Anastasios Yannoulatos: Modern-Day Apostle

Indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy




Anastasios Yannoulatos: Modern-Day Apostle. An amazing person  my family has been honoured to collaborate with in his missionary endeavours. An apostle of peace and reconciliation, since meeting him in 1997, he is one of my greatest role models.

For the first half of the twentieth century, the Orthodox Church was relatively inactive in missions. The great missionary efforts of the Russian church came to a close as the Communist curtain placed the church in bondage. Meanwhile, the Orthodox churches of the Balkans struggled to overcome the effects of the previous five centuries of Muslim subjugation. Although the Orthodox lands of Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia gained their independence, a strong sense of nationalism prevailed within the churches, and the idea of outreach beyond the borders of their own countries was a concept to which few gave much thought.


“Inertia in the field of mission means, in the last analysis, a negation of Orthodoxy, a backslide into the practical heresy of localism”

It was not until the late 1950s that a number of young Orthodox theologians began to raise their voices about the need for external missions. From an international Orthodox youth conference held in 1958 in Athens, a call toward missions began to develop. These young people expressed the idea that the church’s responsibility toward missions was not simply some­ thing of the past but a call for the contemporary church as well. Despite the struggling situation of a poor church just freed from bondage, the apostolic call of the Lord demanded a response. The leader of this fledgling group was Anastasios Yannoulatos, a young Orthodox theologian from Greece. He challenged the Church of Greece, as well as the Orthodox Church at large, to recover its long-held missionary tradition.


In 1959 Yannoulatos helped found Porefthentes (“Go ye”), a missionary movement whose goal was to rekindle the mission­ary conscience of the Orthodox Church, as well as to educate the non-Orthodox world about the rich missionary heritage of the Church of Greece, as well as the Orthodox Church at large, to recover its long­ held missionary tradition.


Yannoulatos challenged the Church of Greece, as well as the Orthodox Church at large, to recover its long-held missionary tradition.


Yannoulatos challenged the Eastern Church. This movement began to produce a journal in Greek and English called Porefthentes. In its inaugural issue, Yannoulatos wrote a provocative article entitled “The Forgotten Commandment,” which challenged the church to rediscover the missionary zeal of previous generations. In this article, Yannoulatos questioned the accepted apathy toward missions that prevailed in the contemporary Orthodox Church:


“It is not a question of ‘can we?’ but of an imperative command “we must.” “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.” “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” There is no “consider if you can,” there is only a definite, clear cut command of Our Lord…. If we let ourselves rest peacefully in this habitual inertia in the matter of foreign missions, we are not simply keeping the pure light of the Faith “under the bushel,” but we are betraying one of the basic elements of our Orthodox tradition. For missionary work has always been a tradition within the Orthodox Church…. Missionary activity is not simply something “useful” or just “nice,” but something imperative, a foremost duty, if we really want to be consequent to our Orthodox Faith.”


As Christians we do believe in miracles.


Yannoulatos emerged as a leading missions advocate in the following years. He dared the Orthodox faithful to recover the authentic meaning of the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church,” in the words of the Nicene Creed. He even hoped to establish some type of external Orthodox mission center. His enthusiasm, however, was derided within most Orthodox circles as an unrealistic goal. Following an address he gave on this issue to theological students at the University of Athens in January 1959, someone in the audience remarked skeptically that “the organization of an Orthodox External Mission is tantamount to a miracle.” To this Yannoulatos responded, “We fully agree. But as Christians we do believe in miracles.”


Mission was not the duty of only the first generation of Christians. It is the duty of Christians of all ages … It is an essential expression of the Orthodox ethos.


The life and work of Anastasios Yannoulatos, probably the foremost Orthodox missiologist in the world today, exemplifies the realization of this miracle in the contemporary Orthodox Church.


His Early Life


Anastasios Yannoulatos was born on November 4, 1929, to a pious Orthodox family in Greece. Raised within the faith, he participated actively in the church during his formative years. His first great interest was in mathematics, and throughout his teenage years Yannoulatos thought of pursuing a career in this field. His views changed with the coming of World War II. During the war years, Yannoulatos began to experience his faith in a very personal way. He witnessed much suffering and disas­ter from the war and could make sense of the chaos only by delving deeper into his faith. For the world and for his own country to recover from the evil of both the Second World War and the ensuing Greek Civil War, Yannoulatos understood the urgent need for a message of eternal peace, the peace that comes through Jesus Christ.


This experience led Yannoulatos to abandon his interest in other disciplines and to pursue theology. So fervent was his desire that he has said, “It was not enough for me to give something to God, I had to be given totally to Him. I wanted to live with my whole being in Christ.”  Thus, in 1947 he entered the Theological School of the University of Athens. He graduated with highest honors in 1952.


Following two years of service in the army, Yannoulatos joined the brotherhood of ZOE, a religious organization focused on the spiritual renewal of the church in Greece. Yannoulatos’s personal responsibilities included missions to the youth of his country. He became the leader of student movements and teen­ age camps and strove to make the Orthodox faith real and concrete to his young charges. Through these experiences, Yannoulatos discovered the impact such outreach programs had on the church at large. He realized that without such missionary outreach, the church loses its focus and ultimately diminishes.


