by Petros Vassiliadis

Professor Antonios- Emilios Tachiaos, to whom I dedicate this contribution, has been for almost half a century the scholar who brought, more than any other,  to the attention of both historians and theologians of Greece the christian,[1] cultural and spititual dimension of the Russian Orthodox Church.1 A Church reality that nowadays faces—like most Orthodox Churches from eastern and central Europe which came out of the ashes of communist oppression—missionary (proselytistic?) activities, mostly undertaken by Evangelicals, the independent stream of Protestant christianity which has been detached from the World Council of Churches (WCC), mainly because the latter has developed a more advanced (and to some extent moving away from the traditional) understanding of mission.  This state of practiced proselytism in Russia has been in the agenda of all Russian delegations to the WCC ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, threatening the future of this major Orthodox Church’s participation in the ecumenical movement, at least in the form known since the1961, the year when the Russian Orthodox Church, together with other Orthodox Churches from Eastern Europe, officially joined the WCC. 

As a tribute to the scholar who dedicated his life not only to the study of the Russian Church, but also to the dialogue and reconciliation both within the Orthodox family and within christianity in general, I will deal in this contribution from a point of view, on which Orthodox and Evangelicals find most of their differences: i.e. the Eucharist.

Orthodox and Evangelicals, after their first meeting in Cairo (July 1995), which ended up with an extremely significant Message underlining their shared convictions, met on the initiative of WCC for a second time in Hamburg (March 1998),[2] in order to enter into a more candid and open dialogue elaborating more their theological characteristics, not only in order to find “effective mechanisms for co-operation in common witness”,[3] but also in order to come to a closer koinonia, which is the ultimate purpose of mission.[4] After all, the mandate of their first encounter was to further work on areas of continued tension—and proselytism, allegedly practiced in Russia, is the issue No 1—but mainly divergent ecclesiologies, sacraments etc.[5]


I. The Missiological Parameters

For a proper understanding of mission one should be reminded of the variety of terms and notions involved in current ecumenical and missiological discussions, expressed by such words as mission, conversion, evangelization, christianization,  evangelism, witness  or martyria.  Of these terms only the last two are the most characteristic to the Orthodox, also adopted in “ecumenical” circles[6] as the more appropriate for a genuine and authentic christian mission[7], whereas the imperative validity of all the other have been retained as the sine qua non  of the christian identity of those belonging to the “evangelical” stream of our christian tradition.[8] Martin Goodman  has discerned four different uses of the word “mission” in modern scholarship of the history of religions, and consequently four different understandings of what has come to be labeled as “christian mission”: (i) The informative mission. The missionaries of this type feel “that they had a general message which they wished to impart to others. Such disseminators of information may have had no clear idea of the reaction they desired from their auditors...(The aim of this attitude) was to tell people something, rather than to change their behavior or status.”  Of this type was the mission of the first evangelist women who announced the Good News of Christ’s resurrection, the prime event of the Christian faith. (ii) The educational mission. “Some missionaries did intent to change recipients of their message by making them more moral or contented...Such a mission to educate is easily distinguished from a desire to win converts.” The first monastics, no matter out of what motivation they began their movement, exercised this type of mission. (iii) The apologetic mission. “Some missionaries requested recognition by others of the power of a particular divinity without expecting their audience to devote themselves to his or her worship. Such a mission was essentially apologetic. Its aim was to protect the cult and beliefs of the missionary.” Obviously, the early Christian apologists belonged to this type of missionaries. Finally, (iv) The proselytizing mission. According to Goodman, “information, education, and apologetic might or might not coexist within any one religious system, but all three can individually be distinguished from what may best be described a proselytizing...(the aim of which was) to encourage outsiders not only to change their way of life but also to be incorporated within their group.” No doubt, this last type of mission, for which the terms “conversion” and “christianization” seem to apply better, was the ideal behind theuniversal proselytizing mission of modern times. The origins of this type of mission can be traced back to St. Paul (though in scholarly circles this is still debated), and to the dominical saying recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel (28:18b-20).[9] This pluralistic understanding of christian mission in the history of the early Church, apostolic and post-apostolic alike,[10] has undoubtedly given its place more or less to a universalistic understanding, a universal proselytizing mission, which during the Constantinian period became dominant through its theological validation by the great Church historian Eusebius. However, it never became entirely dormant in the undivided Church, at least in the Eastern Orthodox Church, with very few exceptions of course.

