when seen from a narrowly national point of view. It disappears when seen under the bright light of Christianity. Christian love and the faithfuls’ duty to spread Christian Truth do not stop at national frontiers. Isn’t there a place in our loving-heart for those beyond them? Are not they our brothers for whom Christ has died too? Well! in the same way as some of us leave their family and birthplace — because after all they have a Christian centre — and go to another district, which simply has not got anything: so, some others will be called to leave our country — which however great the need receives enough spiritual food — for distant lands which are really starving for religious guidance.
3) “All the same, we must first work for our own home” is the typical, rigid, answer of the objectionists. Granted! First; but that does not mean only. Nor should we take “first” strictly in its chronological sense; i.e. as meaning that we must first convert all Greeks into practicing Christians, before ever thinking of others. For, having accepted such condition we will never make a start for missions. We must quite simply take this “first” in the sense that a man, putting down his various duties, takes it. A priest’s first duty, for example, is his personal sanctification. His parishioners’ sanctification comes second. But this does not mean that he will never think of his second duty, unless he has attained perfect sanctity at the same time he will be trying to achieve both, his personal and his parishioners’ sanctification, Similarly, these two efforts, i.e. the better internal organization and sanctification of Our Church on one hand, and the propagation of our Faith abroad on the other, must progress in parallel. Usually, these two efforts are mutually inter-supporting. The heroism of missionaries and their spirit of sacrifice and love, always tend to give back to the old Churches a new vigor of life, making it possible for them to re-live in the spirit of the Church of the martyrs and in the pure but strong spirit of the catacombs,8 within which our Christianity is re-vigorourted and cleansed. Such a battle at the front always strengthens the enthusiasm and the fighting spirit of those behind the lines.
4) Moreover, we must bear in mind that the history of Christianity up to now, lends support and authority to these views. And first of all, the tactics followed by the Apostles were not those of a “clean sweep” campaign. Their plan was not to conquer Palestine first, and then Syria, Asia Minor and so on. They lit up fires all over the world, since it is easier to spread a fire that way. St. Paul organizes Christian communities in all centres of the known world, depositing the “good yeast” at various strategic points. The vast dough became more easily susceptible to fermentation that way. In any case, he knew that there were so many willing souls, in all these places, who were entitled to hear the Gospel and who later on would zealously preach it themselves. Why should he put off its propagation?
If these tactics were wise then, they are more than wise now. People are on a constant move and in a continuous contact with each other nowadays, and thus we need centres of Orthodox Faith everywhere. The more posts and supporting points we have the better it is for the maintenance and propagation of our Orthodox Faith.
Never have battles been won by defense alone. Especially in this era of ours, fortifications and defensive tactics have lost the importance they once had both in military and ideological battles.
It is high time that we Orthodox, getting rid of our “defensive” tactics should become more dynamic and warlike.9
Many are the signs that show, that in our era Orthodoxy, in spite of persecutions and internal problems, is again called to the limelight to play a great role indeed. 10
The more the time lapses, quickly vanishing into eternity, the clearer the voice of our Lord resounds in our ears: “behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it. For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” (Rev. 3, 8)
We began this brief study with a question “Can we contemporary Orthodox think of external mission?” and now, after going into a more detailed examination of the subject, under the light of the Holy Scriptures, of Tradition and common sense, we see it reversed and transformed into a burning and accusing question: “Can we go on ignoring the clear commandment of the Lord (MATT. 28, 88, MARK 16, 15) and the Tradition of our Church, hiding the talent under heaps of pretences and excuses?
In the second part of this article we had an opportunity to answer the first basic excuse for this inactivity, which appeals to the existing numerous needs of our Church. It is time to examine the second opposing argument which is put forward, whenever we consider a systematic missionary effort to non-Christian countries. “We do not have the means: there is no unity among us Orthodox; we do not exercise any international influence. Such things ask for many things, while we hardly have any at all.”
1. We must first of all observe that it wouldn’t be bad at all to comment on this excuse by quoting Nietzsche’s phrase “human! too human!” The first argument has at least to its credit, that it has a spiritual foundation — the interest in the immediate urgent needs of the Church — but this second one is simply based on our . . . lack of faith. By saying all this, we do not want to maintain of course, that material means are not of any importance in a missionary effort. We believe however, that they can be found (God helps so that they may be found) when the other things are there. When there is faith and activity and no trace of self-interest. So many really great works started from next to nothing but grew up to maturity with the zeal and faith of their originators.
