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By Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
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 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.
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 [“whole inhabited world”] could hardly be recognized as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to whom the Lord entrusted the continuation of His work.
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 Church, while we stay inert as to mission; that 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 missions, with which the message of the Resurrection is interwoven.
Only when it is realized that worldwide mission is an initial and prime implication in a fundamental article of the Creed, elemental for the Orthodox comprehension of what the Church is, and that what is termed “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.
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 in both 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.
It is not simply obedience, duty or altruism. It is an inner necessity.
“Necessity is laid upon me,” said St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16).
All other motives are aspects of this need, derivative motives. Mission is an inner necessity
(i) for the faithful and
(ii) for the Church.
If they refuse it, they do not merely omit a duty, they deny themselves. The Christian who is incorporated into Christ and who really lives in Him cannot think, feel, will, act or see the world in a different way from Christ.
Let us not deceive ourselves. Our spiritual life [both the Church and eveyr believer] will not acquire the fervor, the broadness, the genuineness that it should, if we continue to regard and live Christianity limited within the narrow boundaries of the community to which we belong, forgetting its universal destiny.