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Author Topic: Abp. Anastasios on Missions  (Read 914 times) Average Rating: 0
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Mor Ephrem
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« on: July 08, 2003, 06:48:19 PM »

This is another article posted by Father John Brian Paprock on the same list.  I think I have read something like this before, but am not sure if it was posted here or not.  If it was, forgive me.  If not, enjoy!

+++

The following article of an interview with Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana
and All Albania is from SYNDESMOS News, Winter 2001/Spring 2002



Understanding Orthodoxy


Is there any difference between internal and external mission? (home and
foreign missions)

As you know, the terminology "internal mission" is an influence of the
German "inneremission," and in it we have found a very easy excuse to
persuade ourselves that we are missionaries by doing internal mission. And
yet the commandment says clearly: 'and you shall be my witnesses in
Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.' The
biblical understanding of mission (apostole) means to leave, to accept to be
in another cultural environment, to be a stranger. We must distinguish
between apostolic mission and the pastoral efforts that we undertake in our
local churches. The pastoral efforts and the renewal of Christian life are
indeed very important. In many societies now where an atheistic influence
prevails, we have to be a witness (in Greek, martyria), to invite to the
Church people who do not have faith. However, spiritual edification within
the Church is not exactly missionary effort. Missionary effort is about
having the vocation to bring into the Church that which is outside of the
Church. In the beginning, we had a youthful enthusiasm for the meaning of
the word mission. Later, we discovered that these words were widely used.
Then we decided to use rather the word martyria, witness, not mission.


How can we distinguish true mission from proselytism?

Proselytism uses all possible means (gifts, food, money and other
privileges) to achieve an aim, to bring followers into a concrete religious
community. This contravenes the dignity of the human person and of the
Gospel, and I believe it is really not sincere. And what is not sincere,
sincere both in purpose and sincere in ways of acting, cannot be Orthodox.
For me proselytism starts when other means are used, instead of the Gospel,
in order to gain followers.

We do not have anxiety about statistics and followers. The Orthodox martyria
must be a free witness of what we believe and what we have. A sharing of the
gift that we have received. If the others accept it, fine. If they do not
accept it, it is their own responsibility.


Is our mission to convert someone to Orthodoxy?

Orthodox mission consists in giving the treasure we have, and leaving the
other to decide whether he will take it or not. If the other wants to join
the Orthodox Church, you will never say "No." Our aim is to transmit the
tradition of the Gospel in all its fullness, remaining free from any anxiety
to convert anyone. You cannot impose on anyone's freedom. You are there, you
give your witness; you are a candle, lighted by paschal joy, and if the
other wishes to take from your flame, then of course, you will not refuse
him.


In which place is it more difficult to conduct missionary activity, in a
rich western society or in a developing country in Africa?

It depends. I do not like this phrase more difficult. Sometimes it is more
difficult in a developing country, sometimes it is more difficult in an
affluent country. It is not so easy to live in a developing country as a
foreigner. It is, for instance, very difficult to live in Africa when there
is no water or electricity. But still, it depends. Do not ask where it is
more easy or more difficult; ask, "Where does God ask me to be and to go?"
And the answer to this question is really a matter of personal vocation.

Very often I am asked where it is more difficult, in Africa or in Albania? I
answer clearly in Albania. In Africa, it has never been forbidden to pray to
God, or to dance for God; these things are taken for granted. Albania passed
through a very terrible persecution for 23 years: if you had the courage to
express your faith you were sent into exile or to prison.


Sometimes we find ourselves thinking that missionary activity is reserved
for the clergy only. Is this true?

It is very easy to say: 'This is for monks or priests and since I am not a
monk or a priest, I do not have any obligation to do this,' but this is a
mistake.

And here I insist on a theological understanding of mission: every person
who is incorporated into the Church, into the mystical body of Christ, bears
a responsibility for the Church. Every person has a vocation and of course,
he or she must see in his/her heart how this will be expressed and
experienced.

Of course there are different ways of participating in a missionary effort.
Not all of us shall leave our countries and go somewhere in Asia or in
Africa. This was a western romantic vision of mission in the 19th century.
Sometimes even in the old Syndesmos gatherings we had the impression that a
missionary is a person that takes a cross, and goes to the forest announcing
the Gospel. This is not the style of missionary work today.

To take a concrete example: Albania is a missionary field, at least for us
who are not from Albania. Our excellent collaborators are not only priests
but also lay people. Our team is very small, in all - twenty people, half of
it is lay people: professors, teachers, nurses, administrators, catechists,
translators.

For every person today there is a possibility to do missionary work. Mission
is not only for priests or monks. It is for everybody. But it is also for
priests and monks.