Whether this understanding of universal proselytizing mission is to be explained on theological grounds, i.e. as a straight forward result of the high christology of the  early  christian (pauline) recapitulation-in-Christ theory, or on grounds of cultural anthropology, i.e. as a legitimate demand within the Roman empire after Constantine the Great of the ideal of “uniformity within a given society”, will not concern us here. It will suffice to note that the eventual christianization of the Roman empire had  inevitably  a significant effect in the future of our western world, and to a considerable degree it has also determined the shaping in later times of the western theology of mission, Catholic and Protestant alike. The issue of a universal proselytizing mission in Western Christianity, in fact, was given fresh life by the discovery of the New World, and by the prospect of christianizing the entire inhabited earth. It reached its peak with the African and Asian missions during the last century. This concept of “Christendom”, however, carried  with it other non christian elements to such an extent that eventually industrialized development in Europe and America of the bourgeois society as well as colonialism walked hand by hand with christian mission.

Konrad Raiser in his fascinating book Ecumenism in Transition. A Paradigm Shift in the Ecumenical Movement,  has rightly underlined that christians at the “old ecumenical paradigm” felt that they were called

“to convey to the rest of humanity the blessings of Western (i.e. bourgeois) christian civilization...The slogan “the evangelization of the world in this generation” emphasizes the missionary consciousness of this early movement, in which genuine missionary and evangelistic motives were inextricably combined with cultural and social motives”.[11]

Raiser, however, suggested for the future of ecumenism and of christian mission a radical shift to a “new paradigm,” away from the “Christocentric universalism” and towards a “Trinitarian” understanding of the divine reality and towards an “Oikoumene” as the one household of life.[12] For the understanding of mission, this means the abandonment of any effort of proselytizing, not only among christians of other denominations, but even among peoples of other religions. Dialogue  is the new term which now runs parallel to, and in some cases in place of, the old missiological terminology.[13]

This development, of course, does not by any means imply that there has been a shift in christian soteriology from the slogan “No salvation but through Christ”[14]- overcoming the classical catholic view “extra ecclesiam salus non est”, first expressed by Cyprian of Carthage and later misinterpreted to exclusively meaning the “institutional” (Catholic?) Church - to a novel one “No salvation but through God”.[15] Rather it is a radical reinterpretation of Christology through Pneumatology,[16] through the rediscovery of the forgotten  Trinitarian theology[17] of the undivided Church.

In ecumenical circles, therefore, the understanding of mission on theological grounds is moving away from the “universal proselytizing mission” concept. And this is not in opposition to the “faith mission” principle of the Evangelicals; nor was it due to the failure to convert the entire inhabited world, or to the disillusion and disappointment caused by the end of the China mission, the most ambitious missionary enterprise in modern christian missionary history. It was rather the rediscovery of the authentic identity of the Church through the invaluable help of the theological treasures of Orthodoxy. More particularly it was the result of the reinforcement of pneumatology into the ecumenical reflections.[18]

II. The Christological Background of the Understanding of Mission

Nevertheless, this trinitarian or pneumatological dimension of the Orthodox understanding of mission should never be detached from its biblical foundation and its deep christological undergirding. Any pneunatomonistic understanding of mission would be equally disastrous as the previous christomonistic  missiological paradigm. And this was something that was experienced in Vancouver, and was clearly opposed by both the Orthodox and the Evangelicals.

On my part, I have come to the conclusion that any understanding of mission, if it is to be accepted within normative christianity, has undoubtedly to stem and be determined by the teaching, life and work of Christ. His teaching, nevertheless, and especially his life and work, cannot be properly understood without reference to the eschatological expectations of Judaism. Without entering into the complexities of Jewish eschatology, we can very briefly say, that this eschatology was interwoven with the idea of the coming of a Messiah, who in the "last days" of history (“the Eschaton") would establish his kingdom by calling the dispersed and afflicted people of God into one place to become one body united around him. The statement in the Gospel of John about the Messiah's role is extremely important. There the writer interprets the words of the Jewish  High priest by affirming that "he prophesied that Jesus should die...not for the nation only but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (11:51-52)[19]

Throughout the Gospels Christ identifies himself with this Messiah. We see this in the various Messianic titles he chose for himself, or at least as witnessed by the most primitive christian tradition ("Son of man",  "Son of God", etc., most of which had a collective meaning, whence the christology of "corporate personality"). We see it as well in the parables of the kingdom, which summarize his teaching,  proclaiming that his coming initiates the new world of the kingdom of God,  in the Lord's Prayer, but also in his conscious acts (e.g. the selection of the twelve, etc.). In short,  Christ identified himself with the Messiah of the Eschaton who would be the center of the gathering of the dispersed people of God.

