"Thy Will be Done: Mission in Christ's Way"

Thy Will Be Done: Mission in Christ’s Way

By Archbishop Anastasios Tirana, Durrës and All Albania

(Presentation of the Moderator at the WCC San Antonio Conference, 1989)

            Human pride, in its individual, social or racial expression, poisons and destroys life in the world at large or in the small community in which we live.  The human will obstinately exalts its autonomy.  Loneliness is on the increase, nightmares multiply, and fear mounts up.  Old and new idols are being erected in human consciousness.  They dance around them.  They offer them adulation and worship them ecstatically.  But at the same time, every so often, new, sensitive voices speak out for a just and peaceful age.  New initiatives are being taken and a new awareness of worldwide community is growing.

            In our ecumenical gatherings all of these facts come to light, sometimes alarming, sometimes hopeful.  Our problems overwhelm us.  We describe them and try to solve them.  But when we think we have solved one, three new ones spring up.  Our mood keeps swinging, like a pendulum, between hope and despair.

            In this world the faithful continue to pray, "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," proclaiming quietly but resolutely, that above all human will there is one will that is redemptive, life-giving, full of wisdom and power, and ultimately will prevail.  The choice of subject for our meeting is essentially a protest and a refusal to accept that which militates against God's loving design and at the same time is an expression of hope and optimism for the future of the world.

 

Reality and Expectation

 

            In the prayer, "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," the firm certainty prevails that the Father's will is already a reality.  Countless other beings, the angels and saints, are already in tune with it.  The realization of God's will is not simply a desire; it is a fact that throws light on all the rest.  The center of reality is God and God's kingdom.  On this fact the realism of faith is grounded.  On this ontology is based every Christian effort on earth.  To some, to mention "heaven" might seem anachronistic.  We usually look for immediate answers according to our own fixed ideas.  We forget, however, that contemporary science and technology have made important leaps forward with regard to a material heaven.  A few decades ago we sought to solve humankind's communication problems by using wires stretched out over the earth's surface.  Later, we used wireless waves, still following the surface of our planet.  With the new technology, however, we have discovered that we can communicate better above the earth, by sending wireless waves heavenwards.  So in our theological, ecclesial and missionary thinking, if we turn our sight once more to the reality of "heaven," about which scripture speaks constantly, we shall certainly find new answers to the world's problems and difficulties.

            Our Church has not ceased to look in that direction, with prayer and festival affirming the supremacy of God's will.  For this faith to clarify the mass of problems that oppress us, the two ideas that form our theme need to be looked at in combination.  I shall attempt a first synoptic approach, drawing on the Orthodox tradition of twenty centuries.

           

            1.  "Thy will be done."  In the prayer our Lord taught us, this petition follows two others, with which it forms a group:  "Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, they will be done."  The chief characteristic of the three is the eschatological perspective.  They all begin to be realized here below, in order to be perfected in the glory of the kingdom that is to come.

            The verb of the petition is in the passive voice.  Who exactly is the subject of the action?  A preliminary answer says God.  In this petition God's intervention is sought for the implementation of his will, for the establishment of his kingdom.  He has the initiative; he carries out his own will.  The chief and decisive role in what happens to humankind and the whole universe belongs to God.

            A second interpretation sees God's will being done on earth through humankind's conformity with God's commandments (cf. Mt 7:21; 12:50; Jn 9:31).  We are called to "do" the Father's will.  It is a question of the point of view that is expressed in the insight that permeates the Old Testament and in the continuity that is a dominant feature of Jewish literature.  In it our participation in the fulfillment of God's will and the necessity of obedience is emphasized.

            There is, however, yet a third interpretation which is a composite one that sees as subject of the action both God and human being, and which considers that the divine will is realized by divine-human cooperation.  Thus the two preceding views are intertwined.  Certainly, so that his will may be done, God's intervention is essential.   But we, by conforming to his precepts that express God's will in the here and now, contribute to the foretaste and coming of the kingdom in historical time, until its final consummation at the last day.

