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

Advertisements

If I Perish

if I perish.jpg

Esther Ahn Kim

If I Perish

Korea 1929

Esther Ahn Kim walked slowly up the hill to the shrine, with her students following silently behind her. The young teacher knew that when she arrived at the place of worship she would be forced to make a life-altering choice. The Japanese, who had taken control of Korea, were forcing everyone to bow at the shrine of their “sun god.” The punishment for refusing was imprisonment, torture and possibly even death. Fearing for their lives, many Christians had already given in to the Japanese soldier’s demands. And now it was Esther’s turn to make her decision. She fixed her eyes on the vast sky beyond the hills and thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, when they were commanded to bow to the statue of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The three young men had decided that even if God did not choose to save them from the burning fire, they would die honoring Him.

At that moment, Esther knew what she would do. Even though so many other Christians had decided that outwardly bowing to the idol was acceptable as long as they continued to worship Christ in their hearts, Esther could make no such compromise. She would not bow to any other but the one true God. Defying the Japanese warlords would most likely mean torture and imprisonment, but Esther decided that she would not live her youthful life for herself. She would offer it fully to her Prince, Jesus Christ. She said a silent prayer to Him. Today on the mountain, before the large crowd, I will proclaim that there is no other god but You, she declared.

christian persecution orthodox city hermit

Esther’s group was the last to arrive at the shrine. A huge crowd had gathered, standing in straight, respectful lines, afraid to move because of the cruel gazes of the Japanese policemen. A few of the authorities eyed Esther and her students with disapproval as they joined the rest of the worshipers. Esther’s heart began to pound with dread for what she was about to do. A sense of uneasiness swept over her, and she silently repeated the Lord’s Prayer over and over. Lord, she prayed, I am so weak! Please help me do this— watch over me as I stand for You.

“Attention!” came the commanding voice of one of the officials. The crowd stood in silence and submission. “Our profoundest bow to Amaterasu Omikami!” As he shouted the words, the entire group bent the upper half of their bodies, bowing solemnly before the shrine. Esther was the only one who remained standing, looking up at the sky. The fear and uncertainty that had gripped her just moments before had vanished. Calmness and peace flooded her. She had done what she knew God wanted her to do. On the long walk back to the school, Esther continued her dialogue with God. I have done what I should have done, she told Him. Now, I commit the rest to You. I died today on that mountain—now it is only You who lives through me. I leave everything in Your hands.

For several months, Esther lived in hiding. She knew it was only a matter of time before she was found and imprisoned for the stand that she had taken against the Japanese. But instead of cowering in fear and worry about what her future held, she decided to prepare her heart and her body to suffer for Christ. Just as Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my servant,” (1 Cor 9:27) Esther decided to train for prison life, just as an athlete might train for competitive sports. She counted it a great honor to suffer for Christ, but she also knew she was weak and unready for all that lay ahead.

If I Perish

“I knew it would be impossible for me to keep my faith in my own power,” Esther wrote later. “God would have to work through me if I was to stand firm. I decided to fast.” Many times before, Esther had fasted for three days without difficulty. Now, she was determined to go without food or drink while she prayed for an entire week. The fast was extremely difficult. By the sixth and seventh day Esther’s lips were dry and her chest was in an iron vise, causing her to fight to breathe. But when the fast was finally over and water was poured into her mouth, she raised her hands in victory, thanking God for being with her.

“Although I had not expected it, after the fast I was able to understand the Scriptures better and I felt a new power in my prayer. Now I felt I could leave the fear of torture in the Lord’s hands.”

More time went by and more fearful news of prison life reached Esther’s ears. As anxiety crept back in, she fasted once more – this time for ten days.

“Again I found a peace I had never known before,” she wrote. “I read the Bible earnestly and had a new concern to memorize important chapters against the day when I would be in prison without my Bible.”

Esther also began sleeping on the floor, learning to live in a state of poverty, and going without all the comforts she had grown up with, so that she would be prepared for the harsh conditions of prison. When she went to the market to buy produce, she bought ripe fruit for her family members but rotten fruit for herself. When her mother and sister saw the decaying food she selected for herself, they cried, but soon they understood. This was the kind of food Esther would be forced to eat in prison.

Months of faithful, diligent preparation—fasting, memorizing Scripture, tirelessly praying, and training to endure harsh conditions – transformed Esther from a weak, frail, faltering young woman to a bold and confident ambassador for Christ. Instead of fearing torture, she now faced it boldly in the power and grace of God.

