"Philotheos Revisited: The Reawakening of Mission Outlook"




Fr. Stanley Samuel Harakas



       It is for me a distinct honor and privilege to be asked to offer the inaugural Annual Lecture on Orthodox Missions sponsored by The Endowment Fund for Orthodox Missions.  I will reserve to the final part of this presentation some reflections upon the significance of the fact that this lectureship on Missions in the Orthodox Church comes in honor of Fr. Alexander and Presbytera Pearl Veronis and from the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  As you will see, I believe that there is more than an accidental connection between this man and woman, the missionary movement in American Greek Orthodoxy, the parish of the Annunciation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the primary subject matter of this lecture, a turn of the century novel by theologian Nicholas Ambrazis entitled The Greek Orthodox Missionary Philotheos.

          The significance of this novel for Greek Orthodox missionary studies is that it is one of the first, if not the first expression of missionary interest in modern Greek speaking Orthodoxy.  It is instructive for study, in that it reflects at once, those principles of Orthodox missiology which have characterized the best missionary thinking and practice in Eastern Christianity over the twenty centuries of its existence, as well as some negative and positive characteristics of missionary thought in its own time.

          So I invite you to join me in an exploration of this unique, pioneering literary and theological effort.  I first propose to briefly describe the author and the setting in which the novel was written, providing some bibliographical context.  The second part will describe in some detail, the charming, sometimes seriously instructive and sometimes quite naive, yet always entertaining story-line of the novel.  We will then analyze the missionary theory conveyed by the novel, noting both its strong points, as well as some of the problematics related to it.  The final part will seek to fulfill the promise given in my opening remarks: i.e. to make a connection between Ambrazis' Philotheos and the rise of mission interest in the United States, and in particular, in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania parish of the Annunciation.



            To my knowledge, the only Greek Orthodox theologian to deal with this "first Greek missionary novel" as he calls it, is Elias Voulgarakis, who published an extensive descriptive  and analytical article on it in the missionary periodical Porefthendes in its Greek edition[1].  I am drawing extensively on this study in the first and second parts of my presentation today.

            The author, Nicholas H. Ambrazis, was a well known Orthodox theologian who lived from 1854 to 1926.  He obtained his theological education at the Patriarchal Theological School of Halki, but unlike most graduates, Ambrazis was not ordained, following rather the tradition of the lay theologian.  Ambrazis served ably as a preacher of the Word in Smyrna, and as a teacher in several Greek towns, including service at the Barbakeion Lykeion in Athens.  He served as President of the religious society "Apostolos Pavios" in 1902, and was a member of "Anaplasis" and a contributor to this still published periodical.

          In addition, he was an author of significant theological works, most of which dealt with inter-church and inter-religious topics.  His first volume was published at age 22 in 1876 on the topic Protestantism.  Some other writings of interest are a 1892 study on the possibilities of union of the Orthodox and the Anglican Churches, and a two volume study on the relationship of the Orthodox Church with other Christian Churches, published in Athens in 1902 and 1903.  His most famous work, however, is a two volume book entitled Rabbi Isaac M. Who Comes to Believe in Christ published in 1901 and 1906, which was translated into three languages.  His interests can be characterized as proto-ecumenical.  Voulgarakis appears to me to overstate the truth when he says:  "It is not overly bold to characterize his theological work with the contemporary term 'ecumenical theology' because even though he lived in a time of powerful confessional conflicts, he was imbued with a truly ecumenical spirit."  But at least, Ambrazis' publication record indicates a strong interest in relating with other Christian and religious traditions, without the overly defensive fears of his contemporaries.

          In 1892, while professor at Barbakeion Lykeion,[2] Ambrazis published his missionary novel.  We have no statement from the author on his reasons for addressing the issue of missionary activity among the Greek Orthodox by this means.  He did not write in a scholarly fashion about the topic, nor did he ever involve himself in organized missionary activity.  Nevertheless, his other publications show him to be a person interested in what we would call today, “outreach.”  We have already noted his ecumenical concerns.  The book on Rabbi Isaac M. is an inter-religious effort, in which he presents the conversion of a Jew to Christianity.  Outreach to Protestants, to Roman Catholics and to Jews, could certainly have provoked a desire for outreach to pagan non-believers, thus rounding out a spiritual desire to obey the commission of Christ to the Apostles, and by extension, the Church, "to go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).

