“Our Easter joy is offered in order to be shared with others. … A pious custom among Orthodox Christians is to share with others the light of Christ the moment their candle is lit. This sharing of Christ’s Light highlights the duty of the faithful to evangelise, to spread the Evangelion (Ευ-Αγγέλιον), the Good News of our Lord’s Resurrection, like the Apostles. Our resurrected Lord said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And He added: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). Πορευθέντες οὖν.
So, there is one consequence, one “therefore”, one “οὖν”: Don’t limit yourselves to your own personal salvation and joy; you have a holy responsibility to spread this Evangelion to all those who ignore this Truth. This Hope must not be kept hidden, must not be confined to only one community. This Hope is for all peoples, for the renewal of all mankind.” (Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, Easter Message 2017)
“As a young person I had been moved by stories of Father Damian, a Catholic priest who served lepers in Hawaii, and also Albert Schweitzer. I asked myself whatever happened to our missionary tradition in the Orthodox Church? Where were the Orthodox missionaries? What are we doing to share our faith with others? What are we doing to reach all those people who have never heard the Gospel? I realized that indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ. How had it happened that a Church called to baptize the nations was so indifferent to the nations? Saint Paul brought the Gospel to Greeks. Who were we bringing it to?”
It was a pivotal question that would shape the rest of his life.
Indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ.
‘Krishti u ngjall, Zoti eshte me ne, lavdi Zotit!’ — ‘Christ is risen, God is with us, Glory to God!’
While his official title is Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania, Anastasios has occasionally been called the Archbishop of Tirana and All Atheists. It isn’t a title he objects to. “I am everyone’s archbishop. For us each person is a brother or sister. The Church is not just for itself. It is for all the people. As we say at the altar during each Liturgy, it is done ‘on behalf of all and for all. Also we pray ‘for those who hate us and for those who love us.’ Thus we cannot have enemies. How could we? If others want to see us as enemies, it is their choice, but we do not consider others as enemies. We refuse to punish those who punished us. Always remember that at the Last Judgment we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person. The message is clear. Our salvation depends upon respect for the other, respect for otherness. This is the deep meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan — we see not how someone is my neighbor but how someone becomes a neighbor. It is a process. We also see in the parable how we are rescued by the other. What is the theological understanding of the other? It is trying to see how the radiation of the Son of God occurs in this or that place, in this or that culture. This is much more than mere diplomacy. We must keep our authenticity as Christians while seeing how the rays of the Son of Righteousness pass through another person, another culture. Only then can we bring something special.”
People look at the difficulties of life here and say to me, ‘How can you stand it? It is so ugly!’ But for me it is so beautiful! It is God’s blessing to be here — not the blessing I imagined but the one I received. …
“People sometimes ask me about my expectations, but I don’t know about the future! You can only do your job with love and humility. I am not the savior of Albania, only a candle in front of the icon of the Saviour.”
RTE: How has it been having your family in the mission field?
FR. LUKE: When my wife and I first went to Albania, many people thought that it was going to be very dangerous and that our children would suffer: “You are going to deprive your children of all the benefits of life in America.” Contrary to that expectation, we feel that our three children who were raised in the mission field were immensely blessed by the experience of learning another culture and language. They always appreciated what they had in America when they went back, but they also appreciated their mission home in Albania, which they thought of as their “real” home.
They’ve grown up with a very different world-view. They appreciate things that they would never think twice about if they had grown up in America. During our first years in Albania, we didn’t have running water every day. So, the kids learned to appreciate it. When we had water, we’d say, “Thank God for water. It’s great to have it.” During different periods, for months at a time, the electricity is off about five hours a day; in winter, maybe seven or eight hours. So they got excited when the electricity came on. Or, if we did have electricity, the tension was often so low that we couldn’t do something as simple as watch a video. I remember on one of our visits to the U.S., they wanted to watch a video, and came to my wife saying, “Mommy, if there’s enough tension can we watch television?” They still flip the switch to see if the electricity is working.
Next to our house in Albania we had a very tiny shop, nine by fifteen feet, with all different types of food – this was where we did most of our shopping. Once, when we were about to go back to America, my son Paul asked his mother, “In America, will they have shops as big as Uncle Soorie’s?” We laughed. It was beautiful to see how they were exposed to a different way of life. We lived in Tirana, the capital of Albania, and we were constantly exposed to beggars, poor people who came to our house every day asking for help. It was wonderful for our children to see this, day in and day out. They got used to getting things for the beggars, answering the door and coming and saying, “Oh, so-and-so is here.” We got to know these people by name, we visited their homes. When you live in suburban America you aren’t even exposed to them unless you go downtown. Many of these beggars truly became friends, and our kids loved them. They loved playing with them and saw them as human beings, not as beggars.
Another blessing of raising children in the mission field is community, both the indigenous Albanian community, the wonderful local people that were part of our life, and our co-missionaries who themselves had numerous children. At one time we had fifteen missionary children in the field, and they created such bonds of love and friendship. They weren’t exposed to the busyness, to the constant activities that American children are involved in. Their lives were very simple, and very fulfilled.
Neither my wife nor I have any sense of their being deprived, and one of our greatest regrets in leaving Albania after ten and a half years is that we have left at a time when our children are still young, and we are not sure how much they will remember. We often talk about going back into missions when they are a little older so that they not only remember, but can participate more fully. Even though they were young, we tried to get the idea across that they themselves were missionaries, that they needed to be witnesses. To whatever degree they could participate in our different activities, they did.
RTE: Growing up with cultural diversity must not only teach what is universal in human nature, but how to deal with differences early on.
FR. LUKE: Right. We Americans, unfortunately, are quite isolated from the rest of the world. The universal business language is English, so we think we can get anywhere speaking English. Having only Canada to the north and Mexico in the south, we aren’t exposed to many different cultures and languages and this is a great loss for us. It’s so enriching to be around the diversity found in a mission field, and to learn to see beauty in such diversity. One thing I tried to get across to the Kenyans, and later to the Albanians, was, “Sure, in America we have things that are nicer than in Kenya or Albania, but you have many aspects of your culture and life that we Americans can envy. Family connectedness, the support you have for one another, hospitality – how beautiful these things are! Don’t ever lose these aspects of your culture and think, ‘We want to become western, or American, because America is better in everything.’ There are certain things you can adopt from America that are beautiful, but don’t lose the beauty and richness that you have in your own tradition.”
Hospitality was something that always left the greatest imprint on me. I could travel to the poorest village in Africa and they would put on a feast. It was their responsibility to show love and hospitality to guests. It is the same in Albania. I don’t know who is more hospitable, the Albanians or the Kenyans, but they would put anyone in the West to total shame. Having almost nothing, they share whatever they have with whoever comes.
RTE: An American seminarian at Holy Cross Seminary told me about a depressed acquaintance who called one night, feeling suicidal. The seminarian invited him to come to the seminary for a few days for a change of scene and to be in a calm atmosphere. He agreed and the seminarian made the arrangements and cleaned an empty dorm room so that he could have his own space. The day his friend moved in, one of the Greek-born seminarians found out what was happening and insisted that the man take his own room, which contained his books and belongings, icons that were prayed in front of, and was a real home. The Greek seminarian slept in the hall on a couch outside the door so he could check on him through the night. The American seminarian said, “You know, I was so pleased that I’d found him his own space where he could have some privacy, where he could put his own things up – but actually what he needed was to be taken into someone else’s home and taken care of. I didn’t get it until I saw it.”
FR. LUKE: Yes, this virtue of hospitality is something missing in our American way of life. As missionaries, my wife and I saw hospitality as one of the greatest ways to express God’s love to the people. We wanted our home to always be open to people. We married right at the beginning of our time in Albania and it is interesting to think that my wife and I slept in our house alone perhaps three months out of the first five years of our marriage. We always had people coming, numerous people staying for months at a time. Our open home was a hallmark of our ministry. Even after the children started coming and we didn’t have as many overnight guests, we always had an open-door policy. There were people at our house every day. One of the difficult counter-cultural adjustments in coming back to America on sabbatical was that although we lived on campus at a seminary, no one came to visit. We lived there for four months and maybe a handful of people came to our house. And even when people came, they’d say, “I’m just here for a minute, I’ve got to run…” They’d stay briefly and then go on with their day.