It was on this radical eschatological teaching of the Historical Jesus about the Kingdom of God (which as modern biblical research has shown moves dialectically between the "already" and the "not yet"; in other words, begins already in the present but will be completed in its final authentic form in the eschaton) that the early Church has developed its ecclesiology, on which its missionary practice was based. That is why all members of the christian community are called “holy”;  because they belonged to that chosen race of the people of God. That is why they were considered “royal priesthood”; because all of them, without exception (not just some special cast such as the priests or levites) have priestly and spiritual authority  to practice in the diaspora the work of the priestly class, reminded at the same time to be worthy of their election though their exemplary life and works[20]. That is why they were called to walk towards unity ("so that they may become perfectly one”,  Jn 17:23), to abandon all deeds of darkness; because the one who called them out of darkness into light, "from non existence into being", who took them as non-members of the people of God and made them into genuine  members of the new eschatological community[21] is holy  and perfect (cf. Jn 17:19; also Mt 5:48 par.).

In the first two decades after Pentecost the christian community understood its existence as the perfect and genuine expression of the people of God. With a series of terms taken from the Old Testament the early christian community believed that it was the”Israel of God” (Gal 6:16), the ”saints” (Acts 9:32, 41; 26:10; Rom1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25), “the elect” (Rom 8:33; Col 3:12 etc), “the chosen race” (1 Pe 2:9 ), “the royal priesthood” (ibid) etc; namely the holy people of God (laos tou theou), for whom all the promises of the Bible were to be fulfilled at the eschata. During this constructive period the concept in which the early Church understood herself was that of a people and not of an organisation. An examination of both the Old and the New Testament terminology makes this quite clear. The chosen people of God were an ‘am (in Hebrew, especially in the prophets) or a laos  (in Greek), whereas the people of the outside world were designated by the Hebrew term goim and the Greek one ethne  (cf. Acts 15:14)

This conciousness that when God created a new community, he created a people, distinguished the christian Church from those guilds, clubs or religious societes so typical of the Greco-Roman period. It is quite significant that the first christian community used the term ekklesia  in the Old Testament meaning; it is not accidental that this term (ekklesia) in the Septuagint, corresponds to the Hebrew qâhâl , i.e. to a term denoting the congregation of God’s people. The Saptuagint never translates by ekklesia  the Hebrew ‘edhah, the usual translation of which is synagoge. In this primitive period, therefore, the members of the christian community do not just belong to the Church; i.e. they are not simply members of an organisation; they  are the Church.

The second generation after Pentecost is certainly characterized by the great theological contribution of St. Paul. The apostle takes over the above charismatic notion of the Church, but he gives it in addition a universal and ecumenical character. To the Church belong all human beings, Jews and Gentiles; for the latter have been joined to the same tree of the people of God (Rom11:13ff). The Church, as the new Israel, is thus no longer constituted on grounds of external criteria (circumcision etc.), but of its faith to Jesus Christ  (cf. Rom 9:6 ). The term, however, with which St. Paul reminds the reader of the charismatic understanding of the Church is body of Christ. With this metaphorical expression St. Paul was able to express the charismatic nature of the Church by means of the semitic concept of corporate personality. He emphasised that in the Church there exists a variety of gifts, charisms exercised by the individual members of the community, and necessary for the building up and the nutrition of this body, Christ alone being its only head and authority.

The Johannine figure of the vine (John 15:1- 8) is equally impressive . As with the pauline term soma, the double scheme vine-branches indicates the special relationship existing between people and Christ, which reveals the inner basis of ecclesial life. The other N. T. figures for the Church , “household of faith” (Eph 2:11ff), “fellowship” (1 Cor 1:9 etc), “bride of Christ” (Eph 1:31f ; Rev 21:9), “little flock” (Lk 12:32 etc) , “family of Christ”, oikos etc, all point to the same direction: namely that the new community is a people, bound together by love and the Spirit provided by God in Christ, and not by external structure.

St. Paul in particular was absolutely convinced that all who have believed in Christ have been incorporated into His body through Baptism, completing with the Eucharist their incorporation into the one people of God. The 4th Gospel develops this radical eschatological teaching even further in regard to the unity of the people of God around Christ and their incorporation into Christ's body through the Eucharist above all. The main contribution of the early Church, as it is recorded in the N.T., emphasized and underlined most sharply by St. Luke, was that with Christ's Resurrection and especially with Pentecost the Eschaton had already entered history, and that the messianic eschatological community becomes a reality each time the Church, the new Israel, the dispersed people of God, gathers epi to auto (in one place), especially when it gathers to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. This development is undoubtedly the starting point of christian mission, the springboard of the Church’s witnessing Exodus to the world, which in fact interpreted the imminent expectation of the Parousia in a dynamic and radical way.

