Posted by Staff on 5th Nov 2015
In Part One, we discussed the Scriptural basis for the Church's strong tradition of missionary endeavors, beginning with Christ's own commandment to go "teach all nations" (Mt. 28:19) and continuing with the Byzantine mission to the Slavs and the Russian Church's own missionary endeavors within the expanding borders of the Russian empire. Today, we offer this further discussion of 19-20th cc. Orthodox missions and ongoing efforts in our own day.
After the stabilization of the Russian borders, the Russian Church cast its missionary nets further still. Official missions were formed China and Japan, where the seeds of the Orthodox faith bore great fruit. The man sent by God to the Japanese was Father Nikolai Kasatkin, later canonised as Saint Nikolai of Japan.
His unique take on missionary work presented the Gospel and Orthodox faith to the Japanese in the context of their own culture, Saint Nikolai having taken great care to understand Japanese culture as best as he could. His great work produced thousands of converts and survived the Russo-Japanese war, the Russian Revolution, and the devastation of the Second World War. Today, the Japanese Orthodox Church forms an autonomous (self-governing) part of the Russian Church. Now in its fifth and sixth generations after Saint Nikolai, whose prayers still surely guide the Church there, the Church continues to grow and witness to the truth of the Gospel. The strong connection with the Church of Russia continues, as evidenced by the recent ordination of a Japanese hierodeacon in Moscow. In fact, the new Father Nikolai is himself a descendent of Father John Ono, a Japanese samurai who became one of Saint Nikolai’s first converts.
Elsewhere in Asia, the work of the Orthodox Church continues, with a large, and growing, mission existing in Indonesia under the Russian Church Abroad, led by the charismatic and revered Archimandrite Daniel (Byantoro). As a missionary church in a predominantly Muslim country, the Indonesian Church no doubt faces difficulties, but with God’s help, and the generous support of faithful Orthodox all over the world, they continue to bear witness to the Truth in their beautiful land. Fr. Daniel recently visited Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary, giving talks about his work in Indonesia and answering many questions. We hope to follow up this post with one dedicated to this man and his work for Christ.
Another recent development has been the establishment of a large mission in the Philippines by the Church of Russia, which is currently in the process of catechising and baptising some several thousand converts spread over the entire archipelago.
Another aspect of missionary work in the 20th century has been the revival of local Churches long thought to be extinct, such as the Church of Albania, which almost vanished entirely under the former Communist regime. Since the end of communism, the Albanian Orthodox Church has gone from strength to strength, guided by its missionary Archbishop, Anastasios, and assisted by the important work of the OCMC, as detailed in this book. New churches are opening frequently, monasteries are filling with men and women answering God’s call, and many young men are studying to enter the Holy Priesthood.
The late 20th century saw the first fruits of Orthodox missionary work south of the Sahara with the entry into the Church of two groups of converts in Kenya and Uganda. Fifty years later, the Church in Africa, under the leadership of the Patriarch of Alexandria, now numbers several million souls, with new missions and parishes being founded with increasing regularity. Beautiful, traditional, Orthodox churches are being built, seminaries are being established and the first monasteries for both men and women are being founded under guidance from the Holy Mountain.
The responsibility of spreading Orthodoxy on the African continent has been taken up mostly by the Churches of Greece and Cyprus, and the missionary societies in those countries. The Holy Mountain of Athos has offered some of its finest monastics as missionaries andbishops. The most notable of them has been Blessed Father Kosmas of Zaire, whose struggles against the witch doctors and the demonic sources of their ‘powers’ demonstrates the necessity for missionaries to be spiritually sober and experienced. His life and works are detailed in this excellent book.
Another notable figure is Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya, the beloved pastor of the 2 million-strong Kenyan flock. His inspiring missionary work is told through his homilies and reflections of Orthodox life in Africa. The Orthodox communities in Kenya and Uganda are now in their third generation, and have already started producing their own bishops. Mass baptisms continue to be a regular occurrence all over Africa, in places like Tanzania and Congo.
We shouldn’t be led into thinking that missionary work is exclusively about heading into distant foreign lands to convert the natives. All Orthodox Christians have the commission to spread the Gospel, by word, act, and deed. We can help spread the Orthodox faith in our own countries and communities just by bearing witness to that faith and living Christ-centred, Orthodox lives. It is our work to defend and cultivate Orthodoxy wherever we find ourselves. As a young man, Saint John of Kronstadt wished to follow the example of St Herman and serve as a missionary abroad. But he soon realized that the Russian people needed just as much missionary attention and so he turned his efforts to his own homeland. His life and work is an inspiration to Orthodox pastors the world over, and we are blessed with having his memoirs available for edification.
Another example is the work of the missionary priest, Fr. Daniil Sysoev, who laboured in the Lord’s vineyard primarily in Moscow, but also in other parts of Russia, where he helped many people overcome atheism, sects, cults, and Islam, and find salvation in the bosom of the Holy Orthodox Church. A prolific and skilled writer and orator, his many books are steadily being translated into English for the edification of those Orthodox who dwell in the Anglosphere. These titles include his Catechetical Talks, a candid and enlightening discussion with a Protestant, and an exhortation to attend the Divine Services frequently. Fr. Daniil entered into eternal life on November 20th 2009, when he was martyred by a Muslim in his parish church. His work continues with the missionary society founded in his memory.
By looking at the past 200 years of missionary work, we can be encouraged by the knowledge that, despite whatever unfavourable situations the Church may find itself in, God will always make His Truth known, and, even in our own days, we can see His providential assistance for the Holy Orthodox Church as it spreads the Gospel in previously unevangelised lands. We should ask great saints like Saint Herman and Saint Innocent for their prayers, beseeching them to assist brave missionaries like Fr. Daniel in Indonesia, and local missionaries like those who have followed in the footsteps of Fr. Daniil in Russia.
May the Truth of Holy Orthodoxy enlighten the entire world!
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