Toward a Eucharistic Missiology: An Orthodox Perspective

By George, Kondothra M. | International Review of Mission, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Toward a Eucharistic Missiology: An Orthodox Perspective


George, Kondothra M., International Review of Mission


Abstract

The Orthodox churches were drawn into contemporary missiological discussions primarily through the modern ecumenical movement. Since there are fundamental differences of approach between the East and the West on this matter, particularly because the Western concept and method of mission is perceived to be still carrying, rather imperceptibly, the old imperial-colonial baggage, the Orthodox are always ill at ease in these discussions dominated by the Western Protestant churches. The Orthodox theologians have, however, made huge efforts within the framework of the World Council of Churches to enunciate their vision of the missionary nature of the church from patristic and liturgical perspectives.

This article pleads for a shifting of paradigm from an anthropocentric and possessive mode of mission to non-possessive hospitality, eucharistic (thanksgiving) intercessory care for creation, and self-giving inner pilgrimage to the source of light that enlightens all. Mission as gift and not simply as task would be essential for the shaping of a new human civilization. What is needed is a change of human civilizational paradigm and not simply some aspects of the conventional Christian mission models. In Asia, we had the Buddhist mission before Christ and the East Syrian Christian mission in the first millennium, which gave us some alternate models of doing peaceful and non-acquisitive mission.

In search of a paradigm shift

There is a staggering volume of literature on Christian missionary movement and related topics in most of the European languages. The formation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948 and the entry of the International Missionary Council into the WCC in 1961 as a constitutive stream have further fertilized the proliferation of missionary literature in diverse ways. It would appear that mission, missionary and missiology have been discussed ad nauseam in Christian theological circles.

Orthodox uneasiness

The Orthodox churches have been drawn into this discussion in the 20th century primarily through their involvement in the WCC. As most Orthodox theologians and historians would testify, there is an undercurrent of uneasiness on the part of the Orthodox who participate in these discussions. There may be several reasons for this: it is only historical commonplace that the very concept of mission advocated by the Western Roman Catholic and Protestant churches was integral to the colonial expansion of the western European countries since the end of the 15th century. The contemporary Western discussion--in spite of political decolonization, the emergence of the ecumenical paradigm, pervasive secularization and the religiously pluralistic social context in the second half of the 20th century--is not completely purged of that connection in any substantial way. This was evident at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Western missions--Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical/ Pentecostal of all colours-rushed into what they called the spiritual vacuum created by the disappearance of socialist-atheist regimes. There was scant recognition that the Orthodox churches were present there for some thousand years, providing resources for nourishing and upholding in their own way the Christian faith of the people. This presence was deliberately absent in the missionary memory of the Western world.

When China became partially open to the West, there seems to have occurred a simultaneous weakening of the China Christian Council which, with the control of the Communist government and its Three-Self Patriotic Movement, had tried to wean and bring together all Protestant churches away from their traditional allegiance to various Western confessional denominations and mission agencies. The gradual weakening of the WCC since the 1990s can also be interpreted as a result of the resurgence of a new version of the old Western missionary spirit in the new unipolar world. …

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