Eastern Orthodox churches are engaging in new efforts at missionary work often adopting models from Orthodox and non-Orthodox sources, according to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April).
Missionary work in Eastern Orthodox churches has largely been confined within national or other local boundaries in which an Orthodox presence already existed or was conducted in close collaboration with the state or emperor, writes Valentin Kozhuharov.
Even after the collapse of communism, when missionary work of Western churches developed in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Orthodox churches largely did not launch any similar efforts. Even today there are no mission departments in Orthodox bodies and missiology is not taught in Orthodox seminaries, with the exception of Russia and Romania.
A number of parishes and dioceses have undertaken church initiatives, often called “diakona.” The Orthodox are more likely to see such activity as serving as a “presence” in society rather than active evangelism or involvement in people’s lives. A major exception of an Orthodox movement actively evangelizing the population is the Lord’s Army in Romania.
To develop the idea of connecting mission activity with witnessing to Christ, mission-minded Orthodox priests and laity have looked to Orthodox and non-Orthodox models of such activity. They have also participated in conferences and consultation on the missions with those from other churches. The Greek church has been organizing widespread church planting in many countries of the world, and missionary tendencies are manifesting
themselves in Balkan countries.
“Christian movements resembling mission movements have been organized in Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova,” Kozhuharov adds. The establishment of the Orthodox Mission Network in 2010, initiated by the Anglican Church Mission Society, is another example of the Eastern European Orthodox missionary movement.
Still, there are obstacles between building a strong missionary movement and Orthodoxy. For instance, many missionaries may engage in charitable work and not at first tie it into church doctrine or rituals and teachings (such as baptisms) as Orthodox tradition might dictate.
(International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 490 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511)