Just after posting last night about Orthodox missions and missiology, I settled in to bed with Fr. John Meyendorff’s _Living Tradition_. I was fit to be tied when I saw the chapter title: “The Orthodox Church and Mission: Past and Present Perspectives”. He makes the same point I referred to in my previous post, to wit,
[A] Church which ceases to be missionary … ceases to be authentically ‘the Church of Christ.’ … However, mission, in its ultimate theological meaning, is an expression of the Church itself. It cannot grow out of a divided Christendom [as the World Council of Churches was insisting it can and should], but only from the One Church; and it leads to conversion to this One Church.
(p. 153-54, italics in original)
Then, at the end of chapter 11, he makes this assertion:
[W]hile the [15th-century Byzantine] Church [under the Ottoman Empire] did not actually renounce its mission to society, this mission in practice became limited by the boundaries of a ghetto. This situation, enforced by the tragedy of history, was unfortunately to remain as a habit even when times again became more favorable to mission.
As I say, I am left wondering why this habit should persist, if indeed it does.
These thoughts have led me to flip back through Bp. Timothy (Kallistos) Ware’s classic introduction to Orthodoxy, _The Orthodox Church_. Sadly though, Ware, as of the latest 1997 edition, says the following about Orthodox missions:
Orthodoxy has often been criticized for failing to be a missionary Church, and there is truth in the charge. … A short-sighted nationalism is hindering the Church in its work, but there are sporadic attempts at cooperation. Missions are still on a very small scale, but Orthodoxy is showing a growing awareness of their importance.
(p. 187, 191)
That last sentence still almost makes me gasp. A “growing awareness”? Better late than never, I suppose. Of course, in fairness, Ware highlights the activity of Orthodox in Russia, Japan, China, Alaska, Africa, and the USA. Again, I do not mean to impugn Orthodoxy, but I am genuinely bothered by the missiological void I see in it currently. I would love to hear more of the brighter side of the Orthodox story of missions.
At any rate, Fr. Meyendorff’s book was, on the whole, very enjoyable. It was a bit superficial, though, and read more as general comments at big meetings. This is forgivable though, since most of the chapters are in fact essays, cast upon general ecumenical waters at nig ecumenical meetings, discussing the basic approaches and assumptions Orthodoxy brings to global ecumenism. The book is clearly a bit dated (pub. 1978) with its constant references to social activism and political radicalism, but I appreciated Meyendorff’s persistent witness to the inherently transcendent, eschatological and eucharistic dimensions of Christianity. Reading between the lines, I can sense how radical and secularized much of the ecumenical movement must have looked to Orthodox like Meyendorff.
The four most enjoyable aspects of the book were 1) his discussion of eucharistic ecclesiology for each truly catholic local church (as opposed to the West’s more “universal” ecclesiology of a collective Church), 2) his discussion of the nature of man as essentially open upwards, as being-in-communion -with-God, 3) his discussion of the hypostatic union of Christ and its theopaschite implications, and 4) his brief discussion of the 15th-century Russian Orthodox dispute between the Possessors and Non-Possessors.