            "On earth as it is in heaven."  In this appendage we can perhaps distinguish various closely connected aspects: ethical, social, missionary, ecumenical, and a further one which we will call realistic.  They sum up graphically most of what Saint John Chrysostom said, "For Jesus did not say, 'Thy will be done in me or in us' but 'everywhere on earth,' so that error might be done away with and truth established, all evil might be cast out, virtue returned and so nothing henceforth would separate heaven from earth."[1]  The prayer that our Lord put on our lips and in our hearts aims at a more radical change, the "celestification" (sanctification) of the earth.  So that as Origen wrote, "all persons and all things may become heaven."[2]

            By the phrase "Thy will be done," of the Lord's prayer, we beseech the Father that he will bring to completion his plan for the salvation of the whole world, and at the same time we ask for his grace that we may be freed from our own will and accept his joyfully.  And not only we as individuals, but that all humankind may have fellowship in his will and share in its fulfillment.

            2.  After Pentecost this prayer on the church's lips is highlighted by the facts of the cross and the resurrection.  It becomes clear that the divine will has been revealed in its fullness by the word, life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Each member of the church is called henceforth to advance in its realization, "so to promote the Father's 'will,' as Christ promoted it, who came to do 'the will' of his Father and finished it all; for it is possible by being united with him to become 'one spirit' with him."[3]  Christ is made the leader of the faithful in realizing the divine will.

            The prayer, "Thy will be done," is at the same time our guide in Gethsemane, at the decisive point in the history of the new Adam, our first-born brother.  "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done" (Mt 26:42).  This prayer, in which the conformity of the human to the divine will reaches its culmination, illustrates on a personal level the meaning of the phrase "Thy will be done."  For all those who determine to be conformed to God's will, who struggle for its realization on earth, the time will come to experience personally the pain, grief and humiliation that often accompany acceptance of God's will.

 

Mission in Christ's Way

 

            By this expression we often tend to concentrate our attention on some particular stage in Christ's life, e.g. the passion, the cross, his compassion for the poor, etc.  It is certainly not strange to put particular emphasis at times on one aspect, especially when it is continually being overlooked in practice.  But the theological thinking and experience of the catholic church insist on what is universal (to kath' holou).  The same is true of the person of Christ.  This distinguishes the outlook and feeling of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church from the schismatic, sectarian thinking that holds to that which is only a part.  In this theological connection I would like to indicate five central points.

            1.  Trinitarian connection and relationship.  Jesus Christ is seen in a continuous relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit.  He is the apestalmenos  (who was sent by) of the Father.  The Holy Spirit clears the way for him, works with him, accompanies him, sets the seal on his work and continues it forever.  Through Christ's preaching we come to know the Father and the Holy Spirit.  But even the preaching of Christ would remain incomprehensible without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, impossible to put into effect without the presence of the Paraclete.

            In every expression of Christian life, but especially in mission, the work of Christ is done with the presence of the Holy Spirit; it is brought to completion within historical time by the uninterrupted action of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit "recapitulates" all of us in Christ.  He forms the church.  The source and bearing of our own apostolic activity resides in the promise and precept of the risen Lord in its Trinitarian perspective: "'As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.'  And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to the, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (Jn 20:21-22).

            The Christ-centeredness of the one church is understandable only within the wider context of Trinitarian dogma.  The one-sidedness of the western type of Christo-centrism was often caused by restriction of the image of Christ to the so-called "historical Jesus."  But the Christ of the church is the eternal Word, "the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father" (Jn 1:18), who is ever present in the church through the Holy Spirit; risen and ascended, the universal Judge, "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Rev 22:13).  The faith and experience of the church are summed up in the phrase "the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, creates provides, saves."  Essentially, mission in Christ's way is mission in the light of the Holy Trinity, in the mystical presence and working together of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

2. Assumption of the whole humanity. One of the favorite terms that Jesus Christ used to describe himself was "son of man". Jesus is the new Adam. The incarnation of the word is the definitive event in the history of humankind, and the church has persisted in opposing any Docetist deviation. "Incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary" remains the credo of faith. In his conception lies the human contribution, by the wholehearted acceptance of the divine will, in obedience, humility and joy, by his mother, the most pure representative of the human race. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38) was her decisive statement.

The absolute distinction of matter and spirit - as imagined by representatives of ancient Greek or Indian thought - is rejected, and humanity is raised up as a whole. Jesus Christ is not only the Savior of souls but of the entire human being and the whole material-spiritual creation. This is as hard for classical thought to understand as the Trinitarian dogma. Often indeed an attempt is made to simplify or pass it over. But then mission loses all its power and perspective. Christian mission does not mean taking refuge from our materiality, in one way or another, for the salvation of mere souls, but the transforming of present time, of society and all matter in another way and by another dynamic. This perspective demands creative dialogue with contemporary culture, with secular persons stuck in the materialism of this world, with the new options of physics about matter and energy and with every variety of human creation.

