St. Innocent on Orthodox Mission Work

4624867820_b6c41af6dc_nWhat, then, shall we do? How ought we to proceed when, in the words of the Gospel, the harvest is great in our country (i.e., many remain unconverted to Jesus Christ)? “Pray to the Lord of the harvest,” Jesus Himself teaches us [Mt. 9:38]. Thus, first and foremost, we must pray. If even in everyday matters people fall back upon prayer – asking God’s blessing at the beginning of some work and then throughout asking for renewal and strengthening of the work’s might (where prayer means nothing more than help), here, in the matter of conversion, prayer becomes the means itself – and a most effectual of means, for without prayer one cannot expect success even under the most perfect of circumstances.


Thus, it is not our missionaries alone who must pray; no, we their brethren must further their work by our own prayers. And what ought we to pray for? First, that the Lord will send workers into His harvest; second, that He will open the hearts of those who listen to the Word of the Gospel; third, that He will increase our Society’s numbers more and more; and finally that He will strengthen and confirm in us the desire we all now feel to further this work to the attaining of our goal.

(St. Innocent Apostle to America, Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, p. 141-142)

St. Nicholas of Japan, Equal to the Apostles

St. Nicholas, Equal to the Apostles and Archbishop of Japan, is  commemorated on February 16.  Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, the former bishop of Japan and now retired writes:


“I was in Japan when Nikolai Kasatkin was recognized as a saint and as a founder of the Japanese Orthodox Church given the title ‘equal to the apostles.’  I wished to know him as well as possible and so I set myself the task of translating his sermons, which were written in the Japanese of 100 years ago, as remote from modern Japanese perhaps as Slavonic is from Russian, so much has that language changed.  . . .  But gradually I filled a notebook with these sermons deciphered as if from a code and I was struck by the figure of this man . . .  First by his titanic will, a true soldier, or samurai, of Christ living in considerable isolation for 50 years and yet building a national church.  Beyond this I was struck by his pastoral spirit–how he reached out to the Japanese trying to find the words they could receive …

St. Nikolai… out of the pastoral need to explain to Japanese believers how Christianity could fit to the history and culture of their country… began to develop [a vision] from his first encounters with Buddhism, staying for some time in a Buddhist temple in Tokyo while the Holy Resurrection Cathedral was being built.  His first encounters with the native religion, Shinto, had been less positive, being threatened with death by a young Shintoist whom however, impressed by Nikolai’s courage and calm, became a convert and the first Orthodox Japanese priest.  And Nikolai saw good also in the Shinto heritage.   . . .


We would note that St. Nikolai does not engage what could be said to be a deeper metaphysics of Buddhism, for example the sense of ‘Nothingness’ and ‘Void’ as later Christian writers will do.  Nonetheless his orientation of in a sense full acceptance is in the spirit of the early Christian Fathers who regarded Greek and other cultures as being, like the Hebrew Old Testament, a good to be accepted as the ground which is completed in Christ.  The phrase Nikolai uses of ‘nursemaid’ is an early Christian expression for previous philosophy and religion. . . .  the vision of St. Nikolai Kasatkin, born out of the pastoral situation in Japan, both reaches back to the vision of the early church fathers such as St. Justin who said that all that is good is the heritage of Christians, whatever its source, and unites to and supports the vision of the world moving through the ages to God . . . 

So for one thing we see Fr. Men as in the tradition of St. Stephen of Perm, St. Innokenty Venniaminov and here clearly St. Nikolai Kasatkin, in openness to the cultures of those we approach in mission, and as to other religions the case is explicit in St. Nikolai… it is a building of bridges to other families of humanity and their faith.  This is in accord with the example of early Christians such as St. Justin who said that all that is good in human culture is our inheritance in Christ, and it is explicitly stated by St. Nikolai as we have seen…” 

(TAPESTRY, pp 86-92)



We Are Responsible for Our Neighbor’s Salvation

“Knowing as we do that we are responsible both for the salvation of our neighbors and their loss, let us so regulate our life as not only to be sufficient for ourselves but also to prove an occasion of instruction to others, so that we may draw down on us here and now the favor from God, and may in the future enjoy God’s loving kindness in generous measure, thanks to the grace and mercy of his only-begotten Son, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, power and honor, now and forever, for ages of ages. Amen.”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom Homilies on Genesis, Homily 7, p. 104)

We are responsible for our own salvation and should live the life that corresponds to what we believe.  We are also responsible for our neighbor’s salvation which means we must live a life that witnesses to Christ in such a way that the neighbor will want to embrace what we have found in Christ.