Esther felt God calling her to come out of hiding and boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel among the Japanese. She knew that this would likely lead to her death, but she was determined to follow the Lamb wherever He led her.

Her courageous stand for Christ led to six harrowing years in Japanese prisons. During that time, though her body grew week with suffering, she shone with supernatural love toward her persecutors and fellow prisoners. Even through torture, she refused to deny the name of Christ. Her astounding example of “suffering hardship as a good solider for Christ” brought many into the Kingdom who would never have heard the Gospel otherwise. After she was released, the story of her imprisonment and unwavering faith became the all-time religious bestseller in Korea, inspiring countless thousands to stand strong in their faith.

If I perish Taking up our Cross orthodox city hermit

Gleaning From Esther’s Example

Modern Christianity often encourages us to chase after achievements and accolades; to develop skills and pursue accomplishments that will be applauded and esteemed by this world. Some even go so far as to say that the more impressive we are to pop-culture, the greater our witness for Christ will be. The hip, trendy, pop-culture style of many modern worship services illustrate how far we have come from the days of the apostles, when Paul proclaimed, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.” (2 Cor. 11:20)

Though Paul had plenty of human skills and achievements he could have emphasized or built upon, he chose to treat those things as “rubbish.” (Phil 3:8) His greatest accomplishments; his most powerful witness, came from the incredible suffering he endured for Christ’s sake: “Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…” (2 Cor. 11:27-29).

And so it was in the life of Esther Ahn Kim. It wasn’t her accomplishments, personality, money, or skills that caused the nation of Korea to be forever changed. It was her shining example of suffering for Christ’s sake.

One time in prison, her arms were handcuffed behind her back for days until she passed out from the relentless pain. The intent was to torture her until she finally denied Christ. But even though her mind and body were broken, her spirit remained strong, rooted and grounded in Truth. She would not relent, no matter how horrible the pain became. She emerged from the torture victorious in her faith.

Another time, she gave up her meager prison food for several days to a woman who was filthy, insane, and sentenced to death for murdering her husband. Instead of being repulsed by the woman as all the other prisoners were, Esther prayed relentlessly for her, sacrificing her own comforts to reach the woman’s heart. The woman died in her right mind, knowing Jesus Christ, with a hope and a future.

Such sacrifice and personal suffering for Christ’s sake is only possible through the supernatural grace of God. Only one who has truly given up everything to follow Jesus can exude such grace in the face of such hardship.

Esther’s story challenges me to ask the question – am I prepared to suffer for Jesus Christ? In the midst of our comfortable … lifestyles, it’s easy to think, “Of course, if persecution came, I would never deny the name of Christ. Of course if I were thrown into prison, I’d remain strong in my faith.”

But we must ask ourselves – are we truly “dying to self” daily, as Esther did, or are we more concerned with protecting our own comforts and interests than in consecrating our lives fully to Jesus Christ? The only way to be a true follower of Christ is to willingly give up everything; to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 10:38, Lk. 9:23).

… We will never gain Esther Ahn Kim’s version of supernatural boldness and sacrificial love by coddling our own self interests and protecting our own comforts. … We are not walking the narrow way of the cross anymore. We are merely living selfish lives with a “Christian label” over them.

Esther Ahn Kim counted the cost of following Jesus – not only on the day when she refused to bow at the shrine, but every day thereafter. She counted the cost when she willingly and gladly gave up comforts and trained her body to endure hardship for the sake of Christ. She counted the cost when she came out of hiding and boldly proclaimed the Gospel among the Japanese who had the power to torture and kill her. She counted the cost when, in prison, she endured horrible misery rather than deny her faith in Christ. She counted the cost when she sacficially loved a filthy, repulsive woman and gave of what little she had in order to win her to Christ. Esther’s life was no longer her own—and every outward decision she made reflected that inner reality. If you desire to do “big things” for God—ask yourself today whether you have truly counted the cost of following Christ.

Many of us think that in order to prepare for an effective ministry, we must gain a large following, write a book, gain worldly accolades, or make a lot of money. But the best way to prepare for a world-changing ministry is to ‘die’ – so that Christ may live through us. Remember that Paul had every reason to boast in his earthly accomplishments, and yet he threw them aside as worthless and counted his suffering for Christ’s sake as his greatest, most important acheivments. (See 2 Cor. 11:30 and Phil. 3:8.)

