First of all we would like to cordially express our gratitude for having been invited to this meeting, and for the opportunity to present our reflections on these burning issues, notably in the light of the forthcoming Great Synod.
It is true that Mission, as proclamation of the Gospel in both word and solidarity, is acknowledged as an essential dimension of the Church event, as the Message of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches aptly declared in the March 2014 Synaxis. One can observe that today Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations is no longer the forgotten commandment, however it would appear that many willfully ignore it or disobey. Besides, several theologies among Orthodox have strengthened a rather esoteric understanding of spirituality, or a kind of liturgical isolationism, which have paralyzed the missionary opening-up. Besides, some forms of missionary activity have violated the Orthodox criteria and have reinforced aggression and an understanding of Mission as a kind of cultural imperialism. For all these reasons it seems necessary that some practical action steps could emerge, which would help the Orthodox churches around the world actually take up the work of making disciples in a serious way.
The issue we see most intensely is the need for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to act as a convener and coordinator in order to bring the appropriate experts together to set the guidelines and “policies” (taking advantage of the current scholarship in disciplines of Scripture, Liturgy and Education, and using English as the dominant language of global communication), which the global Orthodox Church (at minimum the Eparchies of the Throne) could implement locally, with the freedom to implement local variations, reflect local practices, attitudes, contexts. The local, missionary Churches have to be real Churches of the certain people and place, not an extension of the ethnic identity of any sending Church. In that spirit, the Ecumenical Patriarchate should be encouraging local expressions of the Orthodox Way of Life, recognizing that the Churches in different parts of the world live different everyday life, that Orthodox praxis is locally constructed to express the Faith of the Church.
Orthodox witness in mission fields needs to be unified and to avoid multiple jurisdictions working in the same field. This is, of course, a sensitive and difficult issue throughout the world, but it obtains nightmarish dimensions in missionary work. If we are not united, then those learning about Orthodox are confused and scandalized when they encounter multiple and antagonistic Orthodox jurisdictions in their home context. Besides, the task of examining ways for a common witness with other Christians is heavily hindered. Once more, synodality proves to be the key to all these problems, away from any trend of hegemony over brothers and sisters.
Mission studies and research are of special importance:
In several countries there are several Orthodox Theological Faculties, Institutes and departments where Missiology is a field of research and the lesson of Missiology is being taught. In many cases the research and the lesson focus solely on the legacy of Saints Cyril and Methodius, while in other cases they go on approaching mission as dialogue and ecumenical witness or investigating other modern models of mission. In a few words, there is a considerable variety of approaches, while at the same time there are Orthodox academic institutions where Missiology is simply ignored. But if we wish to talk about mission and missiological reflection as an ecclesiological event, the Orthodox Churches have not only to theoretically repeat the (undoubtedly precious) principles of Orthodox mission but also to find ways to face the current situation of the world. There are many hot points to be looked into, but here we pick up only three, which–we believe- have special weight:
Lastly: As is well known, there is a tug of war between the confessional and the interreligious model of religious education. At least in Greece certain theologians have presented a new religious education curriculum, trying to transcend this tug of war. The curriculum constitutes an acquaintance with the values and culture that Christianity shaped, especially the Orthodox tradition, while including in parallel elements of the two other Christian traditions, as well as elements on some of the major religious traditions of particular interest to the society. Furthermore, social and existential problems of humanity are approached in a spirit of dialogue, freedom and reconciliation, without confessional obsession, catechism, fanaticism or intolerance.
There is a need for us as a Church to reflect on the role of public and private education, maintaining a full Orthodox identity and simultaneously being open to the religious other.
Dr. Anton Vrame, Religious Education Director, Archdiocese of America.
Paraskevas T. Hamalis, Professor of Ethics, North Central College (USA), currently a Fulbright Scholar serving this year in Seoul, S. Korea, under H. E. Metropolitan Ambrosios.
Mr. Nathan Hoppe, 18 years missionary in Albania under H. B. Archbishop Anastasios, sent by OCMC.
Dr. Athanasios Papathanasiou, Missiologist, editor of the quarterly Synaxis (Athens).
Stavros Yangazoglou, Consultant at the Greek Ministry of Education, editor of the quarterly Theologia (Athens).
Mr. Theo Nicolakis, Chief Information Officer, Archdiocese of America (absent due to health reasons).