3. The radically and eternally new element: love. Christ overthrows the established forms of authority, wisdom, glory, piety and success, tradi­tional principles and values, and reveals that the living centre of all is love. The Father is love. The Son is love incarnate. The Spirit is the inexhaustible power of love. This love is not a vague "principle". It is a "communion" of persons. It is the Supreme Being, the Holy Trinity. God is love because he is an eternal trinity, a communion of living, equal, distinct persons. The Son reveals this communion of love (koinonia agapes) in the world. In it he is not only the one who invites, but also the way.

Closely bound up with love are freedom, justice, liberation and fellowship of all humankind, truth, harmony, joy and fullness of life. Every sincere utterance and endeavor for these things, anywhere in the world, in whatever age and culture, but above all every loving, true expression of life, is a ray of God's grace and love. Jesus did not speak in vague and philosophical language about these great and holy things but revealed them in power by clear signs and speech, and above all by his life.

Among the many surprises that Christ held in store was the fact that he identified himself with the humble, the simplest of the people. From among those he chose his companions and apostles. And in the well­ known saying about the universal last judgment he directly identified himself with the despised, the infirm, the poor, the strangers and those in distress in the whole world. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me," he says, having "all the nations" assembled before him (Matt. 25:31-46).

This course remains determinative for his church, his mystical body, for all ages. For this, it constitutes, in its authentic form, the most benevolent power that fights for human dignity, worth, relief, the raising up of every human being throughout the length and breadth of the earth. Concern for all the poor and those unjustly treated, without exception - independent of race or creed - is not a fashion of the ecumenical movement, but a fundamental tradition of the one church, an obligation that its genuine representatives always saw as of first importance. "To the extent that you abound in wealth, you are lacking in love," declares Basil the Great, criticizing the predilection of many for a "piety that costs nothing".[4] He did not hesitate to call a "robber" not only the person who robs someone, but also the one who, though able to provide clothing and help, neglects to do so. Tersely he concludes: "You do injustice to so many, as many are those you could help."[5] The modern fact of the world's integration extends these judgments from the individual to the collective plane, from individuals to wider conglomerations, to peoples, the rich nations. The saints of the church did not simply speak for the poor, but, above all, shared their life. They voluntarily became poor, out of love for Christ, who made himself poor, in order to identify with him.

4. The paradox of humility and the sacrifice of the cross. From the first moment of his presence in humanity Christ makes kenosis (self-emptying) the revelation of the power of the love of the Triune God. He spends the greater part of his human life in the simplicity of everyday labor. Later, in his short public life, he faces various disputes and serious accusations. The power of love is totally bound up with humility. The opposite of love we usually call hatred. But its real name is egoism. This is the denial of the Triune God who is a koinonia (communion) of love. Therein also lies the drama of Lucifer, that he can do everything except be humble. And that is precisely why he cannot love. Christ destroys the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and ransoms us chained in our egoism, by accepting the ultimate humiliation, the cross. By this humility he abolishes on the cross demonic pride and self-centeredness. In that hour the glory of his love shines forth. We are redeemed.

Christian life means continual assimilation of the mystery of the cross in the fight against individual and social selfishness. This holy humility, which is ready to accept the ultimate sacrifice, is the mystical power behind Christian mission. Mission will always be a service that entails acceptance of dangers, sufferings and humiliations, the experience of human powerlessness and at the same time of the power of God. Only those who are prepared to accept, with courage and trust in Christ, sacrifice, tribulation, contradiction and rejection for his sake, can with­stand. One of the greatest dangers for Christian mission is that we become forgetful in the practice of the cross and create a comfortable type of a Christian who wants the cross as an ornament but who often prefers to crucify others than to be crucified oneself.

