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Orthodox mission: evangelism without proselytism

14 October 2008

One of the spin-offs of the recent interfaith synchroblog on interreligious dialogue was the difference between evangelism and proselytism.

Perhaps some Orthodox bishops were eavesdropping on the conversation, for the Primates of the Orthodox Churches have just said:

Inspired by the teaching and the work of the Apostle Paul, we underscore first and foremost, the importance of the duty of Mission for the life of the Church, and in particular for the ministry of us all, in accordance with the final commandment of the Lord: “you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The evangelization of God’s people, but also of those who do not believe in Christ, constitutes the supreme duty of the Church. This duty must not be fulfilled in an aggressive manner, or by various forms of proselytism, but with love, humility and respect for the identity of each individual and the cultural particularity of each people. All Orthodox Churches must contribute to this missionary effort, respecting the canonical order. (Hat-tip to Eastern Orthodox Librarian)

And of course the problem with proselytism is that it lacks “love, humility and respect for each individual and the cultural particularity of each people”.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 October 2008 10:09 am

    Respecting the “cultural particularity of each people” also applies within the Church and not only in the relatins between the Church and the World.

    What I am referring to of course is the inertia in established Orthodox Churches pulling against the expression of Orthodoxy in the vernacular and through indigenous cultural acceptance and transformation.

    We shall be better at defending cultural particularity in mission when we become more faithful in promoting that in our our communities.

  2. 14 October 2008 3:01 pm

    Steve, the difference has also emerged as in important factor in dialogue with Hindus over the latest anti-Christian violence in India too.

  3. 15 October 2008 5:17 am

    Fr Gregory,

    Yes indeed, there is a lot of ethnocentrism especially where the majority of Orthodox in a place are made up of members of the diaspora from traditionally Orthodox countries. I haeard one woman say once, in all seriousness, that “The Orthodox Church is not missionary because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture”, and I’ve heard people express hostility to anything that might dilute the influence of their ethnic group, for that very reason.

    But the significance of the Message from the heads of the autocephalous churches is that one can point such people to it and say that their attitude is not Orthodox. People like that have been able to get away with it in the past because the bishops have not said anything against it officially and together.

    Matt,

    Yes, it indeed applies in India, and in a lot of other places. A few years ago there were riots in Nigeria, in which dozens of Christians were killed, because of the aggressive proselytising attitude of a German evangelist (he didn’t suffer, he just cancelled his visit and stayed away, it was others who suffered for his thoughtlessness).

  4. 16 October 2008 3:26 am

    Beautiful statement!

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