THE GLOBAL VISION OF PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL:
An Eastern Orthodox self-critical view
by Dr. Anastasios (Yannoulatos)
Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and all Albania
In many daily services of the Orthodox Church we repeat the psalmic verse: «May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us» (Psalm 67:1), summarizing our desire and our prayer. Nevertheless, this biblical passage has a critical following which usually we do not take into consideration. Indeed, we absolutely need God to show pity towards us, to bless us and to have mercy upon us; we long for Him to reveal His face to us. But all these things do not stop with «us». These blessings must not be confined to our own circle, as large as it may be. There exists a clear goal which must be fulfilled as a natural following and consequence of our having been blessed by God. And this something is that the way of salvation must be made known to the whole earth so that all peoples may share in the glorification of God. «That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you» (Psalm 66/67:2-3).
This hidden side of universality, which must accompany every demand for personal or collective blessings and salvation, is in a festive way illuminated and revealed in the Vigils of Easter Sunday. It is also persistently repeated throughout the Bright Week. In the second Antiphon of the Paschal Liturgy, Psalm 66/67 in its entirety is interwoven with the prayer, «O Son of God, who art risen from the dead, save us». Within the light of the Resurrection especially, the universal perspective and meaning of the Gospel of salvation appears.
This universal dimension is not something complementary; it is not an appendix to the Orthodox thought and conscience – something that, depending on our will, we take into consideration or not. This universal dimension forms (a) a most basic element of Orthodox teaching, and of Orthodox worship; and (b) a decisive factor of our ecclesiastical practice and life. These sides of our theme I shall try to develop.
THE GLOBAL VISION, A STEADY PERSPECTIVE OF THE GOSPEL
AND IT’S CELEBRATION THROUGH ORTHODOX WORSHIP
1. The Biblical evidence. From the first verse of the Old Testament, the global vision appears in biblical thought («In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth», Gen. 1-1); it penetrates and seals it in the last chapters of the New Testament with the vision of the new heaven and the new earth. The Bible refers to the adventure of all humanity and its universal salvation. It is preoccupied with the entanglement of human freedom and human existence to the process of destruction and death of the entire world and transgression of it through the saving intervention of the God-man and His Second Coming. Steadily, the Bible maintains a universal perspective and dimension as its frame, even within its pages which extensively refer to particular issues, peoples or persons. Israel’s adventure extending through the ages, which is referred to in the books of the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the Messiah, leads to the salvation of all nations. Its story forms the way of realization for God’s plan concerning the whole world.
Especially in the prophetic books of the Old Testament and David’s Psalms, the ecumenical vision repeatedly occurs; e.g.«The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof» (Psalm 23/24:1). «All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations» (Psalm 21/22:27-28), «Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol Him, all peoples!» (Psalm 116/117:1).
From the beginning of the Gospel and onwards, a global meaning and message exists. Although the incarnation of the Word of God takes place in a specific place and time, and among a specific people, it embraces all of humanity. Without exception, Jesus Christ invites all people to His Kingdom, showing a special affection towards the least, towards those that are suffering and being persecuted. And this great news and joy must be transmitted to every people and revive them. This is to be done without discrimination of race, language, and origin. Because the Word of God, through His incarnation, assumes all of humanity, the depth of its essence, and not only something of its external shell.
By assuming human nature, the inaccessible God granted special value to the human body --this masterpiece of the creation-- as well as to the whole creation, in which man participates organically. Matter does not form something that exists outside, parallel or independently of the Creator. Finally, the universality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ even transcends the meaning of the «all humanity»; it extends to the whole creation.
When Symeon embraced the eight-day old Jesus, he blessed God because his eyes saw the Saviour that God had prepared «in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles . . . (Luke 2:31-32).
The teaching of Christ unfolded at a specific place and time, but it always had a universal and eschatological character. With complete clarity, the Lord declares that «this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come» (Mt. 24:14). While referring to the final judgement of humankind, He points to its universal frame: «When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations» (Mt. 25:31-32).
