The Twentieth Century, III: Diaspora and Mission
IN the past Orthodoxy has appeared, from the cultural and geographical point of view, almost exclusively as an 'eastern' Church. Today this is rapidly ceasing to be so. Outside the boundaries of the traditional Orthodox countries there now exists a large Orthodox 'dispersion', its chief centre in North America, but with branches in every part of the world. In numbers and influence Greeks and Russians predominate, but the 'diaspora' is by no means limited to them alone: Serbs, Romanians, Arabs, Bulgarians, Albanians, and others all have a place.
The origins of this Orthodox diaspora extend some way back. Russian missionaries first settled on the North American continent in 1794; and some time earlier than this, in 1677, the first Greek Church was opened in London, in the then fashionable district of Soho. It had a brief but troubled career, and was closed in 1682. Henry Compton, the Anglican Bishop of London, forbade the Greeks to have a single icon in the church and demanded that their clergy omit all prayers to the saints, disown the Council of Jerusalem (1672), and repudiate the doctrine of Transubstantiation. When the Patriarch of Constantinople protested against these conditions to the English Ambassador, Sir John Finch, the latter retorted that it was 'illegal for any public Church in England to express Romish beliefs, and that it was just as bad to have them professed in Greek as in Latin'! (See E. Carpenter, The Protestant Bishop, London, 1936, pp. 357-64.) When the Greeks next opened a church in London in 1838, they were fortunately not subject to these irksome restrictions.
But if the fact of an Orthodox diaspora is not itself new, only within the last sixty years has it attained such dimensions as to make the presence of Orthodox a significant factor in the religious life of non-Orthodox countries. Even today, as a result of national and jurisdictional divisions, the influence of the diaspora is not nearly as great as it might otherwise be.
The most important single event in the story of the dispersion has been the Bolshevik Revolution, which drove into exile more than a million Russians, including the cultural and intellectual élite of the nation. Before 1914 the majority of Orthodox émigrés, whether Greek or Russian, were poor and little educated - people travelling west to trade or to look for work. But the great wave of exiles after the Revolution contained many men qualified to make contact with the west on a scholarly level, who could present Orthodoxy to the non-Orthodox world in a way that most earlier immigrants manifestly could not. The output of the Russian emigration, particularly in its first years, was astonishing: in the two decades between the World Wars, so it has been calculated, they published 10,000 books and 200 journals, not counting literary and scientific reviews. Today the Russian emigration is outnumbered by the Greek, and the Greeks, too, have begun to play an active part in the intellectual life of their adopted countries: in the United States, for example, a number of Greeks hold academic posts and a 'Hellenic University' is now being established at Boston.
The Greek diaspora, as we have seen, is under the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Russian diaspora is divided ecclesiastically into four groups or 'jurisdictions':
(1) The Synod of the Russian Church in Exile (also known as 'the Russian Church Outside Russia', 'the Karlovtzy Synod', the Synod') - over 17 bishops, perhaps 250 parishes.
(2) The Moscow Patriarchate - about 10 bishops, perhaps 70 parishes.
(3) The Russian Archdiocese of Western Europe, under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (also known as the 'Paris jurisdiction') - 2 bishops, perhaps 40 parishes.
(4) The Orthodox Church in America (until 1970 'The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America', 'The Metropolia'; no longer solely Russian) - 12 bishops, 550 parishes.
The story of Russian jurisdictional divisions is both tragic and complicated, and it can only be summarized briefly here. On 20 November 1920 Patriarch Tikhon, doubtless foreseeing that he would be imprisoned and deprived of the free exercise of his office, issued a decree authorizing Russian bishops to set up temporary independent organizations of their own, should it become impossible to maintain normal relations with the Patriarchate. After the collapse of the White Russian armies, over a million Russians found themselves in exile, including many priests and several bishops. It was clearly impossible for the Patriarch to supervise the religious life of the exiles, and so the bishops outside Russia applied the conditions of Tikhon's 1920 decree. In 1921, at the invitation of the Patriarch of Serbia, they held a Council at Sremski-Karlovci (Karlovtzy) in Yugoslavia, at which a temporary ecclesiastical administration for Russian Orthodox in exile was worked out. Supreme control was vested in a Synod of bishops who were to meet annually at Karlovtzy; an Administrative Board was also set up, comprising representatives of the clergy and laity.