The missiological imperatives of the early Church stem exactly from this awareness of the Church, as being an eschatological, dynamic, radical, and corporate reality,  obliged to witness the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10 par).[22] The apostles were commissioned to proclaim not a set of given religious convictions, doctrines, moral commands etc., but the coming Kingdom, the Gospel, i.e. the Good News of a new eschatological reality, which had as its center the crucified and resurrected Christ, the incarnate Logos of God and His permanent dwelling among us human beings, through the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words, their primary witness was a life of communion, experienced  in their “eucharistic” (in the wider sense) life.

III. The Eucharistic Dimension: The Basic Approach of Orthodox Mission?

The late D.J.Bosch in his book Transforming Mission. Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission,  has ended his chapter on the mission paradigm of the Eastern Orthodox Church with the following statement:

“The Church adapted to the existing world order, resulting in Church and Society penetrating and permeating each other. The role of religion - any religion - in society is that of both stabilizer and emancipator; it is both mythical and messianic. In the Eastern tradition the Church tended to express the former of each of these pairs rather than the latter. The emphasis was on conservation  and restoration, rather than on embarking on a journey into the unknown. The key words were ‘tradition’, ‘orthodoxy’, and the ‘Fathers’ (Küng), and the Church became the bulwark of right doctrine. Orthodox Churches tended to become ingrown, excessively nationalistic, and without a concern for those outside (Anastasios Yannoulatos).

In particular, Platonic categories of thought all but destroyed primitive christian eschatology (Beker). The Church established itself in the world as an institute of almost exclusively other-worldly salvation”.[23]

This assessment for the Eastern Orthodox Church was actually reinforced by the first Orthodox, mostly immigrants from the pre-revolution Russia, who came in contact with the West, and in their desperate attempt to preserve their Orthodox identity in a quite alien to them world and present it to their fellow christians in the West, underlined the mystical   aspect of the Orthodox theology. This is notably the case with V. Lossky, who in his monumental work under the title The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church has almost determined the character of the Orthodox understanding of mission[24]. Today this one-sided (i.e. mystical) presentation is been questioned by various quarters, the latest being by Ion Bria, who rejoices the existence of a variety of trends - sometimes even contradictory - within modern orthodox theology.[25] With regard to the orthodox understanding of mission Bria himself underlined the trinitarian dimension of mission:

“Trinitarian theology points to the fact that God is in God’s own self a life of communion and that God’s involvement in history aims at drawing humanity and creation in general into this communion with God’s very life. The implications of this assertion for understanding mission are very important: mission does not aim primarily at the propagation or transmission of intellectual convictions, doctrines, moral commands, etc., but at the transmission of the life of communion, that exists in God”.[26]

This trinitarian approach seems to be the prevailing among almost all Orthodox in recent time.[27] One of the most serious contributions of modern Orthodox theology to the world theology was the reintroduction into current theological thinking of the importance for all aspects theology of the trinitarian dogma of the undivided Church.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the trinitarian approach is widely recognized, and more and more applied even by non Orthodox[28] in dealing with current theological issues, I decided to approach the Assembly theme from the eucharistic  perspective. I came to this decision not so much in order to avoid a strictly contextual approach;[29]  It is purely for methodological  reasons that I consider it not only as much more appropriate to Orthodox, but also as more logical. It is time, I think, to distance ourselves as much as possible from the dominant to modern scholarship syndrome of the priority of the texts over the experience, of theology over ecclesiology. There are many scholars who cling to the dogma, imposed by the post-Enlightenment and post-Reformation hegemony over all scholarly theological outlook (and not only in the field of biblical scholarship or of Protestant theology), which can be summarized as follows: what constitutes the core of our christian faith, cannot be extracted but from the expressed theological views, from a certain depositum fidei,  (hence the final authority of the Bible according to the Evangelicals, or of the Fathers, the canons and certain decisions of the Councils according to the Orthodox, etc.); very rarely is there any serious reference to the eucharistic communion event that has been responsible and produced these views.

 It is my firm conviction that out of the three main characteristics that generally constitute the Orthodox theology, namely its “eucharistic”, “trinitarian”, and “hesyhastic” dimension, only the first one can bear a universal and ecumenical significance. If the last dimension and important feature marks a decisive development in eastern christian theology and spirituality after the eventual Schism between East and West, a development that has determined, together with other factors, the mission of the Orthodox Church in recent history; and if the trinitarian dimension constitutes the supreme expression of christian theology, ever produced by human thought in its attempt to grasp the mystery of God, after christianity’s dynamic encounter with the Greek culture; it was, nevertheless, only because of the eucharistic experience, the matrix of all theology and spirituality of our Church, that all theological and spiritual climaxes in our Church have been actually achieved.