Jesus Christ, the spiritual Sun, lights and revives the whole world: «He was the true light, which enlightens everyone who comes into the world» (John 1:9). In many instances, the evangelist John proclaims that Jesus came «in order that the world might be saved through Him» (John 3:17). Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, although it takes place at a specific place and time, was offered for the redemption and salvation of the whole human race. His Resurrection brings a definite liberation to the entire human race from the bonds of sin and death. The essential message of the Church is not only that Christ rose from the dead, but also that His victory has an overall importance for the whole of humanity, for human nature, which He assumed as a second Adam. Inasmuch as the disobedience, the sinning of the first Adam led to death all of humanity, in the same way the obedience through love shown by Christ, the second Adam, up until the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, leads all of humanity to the resurrection. «Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.... For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive» (I Cor. 15:20, 22).
This light, which is emitted by the Resurrection, is not intended for some chosen people or nations. Nor is it confined only to them. This light must embrace everyone, without discrimination of nation, race, colour, language, and origin. He who has risen from the dead transforms all things, every form of life, relations and development. Through His Resurrection, He «raised humanity from the depths of Hades to the heavens». All human beings, all peoples have the right to participate in the victory, love, and joy of the Resurrection.
Through Christ’s Resurrection «the whole visible and invisible world» is renewed and Christ receives «all authority in heaven and on earth». After the Resurrection, the horizon became the whole world. So, the disciples are given the order to turn towards «all nations» (Mt. 28:19), and to preach «to the whole creation» (Mk 16:15).
The setting for the sending of the disciples is defined with absolute clarity just before the Ascension of the Lord. «... and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth» (Acts 1:8). The witness must be given in the specific places where the apostles were born and had lived until then, «and» to the end of the earth. In order to make this enormous jump from the local to the universal, the apostles needed to receive «power» (idem). The coming of the Holy Spirit, which continuously gathers the Church, strengthens the disciples, abolishes barriers that divide people, such as language and race, opens before the apostles the worldwide horizon for the transmission of the gospel of salvation «to the end of the earth». Each one of the apostles turns towards different and concrete directions. However, the apostolic vision remains firmly universal.
The writing of the Christian gospel and the first period of its spread into the world used the Greek language and culture. This is related with the fact that universality had been one of the main characteristics of this culture.
Quite often the letters of the apostle Paul underscored the ecumenical dimension and universality in relation to the mystery of the Church. God «has put all things under His (Christ’s) feet and has made Him the head over all things for the church, which is His body» (Eph. 1:22-23. Cf. Col. 2:10, «the head of all rule and authority», and Col. 1:18, «the head of the body, the church»). Christ dominates over all the universe, for «all things were created through Him and for Him... » (Col. 1:16). The words «each» and «all things» are repeated in the letters of Paul. «The grace» that was given to Paul is «to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things through Jesus Christ» (Eph. 3:8-9). Thus, the work of the apostles in every time is the spreading of the «mystery», which consists of bringing salvation to all of humanity, within the Church, of which Christ is the head.
2. Ecclesiological perspective. Orthodox Ecclesiology firmly moves towards this perspective of universality. Our Church, being «the Church of God», rooted in the life of the Holy Trinity, with its prayer and concern embraces all that He has created and for which He provides. Each local Church, being the gathering of all those who believe in Christ in a concrete place, witnesses and expresses the catholicity of the Church in that place and forms an eschatological «sign of the Kingdom of God» which dominates the universe and will be completed in the «eschaton».
According to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, «The church is called "ecclesia", because she calls all people and gathers them together». In the meaning of Catholicity, St. Cyril includes the ecumenical as well as the qualitative dimensions. He writes, «The Church is called catholic (a) because she exists within the world, from one end of the earth to the other»; (b) «because she integrally and completely teaches all dogmas which must be made known to all people»; (c) « because she subjects every race of men to piety» independent of their social rank and education («rulers and those being ruled, the scholars and illiterate»); (d) «because she heals and cures every kind of sin...»; (e) and because she «possesses within her all that is called virtue, in deeds and words, and spiritual accomplishments».
All these sides enlighten particular views of the global vision concerning the proclaiming of the Gospel to the modern world. In our approaching the mystery of the Church as «communion», being guided by the Trinitarian Theology, Christology, Pneumatology and Eschatology, we always have before us the undoubtful global vision. The Church was, is and will always be the body of Christ, who is «the fullness of him who fills all in all» (Eph. 1:23).
The global apostolic vision reaches its culmination when Paul refers to the secret will of God, to «the mystery of his will» which is to be realized «as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth» (Eph. 1:9-10). «All things» must be embraced and transformed by Christ. Nothing is to remain outside the radiance and influence of its global apostolic vision.
