Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Orthodoxy and Mission

Syndesmos’ Executive Committee on Orthodox Missions

To recover the missionary dimension of the Church is today’s greatest imperative. We have to recover a very basic truth: that the Church is essentially Mission, that the very roots of her life are in the commandment of Christ: "Go Ye therefore and teach all nations" (Matt. 28:19). A Christian community that would lose this missionary zeal and purpose, that would become selfish and self-centered, that would limit itself to "satisfying the spiritual needs of its members", that would identify itself completely with a nation, a society, a social or ethnic group – is on its way to spiritual decadence and death, because the essential spiritual need of a Christian is precisely that of sharing the life and the Truth with as many men as possible and ultimately with the whole world. Mission thus is the organic need and task of the Church in the world, the real meaning of Church’s presence in history between the first and the second advents of her Lord, or, in other terms, the meaning of Christian history. Obviously not all members of the Church can go and preach in the literal sense of the word. But all can have a concern for the missionary function of the Church, feel responsible for it, help and support it. In this respect each diocese, each parish and each member of the Church are involved in the missionary ministry.

Thanks to God there are many signs of a revival of missionary spirit among the Orthodox. One of the most encouraging, the most inspiring ones is the creation by Syndesmos of an Executive Committee on Orthodox Missions, with headquarters in Athens. Under the efficient guidance of its General Secretary, Mr. Anastasios Yanoulatos, it has established a plan for a great missionary movement within the Orthodox world. It publishes a bulletin "Poreuthentes" (Go Ye), which besides an excellent survey of the different missionary undertakings, works at the clarification of the theological and spiritual presuppositions of the Orthodox mission.

The October-December, 1959, issue of Preuthentes (N. 4) contains an Editorial by Fr. John Meyendorff, President of Syndesmos. "...The era in which we live, – writes Fr. Meyendorff, – appears as extremely favorable for the Orthodox mission. The peoples of Asia and Africa in attaining political independence often regard with suspicion the mighty western mission whose expansion has coincided with the progress of "colonialism". The past of the Orthodox Church, if only she were really present in the mission field, would guarantee her against all suspicion of this kind... Perhaps this is the "hour of the Lord" at which the Christian gospel will be heard in its Orthodox fulness by all the nations of the earth".

A Program of Work and Perspectives signed by Mr. Yanoulatos describes, in a very clear form, the practical aims and the methods of the Committee.

"As it is known, – writes Mr. Yanoulatos, – the problem of external missions not only has not been carefully studied by our Church, during our time, but hardly interests the great number of Orthodox people at all..." The program includes therefore

a) a systematic study of the Orthodox mission in its historical development.

b) the development of a missionary interest among the Orthodox (by means of publications, lectures, youth groups, exhibits etc.)

c) creation of stronger links with the young Orthodox Churches in Uganda, Korea and Japan.

A "Missionary Center" is projected in Athens....

The Bulletin has also an important section entitled "Orthodoxy over the World" and a Review of the History of Missions.

Alexander Schmemann

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall 1959, pp. 41-42