During these years, Yannoulatos also participated in an international Orthodox youth movement called Syndesmos. He served as the general secretary of the Committee for Missions during 1958-61, and as vice-president of the whole movement from 1964 to 1977. Here he met other young leaders with a similar zeal for proclaiming the Gospel. Together they began to realize how Christ could never be satisfied with proclaiming the Gospel simply within the church. His original command was to go to”all nations.” Thus missions are not merely internal, but external as well. The Great Commission of the past is an imperative respon­sibility for the present. Yannoulatos wrote at the time:


“Church without mission is a contradiction in terms…. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged.A static Church which lacks vision and a constant endeavor to proclaim the Gospel to the oikoumene could hardly be recognized as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to whom the Lord entrusted the continuation of His Work.”


The 1960s-Following the Call of God


This understanding of the importance of external missions for the church filled the heart of Yannoulatos. Following his ordina­tion to the diaconate in 1960, Yannoulatos proceeded to found the inter-Orthodox mission center Porefthentes. The goal of this center was to educate the church in the area of missions, as well as to motivate and send missionaries throughout the world.


Church without mission is a contradiction in terms…. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged.


Yannoulatos himself planned on becoming a ‘foreign’ mis­sionary. In fact, immediately following his ordination to the priesthood on May 24, 1964, he left for East Africa and celebrated his first liturgy in Uganda. Shortly after his arrival, however, the young priest contracted malaria and returned to Greece. Despite the doctors’ recommendation that he not return to Africa, Yannoulatos was not daunted by the setback. He realized more than ever the importance of increasing the missionary awareness in the church and sought new ways to fulfill the Great Commis­sion of Christ. Following the advice of one of his professors, Yannoulatos decided the best way he could influence the church was by making a significant contribution in the academic world. He believed that if he could not directly work in the mission field, he could still try to pave the way for others to go. Thus, he decided to pursue further studies in missiology and the history of religions.


From 1965 to 1969, Yannoulatos studied the history of reli­gions at the universities in Hamburg and Marburg in Germany, with an emphasis on religious plurality and the Orthodox Church. His work focused on the general history of religions, African religions, missiology, and ethnology. He traveled to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, to conduct field research and collect material for his doctoral thesis, entitled “The Spirit Mbandwa and the Framework of Their Cults: A Research of Aspects of African Religion.” Overall, he desired to establish a basis for the whole process of a serious study of missions in the Orthodox Church. Through this research, he sought support for his original thesis that it was impossible to truly be Orthodox without having an interest in missions.


Along with his studies, Yannoulatos actively participated in the worldwide ecumenical movement. By taking part in the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the budding missiologist felt that he could both learn from other Christian traditions as well as introduce these members to the rich missionary heritage of the Orthodox Church. In 1963, Yannoulatos became the youngest member of the CWME at a conference in Mexico City. He has continued to play a pivotal role in this ecumenical setting and ultimately served as its moderator from 1984 to 1991, the first Orthodox missiologist to hold such a place of leadership.


The 1970s-Planting Missionary Foundations Within the Church


During the following decade, the Church of Greece began to hear and respond to the voice of this bold visionary. In 1968 Yannoulatos and his Porefthentes staff established the frame­ work of the Bureau of External Missions within Apostoliki Diakonia (the service branch of the Church of Greece). The establishment of a permanent missionary organization within the official Orthodox Church in Greece was a milestone. The church recognized the work of Yannoulatos by elevating him on November 19, 1972, to the episcopacy with the title “Bishop of Androussa” and making him general director of the whole department of Apostoliki Diakonia. Through Bishop Anastasios’s leadership, this commission of the Church of Greece acted as the main body for all the missionary efforts of the church both within Greece and abroad.


Along with his ecclesiastical responsibilities, Bishop Anastasios continued to be active on the academic level. In 1972 the University of Athens elected him as associate professor of the history of religions. At the university, he established and di­rected a centre for missionary studies during 1971-76. This center paved the way for another landmark, when a chair of missiology was finally created in 1976. In this academic atmosphere Bishop Anastasios continued to proclaim his “wake-up” call to the church, challenging its complacency in missionary outreach:


It was Yannoulatos’s thesis that it was impossible to be truly Orthodox without having an interest in missions.


“Inertia in the field of mission means, in the last analysis, a negation of Orthodoxy, a backslide into the practical heresy of localism…. It is unthinkable for us to speak of “Orthodox spirituality,” of “a life in Christ,” of emulating the Apostle Paul, founder of the Greek Church, while we stay inert as to mission; it is unintelligible to write about intense liturgical and spiritual living of the Lord’s Resurrection by us, while we abide slothful and indifferent to the call of ecumenical missions, with which the message of the Resur­rection is interwoven.”

Bishop Anastasios continually tried to educate the Orthodox faithful to a fuller understanding of the Nicene Creed, which proclaimed the belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Professing such a creed while staying indifferent to missions, Yannoulatos held, was hypocrisy. As he noted,


“Only when it is realized that worldwide ecumenical mission is an initial and prime implication in a fundamental article of the “Credo,” elemental for the Orthodox comprehension of what the Church is, and that what is termed “foreign mission” is not an “external” matter but an inner need, a call to repentance and aligning ourselves with the spirit of the Gospel and the tradition of our Church, only then shall we have the proper and hope­ bearing theological start for what comes next.”

Foreign missions is not simply a branch of authentic Ortho­dox life, or even Orthodox theology, but rather is central to a proper understanding of the church. When Orthodox Christians confess, “I believe in one … apostolic Church,” “apostolic” does not refer only to apostolic succession. More important, it implies having an “apostolic fire and zeal to preach the gospel ‘to every creature’ (Mk 16:15), because it nurtures its members so that they may become ‘witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).”