3. The global vision in Orthodox Worship. All Orthodox worship steadily moves within this universal vision, which dominates Christian teaching. The rhythm of the daily and weekly Orthodox cycle of worship together with personal ascesis vibrates with the certainty of the universality of salvation. Above all, this element is found vividly in the prayer delivered to us by the Lord. We beseech and reiterate daily:. «Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven». It is not simply that his will be done «on me» or «on us» but «on earth. Before Christians pray for daily bread, they must first focus upon the universal horizon. Immediate and personal concerns do not prevent the believers from seeing the global view, nor does the global view prevent them from dealing with daily realities.
In every Divine Liturgy, which forms the synopsis of the mystery of salvation, we begin our prayers with the petition «For peace in the whole world», and the Anaphora culminates with the offering of the precious Gifts «in all and for all». This sacrifice is offered «for the Ecumene, for the Catholic and Apostolic Church» (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) which extends «to the ends of the earth» (Liturgy of St. Basil the Great). After Holy Communion , the priest offers incense, and expresses the Church’s universal longing with the verse: «May you be raised up above the heavens, O God, and your glory above all the earth». The Divine Liturgy, while delivering us from the cares of our little egos, enlarges the horizons for us by helping us to existentially live the universality of the salvation in Christ. The liturgical revival, that has appeared in many Orthodox local Churches in this century, has contributed a great deal to regaining the conscience of this global vision. But this will need to be made even more clear during our Eucharistic gatherings and be experienced as well in our everyday life.
According to ancient tradition, the daily Services are based especially on the Psalter, in which, as we have already referred to, the global vision is obvious. But also in the Octoechos (Paracleteke), the basic hymnological text of our Church the subject of the global vision of the salvation in Christ comes back in several troparia, for it is to be firmly fixed in the conscience of the believers. So, in the troparia of the crucifixion of Wednesday and Friday, as well as in the apostolic troparia of Thursday, but particularly in the ones for Easter, Saturday Vespers and Sunday Matins. (e.g «Your resurrection, O Christ the Saviour, has lighted up the universe.» (Tone 2, Saturday Evening, Apostichon). «Come, all you nations, know the power of the awesome mystery. For Christ our Saviour, the Word who was in the beginning, was crucified for us and willing buried, and was risen from the dead to save the universe» (Tone 3, Matins of Sunday).
All the great Orthodox feasts celebrated throughout the year intensely remind us of the ecumenicity and the universality of the Gospel. First, the biblical texts underline the truths we referred to above. The hymnology that comments on and develops the meaning of the great Orthodox festival cycles steadily points to the universal meaning of each feast. For example, in today’s feast of the Transfiguration, we sing characteristically: «Today on Tabor in the manifestation of Thy Light, O Word, Thou unaltered Light from the Light of the unbegotten Father, we have seen the Father as Light and the Spirit as Light, guiding with light all of creation.» (Exapostilarion).
The universal perspective is abundant in the troparia of the Triodion, and is particularly underlined in the Pentikostarion. The global importance of the Cross and the Resurrection is interwoven with Orthodox hymnology. «Come, all ye faithful, let us worship Christ’s Holy Resurrection; for behold, through the Cross, joy has come to the whole world»(Hymn of Resurrection). The Paschal hymns steadfastly refer to the global vision of the Gospel. The Church, in ecstasy before the universal dimensions of the Resurrection, sings: «Today the whole creation, heaven and earth and under earth are filled with joy. Let the whole universe celebrate the resurrection by which it was strengthened» (Easter Canon, Ode 3). The whole creation gets new light.
We hear the hymn: «Through your resurrection, O Lord, the universe was illuminated and Paradise was opened again; thus, the whole creation praising thee, offers you daily hymns» (Tone 3, Bright Monday evening ). The tradition, according to which the hymn «Christ is risen» and the Gospel at the Vespers of Agape are sung in different languages, proclaims the great truth, that the gospel of Christ is intended for all people everywhere and is to be preached in all languages. It is this that bridges disputes and contradictions, and brings brotherhood to nations, and peace, mutual respect and solidarity to the world community.