The decisions of the Karlovtzy Council of 1921 were at first accepted by every Russian bishop at that time outside the borders of Russia. But Tikhon, on 5 May 1922, issued a decree abolishing the Administrative Board, and ordering Metropolitan Evlogy to work out a new scheme for the Russian Church abroad. Evlogy (1864-1946), the Russian bishop in Paris, was Exarch in western Europe; he had attended the Council of 1921 and signed the decisions. When he issued this decree, Tikhon was already in communist hands, so that there is some reason to believe he was acting under pressure and unable to express his true mind. Evlogy and the other bishops at the Karlovtzy Synod of 1922 duly worked out a new administration for the Russian Church in exile. Tikhon made no protest against these arrangements, and the Karlovtzy bishops claimed that he accepted the new constitution. Sergius, Alexis, and Pimen, however, have several times condemned the Karlovtzy administration, and the Moscow Patriarchate continues to the present day to regard it as entirely illegal and uncanonical. The Synod, for its part, does not recognize as valid the elections of Patriarch Sergius and his successors; and it has ignored the condemnations published by Moscow, looking upon them as political documents devoid of any spiritual authority. Between the wars the Synod met regularly at Karlovtzy; after the Second World War it moved to Munich, and since 1949 its centre has been in New York. The Synod was headed at first by Antony (Khrapovitsky), formerly Metropolitan of Kiev; from 1936 until 1964 the presiding bishop was Metropolitan Anastasy; the present head is Metropolitan Philaret. In the last fifteen years this group has become increasingly isolated from the rest of the Orthodox Church.
A small number of émigré Russians, instead of recognizing the Karlovtzy administration, preferred to remain in direct contact with the Moscow Patriarchate, thus forming the second of the four jurisdictions mentioned above. This group has never been large (very few clergy in exile were willing to comply with the demand of Sergius in 1927, and to provide a written statement of loyalty to the Soviet regime); but in 1945 several bishops and parishes in western Europe joined this Moscow jurisdiction.
The two remaining groups were formed by bishops who at first supported the Karlovtzy Synod, but who left it in 1926. The Paris jurisdiction owed its origin to the Russian Exarch in Paris, Metropolitan Evlogy. At first, as we have seen, he cooperated with the bishops at Karlovtzy, but after 1926 he ceased to attend the Synod. Then in 1930 he was disowned by Sergius because he prayed for the Christians under persecution in Russia (Sergius held that there were no persecuted Christians in Russia). Finding himself isolated, in 1931 Evlogy placed himself and his parishes under the spiritual care of the Ecumenical Patriarch. In 1934 Evlogy was privately reconciled to Metropolitan Antony, and in the following year he went to Karlovtzy for a special 'reunion' conference, at which the schism between him and the Synod was healed; but he subsequently renounced this agreement. Eventually, in 1945, shortly before his death, he submitted to the Patriarch of Moscow. But the great majority of his flock did not feel able to follow him, and remained under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. So matters continued until 1965, when the Patriarch of Constantinople - acting apparently under Russian pressure - suddenly announced that he could no longer continue his Russian Exarchate; and he recommended its members to join the jurisdiction of Moscow. This, not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority were unwilling to do, and they chose rather to constitute themselves into an independent group. In 1971 they were received back into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Finally there is the fourth group, the North American Metropolia. After the Revolution, the Russians in America stood in a slightly different position from the émigrés elsewhere, since here alone in the countries outside Russia, there was a regularly constituted Russian diocese before 1917, with a resident bishop. Metropolitan Platon of New York (1866-1934), like Evlogy, separated from the Karlovtzy Synod in 1926; he had already - in 1924 - severed contact with the Moscow Patriarchate, so that after 1926 the Russians in the United States formed de facto an autonomous group. At the 'reunion' conference in Yugoslavia in 1935 Platon's successor, Metropolitan Theophilus, rejoined the Karlovtzy jurisdiction. In 1946, however, at the Synod of Cleveland, a division occurred among the Russians in America. Five of the nine bishops present at this Synod, and a minority of the delegates from the parishes, decided to remain subject to the Karlovtzy-Munich group under Anastasy; but the other four bishops (including Theophilus himself), with a large majority of the parochial delegates, decided to submit to the Moscow Patriarchate, on condition that the Patriarchate allowed them to retain their 'complete autonomy as it exists at present'. At that time the Patriarchate was unable to consent to this. In 1970, however, the Moscow Patriarchate granted the Metropolia not just autonomy but autocephaly, declaring it to be the 'Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America' (the 'OCA'). But this grant of autocephaly has not yet been recognized by Constantinople, or by most of the other Orthodox Churches. The present head of the OCA is Metropolitan Theodosius. The OCA has not only Russian but Albanian, Romanian and Bulgarian parishes.
