Anastasios Yannoulatos: Modern-Day Apostle

Indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy

 

anastasios-yannoulatos-modern-day-apostle

 

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.

Conclusion

 

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.”

 

Indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy

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The Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church – Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaias

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  • Theotokos of Vladimir, one of my favourite Theotokos icons, side by side with Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaias, one of the most enlightened, holy and loved Hierarchs of our times, and a great favourite of mine! I had the blessing of meeting him in various church services and conferences in Greece and abroad and I have always experienced Holiness, Light and Love by his side! I would never let go of his hand!

His Eminence, Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaias and Lavriotikis, recently sent the following encyclical message concerning the decision to convene the Holy and Great Synod in Crete, to the clergy and laity of the Holy Metropolis.

His Eminence’ Encyclical follows:

Dear Fathers and brothers, CHRIST IS RISEN!

I am sure you have been informed that beginning on the Sunday of Pentecost for about ten days the so called Holy and Great Synod will take place in Crete. This is a pan Orthodox Synod: in other words all the autocephalous Orthodox churches will participate, represented by arch-priests and headed by their leaders, that is to say their Patriarchs and Archbishops. Some have called it an Ecumenical Synod, although recently in particular for certain reasons they have avoided this title.

A Synod of this size is unique for the second millennium, that is it is the only one after the schism of Rome from the unit of the other Churches, namely from the body of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as we confess in the Creed.

The importance of this Synod and the hopes and expectations concerning it can be perceived. Therefore I consider it my pastoral responsibility to address you, to inform you of its ethos and its significance, since the laity according to our ecclesiastical tradition is not a mere spectator of events, but participates through prayer, dialogue and with their healthy reaction to the life of the Church.

A Synod of this dimension is convened in the name of the Tri-une God, chiefly for spiritual purposes, in order to unite the body of the faithful, to support them, to indicate the path of truth, to heal their perplexity and at the same time to bear witness to the contemporary world in the context of its mission, that is to say to reveal the one truth of God “to all nations” according to the exhortation of the Lord (Matthew Chapter 28, 19)

It must be done supported by the Holy Gospels, interpreted correctly, and according to the Holy Tradition of previous Synods, and to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and of course with reference to the problems of the modern age. It is immediately obvious that the findings of this kind of Synod must be clear, very strong,prophetic and inspired by God. It is as though God opens His mouth to speak after a thousand years of Synodical silence and to a “ warped and crooked generation” (Deuteronomy 32,5), which is confused, makes compromises, reaches dead ends, makes errors, heresies, is in denial, full of atheistic madness, a generation which overthrows  basic timeless values. There is a threat from all sides to the human being, in an age of worldwide insecurity, where technology has super strength; digital imprisonment; co-ordinated insults against God; mass destruction of ancient civilizations; the violent uprooting of peoples from their historical roots; and apocalyptical persecutions of Christians.

The voice of the Church must be “the voice of the Lord is on the waters” (Psalm 29,3) or “ the noise of thy waterspouts ”.(Psalm 42,7) It must move people and resurrect dead lives. If we are not ready for something like that, then it is better to wait, better still even at the last moment to postpone the Synod for later.

If four hundred bishops are photographed together in Crete with conventional smiles, having previously stirred up nothing, or have signed texts without the blood of truth or the water of life, without the knife edge of spiritual speech or reason, with meaningless theological formalities, to camouflage the truth and beautify reality, all this will not only render the Synod meaningless, but will also, more importantly, damage the prestige of the Orthodox witness now and for ever.

The Synod must take place only if it has to say and show something so powerful that it will resurrect all our hopes, lighten our darkness, cancel out the politicians’ suspicions and the egoistic expediency of our age which reaches even to our clergy.

The whole world thirsts for truth, hope, light, strength, life and authenticity. This is what is missing in our age. We are congested by lies, compromises, mediocrity, suspicious expediency, dead religions, faith without substance, religious fanaticism without substance, shallow and ridiculous displays and shallow embraces.