In a festive way the ecumenicity of the Church also appears in the feast of Pentecost. The disciples receive the Holy Spirit in order to fulfil the commandment of Christ, which is to be witnesses of Him «to the end of the earth», «attract the ecumene» (Dismissal hymn). The Holy Spirit will remain for ever He who is «ever present and fills all things». Nothing can remain outside His enlightening, purifying and sanctifying grace. «And through him the whole world is enlightened to worship the Holy Trinity.» (Exapostilarion).
The Holy Spirit, who «gathers the whole institution of the Church», uninterruptedly grants all things, so that the mystery of salvation be preached in all the world. For that reason, the believers praise Him: «O, You, the Renovator of the universe, blessed you are» (Iambic Canon: ode 7). «Let us praise the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the universe» (Thursday of Pentecost, Vespers).
Finally, the feast of All Saints proclaims that those who receive the Holy Spirit and become sanctified belong to the ecumene. Their witness and martyrdom adorn the Church. «To You, O Lord, ... the universe offers the God-bearing martyrs as the first fruits of creation» (Kontakion).
The immediate conclusion from this short review is that the apostolic missionary perspective of the global vision predominates in Orthodox worship.
THE GLOBAL VISION WITHIN
THE ECCLESIASTIC ACTION AND LIFE
But, while the global vision dominates in the preaching and the worship of the Orthodox Church, this vision does not have today a corresponding clarity and intense action in its everyday spirituality. If we want to be sincere in our self-criticism, we must accept that among the immediate ecclesiastic Orthodox interests, the national issues of the different autocephalous Churches prevail, while the global vision of the proclamation of the Gospel still remains dim and weak. Indeed, the historical reasons which led us to this situation were quite important but we will not refer to them now. Nevertheless, today’s reality imposes upon us to again evaluate what Orthodox theology and worship has already revealed to us.
1. Globalization - New worldwide problems. Our generation experienced so much the «world war» (1940-45), as well as the «cold war» due to the competition of the two superpowers (1945-1990). With the collapse of the existing socialist regimes, the second war also came to an end and great expectations for a new period of peace in the world were created for humanity. Unfortunately, instead of the «New Order» that we were expecting, we find ourselves confronted by a «New Disorder», with many new problems which dominate humanity and create chaos. These are the new wars in several territories of our planet: the transfer of great masses of populations, the new pursuits of spreading atomic arms, and the newly established regimes that need guidance and assistance in their process of establishing a firm democratic system. In a parallel way, the gap between «North and South», between rich and poor countries deepens. Within almost all the countries the social changes become more intense, with terrorism, the spread of drugs, and the damage of the environment. All these form new threats for humanity.
We continuously hear that we are in the process towards a world community. Science, technology, mass media, arts, commerce, and finance are moving within universal frames and are shaping a new, international culture. Moreover, a defining role is being played by the 2,000 multi-ethnic and the international news media on the world stage. The influences among national traditions and local cultures, which, of course, were not absent in the past, are more intense in our days. New problems have also appeared presenting universal dimensions from the first moment of their creation, such as: the ecological one with the immediacy of its many critical sides for our planet; the issues arising from the developing bio-ethics and eugenics, the situations created out of the invasion of several products and applications of the electronic computers in our social and private life. These new issues tend to alter not only human relations but the very essence of human life. At the same time, old problems, such as social exploitation and social injustice, are acquiring new forms and dimensions on multinational and intercultural levels.
The globalization of these issues demands that a new, universal, and global approach be undertaken by the national leaders as well as by «public opinion». But as a rule, the multidimensional size of the problems have not yet been realized by both parties and they remain absorbed by «their own» internal affairs. The great modern problems demand a new, wholistic, universal approach. They form new challenges for theology and ecclesiastical conscience and action. They constitute the new, global, multichorus culture, within which we are called to proclaim the Christian message, a culture that must be oriented and transformed by the Gospel.
In front of these new world situations, we believers are not surprised. The teaching and worship of the Church have already opened our visual field and our heart’s perception to the dimensions of the Ecumene. Especially now we have new possibilities, to face these global issues together with people from other cultures based on different religious beliefs. And these possibilities give us the opportunity for a new witnessing of the Gospel, in new situations, in new ways, penetrating into environments and influencing modes of thinking which have been closed to the Gospel until now. Thus, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, outside the classic «educational», preaching ways, may also be proclaimed as a proposal, as a display of its principles and of the «logic» of the Word of God. So, the new problems can be confronted through the personal witness of all those who have wholeheartedly received the Gospel and who live in Christ. But here appears on the scene the importance and the opportunity of the role of the laity and the need for creating new codes of communication with the worldwide environment. And at the same time, the duty of the ecclesiastic leaders appears to think and act within a «catholic» and eschatological perspective.