RTE: We’ve been speaking here of missionary families. What opportunities are there for unmarried men and women? And in view of cultural differences, are single women limited as missionaries? What part do they play on a mission team?
FR. LUKE: The mission in Albania offers a good response to this question.
During the years I served there, of the 20-25 missionaries we had at any one time, we had a nice mix – usually about eight monastics, eight married missionaries, and six or seven single missionaries. Of the two dozen missionaries, about half were men and half were women. Also, about eight were clergy, and the rest laity. The unmarried missionaries played an important role in the overall outreach of the Church. In Albania, we had single missionaries who headed up our medical clinic, our elementary school, our post-secondary professional institute, as well as our development and emergency relief office. We also had single missionaries who taught at our seminary, who taught English in a variety of contexts, taught catechism, worked in administration, and who participated in our university ministry, among other things.
The Body of Christ has a need for everyone – men or women, married or unmarried. It is the same for the mission field. In fact, when a missionary team has a variety of members, it makes the overall witness that much more effective. Some people will relate well to a monastic. Others feel more comfortable with a married priest. Some prefer to approach a mother, or a married woman. Still others will listen to a single man or woman. All are part of one body, offering a unified witness. So there are surely opportunities for the monastics, the married, and the unmarried! In some countries, it isn’t appropriate for men to approach women and talk with them in public. Such societies need women missionaries, and this means both married and single women.
In the Protestant world of missions, single women really weren’t encouraged, or even allowed, in the mission field until the 1800’s. By the 1900’s, women outnumbered men as missionaries. Today, women far outnumber men, and this includes many single women. Women had to overcome many obstacles and prejudices before being allowed to serve in a variety of capacities, and this may be the same for the modern Orthodox missionary movement.
RTE: Do you have any specific counsel for unmarried missionaries?
FR. LUKE: My advice for single men or women is that they must be ready for some additional challenges. The loneliness of a new culture, the challenges of entering a new country, the frustrations of learning a language, and the normal difficulties and disappointments of the mission field can be overwhelming. As a married missionary, you have your spouse to support and comfort you; the monastics may be living in community and have another type of support; but the single missionary can feel the loneliness and frustration in a magnified manner. A single person has to be ready for these added challenges. He or she needs to be a strong person, and also be able to find support in time of need. Their co-missionaries need to be sensitive to this extra burden, and try to reach out to them.
One way to help overcome these additional struggles would be for single missionaries to live in community, either with other missionaries of the same sex, one of the missionary families, or even with an indigenous family. Living with a family of the country can be one of the fastest ways to learn the language, culture, and ways of the host country. Of course, other challenges may arise as cultures clash and one’s privacy may be lost.
RTE: Can you tell us what it takes to be a long-term missionary? You’ve spoken of the beginning stages, how about later?
FR. LUKE: Archbishop Anastasios has good advice for people thinking of going into the mission field: “It’s always better to say you are going for one year and stay for ten, than to say, ‘I am going for ten years,’ and after the initial enthusiasm fades away, you realize you can’t handle it.” There is wisdom in this: go step-by-step, and God will give you grace and strength.
The goal of missions is to establish an authentic Eucharistic worshipping community in the people’s own language and culture
In my early 20’s, when I attended Pennsylvania State University, I contemplated entering the Peace Corps. When I learned more about it though, I was afraid, because I wasn’t sure I could handle the two-year commitment to leave my country and live in an impoverished third-world village. I turned down the opportunity, but God in His own way took me step-by step. He didn’t reveal to me, “In the future you will spend ten years in Albania.” No. First, I went on a short-term mission team for one month to Kenya. The following year I returned for a six-month commitment, and these six months turned into a year of service. After returning to Africa three times over the next four years, I began looking at Albania as a place where I could serve as a long-term missionary. I suggested to my wife, “Let’s make a three year commitment, and then see.” God took us through those three years and gave us the strength we needed. Those three years turned into five years, seven years, a decade. We might have been frightened, had we known at the beginning that we would serve in Albania for ten years, but God took us by the hand and led us.
Don’t frighten yourself by thinking, “How can I become a missionary and live in another culture for so many years?” Just go, make the sign of the cross, and start working. Be open and willing to stay for longer, but tell yourself, “I am going for one year or for two years, and see how it works.” But keep praying, “Lord, if You give me the grace, I will stay as long as You want me here.”
RTE: You mentioned the short-term mission teams of two or three weeks. I imagine that it’s helpful for people in a foreign country to feel that others appreciate them enough to come, but what are the real benefits of this short-term experience?
FR. LUKE: One has to be very clear about the purpose of missions. The goal of missions is to establish an authentic Eucharistic worshipping community in the people’s own language and culture. If one is going to serve in a place that isn’t yet Christian, this will take many years and involve great effort, sacrifice, and struggle. To achieve anything, the missionary must commit himself to living among the people long-term and learning the language and culture.
With the ease of travel and technology, a new phenomenon has arisen in the past thirty years in the mission field – “short-term mission teams” – which send people for a week or two, or a month, to a certain area. They often have a specific project: to build a church, run a catechetical program, etc.
There is value in these short-term projects, and the first and greatest value is for those who are going. It exposes them to a different culture, a different people. For westerners it is often the first time they’ve seen a third-world country up close, with of all its poverty and hardship. It’s an eye-opening experience. For many, this initial experience is an exciting adventure, and although these short-termers go with the intention of offering something, they receive much more than they can offer, and usually return to their home country full of enthusiasm. They often become ambassadors for the missionary movement; they speak in churches and theirenthusiasm is contagious. It’s great for them and for the church that sent them.
But what did they really offer for the week, or month, or two months they were in the mission field? They offered something. Perhaps they built a building – but I’m sure the indigenous people could have built the building themselves if they’d had the money. Perhaps they created some nice friendships, and that’s important to encourage people, but they have to realize that what they offered was very limited.
It is not going to transform, convert, and change people’s lives. At best it is going to complement the work that’s already being done by the long-term missionaries and the local Christians who live there. Some churches are now sending many short-term teams; you can get the people, they’re enthusiastic, it motivates people back home. But people are still afraid to go into long-term mission and this “short-term” trend can create a great danger for the future.
Short-term teams are not the goal of missions, but they can support the overall effort, and short-termers need to be challenged as to where they are going to take this experience when they return home. In any group of twenty short-term missionaries who go somewhere for a month, my goal would be that at least one or two of them seriously consider long-term mission work.
For others, hopefully, this incredible experience will help to transform them into more serious Christians. Lord willing, they will use this experience as a stepping stone in their own spiritual journey. Perhaps they won’t become long-term missionaries, but they will be more dedicated Christians in whatever they do. Hopefully, the majority of people who go will at least understand missions in a new way, and even if they never become long-term missionaries, they will become supporters and partners of those in long-term missions.
There are two results we don’t want from short-term missions. First, we don’t want these participants to think that they are missionaries who have fulfilled their responsibility in missions. They are not missionaries, but members of a missions team. They now have a responsibility to use the experience they’ve received for the glory of God and to spread the spirit of missions in the Church.
The second danger is that we don’t want short-term participants to return home and, after an initial month of excitement, put the experience away as a great adventure and go on with their life as they lived it before. We would consider both of these results as a failure in our short-term strategy.
I have participated on five short-term mission teams, four times as a leader. I have also received five short-term teams while being a long-term missionary. So I’ve been exposed to this concept of missions from a variety of angles. These short-term experiences radically changed the direction of my life, so I’m very grateful for the experience. They exposed me to the reality of missions work and led me to longer stays in Africa. Such trips filled me with enthusiasm and zeal for missions, and led me to eventually study theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as to study missiology at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions.
When I was a long-term missionary receiving missions teams, I did all the prep work for the teams, and it took a month out of my schedule each time to accommodate them. In certain cases it was worth it. Some teams did great and really complemented the ministries we were already doing. But to be honest, other teams were very demanding and in the end, the benefit that they offered was minimal. In those instances, it became a very time-consuming project that didn’t have a lot of value for our overall mission. Short-termers need to be aware of this, and when they go, to be humble about it.