5. Everything in the light of the resurrection and eschatological hope. The first precept of the universal mission is given in light of the resurrection. Before the fact of the cross and resurrection Jesus had not allowed his disciples to go out into the world. Unless one experiences the resurrection, one cannot share in Christ's universal apostolate. If one experiences the resurrection, one cannot help bearing witness to the risen Lord, setting one's sights on the whole world. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:19). The first sentence takes our thought back to "on earth as it is heaven" in the Lord's Prayer. Authority over the whole world has been given to the Son of man, who fully carried out the Father's will. He is the Lord, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:8). The faith and power of the church are founded precisely on this certainty. The cross and resurrection go together. To conform one's life to the crucified life of Christ involves the mystical power of the resurrection. On the other side, the resurrection is the glorious revelation of the mystery and power of the cross, victory over selfishness and death. A mission that does not put at its centre the cross and resurrection ends up as a shadow and a fantasy. As do simple people, so also the more cultivated, who wallow in wealth, comfort and honors, come at some moment of crisis face to face with the implacable, final question: what happens at death? In this problem that torments every thinking person in every corner of the world the church has the task of revealing the mystery of Christ's word: "For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40).

I recall a personal experience, in an out-of-the-way region of western Kenya. We arrived at night at a house that was in mourning. The little girl, stricken mortally by malaria, was lying on a big bed, as if sleeping peacefully. "She was such a good child. She was always the first to greet me," whispered the afflicted father in perplexity. We read a short funeral prayer, and I said a few words of consolation. Alone in the room of the school-house where we were staying, by the light of the oil lamp, with the sound of rain on the banana leaves and zinc roof, I remembered the events of the day. Away in the darkness a drum was beating. It was in the house of mourning. In my tiredness I wondered: why are you here? There came confusedly to my mind the various things that are spoken about in connection with mission: preaching, love, education, civilization, peace, development. Suddenly a light flashed and lit up in the mist of my tired brain the essence of the matter: You bring the message, the hope of resurrection. Every human person has a unique worth. They will rise again. Herein lies human dignity, value and hope. Christ is risen! You teach them to celebrate the resurrection in the mystery of the church; to have a foretaste of it. As if in a fleeting vision I saw the little African girl hurrying up to greet me the first, as was her habit, helping me to determine more precisely the kernel of the Christian mission. That is, to infuse all with the truth and hope of the resurrection; to teach them to celebrate it.

What our brothers and sisters in the isolated corners of Africa and Asia or in the outskirts of our large and rich cities long for, in their depression and loneliness, is not vague words of consolation, a few material goods or crumbs of civilization. They yearn, secretly or consciously, for human dignity, hope, to transcend death. In the end they are searching for the living Christ, the perfect God-man, the way, the truth and the life. All, of whatever age and class, rich or poor, obscure or famous, illiterate or learned, in their heart of hearts long to "celestification" (sanctification) of life. In this the prospect of a mission "in Christ's way" reaches its culmination.

 

Fullness and catholicity

The consequences of such a theological understanding are many-sided. The important units, among which will be groups of problems critical for our time in the days that follow, have already been fixed: (1) turning to the living God; (2) participating in suffering and struggle; (3) the earth is the Lord's; (4) towards renewed communities in mission. Already, much study, leavened with prayer, has taken place in small and larger groups, in conferences and congresses. The third part of this summary report will turn on only two axes.

1. "Thy will be done", as it is repeated by Christ himself in Geth­semane, helps us to overcome a great temptation: the tendency for us to minimize the demands and cost of doing God's will in our personal life. It is usually easier for us to rest in the general, in what concerns mostly others.

a) But the will of God, as it is revealed in Christ, is a single and indissoluble whole ("... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"). "Thy will be done" entire, not by halves. The various so-called corrections that have at times been made to make the gospel easier and the church more acceptable or, so to speak, more effective, do not strengthen but rob the gospel of its power. While waiting at a European airport a couple of years ago there came into my hands a leaflet in which, framed between other things, was written: "Blessed are those who are rich. Blessed are those who are handsome. Blessed are those who have power. Blessed are the smart. Blessed are the successful. For they will possess the earth." I thought to myself: How many times, even in our own communities, do we prefer, openly or secretly, these idols, this worldly topsy-turvy representation of the beatitudes, making them criteria of our way of life?

The name of the city in which this meeting of ours is taking place reminds us not only of San Antonio of Padua to which the toponomy refers but also of St Anthony the Great, one of the universal church's great personalities, who traced a model of perfect acceptance of God's will. This great hermit, in perfect obedience to "if you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matt. 19:21) went out in an adventure of freedom and love, which led to the outpouring of a new breath of the Spirit in the church at a time when it was in danger of compromising with secular power and the spirit of the world.

