"Orthodoxy in Indonesia"
An Interview with
Archimandrite Daniel Bambang Dwi Byantoro
by Thomas Hulbert
From: Road to Emmaus Vol. 2, No. 3 (#6)
Thomas Hulbert is the Western European correspondent for Road to Emmaus
Thomas: How do you approach the souls that come to you? If they are
Moslem how do you work with them and how do you explain the difference
between Christianity and Islam. How do you draw them in?
Fr. Daniel: I think that in any missionary work, you must first of all understand
the culture of the people and you have to be able to speak within the
bounds of that cultural language, because otherwise your word cannot be
heard or understood. So, when you talk with a Moslem, you must understand
the Moslem mind. Don’t just try to throw in words and phrases that are
familiar to Christians, to Orthodox, because they will not be understood by a
Moslem. First of all, when you talk to a Moslem, you have to emphasize that
God is One.
Thomas: Because they already believe this?
Fr. Daniel: Not only because they already believe this, but because they accuse
us [the Christians] of having three gods. That is the problem. So, you
have to clear up the misunderstanding that we worship three gods. Don’t try
to use our traditional language, like Father, Son and Holy Spirit - because for
them, that is three gods! In their minds, the Father is different, the Son is
different, the Holy Spirit is different. For myself, I emphasize that God is
One, that this One God is also the Living God, and as the Living God He has
Mind. Because if God didn’t have a mind, I’m sorry to say, He would be like
an idiot. God has to have a mind. Within the Mind of God there is the Word.
Thus, the Word of God is contained within God Himself. So, God in His
Word is not two, but one. God is full with His own Word; He is pregnant
with Word. And that Word of God is then revealed to man. The thing that is
contained within - like being impregnated within oneself - when it is revealed,
it is called being born out of that person. That is why the Word of
God is called the Son: He is the Child Who is born from within God, but
outside time. So, that is why this One God is called the Father, because He
has His own Word Who is born out of Him, and is called the Son. So, Father
and Son are not two gods. The Father is One God, the Son is that Word of
God. The Moslem believes that God created the world through the Word. So
what the Moslem believes in as Word, is what the Christians call the Son! In
that way, we can explain to them that God does not have a son separate from
Thomas: So the Moslems see our idea of the Son of God in terms of physical
Fr. Daniel: Yes, of course. And God does not have a son in that way, that’s
true. He is not begetting in the sense of a human being giving birth. He is
called the Father because He produces from Himself, His own Word, and
that Word is the Son.
So because God is the living God, He must have the principle of life
within Himself. In man, this principle of life is man’s spirit. God is the same.
The principle of life within God is the Spirit of God. It is called the Holy
Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is not the name of the Angel Gabriel, as the Moslems
understand it. The Holy Spirit is the living principle, the principle of life
and power within God Himself. This One God is called the Father because
He produced from Himself His own Word, which is called the Son, and the
Word of God is called the Son because He is born out of the Father eternally,
without beginning, without end. This One Living God also has Spirit within
Himself. So, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one God. This is the way we
explain to Moslems about the Trinity, and we should not try to use our language
of “Father and Son, co-equal, co-...” something like that. Even though
it is our Christian terminology, they will not understand this. The purpose is
not to theologize to them but to explain the reality of the Gospel in a way that
is understandable to them. This is point number one: you have to be clear
about the Trinity.
The second point is this: the basic difference between Islam and Christianity
concerns revelation. In Islam, God does not reveal Himself. God only
sends down His word. “Revelation” in Islam means “the sending down of the
word of God” through the prophets. And that word is then written down and
becomes scripture. So in Islam, revelation means the “inscripturization” of
the word of God while in Christianity, it is not the same. The Word was sent
down to the womb of the Virgin Mary, took flesh and became man. Namely,
Jesus Christ. So, the two religions believe that God communicated Himself
to man by means of the Word, but the difference is how that Word manifested
in the world. In Christianity it is manifested in the person of Jesus
Christ and in Islam it is manifested in the form of a book, the Koran. So, the
place of Mohammed in Islam is parallel to the place of the Virgin Mary in
Orthodox Christianity. That is why in Islam the Moslems respect Mohammed,
not as a god, but as the bearer of revelations. Just as the Orthodox Church
respects the Virgin Mary not as a goddess but as the bearer of the Word of
God, who gave birth to the Word of God. Incidentally, the two religions both
give salutations, to Mohammed for the Moslems and to the Virgin Mary for
Christians. The Moslems also have a kind of akathist, like a paraclesis but to
Mohammed! It is called the depa abarjanji - in Orthodox terms it would be a
“canon” to Mohammed, because he is the bearer of the revelation.
Thomas: So Mohammed is venerated like a saint?
Fr. Daniel: He is venerated, yes. Very much so. But there are also the Sufi
Moslems, who sometimes believe that Mohammed was “already there,” like
the Arian misunderstanding of Christ. In their view, Mohammed was the
“first created soul,” for whom the world was created. This is called the Nor-
Mohammed. So, the purpose of Islamic mystics is to be like Mohammed, to
Thomas: To be the bearer of the Word?
Fr. Daniel: As Mohammed was.
Thomas: So, that is why Sufi mystics are perhaps not so legalistic?
Fr. Daniel: Yes, they are more mystical.
So, for us, the image of the Church is the Virgin Mary. We are called to
be like the Virgin Mary in our submission to God. The Virgin Mary is the
picture, the image, or I should say, the icon of the Church. Mohammed is the
“icon” of the ideal Moslem man, and because of that the way we worship
diverges. In Christianity, because the Word became a man, became flesh, for
us to be united with that Word we have to be united with the content of that
revelation. What is the content? The incarnation, crucifixion, death and resurrection
of that Person. In order for us to be united with the content of that
revelation, we have to be united in that Person, namely in the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. How? Through baptism. And we also have to be
united with the life of the resurrection of that incarnate Word. How? By the
Holy Spirit, through Chrismation. So, the sacraments are very important for
us because God became man. He sanctified the physical world so that the
physical elements of nature can be used as the means by which we are united
with the person of Christ in the sacraments.
In Islam, however, because the word becomes a book, the content of the
book is writing. It is not flesh. So, that is why in order for a Moslem to unite
with the content of the two-fold revelation (that God is one and that
Mohammed is His prophet) one has to recite the source of revelation - because
it is a book. But you cannot be united with or immersed in a book, you
can only memorize the content of the book in the original form, namely in
Arabic. So, Arabic scripture is the form of that revelation. The God-Man
Jesus is the form of that revelation in Christianity. In order for a person to be
initiated into Islamic revelation, you must confess the creed: “I confess that
there is no God except Allah, and that Mohammed is the Apostle of Allah.”
When you confess that, you become Moslem. There is no baptism, you are
not united in the death of anyone, you are only united to the form of the
revelation. To stay united to the revelation, you must keep the prayers. In
prayer you recite the Koran, so five times a day you pray, five times a day you
immerse yourself in the ocean of divine revelation, which is the Koran. Prayer
itself is the sacrament of Islam. In order for us Christians to be immersed in
the form of the revelation, which is Jesus Christ, we have to partake of the
Body and Blood of Jesus Christ continually. In that way we are united to
Jesus Christ, while in Islam the recitation of the Koran is the most important
thing, because it is a form of sacrament to the Moslems.
So those are the basic differences. This is a way to understand the Moslem
mind instead of just arguing against them.
Thomas: Would you say that most Muslims are conscious of this theological
aspect of God and man’s relationship to Him?
Fr. Daniel: Yes, of course, through the Koran, through the prophets.
Thomas: In Islam, is a person’s manner of life of secondary importance to
the correct understanding of the form of revelation?
Fr. Daniel: In the manner of life, Islam refers again to the form of revelation,
which is a book. The content of the book is writing, the writing is law, so the
law has to be obeyed. If we have the imitation of Christ and His teachings,
they have the imitation of Mohammed and the Koran. That is why the life of
a Moslem is dictated and governed by the law of the Koran, while our life is
dictated by the law of Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Thomas: What is the difference then between following these two laws?
Fr. Daniel: In Islam, there is no new birth, just a return to God, which means
repentance. This is called submission to God.
Thomas: And that is the meaning of the word Islam, “to submit?”
Fr. Daniel: Yes. Islam means submission to God. That is the way we have to
understand the difference between the way of life of Islam and of Orthodox
Christianity. There are some parallel ways of thinking, but very different content.
The main difference is that in Orthodox Christianity the Word became
flesh and in Islam the word became a book. That is the main difference.
Thomas: How do Moslem converts to Orthodoxy sustain their belief in the
predominantly Moslem society of Indonesia? Do you have communities of
Orthodox Christians who live together and support each other in the hostile
religious environment, or is the parish way of life more common?
Fr. Daniel: No, we don’t really have any special kind of community where we
live together. We are spread out geographically like other Christians, and we
come to the church for services. But as to how we withstand the environment
- the way I do it is that I teach very strong Bible classes in Indonesian. Every
day I have Bible study before Holy Communion. In between Orthos [Matins]
and Liturgy there is always Bible study. And in my Bible study, there is
always a comparison between Christianity and Islam, all the time. It reminds
people that this is Christianity and this over here is Islam. For example, I ask
questions like: “OK, in nature which is higher, a human being or a book?”
Being formed by Moslem culture, some of them say “a book.” So then I’ll ask
them, “Which is higher, then, revelation of God in the form of a human
being or in the form of a book?” Of course, revelation is higher in the form of
a human being. They can see that from God Himself. So, God the Word
become flesh, the Word become man, is higher than the word which became
a book. That’s number one. Second, if in the past God sent down His word
through the prophets in the form of a book, namely the Old Testament, and
the Old Testament has been fulfilled completely in the form of man, Jesus
Christ, is it possible, after the Word of God has been fulfilled in man, that
God would revert to the old way, sending a book again? Of course not! When
the Word has become man, it is already complete. And that Man, Jesus Christ,
is still alive! So, it is impossible that God would again send another revelation
in the form of a book. From our point of understanding, it is not possible.
For us, the most perfect prophet and the last revelation of God is Jesus Christ.
There is no need for any other revelation. This is the point I emphasize again
and again. They understand this quite well. So this is how we keep holding
onto the path of Christ in spite of so many attacks from the Moslems.
I know nothing about this stuff. I would like to think that God shrugs His shoulders at the Muslims and says "What the heck are they doing?!?! That's not what I ment at all!" But I just don't know. Thought I'd post a bit from this excellent interview from an expert. The original is downloadable as a PDF at the following link:http://www.farahfoundation.org/Indonesia.pdf