RTE: I imagine they are more like pilgrims than missionaries, guests of Orthodox missions who may be able to help out in a small way.
FR. LUKE: Yes, I always tell the short-termers that they shouldn’t call themselves missionaries. They aren’t missionaries. They should think of themselves as visitors to a mission field. Some don’t like to hear this. They would like to think, “I’m following the path of the great missionaries; I’m a missionary now.” That’s quite naive.
All my previous days have been spent in quietness, stillness and intense studying. I have been reflecting on my Romanian monasteries’ pilgrimage and preparing for the next one to Cephalonia and Ithaca for the Dormition Feast. I have also been corresponding with my English brothers and sisters in Christ, preparing for my return to the UK by the end of the summer.
Central in all my thoughts, studies, activities and endeavours was the Holy Spirit, Orthodoxy and Missionary work.
a two-part documentary, where renowned British actor David Suchet undertakes an epic journey spanning the Mediterranean. His inspiration is a charismatic individual whose own travels through this region, two thousand years ago, changed the world forever – Paul the Apostle:
Do you remember how all this got started? By a disturbing comment by a ‘cradle’ Orthodox that all ‘others’ are ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’. Now after a week I know that such an attitude cannot be farthest from the Truth. I understand I have so much more to learn yet but I am already convinced that
“Inertia in the field of mission means, in the last analysis, a negation of Orthodoxy, a backslide into the practical heresy of localism”;
“Mission was not the duty of only the first generation of Christians. It is the duty of Christians of all ages … It is an essential expression of the Orthodox ethos.”;
“Church without mission is a contradiction in terms…. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged.”
May the Holy Spirit empower us to be faithful in fulfilling the commandment of Christ to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all Nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all [things that He has] commanded”, so that all people may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven”!
May we witness to the truth, and by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to reveal Christ’s way of sanctification and eternal salvation to all.
Renowned for his friendly, peaceful attitude and his inspiring speeches, nothing seems impossible for this man. He has struggled and faced a multitude of difficulties including severe illness and persecution, and he was asked to take up a new position at age 62. He committed to a country whose language and culture were unknown to him, arriving in the only officially declared atheist state, asked to rebuild the church.
In Tirana, Albania, 24 years later, he hosted the Global Christian Forum (GCF) consultation from 1-5 November. There, 150 high-level leaders and representatives of various church traditions from more than 60 countries gathered to listen and learn, and to stand in solidarity with churches and Christians experiencing discrimination and persecution in the world today.“It’s the fruit of our work together in Albania,” said Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania.
Archbishop Anastasios granted an interview to the World Council of Churches (WCC) news. This conversation took place in the archbishop’s residence in Tirana.
“I keep the window to remind me that life can end in a second. We must not waste a single day.”
An apostle of peace and reconciliation, since meeting him in 1997, he is one of my greatest role models. I know, I’m merely one of many who share this. We meet in his residence office the day after his 86th birthday. He extends a warm greeting, offering Greek coffee and cakes. The welcoming room has warm colours, flowers and icons. It tells Archbishop Anastasios’s life story, one sometimes reflecting hazard. A double-glazed pane stopped a bullet that is suspended while it was in full flight toward him. It was fired by a sniper during the 1997 political upheaval that pushed predominantly Muslim Albania into chaos, nearly claiming the archbishop’s life. “I keep the window,” Archbishop Anastasios notes, “to remind me that life can end in a second. We must not waste a single day.”
Few men use their days like Archbishop Anastasios. Frail but energetic, he has spent the last 24 years overcoming immense obstacles to achieve a near-miracle in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
From Greece to Africa and Albania
Born into a religious family in Pireus, Greece on 4 November 1929, as a boy he was interested in science, but his view changed after four years of Nazi occupation of Greece. That brought fear, destruction, and the horrors of the Second World War. He realized that the only way to make sense of the suffering was to work for eternal peace; the kind that can only come from Jesus Christ. He has dedicated his life and career to fulfilling Christ’s mandate.
His official title is Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania, but Anastasios has sometimes been called the Archbishop of Tirana and All. It isn’t a title he objects to. “I am everyone’s archbishop. For us, each person is a brother or sister. The church is not just for itself. It is for all the people.”
During the 1990s, around 160,000 people perished in the Balkan Peninsula violence. Although the conflicts largely hinged on ethnic differences, religion played a critical role in the three-sided war that embroiled Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Muslims. The archbishop discovered soon after arriving in Albania in 1992, his role was not merely to lead the Orthodox Church in Albania. “You must bear in mind that Albania had very little experience of being an independent country and even less of freedom.” During the communist era, from 1945 to 1990, Albania, just north of Greece, became the only country in the world to prohibit all religious practice. Just the act of crossing oneself could land one in prison. Every church, mosque and synagogue was destroyed or converted to secular use as Albanians, who now number 3 million, were isolated from the rest of the world.
The archbishop recalls, “The Albanian State was created in 1912-1913. Then there were 25 years of trying to build up that state in Europe’s poorest country. In such a setting it is necessary to think in larger terms, about social development as a whole, to think not in terms of decades but centuries….We must think what it means to be free.”
If you have faith, stay and struggle
After communism collapsed, in 1991 the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, decided to send Archbishop Anastasios to Albania to report on the country’s religious situation. He found 1,600 destroyed churches and only 22 elderly priests still alive of the 440 who served Albania before communism. Albanians were, however, desperate for religious freedom and many gathered for services in fields where nothing remained of their former churches except broken bells.
He saw the despair in Albanians’ faces. “I thought, who’s going to help these people? Who is going to give them hope?’ I said to myself, ‘If you have faith, stay and struggle. If you don’t, go home.’” So he stayed. Over the next decade, Archbishop Anastasios fought to overcome centuries of ethnic and religious hostility, to establish a new church throughout the nation.
Archbishop Anastasios underline “About 150 new churches (both large and small) have been erected, 60 churches and monasteries, designated as cultural monuments, have been renovated and restored, and 160 churches have been repaired. More than 70 buildings have been purchased, built and reconstructed to make preschools, schools, youth centres, health centers, metropolitan sees, hospitality homes, workshops, soup kitchens, etc. Altogether there have been more than 460 building projects”.
All kinds of education are crucial for the archbishop. “Education is far more than books to read and facts to memorize. The goal must be to help shape people who are not only capable intellectually or skilled in certain specializations, but motivated by respect and love rather than greed and fear,” he observes.
“God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power. Those who fear God fear nothing else.”
Women and men at the seminary
Educational work to prepare men and women for service in the church became a key concern.
“We are struggling with the problem of the shortage of priests. The young generation was raised in an atheistic climate, and after that came the capitalist dream, which made many decide to go to other countries. The scent of money is very powerful. Gradually some people realize money does not bring happiness, that happiness can only come from something deeper.
“As you will have noticed, there are not only men but also women at the seminary; perhaps a third of the enrollment. It used to be the vocation of women was mainly in the home, but now they have a public life and the church must use their gifts. Women exercise another form of church service. There are many women who have graduated from the seminary and who are playing an important role in the activities of the church in Albania, diaconal works of mercy, teachers, administration, mission activity, and so forth. We would have achieved much less without them.”
The Church should be present
The archbishop emphasized that the church should be present in all areas of life. He introduced new health care, educational and developmental programmes, social and relief efforts, cultural and environmental projects along with other necessities of civilization.
He says, “In each area of life we must implant a spiritual dimension. Culture is more than technology! Most of all it is respect for the dignity of people. Culture requires respect for God’s creation. Where it exists, there is beauty.”
A first priority for the archbishop is children and young people. “We have opened many kindergartens, nurseries and schools. My only regret is that we cannot help more young people. We do what we can with the staff and space we can afford.”
When Anastasios was ordained, he went to Africa. “In the evening of the day I was ordained a priest in May 1964, I flew to Uganda, which I had thought about so often and with such longing. I had thought that Africa would be my home for the remainder of my life. But malaria ended that dream…..It was my first experience of being close to death. I remember the phrase that formed in my thoughts when I thought I would die: ‘My Lord, you know that I tried to love you.’ Then I slept and the next day I felt well! There was a second attack when I went to Geneva to attend a mission conference. Fortunately doctors there were able to identify the illness and knew how to treat it. When I was well enough to leave the hospital they said I must forget about returning to Africa.”