In the midst of our many socio-political concerns we have to bear in mind and act on the understanding that "this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess 4:3). Our sanctification, by following the divine will in all things, in our daily obligations, in our personal endeavors and in the midst of many and various difficulties and dilemmas. The simplis­tic anthropology that encourages a naive morality by passing our existen­tial tragedy by does not help at all. Human existence is an abyss. "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members" (Rom. 7:15-23). Many of us, in critical situations, while we easily say "thy will be done", in practice add: "not as thou wilt, but as I will". This overt or secret reversal of the divine will in our decisions is the main reason and cause of the failure of many Christian missions and initiatives. The hard inner struggle for purification and sanctification is the premise and mystical power of the apostolate.

The carrying out of God's will in the world will always be assisted by continuous repentance, so that we may be conformed to the model of Christ and be made one with him. That is why in the Orthodox tradition monasteries have special importance, above all as centers of penitence. Everything that accompanies this struggle - worship, work, comforting the people, education, artistic creativity - follows, as a reflection of the spiritual purification, the transforming personal experience of repentance. The quest for new types of communities that will serve the contemporary apostolate must be closely bound up with the spiritual quest in the contemporary social reality for concrete forms of communities that will live out thoroughly, on the personal level, repentance and longing for the coming of the kingdom. The critical question for a mission in Christ's way is to what extent others can discern in our presence a ray of his presence.

b) Conformity to God's will does not mean servile submission or fatalistic expectation. Nor is it achieved by a simple, moral, outward obedience. Joyful acceptance of God's will is an expression of love for a new relationship in the Beloved; it is a restoration of humanity's lost freedom. It means our communion in the mystery of the love of the Holy Trinity, communion in freedom of love. Thus, we become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). Conformity to God's will is in the end a sharing in what the Orthodox tradition calls "uncreated energies", by which we reach theosis, we become "good by grace".[6] The most blessed pages of Christian mission were written out of an excess of love for Christ, and an identification with him.

c) The church continually seeks to renew this holy intoxication of love, especially by the sacrament of the holy Eucharist - which remains the pre­eminently missionary event - everywhere on earth. In the Divine Liturgy the celebrant, as representative of the whole community, prays: "Send thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here present." Not on the gifts only, but we beg that the Holy Spirit may be sent "upon us" also, so that we may be "moved by the Spirit". The whole prayer moves very clearly in a Trinitarian perspective. We beseech the Father to send the Spirit to change the precious gifts into Christ's body and blood, and in receiving holy communion we are united with him; we become "of one body" and "of one blood" with Christ, that we may bear the "fruit" of the Spirit, become "God's temple", receivers and transmitters of his blessed radiance.

The enthusiasm for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, which is of late much sought after in the West, has always been strong in the East, but in a sober Christological context and in a Trinitarian perspective. The church's experience is summed up in the well-known saying of St Seraphim: "The purpose of Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit." And the saint continues: "Prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and the other good works and virtues that are done for Christ, are simply, and only, means of acquiring God's Holy Spirit."[7] This presence of the Holy Spirit has nothing at all to do with spiritual pride and self-satisfaction. It is at bottom connected with the continual exercise of penitence, with holy humility. "I tell you the truth," wrote a holy monk of Mount Athos, Starets Silouan. "I find nothing good in myself and I have committed many sins. But the grace of the Holy Spirit has blotted them out. And I know that to those who fight sin is afforded not only pardon but also the grace of the Holy Spirit, which gladdens the soul and bestows a sweet and profound peace."[8]

2. The fact that the will of God refers to the whole world, the whole universe, excludes any isolating of ourselves in an individual piety, in a sort of private Christianity.

a) The will of God covers the whole human reality; it is accomplished in the whole of history. It is not possible for the Christian to remain indifferent to historical happenings in the world, when faith is grounded on two historical facts: the incarnation of the word and the second coming of Christ. The social, human event is the place in which the church unfolds. Every expression of human creativity, science, technology and the relationships of persons as individuals, peoples and various groupings are to be found among its concerns. We are living at a critical, historic juncture in which a new universal culture, the electronic culture, is taking shape. The natural sciences, especially bio-medicine, genetics, astronautics, are creating and posing new problems. Half of the earth's population is crushed into huge urban centers; contemporary agnosticism is eating away at the thought and behavior of the city-dwellers. The passage from the "written" to the "electronic" word is opening up undreamed-of possibilities for the amassing of a whole universe of increased knowledge and creating a new human thinking. A new world is emerging. A new sort of human being is being formed. The church, the mystical body of "the one who is and was and is to come" has a pledge and a duty to the march of humanity in the future, the whole society in which it exists as "leaven", "sign" and "sacra­ment" of the kingdom that has come and is coming. What the church has, it has to radiate and offer for the sake of the entire world.