2. Towards a new code of communication. In the process of transferring the Gospel to the modern world the relation and the co-ordination between transmitter and receiver as well as the relation between the message and the code of communication should be carefully studied. Each culture has its own ways and «codes», that are based upon and are mainly defined by the receivers, the situations of life, the structures of thinking, the new problems of every society, which in our case, is the new forming world community. These codes of communication must not be faced as enigmas or threats, but as a new language for the transmission of the eternal message of the Gospel.
In order to confront this theme correctly, it will be needed for us to realize more intensely that the centre of our message is He «Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty» (Rev. 1:8). In many instances, Orthodox orientation concerning the transfer of the evangelical message looks at the past: to the tradition, to the description of the marvellous things that God has completed for the sake of humankind. However, at the same time, the Gospel unceasingly refers to the present moment and finally, to that which is to come, to the eschata. Without this eschatological perspective, the preaching of the Gospel loses its truth. The kingdom of God, which has already come, which is coming and is expected definitely to come, remains the center of the Christian message.
For a correct understanding and approach of the modern receivers who will form the new code of communication, the role of the conscious lay members of the Church, is very essential and of first importance, because they are immediately involved in science, financing and social problems. It is a special blessing of God lay people can be found leading a deep and genuine religious life in the frontiers of the modern science. Their experience, thoughts, methods, and intuitions form precious material for the creation of the new code of communication with the modern world. The same is valid also for persons of the arts, politics, journalism, and mass media. All these people, men and women, who live in the very heart of this search and form the new problems, are precious collaborators for the transmission of the Gospel. And they must be seriously invited to participate in this, living in a new way the secret of the «priesthood of the laity». Their contribution to the shaping of new codes of communication within the new world culture and the correct use of them will be decisive.
The Gospel of salvation, which is addressed to all and transforms all things, cannot be proclaimed only by the clergy. All members of the Eucharistic Community, those who through baptism and the Holy Eucharist partake of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, are invited and must participate in this transmission of the Gospel to the modern world. We find within the tradition of the Vigil of Easter an important symbol for the spread of the Christian message. «Come and receive the light from the unwaning light», sings first the bishop or the priest; but immediately afterwards, all people take and transmit the Paschal light, men and women of all ages, of every educational or spiritual rank. In truth, modern people, who are often defined by absurdity, are expecting to hear and learn that the truth of the Resurrection can penetrate the darkness of their agonies and that it can give a meaning of hope, richness of love and power for life to the human.
This missionary activity is closely bound with the new problems. As in the past, during the period of development when the Gospel was entering a new cultural reality and a local Church was being created, this same Church was making a choice among different elements, some of which were adopted, others rejected, and still others transformed. Within our developing, contemporary culture, the Church will have to move towards the world in a similar way: sometimes in «communion», sometimes in confrontation, and other times in giving the world a new orientation.
3. The harmonization of the topical with the universal duty. What has already been said is easily accepted by the modern Orthodox world. As a rule, however, our interests are confined within the local, ethnic field. Thus, an astonishing depression appears when we are called to live this global vision in new environments, transcending the classic frontiers of traditionally Orthodox countries and peoples. One of the more dangerous suspensions in the opening of the modern, ecumenical, apostolic responsibility of the Orthodox is usually created by the «wise» expression of the classic popular wisdom, that counsels: «When your yard is thirsty, do not pour water outside it». Thus, all the powers are absorbed by our «courtyard» -- which is defined, as a rule, by ethnic and local criteria. Only a few drops, and these rather due to evaporation, may water other «courtyards». This «logic», which in depth consists of an absurdity and a secret heresy, constitutes one of the weaknesses and sins of modern Orthodoxy. It appears on different levels: the parish, the diocese, the monastery and the autocephalous Church. «Our yard» cannot be other than «the yard of Christ». And this, according to what we had previously stated, is the whole world.