The Archbishop returned to his studies, but did not forget Africa. With a scholarship, he pursued post-graduate studies in Germany at the University of Hamburg, from 1965-1969. He specialized in the History of Religion, but also studied ethnology, missiology, and African studies. His dissertation was, “The Spirits Mbandwa and the Frame of their Cult: A Research on the African Religion of Western Uganda.”
Local and global ecumenical movement
In 1969, the WCC called Anastasios to accept a position in the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism as the “Secretary for Research and Relation with the Orthodox Churches.” He later became the first Orthodox moderator of the Commission for Mission and Evangelism (1984-91), presiding over the San Antonio World Mission Conference (1989).
Then in January 1991, the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to re-establish the Church of Albania. Two months after his 61st birthday, Anastasios received a phone call from the Patriarchate of Constantinople asking if he would go to Albania to see if anything was left of the Orthodox Church. It not originally intended as a permanent assignment, only to see if and how the local church could be revived.
He says, “Only later was I asked by authorities of the Patriarchate if I would be willing to accept election as Archbishop of Albania. After a period of reflection and prayer, I was open, on three conditions. The first was that it must be clear that this was the wish of the Orthodox in Albania. Second, that this was the desire of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Third, that the Albanian authorities would accept this decision. Otherwise the situation of the church would only be more difficult. My answer was much less than yes! I was like Jonah, looking for a path of escape! But inside my prayer was, ‘Your will be done.’”
He explained, “The Orthodox people were indeed pressing me to stay. How could I refuse them? How could I say I had a different plan for the rest of my life? They were praying for me every day. Remaining in Albania would mean putting aside all the ideas I had about what I would be doing with the remainder of my life. I had in mind a peaceful retirement in Greece, giving lectures at the university and writing books.”
“It has been important for me not only to learn Albanian but to take care that whenever I say something I say it not just in a way that can be understood but say it well”.
One of Albania’s most serious investors and job creators
Language skills, education and church buildings are important for the archbishop: “Church building often involves more than just a structure for worship. When we build or restore a church or monastery, often we also have to rebuild the road.”
“With all our construction projects, the church has become a significant factor in the economic development of Albania. We are one of Albania’s most serious investors and job creators.”
Anastasios’s most ambitious project, which he views as the capstone of his mission in Albania, was to rebuild an Orthodox cathedral in Tirana to replace one demolished by the communist government. The name he chose for the cathedral embodies what he has accomplished for the Orthodox Church in Albania and the Albanian people – resurrection.
Ecumenical vision beyond a Balkan
The Archbishop also talks of his ecumenical vision “Beyond a Balkan, European perspective, we are trying to respectfully and lovingly embrace the whole church and the entire world that Christ himself has raised, redeemed and enlightened by His cross and resurrection. The ecumenical vision offers a special power, endurance and perspective for every local and concrete situation. Besides this, the emphasis on the ecumenicity and catholicity of the church, and the gaze on the incarnate word of God in the Holy Spirit, offers to the Orthodox thought and conscience an open horizon with boundless majesty.”
Interfaith dialogue, he pointed out, is not simply exchanges of words. “It helped being in the World Council of Churches’ committee for dialogue with other religions, but what we did was academic. Here you learn that often the best dialogue is in silence; it is love without arguments.”
We could keep talking for hours but more media wait outside. The archbishop concludes with a smile: “You can only do your job with love and humility! I feel I’m still like a student or like a missionary for justice and peace!
Archbishop Dr Anastasios, (born Anastasios Yannoulatos, Greek: ΑναστάσιοςΓιαννουλάτος, Albanian: Anastas Janullatos, 4 November 1929) is Archbishop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania and as such the primate and Head of the Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, is professor emeritus of the National University of Athens and honorary member of the Academy of Athens. He has served as primate of Albania since 1992. In this capacity, he reconstructed the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania from ruins and initiated important contributions in healthcare, development work, emergency relief, culture, ecology and peace-making. From 1984-1991, Anastasios was moderator of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism; from 2004- 2013 President of the World Council of Churches, from 1981 to 1990, he was the acting archbishop of East Africa, where he organized and developed the Orthodox Mission in East Africa; and from 1983-1986, dean of the Theological School at the University of Athens. Honorary President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.
II. Adapting to a New Culture — The Three Stages in a Missionary’s Life — Different Types of Missionaries
Adapting to a New Culture
FR. LUKE: Different people have different ideas of what mission is about. Some think that it is a romantic adventure, and it’s true that there is excitement and adventure to mission, especially in the initial stages. Once one enters the mission field and begins to live the daily life, trying to proclaim the gospel among people who aren’t always open or interested, the romanticism quickly disappears. This is a stage of frustration that many missionaries experience. The missionary has to work through this, but once he does, he is ready to begin serious missionary work. He understands that an authentic mission requires a commitment that is greater than any frustration or obstacle, a commitment that demands time, effort, and sacrifice. In Love, For Love, By Love
A Commitment that Demands Time, Effort, and Sacrifice
During our first years in Albania, the Church faced a major crisis. The government was trying to kick the archbishop out of the country and we were afraid that the foundation he had built for the Church’s work might be destroyed. When I voiced my worries, the archbishop said, “Fr. Luke, you have to remember something. Albania, under the worst form of communism and as the only totally atheistic state in the world, was a stronghold of Satan for almost fifty years. Now that democracy has come, don’t think that Satan is simply going to lie down and let the gospel be proclaimed. We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of darkness, and this means that it’s going to be hard, that there is going to be suffering, that there are going to be casualties. We have to be ready for this.” If you want to follow the Christian life, it’s the same thing. Missionary life is a life of the Cross, a life of sacrifice, of humble service, and of not always being appreciated. The archbishop told me that the missionary must be ready to be crucified by the very people he is trying to help. We can’t be devastated when this happens.
Missionary life is a life of the Cross, a life of sacrifice, of humble service, and of not always being appreciated
The missionary must be ready to becrucified by the very people he is trying to help
RTE: I imagine that the initial period of missionary enthusiasm is very similar to what new Christians go through.I remember once wishing aloud that a warmly enthusiastic new convert would come down to earth, but a Russian friend said, “Oh no. This is his spiritual childhood. Don’t deprive him of it. He will never be so innocently happy in his Christian life again. He will discover the difficulties and troubles of our earthly Church soon enough, but for now God has given him this heavenly joy. It will come to a natural end at the right time, and then he will struggle.” I think she was right. But once the struggle begins, how do you help new missionaries adapt?
The Three Stages in a Missionary’s Life
The Initial Excitement of Entering a New Culture
FR. LUKE: There is a typical pattern that missionaries go through. As I said, in the initial excitement of entering a new culture, seeing new people and new ways of doing things, there is warm enthusiasm, “Ah, these people are wonderful….” For example, on my own first short-term trip to Africa, I lived in a village for a month. I saw Kenyans walking an hour to church, and then sitting in church for four hours with no desire to leave quickly. To an outsider they seem so joyful and faithful that you generalize and say, “These people are just wonderful.” After you’ve been in the culture a little longer, however, you start to see the other side: “OK, some of these people are faithful, pious Christians … but there are also people hanging around to get something material from the church, who aren’t so honest or sincere.”
The Disillusionment by the Fifth or Sixth Month in the Mission
Usually by the fifth or sixth month in the mission field the pendulum starts to swing back and the missionary begins to see things with a negative eye. This is the most dangerous time. I’ve seen missionaries so disillusioned that they leave the mission field – or perhaps they don’t leave, but they allow their disillusionment to darken their entire experience.They view everything and everyone from a negative perspective. If this happens, it’s a tragedy, and it’s better for the missionary to leave than to offer such a distorted view of the gospel.
The Third Stage in which the Missionary Sees Both Good and Bad Within the ‘New’ Culture
It is important to prepare missionaries for these two stages, and there is still another phase which any good missionary will eventually reach. In this third stage, the missionary sees both good and bad within the culture. In any culture, including our own, we realize that there are faithful, pious people, as well as con-artists and those who are insincere. There are also good people who are weak, and who may fall into temptation. This is the reality.
RTE: Of life on earth.