But if one temptation is for us not to see the universal duty when we pray "thy will be done", the reverse is for us to be occupied only with universal themes, indifferent to concrete reality; to be too sensitive to certain situations and indifferent to others. (To speak, for example, constantly about injustice in such-and-such a publicized region and be indifferent to injustice in Europe, as, for example, in Albania, where four hundred thousand Christians are oppressed, deprived constitutionally of every expression of faith, even of the elementary right to have a church.)

In various corners of our planet, want, disease, oppression, injustice, the raw violence of arms, oppress millions of our fellow human beings. All of these are cells of the same body - the great body of humanity to which we belong. Their suffering is the suffering of Christ, who assumed the whole of humanity, and the suffering of the church, his mystical body. It is - must be - the suffering of us all.

The prophetic voice, both for the immediate and actual and worldwide, remains always the church's obligation, even if it annoys certain people who do not wish to touch any unjust establishment. In many situations, within and outside, the church is obliged today to speak in the way of the biblical protest: Woe to those who talk about justice but who in practice seek only their own right and their own privileges. Woe to those who rejoice, crying "peace, peace", but forge the fetters of the defenseless. Woe to the rich nations that continually celebrate freedom and love, but by their policies makes the developing peoples poorer and less free. Woe to those who appear as God's lawyers and representatives, making a mockery - deliberately or unintentionally - of what is finest in humanity, the witness of Jesus Christ.

b) But still the gospel cannot remain the possession of only certain peoples who had the privilege of hearing it first. By putting on our lips the prayer "thy will be done", the Lord "bade each one of us who prays to take thought for the ecumene" (John Chrysostom).[9] God's will, as it was fulfilled and revealed in Christ, has to be made known in every corner of the earth, in every cranny of the world, in every expression of our contemporary many-centered civilization. A world missionary conference like our own cannot relegate to a footnote the fact that millions of our fellow men and women have not heard, even once in their lives, the Christian message; that hundreds of races still, after twenty centuries of Christian history, do not have the gospel in their mother tongue.

Distinctions between Christian and non-Christian nations are no longer absolutely valid in our days. In all nations there is a need for re­-evangelization in every generation. Every local church finds itself in mission in its actual geographical and cultural territory and context. But its horizons, outside the place in which it is active, must extend in the catholic church "from one end of the earth to the other". Despite cultural differences, all of us face more or less the same basic human problems. All the local churches, expressing the life of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church", are in a state of mutual interdependence and inter­change, on both receiving and sending. The distinction between sending and receiving churches belongs to the past. All should, and can, both receive and send. In proportion to the gifts (charismata) that every local church possesses (personnel, knowledge, expertise, and financial resources) it can contribute to the development of the worldwide mission "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It is time for every Christian to realize that mission is our own obligation and to take part in it looking to the whole of humankind. Just as there is no church without a worshipping life, so there cannot be a living church without missionary life.

c) Those outside the Christian faith, who still have no knowledge of the will of God in its fullness, do not cease to move in the mystical radiance of his glory. God's will is diffused throughout the whole of history and throughout the whole world. Consequently it influences their own life, concerns them and embraces them. It is expressed in many ways - as divine providence, inspiration, guidance, etc. In recent times in the ecumenical movement we have been striving hard for the theological understanding of people of other faiths; and this difficult, but hopeful, dialogue very much deserves to be continued at this present conference.

Certainly for the church, God's will, as it was lived out in its fullness by Christ, remains its essential heritage and contribution in the world. But respect for others will not be a so-called agreement on a common denominator that minimizes our convictions about Christ, but an injus­tice, if we are silent about the truth that constitutes the givenness of the church's experience; it is another thing, the imposition by force, which is unacceptable and has always been anti-Christian. A withholding of the truth leads to a double betrayal, both of our own faith and of others' right to know the whole truth.

