Some comments by Orthodox missiologists on “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” document
Addressed to all Orthodox Autocephalous Churches
An all other representatives of the Holy Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, participating in the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church
As faithful members of our Holy Orthodox Church, a group of professional missiologists who, in the past generation, have passionately devoted our academic service to the Orthodox understanding of mission, we humbly submit our thoughts and recommendations to all our autocephalous Churches, encouraged by the decision of the 2016 Synaxis of the Primates to open the conciliar process and all the agreed documents for discussion and final adoption by the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church public.
We are extremely grateful for this opportunity, which enhances our Church’s conciliarity on the occasion of the first convocation after so many centuries of a truly Panorthodox Synod.
Without denying the importance of all the other agreed documents the one on mission – which, we presume, the Synaxis of the Primates in Geneva purposely put at the top of the list of all documents submitted to the Synod – is of utmost and extraordinary significance. Not only because the Church exists for the world, and not for herself, but also because it comes at a time that the entire world, regardless of religious or even non-religious affiliation, has enthusiastically accepted two similar mission statements: the famous Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis “Evangelii Gaudium” (2013), and almost simultaneously the new Mission Statement of World Mission: “Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes”.
Therefore, we considered it our imperative duty to contribute our small scholarly ability, so that the analogous Orthodox statement, the first ever to be proclaimed urbi et orbi by all Orthodox Churches with one voice, could be as humanly perfect as possible. Being aware of the late stage of the conciliar process, we decided to limit our recommendations only to a few absolutely necessary points. Apropos, we endorse all the comments of the group of scholars on mission, education, and media, which met in Constantinople earlier this year on the invitation of H.A.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. In this letter we make concrete proposals by providing at the beginning as a preamble the theological resonance and then indicating the exact place of the possible changes/additions in both the official original Greek text as well as in an existing unofficial English version.
With all due respect, it is humbly submitted by
H.G. Bishop of Kisumu, West Kenya Dr. Athanasios AKUNDA
Very Rev. Dr. Anastasios Elekiah KIHALI
Rev. Dr. Gregory EDWARDS
Rev. Dr. George LIACOPOULOS
Rev. Dr. Kosmas (John) NGIGE NJOROGE
Dr. Evanthia ADAMTZILOGLOU
Prof. Emeritus Dr. Ivan DIMITROV
Dr. Nikolaos DIMITRIADIS
Dr. Rastko JOVIC
Dr. Eleni KASSELOURI
Dr. Dimitrios KERAMIDAS
Dr. Theodosios KYRIAKIDIS
Dr. Athanasios PAPATHANASIOU
Dr. Nikolaos TSIREVELOS
Prof. Emeritus Dr. Petros VASSILIADIS
Dr. Evi VOULGARAKI
The agreed document on “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”, although it is a great step forward with extraordinary significance, gives the impression of regrettably ignoring all the major achievements in contemporary world mission by renowned Orthodox theologians.
1. Our first remark of paramount importance for an “Orthodox Mission Statement” is the lack of affirmation of the Church’s missional and witnessing responsibility, starting with the biblical foundation of this dimension of her ecclesial identity. This was probably due to the assignment to revise a document that only dealt with specific aspects of the Church’s witness (The Contribution of the Orthodox Church etc). Now that the document covers the entire mission of the Church, a complete lack of reference to it will exacerbate the impression that the Orthodox relegate their mission to a second class option and not their primary imperative.
2. Also of paramount importance is the neglect of the Orthodox theological achievements in mission. Whereas almost all missionaries and missiologists around the globe speak about mission using the “martyria/witness” terminology, much more holistic in outlook than the oldfashioned - and overloaded with aggressive and sometimes proselytistic attitudes – “mission”, introduced mainly and strongly promoted by Orthodox (most notably by the Archbishop of Albania Anastasios, and the late Fr. Ion Bria, to name just two from different Orthodox ecclesiastical jurisdictions), the document’s very title completely ignores it. Not to mention of course that the the term “mission”, in addition to all negative connotations, also gives nowadays the impression of an arrogant attitude, whereas “witness” fits better with the humble ethos of Orthodoxy. As a result of the preference of the mission (instead of witness) terminology the original title of ch. 6 (in the 1986 pre-revised version), starting with “Prophetic Witness”, has been regrettably replaced in the agreed document by “Mission…”!
It would be a real contribution to world mission, if the overall title of the document is changed to: “The Witness of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”, and the subtitle of Ch. 6 to: “The Prophetic Mission of the Orthodox Church as a Witness of Love in Ministry”. Note that the term “prophetic witness” does occur in par. 9 of that chapter.