When You Become a Missionary You Become a Person Without a Home
FR. LUKE: Exactly, of everywhere. We can’t go on mission expecting to find people open and ready to embrace the gospel. It is important to challenge the cross-cultural worker to adapt as soon as possible, but not to go native, not to give up his old culture in trying to blindly embrace the new. This is dangerous. When you become a missionary you become a person without a home. Although you have left your own culture, you will never fully adapt to the new. The indigenous people will never truly see you as one of themselves, no matter how hard you try. You become a third culture person.
You Become a Third Culture Person
Another common mistake in the history of western Christians has been for the missionary to create a western compound, a small western society in the midst of a new culture. When you leave that compound in the morning you enter the local culture, but when you come back at night, everything is like it is at home. This should not be the goal. We must strive to live among the people, close to the people.
Pulling Indigenous People Out of Their Cultural Setting or Leaving Neophyte Christians in Their Villages?
RTE: St. Macarius of Altai found that if he left the new Altai Christians in their villages, they would inevitably be drawn back into unchristian practices. The pull of society was just too great. So he created new Christian villages within the society, and asked the Christians he baptized to live there. The Spanish missionaries in California did the same thing. What do you think of this?
FR. LUKE: There are pros and cons to these different methods. There is validity to pulling people out of their culture and trying to create a village of new believers, and something positive in trying to avoid temptations which may be too strong for a neophyte Christian. A danger in pulling indigenous people out of their cultural setting is that they may also lose their connection with the people they left behind.
RTE: Also, I imagine that they would become dependent on the missionary who is the inspiration for the village.
FR. LUKE: Yes, and to some degree they may be tempted to adopt the missionary’s cultural baggage, whether western or whatever, and then it is hard for them to be salt for their own society. Along the same line of thought, another danger that missionary agencies have realized for centuries is that if you take the indigenous Christian out of his home setting and send him to the missionary country for training or for seminary, after he has lived in another culture for four or five years, he adapts to that culture and can’t really fit into his own again. His own people will see him as a foreigner if he goes back – and many don’t return at all.
Different Types of Missionaries: the Outreaching, the Itinerary and the Silent Witness
RTE: We are speaking of missionaries going into a new culture, but there are other types of missionaries as well – like the Greek St. Cosmas of Aitolia, who didn’t settle in any one place but traveled throughout Greece and modern-day Albania, preaching to both Christians and Moslems.
Another is St. Symeon the Stylite, who didn’t go anywhere. People came to him on his pillar from as far south as the Arabian peninsula – not only for spiritual help but for prayers for failed crops, for drastic weather. Arab tribes came to have him adjudicate their differences, and westerners came also, from Paris, Rome, and Britain.
In our Orthodox tradition we have the outward-reaching evangelical missionary efforts of St. Paul, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and St. Innocent of Alaska, but then we also have the example of monastics who settled in an area to cultivate their spiritual life, reached a high level of sanctity, and eventually shone forth and attracted people with a centrifugal force.
RTE: Like the candle in front of the icon – so bright that everyone came to see what it was.
LUKE: Yes. And both are necessary. One of the great dangers in our Church is that I sometimes hear people say, “This ideal of a holy man settling in an area and attracting people to himself – this is true Orthodoxy. This is our only form of mission.” This is totally inaccurate. Yes, one can certainly see the silent witnesses through the centuries, but simultaneously, we had missionaries consciously reaching out, crossing cultures, going to other places. From the fourth century on, we have numerous examples of monks not only going into the desert to retreat from society, but also settling close to pagan villages and purposefully joining other monastics in organized bands to proclaim the gospel.
For over a decade, Fr. Luke and Presbytera Faith Veronis served as Orthodox missionaries in Albania under the spiritual leadership of Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos), with Fr. Luke directing the Holy Resurrection Theological Seminary in Durres. The Veronis family has now returned to the U.S., where Fr. Luke pastors Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster, Massachusetts, and is Adjunct Professor of Missiology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School and St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Below, Fr. Luke offers an invigorating account of life in the mission field and what it takes to be a long-term missionary: In Love, For Love, and By Love.
Do everything in love, for love, and by love.
RTE: Father Luke, what makes a good missionary?
LUKE: Something obvious but central, and that is love. I once spoke with an old Greek monk, Fr. Antonios, from St. John the Forerunner Monastery in Kareas, near Athens. The Kareas Monastery has sent out missionary-nuns for over twenty years and when he came to Albania, I asked him, “Give me some advice on being a good missionary. What should I remember from you?” He said, “If you remember this you will do well. Do everything in love, for love, and by love. If you do this, you will be a great missionary.” This sounds simplistic but it is absolutely central to what a true missionary wants to be. Everything that you do when you are trying to adapt to a culture, struggling to learn a language, or understand a people, you do out of love for them.
One of the first things a missionary must do is to learn the language, no matter how hard it is. This is a sign of love for the people, a sign that you respect the dignity of their culture, and this respect must be communicated before you ever proclaim the gospel. His Beatitude, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania says that when you go into a country, you keep whatever is good in the culture, even if it is different from the way you do things. Anything that is completely incompatible with the gospel you have to reject, but there are many things that can be baptized and given new meaning.
An ambassador of God’s love
Also, you need to enter the mission field with extreme humility. You are not going to “save” these people, and you are not going simply to teach. First and foremost, you are going as an ambassador of God’s love, to offer a witness of His love in concrete ways. Your emphasis should be, “I’m on a journey – let me show you where I am going, and if you are interested, join me on this journey.” I may be leading the journey for part of the way but there are going to be times when the indigenous Christians will lead me; I will be learning from them, even about spiritual life. We are taking each other’s hands and walking towards the Kingdom of God.
This is extremely important because too often I see western missionaries come with extreme arrogance, ignorant of the culture they are entering and uninterested in learning about it. They are arrogant in thinking that they are bringing the gospel for the first time, as if they are the saviour. They forget that Jesus Christ is the Saviour; we are simply His ambassadors. We must always remember that we are still working out our own salvation, but along the way we can invite others to join us on this journey, to travel together.
I’m on a journey
Archbishop Anastasios gives a great example when he says about himself, “I am simply a candle that is lit in front of an icon. I shine so that people can see the icon. One day my candle will be snuffed out. When my candle goes out, someone else will have to come and let their light shine before the icon. The important thing is the icon, not the candlelight.”
My suggestion for new missionaries is to spend the first year just learning the language, the culture, the ways of the people, and not focus too much on preaching the gospel. Of course, you preach first and foremost with your life. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” By focusing on the language, culture and individuals, you show that you are interested in them as people, not solely in making them converts.
RTE: In your book, Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs, you included St. Macarius (Gloukharev) of Altai, who is a fascinating example of preaching with one’s life. He went to a remote part of Siberia, where he taught in village after village, with no success. After years of fruitless labor, he left and returned later to go at it differently, through active service with homeopathic medicines and simple offers of help. Only then, was his gospel message received.
Another aspect that is extremely important for missionaries in the field is to identify as best they can with the people, to live at the level of the indigenous people. Now, this isn’t always possible. We from the West may give up a lot of our comforts and live at a level far lower than in our home country, but still live far above their means. We have to struggle with this, and like many things in our faith, we have to live in the tension between the goal and what we can actually do. Constant effort and growth are the keys.
I remember asking Archbishop Anastasios what he considered his greatest contribution to the mission field – and we know that he has made many significant contributions as a churchman, a hierarch, a professor at the University of Athens, a missiologist, and as a missionary. Reflecting on his achievements, he said, “I feel that the greatest contribution I’ve made in Africa and in Albania is that I’ve lived among the people and tried to identify with them.” In Africa, he traveled to the most remote, poverty-stricken communities, visiting and encouraging people. In Albania, he flies by helicopter to inaccessible villages far up in the mountains. He wants to be close to his flock, and he always feels at ease with everyone. More importantly, the people are at ease with him, and see him as someone who loves and identifies with them.