Bishop Anastasios continued to challenge the apathetic atti­tude of the church toward missions by writing:


“The Gospel is addressed to all peoples, and therefore the work of the Church remains incomplete as long as it is restricted to certain geographical areas or social classes. Its field of action is universal and is active both in sectors that welcome the good tidings and those which at first may reject them. Mission was not the duty of only the first generation of Christians. It is the duty of Christians of all ages.... Witness is the expression of the vitality of the Church as well as a source of renewal and renewed vigor…. Everyone should contribute to and participate in it, whether it be directly or indirectly. It is an essential expression of the Orthodox ethos.”


Along with influencing the academic world in Greece and abroad, Bishop Anastasios had an impact on other areas of church life as well. In 1972 the bishop worked together with Fr. Anthony Romeos and founded a monastery of nuns whose emphasis would be on external missions. This group became the Convent of St. John the Forerunner in Kareas, Greece. Bishop Anastasios helped guide these women to become nuns who would actively participate in missionary work throughout the world. The convent also welcomed women from foreign lands to join their community and learn the monastic way of life, with the goal of carrying the monastic lifestyle back to their home coun­tries.


The 1980s-Theory Becomes Practice


In the 1960s,when Yannoulatos first fell ill to malaria, his doctors told him that he would never be able to work overseas as a missionary. The providence of God spoke differently. In 1980 the Orthodox Church of East Africa faced great difficulties. The region had been the most active Orthodox mission field in the world over the past two decades. The church’s footing, however, was jeopardized by internal problems that ultimately led to the defrocking of a Kenyan bishop by the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The East African Orthodox Church seemed to be on the verge of collapse.


During this time Patriarch Nicholas, the head of the Ortho­dox Church in Africa, invited Bishop Anastasios to become acting archbishop of the Archdiocese of East Africa. The bishop consented but continued to keep his responsibilities both at the University of Athens and in Apostoliki Diakonia. During this transitional period, Yannoulatos saw his role as one of reorganiz­ing the Church of East Africa. His main priority was to create a strong Orthodox community led by local leaders.


“By focusing on the training and establishing of indigenous leaders, Bishop Anastasios remained faithful to Orthodox mis­sions tradition. As he noted in an earlier writing, “The incarna­tion of God’s Word in the language and customs of a country has been and must be the first concern of all Orthodox mission. Its intent is the planting and growth of a native Church, self­ powered and self-governing, able to turn to account all the genuine strands of national tradition, transforming and hallow­ing them in harmony with the people’s nature, to the glory of God.”

In 1972, Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus built an Ortho­dox Seminary in Nairobi, Kenya, but political instability in Cyprus prevented the archbishop from completing his project. The school remained vacant for ten years. Bishop Anastasios’s first action as the new leader of the church was to finish the seminary and open it immediately. During the 1970s, many of the faithful within the African Orthodox Church became disillu­sioned and disheartened with the floundering church and began to leave. Yannoulatos realized that the only way to bring these people back, as well as to bring new converts into the faith, was through the training of local leaders and priests.


Hence, Bishop Anastasios officially opened the Archbishop Makarios III Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary in 1982. Over the following decade, the school averaged 45 students annually, using 12 professors from East Africa, Europe, and the United States. The acting archbishop eventually ordained 62 priests and deacons, as well as 42 readers and catechists, from the school’s graduates. These indigenous leaders came from eight different tribes in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania and provided the founda­tion for the renewal of the church in East Africa.


Along with training local leaders, the acting archbishop also supported the Orthodox missionary tradition of translation, which he believed was sanctioned by Christ during the event of Pentecost. Thus, he concentrated on publications, organizing the translation of services into seven different languages.


Bishop Anastasios also tried to establish a sense of perma­nency in the structures of the church by guiding the construction of 67 new church buildings, 23 of them stone, and 44 wooden and mud. He also helped renovate 25 existing church buildings. His construction accomplishments included seven mission stations, seven health-care stations, five primary schools, and twelve nursery schools.


His work in Africa drew worldwide attention. The Greek Orthodox Church in America assisted him by sending mission­aries to East Africa. The impact of these missionaries was felt not only within the Church of East Africa but also throughout America. Many of the short-term missionaries, returning to their homes in the United States, helped increase a missionary aware­ness and consciousness within their own parishes. The Orthodox Church in Greece and Finland also responded to a series of lectures the bishop gave on the imperative of missions by send­ ing missionary teams of their own to Kenya.


The most important aspect of Bishop Anastasios’s work in East Africa, however, was not the ordinations, the publications, or the missionary interest created by the mission teams. It was instead his efforts to assimilate with the indigenous Christians. By identifying closely with the Orthodox Christians of this region, he encouraged and empowered them to embrace the faith as authentically their own. As a result, the Church of East Africa continued to mature even after his departure as acting arch­bishop in 1991.


In addition to his achievements in Africa, Bishop Anastasios has left his mark in other ways. In 1981, the bishop began editing, through the auspices of Apostoliki Diakonia, the first official missionary magazine of the Church of Greece, entitled Panta ta Ethne (All nations). This magazine continues to disseminate mission information and challenge Orthodox Christians throughout Greece to respond to the missionary mandate.