The Russian Church in Exile is strongly critical of the submissive attitude adopted by Church authorities in Russia today towards the atheist government; so are many members of the Russian Archdiocese of W. Europe and the OCA. Often it is claimed that the differences between Russian groupings in emigration are primarily political, that the Russian Church in Exile is 'white' or 'Tsarist', the Moscow Patriarchate 'red', and the other two somewhere in between. This is a very misleading way of looking at the matter. Certainly the Russian Church in Exile venerates the memory of Emperor Nicholas II, and its members hope that God may one day allow a Christian government to be restored in Russia; but it refuses to submit to the Moscow Patriarchate not for political but for religious reasons. The basic question at issue is this: How should the Church and the Christian bear witness, when confronted by a militant atheist government? And that is not a political but a spiritual problem.
Let us look briefly at the Orthodox communities in
western Europe and in North America. In 1922 the Greeks created an Exarchate for
western Europe, with its center in London. The first Exarch, Metropolitan
Germanos (1872-1951), was widely known for his work for Christian unity, and
played a leading part in the Faith and Order Movement between the ‘wars. In
1963 this Exarchate was divided into four separate dioceses, with bishops at
London, Paris, Bonn, and Vienna; further dioceses were later formed in
Scandinavia and Belgium, and most recently of all (1982) in Switzerland. There
are about 130 Greek parishes in western Europe with permanent churches and
resident clergy, and in addition a number of smaller Church groups.
The chief centers of Russian Orthodoxy in western Europe
are Munich and Paris. At Paris the celebrated Theological Institute of Saint
Sergius (under the Paris jurisdiction of Russians), founded in 1925, has acted
as an important point of contact between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Particularly
during the inter-war period, the Institute numbered among its professors an
extraordinarily brilliant group of scholars. Those formerly or at present on the
staff of Saint Sergius include Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944), the
first Rector; Bishop Cassian (1892-1965), his successor; A. Kartashev
(1875-1960), G.P. Fedotov (1886-1951), P. Evdokimov (1901-1970), Father Boris
Bobrinskoy and the Frenchman, Olivier Clément. Three professors, Fathers
Georges Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann, and John Meyendorff, moved to America,
where they played a decisive role in the development of American Orthodoxy. A
list of books and articles published by teachers at the Institute between 1925
and 1947 runs to ninety-two pages, and includes seventy full-scale books — a
remarkable achievement, rivaled by the staffs of few theological academies
(however large) in any Church. Saint Sergius is also noted for its choir, which
has done much to revive the use of the ancient ecclesiastical chants of Russia.
Almost entirely Russian between the two wars, the Institute now draws the
majority of its students from other nationalities: in 1981, for example, of the
thirty-four students, there were seven Russians (all except one brought up in
France), seven Greeks, five Serbs, one Georgian, one Romanian, seven French, two
Belgians, two from Africa, and one each from Holland and Israel. Courses are now
mainly in French.
In western Europe during the post-war period there has
also been an active group of Orthodox theologians belonging to the Moscow
Patriarchate, including Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958), Archbishop Basil (Krivocheine)
of Brussels, Archbishop Alexis (van der Mensbrugghe) (1899-1980) and Archbishop
Peter (l’Huillier) (now in the U.S.A.), the last two being converts to
Orthodoxy. Another convert, the Frenchman Father Lev (Gillet) (1892-1980), a
priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, wrote many books as "A Monk of the
Several Russian monasteries exist in Germany and France.
The largest is the women’s monastery dedicated to the Lesna icon of the Mother
of God, at Provemont in Normandy (Russian Church in Exile); there is a smaller
monastery for women at Bussy-en-Othe, in Yonne (Russian Archdiocese of Western
Europe). In Great Britain there is the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at
Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Ecumenical Patriarchate), founded by Archimandrite
Sophrony, a disciple of Father Silvan of Mount Athos, with Russian, Greek,
Romanian, German and Swiss monks, and with a women’s community nearby. There
are also the Convent of the Annunciation in London (Russian Church in Exile),
with a Russian abbess and Arab sisters, and a few smaller foundations elsewhere.
