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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part I: History.
    • The twentieth century, Greeks and Arabs
      • Missions
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Missions

  We have already spoken of the missionary witness of the diaspora, but it remains to say

something of Orthodox missionary work in the stricter sense of preaching to the heathen. Since

the time of Joseph de Maistre it has been fashionable in the west to say that Orthodoxy is not a

missionary Church. Certainly Orthodox have often failed to perceive their missionary responsi-

bilities; yet de Maistre.s charge is not entirely just. Anyone who reflects on the mission of Cyril

and Methodius, on the work of their disciples in Bulgaria and Serbia, and on the story of Rus-

sia.s conversion, will realize that Byzantium can claim missionary achievements as  great as

those of Celtic or Roman Christianity in the same period. Under Turkish rule it became impossi-

ble to undertake missionary work of  an open kind; but in Russia, where  the Church remained

free, missions continued uninterrupted . although there were periods of diminished activity .

from Stephen of Perm (and even before) to  Innocent of Kamchatka and the beginnings of the

twentieth century.  It is easy  for a  westerner to forget how vast a missionary field the Russian

continent embraced. Russian missions extended outside Russia, not only to Alaska (of which we

have spoken already), but to China, Japan, and Korea.

  What of the present? Under the Bolsheviks,  as under the Turks, open missionary  work is

impossible. But the missions founded by Russia in China, Japan, and Korea still exist, while a

new Orthodox mission has shot up suddenly and spontaneously in Central Africa. At the same

time both the Orthodox in America and the older Churches in the eastern Mediterranean, who do

not suffer from the same disabilities as their brethren in communist countries, are beginning to

show a new missionary awareness.

  The Chinese mission at Peking was set up in 1715, and its origins go back earlier still, to

1686, when a  group of Cossacks entered service in the Chinese  Imperial Guard and took their

chaplain with them. Mission work, however, was not undertaken on any scale until the end of the

nineteenth century, and by 1914 there were still only some 5,000 converts, although there were

already Chinese priests and a seminary for Chinese theological students. (It has been the constant

policy of Orthodox missions to build up a native clergy as quickly as possible). After the 1917

Revolution, so far from ceasing, missionary work increased considerably, since a large number

of Russian émigrés, including many clergy, fled eastward from Siberia. In China and Manchuria

in 1939 there were 200,000 Orthodox (mostly Russians, but including some converts) with five

bishops and an Orthodox university at Harbin.

  Since 1945 the situation has changed utterly. The communist government in China, when it

ordered all non-Chinese missionaries to leave the country, gave no preferential treatment to the

Russians: the Russian clergy, together with most of the faithful, have either been .repatriated. to

the U.S.S.R., or have escaped to America. In the 1950s there was at least one Chinese Orthodox

bishop, with some 20,000 faithful; how much of Chinese Orthodoxy survives today it is difficult

to tell. Since 1957 the Chinese Church, despite its small size, has been autonomous; since the

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Chinese government allows no foreign missions, this is probably the only means whereby it can

hope to survive. Isolated in Red China, this tiny Orthodox community has a thorny path before it.

  The Japanese Orthodox Church was founded by Father (later Archbishop) Nicholas Kassat-

kin (1836-1912), canonized in 1970. Sent in 1861 to serve the Russian  Consulate in Japan, he

decided from the start to work not only among Russians but among Japanese, and after a time he

devoted himself exclusively to missionary work. He baptized his first convert in 1868, and four

years later two Japanese Orthodox were ordained priests. Curiously enough, the first Japanese

Orthodox bishop, John Ono (consecrated 1941), a widower, was son-in-law to the first Japanese

convert. After a period of discouragement between the two World Wars, Orthodoxy in Japan is

now reviving. There are today about forty parishes, with 25,000 faithful. The seminary at Tokyo,

closed in 1919, was reopened in 1954. Practically all the clergy are Japanese, but one of the two

bishops is American. There is a small but steady stream of converts . about 200-300 in each

year, mostly young people in their twenties or thirties, some with higher education. The Ortho-

dox Church in Japan is autonomous or self-governing in its internal life, while remaining under

the general spiritual care of its Mother Church, the Moscow Patriarchate. Though limited in

numbers, it can justly claim to be no longer a foreign mission but an indigenous Church of the

Japanese people.

  The Russian mission in Korea, founded in 1898, has always been on a much smaller scale.

The first Korean Orthodox priest was ordained in 1912. In 1934 there were 820 Orthodox in Ko-

rea, but today there would seem to be less. The mission suffered in 1950 during the Korean civil

war, when the church was destroyed; but it was  rebuilt in 1953, and a larger church was con-

structed in 1967. At present the mission is under the charge of the Greek diocese of New Zea-

land.