We can no longer suffer the secularization, syncretism, opacity, bilingualism, and public relations theology: the degeneration of the Church from a sacrament of revelation of the true God and the manifestation of His will, to a semi –religious concoction with a worldly orientation. We hope and pray that the Synod will be a witness to unity which is certainly not something small, but also a prophetic message. Indeed the fact that all these Orthodox churches will meet and announce the fact that despite widely varying languages and mentality, despite our faults and human weaknesses, despite our misunderstandings and contrasts, our possible differences and conflicts we share this one faith in the Tri-une God and in the God-Man Lord Jesus Christ, in the sacraments of the Church and of the people and this common faith is what we confess and proclaim: this is great and holy and it alone makes the Synod Great and Holy. However its rationale must be God inspired. It must make as the other Synods did, an impression on history, and impart honour and value in our age as nothing else has done, it must make an indelible mark on the life of the Church. It will be the voice of God today! Otherwise it has no value. His silence is enough.

We do not wish to hear the human words of contemporary bishops nor to learn the thoughts of the more educated and clever than they are.

We want to hear the voice of God from the lips of our bishops and even more from the convocation of our Synod. If today’s lay Christians are not comforted, if we are not supported and illuminated, if coming ages do not have recourse to this Synod as a source of irrefutable truth, then why should it be convened? The rationale, the raison d’etre of the Church cannot be banal or a half measure or little, and what the Synod has to say and what it should say is certainly not little.

This has been a millennium inspired by theological wisdom such as that of Saint Gregory Palamas, an experience of unceasing continual worship, analysed indeed by theologian saints such as Saint Nicholas Kavasilas and Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki, a time of confession and the blood of the new martyrs, watered by the sweat of great ascetics such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov and the contemporary Saint Paisios, sealed by signs and miracles of the saints up to the present day such as Saint Nectarios and Saint Luke, bishop of Crimea, the saints of the Russian Church, of the Balkan Churches and of Greece, and of the whole world. A path through the sea of the grace of God within ecclesiastical unity must be registered as the “new rationale», the message of the Great Synod. Today when man has become a biological machine or a social unit or has degenerated into an ephemeral entity or a device for controlled thought, is it possible for the Orthodox witness of the community of God, engraved and documented through experience in our churches and monasteries in our sacraments and in our life not to be a stentorian pan Orthodox call in our times?

It is impossible to imagine that in this age of insidious and ferocious persecution of the church, unprecedented spiritual asphyxiation, confusion and “distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring.”(Luke 21,25), in an age full of the anguish of the last days, that this Great and unique Synod of the Orthodox will be content with a news report, a communication with photographs, bereft of meaning and dry in content. This Synod is the only one after the Schism. The secession of the West from the trunk of the ecclesiastical tree has most certainly caused errors, different teachings and heretical beliefs for which perhaps today’s Western Christians may not be so much to blame as is often presented.

The Synod has a huge responsibility to protect us from every danger of this sort, not harshly treating without pity those who unwittingly inherited the error but identifying it with pain, love and theological accuracy.

It also has the ineffable responsibility first and foremost to challenge the Orthodox to repent at the same time, so as to live consistently the truth which by the grace of God we inherited or discovered.

We must repent first if the others are to return. If we do not live this then the Orthodoxy we confess is lacking, and if the Synod does not tell us this, it may be great but it is not Orthodox.

Is ecumenism a heresy? Could it be a blessed initiative in some conditions ? Is anti-ecumenism always acceptable to God?

Can the Church be One and not Catholic and Holy, that is emphasizing the Orthodox confession and not the corresponding missionary testimony? Could it be Catholic without being one, that is to pursue the unity of Christianity, sacrificing its uniqueness, in other words its consciousness that it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? We expect this Synod to speak persuasively about the uniqueness, holiness, Catholicity and apostolicity of the Church in an authentic dialogue full of repentance and practical holiness to the Orthodox, to speak with respect and love to those with other beliefs and not with overweening triumph or empty sweet talk to keep the worldly balance. We need to learn the traditional respect through which our ancestors in Constantinople showed that they were ready and willing to die

“We shall not deny thee, beloved Orthodoxy, nor will we be false to thee, tradition’s respect. We were born to thee, we will live in thee, and in thee we will fall asleep. If the times call for it we will die for thee many times.” Joseph Bryennios said.

If our ecumenism is not missionary or prophetic it cannot be Orthodox and ecclesiastical. Dear brothers, I ask you all to have a humble vigilance, to have heartfelt prayer, to struggle and have repentance, for God to give the Synod His voice and for the Synod’s rationale to be really God inspired, and for our hearts to be resurrected with the persuasion that “The Lord is alive” today.

We have so much need of this: everyone does! Only in this way will the Synod be Holy indeed and not by economy. If the Synod is not Holy it will not be Great either and if it is not Great then the question why it was convened will be the only thing Great about it.