In Love, For Love, By Love: Missionary Series III

How can I become a long-term missionary?

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

Long and Short-Term Missions

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-stepand God will give you grace and strength.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

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.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

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.”

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

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.

Orhtodoxy missionary work

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 their enthusiasm 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.

Orthodoxy missionary 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.

Orthodoxy missionary work

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.

orthodoxy missionary work

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.

Orthodoxy missionary work

To Be Continued …

Go here for Part I

Go here for Part II

In Love, For Love, By Love: Missionary Series II

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit


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 sacrificeIn Love, For Love, By Love

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

Missionary life is a life of the Cross, a life of sacrifice, of humble service, and of not always being appreciated

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

The missionary must be ready to be crucified 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?

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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.”

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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 perspectiveIf 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.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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?

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

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 Aitoliawho 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.

st symeon stylites archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

st symeon stylites archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit



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.


st symeon stylites archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit


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.





Go here for Part I

To Be Continued …

Source: Everything in Love: The Making of a Missionary

Is “Orthodox Missions” an Oxymoron?

 Is “Orthodox Missions” an Oxymoron? The Purpose and Motive of Mission


Is “Orthodox Missions” an Oxymoron? Is missionary work an Orthodox practice? Should our Faith be earned to all peoples of the globe? Can all Orthodox Christians participate in mission work? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding, “Yes!” In this article we will explore the history, methods, and motivation behind Orthodox missions, arriving at the conclusion that not only can we participate in missionary work, but as children of God, the spreading of His love is a part of our very nature!

Is “Orthodox Missions” an Oxymoron?

Early on in my experience as a missionary to Albania, I had an encounter with a Protestant missionary which was soon to become commonplace. We had been having a pleasant conversation when the topic turned to our respective ministries. When I told him that I was an Orthodox missionary, his expression turned to one of utter astonishment. All he could manage to blurt out was, “I didn’t know the Orthodox Church did missionary work!”

Actually, I was not offended by his candor. I soon discovered that many missionaries assigned top Albania had little if any knowledge of Orthodoxy. A much more distressing reaction came from Orthodox Christians themselves.

I first encountered this reaction while a student at seminary in preparation for the priesthood. As a member of the campus missions committee, I often spoke about mission work. On more than one occasion in this capacity, I was confronted by a man or woman emphatically telling me that mission activity was unorthodox. “Foreign missions,” I was told, “is a Protestant concept!”

To be fair, it is easy to see where both these misconceptions originated. While Orthodoxy has made a powerful missionary effort through much of its history, it was as recently as 1962 that Orthodox scholar Nikita Struve observed pointedly: “Strictly speaking, the Orthodox Church has no longer any organized mission.” ‘


A Temporary Period of Decline

Without question, the Orthodox Church has been active in missions from its very beginning—from the Apostolic and Early Church period, through the Byzantine and Russian eras, and now in the present day. Any reading of the history books will clearly substantiate the fact that each century has brought forth vibrant Orthodox mission activity.

Two factors, however, greatly thwarted the Church’s missionary efforts in recent centuries: (1) the Turkish occupation of the Balkans, lasting four centuries; and (2) the communist seizure of power in many other Orthodox countries. Between these two events, the ability of the Orthodox Church to do missionary work was repressed at a time when the churches of the West were free to expand. These events “forced the Orthodox to withdraw temporarily into themselves in order to preserve their faith and to form, to a certain extent, closed groups.”2

Praise be to God, that period came to an end around the middle of the twentieth century. Following the 1958 Fourth General Assembly of Syndesmos in Thessaloniki,Greece, the newly arising Porefthentos movement brought forth an Orthodox revival in the area of external mission. If one sorts through the various documents written after that period, the growth of this revival becomes clear. The call to the Church to return to its task has appeared over and over again in conferences and articles during the last forty years.

In addition, the severe communist rule that repressed Orthodoxy in so many other countries of the world has now collapsed, and we can expect to see this same reawakening of missions in these countries as well.

A Survey of Mission Activity 

In looking back, one can see that this call to return to missions has borne fruit. The Orthodox, after decades of repression, once more have begun witnessing to Christ to the “ends of the earth.” The number of Orthodox missionaries, in comparison to those of other churches, is not spectacular. Yet a survey of current Orthodox mission activity reveals that the Church is on the move once again. Let me outline some of the main regions of Orthodox mission work that I have explored.

