Posts Tagged ‘evangelization’

…is a talk being given in Detroit by an Orthodox deacon, a convert from Catholicism, Saturday evening.  It’s sponsored by that area’s chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black, and Detroit’s Council of Orthodox Christian Churches.  Details here (link will eventually break).

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Just last week, the “fellowship” in Hong Kong associated with Archpriest Dionisy Pozdnyaev, which I believe includes both ex-patriates and Chinese, was formally reactivated as a parish by the Moscow Patriarchal Synod, 36 years after its closure following the repose of its last pastor.  Many years to the new parish and its new rector, Fr. Dionisy!

This year has also seen the first public ministry since the Cultural Revolution, by China’s last two surviving native clergy, to whom God also grant Many Years!  This article,* I believe copied from HK’s South China Morning Post (scroll down for English), depicts the Priest Michael Wang up top hearing a confession, and the Deacon Evangel Lu beneath taking part in the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy (analogous to the Offertory Procession in Latin-Rite Masses).  The article notes that Fr. Michael and Fr. Deacon Evangel have applied to the Communist government for permission to resume regular ministry to Chinese on Chinese soil (as opposed to in Russian diplomatic facilities as they did at Pentecost).  Also, that even the PRC is seeing conversions to Orthodoxy from Protestantism.

And I read earlier this year somewhere that the new Greek Metropolitan of Hong Kong, NECTARIOS, wants to extend ministry to Greek mariners in (other) Chinese port cities.  I note that Greece has a consulate in Shanghai; IIUC PRC law would allow them to hold services there regularly for non-Chinese, as in the Russian diplomatic facilities.

(It’s true that Moscow and Constantinople dispute canonical jurisdiction in Communist China, between the MP’s Church of China [50 years Autonomous], straitened since the Cultural Revolution but not dead and now rebounding, and the EP’s Metropolis of HK and Southeast Asia, set up in 1996 to care for Diaspora Orthodox and evangelize from Afghanistan eastward.  [This year the EP Metropolis’ western and southern countries were set off as the Metropolis of Singapore.])

(*–On Fr. Dionisiy’s blog.)

There’s a new mission (OCA) in Dagsboro, Sussex County, Delaware, originally located in Fenwick Island, DE.  Another recent mission (Antiochian) is in nearby Lewes,* Delaware [known somewhat for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry across the mouth of Delaware Bay, a neat boat ride in nice weather, by foot or by motor vehicle].

These drew my attention because my great-grandmother, Lula Fisher (sometimes recorded as Lulu Fisher), came from Dagsboro.  Although I grew up urban Irish Catholic and currently look something like a leprechaun(!), through her I’m also related to the Nanticoke Indians based in that neighborhood.  I’ve visited their September powwow a couple times in recent years as I’ve learned about them.  Many of them belong to a historic Methodist congregation (text at link quotes from its State historical marker).  This newspaper article provides a quick sketch and information about the Nanticokes.

Speaking of Indigenous peoples, one reason for the huge spread of Orthodoxy among Sub-Saharan Africans in the last 70 years or so — over 100,000 today — is said to be Orthodoxy’s lack of association with Western European colonialism there.  I know that some Native Americans rebel against (Western) Christianity for similar reasons.  OTOH, Orthodoxy has helped Indigenous Siberians and Alaskans preserve their cultures and identities — everything not deemed in direct conflict with Orthodox theology, generously construed — translated Orthodox texts into their languages, and defended their rights, especially in Alaska against Russian commercial and general U.S. violation.  In the Middle Ages, when the Western Church was imposing the by-then-dead Latin language on all liturgical and religious usage, the Eastern Church was translating the Faith into Georgian, Armenian, and Slavonic.  Also of interest in this respect would be the account of St. Innocent of Alaska and the Aleut Orthodox “Shaman” Ivan Smirennikov, in the last three paragraphs here.  (My source was a book of research papers in a college library near me that I no longer recall.)

(*–Pronounced like Lewis.)

What follows is extracted from this blog post I know nothing else about, which is why I’m giving you what I got out of it here instead of sending you there to try and pinpoint it.  The book-author discussed, Rodney Stark, a sociologist (and BTW, according to Wikipedia he’s not “a Mormon fanatic” as one of the Commenters over there alleges, FWIW, although we could all learn something from Mormons’ sense of mutual aid, as well as, of course, evangelization), AFAIK became big in seminaries in the ’90s not only with the book mentioned but also his co-authored one with Roger Finke about how the U.S. is so “religious” because it’s a religious free market rather than one with a legally-established faith like most European countries (which fellow socio Andrew Greeley’s research also supports, so it must be right! 😉 ).