3. Along the same lines, it is absolutely imperative for an Orthodox declaration on mission to officially refer to, or even develop, the “liturgy after the liturgy” terminology. Like the “witness” terminology, it is a highly spiritual terminology, introduced by Orthodox (originally by Archbishop Anastasios and widely publicized and almost imposed on international missiological parlance by all Orthodox missiologists). Its use is also justified by the reference in the last paragraph of the document’s preamble to “the accumulated experience and the teaching of her (sc. of the Orthodox Church’s)… liturgical …. Tradition”. It would, therefore, be advisable for this afore-mentioned clause to be reformulated as follows: “…the Orthodox Church in her ‘liturgy after the liturgy’ shares the concerns… etc”.
4. Finally, whereas the main theological foundation of the inter-faith dialogue in world mission was first provided by an Orthodox, the Antiochian Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon Georges Khodr, on the basis of the “economy of the Holy Spirit” (side by side with the “economy of the Word”), no theological reason is given, or even hinted at, in Ch. 1, instead simply stating: “The Orthodox Churches are called upon to help in the religious dialogue and cooperation”. It would, therefore, be more theologically sound if the relevant sentence read as follows: “The Orthodox Churches, deeply rooted in their unique theological tradition about the ‘economy of the Holy Spirit’, are called upon to take part in inter-faith dialogue and co-operation”. Note here that “religious” or “inter-religious” dialogue is a purely secular inter-disciplinary scholarly endeavor, and in addition can indirectly give the impression of unwanted syncretism, whereas “inter-faith” dialogue is a missiological term, referring to a compassionate encounter with people of faith of other living religions, based among others on Jesus Christ’s encounter and discussion with the Samaritan woman
5. Unlike the traditional ecumenical and general canonical provisions that base all their canonical formulations on dominical (or in their absence Pauline or other biblical) sayings, the document’s theological documentation in some places is lacking the proper biblical references. There is, in particular, a lack of accurate biblical documentation of the relationship between peace and justice, although there are plenty of biblical sayings, so widely used in patristic writings (e.g. «δικαιοσύνη καί εἰρήνη κατεφίλησαν», Ps 84/85:10, «καί ἔσται τά ἔργα δικαιοσύνης εἰρήνη, καί κρατήσει ἡ δικαιοσύνη..», Is 32:17, «γενέσθω δή εἰρήνη καί δικαιοσύνη», Is 39:8 etc.). In some cases the first documentations are given by later patristic writings. In ch. 2 (Freedom and Responsibility) par 1, although there is the Pauline “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1), the document jumps to St. Gregory the Theologian’s Homily 14, On Love for the Poor. Similarly, in ch. 3 (Peace and Justice) par.2, all the above O.T. foundational quotations for the relationship between peace and justice are ignored, and its theological foundation starts with… Clement of Alexandria. The inadequate O.T. quotations may give the impression of a deliberate deletion of the term “Prophetic” from the original title of ch. 6 (see above 2).
It seems much better that chapter 2 starts as follows: “ ‘For freedom Christ has set us free’ (Gal 5:1). One of the loftiest…”; and chapter 3 as follows: “The Orthodox Church has since time immemorial recognized and proclaimed that peace and justice occupy a central place in the life of peoples. Christ’s revelation is characterized by both the Prophets (Νa 2:1) and St. Paul (Eph 6:15), as the gospel of peace, and the expected Messiah as the prince of peace (Is 9:5. Za 9:9f), for Christ...”.
6. The relationship between human rights and human responsibilities, something that all Orthodox, especially the Russians, have argued for in ecumenical fora, is one of the strongest points of the document. All we recommend here is to consider its improvement. The failure of modernity in justice, peace, the integrity of creation, and the world economy, is to a certain extent the result of individualism, and the ensuing absolute, unconditioned, uncontrolled freedom of the individual in all aspects of life (sexual freedom, legally protected freedom in accumulating wealth, etc.), heralded as the new faith after the Enlightenment.
Therefore, as it is rightly argued in the document, “freedom without responsibility and love leads eventually to the loss of freedom”. In addition, the most tangible aspect of this loss of freedom has to do with the widely revered in Western culture Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has become more and more clear that human rights are awfully ineffective, if they are not accompanied by “human responsibilities”. However, in addition to the affirmation that “the Orthodox Church believes that her values and principles form part of a common world ethic” must be accompanied by “need not only be publicly declared, they also require an international legal endorsement; they should be more effectively integrated into the work of the UN”. A clause in a mission document on the necessity to widely promote a legally established “Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities”, along with human rights, will be unique in world mission.
7. In the chapter on human dignity no reference at all is made to women and their ministry, nor to the traditional and canonical institution of deaconesses. It will be a completely ineffective contemporary declaration on mission by the Orthodox Church, if it fails to reaffirm the dignity of women, given the Church’s unique tradition of allowing their access even to the sacramental diaconal priesthood, in the still canonically valid institution of deaconesses. It is advisable, therefore, the sentence: “The teaching of the Church is the source of all Christian striving to preserve the dignity and majesty of the human person” to be followed by “especially of women, so highly dignified in the patristic and liturgical tradition, that they were welcomed to the sacramental diaconal ministry as deaconesses, canonically testified and never annulled in times when a clear separation of duties and commissions of the different sexes permeated social reality throughout.”.