• The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople covers a number of missionary regions. The largest is the Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, established in November, 1996. Metropolitan Nikitas, from Tarpon Springs,Florida, was enthroned to this See in 1997. The jurisdiction covers a large territory, and mission efforts include Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Hong Kong,Korea, and Singapore. The Metropolitan writes that there are also possibilities waiting to begin inChina (Beijing),Taiwan, and Thailand (Bangkok).3

• The Orthodox communities of Central and South America also carry on local missionary activities. Efforts in these areas are led by Constantinople and by other jurisdictions as well.

• The Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa is responsible for the mission efforts in Africa. The Orthodox churches of Africa are growing daily. The main missionary efforts are in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, Zaire, Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria. In all of these churches there are indigenous clergy. Some have seminaries, and many have schools and clinics as well.

• The Autocephalous Church of Albania. A new situation in Orthodox missions arose in this decade. With the collapse of the communist regimes in countries that had previously been predominantly Orthodox , the Church often found itself with the task of rebuilding its foundations from the ground up. This is especially true in the Church of Albania, where religion was constitutionally illegal and the infrastructure of the Church had been totally destroyed. In this situation, the only way the Church could be resurrected was through outside assistance, reaching across cultural and geographical boundaries.

At the head of the effort in Albania is Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, the Orthodox Church’s foremost living missionary and missiologist. Archbishop Anastasios was elected to lead this Church and has done an outstanding job in applying the best of Orthodox mission strategy over the past eight years. It is one of the few countries where Orthodox can freely witness to a Muslim majority, and many are turning to the Faith.

• Mission Centers: Another development in Orthodox mission work of the past decades has been the revival of the idea of mission centers to support external mission. We have seen the first of these (Porefthentos) in Greece, beginning in the 1960s. Since this time other movements also have begun in Greece. The Orthodox Christian Mission Center represents all the canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States. A third movement came into existence in Finland in 1981 (Mission Office of the Finnish Orthodox Church, Ortodoksinen Lahertysry). The Moscow Patriarchate has also recently revived its Office of Missions.

If we look back through the history of Orthodoxy until today, we can see that the Orthodox Church has been involved in mission work from its very beginning. Though there was a time of inactivity due to external political persecution, when freedom was restored the Orthodox Church again applied itself to the Great Commission to go to all nations.

The Principles of Orthodox Mission Work 

What are the principles of Orthodox mission work? Can a common thread be found in the many efforts throughout the centuries? If so, how does this compare to contemporary Protestant mission strategies?

While attending Fuller School of World Missions, I was given a wonderful opportunity to sift through different Protestant strategies of missions. These strategies are in a constant state of development. As I applied them to my own context, I soon realized that the best of many of these theories in modern missiology could be found already existing in my own Orthodox tradition. Additionally I realized that some of the great mistakes of missionary history were absent in the Orthodox approach. Let me illustrate what I mean by briefly outlining just a few of the more popular contemporary mission theories, and then contrasting them to the Orthodox approach.

• The Three-Self Church. The first theory is called the “Three-Self Strategy ” It represents the realization that missionary work should ultimately lead to the development of an indigenous church. According to this theory, an indigenous church is described as one that is self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. Henry Venn and Rufas Anderson developed this emphasis to correct the negative results of nineteenth century mission work, which had resulted in paternalism by the missionaries and the establishment of churches that were totally dependent on the foreign missionary bodies. As one missionary put it, a scaffolding was being built around the churches, but it remained as a permanent fixture, rather than being a temporary aid towards creating a self-standing structure. In the Three- Self model , an emphasis was placed on the indigenization of the local church: it must incorporate and fully function within the local, indigenous culture to be authentic.

• Contextualization. As the Three-Self model was applied, however, certain weaknesses surfaced. It was found to be too simplistic to consider a church mature when it contained the three “selves” and functioned within the local culture. The contextualization model accepts the Three-Self presuppositions, but also points out that in certain situations a church could be indigenous without one of these aspects. It also reveals that a church could contain the Three-Self dimensions but still be a totally foreign entity in its culture, even though it is run by the indigenous people.