Sources shall be found. The Orthodox people will help, if only they can see an organized effort, which they may trust and by which they may be inspired. God will certainly grant such economic sources. Not however, as a guarantee which we must have, before we even start thinking such a demand would be an insult — but as a prize for our faith.
Even in the Roman Catholic Church the most important contemporary financial supporting organizations were established, by private initiative.11 Small Protestant Churches maintain important missions. For, they are conscious of their primary, personal, task to propagate Christianity, whereas we do not even think of it. A systematic enlightenment and campaign however, would surely awaken us from this lethargy. The awareness of this duty exists in many souls, admittedly in a latent condition; but who has ever tried to awaken it?
2. The same things apply to the problem of men. There are many people who feel in their soul, that they have a vocation. But how can they substantiate it and plant it somewhere. There is not a single missionary effort, which they might join. They remain therefore solitary, flickering, little flames that burn out and vanish in the first gust of the wind. And yet, they might have accomplished so much, had they only been joined and fed systematically.
“But the population of the free Orthodox countries so small” — might one remark — Where can we find the men? We can easily prove, however, that this is a very feeble argument, by resorting to figures. There are very few Roman Catholic missionaries from Latin America in spite of the great numbers of Roman Catholics there, whereas in Holland where there are only 250,000 of them, they have a tremendous movement. There is one missionary priest to every four at home. (Information Catholic Internationales Nov. 1958). In Ireland the proportion is one to five; in Belgium one to seven; in Switzerland one to thirteen; in Greece one to. . . eight thousand. (!)
3. Speaking of Holland, one might raise an objection. “Well we can understand this in connection with such people, but we Orthodox have no colonies, no cultural radiation and influence of a more general character.”
Well, first of all we might be excused to answer through a question. “In the centuries of persecution, which state backed the Christians in their missionary activity?” They simply had the power of the Kingdom of God within themselves. That’s all that there was and that there is to it. They knew that “Christian and missionary go together.” That is what drove them to bring the message of the Gospel “to the end of the earth”). 12
But apart from this we must realize that state support might be an advantage up to now, but in our days, which witness a general awakening of the people and a strong reaction to foreign penetration and influence, it has become more of a disadvantage. The native people look upon missionaries, that come from colonial countries, as agents of their governments sly and dangerous (applying this even to the most good willed and sincere men) and in consequence they are prejudiced against them. They hate them. 13 Roman Catholics in particular, with their dependence from Rome, arouse suspicions in the simple, but cunning minds of the natives. The effort of the Chinese to create an independent Church and to discontinue their link with Rome is characteristic.14
What therefore used to constitute a handicap for us has now been transformed into a considerable advantage. For, surely, neither the people of Africa, nor those of the Far East would ever think that a Greek or a Finnish missionary might be a menace to their freedom and independent development. They can easily make sure that he has gone to them solely because of his faith in the truth of Christianity, moved by love alone, without any ulterior motive.
4. Finally, many are those who express their fears, derived from the lack of unbreakable unity among Orthodox. We do not deny that. The Orthodox Churches are separated to a certain extent. But this is an argument for, rather than against the idea of organizing a Pan-Orthodox Missionary Society. 15 Such a common effort may unite us more, may help us to become more conscious of our Orthodoxy and to bring us into spiritual contact. A common struggle always unites spiritually. In any event, the things that separate us are not so many and so strong as these that unite us. We mean our unity of Faith, our Orthodox spirit, the same Body and Blood of Christ that we all partake. The links that have been hammered in SYNDESMOS and the close cooperation on the subject of missions, which was promised by all delegates of the movements that belong to SYNDESMOS, guarantee that this thought has become something more than a noble vision.
All that has been said above was not meant to support the view that there are no difficulties. But there is a difference between “there are difficulties” and “it is impossible’’ or, “it is not our primary duty.” The latter tend to paralyze and drug any effort, whereas the former, namely the recognition of difficulties, incites into strong action, awakes slumbering forces, moves to more fervent prayer, drives us into a hopeful start.
And it is high time that, at last, we make a start. From all points, in all possible ways — as a wonder, as a censure, as a command — many calls reach us repeating the same thing:
“Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.” (John 4, 35).
1. An important step towards that direction would have been taken if the Orthodox Pro-Synod scheduled to convene at Mt. Athos in 1932 had really taken place. The Church of Greece had in mind to propose the establishment of a Pan-Orthodox Society for foreign missions, the foundation of a missionary school and the publication of a special magazine and books.
2. One of the innumerable branches of the Protestant Churches, that of the “Square Gospel” numbering a mere 80,000 members maintains four foreign missions.