The 1980s also saw Bishop Anastasios intensify his activity in the WCC. After participating in the World Mission Conference at Melbourne in 1980, as well as the general assembly of the WCC at Vancouver in 1983, the bishop became the moderator of CWME during 1984-91 and presided at the World Mission Conference at San Antonio in 1989. His missiological impact not only influenced the Orthodox world but also touched broad ecumenical circles. As the prominent Protestant theologian and missionary David J. Bosch noted,

“Anastasios has remained the driving force behind the missionary movement in Orthodoxy. And since the Orthodox churches joined the WCC in 1948, he and others have made a major contribution to missionary thinking and practice in ecumenical circles…. The cross-fertilization in the area of Missiology between Orthodoxy and Protestantism has indeed been a major area of theological renewal in the ecumenical movement since 1961. Only three papers were read in the conference plenary during the first few days. . . . Whereas the first two papers were interesting and challenging, it was Anastasios’ presentation that provided the theological framework for the conference theme “Your Will Be Done” … its overall thrust was truly ecumenical in the best sense of the word.”


The 1990s-the Culmination of His Work


A new challenge confronted Bishop Anastasios with the coming of a new decade. In January 1991, the Patriarchate of Constantinople elected Anastasios to go to Albania as “Patriarchal Exarch” with a mandate to contact and organize Orthodox people irrespective of their ethnic origin. On June 24,1992, he was unanimously elected Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania. His task then became one of reestablishing the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania. The Orthodox Church in Albania had been decimated after forty years of the most severe persecution. During the years of Communist control the number of Orthodox clergy had diminished from 450 in 1945 to 22 in 1990. All the surviving clergy were over the age of seventy. A new opportunity to revive life into a church that had been almost destroyed confronted Archbishop Anastasios.


Anastasios saw this new challenge as an opportunity to synthesize the elements of his life. Before Communism, Albania was a country with a 69 percent Muslim population. Archbishop
Anastasios had written a book and many articles on Islam. The uncertainties that the church faced with various political groups was something familiar for him from his work in East Africa. The challenge to resurrect a local church from an atheistic abyss would require a miracle, more radical than the miracle required initiatives on four different frontiers. But as his life has shown, Archbishop Anastasios believes in miracles.


Overall, Archbishop Anastasios’s priorities in Albania during his first three years of episcopacy were to train local leaders, perform responsible pastoral work to approximately one quarter of the population that claimed an Orthodox heritage, and to open dialogue and bridges to people of other faiths or no faith. In response to his leadership, the church quickly established the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Seminary in a rented hotel building in the city of Durres. The school presently has a three-year program, with each class containing approximately thirty students. Through this seminary sixty new priests and deacons have joined the ranks of clergy within the first three years of Archbishop Anastasios’s episcopacy. The archbishop’s latest plans include moving the seminary into a new two million dollar spiritual center by the end of 1995.


Along with training local spiritual leaders, Archbishop Anastasios has mobilized the laity through various intellectual, youth, and women’s groups. These organizations have participated in the overall ministry of preaching, teaching, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to believers in cities and villages throughout Albania. The archbishop has also organized work in a variety of other areas. He is helping to reestablish the physical presence of Orthodoxy by building and renovating churches throughout Albania. At present, thirty-eight new churches have been built, and forty-three others have been renovated. Sixty other projects, which include church centers and a medical clinic, are in progress. A printing house produces the monthly newspaper Ngjallja (Resurrection), along with Orthodox books and various catechetical materials. Its goal is to disseminate church news and religious education throughout the country. Another office, called Service of Love, is devoted to a social outreach ministry, which helps distribute humanitarian aid and cultivate long-term developmental projects.


During this short period of reestablishment, the Orthodox Church has quickly left its former isolation and joined the world- wide Christian community. Efforts have been made for official relationships not only within pan-Orthodox circles but also within ecumenical organizations as well. In fact, the church has already become a full member in both the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches.


Despite obstacles and restrictions placed upon the church from various sources within Albania, the future looks bright. The reawakening of Orthodox faithful combined with the influx of converts are a result of Archbishop Anastasios’s holistic outreach to nominal Christians, non-Christians, and atheists alike.


To resurrect the Church from its atheistic abyss would require a miracle, but Archbishop Anastasios believes in miracles.



Over the past thirty years, the impact and influence of Anastasios Yannoulatos cannot be overstated. As a young theologian in the 1950s, he had a vision to rekindle the missionary spirit of the Orthodox Church. Thirty-five years later, it is clear he has achieved his goal. Indeed, missions has truly become part of the basic life of twentieth-century Orthodoxy. As the archbishop notes himself, “Here is the first and major contribution I have made-a theological contribution to help the church rediscover who she really is. It was a contribution of LIFE. My theological position has always been to live the mystery of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. To live the mission of the Church with its proper universal and eschatological perspective.”


A summary of the archbishop’s life can be seen in his initiatives on four different frontiers. First, out of concern for the Orthodox Church itself, he sought to revive missionary interest and consciousness that has been a part of its tradition throughout the ages.

Second, he has made significant contributions to the field of missiology. Archbishop Anastasios has written nine scholarly books, five catechetical books, over sixty treatises, and more than eighty articles. He founded and published two mission maga­ zines, Porefthentes (1960-70) and Panta ta Ethne (1981-92), and since 1981 he has been a contributing editor of the INTERNATIONAL BULLETIN OF MISSIONARY RESEARCH. Along with this, he has ap­peared numerous times on television, appealing to the public to embrace the eternal message of Jesus Christ and his holy church. In 1989, the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, granted an honorary Doctor of Theol­ogy degree to the archbishop. And in 1993, Archbishop Anastasios was unanimously elected correspondent member of the Acad­emy of Athens, which is the highest academic society of Greece. And in 1995, the Theological School of Thessalonika awarded him an honorary Doctor of Theology degree and the Historical Archeological School of loannina gave him an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree.