Thus the contextualization model looks to deeper issues to determine that a church is firmly rooted in the culture and life of a people and has become contextualized, in addition to being indigenous.

• Translation of the Bible and use of local language. Another related emphasis of Protestant mission strategy involves the issues of Bible translation and the use of the local languages. A people must be able to read and worship in the “language of their heart.” The Bible must be made available to form a mature church. These are commonly accepted principles today that are found across the spectrum of almost all Protestant missionary efforts.

An Orthodox Perspective 

It is interesting to note that most of these models were formulated in response to weaknesses in historical Protestant missionary efforts. Too many missionary efforts denied or repressed the culture of the people being reached. Others neglected to translate the Bible, or use the local language or music in worship. How then does the Orthodox Church relate to these principles in its missionary work, and what has its practice been throughout the ages?

In an article published in 1989, Archbishop Anastasios outlines the key emphasis in the Byzantine and Russian Orthodox missions. The Byzantine missions, he states, were based on clear-cut essential principles:

At the forefront was a desire to create an authentic local eucharistic community. Thus precedence was given to translating the Holy Scriptures, [and] liturgical texts … as well as to the building of beautiful churches which would proclaim—with the eloquent silence of beauty—that God had come to live amongst humanity— [There was also an] interest in the social and cultural dimensions of life At the same time, the development of the vernacular and of a national temperament . . . helped preserve the personality of the converted peoples. Far from indulging in an administrative centralization . . . the Byzantine missionaries saw the unity of the extended church in its joint thanksgiving, with many voices but in one spirit.4 

He goes on to outline the Russian missions:

The Russian missionaries were inspired by the principles of Byzantine Orthodoxy and developed them with originality . . . the creation of an alphabet for unwritten languages; the translation of biblical and liturgical texts into new tongues, the celebration of the liturgy in local dialects, . . . the preparation of a native clergy as quickly as possible; the joint participation of clergy and laity, with an emphasis on the mobilization of the faithful; care for the educational, agricultural, and artistic or technical development of the tribes and peoples drawn to Orthodoxy. 

In summing up the many principles of Orthodox mission strategy, Archbishop Anastasios states, “Certain fundamental principles, only now being put into use by western missions, were always the undoubted base of the Orthodox missionary efforts.” 6

This is a key point in understanding historical missionary activity. Many of the current missiological principles just now being discovered by Protestant missionary studies can actually be found in practice throughout centuries of Orthodox missions!

Even more encouraging, however, is the fact that the strategies adopted by historical Orthodox figures—from Ss. Cyril and Methodios to St. Nicholas of Japan and St. Innocent of Alaska—are also practiced in the present day.

Having served under Archbishop Anastasios for the past ten years, I have personally witnessed the same spirit, direction, and integrity in the mission work he has led in East Africa and now in Albania. Each of these traditional Orthodox emphases has been present: translation, worship in the local language of the people, indigenous leadership, participation of laity, incorporation of cultural elements into the life of the Church, building of churches that witness to the glory of God, and an emphasis on the whole person by addressing the needs of society both through education and charitable institutions.

These are the threads of Orthodox mission practice that are woven throughout its history. These are the ideals that the Orthodox strive for when carrying the gospel to new lands and peoples. While they have not always been present in each and every movement, they are an undeniable part of Orthodox history stretching from the first centuries until today.

Why Should We Do Mission Work? 

I would like to address one final question before concluding this article: Why should we do mission work?

I will never forget my first flight to Africa. Newly married and ordained, I had become a missionary overnight. One moment I was a priest in California. It only took a split second, though, for my foot to step through the threshold of the 747 that was to carry us to Kenya. With that magic step our family became missionaries.

Now, as we were flying over the Atlantic, a flight attendant saw my collar and asked where I was going. I proudly explained that our family was traveling to East Africa to be missionaries. “Oh,” she replied. “I don’t believe in that. We should not interfere in people’s lives. We should just leave them alone to continue on their own happy way.”

How do you answer a statement like that? Where do you begin? In fact, this challenge is one that came up time and again and gradually forced me to think, analyze, and study the very bedrock motivations for doing missionary work. Why don’t we just leave the world alone? Why do we try to spread our Faith to people who have their own beliefs?

