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.