The third frontier has been his life in East Africa and Albania. He desired to live the life and share in external missions of the church. He wished to show all people of the world, regardless of their origin, that God loves and cares for them.

Finally, the last frontier has been in ecumenical circles.Through the WCC, Archbishop Anastasios has given witness to Orthodox mission theology and spirituality to the non-Orthodox world. He has worked together with his Christian contemporar­ies to define missions in the twentieth century and to witness effectively to other faiths and traditions.

Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos’s life and work can be summarized in his own words. Throughout his sixty-five years of life, he has tried to live and proclaim the mystery of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” that is, to live the mission of the church within its proper universal perspective. “Mission is an essential expression of Orthodox self-consciousness, a cry in action for the fulfillment of God’s will’on earth as it is in heaven.’ … Indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy.”


Indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy

The Comforter

Fascinating homily in its breadth and depth! Like all by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. In it you may meditate on Nature, God’s Creation, God’s Energia in His CreationThe Little Prince by Saint-Exupery, three-fold etymology of ‘Paraklitos’, Conversion, Betrayal and Apostasy narratives, Faith and Loss of Faith, C. S. Lewis, the difference between Art and Mankind, a beautiful statues and human ‘wreckage’, Father Sergei Bulgakov’s theology, a bold, ‘heretical’, ‘syncretistic’ worship during a World Council of Churches meeting, and so much more. Enjoy!

‘The Comforter’: Our Support and Strength for Mission

I feel more than slightly apprehensive, giving this talk in the background of a very theological theme. And so, you will forgive me, if my theological statements are untheological and if the rest is very different from what you may expect.

First of all, may I make a totally non-theological statement about the Holy Spirit? When we speak of the Trinity, for people as primitive as I am, we can imagine that the old image, given centuries ago, still holds, and we can develop it on one point. Speaking of the Trinity, trying to understand the relation there is between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, some writers have said that we can compare God to the sun in the sky. In its mystery, the sun is unknowable as such. No one of us will ever be able to participate in the nature of the sun, but it becomes accessible to us in its light and warmth. The light is something which we perceive with our senses, by sight, and which reveals to us everything that surrounds us. We do not see the light as such, but it is in the light that things are revealed to us. The warmth of the sun is the way in which He pervades us, and in which we can become participants — to whatever degree is accessible to us — in the life of God.

Christ the Word is an objective revelation of God. The Spirit reaches us only within our experience, in the way in which the warmth of the sun pervades us and we become aware of it, and through it of something which is of God. This is a non-theological introduction to the subject.

As an illustration of this, I would like to give you an example of a contemporary of mine, who had discovered his faith in God through an encounter with Christ. But he puzzled and puzzled about the Holy Spirit. He did not understand. One day, he found himself on a bus. It was in Paris, around the theatre of the Odeon, and he was saying to himself or to God: ‘But what does the Holy Spirit do to us? How can I know that I have had some sort of contact with the Spirit of God?’ And of a sudden he felt he was, unexpectedly to himself, filled with a love of the creation and of the human beings that were surrounding him, in a way in which he had never known he could. And he realised that, at that moment, the Holy Spirit had come to him and made him partake, to the extent to which he could, in his immaturity perhaps, in Love Divine. At that moment, he knew something about the Holy Spirit: that the Holy Spirit was communicating Himself to him by communicating to him something which could not be invented or forced, even out of his human experience.

The Holy Spirit comes to us quietly; at times unexpectedly, at times as the result of a long longing. Some of you may have read a book called The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery. There is a passage in which the Little Prince meets a little fox. Both the Little Prince and the little fox are attracted to one another, but both are desperately shy. The little fox comes and sits down at a certain distance, but whenever the boy makes a movement towards it, it runs away. Then one day the little fox says to him something like: You know, we both long to come to one another, but we are shy and afraid. So when I come, don’t make the slightest move. Look askance, so that I may imagine that you have not noticed my presence. And, not being afraid of being watched, I will come a little nearer than the day before, but don’t turn to me, because I will be afraid and run away. And then, another thing,’ he said, ‘I long to come close to you. And so, let us fix a time when you will come, because then — oh, a good hour before the time — I will know that you will be coming. I’ll come myself and wait. And I shall be filled with this expectation of the moment when you will appear. And then you will sit down and, as I said, pay no attention to me, and allow me to come nearer, and nearer, and nearer.’ This image of the little fox is something that, to me, resembles very much the way in which we relate to the Holy Spirit. Christ comes to us, proclaiming the truth. He is the Truth; He is the One who Is. He is a revelation, an unveiling. The Holy Spirit, in this sense, is not a revelation. He is the one who makes the revelation possible, by making us commune with what is the essence of this revelation: the closeness and the knowledge of God.

If we turn to what we hear in the Gospel about the Holy Spirit, I would like to attract your attention to one passage — to a word rather than a passage — that we repeat time and time again in our prayer: the Comforter. ‘Comforter” is the English translation of the word. When we look at the various languages into which it has been translated from the original, I think we can see a variety of facets in the event. First of all, the Holy Spirit, whom the Lord Jesus Christ sends us, is the one who consoles us for our loss of Christ. I am speaking of the loss of Christ, because each of us believes in Christ, each of us has had an experience of His closeness, His presence. Each of us has had, through His teaching, an experience which He conveys to us in word and in person. But, with the Crucifixion, the death of Christ and the Resurrection and Ascension, He is not present as He was present to His disciples, and He is not present in the way in which He will be present to us when all things will be fulfilled. You remember, probably, the words of Saint Paul, when he says: As long as I am in the flesh, I am separated from Christ. And yet — Christ is my life. And we are all, to a lesser degree than Paul was, of course, in the same kind of situation. On the one hand, Christ is our life; on the other hand, we are still separated from Him. We all long to be with Him, but we cannot go beyond a certain point of closeness. And Saint Paul points it out, when he says that, as long as he lives in the flesh, he is separated from Christ, and he longs for death to come. Not as an end of his earthly life, but as the moment when a veil will be torn apart and, as he puts it, he will know as he is known. He will see face to face what he can see yet only as shadows and images mirrored.