Sharing the Good News of the Resurrection

“The next step must be to determine what in the way people speak and think in our world can be appropriated in order to convey our message, without perverting the message. That can be tricky, because it is easy to cross the line into someone else’s thought while trying to communicate in a way they can understand. The evangelist must be well rooted in the Faith before attempting this, no matter how skilled he is.

Preaching and teaching in the twenty-first century means consuming a lot of contemporary media, from internet blogs to magazines to novels, as well as the Scriptures and the Fathers, in order to communicate one to the other. If, to give only one example, Stephen Hawking and other representatives of the new atheism are allowed to keep the field of contemporary thought to themselves without any response, we have only ourselves to blame if non-believers simply assume this is the only way an intelligent modern person can think. Don’t assume faithful, pious Orthodox will not be affected by contemporary thought: they will simply compartmentalize their minds, keeping piety and thought separate, becoming schizophrenic Christians who assume the division between sacred and secular is perfectly normal. The reason-endowed sheep will cease to reason as Christians, whatever they may do when they show up on Sunday morning.” (Michael Keiser, Spread the Word, p 132-133)


Orthodoxy and the Salvation of the World

“We have to say that if Jesus was not the redeemer of all human beings, then he redeemed no one. The gospel is for all human beings. It is sometimes said that Orthodox Christians do not proselytize, and if that means that we do not apply coercive pressure on people to join us – that is true – or it should be. But it is our duty as Christians to let others know what we believe to be a matter of life or death and leave them free to respond. Here we must take some personal responsibility: it is one thing to preach the gospel and another to live it. When our lives contradict what we preach, we should not be surprised that those to whom we preach are not impressed by what we say. We do not know, or claim to know, God’s will for those who do not accept the gospel, except to say that God is a merciful and loving God who draws all people toward eternal life, and we can leave it to God to do that, in God’s own way. But we are obliged to bear witness to the gospel by living it and by preaching it.” (John Garvey, Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions, p 19)

St. Basil’s Parable of the Bee

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

Great Commission

Our Lord Jesus sent us into the world to proclaim the Gospel.  He didn’t appoint us to hide behind walls and closed doors where we could keep our faith untainted by the world.  The disciples tried to hide behind closed doors but Jesus appeared in their midst and sent them out into that fearful, corrupt and dirty world which they were so trying to avoid.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” (John 20:21)

Fr. Nicholas Graff writes about our – the Church’s – relationship to the world which God so loves (John 3:16):

“To foster a relational heart, there must be established a context in which shared standards, goals and language exists.  Mutuality is the fundamental environment in which any relationship can grow and develop.  The Church must constantly seek mutual ground in which to make herself available to the culture in which she finds herself.  There are those who feel strongly that the chasm between Orthodox Christians and the modern world is so wide that any suggestion of such a meeting would somehow lessen the Triumphant Church.  Others appear to ‘speak for the mind of the Fathers,’ as the self-proclaimed protectors of Orthodoxy, feeling that it is our obligation to protect Orthodoxy from a defiling contact with the world.  …”

But such attitudes of trying to protect the Church from the defiling world, fly in the face of the incarnation in which God entered into the world and become human in order to heal and save the sinners, the lost, and the sick.  Such attitudes of “protecting the Church from the world” smack of the attitude of the servant who received the one talent and being so fearful of the master’s judgement (and of the world!) that he hid the gift given to him by the master in order to protect and preserve it.

But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. … But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? … And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'”    (Matthew 25:18, 26-30)

Christ appoints us to be the salt of the earth.

You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…”  (Matthew 5:13, 14)

Christ didn’t appoint us to keep the salt in pristine condition by avoiding the world, sealed off in an antiseptic container.  We are not the world, but are to go into the world to have a transforming and transfiguring effect on the world.  Christ has given us manifold tools to do this including all of the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.