This extract first caught my attention because of something I read in a letter to the Orthodox Again magazine a few years ago citing pre-Hitler numbers estimating that in the first century of Christianity possibly some 90 percent or more of the world’s Jews placed their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, ie, became Christians.  (And as we know from Scripture and Church history, many of them remained identifiably “Jewish” Christians in one way or another for some time afterward.)  I didn’t know how to take that source, and half-feared it might be some Anti-Semitic (ie, anti-Jewish) screed rather than serious scholarship.  But Stark seems to come to a similar conclusion (remembering he’s not a historian but a sociologist – counting people is what they major in!).  So again, FWIW.

I don’t necessarily buy everything in this excerpt, but Big Picture, it suggests alot to me about evangelization in general, as well as other Christian and Orthodox ideals.

Here’s the blog text, pasted as is (except Stark is now teaching at Baylor University instead of U-Dub), text coloring added:

Christianity, emerged from Judaism, introducing a set of revealed truths and practices  to its adherents. Many of these beliefs and practices differed significantly from what the Greek religions and Judaism had held. In The Rise of Christianity (Princeton University Press, 1996) by Rodney Stark, professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington, gives us a new perspective on the formative years of Christianity. I mention Stark”s study because he is a scholar without an ax to grind against Christians and his research approaches the subject without any preconceptions. In one of the more startling conclusions from his research, Stark says that contrary to the current wisdom, the mission to the Jews of the early Christians was largely successful and continued right up to the year 300. According to Stark, the some four or five million Jews of the Diaspora had “adjusted to life in the Diaspora in ways that made them very marginal vis-a-vis the Jews of Jerusalem, hence the need as early as the third century for the Torah to be translated into Greek for the Jews outside of Israel (the Septuagint).”  For Jews who lived in the Hellenic world, “Christianity offered to retain much of the religious content of both cultures and to resolve the contradictions between them.” 

It should be noted that most of the new converts to Christianity came from the Hellenized peoples of the East especially the Greeks rather than from Judaism, because Christianity had much more in common with the freedom imposed by the Greek mind than the legality of Judaism.  Christianity preached the possibility of a worthwhile and even happy existence for slaves, the weak, the poor, the ugly, even barbarians, people Aristotle  and Plato would not have regarded as capable of a happy life and people the Jews would not have regarded as those like themselves chosen by God.  During the major upheavals of the fourth century Christianity emerged as the dominant movement. The new faith engaged in both dialogue and conflict with Greco-Roman culture. Christians found themselves in conflict with pagan society and even with themselves.  Change, heresy, reformations, compromises, violence, persecutions were characteristics of the fourth century but they did not stop there.

Now was the spread of Christianity a “miracle” or just coincidental based on a combinations of existing facts?  Believers like me will lean toward the miraculous.  {snip}  …I will let Stark offer the conclusions formed by his research. I stress here that historians, even those who can offer us the benefit of their research studies, can’t be sure that they have all the right answers.  They are making an educated guess. Stark points out that in 165, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, an epidemic struck that carried away during the course of fifteen years up to a third of the total population of the empire, including Marcus Aurelius himself. In 251 a similar epidemic, most likely of measles, struck again with similar results. Historians generally acknowledge that these epidemics produced a depopulation which led in part to the decline of the Roman empire, more than the normally attributed cause of “moral degeneration.” Stark points out that these epidemics favored the rapid rise of Christianity for three reasons. One, that Christianity offered a more satisfactory account of “why bad things happen to good people,” based on the centrality of the suffering and Cross of Christ than any form of classical paganism. Second, “Christian values of love and charity, from the beginning, had been translated into norms of social service and community solidarity. When disasters struck, the Christians were better able to cope, and this resulted in substantially higher rates of survival. This meant that in the aftermath of each epidemic, Christians made up a larger and larger percentage of the population even without new converts.” Last, these epidemics left large numbers of people without the interpersonal bonds that would have prevented them from becoming Christians, thus encouraging conversion. He says, “in a sense paganism did indeed ‘topple over dead’ or at least acquired its fatal illness during these epidemics, falling victim to its relative inability to confront these crises socially or spiritually, an inability suddenly revealed by the example of its upstart challenger.”  His words not mine.

Stark introduces a number of other elements in Christianity’s rise to prominence. It was an urban phenomenon based in the teeming cities of the Roman Empire especially in the East. Stark underlines the fact that Christianity brought a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable: “To cities filled with homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”  Contrary to popular belief,  despite Christianity’s drawing power  for the poor and slaves, it also attracted the upper and middle classes in appreciable numbers.

Christianity was unusually appealing to pagan women” because “within the Christian subculture women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large.” He shows that Christianity recognized women as equal to men, children of God with the same supernatural destiny. Moreover the Christian moral code of prohibition against polygamy, divorce, birth control, abortion, and infanticide contributed to the well-being of women, changing their status from powerless serfs in bondage to men, to women with dignity and rights in both the Church and the State. Go to any Church service on any given day and you will understand the importance of women within the body of the Church.