The Holy Spirit reveals Himself to us as our Consoler. In the sense that Christ has promised to send Him to us, He comes to us. He gives us an incipient participation in a closeness of communion with Christ, and through Christ, in Christ, with the Father. So that this is our first experience. His closeness to us consoles us for the fact that we long to meet Christ face to face, to commune with the Father in a way unutterable to us.

But the word goes beyond this. He is not only the one who comforts us; He is the one who gives us strength; strength to live in this orphaned situation in which, on the one hand, we belong to God wholeheartedly, sincerely, heroically at times, and on the other hand live in a world that has fallen away from God and in which we have a function to fulfil. He is the one who gives us strength to live in the world which at times denies everything we long for, which stands between us and our fulfilment by temptation, by beguilement.

At the same time, there is a third meaning in the word. He is not only the Consoler. He is not only the one who gives us strength to face life, in the faith and yet in the partial absence of Christ. He gives us the exulting joy of being with Christ already in this world, because, although our communion with Christ is imperfect, although it is not all-embracing, although we do not know Him as He knows us, we do know Him. And this is a miracle that we could not appreciate if we were born, as it were, in a believing family and if we had been given our faith together with our birth. But those of us who were unbelievers, the millions who believed not and have discovered, know the exulting joy of this discovery of God in Christ and through Him, of the fatherhood of God’s own Father. So that, in the Holy Spirit, we have consolation because we are orphans. We are sent into the world to conquer it for God. And in the process, at moments, we are given a sense of incredible closeness, and we can be astounded and rejoice in the way in which the young man whom I mentioned in the beginning rejoiced, having been filled, in an unutterable manner, with a love he did not know could exist; not only for humanity, not only for every concrete human person, but for the whole of creation.

We are told by Christ that He will send the Spirit to us, who will lead us into all truth. ‘All truth’ is not an intellectual situation. It is not the knowledge of the mind; it is an experiential knowledge. The truth (in Russian istina) is what is: I am He who is. And the knowledge of the truth can only be possessed in communion with Him who is. In a strange way, we have lost through the centuries this certainty that this is what the truth is. It is God Himself; it is the absolute Reality. Pavel Florensky, speaking of the truth, says: ‘Istina — eto Estina’ — the Truth is what is!’ ‘I AM’. And strangely enough, because we have moved knowledge of the truth from this existential experience onto an intellectual level, we feel that we must fight for the truth and defend it, forgetting that the Truth cannot be destroyed by any created power. The Greek word aletheia means ‘what cannot be washed away’, annihilated, even by the waters of the River of Oblivion. Nothing can do it!

If we continue to dwell on words, we could remember that the words verity, veritas, Wahrheit, derive from a Latin word meaning ‘to defend’, not ‘to be defended’. The Truth can defend us against everything, and it does not need us to defend it. This is a very important point with regard to our mission in the world, because it means that we are sent to proclaim it and reveal it, but not to defend it in argument. We cannot defend the Truth by argument. We can present another facet of things, which people can accept or not, but we cannot always defend it in the way it should be defended. I remember when I was young and began to do youth work, my father saying to me: ‘Proclaim the truth and be to people a vision of it, however dim, but do not try to convert anyone by argument, because, if you prove to be more intelligent, more well-read than another person, you will be able to defeat the other person, but you will not have changed his life. And I remember an occasion, a case in the comparatively recent history of the Russian Church in Stalin’s time. A young man called Evgraff Doulouman, who was a student at university, was looking for digs. He found a room in the house of the local parish priest. The priest was mature, ageing, with a deep and tragic experience of life: of the beginning of the Revolution and of the persecution that followed. The young man was full of his atheistic convictions, and he decided to convert the priest to what he believed to be the truth, and they engaged in conversation and discussion. The priest was an old and wise man. He did not argue point by point, but unfolded before the young man the truth as he knew it. The young man was not mature enough to go through the experience that was offered him, and he made it into an intellectual world-outlook that defeated, completely annihilated, his atheistic vision. Having been dialectically defeated, he embraced the Christian faith, asked for baptism, went to study theology in Zagorsk, was brilliant as a student, was ordained deacon and priest and was sent to Samara, I think, to a parish. It was expected that he would be a brilliant missionary, taking into account the way he had moved from refined, deep atheism into a powerful sense of Christianity. When he was in the parish, this young man discovered — in the celebration of the Liturgy, in the sacraments, in his pastoral work — that he could present the Christian truth in words, but he did not believe it all in his inner self. After a while, he renounced the Church and became an active agent of atheist propaganda. I give you this example to underline the fact that it is not in the refinement of argument in debate that one conveys one’s faith.

In the course of the whole history of Christianity, you meet people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, and whose life, whose person, whose words, in their simplicity reached others, hit them at the very core of their being and brought to life a knowledge of the divine that had been dormant. It has been for many as though the knowledge of God was like Lazarus: dead, lying in his grave, who suddenly heard a voice saying: ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the knowledge of God, an experience that was conveyed by having heard God speak to him, made all the difference. And so, when we speak of the Holy Spirit as being the Spirit of truth, it is not the spirit of formal theological discourse or of any formal thing divorced from the inner experience. Unless it is sustained by this inner experience, it may be a convincing argument but it will not be a power that can transfigure the life of another person.

