Mission History, II: Orthodox
MISSION HISTORY, II: ORTHODOX
From the Eastern Mediterranean the gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire. Before Byzantium and Rome separated in 1054, both had evangelized, and both had success in their own spheres of influence. There were divisions in the Eastern Church before 1054 so that not all the missionary work done in the East can be considered part of Orthodox missions. To attribute the work of the Copts and Nestorians to the Orthodox Church is to ignore the real theological differences between the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian factions. The common thread, however, that unites the missionary practice of all the Eastern Churches, both those in fellowship with Constantinople and the so-called lesser or Oriental Churches, is the use of the vernacular languages in the church. The missionaries translated the liturgical services and the Bible into the language of the people, which meant that Christianity became part of the cultural heritage of the country. The corollary is, of course, that national identity was sometimes bought at the price of losing a sense of the unity of the one Church.
Cosmas Indicopleustes, in the 6th century, knew of Orthodox missionaries "among the Bactrians, Huns, Indians, Armenians, Medians and Elamites." He also mentioned the Thomas Christians in India and Christian communities in Ceylon. The Assyrian (Nestorian) monument at Xi'an-fu bears witness to the existence of that missionary church in 7th-century China. The Assyrian missionaries suffered a severe reversal when the Tang dynasty ordered the dissolution of the monasteries which, while aimed at curbing Buddhism, also affected the Assyrians, whose strength lay in the monastic movement.
From the 8th to the 10th century the Byzantine Church competed with Rome for the winning of the Slavs, and converted them through the labors of Saints cyril and methodius and their disciples. There were Latin missionaries who participated in the conversion of Russia, even if the journeys of Adalbert of Trier (961–962) and Bruno of Querfurt were unsuccessful. The Baptism (c. 988–989) of St. vladimir of Kiev (956–1015) brought his people into the Byzantine Church. After the Schism of 1054, the conversion of the Slavic peoples to Eastern Christianity meant that the subsequent missionary expansion in vast areas of Euro-Asia followed the Byzantine pattern.
Russian Medieval Missions. Because of the constant warfare connected with the crusades and the subsequent expansion of the Turkish empire leading to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Byzantine Church had little opportunity to spread the faith. The period of Ottoman rule (from 1300–1922) was difficult for the Orthodox Church, though even under the onerous burdens imposed on non-Muslims, the witness of Orthodox Christians produced converts from among their oppressors. These converts were often martyred shortly after their profession of faith in Christ as apostates to Islam, but their existence demonstrates the vitality of the Eastern Church which continued unabated.
While missionary work was denied the Orthodox world under Ottoman rule, the Russian Church was able to spread the faith. This church deserves all the more recognition because it was jurisdictionally dependent on Byzantium until 1589. The early Russian mission extended, however, only to Slavs within the Kiev district of Russia. Early attempts to evangelize non-Slav neighbors cost the lives of men such as Isaja of Rostov (11th century) and Kuksáa (mid-12th century).
The shift of power from Kiev to Novogorod led to the colonization of the Ugro-Finnish settlements to the northeast. For the first time a characteristic feature of Russian Orthodox missionary history became evident: colonization entailed evangelization, and vice versa. The spread of the faith came about indirectly, since acceptance of Christianity meant a higher degree of civilization. The result was a Christian-pagan amalgamation.
Movement to the northeast became inevitable when the Mongols invaded Russia and captured Kiev (1240). In the turmoil that followed, a new type of Russian missionary appeared—the monk and the monastery. The reform of St. Sergei of Radonej (1314–92) inspired monks with missionary zeal. Monasteries, such as Valamo, Murmansk, and Solovkij, soon became mission centers. In this period Stephen of Perm (c. 1340–96) evangelized effectively among the Zyriani. He knew how to adjust to popular customs, which he elevated by translating the liturgy into the vernacular. His example helped the Permiaks, Chuvashes, Mordvins, and Lapps to accept Christianity.
New Direction in Mission. Domination by the Mongols, who had meanwhile become Muslims, ended in 1380, although 150 years passed before the last khanates were subdued along the Volga. The end of Mongol control led to a turning point, the beginning of organized missionary activity. Decisive in this respect was the changed attitude toward Islam, which came to be considered a pressing threat after the fall of Constantinople (1453). Henceforth, Russia considered itself the outpost of Christianity and protector of Orthodoxy. The titles of the czars, and the Eastern Roman double-headed eagle were expressions of the claim by Moscow to be the "Third Rome."
This change appeared in a new understanding of the missions. In 1552 Kazan, the last bulwark of Muslim Tatars on the Volga, fell. The journey of Gurij, the first archbishop, to Kazan was celebrated as a triumph of Christianity over pagans and Muslims. The mission itself, however, became an undertaking of the state, which dispatched, protected, and supported the missionaries.