In North America there are between two and three million
Orthodox, subdivided into at least fifteen national or jurisdictional groups,
and with a total of more than forty bishops. Before the First World War the
Orthodox of America, whatever their nationality, looked to the Russian
Archbishop for leadership and pastoral care, since among the Orthodox nations it
was the Russians who first established churches in the New World. Eight monks,
chiefly from Valamo on Lake Ladoga, originally arrived in Alaska in 1794:one on
these, Father Herman of Spruce Island, was canonized in 1970. The work in Alaska
was greatly encouraged by Innocent Veniaminov, who worked in Alaska and Eastern
Siberia from 1823 to 1868, first as a priest and then as bishop. He translated
Saint Mathew’s Gospel, the Liturgy, and a catechism into Aleutian. In 1845 he
created a seminary at Sitka in Alaska, and in 1859 an auxiliary bishopric was
set up there, which became an independent missionary see when Alaska was sold to
the U.S. in 1867. In Alaska today, out of a total population of 200,000, there
are perhaps 20,000 Orthodox, most of whom are natives; the seminary was reopened
Meanwhile in the second part of the nineteenth century,
numbers of Orthodox began to settle outside Alaska in other parts of North
America. In 1872 the diocese was transferred from Sitka to San Francisco, and in
1905 to New York, although an auxiliary bishop was still attached to Alaska. At
the turn of the century, the number of Orthodox was greatly increased by a group
of Uniate parishes which was reconciled to Orthodoxy. The future Patriarch
Tikhon was Archbishop of North America for nine years (1898-1907). After 1917,
when relations with the Church of Russia became confused, each national group
formed itself into a separate organization and the present multiplicity of
jurisdictions arose. Many see, in Moscow’s grant of autocephaly to the OCA, a
hopeful first step towards the restoration of Orthodox unity in America.
The Greek Orthodox in North America number over one
million, with more than 400 parishes. They are headed by Archbishop Jakovos, who
presides over a synod of ten bishops (one lives in Canada, and another in South
America). The Greek Theological School of the Holy Cross at Boston has some 110
students, most of them candidates for the priesthood. The bishops in the Greek
Archdiocese in America have come in most cases from Greece, but almost all the
parish clergy were born and brought up in the U.S.A. There are two or three
small monasteries in the Greek Archdiocese; the much larger Monastery of the
Transfiguration at Boston, Mass., originally under the Greeks, is now within the
Russian Church in Exile.
The Russians have four theological seminaries in America:
Saint Vladimir’s in New York and Saint Tikhon’s in South Canaan,
Pennsylvania (both of these belong to the OCA); Holy Trinity Seminary at
Jordanville, N.Y. (Russian Church in Exile); and Christ the Saviour Seminary in
Johnstown, Pennsylvania (Carpatho-Russian diocese). There are several Russian
monasteries, the largest being Holy Trinity, Jordanville, with thirty monks and
ten novices. The monastery, as well as maintaining a seminary for theological
students, has an active printing press, which produces liturgical books in
Church Slavonic, and other books and periodicals in Russian or English. The
monks also farm, and have built their own church, decorated by two members of
the community with icons and frescoes in the best tradition of Russian religious
Orthodox life in America today displays a most
encouraging vitality. New parishes are continually being formed and new churches
built. In some places there is a shortage of priests, but whereas a generation
ago Orthodox clergy in America were often ordained hastily, with little
training, today in almost every jurisdiction most if not all ordinands have a
theological degree. Orthodox theologians in America are few and often
overworked, but their number is gradually increasing. Holy Cross and Saint
Vladimir’s both produce substantial periodicals in the English language.