It is almost an assured result of modern theological scholarship (biblical and liturgical) that the Eucharist was “lived” in the early christian community not as a Mystery cult, but as a foretaste of the coming Kingdom of God, a proleptic manifestation within the tragic realities of history of an authentic life of communion, unity, justice and equality, with no practical differentiation (soteriological and beyond) between Jews and gentiles, slaves and freemen, women and men (cf. Gal 3:28). This was, after all,  the real meaning of the johannine term «eternal life», and St. Ignatius’ expression «medicine of immortality». According to some historians, the Church was able a few generations later, with the important contribution of the Greek Fathers of the golden age, to come up with the doctrine of trinity, and much later to further develop the important distinction between substance and energies, only because of the eschatological experience of koinonia in the Eucharist (both vertical with its head, and horizontal among the people of God, and by extension with the entire humanity through the Church’s mission) of the early christian community, an experience which ever since continues to constitute the only expression of the Church’s self-consciousness, its Mystery par excellence.

No one, of course, can deny that early enough in the history of the christian community, even from the time of St. Paul, there has been a “paradigm shift” in the understanding of this act (Eucharist) of self-conciousness of community as a koinonia of the eschata and as a proleptic manifestation of the coming kingdom of God. No matter for  what missionary reasons, there has been a shift of the center of gravity from the (eucharistic) experience  to the (christian) message,  from eschatology  to christology  (and further and consequently to soteriology),  from the event  (the Kingdom of God), to the  bearer and center of this event (Christ,  and more precisely his sacrifice on the cross).[30] However, the Eucharist (the theia koinonia) has always remained (with the exception perhaps of some marginal cases in later Church history) the sole expression of the Church’s identity. And it is to the merits of modern theologians from all christian traditions, and most recently of Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas,[31] who reaffirmed the paramaount importance of the koinonia dimension of the Eucharist, stressing that not only the identity of the Church, but all its expressions (structure, authority, mission etc.) are in fact relational.[32]

In sum, if one wants to approach, and reflect on,  any specific issue, like the Assembly theme, from the the Orthodox point of view, it is the eucharistic theology in its broad sense that should guide his/her effort. More precisely, on the one hand one should avoid the temptation to ignore the primary experience, i.e. the ecclesia and its eucharistic eschatological experience, the matrix of all theology, or to put it in socio-(cultural-) anthropological terms the wider “social space”, that produced all theological interpretations of this experience; but on the other hand, it would be a methodological fallacy to project later theological interpretations into this primary eschatological experience.

IV. Towards a Proper Understanding of Eucharist

In a mutual and meaningful understanding between Orthodox and Evangelicals, one has at least to affirm a proper understanding of Eucharist, so revered and honoured by the Orthodox, which nevertheless can be acceptable to the latter - at least not rejected by them right from the start. For a proper understanding of the Eucharist has always been a stumbling block in christian theology and life; not only during the first steps of the christian community, when the Church had to struggle against a multitude of mystery cults, but also much later when scholastic theology (mostly in the West) has systematized a latent "sacramentalistic" view of the  Mystery par excellence  of the One, undivided, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. In vain distinguished theologians of the East (most notably in the case of Cabasilas) attempted to redefine the christian sacramental theology on the basis of the trinitarian theology (i.e. pneumatology). Seen from a modern theological perspective, this was a desperate attempt to reject certain tendencies which overemphasized the importance of Christology at the expense - and to the detriment - of the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit.

The controversy between East and West on the issues of the filioque, the epiclesis etc. are well known[33], though their consequences to the sacramental theology of the Church have yet to be fully and systematically examined.  The tragic consequences of those tendencies were in fact felt a few generations after the final Schism between East and West with the further division of Western Christianity. One of the main focuses during the Reformation, and rightly so, was the "sacramentalistic" understanding of the Eucharist in Western Christianity which resulted,  among other things, in divergent views between Evangelical and Orthodox theology. The dialectic opposition between "sacramentantalism" on the one hand, and "the complete rejection of sacraments" on the other, was the main reason of the tragic secularization of our society and the  transformation of the Church into a religion: in the traditional Churches (some Orthodox included) into a cultic religion, in Evangelical christianity into an exclusively evangelistic one.

In my view, the first serious attempt to reflect upon the profound meaning of the Eucharist is to be found in the Bible itself, and in particular in the Gospel of John. There we have the beginnings of what has become later axiomatic in christian  theology:  to have eternal life - in other words to live in a true and authentic way and not just live a conventional life - one has to be in koinonia (communion) with Christ. Communion with Christ, however, means participation in the perfect communion which exists between the Father and the Son ("Just as the living Father sent me, and I live through the Father, he who eats me will live through me” , 6:57), or as the Fathers of the Church developed later,  participation in the perfect communion which exists within the Holy Trinity.