During the last four decades, serious attempts have been undertaken and an important progress has been accomplished for the growth of the awareness of the ecumenical dimension, and the missionary responsibility of the Orthodox Church. The title of the first missionary manifesto of the sixties, «Indifference for mission means denial of Orthodoxy», no longer sounds strange and heretical. The duty for an Orthodox world mission has, by now, been theologically justified. Nevertheless, that stone like «but», considerably suspends the Orthodox missionary activity and acts as a brake upon it. Thus, action is absorbed by our own immediate, local needs. In many instances, we have tried to confront this argument, which as an invincible «virus» causes the body of the Church to be sick through the continuous infection of localism, leading to respiratory insufficiency and inertia.
The correct understanding and experience of our missionary duty in the local as well as in the worldwide framework, demand of today’s Orthodox life. Every form of polarization between locality and catholicity leads to a mistaken spirituality, which finally denies the Orthodox fronema and ethos. This does not mean that all of us must hurry towards new missionary frontiers. But it does demand that more and more young people and adults take such resolutions. And mainly, what we ask is that the global vision of the preaching of the Gospel will inspire us towards the fulfilment of our missionary duty, in the place where the will of God has led us, and how we will actively participate by thought, prayer, and practical contribution in order that we live and help this global vision to be realized within our Churches.
Even in the monastic tradition, which vibrates by the «Come, Lord Jesus Christ», the global vision is not absent. In the absolute quietness of the ascetic life in the desert, one of the saints of our century, Saint Silouan, was praying: «O Lord, make all the peoples of the earth to know your love and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit, so that they forget the pains of the earth, they leave every evil thing, to adhere to You with love and to live peacefully doing your will for your glory».
To the practical middle class way of thinking, which clings to the proverb «when your courtyard is thirsty ...» we must pose the logic of the Gospel with its most decisive and heroic dynamism, as well as the living tradition of the Saints. In order to find yourself, you must open yourself to the other, to offer yourself. Because everything that remains closed to it (a cellule, man, parish, community, monastery, diocese, and local Church) comes to self-destruction. This has a universal power and meaning. It is especially confirmed within the life of the Church, the Body of Christ «the fullness of Him who fills all in all» (Eph. 1:23).
There is an essential biblical text which defines the ecumenical character of the Orthodox witness and mission, and brakes every tendency of polarization between local and universal. This text records the last words of the Lord to His disciples, in the Acts of the Apostles: «And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth» (Acts, 1:8).
In every local Orthodox Church there needs to exist a special organized section for the co-operation, support and assistance of the weaker Orthodox Churches. According to the gifts possessed by each Church, one can help the other. In the last decades, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Alexandria have included mission in their activities. In the Churches of Greece and of Finland, several considerable initiatives for External Mission are developing. The «Orthodox Christian Mission Center» of America, which has lately developed an inter-orthodox character, forms a special blessing in the realization of the vision and purpose that was communicated in the framework of the youth initiatives of Syndesmos/Porefthendes in the beginning of the sixties. Something analogous must form a basic section of every Orthodox Church, for the help of the Orthodox Churches who are in greater need.
At first glance, this proposal appears modernic, but it belongs to a very old patristic command. According to St. John Chrysostom: «The leader of the Church ought to care not only for the Church that has been entrusted to him by the Spirit, but also for the entire Church existing throughout the Oikoumene... If he must pray for the catholic Church which extends to the ends of Ecumene, he must all the more show care for the entire Church, concern for all Churches» (Migne, P.G. 50,602).
4. Essential environments of the modern Orthodox witness. Within today’s religious multiformity, the Orthodox Church is called to give, in a specific way, its apostolic witness in five basic environments presenting particular situations. First, in the Muslim environment, where the four ancient Patriarchates are living, and where the strong revival of Islam creates new vibrations. Second, the former socialist environments, beforehand an organized atheistic one, where exciting new classifications are being realized. Third, the secularized environment of the West, where the Orthodox for the most part are in small percentage in "Diaspora". Fourth, the multicomplex environments of the Third World of Africa and Asia, where considerable Orthodox openings have been created in the last decades. There exists a fifth one which has a peculiarity and is interrelated with the previous two. I mean the special environment where we give an Orthodox witness within the modern ecumenical movement -- our theological, liturgical, and ecclesiastical presence contributes towards the evolution of the Christian world of our time. It is something that will have serious results on the whole Christian mission and its encounter with people belonging to other religions. In order to remain faithful to the ecumenical dimension of Orthodoxy and our apostolic/missionary responsibility, we Orthodox, with a prophetic boldness and vigilance, with the ascetic bravery of the saints, ought to give in unity our witness before all those fronts, according to the last command of our Lord, and especially according to the last words «and to the ends of the earth».