Fr. Graff continues:

“May I suggest that we Orthodox must begin to avoid the arrogant folly of any attempt to speak the collective mind of the Fathers as if we had some unilateral privilege to hear a single voice which no one else can hear (there is a clinical diagnoses for this).  Or, even worse, that Orthodox Christians theology is something meant to set us above and beyond – out of reach by the other.  Instead, may we once again appreciate the eclectic and vastly diverse minds and teachings of the Fathers, most beautifully expressed in the Cappadocians.  I refer you to one of the most magnificent expressions of this patristic ideal, Saint Basil’s parable of the bumblebee.

Let our use of books and learning in every case mirror the ‘icon’ of the honeybee.  For such does not visit every flower in the same manner, neither does the honeybee attempt to fly off bearing the burden of the entire flower.  Rather, once it derives that which is needful from the flower, it leaves the rest behind and takes flight.

So, too, if we are wise, once we derive from learning what resonates with truth, we too shall leave the rest behind and take flight.  For is it not so that when we take a rose we avoid the thorns?  So, too, let us approach diverse writings, harvesting the fruits that they offer for our objectives, while protecting ourselves from the damaging elements that may lie within them.  In all our studies, let us take with us and take within us only what builds us up, and what leads us in the fulfillment of our mission…”   (in RAISING LAZARUS edited by Stephen Muse, p 232-233)

We sometimes try to force upon the Fathers a monolithic thinking because we feel greater certainty when we imagine they were always of one mind on all issues.  But when we impose on them a conformity and uniformity, we miss the degree to which the Fathers were creatively engaging their cultures and attempting to bring the Gospel to all peoples.  They were the salt of the earth and a light to the world – we are to be the same to the peoples of the 21st Century.  We are to be in the world which is God’s field in which He is implanting us to bear fruit for Him.

The Christian Responsibility for the World

The Church is planted by God on earth to be the salt of the earth, not to be sealed perfectly safe and pure in a salt shaker.  We are to be a light to the world, not a light to ourselves, hidden under a bushel basket.

“By enclosing itself in its particularities and in its own inner life, the Church betrays its basic mission, which is to be ‘as a light and a testimony to the infinite love of God for the world.’ ‘ We should never forget that in front of us there is an immense world, a world that does not know the secret that is in it, a world whose heart sighs without knowing for what, but which, fundamentally, seeks God. A world that would want to know Him, love Him, live in Him.

We Christians have an immense responsibility toward that world. It seems to me, that if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we can no longer remain in ourselves cozily, holed up in our beautiful, great, and luminous Eucharistic communities. For, where it can, the Church must bring to the poor, the impoverished, the down-and-out, what it has received, namely the word and the love of God.’” (Boris Bobrinskoy, The Compassion of the Father, pp 42-43)

The Church exists for the world – to bring it to salvation, to transform and transfigure lives.  We exist for the sake of sinners – not to accuse them, but to invite them into God’s Kingdom.

Fighting for Unity

The Gospel Lesson of John 4:5-42 presents to us Jesus leaving his homeland and entering a Samaritan village where He engages in a theological conversation with people whom the Jews considered religious enemies.

The Gospel lesson of the Samaritan woman touches upon a topic that has plagued Christians from the very onset of the faith.  How can one bring together diverse peoples who are not just strangers but rather are even enemies one of another  and unite them into one church?  The New Testament shows us how difficult it was for the first Christians – all of them Jews – to reach out to Gentiles and to include them in the table fellowship.  The Jews had many prohibitions about eating with Gentiles.   Their religion as practiced called them to be different and separate from all the other peoples around them.   It was virtually the basis for their entire spiritual discipline to keep themselves separated from the non-Jews in order to keep themselves pure.

It was a difficult transition for Jews to believe it was good and right to welcome Gentiles as family at the same table.    We see in the epistles of St. Paul him wrestling with these issues.   And in Acts 15, we see the Apostles struggling with whether converts to Christianity had first to become Jews following Jewish dietary laws, circumcision and other Jewish practices in order to become Christians.   The Apostles decided that becoming a Jew was not the prerequisite for believing in the Messiah.  So Christianity morphed from a Jewish religion into being a form of Judaism that welcomed Gentiles into the faith.  The dividing walls between races were brought down.