Somewhere along my journey toward the missionary vocation, I came across an Orthodox perspective presented by Archbishop Anastasios in a paper called, The Purpose and Motive of MissionThis paper became a watershed for me, since it seemed to encompass everything I had been learning and experiencing as a student and missionary. With this in mind. I can think of no better way to conclude this article than with a brief summation of the excellent points made by Archbishop Anastasios in his paper.

Without question, the foundation for mission is the glory of God and the redemption of all creation. The Scriptures emphasize this theme over and over again, beginning with Creation itself, and leading us through the rejection of that glory and the subsequent entrance of death into the world. Jesus’ life, from this perspective, is a manifestation of the glory of God. In Christ, human nature is redeemed and the universal order restored. Finally, the Church becomes a participant in proclaiming this redemption until the Parousia, when the glory of God is fully revealed.

Participation in spreading the glory of God is so basic to the Christian spirit that it may be called an inner necessity. Archbishop Anastasios explains:

The question of the motive of mission can be studied from several angles: love of God and men, obedience to the Great Command of the Lord (Matthew 28:19), desire for the salvation of souls, longing for God’s glory. All these surely, are serious motives. . . . However, we think that the real motive of mission, for both the individual and the Church, is something deeper. It is not simply obedience, duty or altruism. It is an inner necessity. “Necessity is laid upon me,” said St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). All other motives are aspects of this need, derivative motives. Mission is an inner necessity (i) for the faithful and (ii) for the Church. If they refuse it, they do not merely omit a duty, they deny themselves.7 

This inner necessity is an outgrowth of our being made in God’s image. Throughout history, we can clearly see God’s purpose in the revelation of His glory, the drawing of all things to Himself, and the establishment of His Kingdom. In addition, we can see that God has shared this mission with humanity, from Abraham to Jesus’ disciples and on to the Church today.

Thus mission work is not a task which is simply imposed upon us; nor is it rooted solely in our obedience, respect, or even love of God. Rather it is the actualization of our inherent nature to participate in the fulfillment, destiny, and direction of humanity and all creation as it is drawn back to God and towards the coming of His Kingdom.


In this article, we have considered the longstanding and sometimes forgotten tradition of Orthodox missionary work. Space has not allowed us to explore in depth the loving characters, the powerful visions, the solid strategies, and the intensely sacrificial lives of so many Orthodox missionaries.

But in this broad overview of Orthodox mission history, strategy, and motives, I have attempted to give a taste—if ever so faint—of the rich flavor of a vibrant history that continues in the present and which is at the very heart of our being. As Orthodox, we have been, and must be, involved in missionary work. We have a firm historical tradition and developed principles which tell us this.

Most importantly, we have an understanding that bringing God’s love, compassion, and message to the world, drawing people to Him and establishing worshipping communities among all nations and in all cultures is not merely an imposed command or a religious principle—it is a part of our own nature as we are created in the image and likeness of God.

Participation in missions, both as individuals and as a Church, is an action necessary to our fully being who we are. Without it something will be lacking. With two-thirds of our world still missing the love and joy of being in Jesus Christ, we have much to do. May the Lord guide us to actualize this dimension of ourselves so that His saving power may be known among all nations.

1 Nikita Struve, “Orthodox Missions: Past and Present,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 6:1, pp. 40, 41.

2 Yannoulatos, Anastasios, “Orthodoxy and Mission,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 8:3. p. 139.

The Censer, Jan. 99, Vol. 3, Issue 1.

4 Yannoulatos, Anastasios, “Orthodox Mission—Past, Present, and Future,” Your Will Be

Done, Orthodoxy in Mission, George Lempoulos ed.,Geneva: WCC. 1989, pp. 65,66.

5 Ibid., p. 68

6 Ibid., p. 68

7 Yannoulatos, Anastasios, The Purpose and Motive of Mission: from an Orthodox Theological Point of View. Athens: Typo-Tcchniki-Offset, Ltd.. 1968, (3rd edition) p. 32.

By Fr. Martin Ritsi
This article originally appeared in Conciliar Media Ministries’ Again Magazine, Vol. 22.1, and is posted here with permission.  Be sure to visit Conciliar Media at either Conciliar Press or Ancient Faith Radio. 
The What Where, When, and Why of Orthodox Missions