When self is at the center of our lives, the only impact we will have on this world will be shallow and human-scripted rather than eternal and God-scripted. We may make a temporary splash, but if we do not take up our cross and truly follow Him, we will never reflect the supernatural radiance and grace of Heaven.

If I perish Taking up our Cross orthodox city hermit

Taking up our Cross

… It may take a few days, weeks, or months for those old habits to fully die. But if you allow Him to re-train your daily decisions and enable you to “deny yourself, pick up your Cross, and follow Him” you will soon understand from firsthand experience what Paul meant when he said, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

This world needs more young women like Esther Ahn Kim—young women who unreservedly take up their cross and follow Him, no matter what the cost. May it be our greatest desire to follow such a path, and joyfully suffer any hardship for the One who gave everything to us. The world will never be the same when they encounter such a life.

*Story of Esther Ahn Kim taken from If I Perish by Esther Ahn Kim

Princess Turned Nun

Princess Turned Nun: Life of Princess Ileana of Romania then Mother Alexandra
Ileana as a young woman

Princess Ileana

Ileana as a young woman

‘But I felt I had to stand on my own feet and learn the hard way, for the hard way is the only way. I know from bitter experience where it leads to, to lean on others. It is only when one has learned to stand on one’s own feet, when one has found a solid foundation, that it is wise or good to accept help.’ (I Live Again)

Here’s an unconventional life:  A princess, great-grand daughter of Queen Victoria of England and Czar Alexander II of Russia, twice divorced (!), founder of the European equivalent of the Girls’ Scouts, gives up her pampered princess life to found and direct the first English-language Orthodox monastery in rural Pennsylvania.  Although she passed away in 1982, her life still inspires, serving as a testament to the attractiveness of the ascetic life that Orthodox theology encourages.  Her worldly name was Princess Ileana of Romania, but her tonsured name was Alexandra, eventually she became known as Mother Alexandra as the igoumeni, Abbes, Mother Superior of the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pa.

Princess Ileana

    Princess Ileana of Roumania as a teen

a real beauty in body and soul Princess Ileana of Romania

A real beauty in body and soul Princess Ileana of Romania

principesa Printesa_Ileana_de_Romania

Ileana of Romania as a young child

Ileana of Romania as a young child

Princess Ileana Red Cross

Ileana with her work in the Red Cross during the War

In my opinion, Princess Ileana’s story is a A Blessed Life of Extremes on so many levels. I have personally found Bev. Cooke’s narrative chronicle Royal Monastic: Princess Ileana of Romania: The Story of Mother Alexandra, a most fascinating account of the life of one of the twentieth centuries most unheralded, yet fascinating, persons. Mother Alexandra, formerly Princess Ileana of Romania, lived through two world wars, the communist takeover of her country, and finally saw its liberation. She lived a life of royalty and privilege, yet knew poverty, encountered opulent materialism, yet lived as an Orthodox nun founding a monastery in Pennsylvania in the later years of her life, married twice (!), yet became nun! Mother Alexandra’s experiences were varied and deep to the extent few others can claim. She was, by birth, related to some of the most powerful and historically significant people in modern history, yet never sought celebrity status. If you seek an inspirational biography, read this thrilling tale of love and loss, danger and rescue, sacrifice and reward. For all her shortcomings and ‘falls’, Mother Alexandra’s life stands in so many ways as a beacon of faith and holiness for women of all times and nations to follow. 

Life & Adventures: Birth and early life

Ileana was born in Bucharest on 5 January 1909, the youngest daughter of Queen Marie of Romania and King Ferdinand I of Romania. Although it was rumored that Ileana’s true father was her mother’s lover, Prince Barbu Ştirbey, the king admitted paternity. Ileana had four older siblings: CarolElisabeth – later Crown Princess of Greece, Princess Maria – later Queen of Yugoslavia – and Nicholas. Her younger brother Mircea was also claimed to be the child of Prince Ştirbey even though the king also claimed to be his father.

Girl Guiding

Before her marriage, Ileana was the organizer and Chief of the Romanian Girl Guide MovementLater Princess Ileana was involved in Guiding in Austria and served as president of the Austrian Girl Guides[1][2] from 1935 until Girl Guiding and Scouting were banned in 1938 after the Anschluss.