An now, please allow me a personal note. The experience of these last years in Albania has revealed to me the kind of surprises God reserves for us in our effort to live the global vision of the spreading of the Gospel. During the first phase of my missionary search and diaconia, the words «to the ends of the earth» were rather coloured by geographical meanings -the depths of Africa or Asia. I had never thought that «the ends of the earth» could be so near geographically. That it could be in Albania, where for decades the breath of Hades reigned, where they had crucified and buried Christ again, and where an obstinate communist regime socially and spiritually brought the country to the ends of the earth. In this second half of the 20th century, the Albania state proclaimed with statements from Conferences and with articles in the country’s Constitution that God died definitively. In Africa or Asia, at least people never stopped addressing God, in their own way, as a supreme reality
Today, I think, Albania is a microcosm within the macrocosm of the modern ecumene, to which we are referring to. The majority of the population, traditionally -- before the communist regime -- belongs to Muslim families. This fact causes the situation to present similarities with what the ancient Orthodox Patriarchates face. The large majority of the people, including the new generation, are still imbibed with the theories of Marxist atheism, which for almost fifty years dominated the country. This is an element that makes them rather close with the other former socialist countries. Through the recent democratic and financial changes, a speedy secularization is creating problems and situations similar to those that are faced by the Orthodox Churches living in western cultural areas. At the same time, the financial situation is so low that it is creating phenomena known mainly in the Third World.
Concerning the activities of different religious communities in Albania, I would say, as an indication only, that the Roman Catholic Church (representing about 10% of the population and less than half the number of Orthodox) is being helped by 200 foreign priests, monks, nuns, and hundreds of foreign laypersons; Protestants (which comprise less than 0.5% of the population) are helped by 450 foreign missionaries and more than 2,000 short-term missionaries during this summer; Muslims are helped by several hundred from outside Albania; while the Orthodox Church, representing the majority of Christians in Albania, is aided by 6 priests, 3 nuns, 3 laymen and 3 lay women, all foreigners. The grace of God has given other solutions, however. Sixty-five new Albanian clergy have been ordained, and Leagues of Orthodox Youth, Orthodox Women and Orthodox Intellectuals undertake missionary initiatives. So our Lord is granting us blessings in the ongoing restoration of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania from the ruins.
In conclusion: The global vision is the correct Orthodox framework for everything that we do or transmit on the local, parochial land. There exists no correct understanding of the living Orthodox tradition when this perspective of universality is missing. This is not a vision we observe as spectators, but an area of existence, of thought, of acting, within which we live. The faithful live with «a burning heart for the sake of the whole creation», according to the expression of Isaac the Syrian (Sermon 85).
He who looks doxologically at the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the almighty God, the Creator and keeper of all things, has an interest for «all» (ta panta). He who has become one body with Christ, tries to think and feel as Him, «who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth» (I Tim. 2:4). He who receives the Holy Spirit, becomes inspired from the universality of His action. We address ourselves to the All Holy Spirit in the beginning of each Orthodox Service and ask Him to come and to live with us. But this finally means that we are ready to be co-ordinated with Him. A person bearing the Spirit (pneumatemphoros) thinks, feels and acts with a universal perspective. His reflection, his prayer, his interests and efforts acquire a worldwide horizon. The Holy Spirit, like the rush of a violent wind, carrying away the small air-tight-self, opens our horizons to the ecumene. The Holy Spirit is not offered for personal possession or enjoyment. «Spiritual life», without prayer, witness and missionary diaconia is pure contradiction.
The Psalm with which we began may form a summary of our subject and a constant remembrance of it. We beseech with intensity in our daily prayers, «May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us». However, a genuine Orthodox spiritual life is realized and completed within the wider global frame, which the Psalm defines: «that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you». I propose we should add these verses in our everyday prayer, considering the new dimensions that were given to these verses by the Resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit to the Ecumene as well as by the witness of 20 centuries of Saints who have experienced the Gospel. «Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you».