The chief problem which confronts American Orthodoxy is
that of nationalism and its place in the life of the Church. Among members of
many jurisdictions there is a strong feeling that the present subdivision into
national groups is hindering both the internal development of Orthodoxy in
America and its witness before the outside world. There is a danger that
excessive nationalism will alienate the younger generation of Orthodox from the
Church. This younger generation have known no country but America, their
interests are American, their primary (often their only) language is English:
will they not drift away from Orthodoxy, if their Church insists on worshipping
in a foreign tongue, and acts as a repository for cultural relics of the
Such is the problem, and many would say that there is
only one ultimate solution: to form a single and autocephalous "American
Orthodox Church." This vision of an American autocephalous Church has its
most ardent advocates in the OCA, which sees itself as the nucleus of such a
Church, and among the Syrians. But there are others, especially among the
Greeks, the Serbs, and the Russian Church in Exile, who view with reserve this
emphasis upon American Orthodoxy. They are deeply conscious of the value
of the Christian civilizations developed over many centuries by the Greek and
Slavonic peoples, and they feel that it would be a disastrous impoverishment for
the younger generation, if their Church were to sacrifice this great inheritance
and to become completely "Americanized." Yet can the good elements in
the national traditions be preserved, without at the same time obscuring the
universality of Orthodoxy?
Most of those who favor unification are of course alive
to the importance of national traditions, and realize the dangers to which the
Orthodox minority in America would be exposed if it cut itself off from its
national roots and became immersed in the secularized culture of contemporary
America. They feel that the best policy is for Orthodox parishes at present to
be "bilingual," holding services both in the language of the Mother
Country and in English. In fact, this "bilingual" situation is now
becoming usual in many parts of America. All jurisdictions in principle allow
the use of the English language at services and in practice are coming to employ
it more and more; English is particularly common in the OCA and the Syrian
Archdiocese. For a long time the Greeks, anxious to preserve their Hellenic
heritage as a living reality, insisted that the Greek language alone should be
used at all services; but in the 1970s this situation changed, and in many
parishes English is now employed almost as much as Greek.
Over the past few years there have been increasing signs
of cooperation between national groups. In 1954 the Council of Eastern Orthodox
Youth Leaders of America was formed, in which the majority of Orthodox youth
organizations participate. Since 1960 a committee of Orthodox bishops,
representing most (but not all) the national jurisdictions, has been meeting in
New York under the presidency of the Greek Archbishop (this committee existed
before the war, but had fallen into abeyance over many years). So far this
committee, known as the "Standing Conference" or "SCOBA,"
has not been able to contribute as much to Orthodox unity as was originally
hoped. The grant of autocephaly to the OCA gave rise at the time to sharp
controversy, and the underlying problems thus created remain as yet unsolved;
but in practice inter-Orthodox collaboration still continues.
A small minority in an alien environment, the Orthodox of
the diaspora have found it a hard task even to ensure their survival. But some
of them, at any rate, realize that besides mere survival they have a wider task.
If they really believe the Orthodox faith to be the true Catholic faith, they
cannot cut themselves off from the non-Orthodox majority around them, but they
have a duty to tell others what Orthodoxy is. They must bear witness before the
world. The diaspora has a "missionary" vocation. As the Synod of the
Russian Church in Exile said in its Letter of October 1953, Orthodox have been
scattered across the world with God’s permission, so that they can
"announce to all peoples the true Orthodox faith and prepare the world for
the Second Coming of Christ" (This emphasis on the Second Coming will
surprise many Christians of the present day, but it would not have seemed
strange to Christians in the first century. The events of the last fifty years
have led to a strong eschatological consciousness in many Russian Orthodox
What does this mean for Orthodox? It does not of course
imply proselytism in the bad sense. But it means that Orthodox — without
sacrificing anything good in their national traditions — need to break away
from a narrow and exclusive nationalism: they must be ready to present their
faith to others, and must not behave as if it were something restricted to
Greeks or Russians, and of no relevance to anybody else. They must rediscover
the universality of Orthodoxy.
If Orthodox are to present their faith effectively to
other people, two things are necessary. First, they need to understand their own
faith better: thus the fact of the diaspora has forced Orthodox to examine
themselves and to deepen their own Orthodoxy. Secondly, they need to understand
the situation of those to whom they speak: Without abandoning their Orthodoxy,
they must enter into the experience of other Christians, seeking to
appreciate the distinctive outlook of western Christendom, its past history and
present difficulties. They must take an active part in the intellectual and
religious movements of the contemporary west — in Biblical research, in the
Patristic revival, in the Liturgical Movement, in the movement towards Christian
unity, in the many forms of Christian social action. They need to "be
present" in these movements, making their special Orthodox contribution,
and at the same time through their participation learning more about their own
It is normal to speak of "Eastern Orthodoxy."