Other achievements

Ileana was the organizer of the Girl Reserves of the Red Cross, and of the first school of Social Work in Romania.

She was an avid sailor: she earned her navigator’s papers, and owned and sailed the “Isprava” for many years.

Before King Michael’s abdication

Marriage

In Sinaia on 26 July 1931, Ileana married the Archduke Anton of Austria, Prince of Tuscany. This marriage was encouraged by Ileana’s brother, King Carol II, who was jealous of Ileana’s popularity in Romania and wanted to get her out of the country.[3] After the wedding, Carol claimed that the Romanian people would never tolerate a Habsburg living on Romanian soil, and on these grounds refused Ileana and Anton permission to live in Romania.[3]

After her husband was conscripted into the Luftwaffe, Ileana established a hospital for wounded Romanian soldiers at their castle, Sonneburg, outside Vienna, Austria. She was assisted in this task by her friend Sheila Kaul. In 1944, she and the children moved back to Romania, where they lived at Bran Castle, near Brasov.[4] Archduke Anton joined them but was placed under house arrest by the Red Army. Princess Ileana established and worked in another hospital in Bran village, which she named the Hospital of the Queen’s Heart in memory of her beloved mother Queen Maria of Romania.

After exile

After Michael I of Romania abdicated, Ileana and her family were exiled from the newly Communist Romania. They escaped by train to the Russian sector of Vienna, then divided into three parts. After that they settled in Switzerland, then moved to Argentina and in 1950, she and the children moved to the United States, where she bought a house in Newton, Massachusetts.

The years from 1950 to 1961 were spent lecturing against communism, working with the Romanian Orthodox Church in the United States, writing two books: I Live Again, a memoir of her last years in Romania,[5] and Hospital of the Queen’s Heart, describing the establishment and running of the hospital. [For an introduction to her memoir go here and for the full text here.]

On 29 May 1954, Ileana and Anton officially divorced and she married secondly in NewtonMassachusetts, on 20 June 1954, to Dr. Stefan Nikolas Issarescu (Turnu-Severin, 5 October 1906 – Providence, 21 December 2002).

In 1961, Princess Ileana entered the Orthodox Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God, in Bussy-en-OtheFrance. Her second marriage ended in divorce in 1965. On her tonsuring as a monastic, in 1967, Sister Ileana was given the name Mother Alexandra. She moved back to the United States and founded the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, the first English language Orthodox monastery in North America. She was the third female descendant of Queen Victoria to become a Mother Superior in a convent of her own foundation. She served as abbess until her retirement in 1981, remaining at the monastery until her death.

She visited Romania again in 1990, at the age of 81 in the company of her daughter, Sandi.

In January 1991, she suffered a broken hip in a fall on the evening before her eighty-second birthday, and while in hospital, suffered two major heart attacks. She died four days after the foundations had been laid for the expansion of the monastery.

book tour photo I live again

Ileana on book tour with memoir “I Live Again”

For more photographs about this extraordinary woman and her amazing story of courage and conviction go here.

An Associated Press article about Mother Alexandra

FORMER ROMANIAN PRINCESS FINDS LIFE IS RICHER AS A NUN

 

motheralexandra motheralex2

“I did my duty as princess. And now I’m doing my duty as a nun.”
The Rev. Mother Alexandra

By Marcia Dunn
Associated Press Writer

ELLWOOD CITY—Her family jewels are gone and her castle is property of the Communist state, but Romania’s Princess Ileana believes her life is blessed in far greater, grander ways.

The princess, 79, has found peace as the Rev. Mother Alexandra, one of 12 nuns who share food, work and prayer at an Orthodox monastery in rural Western Pennsylvania.

“One’s objects stand in the way,” she said. “I’m freer and richer spiritually, and mentally, too, I hope.”

The nun of 27 years has long since buried her royal roots as founder of The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, the, first English-speaking Orthodox monastery in the United States.

But vestiges of those days remain, even at the monastery.

Portraits of her parents, Romania’s King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, hang in the living room of the A-frame house she shares with another nun.

Gold and silver icons dating back to the 15th century fill a corner of her bedroom. Antique icons also decorate the monastery’s small, candlelit chapel as do crosses and triptychs, some of which she brought from Europe.

A small, gold container on a bed stand holds her most precious possession, a handful of Romanian soil snatched during her escape from Russian Communism in World War II. She wants it buried with her.