Stark establishes four conclusions based on his study. One, Christianity rapidly produced a substantial surplus of females as a result of Christian prohibitions against infanticide (normally directed against girl infants), abortion (often producing the death of the mother), and the high rate of conversion to Christianity among women. Second, as already pointed out, Christian women enjoyed substantially higher status within Christian society than women did in the world at large, which made Christianity highly attractive to them. Third, the surplus of Christian women and of pagan men produced many marriages that led to the secondary conversions of pagan men to the Faith, a phenomenon that continues today.  Finally, the abundance of Christian women resulted in higher birthrates; superior fertility contributed to the rise of Christianity. 

Why did Christianity grow then? According to Stark, “It grew because Christians constituted an intense community, able to generate the ‘invincible obstinacy’ that so offended the younger Pliny but yielded immense religious rewards. And the primary means of its growth was through the united and motivated efforts of the growing numbers of Christian believers, who invited their friends, relatives, and neighbors to share the ‘good news’.” At the heart of this willingness to share one’s faith was the revealed word of God, as taught by the Church.  Acceptance of Christian doctrine was based on an article of faith. “Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organization.” The chief doctrine, of course, which was radically new to a pagan world groaning under a host of miseries was that “because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another.”

Christos anesti!  Alithos anesti!

As in all religious groups, in canonical Orthodoxy you will find a spectrum of approaches to other religious groups, from fervent opposition and isolationism to full embrace, and from the laity to Patriarchs, with a variety of justifications offered for each position.

Ironically, Orthodox in ecumenism have a reputation for arrogance and aloofness – I know not least because I thought them so as a Protestant reading about them in the church press in the ’90s!  While I believe it’s possible to present Orthodoxy more positively than our reputation, sometimes it seems like President Harry Truman: “‘Give ’em hell, Harry,’ his supporters would say.  And Truman would say, ‘I never give ’em hell.  I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.”’  “The truth” is that Orthodoxy’s historical approach to other Christian bodies has been similar to Rome’s as well as that of some Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches: to consider itself THE Church of Christ* and all others in error and/or schism ultimately from it, to which they need to return to have the best chance of Salvation.  (They got it from us! 😉 )  It is also true that many Orthodox in ecumenism are taking other approaches, otherwise for certain we would have been long since disinvited!

(*–Ideally Orthodox say so adding ‘humbly, by God’s Graciousness and no doing of our own, we being so sinful, imperfect, political, etc etc, that Orthodoxy’s preservation is nothing less than a miraculous work of God and a sign from Him that there’s something of worth here!’)

has a website!  They’re an Orthodox, largely-African-American fellowship with a mission:

“The Brotherhood of St Moses the Black is a pan-Orthodox nonprofit organization. Its mission is to minister to Americans the gift of Orthodoxy. In an effort to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God (I Peter 4:10), the organization presents an annual conference that targets those who have little exposure to Orthodoxy as well as the African roots of Orthodoxy. Its vision is to bring Americans closer to Jesus Christ.”

PS: Calling dark-skinned Africans “Blacks” goes back to ancient Greek times apparently.  St. Moses is also known as “St. Moses the Ethiopian.”

PPS: Although they use the common term Brotherhood, they also have women members.

PPPS: It’s not a religious order; it seems to have clergy, monastics, and laity involved, and to be led by a priest and a laywoman.

The interview, conducted by email by a magazine, is mostly reproduced by another blogger here, though he re-posted it in installments, so start with Number One at the bottom of the page and work your way back up.

I might offer for clarification, first, that there have been several more-or-less intensive missionary periods in Orthodox Church history:

  1. the first thousand years or so, spreading north and west across Europe and North Africa, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland (a tiny bit), south through Ethiopia, east into India, and north and east through the Balkans, the Caucasus, Moravia, and European Russia (though we lost a chunk of all this to the Assyrian Church of the East historically known as “Nestorian,” the Oriental Churches called Non-Chalcedonian, Islam, the fall of the Patriarchate of Rome from Orthodoxy, the Crusades and Uniatism and “mission” by the Latin and Protestant Churches among our people, the Westernization of the Russian intelligentsia from the 1700s [which paved the way for Soviet Communism and 60 million Martyrs], and the Greek-Turkish-Cypriot and Israeli-Arab conflicts of the 20th century);
  2. from around the 1700s through the 1910s, making headway among the Native peoples of Siberia and Alaska, as well as in China, Japan, and Korea, and well over 100,000 Heterodox Christians in the U.S. and Canada;
  3. since the 1940s with new missions in East, West, and South Africa, since the 1970s-80s throughout the Western world, and since the 1990s from India around to Hong Kong and Taiwan;
  4. 3a. and of course special mention goes to what’s been called the biggest religious revival in history, in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe, especially Orthodoxy, since the 1980s-90s, even in the face of well-financed and internationally-backed “missions” from the Latins and Protestants beyond their historical positions in those countries, from other Western sects with questioned connections to Christianity, and in the face of Western materialism, secularism, skepticism, agnosticism, atheism, etc.  (Remember that Orthodox there experienced Communism as yet another bad idea from the West!)