But many Orthodox in Europe or America now regard themselves as citizens of the
countries where they have settled; they and their children, born and brought up
in the west, consider themselves not "eastern" but
"western." Thus a "Western Orthodoxy" has come into
existence. Besides born Orthodox, this Western Orthodoxy includes a small but
growing number of converts (almost a third of the clergy of the Syrian
Archdiocese in America are converts). Most of these Western Orthodox use the
Byzantine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (the normal Communion Service of the
Orthodox Church) in French, English, German, Dutch, Spanish, or Italian. There
are, for example, a number of French and German Orthodox parishes, as well as
(under the Patriarchate of Moscow) a Dutch Orthodox Mission — all of them
following the Byzantine rite. But some Orthodox feel that Western Orthodoxy, to
be truly itself, should use specifically western forms of prayer — not the
Byzantine Liturgy, but the old Roman or Gallican Liturgies. People often talk
about "the Orthodox Liturgy" when they mean the Byzantine Liturgy, as
if that and that alone were Orthodox; but they should not forget that the
ancient Liturgies of the west, dating back to the first ten centuries, also have
their place in the fullness of Orthodoxy.
This conception of a western-rite Orthodoxy has not
remained merely a theory. The Orthodox Church of the present day contains an
equivalent to the Uniate movement in the Church of Rome. In 1937, when a group
of former Old Catholics in France under Monsignor Louis-Charles Winnaert
(1880-1937) were received into the Orthodox Church, they were allowed to retain
the use of the western rite. This group was originally in the jurisdiction of
the Moscow Patriarchate, and was for many years headed by Bishop Jean de S.
Denys (Evgraph Kovalevsky) (1905-1970). At present it is under the Church of
Romania. There are several small western-rite Orthodox groups in the U.S.A.
Various experimental Orders of the Mass for use by western-rite Orthodox have
been drawn up, in particular by Archbishop Alexis (van der Mensbrugghe).
In the past the different autocephalous Churches —
often through no fault of their own — have been too much isolated from one
another. At times the only formal contact has been the regular exchange of
letters between the heads of Churches. Today this isolation still continues, but
both in the diaspora and in the older Orthodox Churches there is a growing
desire for cooperation. Orthodox participation in the World Council of Churches
has played its part here: at the great gatherings of the "Ecumenical
Movement," the Orthodox delegates from different autocephalous Churches
have found themselves ill-prepared to speak with a united voice. Why, they have
asked, does it require the World Council of Churches to bring us Orthodox
together? Why do we ourselves never meet to discuss our common problems? The
urgent need for cooperation is also felt by many Orthodox youth movements,
particularly in the diaspora. Valuable work has been done here by Syndesmos,
an international organization founded in 1953, in which Orthodox youth groups of
many different countries collaborate.
In the attempts at cooperation a leading part is
naturally played by the senior hierarch of the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical
Patriarch. After the First World War the Patriarchate of Constantinople
contemplated gathering a "Great Council" of the whole Orthodox Church,
and as a first step towards this, plans were made for a "Pro-Synod"
which was to prepare the agenda for the Council. A preliminary Inter-Orthodox
Committee met on Mount Athos in 1930, but the Pro-Synod itself never
materialized, largely owing to obstruction from the Turkish government. Around
1950 the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras revived the idea, and after repeated
postponements a "Pan-Orthodox Conference" eventually met at Rhodes in
September 1961. Further Pan-Orthodox Conferences have met at Rhodes (1963, 1964)
and Geneva (1968, 1976, 1982). The chief items on the agenda of the "Great
Council," when and if it eventually meets, will probably be the problems of
Orthodox disunity in the west, the relations of Orthodoxy with other Christian
Churches ("ecumenism"), and the application of Orthodox moral teaching
in the modern world.
We have already spoken of the missionary witness of the
diaspora, but it remains to say something of Orthodox missionary work in the
stricter sense of preaching to the heathen. Since the time of Joseph de Maistre
it has been fashionable in the west to say that Orthodoxy is not a missionary
Church. Certainly Orthodox have often failed to perceive their missionary
responsibilities; yet de Maistre’s charge is not entirely just. Anyone who
reflects on the mission of Cyril and Methodius, on the work of their disciples
in Bulgaria and Serbia, and on the story of Russia’s conversion, will realize
that Byzantium can claim missionary achievements as great as those of Celtic or
Roman Christianity in the same period. Under Turkish rule it became impossible
to undertake missionary work of an open kind; but in Russia, where the Church
remained free, missions continued uninterrupted — although there were periods
of diminished activity — from Stephen of Perm (and even before) to Innocent of
Kamchatka and the beginnings of the twentieth century. It is easy for a
westerner to forget how vast a missionary field the Russian continent embraced.