            As we shall see immediately below, there would appear to be some possible autobiographical aspects to the story, at least in its beginning pages.  Ambrazis clearly knows of the impressive missionary work of Russian Orthodoxy.  As a student of Theology at Halki, he was a resident of Constantinople under the Turkish Muslem Sultan, and could not have helped but reflect on the total absence of missionary work among the Greeks, in comparison.  While he could never, in all practicality, expect that Orthodox could do mission work among the Turkish Muslims, it would not be logically beyond consideration for the Greek Orthodox in the Patriarchate to undertake missionary work among those who have never been exposed to Christianity at all.

         The dialogue between the Principal and the graduating Philotheos is instructive.  Like the author, Philotheos Atheniades flies in the face of the conventional wisdom of Halki graduates by refusing to be ordained, thus forfeiting his diploma.  In the novel, Philotheos, rejecting the clergyman career track proposed for him by the School's Principal, counters with a question of his own which may well have some elements of autobiography hidden in its lines:

-"All these (arguments regarding ordination) are good and holy aims," answered Philotheus, "but what of Christ's Commandment?"

-"Which Commandment?" the principal of the School inquired.

-"The commandment 'Go ye and teach all nations'” (Mat. 28:19) answered Philotheus.  “As long as even a single unbeliever lives on the earth, unaware of Christ and His holy Gospel, this commandment obligated all Christians to strive for their conversion.  Why are the other Churches working through their missions among the unbelievers?  Who is to teach them?  Who is to enlighten them?  Who will fulfill the Commandment of Christ to work for their salvation, unless we be the ones, who are called Christians.  If we all become Bishops and we remain in one and the same place, what will become of the work of mission among the unbelievers?"


In response to the Principal's counter-argument that it was enough for the Orthodox that the Russian Church had missions in Japan and in China, Ambrazis presents Philotheos as appealing both to present-day Greek national sentiments and to the ancient Patriarchal tradition of mission.

-"If the Russian Orthodox Church is working with such splendid results among the unbelievers, fulfilling the Commandment of Christ, why should the Hellenic Orthodox Church stay aloof," answered Philotheus, adding that it this very Church had done splendid work in bringing to Christ the Slavs, the Bulgarians and many other nations."[3]


            But why a novel?  And why a novel, which at least twice in its publishing history was perceived to be so simply and delightfully written so as to be understood to be a “children’s book?”  Perhaps, like Apostolos Makrakis, at an earlier age, he despaired that the "older generation," set firmly in its ways, would never renew the missionary drive of the Greek Church.  Significantly, Voulgarakis calculates, by comparing the number of sponsors for this volume, with the sponsors for his other publications, that relatively few people of his day found much interest in the theme of Orthodox missions.  And like Makrakis, it may be that Ambrazis felt that he had little alternative than to express his concern for mission, forming it in a fashion which would be appealing to the future generations.  Can we not detect an element of impatience in the words he places on the lips of Philotheos when the Principal claims a poverty of means for doing missionary work?

- "Many were the opportunities of the past and many good things were possible.  Other obstacles may have existed to prevent expansion of the work in the past, but we can do more in the future.  Why is it that the Russian Orthodox are working so admirable and we rest?  Why is it that we remain inactive?  Why can't we work for the glory of God and the conversion of those who are in the dark?  No, Mr. Principal, I don't wish to become a Bishop.  I rather wish to preach Christ among the savages and the faithless ... Let others become Bishops."[4]

            However, it seems as though there was no immediate response to Ambrazis' invitation for missionary activity, in the period immediately following the publication of his book.  It was not republished in his lifetime.  When, after the 2nd World War it again saw the light of day, it was in serialized form in a children's magazine.[5]  It wasn't until 1967 that it was republished as a book.[6]  Nevertheless, the book may well have entered the subconscious mind and heart of its young readers, preparing the ground for a resurgence of missionary interest in Greek Orthodoxy in the period following the 2nd World War and its aftermath fifty years later.



            A synopsis of a novel can never do justice to its tone, movement and will always be nothing more that a provocation to read the book itself.  Nonetheless, for purposes of this presentation, it is necessary to familiarize you with the story-line so that the points in the following section about missionary principles and method may be intelligible.  I am here greatly helped by the summary done by Voulgarakis in his Greek article .

