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Some Comments on the Mission Document by Orthodox Missiologists

 

by H.G. Bishop Athanasios Akunda, Very Rev. Anastasios Elekiah Kihali, Rev. Gregory Edwards, Rev. Kosmas (John) Ngige Njoroge, Evanthia Adamtziloglou, Ivan Dimitrov, Nikolaos Dimitriadis, Rastko Jovic, Eleni Kasselouri, Dimitrios Keramidas, Theodosios Kyriakidis, Athanasios Papathanasiou, Nikolaos Tsirevelos, Evi Voulgaraki, and Petros Vassiliadis

 

Without denying the importance of all the other agreed documents, the one on mission 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 when the entire world 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 the WCC: “Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes”.  

On the initiative of the Center for Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies “Metropolitan Panteleimon Papageorgiou” (CEMES), and at the request of our Church’s most vibrant African missiologists/ missionaries, 15 Orthodox missiologists were engaged in a thorough examination of this important document and submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarch and all the Orthodox Primates an extended study with suggestions for certain improvements.  

In this study we focused on three main areas: (a) the lack of a clear affirmation of the Church’s witnessing responsibility at the beginning of the final draft, probably due to the concrete assignment to the preparatory committee to only review the existing document of the 1986 Third Preconciliar Consultation, which covered only few areas of the Christian witness; (b) the neglect of the major achievements in contemporary world mission by renowned Orthodox theologians; (c) the places in the document, where misunderstanding can arise. Out of all these we isolate some of our humble suggestions of missiological and biblical character: 

  1. The document should start with a clear affirmation of the Church’s witnessing responsibility, and read as follows: “The Church of Christ, faithful to her risen Lord’s command to “witness to him…to the end of the world” (Acts 1:8) and to “go forth and make disciples all the nations” (Μt. 28:19; to the “entire creation” in Mark 16:15), considers her mission and witness to the entire world as a primary and fundamental responsibility”.  
  1. The title of the entire document should be: “The Witness of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”. Almost all missiologists nowadays speak about mission using the “martyria/witness” terminology, introduced by Orthodox (viz., the Archbishop of Albania Anastasios, and later Ion Bria). Along the same lines, the “liturgy after the liturgy” terminology, also introduced by Orthodox, must also be introduced. Finally, although the main theological foundation of 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”), the document neither provides nor hints at any theological reason for our participation in it. We also suggested avoiding the terms “religious” or “inter-religious” dialogue, since these indicate a purely secular inter-disciplinary scholarly endeavor, and prefer instead the use of “inter-faith” dialogue. The latter 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. 
  1.  Following the canonical tradition, which bases its documentation on dominical (or, in their absence, Pauline or other biblical) sayings, we provided the proper biblical references. For the relationship between peace and justice, there are a plethora of biblical sayings, used in patristic writings. E.g. “righteousness and peace will kiss each other (δικαιοσύνη καί εἰρήνη κατεφίλησαν) Ps 84/85:10; “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness…” (καί ἔσται τά ἔργα δικαιοσύνης εἰρήνη, καί κρατήσει ἡ δικαιοσύνη..) Is 32:17; “"There will be peace and righteousness (γενέσθω δή εἰρήνη καί δικαιοσύνη) Is 39:8, etc. We also recommended the Pauline “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1) in chapter 2, and the addition of the O.T. Prophets in chapter 3 (“gospel of peace”, Νaum 2:1 and the reference to the expected Messiah as the “prince of peace”, Is. 9:5. Zach. 9:9f). We also suggested that the document will greatly enhance its credibility if it included some reference to important biblical institutions, such as St. Paul’s collection project (2 Cor 8-9), the O.T. provisions for cancelation of debts in the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, and the example of the Early Church’s practice, 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). 
  1. The document contains no reference to women. We believe that a failure to reaffirm the dignity of women will diminish the credibility of a contemporary declaration on mission, especially in light of our Church’s unique tradition of allowing women access even to the sacramental diaconate, in the still canonically valid institution of deaconesses. We also recommended that in the English - and possibly other - translations of the document, everywhere the inclusive Greek original “anthropos” is used, “man and woman” - or the inclusive plural rather than the masculine singular - should be preferred. The recommendation of anthropological inclusiveness does not violate the Orthodox tradition's consistent invocation of the divine names of God as Father and of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. 
  1. Although the document alludes to the general idea of the connection between economy and ecology, no specific theological and epistemological argumentation is given. An Orthodox mission declaration should clearly state that various aspects of the climate, ecological, financial, and debt crises are mutually dependent and reinforce each other, and that, in many places of the world, they cause so much suffering that some peoples’ very survival is endangered. Far-reaching market liberalization, deregulation, and unrestrained privatisation of goods and services are exploiting the whole of God’s creation.  

The document in some places (poverty, or the connection between economy and ecology) follows a kind of hermeneutic that gives the impression of an esoteric and not holistic spirituality.  Also, despite the Orthodox tradition of humility, not a single self-critical remark is made.

The authors have written this paper in association with the Center of Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies “Metropolitan Panteleimon Papageorgiou” (CEMES) of which Dr. Vassiliadis is currently president.