Russian missions extended outside Russia, not only to Alaska (of which we have
spoken already), but to China, Japan, and Korea.
What of the present? Under the Bolsheviks, as under the
Turks, open missionary work is impossible. But the missions founded by Russia in
China, Japan, and Korea still exist, while a new Orthodox mission has shot up
suddenly and spontaneously in Central Africa. At the same time both the Orthodox
in America and the older Churches in the eastern Mediterranean, who do not
suffer from the same disabilities as their brethren in communist countries, are
beginning to show a new missionary awareness.
The Chinese mission at Peking was set up in 1715, and its
origins go back earlier still, to 1686, when a group of Cossacks entered service
in the Chinese Imperial Guard and took their chaplain with them. Mission work,
however, was not undertaken on any scale until the end of the nineteenth
century, and by 1914 there were still only some 5,000 converts, although there
were already Chinese priests and a seminary for Chinese theological students.
(It has been the constant policy of Orthodox missions to build up a native
clergy as quickly as possible). After the 1917 Revolution, so far from ceasing,
missionary work increased considerably, since a large number of Russian émigrés,
including many clergy, fled eastward from Siberia. In China and Manchuria in
1939 there were 200,000 Orthodox (mostly Russians, but including some converts)
with five bishops and an Orthodox university at Harbin.
Since 1945 the situation has changed utterly. The
communist government in China, when it ordered all non-Chinese missionaries to
leave the country, gave no preferential treatment to the Russians: the Russian
clergy, together with most of the faithful, have either been
"repatriated" to the U.S.S.R., or have escaped to America. In the
1950s there was at least one Chinese Orthodox bishop, with some 20,000 faithful;
how much of Chinese Orthodoxy survives today it is difficult to tell. Since 1957
the Chinese Church, despite its small size, has been autonomous; since the
Chinese government allows no foreign missions, this is probably the only means
whereby it can hope to survive. Isolated in Red China, this tiny Orthodox
community has a thorny path before it.
The Japanese Orthodox Church was founded by Father (later
Archbishop) Nicholas Kassatkin (1836-1912), canonized in 1970. Sent in 1861 to
serve the Russian Consulate in Japan, he decided from the start to work not only
among Russians but among Japanese, and after a time he devoted himself
exclusively to missionary work. He baptized his first convert in 1868, and four
years later two Japanese Orthodox were ordained priests. Curiously enough, the
first Japanese Orthodox bishop, John Ono (consecrated 1941), a widower, was
son-in-law to the first Japanese convert. After a period of discouragement
between the two World Wars, Orthodoxy in Japan is now reviving. There are today
about forty parishes, with 25,000 faithful. The seminary at Tokyo, closed in
1919, was reopened in 1954. Practically all the clergy are Japanese, but one of
the two bishops is American. There is a small but steady stream of converts —
about 200-300 in each year, mostly young people in their twenties or thirties,
some with higher education. The Orthodox Church in Japan is autonomous or
self-governing in its internal life, while remaining under the general spiritual
care of its Mother Church, the Moscow Patriarchate. Though limited in numbers,
it can justly claim to be no longer a foreign mission but an indigenous Church
of the Japanese people.
The Russian mission in Korea, founded in 1898, has always
been on a much smaller scale. The first Korean Orthodox priest was ordained in
1912. In 1934 there were 820 Orthodox in Korea, but today there would seem to be
less. The mission suffered in 1950 during the Korean civil war, when the church
was destroyed; but it was rebuilt in 1953, and a larger church was constructed
in 1967. At present the mission is under the charge of the Greek diocese of New
Besides these Asian Orthodox Churches, there is now an
exceedingly lively African Orthodox Church in Uganda and Kenya. Entirely
indigenous from the start, African Orthodoxy did not arise through the preaching
of missionaries from the traditional Orthodox lands, but was a spontaneous
movement among Africans themselves. The founders of the African Orthodox
movement were two native Ugandans, Rauben Sebanja Mukasa Spartas (born 1899,
bishop 1972, died 1982) and his friend Obadiah Kabanda Basajjakitalo. Originally
brought up as Anglicans, they were converted to Orthodoxy in the 1920s, not as a
result of personal contact with other Orthodox, but through their own reading
and study. Over the past forty years Rauben and Obadiah have energetically
preached their new-found faith to their fellow Africans, building up a community
which, according to some reports, numbers more than 100,000, mostly in Kenya. In
1982, after the death of Bishop Rauben, there were two African bishops.
