For the first half of the 20th century,
the Orthodox Church was relatively inactive in missions. The great
missionary efforts of the Russian Church came to a close as the communist
curtain placed the church in bondage. Meanwhile, the Orthodox Churches of
the Balkans struggled to overcome the effects of the previous five
centuries of Muslim subjugation. Although the Orthodox lands of Greece,
Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia gained their independence, a strong sense of
nationalism prevailed within the churches, and the idea of outreach beyond
the borders of their own countries was a concept to which few gave much
It was not until the late 1950s that a
number of young Orthodox theologians began to raise their voices about the
need for external missions in the church. From an international Orthodox
youth conference held in 1958, a call towards missions began to develop.
These young people expressed the idea that the churchs responsibility
towards missions was not simply something of the past, but rather a
responsibility of the contemporary church as well. Despite the struggling
situation of a poor church just freed from bondage, the apostolic call of
the Lord bellowed for a response. The leader of this fledgling group was
Anastasios Yannoulatos, a young Orthodox theologian from Greece. He
challenged the church of Greece, as well as the Orthodox Church at large,
to recover its long held missionary tradition.
In 1959, Yannoulatos helped found "Porefthentes"
("Go Ye"), a missionary movement whose goal was to rekindle the missionary
conscience of the Orthodox Church, as well as to educate the non-Orthodox
world about the rich missionary heritage of the Eastern Church. This
movement began to produce a journal in Greek and English called
Porefthentes. In its inaugural issue, Yannoulatos wrote a provocative
article entitled "The Forgotten Commandment," which challenged the church
to rediscover its missionary zeal of previous generations. In this
article, the bold theologian questioned the accepted apathy towards
missions that prevailed in the contemporary Orthodox Church:
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. . . If we let ourselves rest peacefully in this habitual inertia
in the matter of foreign missions, we are not simply keeping the pure
light of the Faith "under the bushel," but we are betraying one of the
basic elements of our Orthodox tradition. For missionary work has always
been a tradition within the Orthodox Church. . . 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.
Yannoulatos emerged as a leading missions
advocate in the following years. He dared the Orthodox faithful to recover
the authentic meaning of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church."
He even hoped to establish some type of external Orthodox mission center.
His enthusiasm, however, was derided within most Orthodox circles as an
unrealistic goal. Following an address he gave on this issue to
theological students at the University of Athens in January 1959, someone
in the audience remarked skeptically that "the organization of an Orthodox
External Mission is tantamount to a miracle." To this, Yannoulatos
responded, "We fully agree. But as Christians we do believe in miraclesė. The life and work of Anastasios Yannoulatos, probably the
foremost Orthodox missiologist in the world today, exemplifies the
realization of this miracle in the contemporary Orthodox Church.
Welcome the good tidings and those which at
first may reject them. Mission was not the duty of only the first
generation of Christians. It is the duty of Christians of all ages . . .
Witness is the expression of the vitality of the Church as well as a
source of renewal and renewed vigor . . . Everyone should contribute to
and participate in it, whether it be directly or indirectly. It is an
essential expression of the Orthodox ethos. Along
with influencing the academic world in Greece and abroad, Bishop
Anastasios had an impact on other areas of church life as well. In 1972,
the bishop worked together with Fr. Anthony Romeos and founded a monastery
of nuns whose emphasis would be on external missions. This group became
the Convent of St. John the Forerunner in Kareas, Greece. Bishop
Anastasios helped guide these women to become a convent which would
actively participate in missionary work throughout the world. The convent
also welcomed women from foreign lands to join their community and learn
the monastic way of life, with the goal of carrying the monastic lifestyle
back to their home countries.
Father Luke Veronis'
"Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs: Making
Disciples of All Nations,",
published in 1994 by
Light & Life Publishing Company, Minneapolis, MN.
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