When Albania fell into anarchy in 1997, the army storage facilities were broken into and the anarchists stole machine guns and hand arms. You could buy a Kalashnikov on the street for five dollars, and little kids were shooting Kalashnikovs into the air outside my apartment and all over the city. Total anarchy reigned throughout the country, and the embassies began evacuating their citizens. Almost every foreigner left. Although the archbishop is Greek, and could have been evacuated with the Greek Embassy, the thought never crossed his mind. He was the archbishop, and he had to stay with his people. I also stayed, along with a handful of other missionaries. We wondered how we would protect the archbishop if armed bandits broke into the archdiocese – and we were pretty sure this would happen. We watched one day, as ten armed and masked men broke into and looted an electronics store across the street. We expected the same thing to happen to us.
He was the archbishop, and he had to stay with his people
We understood what a terrible message this would give
People often ask us if we considered leaving with those who were evacuated. To be honest, we didn’t. We understood what a terrible message this would give. People would think, “Look at these missionaries. At the first sign of danger, they abandon us.” We had to show them that we would stay with them in times of danger, in the midst of anarchy and chaos. We were one with them, and the love of God knows no bounds! We may never be able to identify completely with the indigenous people, but we must show them, as much as possible, “We are with you!”
I remember another story of the archbishop’s that exemplifies this missionary outlook. When Archbishop Anastasios was archbishop of East Africa, he often served in simple village churches with mud walls, tin roofs, and paper icons on the mud iconostasis. In the early 1980’s he was invited to attend a conference in Leningrad, and for the Sunday liturgy, he served in one of the beautiful Russian cathedrals, perhaps St. Isaac’s. He celebrated liturgy surrounded by magnificence, and he began to wonder, “Where is God? In the midst of this opulence, or in the little mud chapel in Africa?”
God is wherever the Eucharist is
So when it came time to preach the sermon he raised this question: “Is God in the mud churches of Africa with their paper icons, or is He in these magnificent cathedrals in Russia?” When he asked this, the translator was a little embarrassed to repeat the question, but Fr. Anastasy continued, “As I travel throughout the world and worship in many different types of church structures, I understand that God is wherever the Eucharist is. He is in both the mud churches of Africa and the beautiful cathedrals of Russia.
RTE: Also, these cathedrals were built with sacrifice and love by thousands of people, rich and poor, who wanted to give the best they had to beautify God’s house.
FR. LUKE: Right, and the point is that we have to feel comfortable everywhere, and realize that Christ works everywhere. It is not our role to judge, but to offer a witness for Christ.
Anastasios Yannoulatos: Modern-Day Apostle. An amazing person my family has been honoured to collaborate with in his missionary endeavours. An apostle of peace and reconciliation, since meeting him in 1997, he is one of my greatest role models.
For the first half of the twentieth century, the Orthodox Church was relatively inactive in missions. The great missionary efforts of the Russian church came to a close as the Communist curtain placed the church in bondage. Meanwhile, the Orthodox churches of the Balkans struggled to overcome the effects of the previous five centuries of Muslim subjugation. Although the Orthodox lands of Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia gained their independence, a strong sense of nationalism prevailed within the churches, and the idea of outreach beyond the borders of their own countries was a concept to which few gave much thought.
“Inertia in the field of mission means, in the last analysis, a negation of Orthodoxy, a backslide into the practical heresy of localism”
It was not until the late 1950s that a number of young Orthodox theologians began to raise their voices about the need for external missions. From an international Orthodox youth conference held in 1958 in Athens, a call toward missions began to develop. These young people expressed the idea that the church’s responsibility toward missions was not simply some thing of the past but a call for the contemporary church as well. Despite the struggling situation of a poor church just freed from bondage, the apostolic call of the Lord demanded a response. The leader of this fledgling group was Anastasios Yannoulatos, a young Orthodox theologian from Greece. He challenged the Church of Greece, as well as the Orthodox Church at large, to recover its long-held missionary tradition.
In 1959 Yannoulatos helped found Porefthentes (“Go ye”), a missionary movement whose goal was to rekindle the missionary conscience of the Orthodox Church, as well as to educate the non-Orthodox world about the rich missionary heritage of the Church of Greece, as well as the Orthodox Church at large, to recover its long held missionary tradition.
Yannoulatos challenged the Church of Greece, as well as the Orthodox Church at large, to recover its long-held missionary tradition.
Yannoulatos challenged the Eastern Church. This movement began to produce a journal in Greek and English called Porefthentes. In its inaugural issue, Yannoulatos wrote a provocative article entitled “The Forgotten Commandment,” which challenged the church to rediscover the missionary zeal of previous generations. In this article, Yannoulatos questioned the accepted apathy toward missions that prevailed in the contemporary Orthodox Church:
“It is not a question of ‘can we?’ but of an imperative command“we must.”“Go ye therefore and teach all nations.” “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” There is no “consider if you can,” there is only a definite, clear cut command of Our Lord…. If we let ourselves rest peacefully in this habitual inertia in the matter of foreign missions, we are not simply keeping the pure light of the Faith “under the bushel,” but we are betraying one of the basic elements of our Orthodox tradition. For missionary work has always been a tradition within the Orthodox Church…. Missionary activity is not simply something “useful” or just “nice,” but something imperative, a foremost duty, if we really want to be consequent to our Orthodox Faith.”
As Christians we do believe in miracles.
Yannoulatos emerged as a leading missions advocate in the following years. He dared the Orthodox faithful to recover the authentic meaning of the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church,” in the words of the Nicene Creed. He even hoped to establish some type of external Orthodox mission center. His enthusiasm, however, was derided within most Orthodox circles as an unrealistic goal. Following an address he gave on this issue to theological students at the University of Athens in January 1959, someone in the audience remarked skeptically that “the organization of an Orthodox External Mission is tantamount to a miracle.” To this Yannoulatos responded, “We fully agree. But as Christians we do believe in miracles.”
Mission was not the duty of only the first generation of Christians. It is the duty of Christians of all ages … It is an essential expression of the Orthodox ethos.
The life and work of Anastasios Yannoulatos, probably the foremost Orthodox missiologist in the world today, exemplifies the realization of this miracle in the contemporary Orthodox Church.
His Early Life
Anastasios Yannoulatos was born on November 4, 1929, to a pious Orthodox family in Greece. Raised within the faith, he participated actively in the church during his formative years. His first great interest was in mathematics, and throughout his teenage years Yannoulatos thought of pursuing a career in this field. His views changed with the coming of World War II. During the war years, Yannoulatos began to experience his faith in a very personal way. He witnessed much suffering and disaster from the war and could make sense of the chaos only by delving deeper into his faith. For the world and for his own country to recover from the evil of both the Second World War and the ensuing Greek Civil War, Yannoulatos understood the urgent need for a message of eternal peace, the peace that comes through Jesus Christ.
This experience led Yannoulatos to abandon his interest in other disciplines and to pursue theology. So fervent was his desire that he has said, “It was not enough for me to give something to God, I had to be given totally to Him. I wanted to live with my whole being in Christ.” Thus, in 1947 he entered the Theological School of the University of Athens. He graduated with highest honors in 1952.
Following two years of service in the army, Yannoulatos joined the brotherhood of ZOE, a religious organization focused on the spiritual renewal of the church in Greece. Yannoulatos’s personal responsibilities included missions to the youth of his country. He became the leader of student movements and teen age camps and strove to make the Orthodox faith real and concrete to his young charges. Through these experiences, Yannoulatos discovered the impact such outreach programs had on the church at large. He realized that without such missionary outreach, the church loses its focus and ultimately diminishes.
During these years, Yannoulatos also participated in an international Orthodox youth movement called Syndesmos. He served as the general secretary of the Committee for Missions during 1958-61, and as vice-president of the whole movement from 1964 to 1977. Here he met other young leaders with a similar zeal for proclaiming the Gospel. Together they began to realize how Christ could never be satisfied with proclaiming the Gospel simply within the church. His original command was to go to”all nations.” Thus missions are not merely internal, but external as well. The Great Commission of the past is an imperative responsibility for the present. Yannoulatos wrote at the time:
“Church without mission is a contradiction in terms…. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged.A static Church which lacks vision and a constant endeavor to proclaim the Gospel to the oikoumene could hardly be recognized as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to whom the Lord entrusted the continuation of His Work.”
The 1960s-Following the Call of God
This understanding of the importance of external missions for the church filled the heart of Yannoulatos. Following his ordination to the diaconate in 1960, Yannoulatos proceeded to found the inter-Orthodox mission center Porefthentes. The goal of this center was to educate the church in the area of missions, as well as to motivate and send missionaries throughout the world.