Ambrazis presents the story to his readers as if it were a letter written to him by Philotheos, written essentially in the first person, and which he divides into seventeen chapters for the convenience of his readers.  As we have seen, Philotheos has refused his diploma because receiving it required his ordination.  He does this so that he can become a missionary.  As he is leaving the island of Halki, he makes friends with a Priest named Benedict, who had already heard of the audacious Philotheos' desire to become a missionary.  It just so happens, that the Priest Benedict has been assigned to serve the Greek Orthodox community in Calcutta, India.  He offers to take Philotheos with him on the journey.  So begins a series of "deus ex machina" events which pepper the story providing at once, a measure of the fantastic, but a delight at the unexpected, and more than a small amount of trust in Divine Providence for the reader!

            Of course, the ship on which they are travelling sinks in a violent storm, and a few of the survivors are thrown upon a small island.  Awakening on the beach, they face a fearsome sight.  Bones and skeletons everywhere!  The local natives are cannibals, who proceed to kill, cook and eat the hapless survivors.  Finally, Philotheos' turn comes.  He is approached by the tall leader of the tribe, but who, instead of killing him, suddenly points to our hero, and calls to his fellows to fall to their knees before Philotheos in an act of awesome reverence, shouting "Taboo, Taboo!" as they do so.  It turns out that a fairly large birthmark on Philotheos' face provokes them to think of him as some kind of god, perhaps the author is here imitating and embellishing a somewhat similar experience of St. Paul as described in the 14th chapter of Acts.

          Philotheos sees in this turn of events God's answer to his prayer that he be a missionary, so he decides to evangelize the natives.  Following the burial of the dead, on the basis of his newly found authority, Philotheos orders a small hut to be built in the branches of a large tree and separates himself from the Nianiaoomi people, (for that is their tribal name).  He takes his meals alone, in his hut.  Conveniently, he has also managed to save from the storm, his Bible, some medical supplies, and a small pistol, with ammunition.

          His first missionary encounter is to heal the mother of the tribal leader whose name he came to learn, was Birbiroo.  The quinine in his sack is administered, but the reaction is so powerful in the patient, that Birbiroo threatens the life of the missionary.  Philotheos slightly wounds his attacker and thoroughly frightens everybody else.  This “thunder" at Philotheos' control and the fact that Birbiroo's mother rapidly regains her health, assures him subsequently of the loyal support of the tribal leader and his people.  His first missionary task is to learn the language of the Nianiaoomi.  With Birbiroo's help he masters its simple vocabulary and grammar.  Concurrently he begins imposing a measure of civilization upon the tribe, in the form of personal cleanliness, cooking of food over fire, and the physical and social organization of the living conditions of the tribe.  He leaves untouched for the moment, the religious traditions of the Nianiaoomi, as well as the great idol which is at their center.  Further civilizing practices are introduced, including planned work details, food gathering, pottery making, hemp-weaving, clothes making (and wearing!), the formulation of a sun clock and a calendar.  Finally, the language of the Nianiaoomi is committed to writing.

          Forming teams of teachers, the people of the tribe are soon taught to read their own language.  In the meantime, Philotheos begins translating the New Testament into the new language, and the more intelligent of the Nianiaoomi begin copying the Scriptures for their fellows.

          One day this peaceful activity is disrupted with an attack by a neighboring tribe, the Gouanachi, the traditional enemies of the Nianiaoomi.  Philotheos uses his pistol again and gains the awesome fear of the enemy and in the process a bullet strikes the idol of the Nianiaoomi, knocking it down.  Among those captured are two white men who, previously, had been captured by the Gouanachi.  One of them is a French Calvinist missionary named Gabriel; the other is an English Evangelical Christian by the name of Archibald.  At Philotheos' suggestion they agree to work for the evangelization of the Nianiaoomi and, since Philotheos was there first, to do so in accordance with the Orthodox faith and traditions.  However, Philotheos does so only after he is convinced that their basic Christian beliefs are Orthodox.  Gabriel and Archibald learn the language and cooperate in the translation of the New Testament.

          Following prayer and fasting, on the 22nd of May in the year 1875, the missionaries begin the catechetical instruction of the natives.  The dramatic confrontation about the fallen idol, the call for repentance and the heartfelt response to it, the presentation of the saving forgiveness of Christ, made by Philotheos is followed by explanations of the plan of salvation by Gabriel, and about the Church by Archibald.

