Published in the journal Panta ta Ethni 93 (2005, pp 3-4)
The Resurrection of Christ marked the beginning of a new universal possibility: The whole of humanity is invited to be grafted to the Risen Body of Christ and head towards the coming, final renewal of the creation, that is to say, to what the Church calls the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is outlined as a communion with the Triune God and as the destruction of all the powers that mutilate human existence: of death, pain and evil in their every form.
Thus history is understood as the period within which the Body of Christ is constituted. This constitution does not appertain to a unilateral or automatic act of God, but the adventure of synergy of God and man.
Every believer has been invited to this work, based precisely on the fact that he is a member of the Body of Christ. The work of God is realized through an uninterrupted series of sendings: The Father sent the Son to the world and he sends his disciples (John 17:18). Thus, a Church is authentic when – moreover – she is sent into the world, as noted in the Creed (“I believe … in One , Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”). It is therefore wrong when Mission (Ieroapostoli) considered something different (something like superfluous luxury) from the actual Sending Out (Apostoli) of the Church.
While, however, the very nature of the Church’s mission (sending) and opening to the world, does not mean that each task and each opening is actually ecclesiastical. Characteristic and paramount openings nowadays are, for example, Imperialism (the violent invasion) and Marketing(mild approach).
For ecclesiastical mission (ier – apostolic in greeks) to be truly ecclesiastical, it is not enough for it to be exercised in the name of Christ, but also be exercised in the manner of Christ. Here are two examples: The imperialist type of missionary is one who is eager to draw others to the “truth” by trampling on the corpse of their freedom. On the other hand, the marketing brigade actually manages to reach the people and speak their language; he may even organize a campaign for earthquake victims, but he never will be a voluntary earthquake victim. The people surround him – they don’t become his flesh. And here in lies the difference. The church mission (ier-apostoli) must have two key characteristics: first self-emptying (humility, emptying from whatever dignity we have) ) and secondly the incarnation ( experiencing the suffering of the other ). Christ not only visited mortals; He tasted death himself. Accordingly, the experience and action of the Church people are not treated like a wrapper, but are assumed and healed as flesh.
There are two directions that are often considered different or even opposite: on the one hand to invite others to the faith of the Church; on the other to stand in solidarity with the victims and the oppressed regardless of their faith and ethnicity. For the ecclesiastical person, however, these are truths that are contained within each other. If mission (ier-apostoli) is the witness of a Triune God (that is to say, a God who is – if I can put it this way – an eternal companionship), then both theological doctrine and the practical conflict with the forces of social injustice, are rooted in trinitarian way of being. Christians, as believers of a God sent into the world “must understand that social misery is the continuing agony of Christ, Who suffers even in the face of its members” ( Father G. Florovsky).
The problem is not just an idle Church, but a Church that acts arrogantly, confident that it has supposedly secured the grace of God and does not shudder at the suspicion that – although it is the Church –it may be deprived of grace! No activity is justified automatically; not even the labors undertaken and the sacrifices made. The ultimate criterion is Love (cf. A Cor 13:1-3 ). Otherwise, we all face thesearing the Pharisees by Christ, when He censured them because they incurred great hardship and sacrifice to convert even one man to faith of God , but it made him twice as worthy of hell at they were themselves (Matt. 23:15)!
Athanasios N.Papathanasiou, The Church becomes when it opens up. Mission as hope and as nightmare, ed Εν Πλω, Athens 2008.
Athanasios N.Papathanasiou, “Mission and Eschatology” in the collective volume Church and Eschatology (Academy for Theological Studies Metropolis of Dimitriada) Kastaniotis, Athens 2003, pp.171-190.
Foto: from the Metropolis of Nigeria