Siberia and China. A few years later the conquest of Siberia began. In 1582 the Tatar khanates of Siberia fell. In 1619 the Jenissei was crossed, and in 1632 the eastern extremities of the Lena River. In 1648 Cossacks reached the Pacific Ocean, thereby opening an enormous missionary field. Again colonization involved evangelization, and evangelization colonization or Russification. The tasks connected with the conquest of Siberia were taken in hand by peter i, the great (1682–1725), at a time when China placed obstacles in the way of Russian expansion. Thus began the dramatic history of Sino-Russian relations. The Kangxi (K'ang-hsi) Emperor (1662–1722) ordered Russian expansion to stop at the Amur. Nevertheless the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) permitted the presence of a Russian Orthodox mission in Beijing (Peking). In the Treaty of Kiachta (1727) Russian missionaries were recognized as their country's diplomatic representatives to the Chinese court. There was hardly any missionary activity, but Russia had, over other countries, the advantage of being present in Beijing. The Chinese situation being what it was, more attention was then paid to the mission in Siberia. Kamchatka and the Yakut, Buryat, and Chukchi tribes were absorbed by the Orthodox Church. From Siberia the mission spread to the Aleutians and Alaska, where monks from Valamo worked c. 1800.
19th Century. In the 19th century the Russian Orthodox mission experienced a revival, resulting partly from a renewal of Russian piety and partly from the influence of Western pietism. This revival led to the foundation of the Russian Orthodox Biblical Society (1813). Kazan became the center of mission renewal and the scene of the beginning (1854) of missionary science. Makarij Glucharev (1792–1847), the founder of the Altai mission, was extremely progressive in his understanding of mission. He only baptized his converts after an extensive period of instruction and established schools and clinics.
Innokentij Veniaminov (1797–1879), the apostle of the Russian Far East, was one of the greatest Christian missionaries of the 19th century. Traveling to Russian Alaska with his family, he constructed his own dwelling and the church, learned to navigate a kayak to visit his far flung flock and was a conscientious observer of native customs as well as flora and fauna. He composed an alphabet for the Aleut language and his linguistic ability enabled him to properly instruct the converts in Christian faith. One of the books he wrote in Aleut, Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of God, was translated into Russian and between 1839 and 1855 was published in 46 editions. Upon the death of his wife, he took monastic vows and was consecrated bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurilian and the Aleutian Islands. Later all Siberia was added to his jurisdiction. Veniaminov, who became metropolitan of Moscow, established a missionary society (1870) which contributed to the Church's recognition of its mission obligations. Veniaminov's plans for evangelization extended to Japan and Korea. He encouraged the apostle of the Orthodox in Japan, Nikolai Kasatkin (1836–1912), to work for the conversion of the Japanese. The liturgy in the vernacular, a native Japanese clergy, and the sacrifice of political goals helped the Orthodox Church make great progress in Japan within a few decades. Kasatkin, who had been elevated to bishop, stayed with his flock during the Russo-Japanese War instead of returning to Russia. The mission in China was first relieved of its diplomatic function by the Peace of Aigun (1858). After the Boxer Rebellion a diocese was established in Beijing, but in 1914 the mission had only 5,000 disciples. In proportion to their numerical strength, the Orthodox Church lost more adherents in the Boxer Rebellion than either the Catholic or Protestant Churches.
Early Twentieth Century. The Russian Revolution (1917) put an effective halt to all missionary work of the Russian Orthodox Church by stopping the flow of funds. Most impacted was the mission to Japan which, while it never had many missionaries, was dependent on the support of the mother church. The Orthodox Church of Japan was forced by the Japanese government to sever its ties with Moscow and declare itself independent in 1940. After World War II the Church submitted to the Metropolitanate of North America. When this jurisdiction became the orthodox church in america, the Japan Orthodox Church retained its autonomous status under the Patriarchate of Moscow.
The mission in China was strengthened by the immigration of White Russian refugees, but the ministry among the Russians was at the expense of the missionary work among the Chinese. The Orthodox Church in China suffered when the Communists came to power. The last Russian hierarch, Archbishop Victor, left in 1956 and most of the parishioners emigrated to Australia or America. There appears to be only one functioning Orthodox Church in China comprised of elderly Russians that is in the city of Haerbin (Harbin).
Fresh Starts in Mission. During and after World War II, old missionary dioceses were able to be reorganized, even in Russia. Some of them carry the names of each respective race in their title. It was only after the Greek Civil War that missionary interest was rekindled in Greece, primarily through the agency of the Inter Orthodox Center for Mission. Founded by Anastasios Yannoulatos, the center sponsored missionary lectures and for a decade (1959–1969) published a very influential journal, Porefendes ("Go Ye") in both Greek and English editions. The journal discussed not only the activities of missionaries but also mission strategy and theology.