          So eager was the response of the Nianiaoomi, that the missionaries decide to teach them on a daily basis from the translated New Testament.  It was then that Philotheos instructed the people about the daily cycle of prayers and led the whole community in them each day.  After several weeks of instruction, the Nianiaoomi are tested in their knowledge of the faith and in their commitment to Christ.  They are found worthy by the missionaries, and the question of Baptism arises.

          There is a dilemma for Philotheos.  He is the Orthodox Christian, but a layman.  Gabriel and Archibald are ministers, but not Orthodox.  What to do? Who shall baptize the Nianiaoomi?  Philotheos decides he should do the baptising, but postpones the baptism for the time being.

            One day shortly thereafter a storm arises.  On the horizon the small community sees a storm-tossed ship which eventually sinks.  Some survivors approach the island and the populous swims out to them to save them and some of their belongings.  The older of the two men has a long white beard and hair knotted at the back!  Yes, you guessed it!  The old man was a Greek Orthodox Bishop, on his way to Calcutta, the young man was his deacon, and the luggage which was saved included vestments and everything needed for Orthodox worship!

          The next day is a glorious one for Orthodoxy!  The Bishop conducts the Liturgy, Gabriel and Archibald convert to the True Faith, the Nianiaoomi are baptized and anointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  That night, for the first time the natives and the white missionaries share a common table together, feasting in celebration of the day's events.

          The subsequent weeks are spent in organizing the newly founded Church.  Birbiroo is ordained a deacon and then a priest.  The Greek deacon, Gabriel and Archibald translate the Orthodox Book of Services (the Euchologion), and the Bishop conducts the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony for all of the married couples in the tribe.

          It was now time for the missionaries to leave.  A ship appears to take them back to civilization, but before they depart the Bishop speaks to the now Christianized Nianiaoomi, providing them like another St. Paul in Ephesus, with counsel and advice on the living of their Christian life.  The ship leaves the missionaries off in Australia where Philotheos stays to write the story of his missionary experience.  One of the purposes of writing the story is to raise money for the Nianiaoomi mission.  Subsequently, Philotheos communicates with Father Birbiroo and learns that all is well at the mission.  The story closes with the expression of the desire of missionary Philotheos to the mission once again, and from there, to finally return to his homeland, Greece.

          The broad outlines of the story as just described do not communicate the flavor and the vivacity of this simple text.  There is a delightfulness about it, even in the appearance of ready solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems.  Yet, in spite of the inherent naivete of the narrative, it includes much significant material for the study of missions from the perspective of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.  It is to this task that we now turn.



            The theory of mission which arose in the early Byzantine Church and crystallized in the Methodian and Cyrillic traditions may be characterized by several dominant perspectives.  In history, exceptions to this mission theory can be found many times, which led in the early 1800's to massive apostasies to Islam.  Yet even the evaluation of those missions established contrary to the Eastern missionary ideal, consistently took place in accordance to these principles.

          On the other hand, those missionary efforts which are presented as examples of the best missionary activity in Orthodoxy, consistently display them.  Thus, the examples in Russian missionary history referred to in the novel, especially the Japanese mission of Nicholas Kasatkin exemplify these principles concretely.  Another is the mission to the Kalmucks of the Altai plateau in Central Asia by Makary Glukarev; and another, the exemplary mission work of John Veniaminov among the Aleuts, in Alaska.  These missionaries and their methods are models for the Orthodox in the application of the traditional Orthodox Christian mission principles of which we speak.[7]

          Singly and as a whole, these principles have stood the test of time, and in most cases have served to establish long-standing and viable Christian communities.  As principles they presuppose the truth of synergy, i.e. that it is "God who gives the growth,"(1 Corinthians 3:6) in the first instance, but that human beings must cooperate with the divine will.  The missionary principles of which we speak are addressed to the human side of the synergistic equation.  They can be listed in a propositional form in the following manner.

       1.  The goal of Orthodox Missions is the establishment of new believing and worshipping communities, that is, the goal of mission is the establishment of local Churches made up of believing, practicing and growing Christians.  Unlike much of contemporary mission theory which argues for a mission goal which is cast in economic or political terms, in Orthodox mission theory these interests are not ignored, but they do not form the central purpose of mission.