What we have in John, is in fact a parallel expression to the classic statement of II Peter 1:4 (partakers of the divine nature), which has become in later patristic literature the biblical foundation of the doctrine of divinization (theosis). In the case of the Gospel of John, however, this idea is expressed in a more descriptive and  less abstract way that in II Peter. If we now take this argument a little further, we can say that johannine theology more fully develops the earlier interpretation of the Eucharist as the continuously repeated act of sealing the "new covenant" of God with his new people. This interpretation  is evidenced in both the synoptic and the pauline tradition, although there the covenantal interpretation of Jesus' death (in the phrase "this is my blood of the covenant”, Mk 14:24 par and I Cor 11:25), is somewhat hidden by the soteriological formula "which is shed for you” (ibid.).

What comes out of this biblical understanding of Eucharist (with its more direct emphasis on the idea of the covenant, and of koinonia) is the transformation of Jeremiah's vision - which was at the same time also a promise - from a marginal to a central feature. Just as in the book of Jeremiah, so also in early christianity - at least in John - it is the ideas of a new covenant, of communion,  and of the Church as a people, that are most strongly emphasized. Listen to what the prophet was saying: "and I will make a covenant. . . a new covenant",  Jer 38.31; and "I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord....and they shall be unto me a people",  Jer 24.7).

During this normative period, the Eucharist was understood in its “ecclesial” dimension, as a communion event, and not as an act of personal devotion, or even a merely cultic act; in other words as an expression of the Church as the people of God and as the Body of Christ mystically united with its head, and not as a sacramentalist quasi-magical rite[34]. The eucharistic theology of the Early Church was beyond any notion related to sacramental practices of the ancient Mystery cults. The Eucharist as the unique and primary Mystery of the Church cannot be related to "sacramentalism"; it is rather a dynamic expression of the communion of the people of God and a proleptic manifestation of the Kingdom to come, which in turn is a reflection of the communion that exists between the persons of the Holy Trinity”.

V. Conclusions

If I have placed so much emphasis on the Eucharist, (sometimes even overemphasizing deliberately the differences between Evangelicals and the Orthodox), it was because I firmly believe in a synthesis of the two traditions. An authentic witness of the Church must have both the evangelistic zeal and devotion of the  Evangelicals and the “costly eucharistic vision” of the Orthodox.[35] A dynamic encounter, therefore, will enrich both traditions.

My intention, however, had deeper theological motivation, because I am convinced that in dealing the the Eucharist we are dealing with the very being and with the identity of the Church.  Without this christianity may well slip (because of external factors and of social dynamics) to an authoritarian and oppressive religious system,[36] willing to propagate, some times at any cost, only and exclusively its own convictions. I am, of course, well aware that without a profound, renewing, prophetic and theological interpretation, the Eucharist can easily become at best a useless typolatry, and at worst a sacramentalistic (for some even demonic) ritual, which instead of directing the Church’s mission and the entire life of the christian community towards the vision of the coming Kingdom, it may lead to individualistic and mystical paths. And this is something which eventually distances the members of the community from the “other” (and therefore from God, the ultimate “Other”), leading them to death, to hell.

The problem of the Church’s witness, i.e. the problem of overcoming the evil in the world, is not basically a moral, or even a social, issue. It is primarily and even exclusively an ecclesial  one. The moral and social responsibility of the Church (both as an institution and also of its individual members), as the primary witnessing acts of the body of Christ, is the logical consequence of their ecclesial self-consciousness. It is, therefore, only by reaffirming the eucharistic identity of the Church through a radical liturgical renewal  that the Church can bear witness to its fundamental characteristics of unity and catholicity.  Only then can we hope that today’s “exclusiveness” will give its place to the priority of the “communion” with the “others”. And only then will our Church definitely and once and for all overcome all kinds of nationalistic and phyletistic behaviour, the worse heresy of our time, thus not only promoting christian unity, but also actively contributing to the struggle for the unity of humankind.

 In terms of mission this will also mean a common  evangelistic witness. Beyond the biblical references,[37] the eucharistic perspective of mission points far beyond denominational boundaries, beyond christian limitations, even beyond the religious sphere in the conventional sense, and towards the manifestation of the Kingdom of God, the restoration of God’s “household”  in its majestic eschatological splendour.

Through a eucharistic understanding of mission one can expect much easier to overcome (both in society and in the priestly ecclesiastical order) the corrupted hierarchical order, which is a reflection  of the fallen earthly order and not of the kenotic divine one. This will inevitably result in the proper traditional “iconic” understanding of all priestly ministries, but will also lead to a more authentic “conciliar” status in all sectors of the ecclesiastical life (i.e. participation of the entire laos to the priestly, royal and prophetic ministry of the Church), to an “inclusive” community (a genuine community of men and women etc.).