  Besides these Asian Orthodox Churches, there is now an exceedingly lively African Ortho-

dox Church in Uganda and Kenya. Entirely indigenous from the start, African Orthodoxy did not

arise through the preaching of missionaries from the traditional Orthodox lands, but was a spon-

taneous movement  among Africans themselves. The founders of the African Orthodox move-

ment were two native Ugandans, Rauben Sebanja Mukasa Spartas (born 1899, bishop 1972, died

1982) and his friend Obadiah Kabanda Basajjakitalo. Originally brought up as Anglicans, they

were converted to Orthodoxy in the 1920s, not as a result of personal contact with other Ortho-

dox, but through their own reading and study.  Over the past forty  years Rauben and Obadiah

have energetically preached their new-found  faith to their fellow Africans, building up a com-

munity which, according to some reports, numbers more than 100,000, mostly in Kenya.  In

1982, after the death of Bishop Rauben, there were two African bishops.

  At first the canonical position of Ugandan Orthodoxy was in some doubt, as originally Rau-

ben and Obadiah established contact with an organization emanating from the United States, the

.African Orthodox Church,. which, though using the title .Orthodox,. has in fact no connection

with the true and historical Orthodox communion. In 1932 they were both ordained by a certain

Archbishop Alexander of this Church, but towards the end of that same year they became aware

of the dubious status of  the .African Orthodox Church,. whereupon they  severed all relations

with it and approached the Patriarchate of Alexandria. But only in 1946, when Rauben visited

Alexandria in person, did the Patriarch formally recognize the African Orthodox community in

Uganda, and definitely take it under his care. In recent years the bond with Alexandria has been

considerably strengthened, and since 1959 one  of the Metropolitans of the Patriarchate . a

Greek . has been charged with special responsibility for missionary work in Central Africa. Af-

rican Orthodox have been sent to study theology in Greece, and since 1960 more than eighty Af-

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ricans have been y ordained as deacons and priests (until that year, the only .priests were the two

founders themselves). In 1982 a seminary for training priests was opened at Nairobi. Many Afri-

can Orthodox have high ambitions, and are anxious to cast their net still wider. In the words of

Father Spartas: .And, methinks, that in no time this Church is going to embrace all the Africans

at large and thereby become one of the leading Churches in Africa. (Quoted in F. B. Welbourn, East

African  RebelsLondon1961p83;  this  book  gives  a  critical  but  not  unsympathetic  account  of  Orthodoxy  in

Uganda). The rise of Orthodoxy in Uganda has of course to be seen against the background of Af-

rican nationalism: one of the obvious attractions of Orthodox Christianity in Ugandan eyes is the

fact that it is entirely unconnected with the colonial regimes of the past hundred years. Yet, de-

spite certain political undertones, Orthodoxy in  Central Africa is a  genuinely religious move-

ment.

  The enthusiasm with which these Africans have embraced Orthodoxy has caught the imagi-

nation of the Orthodox world at large,  and has  helped to arouse missionary interest in many

places. Paradoxically, in Africa hitherto it has been the  Africans who have taken the initiative

and converted themselves to Orthodoxy. Perhaps the Orthodox, encouraged by the Ugandan

precedent, will now establish missions elsewhere on their own initiative, instead of waiting for

the Africans to come to them. The .missionary. situation of the diaspora has made Orthodox bet-

ter aware of the meaning of their own tradition: may not a closer involvement in the task of

evangelizing non-Christian countries have the same effect?

 

  Every Christian body is  today  confronted by  grave problems, but the Orthodox have per-

haps greater difficulties to face than most. In contemporary Orthodoxy it is not always easy .to

recognize victory beneath the outward appearance of failure, to discern the power of God fulfill-

ing itself in weakness, the true Church within the historic reality. (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of

the Eastern Church, p. 246). But if there are obvious weaknesses, there are also many signs of life.

Whatever the doubts and ambiguities of Church-State relations in communist countries, today as

in the past Orthodoxy has its martyrs and confessors. The decline of Orthodox monasticism, un-

mistakable in many areas, is not by any means universal; and there are centers which may prove

the source of a future monastic resurrection. The spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy . for example,

the Philokalia and the Jesus Prayer . so far from being forgotten, are used and appreciated more

and more. Orthodox theologians are few in number, but some of them . often under the stimu-

lus of western learning . are rediscovering vital elements in their theological inheritance. A

shortsighted nationalism is hindering the Church in its work, but there are growing attempts at

cooperation. Missions are still on a very small scale, but Orthodoxy is showing a greater aware-

ness of their importance. No Orthodox who is realistic and honest with himself can feel compla-

cent about the present state of his Church;  yet despite its many problems and manifest human

shortcomings, Orthodoxy can at the same time look to the future with confidence and hope.

 

  

  

 




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