       2.  The second principle of Eastern Orthodox missiology is the effort to incarnate the Gospel message in the form, culture, tradition and language of the people.  The remarkable “culture making” and “nation building” tendencies of Eastern Christian mission work in the past is always noted.  From the earliest of times barbarian tribes were attracted to Christianity in part because it was perceived as incorporating not only spiritual values but also culture and civilization.  However, the critical difference between 18th and 19th century western mission theory and practice, and the Eastern ideal (which, we must remember was not always heeded in practice), was that a larger respect for the autonomy of culture was accorded to the receiving peoples in the Eastern perspective.

            The fact, however, that this principle was in fact significantly practiced, is found in the following two principles, that of the rapid translation of services and Scripture in to the language of the people, and the rapid indigenization of the clergy.

          3.  The rapid translation of Scripture and services into the language of the people is a particular case of the previously mentioned general effort to incarnate the Gospel message into the culture and life of a people.  The creation of the Cyrillic alphabet is not an isolated example, but it is particularly striking because of the immediate and sharp contrast with the latinizing approach of the German Bishops with which Cyril and Methodios had to contend.

          4.  In like manner, the rapid indigenization of the local clergy is equally striking when compared to the tendency of both Roman Catholic and Protestant 19th century missions to perpetuate the presence of the western missionary among the newly christianized peoples.  The problem posited in western missiology by means of the question "When does a mission become a Church?" has not, at least up to some rather recent developments, needed attention in Eastern Orthodox Missiology.  Much of the turmoil in contemporary western Christian missiology can be directly traced to the rejection by the mission fields of a perceived western ecclesial and cultural imperialism.

            Rapid indigenization of the clergy is also another way by which the internal autonomy and integrity of the local Church is encouraged and affirmed.  Wherever in Orthodoxy the hierarchy and clergy are of different nationality than the laity, there continues to be friction and the sense of the impropriety of such a situation.  It is a backhanded affirmation of the principle of the cultural incarnation of the Gospel.

       5.  Another, less widely recognized principle is the view that mission should be conducted on the basis of the most appropriate and fitting means.  It is generally recognized when only numbers are being sought after, and persons are enticed into the faith through material promises or rewards, or by force against their wills, as was the case of the mission of Filofey Leschinski in West Siberia and that of Nicodim Lenkeevick among the Kalmucks, no permanent results can be expected.[8] The successful mission of Glukarev among the same Kalmucks, who emphasized catechetical instruction, sincere faith and who built more villages, schools and hospitals than churches is a vivid contrasting example of faithfulness to Orthodox mission principles.

       6.  To these, finally, I wish to add the principle of eventual autocephaly, through the possible steps of autonomy and semi-autonomy within the Orthodox canonical structure.  Needless to say this development is an occasion for numerous situations of conflict and is especially difficult to resolve in particular cases.  Yet, there is a commonly understood presupposition in Eastern Orthodoxy that foreign mission ideally will result in an autocephalous, that is, self-governing Church, provided that the necessary conditions are met as a presupposition.  That both the conferring of autonomy and autocephaly are agreed upon topics for the forthcoming Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church witnesses to the viability of the principle and the continuing recognition of its appropriateness.[9] Properly, a mature Orthodox Church will be characterized by a mission consciousness, with a missionary program of its own, and with missionaries of its own.

       Nevertheless, there is another side of this principle which is implicit: that there will be a time period of longer or shorter duration in which the new Church is maturing and growing, requiring supervision of the new Church by the mother Church as a part of the process of maturation.  Of course, in principle it is to be that kind of care which will encourage the local Church to continue its road to its eventual self-governance, provided all the conditions are present.

            What remains in this section is to identify if Ambrazis has built these principles into his mission story.  It clearly does not require much analysis to identify them in the story-line of the Philotheos mission.  Ambrazis presents Philotheos as seeing his mission to the Nianiaoomi as a gift from God, presented to him as a result of his prayer to be a missionary by means of the shipwreck.  His understanding of the goal of his mission is to establish a believing and worshipping and living Orthodox community.  One of his earliest tasks is to learn the Nianiaoomi language, to translate the Scriptures into it, and initially, to translate some of the basic prayers for worship.  When it becomes clear that the Church will be established, the prayer book and the sacraments of the Church are also committed to the language of the Nianiaoomi.  The ordination of Birbiroo certainly telescopes dramatically the process of the formation of an indigenous clergy, but it is important that this is included in the novel.

