An excerpt from an article by Bishop Ambrosios Zografou, (he was an Archimandrite then), titled “Educational requirements and theoretical observations for the development of the mission” published in the journal “Synaxis”, No. 78, April-June, 2001.

Before quoting the excerpt, titled “Local” Orthodoxy”, we point out that in a footnote at the beginning of the article, his Eminence explains:

“The criticism with which the ongoing missionary work is addressed in this study, by no means aims at rejecting the work in its entirety, let alone the defamation of people working in the Mission, before whom we stand with much respect and deep appreciation for their labors and self-sacrifice. Our goal is to identify errors, especially on the level of mentality and correct order of the priorities of the Mission “.

“Local” Orthodoxy

Those who entrust their ministry to the “inspiration of the moment”, without wishing to undergo the trouble of preparation to acquire the necessary prerequisites, repeatedly imitate old and familiar models of Orthodoxy, without, perhaps, even suspecting absolute need to adapt Orthodoxy to the different reality of each country. That’s why they uncritically convey what they learned about Orthodoxy in their own country to the country where they are doing mission without the necessary process of adjustment. This results in an “ethnic” Orthodoxy being passed on to the new faithful. But the aim of each missionary should be the creation of a “local” Orthodoxy, where the new Orthodox with their native clergy and their own possibilities, will be able to continue the course of their Church in the future.

The educated missionary, however, is well aware of the ground in which he will firmly build the “local” Orthodoxy. He has clarified, on a theoretical and practical level, those elements of Orthodoxy that are “timeless” and those that are changeable in different times and places.1 Thus he passed on to the indigenous people the essence of Orthodoxy (in their own raiment), but by using local material. According to Nikos Nisiotis, the missionary with a true ecclesiastical mindset (phronema), “struggles to incorporate the non-Christian into the One Church, while simultaneously respecting his local customs and his human state.”2 Only thus can Orthodoxy, free from even involuntary imperialistic3 and nationalistic tendencies, become the personal acquisition of the people. It will not be a foreign Orthodoxy, e.g. one of a Greek or Russian type that was effortlessly transplanted into other earth, but an African, Asian, Latin American Orthodoxy. It will be an ecumenical Orthodoxy, the same and unchanged one in the essence of the faith of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, however with the peculiarities of each local Church.

At this point we must clarify that everything we mean with the term “local” Orthodox doesn’t contradict to ecumenical Orthodoxy. The local Orthodox Churches with their particular characteristics belong to the One Church of Christ. The ecumenicity and universality of Orthodoxy has nothing to do with the so-called globalisation, and for that reason it doesn’t level the identity of any person or people. Each nation has its own style, its own language, psychology, expression, art, music etc. For this reason, he who undertakes to spread Orthodoxy to a specific nation is obliged, with a spirit of learning, to study in depth questions such as the following:

Which music should be used in worship that suits the musical sounds of the people: Why, forexample, should Africans and Asians use Byzantine or Slavonic music in their worship?

How should the local clergy dress? Do the kalymavki and black raso suit the climatological conditions of the people?4

Is the local traditional attire perhaps a better solution? And won’t luxurious and expensive vestments perhaps scandalise and offend their psychology?

Which canons should be applied in regard to the matter of fasting in order to preserve not only the “form”, but mainly the essence of this important institution? There are, for example, people in mission countries who eat fasting food on a daily basis, obviously not for reasons of fasting, but because those foods are part of their traditional cuisine. Non-fasting foods are only eaten a few times a year, mainly during traditional festivals. How will Orthodox missionaries speak to them and what will they tell them about fasting? Moreover, is it possible and permissible for a Mediterranean diet to be imposed as a rule on other people who live in difficult climatological conditions and have a variety of dietary customs? Must those who are baptised change their names? Are the new Christian (Greek, Russian, etc) names that they are given easy to use in their daily communication with their fellow nationals?5

Should the liturgical books of the Orthodox Church be translated into the colloquial language of the newly-illumined? Is it possible and should the longstanding hymnological inheritance that was slowly acquired over two thousand years be acquired by others within a few decades? Then, with the translation of foreign liturgical texts, how much scope do we allow for the emergence of new hymnographers and for the creation of a native Orthodox hymnographic tradition?

What rhythm should their churches have? Does the Byzantine or Russian rhythm suit Asian aesthetics, for example? And something equally important: does it correspond to the climatological conditions of each country?6

Should we insist on naming the newly-planted Churches with the national names of the local churches under whose jurisdiction the missionaries fall? How do the newly illumined people of Africa and Asia feel with the titles “Greek Orthodox Church”, “Russian Orthodox Church” , Antiochian Orthodox Church e.t.c.?

1. Regarding the confusion that exists between the “timeless” elements of Orthodox Tradition “these necessary things” (Acts 15:28) which have to do with the essence of Orthodoxy, and therefore must of necessity be passed on to others, and those of “time and place” that have relative value, see. Hieromonk Antonios Romaios, «Παίζοντας στην σχέση μου με τον Χριστό», in the volume 2000 χρόνια μετά. Τι να με λέγουσιν οι άνθρωποι είναι;, Ακρίτας, Αθήνα 1999, 318-319.

2. Nikos Nisiotis, «Σκέψεις για την Ιεραποστολή», Π.τ.Ε. 19 (1986) 3.

3. See Panagiotis Boumis, «Η ορθόδοξη Ιεραποστολή είναι ιμπεριαλιστικό ή απελευθερωτικό κίνημα;» Π.τ.Ε. 30(1989) 5-6. See Fr Konstantinos Stratigopoulos, «Ιεραποστολικός Ιμπεριαλισμός; ή Ορθόδοξη ιεραποστολή μεανορθόδοξες προϋποθέσεις;» Π.τ.Ε. 61 (1997) 10-12.

4. For an answer from the point of view of canon law see, Panagiotis Boumis, «Νομοκανονικές απαντήσεις», Π.τ.Ε. 71 (1999) 26-27.

5. The considerations have a long history and the fact that we are moved by the name a saint X or Y doesn’t justify matters. As we know the first Christians kept their Hebrew, Graeco-Roman, Egyptian names when entering the Church and sanctified them with the holiness of their lives. A characteristic example of a the preservation of Muslim name is the Turkish New Martyr Achmet, who was martyred in Constantinople in 1682 and is celebrated on 24 December. See Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Νέον Μαρτυρολόγιον, Αστήρ, Αθήναι 1961, 101. With regards to this matter, see, Panagiotis Boumis, «Είναι δυνατόν κατά το βάπτισμα ενός ιθαγενούς των ιεραποστολικών χωρών να δώσουμε όνομα το οποίο δεν απαντάται στο Αγιολόγιο της Ορθόδοξης Εκκλησιά;» Π.τ.Ε. 22 (1987) 40-41.

6. See Elias Voulgarakis, Ιεραποστολή, as above 138-139 and Panagiotis Boumis, «Είναι απαραίτητο οι ναοί των ιεραποστολικών χωρών να χτίζονται με το βυζαντινό ρυθμό και εν πάση περιπτώσει με την ορθόδοξη βυζαντινή παράδοση;» Π.τ.Ε. 24 (1987) 102-103.

7. I give an example of “adaptability” from the Orthodox Church of Korea. The kolyva for the memorials is made of rice, because rice is for Koreans, what wheat is to non-Asians. It is sufficient that the new faithful learn why the Memorials are celebrated and what the wheat or rice symbolises. See Elias Voulgarakis, op cit., the chapter, «Η προσαρμογή», 136-141.

Foto: from the Metropolis of Nigeria