The pattern has continued to repeat itself through time, so that as Greek speaking Gentiles began to dominate the Church, then the Christians again had to wrestle with whether it was required to become a Greek in order to be a Christian.  Converts!

The Samaritan Woman, Photini is her name in tradition,  places before Jesus exactly what separates Samaritans and Jews:

“Sir, I   perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

Let’s talk about what separates us.  Who is right?  For we have nothing to talk about until we know who is right on this essential issue which has separated our peoples for centuries.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

Jesus takes a Judeocentric viewpoint in that debate but then changes the terms of the debate.  It is not a matter of worshipping God in only one place or the other.  It is not a matter of geophysical location.  The issue is worshipping “in spirit and truth.”   That which has divided Jews and Samaritans theologically and made it impossible for these people to get along or worship together is irrelevant.  True, spiritual worship is not a matter of place but of spirit and truth.  The Messiah, Lord of the Sabbath, declares other religious ritual to be for humans and to serve our religious needs.  We are not meant to serve the Law, but the Law was meant to serve our religious growth.

When the disciples return to Jesus and see Him speaking with the Samaritan woman, they are obviously uncomfortable with what Jesus is doing.  Social barriers are being crossed, religious differences are being ignored.  Suddenly a multitude of Samaritans are coming to see Jesus.  The disciples were probably pretty quickly overwhelmed by the  events and their understanding of Christ.

From the time of the Apostles, Christianity has struggled with incorporating new peoples into the church.  The same goes on in our parishes today.  New people enter the church with diverse perspectives, and parishes struggle with how to maintain the unity of the faith.  How do we bring together people who are rivals or even enemies?  In America, civil culture wars enter into the church threatening to divide people whose common unity is Christ.  Liberals and conservatives find it hard to agree on anything, but in the Church, Jesus Christ is Lord and Christians have to figure out how to love one another.  How do we welcome strangers into our communities?   How do we bring the Gospel to people who do not believe God has any interest in them or worse that God could love them?  How do we overcome in Christ that which divides us so that we can serve God?

Christ in reaching out to the Samaritan woman and her townspeople, modeled a way.  We have to know what is universal in the Christian message.  We have to  know what it means to love others as Christ loves us.  And we have to believe the oneness Jesus envision in John 17 for the Church is not an impossible ideal but rather fundamental to the Body of Christ.  So essential that we each have to deny ourselves and take up the cross in order to follow Christ.

Bringing Others to Salvation

“After having passed thirty-one years as a hermit in the desert with his companion John, Symeon said to him: ‘What more benefit do we derive, brother, from passing time here in this desert? But if you hear me, get up, let us depart; let us save others. For as we are, we do not benefit anyone except ourselves, and have not brought anyone else to salvation.’ And he began to quote to him from the Holy Scriptures such things as ‘Let no one seek his own good, but rather the good of his neighbors’ (1 Cor. 10:24), and again ‘All things to all men, that I might save all’ (1 Cor. 9:22).

And his biographer notes: The all-wise Symeon’s whole goal was this: first, to save souls…For it was not thought just that the one thus honored by God and placed high should disdain the salvation of his fellow men, but remembering the one who said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27), who did not disdain to put on the form of a slave, although unchanged, for the salvation of a slave (cf. Phil. 2:6 ff), Symeon imitated his master and truly used his own soul and body to save others.’” (Jean-Claude Larchet, Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing, p 151)

Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs

“The most famous of all Byzantine missionaries are the brothers Saint Cyril (826-869) and Saint Methodius (c. 815-885). Both had served the imperial government prior to undertaking their missionary work to the Slavs of Moravia in 862. Their suitability for the mission lay in part with their knowledge of the Slavic language, gained while growing up in Thessalonika, an area with a large Slavic population. Beyond that, they were clearly gifted men. Both had been able administrators and Cyril had served as a professor of philosophy in the Imperial Academy. Both had served on other imperial missions in which part of the task was a defense of the Christian faith. It was only natural that these brothers were chosen to teach and establish the faith in Moravia. Before they had even departed on their mission, Cyril constructed a Slavonic script and commenced the translation of the Bible into Slavonic. Their work in Moravia was thus grounded in the language of the people, a key point in Orthodox mission policy.” (James J. Stamoolis, Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today, p 20)