"A Contemporary Model of Missions: Archbishop Anastasios"
A Contemporary Model of Missions: Archbishop Anastasios
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Forty-three years ago, the young idealistic deacon, Anastasios Yannoulatos, who would later become Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, was on a prolonged retreat on the island of Patmos. Sitting in front of the open sea, he faced a challenging dilemma – to stay in his beautiful homeland of Greece, within an environment he loved, and in which he was loved, or to obey the final command of the Lord and to “Go forth, and make disciples of all nations.” Throughout the late 1950s and early 60s, this young theologian had been preaching throughout Greece about the need for the Orthodox Church to rediscover her apostolic and missionary identity. He reminded the faithful of Greece about the great tradition of the Apostles, especially the Apostle Paul, of Sts. Cyril and Methodios and their conversion of the Slavs, of St. Innocent Veniaminov’s adventures for 45 years throughout Alaska and Siberia, and of St. Nicholas Kasatkin going into Japan where not one Christian existed in 1860, and dying 45 years later leaving behind an indigenous Church with more than 30,000 Japanese Orthodox Christians.
After preaching and talking about the need to go to all the nations for so many years, young Anastasios faced a dilemma. He was waiting to be ordained a priest, and all of his spiritual mentors were telling him about the great needs in Greece, trying to encourage him to stay and serve the Church there. He, however, was wrestling with the thought of going to Africa and becoming a long-term missionary. Of course, there were no guarantees offered for this latter course, and the obstacles of the missionary life seemed quite daunting. Gazing from his simple, ascetic cell, with the horizon of the open sea calling out to him, Anastasios sought from God a satisfactory response for this major decision.
During his time of deep prayer and reflection, an answer finally came in the form of a critical question: “Is God enough for you? If so, then go. If not, then stay where you are.” A follow-up question, however, reinforced the first. “But if God is not enough for you, in which God do you believe?”
A peaceful decision followed, directing this young deacon, Anastasios Yannoulatos, on an innovative course into new missionary frontiers – frontiers that would eventually lead him to travel around the world countless times, to live in East Africa for more than a decade, and then to enter the most spiritually desolate and atheistic country in the world during the early 1990s, and resurrect the Church in Albania over the past 16 years.
Precisely in his bleakest hours of doubt and question which often assailed him over the years, when he struggled to understand people from a radically different culture and context, and when he tried to incarnate God’s love in a concrete manner to people who didn’t believe, it was then that he found comfort and strength in the assurance of the Resurrected Christ, who promised to those who went to all nations that “Lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”
The missionary imperative is surely not an easy one. To leave one’s comfort zone – one’s country, language, people, and family – and to go wherever God calls in the world demands a radical faith. And yet, the apostles and countless saints throughout history chose precisely this path to glorify God. And the need still exists today. One quarter of the world has still not had an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Two thirds of the world remains unmoved by the witness of the Christian Church. And we, the privileged believers, who have received the priceless treasure of faith in our own lives, are called now by our Savior to share the Gospel with all people everywhere!
Yet, who is going to respond to this call? Who will accept the challenge to go forth to the nations and become a missionary after the example of the apostles. Of course, everyone in this chapel is preparing to serve the Lord in a special way, many as ordained servants of God. Yet the vast majority of us will serve in a comfortable setting within this country, where there are already thousands of priests and millions of Christians. I’m not implying that there are not needs here – there are, and they are great indeed. Yet as great as the needs are here, how many of us will think about the rest of the world?
What about those parts of the world where people have never heard the Gospel? What about churches in parts of the world that are struggling for lack of priests and workers? What witness is our Orthodox Church in America offering to the rest of the world?
God is calling some of us in this Church today to respond to His missionary call. Yes, great obstacles stand in the way of such a call. Yes, the fear of the unknown may threaten and frighten us. Surely, the temptation to think what difference “little old me” can make will try to hinder our path.
In the end, however, each one of us should try to remember what Archbishop Anastasios discovered as a young deacon in a similar situation. “Is God enough for you?” If He is, then don’t be afraid of anything, but go forth in faith!