We are sent into the world to proclaim Christ, but we are not sent into the world to argue about Him. In 1943, C. S. Lewis gave a series of addresses on the English wireless, and in one of them he asks: “What is the difference between the believer that has become alive in God and any other human?’ And he says: The difference can be compared to that which there is between a statue and a living person. A statue may be of supreme beauty, but it is nothing but stone or wood. It can be looked at and admired. It can send us a message of beauty, but not of communion. This beauty will be communion with something earthly, created, but not beyond. Something must happen that will make it of the ‘beyond’. A human being may be infinitely less beautiful than a statue, but it is alive.’ And C. S. Lewis says: “When someone meets one of those statues that have become a living person, he should stop and say: “Look, this statue has come to life!” ‘ This is a challenge to each of us, because we may be satisfactory statues, but are we the kind of people whom others meet, look at and discover that there is life there and not only a shape?

It is very important for us to realise that our message to the world is not a world-outlook. It is a revelation of the presence of the Holy Spirit and of Christ. The Church is a mysterious Body, because the Church is the presence, in the midst of the fallen world, of the fullness of the divine Presence. The first member of the Church is He whom Saint Paul calls the Man Jesus Christ. He is one of us, as well as being, if I may put it that way, one of Them. He is not only One of the Trinity; He is one of humanity. Looking at Him, we can see what it means to be both totally man, human, and totally and perfectly divine. Since the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has indwelt the Church totally, filled it with His presence. In the Spirit and in Christ, the whole Trinity is present in the Church. Are we Christians, Orthodox Christians, aware of this? Or is the Church a human body that looks Godward, that believes in God, that has evolved a very elaborate theology, but whose members are not limbs of Christ — as Father Sergei Bulgakov puts it: ‘an extension of the Incarnation’? Are we ‘an extension of the Incarnation’? Does anyone, meeting us, stop a minute and say: ‘In this person, there is something I have never met before. Here is a human shape, but there is something beyond it.’

I think I have mentioned a personal example which I will dare mention again. I came once to the church that became my parish for years in Paris. I aimed at being present at the Vigil, but for one reason or another I was late. The service was over. It had taken place in an underground garage, that led to ground level up a wooden staircase. I entered, and saw that everything was over. Only, there was a man coming up the stairs. It was a monk, in monastic garb, and when I looked at him I felt that I had never in my life met such total inwardness, such serenity, such peace and depth. I did not know who he was. I came up to him and said: ‘I do not know who you are, but would you become my spiritual father?’ This is a sort of central experience I had of a person in whom I saw something I had never seen to that extent: this total inwardness in the abiding presence of God, the Spirit at work, and the Incarnation in him. Years later, I received a little note from him, saying: ‘I have experienced the mystery of contemplative silence. I can now die.’ And three days later, he died. This, to me, was an example of what a Christian can be. He was not ‘impressive’ in any respect. He was not a man of superior education or of an outward holiness, but in him I could see the Incarnation and the presence of the Spirit.

When we look around, do you realise the kind of world in which we live? Bishop Basil must have talked to you about the presence of the Holy Spirit in the created world. At the moment of creation, the Holy Spirit was hovering over the newly-created world. This newly-created world, in translation, is called ‘chaos’. When we think of chaos nowadays, we think of destruction, the chaos that followed the bombing of Dresden. But chaos is something much more essential and deeper. Chaos is the sum-total of all the existing possibilities that have not yet found a shape and blossomed out. The Holy Spirit was breathing over the chaos, over all the possibilities of a world that had been called into being and had no shape yet. By breathing over this chaos, the Holy Spirit was bringing to life all its possibilities, and everything that was hidden as the possible began to emerge as reality, as you can see in the beginning of Genesis. But God did not force the shapes. He initiated the possibility for the creation to become itself more and more; to expand in depth, and in width, and in every respect

Things changed with the Fall. But what had been given first was never taken away; the created world is still that world which God created. If it is distorted, it is not because it has turned away from God, but because its guide, man, has turned away from God, has lost his way and has proved incapable of helping this chaos to become the perfect cosmos: beauty in form, in line and life, so that the world in which we live is the world which, in itself, is pure of stain except for the distortion that we have created in it. When we look at the surrounding world, we must be aware that everything that is monstrous, frightening, ugly and distorted in it is our doing. To apply to the generality a phrase that was spoken in a particular situation, one of the Fathers says: “We must remember that what we call the sins of the flesh are the sins that the spirit inflicts on the flesh. The flesh is pure.’ We make it a victim of sin. Our body says: ‘I am hungry.’ Our imagination says: ‘I want to delight in such-and-such foods.’ The natural situation of the created world is that of a victim of the human fall, of our being separated from God, of our being unable to restore, even in a small patch of land, the purity, the wholeness and the harmony that belong to it by right. This we must remember. With what veneration must we look at the cosmos and everything that is the material world around us, and what broken-heartedness we must feel when we see it distorted, broken, ugly and monstrous at times.