            The issue of the appropriate and fitting means of mission work is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the novel.  It may be here that significant 19th century prejudices are at work.  The immediate interest in civilizing the Nianiaoomi, in itself is not suspect, since only the most elementary health and hygene practices, and some basic issues of morality are instituted by our missionary.  We do not see an essentially imperialistic attitude in them.  However, it can be argued that Philotheos' unwillingness to eat with the natives, his separation from them by means of his living arrangements, and many of the expressions used throughout the book betray an unacceptable attitude of racism, with its implied sense of superiority of the white European.  Certainly, if such is the case, then it is an inappropriate element in this mission novel.  Another issue which arises is the question of the appropriateness of the use of the firearm and the exploitation of the superstitious fear and awe which it produced.  In his treatment of this issue, Voulgarakis defends Philotheos of these charges, interpreting them in terms of temporary but necessary means, which he later explains properly to the Nianiaoomi.  Voulgarakis also opines               that Philotheos         must be absolved from the charge of racism, since following the baptism of the Nianiaoomi, he joins in the celebratory meal with them.

            Like the almost too rapid ordination of Birbiroo, the road to self-government seems to be too quickly implemented in the novel.  Yet, it serves to include the principle of the eventual self-determination of the local Orthodox Church.  In the same rather cursory manner, the continuing interest of the missionary in the Church he has founded, incorporates into the novel this important dimension of missionary concern.  In spite of the obvious inadequacy of these actions in the novel, their presence is certainly to be appreciated, when possible alternative endings are contemplated.  For instance, Ambrazis could have had Philotheos ordained the priest, and remain the white European leader over the Nianiaoomi, keeping them in perpetual subjugation.  This he did not do.

            We are then led to conclude that Nicholas Ambrazis' novel embodies in a charming and entertaining way the fundamental principles of Eastern Orthodox missions.



            In my summary of the novel, I did not mention that once the Nianiaoomi Church had been established, they soon showed interest in the Christianization of their former enemies, the Gouanachi tribe.  In one of his communications with Father Birbiroo, Philotheos learns that the Gouanachi have been evangelized by the Nianiaoomi, through one of their own tribal members, and have embraced the faith.  The Nianiaoomi had now become missionaries themselves!

            Unfortunately for Ambrazis, such was not to be the case among his own Greek Orthodox people.  As we have seen the response to his story was neither enthusiastic nor anywhere as immediate as that of the Nianiaoomi.  Over half a century was to pass before Greek Orthodoxy was to interest itself in mission in any conspicuous way.  It was Fr. Chrysostom Papasarantopoulos who responded to the presence of Ugandan Orthodox students in Athens, that provoked the interests of the Greeks in mission.  He went to Africa to work there in 1959, giving the rest of his life to that mission.  We do not know if Fr. Chrysostom had read Ambrazis novel, but surely those who had read it, either in its original edition or in its reprinting in the children’s magazine were prepared to respond in accordance with the missionary principles it promoted.  Others were to follow in Greece, with the founding of organizations and periodicals such as Porefthendes, "The Greek Society of Orthodox Foreign Mission," formerly known as the "Friends of Uganda," and the "'Protokletos' Mission Society of Patras," which publishes the mission journal Fos Ethnon, i.e. "Light of Nations."

            All this leads to the "Lancaster Connection." It is generally acknowledged that as far as the interest in mission within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America is concerned, the leading figure, from the very beginning of his ministry, was Fr. Alexander Veronis.  Like Papasarantopoulos, Fr. and Presbytera Veronis had become interested in helping the African mission from their contacts at the University of Athens with the theological students from Uganda.  The Veronis' began their work in support of Ugandan missions in Lancaster, their first and only parish, through the organization and promotion of a Lenten Self-Denial Program.  It was received enthusiastically by the Annunciation parishioners, a fact which encouraged its subsequent expansion to other parishes through the District youth program, and eventually to the whole Archdiocese.  Under the eventual patronage of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos and the episcopal supervision of His Excellency, Metropolitan Silas, it became a part of the official program of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, now with headquarters in St. Augustine, Florida.

            What is not widely known, however, is that Nicholas Ambrazis' novel, The Greek Orthodox Missionary Philotheos was published in English translation in 1948 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, fourteen years before Fr. Alexander and Presbytera Pearl assumed their duties there.  The translator was Angel D. Sederocanellis, long involved in Greek education in the New York area.  The publisher was Fr. Nicholas Elias, long-time pastor of the Annunciation Church in Lancaster, who owned a press, and published his own writings on it.  It is interesting to note that in the dedication of the translation, it is evident that both men had been familiar with the book from its original edition.  Sederocanellis wrote,

Having read this interesting and educational story about forty years ago, I always carried. in my mind the possibility of its translation into English.  Rev. Elias' noble decision to publish it, made my duty to translate it a pleasure and a source of satisfaction in the declining years of my life.