Church without mission is a contradiction in terms…. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged.
Yannoulatos himself planned on becoming a ‘foreign’ missionary. In fact, immediately following his ordination to the priesthood on May 24, 1964, he left for East Africa and celebrated his first liturgy in Uganda. Shortly after his arrival, however, the young priest contracted malaria and returned to Greece. Despite the doctors’ recommendation that he not return to Africa, Yannoulatos was not daunted by the setback. He realized more than ever the importance of increasing the missionary awareness in the church and sought new ways to fulfill the Great Commission of Christ. Following the advice of one of his professors, Yannoulatos decided the best way he could influence the church was by making a significant contribution in the academic world. He believed that if he could not directly work in the mission field, he could still try to pave the way for others to go. Thus, he decided to pursue further studies in missiology and the history of religions.
From 1965 to 1969, Yannoulatos studied the history of religions at the universities in Hamburg and Marburg in Germany, with an emphasis on religious plurality and the Orthodox Church. His work focused on the general history of religions, African religions, missiology, and ethnology. He traveled to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, to conduct field research and collect material for his doctoral thesis, entitled “The Spirit Mbandwa and the Framework of Their Cults: A Research of Aspects of African Religion.” Overall, he desired to establish a basis for the whole process of a serious study of missions in the Orthodox Church. Through this research, he sought support for his original thesis that it was impossible to truly be Orthodox without having an interest in missions.
Along with his studies, Yannoulatos actively participated in the worldwide ecumenical movement. By taking part in the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the budding missiologist felt that he could both learn from other Christian traditions as well as introduce these members to the rich missionary heritage of the Orthodox Church. In 1963, Yannoulatos became the youngest member of the CWME at a conference in Mexico City. He has continued to play a pivotal role in this ecumenical setting and ultimately served as its moderator from 1984 to 1991, the first Orthodox missiologist to hold such a place of leadership.
The 1970s-Planting Missionary Foundations Within the Church
During the following decade, the Church of Greece began to hear and respond to the voice of this bold visionary. In 1968 Yannoulatos and his Porefthentes staff established the frame work of the Bureau of External Missions within Apostoliki Diakonia (the service branch of the Church of Greece). The establishment of a permanent missionary organization within the official Orthodox Church in Greece was a milestone. The church recognized the work of Yannoulatos by elevating him on November 19, 1972, to the episcopacy with the title “Bishop of Androussa” and making him general director of the whole department of Apostoliki Diakonia. Through Bishop Anastasios’s leadership, this commission of the Church of Greece acted as the main body for all the missionary efforts of the church both within Greece and abroad.
Along with his ecclesiastical responsibilities, Bishop Anastasios continued to be active on the academic level. In 1972 the University of Athens elected him as associate professor of the history of religions. At the university, he established and directed a centre for missionary studies during 1971-76. This center paved the way for another landmark, when a chair of missiology was finally created in 1976. In this academic atmosphere Bishop Anastasios continued to proclaim his “wake-up” call to the church, challenging its complacency in missionary outreach:
It was Yannoulatos’s thesis that it was impossible to be truly Orthodox without having an interest in missions.
“Inertia in the field of mission means, in the last analysis, a negation of Orthodoxy, a backslide into the practical heresy of localism…. It is unthinkable for us to speak of “Orthodox spirituality,” of “a life in Christ,” of emulating the Apostle Paul, founder of the Greek Church, while we stay inert as to mission; it is unintelligible to write about intense liturgical and spiritual living of the Lord’s Resurrection by us, while we abide slothful and indifferent to the call of ecumenical missions, with which the message of the Resurrection is interwoven.”
Bishop Anastasios continually tried to educate the Orthodox faithful to a fuller understanding of the Nicene Creed, which proclaimed the belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Professing such a creed while staying indifferent to missions, Yannoulatos held, was hypocrisy. As he noted,
“Only when it is realized that worldwide ecumenical mission is an initial and prime implication in a fundamental article of the “Credo,” elemental for the Orthodox comprehension of what the Church is, and that what is termed “foreign mission” is not an “external” matter but an inner need, a call to repentance and aligning ourselves with the spirit of the Gospel and the tradition of our Church, only then shall we have the proper and hope bearing theological start for what comes next.”
Foreign missions is not simply a branch of authentic Orthodox life, or even Orthodox theology, but rather is central to a proper understanding of the church. When Orthodox Christians confess, “I believe in one … apostolic Church,” “apostolic” does not refer only to apostolic succession. More important, it implies having an “apostolic fire and zeal to preach the gospel ‘to every creature’ (Mk 16:15), because it nurtures its members so that they may become ‘witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).”
Bishop Anastasios continued to challenge the apathetic attitude of the church toward missions by writing:
“The Gospel is addressed to all peoples, and therefore the work of the Church remains incomplete as long as it is restricted to certain geographical areas or social classes. Its field of action is universal and is active both in sectors that welcome the good tidings and those which at first may reject them. Mission was not the duty of only the first generation of Christians. It is the duty of Christians of all ages.... Witness is the expression of the vitality of the Church as well as a source of renewal and renewed vigor…. Everyone should contribute to and participate in it, whether it be directly or indirectly. It is an essential expression of the Orthodox ethos.”
Along with influencing the academic world in Greece and abroad, Bishop Anastasios had an impact on other areas of church life as well. In 1972 the bishop worked together with Fr. Anthony Romeos and founded a monastery of nuns whose emphasis would be on external missions. This group became the Convent of St. John the Forerunner in Kareas, Greece. Bishop Anastasios helped guide these women to become nuns who would actively participate in missionary work throughout the world. The convent also welcomed women from foreign lands to join their community and learn the monastic way of life, with the goal of carrying the monastic lifestyle back to their home countries.
The 1980s-Theory Becomes Practice
In the 1960s,when Yannoulatos first fell ill to malaria, his doctors told him that he would never be able to work overseas as a missionary. The providence of God spoke differently. In 1980 the Orthodox Church of East Africa faced great difficulties. The region had been the most active Orthodox mission field in the world over the past two decades. The church’s footing, however, was jeopardized by internal problems that ultimately led to the defrocking of a Kenyan bishop by the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The East African Orthodox Church seemed to be on the verge of collapse.
During this time Patriarch Nicholas, the head of the Orthodox Church in Africa, invited Bishop Anastasios to become acting archbishop of the Archdiocese of East Africa. The bishop consented but continued to keep his responsibilities both at the University of Athens and in Apostoliki Diakonia. During this transitional period, Yannoulatos saw his role as one of reorganizing the Church of East Africa. His main priority was to create a strong Orthodox community led by local leaders.
“By focusing on the training and establishing of indigenous leaders, Bishop Anastasios remained faithful to Orthodox missions tradition. As he noted in an earlier writing, “The incarnation of God’s Word in the language and customs of a country has been and must be the first concern of all Orthodox mission. Its intent is the planting and growth of a native Church, self powered and self-governing, able to turn to account all the genuine strands of national tradition, transforming and hallowing them in harmony with the people’s nature, to the glory of God.”
In 1972, Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus built an Orthodox Seminary in Nairobi, Kenya, but political instability in Cyprus prevented the archbishop from completing his project. The school remained vacant for ten years. Bishop Anastasios’s first action as the new leader of the church was to finish the seminary and open it immediately. During the 1970s, many of the faithful within the African Orthodox Church became disillusioned and disheartened with the floundering church and began to leave. Yannoulatos realized that the only way to bring these people back, as well as to bring new converts into the faith, was through the training of local leaders and priests.
Hence, Bishop Anastasios officially opened the Archbishop Makarios III Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary in 1982. Over the following decade, the school averaged 45 students annually, using 12 professors from East Africa, Europe, and the United States. The acting archbishop eventually ordained 62 priests and deacons, as well as 42 readers and catechists, from the school’s graduates. These indigenous leaders came from eight different tribes in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania and provided the foundation for the renewal of the church in East Africa.
Along with training local leaders, the acting archbishop also supported the Orthodox missionary tradition of translation, which he believed was sanctioned by Christ during the event of Pentecost. Thus, he concentrated on publications, organizing the translation of services into seven different languages.
