The Thoughts of Metropolitan Philip on Missiology


—edited by Father Joseph Allen, Th.D.

Our Lord Himself was indeed the missionary par excellence. In Matthew 4:23 we read: “And He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.” And in the “fullness of time,” the “Word became flesh” and entered time on a mission of salvation. He was sent by the Father to make us “partakers of the Divine Nature.”

In John 20:21, Christ said: “As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” The Church, which is the extension of Christ in time and space, was sent by Christ to missionize and evangelize. Evangelism means “to preach the Gospel.” “Woe unto me if I do not preach,” said St. Paul. After the birth of the Church on Pentecost Day, the Apostles and early Christians went about the oikomene, the known world at that time, preaching the Gospel and missionizing, despite their persecution and the monumental difficulties which they had to face. Although the Church was born in Jerusalem, Antioch became the greatest center for missionary activities. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.

There are many stories about the missionary travels of the Apostles. It is clear, however, that Christianity did not spread throughout the entire Roman Empire until after the Edict of Milan. The Pax Romana presented what Michael Green describes as both opportunities and difficulties for evangelism. Some of the opportunities were (a) peace and unity; (b) philosophical hunger; and (c) religious dissatisfaction.

Some of the difficulties were:

  • the cultural offensiveness of the Gospel, i.e., the Jewish communities and their Gentile adherents were openly affronted by the central language of the Gospel: God’s Incarnation and death;
  • political considerations, i.e., the Christian unwillingness to participate in the state cult of the emperor was seen as political treason, and the closed nature of the Christian gatherings likewise led to charges of cannibalism.

After A.D. 313 circumstances changed radically, and organized missionary enterprises became normal. Metropolitan Anastasios divides the history of Byzantine missions into two major periods:

  1. The fourth to the sixth centuries witness the Christianization of the empire and its immediate peripheries.
  2. The ninth to the eleventh centuries, Byzantium’s classic outreach into the Balkans and Russia.

In the same way, we can missionize and evangelize America, but only if we unite. We pray that the mother churches will soon realize that we are no longer little children and that the Preparatory Commission for the Great Synod will stop discussing the diaspora in absentia.

The truth is that America is searching for the New Testament Church. America is searching for the Church which was born on Pentecost Day. America is ready and waiting for us, but are we ready for America?

Let none of us forget these words from the Perfect Missionary, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Do not say, “There are yet four months, then comes the harvest.” I tell you, lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. (John 4:35, 36)

Unity in America: An Antiochian Perspective

To be more particular, I believe that the most difficult challenge which the Church will be facing in this new millennium is Orthodox unity in this hemisphere. I would like to state for history’s sake that Antioch was never a stumbling block to Orthodox unity. Two of our illustrious and venerable patriarchs of this century have made crystal-clear statements on behalf of Orthodox unity in North America.

In 1977, the late Patriarch Elias IV, in an interview published in A Man of Love, was asked: “What do you foresee for the future of Orthodoxy in the diaspora, particularly in North America?”

His Beatitude answered:

In preparation for the upcoming Great Council, the Antiochian Holy Synod has studied in depth the situation of Orthodoxy in the diaspora. Our position is clear. There must be established independent churches in Eastern Europe, North America, etc. The possibility for such an autocephalous church is greatest in North America. However, the decision to create such a church must be done with the blessings of all mother churches which have dioceses on this continent.

We are all well aware of the canons of the Church which, among other things, say that there cannot be many bishops in one city. The Antiochian See is ready to do her part to rectify this unfortunate situation of Orthodoxy in North America. We affirm that in North America there should be an autocephalous church with its own patriarch and Holy Synod. However, all mother churches must agree on this point, and more importantly, the faithful in North America must do their part to make independence and unity a reality and not just a written Tomos.

In 1985, the position of Antioch was again stated on the pages of The Word magazine by our beloved Patriarch Ignatius. In anticipation of the Great and Holy Synod, His Beatitude said:

  1. The Orthodox diaspora has reached such a maturity that it is necessary to consider it from a new viewpoint in such a way that leads to resolution.
  2. We must see it as the vocation of the Orthodox diaspora, not only to preserve the present, but to become a dynamic and creative element in its own environment.
  3. It is desirable that the Council should recognize all the Orthodox churches in the diaspora, provided there is no serious cause not to do so.
  4. It is desirable that local synods should be created, comprising the bishops of the Orthodox churches of the area in question and their members. This should be realized especially in Western Europe, America, Australia and also elsewhere, as far as necessary.
  5. Autocephaly should be granted to all the churches of the countries mentioned above. The local synods of the autocephalous mother churches should decide on it and determine its boundaries.
  6. The traditional apostolic and catholic regulations of the Orthodox Church should be followed so that in each city there would be one metropolitan.
  7. The relationship between the mother churches and the diaspora churches are to be kept brotherly and cordial, as is natural to the Orthodox spirit and to the extent that all is for one and one is for all.
  8. Within the churches, there should be preserved the cultural, linguistic and other national elements, insofar as they do not disrupt the unity of the local church or the wholeness of the local diocese.

I believe that these two explicit statements of our venerable patriarchs speak for themselves. My predecessor, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, was a staunch advocate of Orthodox unity in North America, and made many statements in this regard. In 1976, speaking in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, I personally said:

We Orthodox have a tendency to glorify the past and feel proud of ourselves. There is no doubt that the church of the Ecumenical Councils was glorious and courageous in responding to the challenges of her time. Have we responded to the challenges of our time? As individual jurisdictions, I believe we have succeeded in building beautiful churches, in educating young priests and organizing good choirs and church schools, etc., but collectively, we have done absolutely nothing.

An example of the problem is seen in the tragedy of Kosovo, which clearly revealed our nakedness and ineffectiveness as Orthodox in this country. We have no clout in Washington, D.C. whatsoever, because we are still speaking to the State Department and the White House as Greeks, Russians, Antiochians, Serbians, etc., instead of speaking to Washington with one voice. Even Madeline Albright refused to talk to us during the dark days of that unfortunate war. We cannot be agents of change in full obedience to the truth unless we transcend ethnicism and establish a new Orthodox reality in North America. I am not asking anyone to deny his or her own history and culture. What I am asking is to blend the old and new cultures into some kind of integrated reality.

This focus on our missionary task was most noted when, in 1994, we in North America experienced a moment of transfiguration when thirty Orthodox bishops gathered at the Antiochian Village to know each other, pray together, and discuss common Orthodox problems. At that time, I delivered a paper on “Missions and Evangelism,” and Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh delivered a paper on “Orthodox Unity in North America.” That was all. The news of this brotherly, long-anticipated and unprecedented meeting caused an earthquake in certain Orthodox quarters, which sent shock waves throughout North America, and beyond our shores. How dare we meet and say, “We are here in America to stay and we are not in diaspora!”

I do realize that we are dealing here with a very complex problem. This multiplicity of jurisdictions is deeply connected to the self-evident reality of our various ethnic cultures. Such cultures cannot be eliminated by a statement from SCOBA or by an edict from some patriarch somewhere. Only time can take care of this problem. Despite this reality, however, we cannot consider this present Orthodox situation in America as final because, by so doing, we will betray Orthodoxy and her basic principles.

Finally, I firmly believe that Orthodox unity in North America is inevitable and such unity will strengthen the mother churches, spiritually and otherwise. No one can stop the wheels of history and no one can reverse the course of a mighty river.

Such a “mighty river” is the true metaphor of Orthodox missiology!