I would also add that Orthodoxy’s Number One concern from the devil is temptation to sin and away from God.

I haven’t read the Markides books Khouria Frederica mentions, but I’ve heard some concerns even about the first one, so maybe don’t even take that one as totally “gospel,” so to speak: helpful perhaps, but limited.

I am struck by her description of Divine Energy:

‘An example is the {New Testament} Greek word “energeia,” energy, which appears all through St Paul, eg, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is energizing in you, both to will and to energize for his good pleasure.” But there was no Latin equivalent, so when Jerome made his translation he used “opus,” work. A sculptor creates a statue and that is his opus, but it is separate from him; he’s not “energizing” within it. So you see that this creates a very different sense of whether and how God is present….’

Wow.

Speaking of mission, here’s her interesting approach!: “I guess if I could just persuade people that they don’t know what Orthodoxy is, I’d consider it a good start.”  LOL!  [Have I LOL’ed in this blog before?!]  Seriously, it does point to what I believe is one part of converting, at least for some of us Westerners – UNlearning much of what we’ve been told Christianity, God, Christ, the Scriptures, religion, faith, salvation, etc., are all about.  (With six years of graduate religious studies under my belt, I just might have to go to seminary, even if I never become a priest, just to unlearn all that other stuff!!)

Also, we converts shouldn’t get a big head about “teaching {ethnic Orthodox} about {their} own faith, things {they} never knew.”  Let’s remember they’ve probably forgotten more, historically, than we’ll ever “know”!  Actually this dynamic is nothing new – it happens in many outfits, and was a big reason why in the Early Church the Catechumenate was a public event, not just a few appointments at the rectory.  Every Lent the whole parish walked through the last leg of the process with the candidates, leading up to their Baptisms at Pascha, year after year, keeping their own Faith fresh, in a real sense The Church “ever old, ever new.”  If most Orthodox haven’t been personally involved with ‘official’ evangelization down through the centuries, this might be kind of new to them, “but in the beginning it was not so.”  Thus, the Diaspora, as well as the Revival in Eastern Europe, may be a blessing, as well as a challenge, to the Church.

Finally, a more complete way to express the Orthodox approach to Scripture in contrast to the modern Western approach might be to include the fact that we seek to learn how the men and women who put together the Scriptures, perceived them – those who were taught about them by the Lord while He was physically on Earth, and by the Spirit of God later, the o/Orthodox Fathers and Mothers of the Church since the Apostles … rather than just a bunch of kids with their freshly-minted Ph.D.’s!  There’s a problem here: The typical modern approach to the (first-millennium) Patristics is to feel they were uninformed, ignorant, bigoted, credulous, too homiletic or “pious,” shallow, etc.  This is a version of what I call the Caveman Hypothesis: that anyone before, say, the Enlightenment (so-called), was of little more value than cavemen in helping us understand their own times, documents, thoughts, experiences, etc.  It’s kind of like “Higher Criticism” vs. THE PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE, and sometimes even Christ Himself!!!  Now, I’ve learned alot from HC over the years, but in Orthodoxy the Fathers – living and reposed – come first, because in the first place Christianity isn’t philosophy or archeology, but how to get my butt saved!

By Metropolitan NICHOLAS (Hadjinikolaou) of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki, locum tenens of the diocese of Attica, Greece:

In the Protestant world ierapostoli (mission) is understood as proselytism, as an effort to persuade others to follow that which they preach as the truth. In the Orthodox tradition ierapostoli (mission) means witness and confession. It means to give the opportunity to our fellow human beings for God to speak within them, that they may go from becoming creations of God to His children and from our fellow human beings to our brothers in faith. Perhaps some of them will approach us in a spirit of proselytism [as understood above]. Let us respond by giving them a clear witness but in a phronema of love in Christ. In such an age as that in which we live, the temptation to relativize everything, to sacrifice the clarity of our confession on the altar of a worldly-minded tolerance, to call into question the divine gift of our Orthodox faith on account of a wrongly-understood ecumenistic unity, to replace the ierapostoliki (missionary) witness of the conversion of all with the ecumenist vision of universal co-existence, is more than obvious.

However, within the many opportunities presented by contemporary ideological pluralism, the blessing to submit our witness – not as intolerant persistence in crude ideas, but as magnanimous confession of personally-experienced truths, which we don’t uphold as if they are in danger, but rather confess because without them we are in danger – is exceptional great.