3. In the 9th century there was an Orthodox Archdiocese in China. See M. Bruce “Christianity in China” in Church Times, May 3, 1956.
4. Moss: “The diffusion of Greek culture” in the Geographical Magazine year 1946. Pp. 212-219.
5. For the missionary work of the Byzantine Church see the excellent paper of B. Erastos “A Thousand Radiant Years” in the magazine “Aktines” 1948. Pp. 441-48 and 87-90; also “Byzantine Missions” in weekly “Zoë” , a series of 22 articles written in 1954.
6. “There is evidence that he organized missions to Scythia, to the Goths and the Kelts, to Persia and Armenia, Syria, Cilicia and especially to Phoenice.” B.Tzorzatos: “St. John Chrysostom,” Athens 1956 pp. 89-80. It is exceedingly moving that, even in exile and in isolation at the distant coucoussos, and in spite of his frequent illness and sufferings, he never stopped worrying about the missions. He subjected himself to all kinds of privations in order to be able to send the money and gifts which he received from Antioch and Constantinople to the missionaries in Phoenice. (See epistle LI)
7. See I. Bolschakoff: “The foreign missions of the Orthodox Russian Church.” Russian missionaries worked in Finland, Esthonia, Lithuania, Alaska, Camtcha, Turkistan, China, Korea, Japan, Manchuria and to a lesser extend in North America. Also see Florovsky’s, “Russian Missions” in magazine “The Christian East” Vol. XIV (1933) No. 1, p. 32. J. Glazik M.S.C. “Die Russichorthodoxe Heidenmission seit Peter dem Grossen.” Minister in Westfalen, 1954.
8. Whole books and countless articles have been written and are still published on missionary self-sacrifice and love, which deeply move every human heart.
9. According to some recent Roman Catholic statistics, their foreign mission comprise 26840 priests, 9331 assistants of the clergy, 61577 nuns, 8286 catechists, and 92111 lay teachers. They maintain 1170 Higher Schools attended by 283589 students and 46560 other schools with 3,818,065 pupils; 3132 first aid posts, 1115 hospitals with 64886 beds and 1720 orphanages, housing 93835 children. (Newspaper “Katholike”, Christmas 1958, p. 27). Also, for details on the work in Ruanda-Urundi and Congo, see magazine “Afrique vivante” August, September, 1958. According to another source the Evangelical Churches had in 1952, 42886 missionaries, aided by 199,069 native assistance. (Evangelisches Kirchen Lexicon. Gottingen 1958, Vol. 2, Par. 1360)
10. Besides the almost miraculous case of Uganda (see next article) another piece of striking and topical news has been recently given to publicity, by the Patriarchate of Alexandria. 10000 Mau-Mau have come over to Orthodoxy at their own initiative. (See, “Orthodox Observer” magazine of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Dec. 1958)
In connection with the more general interest of both Protestants and Roman Catholics in Orthodoxy, see “Nostalgia of Orthodoxy” a book published by the Zoë editions, Athens 1957, In our next number there will appear detailed report on the geographical diffusion of Orthodoxy all over the world.
11. The “Propagation de la foi” and to a certain extent the “Sainte Enfance” are due to the initiative and zeal of Mlle. Pauline Jaricot of Lyon, “Saint Pierre Apotres” on the other hand, was established by two other ladies. These three organizations have collected and spent on missions huge sums and today they are supporting hosts of schools, hospitals, etc. (See Vacant-Mangenot:
Dictionnaire de Theologic Catholique, Vol. X. paras. 1953, 1955, 1956)
12. See A. Harnack” “Mission und Ausbreitung des Christetums in der erstendrei Jahrhunderten.”
13. India, Indonesia, Burma, Sudan and the Union of South Africa, with great difficulty grant visas for the entry of missionaries. “In India the progress of Christianity appears to be exceptionally slow, whereas elsewhere in Asia, where missions enjoy full freedom, the number of Catholics has doubled or even quintupled”, from the information Bulletin of the “Fides” agency, 27 Sep. 1958.
14. On the 17th of July and 2nd of August, 1957, a conference was held in Peking among 12 bishops, 70 priests and 159 laymen, with the aim of establishing a National Catholic Union. On 13th April 1958 the first two consecrations of bishops without the prior approval of the Vatican, took place in the Cathedral of Hankow. (“Fides” Bulletin, 27-9-58).
15. The precise form of this Pan-Orthodox Missionary effort, as we have it in mind, will be described in an article to appear shortly.