At first the canonical position of Ugandan Orthodoxy was
in some doubt, as originally Rauben and Obadiah established contact with an
organization emanating from the United States, the "African Orthodox
Church," which, though using the title "Orthodox," has in fact no
connection with the true and historical Orthodox communion. In 1932 they were
both ordained by a certain Archbishop Alexander of this Church, but towards the
end of that same year they became aware of the dubious status of the
"African Orthodox Church," whereupon they severed all relations with
it and approached the Patriarchate of Alexandria. But only in 1946, when Rauben
visited Alexandria in person, did the Patriarch formally recognize the African
Orthodox community in Uganda, and definitely take it under his care. In recent
years the bond with Alexandria has been considerably strengthened, and since
1959 one of the Metropolitans of the Patriarchate — a Greek — has been
charged with special responsibility for missionary work in Central Africa.
African Orthodox have been sent to study theology in Greece, and since 1960 more
than eighty Africans have been y ordained as deacons and priests (until that
year, the only .priests were the two founders themselves). In 1982 a seminary
for training priests was opened at Nairobi. Many African Orthodox have high
ambitions, and are anxious to cast their net still wider. In the words of Father
Spartas: "And, methinks, that in no time this Church is going to embrace
all the Africans at large and thereby become one of the leading Churches in
Africa" (Quoted in F. B. Welbourn, East African Rebels, London,
1961, p. 83; this book gives a critical but not unsympathetic account of
Orthodoxy in Uganda). The rise of Orthodoxy in Uganda has of course to be seen
against the background of African nationalism: one of the obvious attractions of
Orthodox Christianity in Ugandan eyes is the fact that it is entirely
unconnected with the colonial regimes of the past hundred years. Yet, despite
certain political undertones, Orthodoxy in Central Africa is a genuinely
The enthusiasm with which these Africans have embraced
Orthodoxy has caught the imagination of the Orthodox world at large, and has
helped to arouse missionary interest in many places. Paradoxically, in Africa
hitherto it has been the Africans who have taken the initiative and converted
themselves to Orthodoxy. Perhaps the Orthodox, encouraged by the Ugandan
precedent, will now establish missions elsewhere on their own initiative,
instead of waiting for the Africans to come to them. The "missionary"
situation of the diaspora has made Orthodox better aware of the meaning of their
own tradition: may not a closer involvement in the task of evangelizing
non-Christian countries have the same effect?
Every Christian body is today confronted by grave
problems, but the Orthodox have perhaps greater difficulties to face than most.
In contemporary Orthodoxy it is not always easy "to recognize victory
beneath the outward appearance of failure, to discern the power of God
fulfilling itself in weakness, the true Church within the historic reality"
(V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 246). But if
there are obvious weaknesses, there are also many signs of life. Whatever the
doubts and ambiguities of Church-State relations in communist countries, today
as in the past Orthodoxy has its martyrs and confessors. The decline of Orthodox
monasticism, unmistakable in many areas, is not by any means universal; and
there are centers which may prove the source of a future monastic resurrection.
The spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy — for example, the Philokalia and the
Jesus Prayer — so far from being forgotten, are used and appreciated more and
more. Orthodox theologians are few in number, but some of them — often under
the stimulus of western learning — are rediscovering vital elements in their
theological inheritance. A shortsighted nationalism is hindering the Church in
its work, but there are growing attempts at cooperation. Missions are still on a
very small scale, but Orthodoxy is showing a greater awareness of their
importance. No Orthodox who is realistic and honest with himself can feel
complacent about the present state of his Church; yet despite its many problems
and manifest human shortcomings, Orthodoxy can at the same time look to the
future with confidence and hope.
THE END OF PART ONE