It is also recommended that in the English - and possibly other - translations of the document, everywhere the inclusive Greek original “anthropos” is used, “man and woman” should be preferred, or in general the plural instead of the masculine singular (e.g. in ch. 6 par. 11). In view of the fact that nowadays the majority of laboratory scientists are women, it is humiliating for them to refer only to male scientists. Note here, that the recommendation of anthropological inclusiveness does not violate the overall rejection by some Orthodox of inclusive language with regard to the deity.
8. Although the general idea of the connection between economy and ecology is alluded to in the document, no specific theological and epistemological argumentation is given. An Orthodox mission declaration cannot ignore that various aspects of the climate, ecological, financial, and debt crises are mutually dependent and reinforce each other, causing in many places of the world so much suffering of people, endangering even their survival. Far-reaching market liberalization, deregulation, and unrestrained privatisation of goods and services are exploiting the whole Creation and dismantling social programs and services and opening up economies across borders to seemingly limitless growth of production.
9. The document will greatly enhance its credibility, in dealing with the charitable diaconia, if important biblical institutions, like the collection project of St. Paul, and perhaps other O.T. provisions, are mentioned as a biblical theological foundation. It is advisable, therefore, in ch. 6 par. 3 to include the example of the Early Church as follows: “Guided by the example of the Early Church, where a voluntary poverty was exercised and the material goods, property, and possessions, were sold and the proceeds distributed among all (Acts 2:44ff; 5:1ff), or the O.T. provision of cancelation of debts during the Sabbatical and the Jubilee year, and especially by St. Paul’s collection project, the ultimate goal of which was “equality” (ὅπως γένηται ἰσότης, 2 Cor 8:14), our Church has always struggled for equal distribution and permanent sharing of material wealth”.
10. There are a few cases, where misunderstanding can arise. For example, during the past generations the Orthodox Church was under mild attack in all missiological fora for an alleged compromise of the foundational ethical principle of, and dominical demand for, peace. In some rare cases she was even openly accused of occasionally blessing of weapons. In order that the document not give the false impression of relativizing our Church’s unconditional peaceful stance, the sentence in par. 2 of ch. 4. (Peace and the Aversion of War): “the Church continues to pray and exercise her pastoral care for her children who take part in military maneuvers to defend their life and freedom” can be easily rephrased to “the Church continues to pray and exercise her pastoral care for her children who defend their life and freedom” (just deleting in other words “who take part in military maneuvers”), without altering its basic argument. Also in the last sentence of par. 3 of ch. 4, the list of consequences from wars inspired by nationalistic motives is incomplete without reference to “genocide”, just before “ethnic cleansing”. Its omission may create more problems than its inclusion. Finally, in ch. 6 par. 11, the reference to the duty of scientists to stop their research when basic Christian and humane principles are violated, will be immediately correlated with the medieval Galileo Galilei case. It is advisable, therefore, to rephrase the whole sentence as follows: “She proposes that scientists are not only endowed with the freedom to research, but also with the duty not to violate basic Christian and humane principles.” And in par. 14 the clause: “theologically justify in some Christian communities forms of human cohabitation”, may give the impression that there are Orthodox theologians who do so. It is preferable, therefore to omit “theologically”.
But most importantly, an addition at the end of the same paragraph is necessary. An affirmation that the Church is open to all people without discrimination, as Christ met with all and even exalted the tax collector above the Pharisee (Lk. 18: 10-14), and the tax collectors and prostitutes as leading the way to heaven (Mt. 21:31). The Church respects the human person, accepting it as it is in the first place, and calling all people to meet divine compassion (θείον έλεος), whιch is all transforming, all sanctifying, all liberating and releasing all from the burden of sin.
11. The document rightly identifies the causes of the evil situations in our world. Sin is perfectly explained as the real cause of war, identified as its symptom. However, this kind of hermeneutic should be also followed in other cases, like poverty, or the connection between economy and ecology. Otherwise, it will give the impression of Orthodoxy expressing an esoteric and not holistic spirituality.
12. An Orthodox mission document, to be consistent with its longstanding tradition, should also clearly manifest three important Orthodox theological characteristics, very rarely met in the document: Holy Spirit, love, celebration. It is advisable, therefore, that an addition be made in ch. 6 par. 13. Also, in view of the Orthodox tradition of humility, some self-critical remarks are absolutely necessary. Religious fundamentalism is one negative phenomenon facing today our Church. And although it takes extreme forms outside Orthodoxy, is omnipresent also within it, distorting the character of faith and love into a hateful ideology. When met among Christians, it is a sad misunderstanding of Christ’s discipleship, quite unharmonious with Him who forgave His enemies and was open to all. One place in which this remark can be added is in ch. 2 (Freedom and Responsibility) par. 2.