“There’s a big gap between then and now. So much has happened in between,” Mother Alexandra said.

“It’s been different so many times over,” she said. “But you see, one lives day by day, doesn’t one? So that really it becomes a sequence of its own and you take it as it comes. Thank God, I always had a really strong faith that carried me through everything.”

She refuses to compare her regal and- religious lifestyles.

“There is no, point,” she said. “I did my duty as a princess. And now I’m doing my duty as a nun.”

Her superiors, nonetheless, are impressed by her example.

“As a person, as an individual, I have admiration because even not having a position, she could have had a social life, which would be much more in keeping with other people of her background,” said Bishop Nathaniel Popp, 47, head of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America.

“Instead of saying she was a princess who became a nun, I think it was more she was a nun coming through the life of a princess,” he said.

Although just a child during the German invasion of World War I, Princess Ileana accompanied her mother, the queen, from hospital to hospital, administering to Romania’s wounded and hungry. By World War II, her parents were dead, her older brother, Carol, had ascended the throne, one sister had become queen of Yugoslavia and another queen of Greece.

Princess Ileana lived in a castle near Vienna, wife of an archduke of Austria and mother of six.

Fearful of the Nazi regime, Princess Ileana and her family moved in 1944 to Romania. There, she set up hospitals and did what she could for her suffering compatriots despite Russia’s growing threat.

On Dec. 30, 1947, her nephew, King Michael, forced by the Communists to abdicate. The next week, Princess Ileana and the rest of the royal family were exiled.

Princess Ileana immigrated with her family to Switzerland then Argentina before settling in 1950 in the United States, a move that ultimately led to divorce. To support her children, she sold her diamond and sapphire tiara, lectured about life behind the Iron Curtain, and wrote the autobiography “I Live Again.”

In 1961, after her children were grown, the 52-year-old princess became a postulant. She ended a second marriage to do so.

“In my heart, I have always wanted to become a nun,” she said. “But there was so much to be done in Romania when I was young.”

Princess Ileana took the monastic vows of stability, obedience, poverty and chastity in 1967 and, with that profession, became Mother Alexandra. Later that year, she put up a trailer on 100 acres of farmland outside Ellwood City and began building an English-speaking monastery for Orthodox women of all ethnic backgrounds.

Even though she has stepped down as the monastery’s abbess, Mother Alexandra’s work goes on. She oversees construction of a new complex to accommodate more activities and the growing number of women drawn to the cluster of redwood buildings on a hill.

Her royal background, surprisingly, has helped her cope with the austerity of monastic life: two-hour prayer sessions three times a day, black habits and headdress, renunciation of the temporal world and ail its trappings.

“As a royal person, you have to be very disciplined,” she said. “From the beginning of your life, you are a public person. You belong to the country. Your own personal amusement does not play any part. Your duty comes first.

From that point of view… I’ve watched the other sisters, the struggles they have I don’t. For me, it isn’t difficult.

What is difficult for her is dealing with the strangers who periodically show up at monastery, hoping for a glimpse of a real-life princess.

“It’s my cross I have to bear,” she said, sighing.

To her sisters in spirit, she is just another nun.

“We live quite equally here,” said the Very Rev. Mother Christophora, the monastery’s abbess.

“Each of us has a background and a past. It’s there and you think about it occasionally,” said the 34-year-old abbess, a former alcoholism counselor from Lopez, Sullivan County. “But most of the time, we’re just getting along, surviving, loving our faith. Of course, that’s the way it should be. We should leave our past behind.”

“Mother Alexandra is a nun, sure. She’s in the garden, in the flowers, digging like everybody else,” said the Rev. Roman Braga, 65, the monastery’s chaplain.

Although she treasures her secular past, Mother Alexandra has no desire to resurrect it by visiting Romania, even if she could. Her passport, British because of her House of Hanover ancestry, is stamped: “You have no right to return.”

“I couldn’t bear to see everything that my parents did, we all did and worked for, destroyed,” she said.

Still, there are times, especially around Romania’s National Day on May 10, when her heart longs for the land she left behind.

“I’ll always be homesick,” she said. “I think that’s an illness of which one is never cured. You accept it like one accepts anything else.

“Besides, what I’m homesick for doesn’t exist anymore. That’s the tragedy.”

Source: Greek American Girl

%d bloggers like this: