Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is the Orthodox Church Missionary?

Speaking to many Western Christians I have been asked and I have been pushed to defend the fact that the Orthodox Church is a Missionary Church, as are the Roman Catholic, the Anglican and the Protestant Churches. It is apparent that Western Christianity seems, and probably is, more missionary than the Eastern Church. However, this is understandable since the Church in the West was facilitated by the Empires, such as the British, or kingdoms, such as Spain and Portugal, who had the opportunity, the power and the money to produce missionary work worldwide. On the other hand the Eastern Church has been, for centuries, under persecution, foreign empires and powers who have supressed its existence, making it thus impossible for missionary work in for example the Third World; however it is a notion which coexists with the Church. Nevertheless, this is constantly changing, where the Orthodox Church is growing its missionary work, as seen through the works of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and so on.

The Orthodox Church is Apostolic; the Greek word αποστέλλω points exactly the idea of being sent out, i.e. the missionary idea that is a definitive characteristic of the faith. There are a number of paradigms emphasising the existence of missionary work within the Orthodox World, starting from the New Testament times with the activities of St. Paul among the Gentiles, moving on to the medieval era with the development of a new alphabet by Saints Cyril and Methodius to help evangelize the Slavic peoples, the Russian monks who spread Christianity to Alaska, the missionary work of our epoch, undertaken in Asia and Africa, following what St. Mark writes: “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”(Mark, 16:15).
The Orthodox understanding of mission is synonymous with the term “philanthropia”, following the second commandment, i.e. “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Orthodoxy through its mission, unlike many practices seen in the New World by Western Christianity during past centuries, respects the freedom of the human person, the distinctions on a cultural, linguistic and artistic level, rejecting therefore the notion of conversion through force. Nevertheless, it is also important to highlight that the Church’s mission is not only to be practiced in the Third World, in non-Christian lands. It is crucial to identify that even at home, even within the Church mission and philanthropia is crucial in order to prosper and live a Christian life. 

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