The impetus for missionary advance came with the incorporation under the Patriarchate of Alexandria of an African initiated church, the African Orthodox Church, whose leadership sought to connect to the original expression of Christianity. Many had been Anglicans and they sought a form of Christianity that would not make them subject to the major Christian traditions already present in East Africa. One of the founding leaders, Spartas (Reuben Mukasa from Uganda), toured Greece (1959) and generated interest in the work in Africa. Both the Church of Greece and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America responded with financial assistance and with missionaries. The liturgy was translated into Kikuyu and a seminary was established in Kenya to train clergy. The African Orthodox Church received significant assistant from Cyprus when the head of the autocephalous Church of Cyprus, Archbishop Markrios, took an interest in the work, making several journeys to the developing churches. The leadership of the work in East Africa has come from Greece and Cyprus. Bearing the title of Archbishop of Irinoupolis and All East Africa, this see has been occupied by Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, one of the architects of the Orthodox missionary revival. The last two Metropolitans, Seraphim and Makarios Tillyrides are both Cypriots. At the turn of the 21st century there are an estimated 600,000 African Orthodox in Kenya with smaller communities numbering 50,000 in Uganda and 10,000 in Tanzania. Elsewhere there is Orthodox missionary work in Ghana and Cameroon. Mission work has been undertaken in Indonesia through the efforts of a convert from Islam, Father Daniel Bambang D. Byantoro. Again, there is benefit in the lack of a colonial connection and the fact that the patterns of Orthodoxy appear more adaptable to the cultures of the Orient in the use of forms and symbols. There are the beginnings of missionary work in other Asian nations.
Orthodox Diaspora and Mission. Because of the dispersion of traditional Orthodox peoples, the Orthodox Church is represented on all six inhabited continents. In most places the Orthodox community established congregations and sent back to their country of origin for clergy to minister among them. While technically not missionary work, these outposts of Orthodoxy served to attract people to the Orthodox Church. This has been true in Australia, Africa, Europe and North America. In many places the Orthodox Church has the advantage of not being associated with any colonial power. The transplanted Orthodox and the few missionaries that were sent out were not identified with an oppressive Western presence. The focus on indigenous clergy also helped to remove a foreign stigma. Indeed the rapid advancement of nationals into ministry positions, necessitated by the paucity of missionary personnel became a virtue as the churches that developed were quickly seen as belonging to the converts.
Missionary work has recommenced with missionaries being sent from both the Inter Orthodox Mission Center in Athens, Greece, and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, Florida. The latter is a pan-Orthodox society, sending out missionaries from various ethnic jurisdictions in North America and is perhaps one of the best examples of inter-Orthodox cooperation. Sponsoring both short term and career missionaries, the center is actively supporting the rebuilding of the Church in Albania under the direction of Anastasios (Yannoulatos) Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania. Missionary information can be gathered from the publication (in Greek) of the Inter Orthodox Mission Center's Panta ta Ethne (To All the World) and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center's OCMC Missionary Magazine.
Mention should be made of conversions from Protestant denominations to Eastern Orthodoxy. Peter Gilquist, former staff worker with Campus Crusade for Christ, led a group of evangelical protestants that had formed their own church into the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. A missionary presence within the Antiochian Church, they have established missionary parishes in North America that actively proselytize. Many of the current Eastern Orthodox missionary force from North America are former evangelicals. In addition there have been other converts attracted to the Orthodox Church so that between 30 and 40 percent of the students at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, sponsored by the Orthodox Church in America are converts to Orthodoxy. One notable convert is Franky Schaeffer, son of the evangelical apologist, Francis Schaeffer.
Bibliography: j. glazik, Die russisch-orthodoxe Heidenmission seit Peter dem Grossen (Münster 1954); Die Islammission der russisch-orthodoxen Kirche (Münster 1959). s. bolshakoff, The Foreign Missions of the Russian Orthodox Church (London 1943). g. florovsky, "Russian Missions: An Historical Sketch," The Christian East 14 (1933) 30–41. e. smirnov, A Short Account of the Historical Development and Present Position of Russian Orthodox Missions (London 1903). j. stamoolis, Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today (Maryknoll 1986, Minneapolis 1993). i. veniaminov, Notes on the Islands of the Unalaska District (Fair-banks, reprint 1984). l. veronis, Missionaries, Monks, Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations (Minneapolis 1994). p. garrett, St. Innocent: Apostle to America (Crestwood, New York 1979). f. welbourn, East African Rebels: A Study of Some Independent Churches (London 1961). m. oleksa, Orthodox Alaska (Crestwood, New York 1992).
j. j. stamoolis]
"Mission History, II: Orthodox." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mission-history-ii-orthodox
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