Jesus Christ went about doing good among people of other faiths (let us recall the stories of the Canaanite woman and the centurion) admiring and praising their spontaneous faith and goodness. ("I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith", Matt. 8:10.) He even used as a symbol of himself a representative of another religious community, the good "Samaritan". His example remains determinative: beneficent service and sincere respect for whatever has been preserved from that which was made "in the image of God". Certainly in today's circumstances our duty is becoming more clear and extensive: a journey together in whatever does not militate against God's will, an understanding of the deepest religious insights that have developed in other civilizations by the assistance of the Spirit, a cooperation in the concrete applications of God's will, such as justice, peace, freedom, love, both in the universal community and on the local level.

d) Not only the so-called spiritual but also the whole physical universe moves in the sphere of God's will. Reverence for the animal and the vegetable kingdoms, the correct use of nature, concern for the conserva­tion of the ecological balance, the fight to prevent nuclear catastrophe and to preserve the integrity of creation, have become more important in the list of immediate concerns for the churches. This is not a deviation, as asserted by some who see Christ as saving souls by choice and his church as a traditional religious private concern of certain people. The whole world, not only humankind but the entire universe, has been called to share in the restoration that was accomplished by the redeeming work of Christ. "We wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet. 3:13). Christ, the Almighty and Logos of the Universe, remains the key to understanding the evolution of the world. All things will come to pass in him who is their head. The surprising design, "the mystery of his will", which has been made known to us "according to his purpose", is "a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him (anakephaleosasthai to panta en o Christo - according to another translation: `bring everything together under Christ, as a head'), things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:9-10). The correspondence with the phrase of the Lord's Prayer is obvious. The transforming of creation, as victory over the disfigurement that sin brought to the world, is to be found in the wider perspective and immediate concerns of Christian mission.

Through all the length and breadth of the earth millions of Christians of every race, class, culture and language repeat "thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Sometimes painfully, faithfully and hopefully; sometimes mechanically and indifferently. But we seldom connect it intimately with the missionary obligation. The conjunction of the two phrases "thy will be done" and "mission in Christ's way" gives a special dynamic to our conference. Understanding the missionary dimensions of this prayer will strengthen in the Christian world the conviction that mission is sharing in carrying out God's will on earth. And, put the other way round, that God's will demands our own active participation, working with the Holy Trinity.

By sharing the life of the risen Christ, living the Father's will moved by the Holy Spirit, we have a decisive word and role in shaping the course of humankind. The Lord is at hand. The history of the world does not proceed in a vacuum. It is unfolding towards an end. There is a plan. God's will shall prevail on earth. The prayers of the saints will not remain unanswered! There will be a universal judgment by the Lord of love. At that last hour everything will have lost its importance and value, except for disinterested love. The last word belongs to Christ. The mystery of God's will reaches its culmination in the recapitulation of all things in him. We continue to struggle with fortitude. We celebrate the event that is coming. We enjoy a foretaste of that hour of the last things. Rejoicing in worship. With this vision. With this hope.

Lord, free us from our own will and incorporate us in your own. "Thy will be done."

 

 

 

 

 



[1]John Chrysostom, "Commentary to Saint Matthew the Evangelist", Homily 19, 5. P.G.. (= J.P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, Paris), Vol. 57, col. 280.

[2] Origen, "On Prayer," XXVI, 6, BEPES (Library of Greek Fathers and Church Writers, Athens), Vol. 10, p.279.

[3] Ibid., XXVI, 3, p. 277.

[4] Basil the Great, “To those who become wealthy,” BEPES, Vol. 54, p.67.

[5] Homily on "I will pull down my barns", 7, BEPES, Vol. 54, pp.64-65.

[6] Maximos the Confessor, "On various questions...," P.G., Vol. 91, col. 1084AC, 1092C.

[7] P.A. Botsis, Philokalia ton Roson Neptikon (Philokalia of the Russian Vigilents), Athens, 1983, p.105.

[8] Archimandrite Sophrony, Starets Silouan, moine du Mont-Athos (translated from Russian into French by the Hieromoine Symeon), Sisteron, 1973, p.318.

[9] Chrysostom, ibid., col. 280.