Again, when we turn to God, to God’s revelation and the creation of man — the Lord God breathed His own breath into man: that is the original human, the anthropos, the chelovek, and man, the total man, has remained filled with the Spirit of God. We must remember this: it is not our Christian, our Orthodox, privilege to be such. All human beings are such. Sinful, yes, but basically such. And so, when we look round at all human beings, we have no right to see good in some and evil in others. We must see victims of the human fall in one and the victory of Christ in the Spirit in the other. The saints are examples of this victory. To them, to the extent to which it is possible in a world which has not yet come to the parousia, to its end in Christ’s victory, we find, incipiently or still-surviving, true humanity. And this we must remember when we deal with whomever we deal with. Some people are ‘evil’, yes. But why are they? Have we given them newness of life by being a revelation of Christ and a gift of the Holy Spirit? It is easy, perhaps, at times to be compassionate to a person in error, but how easily do we condemn the error from the height of what we imagine to be the truth as we know it!

I have paid some attention, in the course of the last seventy years or so, to the beliefs of men, to the religions of the world. What strikes me more and more is that, however different they are from the faith of Christianity, they are all a distortion of the truth; not a straight lie against it, except for some who have chosen to be servants of Satan and not servants of Christ.

I would like to keep you a little longer than I intended: my forty-five minutes are just over. If you will allow me ten more minutes, I will let you free.


Many years ago, I had a conversation with Vladimir Lossky about oriental religions. He was absolutely in denial of any knowledge, any true knowledge of God, in them. I did not dare argue with a theologian of such magnitude, but what courage could not achieve, I thought cunning might. As we lived across the street from one another, I went home and copied eight passages from the Upanishads, the most ancient Indian writings, went back to Lossky and said: “Vladimir Nikolayevich, I have been reading the Fathers, and I always take down the passages that strike me particularly. I always put down the name of the author, but alas, with these eight quotations I cannot find the author’s name. Could you identify them for me?’ He looked and said: ‘Oh, yes!’, and within a minute and a half he had put eight names of the greatest Fathers of the Church under the quotations from the Upanishads. And then cunning revealed itself in false humility, and I said to him: ‘I’m afraid I have deceived you. These are from the Upanishads.’ He looked at me and said: ‘Really? Then I must read them.’ And that was the beginning of a change of mind in him with regard to the statements of other religions.

Many years ago, in 1961, I was part of the first Russian delegation to the World Council of Churches in Delhi. Among a number of us, there was a man called Father Ioann Wendland, who later became a bishop in America and in Germany. He had been a secret priest in Siberia while doing geological research during the Stalin period. We decided to go to a pagan place of worship, to see and to try to understand. We arrived there. At the door, we had to take our shoes off, which we obligingly did, and we were about to leave them there when the warden came up to us and said: ‘Oh no, sir, you do not leave your shoes here. They are new and good, and would be stolen. I’ll put them in my office.’ So our shoes went into the office and we went into the place of worship. It was a round place of worship, divided into ten or twelve sections, and in each of them there was what we would call a pagan denomination, worshipping in its own way. We sat one after the other in the ten or twelve compartments, at the back, using our rosaries and praying the Jesus Prayer, trying to commune with God and seeing if we could commune with the people there. We both came out of it with the certainty that, whatever they called their god — whether it was the god-elephant or the god-monkey or another — they were praying to the only one God there is. And we had communed in prayer with them all, in spite of the fact that, on the surface, they had been praying pagan prayers to idols. That also made me think.

I will end your torment with one more thing. What I have said should make us much more understanding and attentive in our attitude to unbelievers. Not those who are empty of belief but those who are actively godless. I will give you one example, which some of you must have heard from me, because I always repeat myself. The example is this: I was coming down the steps of the Hotel Ukrainia a number of years ago. I was wearing my cassock, as I always do. A young man came up to me and said: ‘I am an officer in the Soviet Army. You are, I presume, a believer, dressed as you are.’ I said: Yes.’ Well, I am an unbeliever. Bezbozhnik (I am godless).’ I said: That’s your loss.’ He said: ‘And why should I turn to God? What have I got in common with Him?’ I said: ‘Do you believe in anything at all?’ Yes,’ he said, ‘I believe in man and in humanity.’ I said: ‘In that, you and God share the same faith. Start at that point.’ And, I think, more often than we do, we should be aware that there is no-one who lives without a faith, without believing in something. And more often than not, we may discover that God believes in the same. Only better, deeper, more perfectly, but that this person who fears that there is nothing between God and him has something in common with Him. At this point, we may remember the passage of the Gospel in which Christ says to Nicodemus: The Spirit blows where It chooses, and no-one knows where It comes from and where It goes.

We must be infinitely reverent when we look at the world that surrounds us, which we have distorted and which suffers like a martyr under the result of human sin, and remains pure, so pure that God could become man and put on flesh; a flesh He inherited not only from the personal saintliness of the Mother of God but from the fact that she was the heir of all the saintliness of thousands of years of human life in history. We must remember that all humans are possessed of this breath of life which is God’s breath and God’s life, however distorted it may be. We must remember, as I have said, that the Spirit blows where It chooses. Without this precondition of the way in which the world, mankind, relates to God, no-one — no one of us and no-one in the world — could discover God. It is the Spirit that reaches us and that kindles in us life eternal. So, when we speak of being sent into the world, we must remember that we are unworthy messengers of a message that may be received by the created world around us, and by the humankind around us, better than we are capable of proclaiming it.

How often it happens that words of truth are said that do not reach the congregation that is there, but reach someone who by accident, or by an act of divine Providence, has entered the church. We must remember this. And go into the world, not to proclaim a theoretical theology of the mind but to grow into the life of Christ, to open ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit, to believe that the Holy Spirit is active in the created world which is dear to God. Dear to God, because the Body of Christ belongs to this created world through the Incarnation, and to mankind — to everyone.