Finally, a eucharistic revival will also help the Church to move away from a certain “christocentric universalism” and towards a “trinitarian” understanding of the divine reality and of the Church’s mission that embraces the entire  “oikoumene” as the one household of life. Especially for mission, this means the abandonment of any effort of proselytism, not only among christians of other denominations (which is a caricature of true evangelism), but even among peoples of other religions, among whom the only effective witness is an authentic manifestation of the kingdom of God.



[1]Throughout this paper I have deliberately used small “c” in writing chrisrian, christianity etc. and capital C in writing Church. The reader will understand my decision in the course of reading it. Only one comment must be made in advance: the term Church is always understood in its “ecclesial”, not its “institutional” meaning.

[2]Most of what follows was presented as the main Orthodox paper in that meeting.

[3]Cf. Huibert van Beek-Georges Lemopoulos (ed.), Proclaiming Christ Today. Orthodox-Evangelical Consultation Alexandria, 10-15 July 1995,  WCC and Syndesmos 1955, p.15

[4]It is quite important to recall what Georges Florovsky, a leading Orthodox ecumenist, said 50 years ago in the 1st General Assembly of WCC in Amsterdam, on the occasion of the establishment of WCC: “It is not enough to be moved towards ecumenical reconciliation by some sort of strategy, be it missionary, evangelistic, social or other, unless the christian conscience has already become aware of the greater challenge, by the Divine challenge itself. We must seek unity or reunion not because it might make us more efficient or better equipped...but because unity is the Divine imperative, the Divine purpose and design, because it belongs to the very essence of christianity”.

[5]Proclaiming Christ Today,  pp.14f.

[6]Cf. also the change of the relevant WCC missionary commision of Unit II from “Life, Education, and Mission” (1991) to “Life, Education, and Witness” (1994). More on this in M.R.Spindler, “The Missonary Movement and Missionary Organizations”, F.J.Verstraelen et a. (eds.),  Missiology . An Ecumenical Introduction,  W.B.Eerdmans, Michigan 1995, pp.458-466. Also in Ioan Sauca’s “WCC Mission Statement” later this week.

[7]Cf. the most important documents and books on the issue: e.g. Common Witness. A Joint Document of the Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC, WCC Mission Series, Geneva 1982; the relevant to our subject document Common Witness and Proselytism;  also I.Bria (ed.), Martyria-Mission, WCC Publications Geneva, 1980.  Even the Mission and Evangelism-An Ecumenical Affirmation, Geneva 1982, WCC Mission Series Ç1985 , is an attempt to correctly interpret the classical missionary terminology. Cf. also the most recent agreed statement of the Dorfweil/Germany Consultation of KEK with the European Baptist Federation and the European Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (12-13 June 1995) with the title: “Aspects of Mission and Evangelization in Europe Today”.

[8]I am just referring here to the tension in the recent history of the world christian mision, which resulted in the tragic separation and the eventual formation of the Lausanne Movement for World Evangelization.

[9]M. Goodman, Mission and Conversion. Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire,  Oxford 1994, pp.3ff.,

[10]Cf. also D.Senior-C.Stuhlmueller, The Biblical Foundation for Mission, Orbis, New York 1983, 51994, who concluded their presentation of biblical evidence with the following 4 “modalities of mission”: a. direct proclamation, b. prophetic challenge in word and sign, c. witness on behalf of the Gospel, and d. mission as personal and social transformation (pp.332ff).

[11]K.Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition. A Paradigm Shift in the Ecumenical Movement, WCC Publications Geneva 1991 (translated with modifications from the Germen original Ökumene im Übergang, C.Kaiser Verlag München 1989), p.34.

[12]Ibid., pp.79ff.

[13]For an early survey by an orthodox see (Archbishop of Albania) Anastasios Yannoulatos, Various Christian Approaches to the Other  Religions (A Historical Outline), Athens 1971.

[14]This comes from the famous passage in Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”.

[15]For the relation of mission to dialogue, as well as the repeatedly expressed concern over “syncretism” see K.Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition, pp. 55ff; also the partizan work from the “old paradigm” by W.A.Visser’t Hooft, No Other Name: The Choice between Syncretism and Christian Universalism,  SCM London, 1963. Also L.Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, Geneva, WCC Publications 1989.

[16]Cf. (Metropolitan of Pergamon) John Zizioulas, Being as Communion, SVS Press New York 1985.