Bishop Anastasios also tried to establish a sense of permanency in the structures of the church by guiding the construction of 67 new church buildings, 23 of them stone, and 44 wooden and mud. He also helped renovate 25 existing church buildings. His construction accomplishments included seven mission stations, seven health-care stations, five primary schools, and twelve nursery schools.
His work in Africa drew worldwide attention. The Greek Orthodox Church in America assisted him by sending missionaries to East Africa. The impact of these missionaries was felt not only within the Church of East Africa but also throughout America. Many of the short-term missionaries, returning to their homes in the United States, helped increase a missionary awareness and consciousness within their own parishes. The Orthodox Church in Greece and Finland also responded to a series of lectures the bishop gave on the imperative of missions by send ing missionary teams of their own to Kenya.
The most important aspect of Bishop Anastasios’s work in East Africa, however, was not the ordinations, the publications, or the missionary interest created by the mission teams. It was instead his efforts to assimilate with the indigenous Christians. By identifying closely with the Orthodox Christians of this region, he encouraged and empowered them to embrace the faith as authentically their own. As a result, the Church of East Africa continued to mature even after his departure as acting archbishop in 1991.
In addition to his achievements in Africa, Bishop Anastasios has left his mark in other ways. In 1981, the bishop began editing, through the auspices of Apostoliki Diakonia, the first official missionary magazine of the Church of Greece, entitled Panta ta Ethne (All nations). This magazine continues to disseminate mission information and challenge Orthodox Christians throughout Greece to respond to the missionary mandate.
The 1980s also saw Bishop Anastasios intensify his activity in the WCC. After participating in the World Mission Conference at Melbourne in 1980, as well as the general assembly of the WCC at Vancouver in 1983, the bishop became the moderator of CWME during 1984-91 and presided at the World Mission Conference at San Antonio in 1989. His missiological impact not only influenced the Orthodox world but also touched broad ecumenical circles. As the prominent Protestant theologian and missionary David J. Bosch noted,
“Anastasios has remained the driving force behind the missionary movement in Orthodoxy. And since the Orthodox churches joined the WCC in 1948, he and others have made a major contribution to missionary thinking and practice in ecumenical circles…. The cross-fertilization in the area of Missiology between Orthodoxy and Protestantism has indeed been a major area of theological renewal in the ecumenical movement since 1961. Only three papers were read in the conference plenary during the first few days. . . . Whereas the first two papers were interesting and challenging, it was Anastasios’ presentation that provided the theological framework for the conference theme “Your Will Be Done” … its overall thrust was truly ecumenical in the best sense of the word.”
The 1990s-the Culmination of His Work
A new challenge confronted Bishop Anastasios with the coming of a new decade. In January 1991, the Patriarchate of Constantinople elected Anastasios to go to Albania as “Patriarchal Exarch” with a mandate to contact and organize Orthodox people irrespective of their ethnic origin. On June 24,1992, he was unanimously elected Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania. His task then became one of reestablishing the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania. The Orthodox Church in Albania had been decimated after forty years of the most severe persecution. During the years of Communist control the number of Orthodox clergy had diminished from 450 in 1945 to 22 in 1990. All the surviving clergy were over the age of seventy. A new opportunity to revive life into a church that had been almost destroyed confronted Archbishop Anastasios.
Anastasios saw this new challenge as an opportunity to synthesize the elements of his life. Before Communism, Albania was a country with a 69 percent Muslim population. Archbishop
Anastasios had written a book and many articles on Islam. The uncertainties that the church faced with various political groups was something familiar for him from his work in East Africa. The challenge to resurrect a local church from an atheistic abyss would require a miracle, more radical than the miracle required initiatives on four different frontiers. But as his life has shown, Archbishop Anastasios believes in miracles.
Overall, Archbishop Anastasios’s priorities in Albania during his first three years of episcopacy were to train local leaders, perform responsible pastoral work to approximately one quarter of the population that claimed an Orthodox heritage, and to open dialogue and bridges to people of other faiths or no faith. In response to his leadership, the church quickly established the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Seminary in a rented hotel building in the city of Durres. The school presently has a three-year program, with each class containing approximately thirty students. Through this seminary sixty new priests and deacons have joined the ranks of clergy within the first three years of Archbishop Anastasios’s episcopacy. The archbishop’s latest plans include moving the seminary into a new two million dollar spiritual center by the end of 1995.
Along with training local spiritual leaders, Archbishop Anastasios has mobilized the laity through various intellectual, youth, and women’s groups. These organizations have participated in the overall ministry of preaching, teaching, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to believers in cities and villages throughout Albania. The archbishop has also organized work in a variety of other areas. He is helping to reestablish the physical presence of Orthodoxy by building and renovating churches throughout Albania. At present, thirty-eight new churches have been built, and forty-three others have been renovated. Sixty other projects, which include church centers and a medical clinic, are in progress. A printing house produces the monthly newspaper Ngjallja (Resurrection), along with Orthodox books and various catechetical materials. Its goal is to disseminate church news and religious education throughout the country. Another office, called Service of Love, is devoted to a social outreach ministry, which helps distribute humanitarian aid and cultivate long-term developmental projects.
During this short period of reestablishment, the Orthodox Church has quickly left its former isolation and joined the world- wide Christian community. Efforts have been made for official relationships not only within pan-Orthodox circles but also within ecumenical organizations as well. In fact, the church has already become a full member in both the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches.
Despite obstacles and restrictions placed upon the church from various sources within Albania, the future looks bright. The reawakening of Orthodox faithful combined with the influx of converts are a result of Archbishop Anastasios’s holistic outreach to nominal Christians, non-Christians, and atheists alike.
To resurrect the Church from its atheistic abyss would require a miracle, but Archbishop Anastasios believes in miracles.
Over the past thirty years, the impact and influence of Anastasios Yannoulatos cannot be overstated. As a young theologian in the 1950s, he had a vision to rekindle the missionary spirit of the Orthodox Church. Thirty-five years later, it is clear he has achieved his goal. Indeed, missions has truly become part of the basic life of twentieth-century Orthodoxy. As the archbishop notes himself, “Here is the first and major contribution I have made-a theological contribution to help the church rediscover who she really is. It was a contribution of LIFE. My theological position has always been to live the mystery of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. To live the mission of the Church with its proper universal and eschatological perspective.”
A summary of the archbishop’s life can be seen in his initiatives on four different frontiers. First, out of concern for the Orthodox Church itself, he sought to revive missionary interest and consciousness that has been a part of its tradition throughout the ages.
Second, he has made significant contributions to the field of missiology. Archbishop Anastasios has written nine scholarly books, five catechetical books, over sixty treatises, and more than eighty articles. He founded and published two mission maga zines, Porefthentes (1960-70) and Panta ta Ethne (1981-92), and since 1981 he has been a contributing editor of the INTERNATIONAL BULLETIN OF MISSIONARY RESEARCH. Along with this, he has appeared numerous times on television, appealing to the public to embrace the eternal message of Jesus Christ and his holy church. In 1989, the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, granted an honorary Doctor of Theology degree to the archbishop. And in 1993, Archbishop Anastasios was unanimously elected correspondent member of the Academy of Athens, which is the highest academic society of Greece. And in 1995, the Theological School of Thessalonika awarded him an honorary Doctor of Theology degree and the Historical Archeological School of loannina gave him an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree.
The third frontier has been his life in East Africa and Albania. He desired to live the life and share in external missions of the church. He wished to show all people of the world, regardless of their origin, that God loves and cares for them.
Finally, the last frontier has been in ecumenical circles.Through the WCC, Archbishop Anastasios has given witness to Orthodox mission theology and spirituality to the non-Orthodox world. He has worked together with his Christian contemporaries to define missions in the twentieth century and to witness effectively to other faiths and traditions.
Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos’s life and work can be summarized in his own words. Throughout his sixty-five years of life, he has tried to live and proclaim the mystery of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” that is, to live the mission of the church within its proper universal perspective. “Mission is an essential expression of Orthodox self-consciousness, a cry in action for the fulfillment of God’s will’on earth as it is in heaven.’ … Indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy.”