            Included in this set of circumstances is the fact that the first person to ever teach a course in Orthodox Missions at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology was pastor in Lancaster from 1956 to 1961, where he read this novel in its English translation, it being included among the books in the parish collection.

       I am suggesting that it may well be that the vigorous and enthusiastic response which the congregation of the Annunciation Church gave to Fr. Alexander's original appeal for missions giving has its roots in the little book which had been published there twenty years before.  Its message lay dormant, until God was to send these special servants to evoke its missionary message once again from the hearts of its early readers.  It was Lancaster's Greek Orthodox community which was called by God to begin a movement for Orthodox Missions which has done much, and promises more in the future.  And it was they, the parishioners of Annunciation Church in Lancaster who in 1981, did what no other parish in the United States of America did: they founded "The Endowment Fund for Orthodox Missions," in honor of Fr. Alexander and Presbytera Pearl Veronis.

       Maybe all this is a series of unrelated coincidence.  I for one, cannot accept that.  The truth of "synergy" tells me that God leads us to mission, and somehow, in his inscrutable wisdom He has brought together a simple and entertaining missionary novel, a Greek teacher and a parish priest with a printing press, Africans thirsting for Orthodox truth, a young priest and his presbytera seeking to encourage missions among the Greek Orthodox in America, a congregation whose minds were fertile ground for the practice of mission, so as to bring about a "Lancaster Connection" to kindle a new commitment to Orthodox Missions in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.  Yes, in this, as in so many things, "we are co-workers with God," "Theou gar esmen synergoi," says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3:9).



            In conclusion, I remind you of the title of this inaugural Annual Lecture on Orthodox Missions sponsored by "The Endowment Fund for Orthodox Missions" - "Philotheos Revisited: The Reawakening of the Orthodox Missionary Outlook." Whatever it was that Nicholas Ambrazis thought he was doing when he wrote his little story, it appears that it has in fact served God's purpose in contributing to the renewal of missionary interest among the Greek Orthodox people.

            Almost a century ago Ambrazis placed on the lips of his protagonist a reminder of the great commandment of the Lord that Christians be missionaries.  I remind you of the exchange.


-"All these (arguments regarding ordination) are good and holy aims," answered Philotheus, "but what of Christ's Commandment?"

-"Which Commandment?" the principal of the School inquired.


-"The commandment 'Go ye and teach all nations' (Mat. 28:19) answered Philotheus.  As long as even a single unbeliever lives on the earth, unaware of Christ and His holy Gospel, this commandment obligates all Christians to strive for their conversion.  Why are the other Churches working through their missions among the unbelievers?  Who is to teach them?  Who is to enlighten them?  Who will fulfill the Commandment of Christ to work for their salvation, unless we be the ones, who are called Christians."


       It may well be that as a result of the story of The Greek Orthodox Missionary Philotheos his questions are no longer fully appropriate for the beginnings of an answer that has be given in Greece, and yes, in America, through the "Lancaster Connection."



[1] Porefthendes, Vol. 10, 1968, pp.2-4, 41-46, 55-56, 59-62.


[2] Bibliographical information is drawn from Voulgarakis article mentioned above and from N. Th. Bougatsos article on Ambrazis in the Threskevtike kai Ethike Enkyklopaideia, Athens, 1963, Vol. 2, p. 270.  He gives the 1892 date.


[3] Quotations from the novel are slightly revised versions of The Greek Orthodox Missionary Philotheus Among the Savages.  Tr.  Angel D. Sederocanellis.  Lancaster, Pa.: Rev.  Nicholas Elias, Publisher, 1948, pp. 6-7.


[4] Ibid., pp. 8-9.


[5] Voulgarakis , op. cit., p 63.


[6] Published by Soterios N. Schoinas, in Volos, Greece.


[7] Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions.  Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971, pp. 439-449


          [8] Stephen Neill, Op. cit., pp. 214-215.

[9] See Stanley S. Harakas, Something is Stirring in World Orthodoxy:  An Introduction to the Forthcoming Great and Holy Council of the Orthodoxy Church.  Minneapolis: Light & Life Publ. Co. 1978.