Are local cultures a help or a hindrance in mission. And how have you
reacted to local cultures in your missionary experience?

This issue of culture is a very basic one. When the Gospel meets another
culture, three things happen. One part of the culture clearly you have to
accept - for instance, the language. Another part of the culture you have to
reject - that which does not agree with the Gospel. Some customs, vendettas,
or other traditions that do not grant the same dignity to women, or to other
members of the society. And there is a third part, which you have to
transform. I can say to "baptize." To use it, giving it another meaning. And
this was exactly what happened in the early Church. When the Gospel came
to/encountered Greek culture, it was not a simple change. Greek culture was
a very complicated reality. We have to see that other cultures have their
own dignity, their own interest and we must respect them.

When we started to think about Africa, it was in the beginning of the
sixties. At that time, the general idea was that Africa was a very simple
environment, tribal, primitive, and we had to go and bring European culture
to it. Then I did some studies on this, and discovered that Africa is more
complicated than we think.

My supervisor had asked me to write a thesis about African symbolism in
relation to Orthodox symbolism. When I started my research, I discovered
that I was dealing with several hundred African languages - not dialects -
and that it was impossible to work on such a theme. Then I said to myself:
"Let us be more humble. For all these centuries Africa was not outside the
interest of God. How did He give them His witness? What are the African
religion, African symbolism, the African way of relation with God?" I
understood that it was important to study African religions carefully, that
it is not accurate to speak about "primitives." Our knowledge is primitive,
but they are not "primitives."

We have to accept our ignorance and be more humble in our attitude towards
others. We must accept the expressions of their feelings and their life and
not say, 'This is not Orthodox!' What is not Orthodox? Not Orthodox is to be
impure, to be dishonest, to be against the will of God, this is unorthodox.
The African church is a joyful church, the Africans are cheerful people.
This
is a blessing, I believe, for Orthodoxy. Respect for cultures, respect for
the dignity of others: this is the beginning, this is the Orthodox attitude.
This respect was demonstrated in history, in the Byzantine period, when
Cyrillus and Methodius went to the Slavic people. The Russian church also
kept this tradition in approaching other peoples - and when they kept this
respect for
the dignity of others, they were successful. When we forgot it, the result
of our own efforts was very poor.


Does the love of one's enemies extend to the enemies of one's faith, and
how?

When Christ speaks about enemies, he speaks about persons. That does not
mean, of course, that we have to accept the theory and style of life of our
enemies. There are ways of thinking and acting of our enemy that I do not
accept - and this is not a lack of love for him. We respect the person; we
do not respect all the ideas and paraphernalia of this person. When we speak
about love, we speak about love of other persons, not of other religious
systems. We have to respect even our enemy as he or she is. But no, of
course, to accept and copy his ideas and behavior.


Those who have never encountered Christ, and may piously observe the rules
of their own particular faith (for example, good Muslims), will they be
saved?

You know that the understanding of the other faiths is an extremely
important theological question: Is God present in them? I do not think that
we can answer this question very quickly. Today we face two major
theological problems. The first is ecclesiological, it is the complex
problem of how we  see the other churches. And the second is the
understanding of the other
religions. Of course we accept that God has providence and interest for the
whole world. We do not know clearly how this presence manifests itself. We
know clearly what is the sure way for salvation to follow. As far as others
are concerned, we have the responsibility to pray and to give them our
witness, but we cannot take from Him the last judgment and say now just how
He would judge others. And we must be a little more humble than some of our
brothers who know everything about God, [and] behave like spokesmen of God:
'God will act like this or that.' Let us accept that we do not know the
whole mystery of God, and we do not know about His infinite love.

We must develop an understanding of other religions from an Orthodox point
of view. We need to see this in the Trinitarian perspective and not only
Christological. In some protestant circles it happens that they see this in
Christological terms only. But in the Orthodox Church we consider that God's
covenant has always extended to other peoples, to the whole creation. We
also understand that the Spirit works in a freedom that we do not know.

Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania is one of Orthodoxy's
leading missiologists. These questions were offered by participants of the
2001 Syndesmos Festival in St. Maurin, France, where his Beatitude gave the
key-note address. His answers offer challenging insights into key questions
of missions work in our times

Taken from an article originally published in SYNDESMOS News, Vol. XV / 2,
Winter 2001/Spring 2002, p 11-13.
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« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2003, 10:51:03 AM »

[sarcasm]dang, from the response it is obvious to me how much we value missions! [/sarcasm]
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Past posts reflect stages of my life before my baptism may not be accurate expositions of Orthodox teaching. Also, I served as an Orthodox priest from 2008-2013, before resigning.
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