[17]Cf. the extensive use of the doctrine of Trinity even among Pentecostals in Jaroslav Volf’s in His Likeness, 1997. Also A.I.C.Herton (ed.), The Forgotten Trinity, London, 1991; and L. Boff, Trinity and Society, eng. transl. Orbis, New York 1988.

[18]Cf. Metropolitan George Khodre,“Christianity in a Pluralistic World-The Economy of the Holy Spirit,” ER 23 (1971, pp. 118-28.

[19]The idea of “gathering into one place the scattered people of God” is also to be found in Is 66:18; Mt 25:32; Rom 12:16; Didache 9:4b; Mart. Polyc. 22:3b; Clemens of Rome, I Cor., 12:6 etc.

[20]J.H.Elliott, The Elect and the Holy, 1966, has redetermined on the part of the Protestant biblical theology the real meaning of the term «royal priesthood», which has so vigorously discussed since the time of Luther. Cf. R.Brown, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections, 1971.

[21]Cf. I Pe 2:10: “Once you were no people, now you are God's people”.

[22]Cf. St. Chrysostom’s  comment on the relevant petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “(Christ) did not say ‘Your will be done’ in me, or in us, but everywhere on earth, so that error may be destroyed, and truth implanted, and all wickedness cast out, and virtue return, and no difference in this respect be henceforth between heaven and earth”.(PG  57 col. 280).

[23]D.J.Bosch, Transforming Mission. Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 1991, pp.212-213.

[24]V.Lossky,The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 1957.

[25]I.Bria, The Sense of Ecumenical Tradition. The Ecumenical Witness and Vision of the Orthodox, Geneva WCC Publications 1991, p. 2.

[26]I.Bria (ed.), Go forth in Peace, Geneva WCC Publications 1986, p. 3.

[27]Cf. e.g. the application of the trinitarian theology to the structure of the Church. By nature the Church cannot reflect the worldly image of secular organizations, which is based on power and domination, but the kenotic image of the Holy Trinity, which is based on love and communion. If one takes a little further this trinitarian approach and takes into consideration the distinction of the hypostases (persons) within the Holy Trinity, one can come to the conclusion that the Church is a Church of "God" (the father) before it becomes a Church of "Christ" and of a certain place. In Eucharistic Liturgy all the proper eucharistic prayers are addressed to God. This has revealing implications also on a number of issues ranging from the profound meaning of episcopacy (Bishop= image of "Christ"?) to the dialectics between Christ - Church, divine - human, unity of man and woman, etc.

[28]K.Raiser’s Ecumenism in Transition is a perfect example of a well documented argumentation for the necessity, and to our view also for the right use, of the trinitarian theology to address current burning issues in modern theology. Cf. also sister Elizabeth A. Johnson’s She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, 1992, especially  ch. 10 under the title “Triune God: Mystery of Revelation”, pp.191ff.

[29]A serious attempt to approach the problem of contextual theology has been undertaken by my faculty (Department of Theology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece), which organized in Thessaloniki (2-3 October 1992) jointly with the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey a theological symposium on the theme: “Classical and Contextual Theology. The Task of Orthodox Theology in the Post-Camberra Ecumenical Movement”. The papers in Greek translation have been published in the journal Kath’ Odon 4 (1993) pp.3ff. My keynote paper in a shortened form appeared also in Ökuminishe Rundschau  41 (1993) 452-460; for its original form (“Othodoxy and Contextual Theology”) see also in my Lex Orandi. Studies of Liturgical Theology,  1994, pp. 139-156 (in Greek).

[30]Although some theologians consider this second concept, which was mingled with the original biblical/semitic thought, as stemming from Greek philosophers (Stoics and others), it is more than clear that the horizontal-eschatological view was the predominant one in New Testament, the other early Christian writings and the authentic teaching of the Church. The vertical-soteriological view was always understood within the context of the horizontal-eschatological perspective as supplemental and complementary. This is why the liturgical/eucharistic experience of the early Church is incomprehensible without its social dimension (see Acts 2:42ff., 1 Cor 11:1ff., Heb 13: 10-16; Justin, 1 Apology  67;  Irenaeus, Adver. Her. 18:1, etc.).

[31]Cf. his address to the 5th World Conference of Faith and Order “The Church as Communion,” T.F.Best-G.Gassmann (eds.), On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, WCC Geneva 1994, 103-111.

[32]Ibid., pp. 105ff.

[33]Cf. my "Orthodoxy and Ecumenism," Eucharist and Witness. Orthodox Perespectives on the Unity and Mission of the Church, WCC/Holy Cross, Geneva/Massucusetts 1998, pp.7-28.

[34]Cf also J.Zizioulas’ affirmation that "when it is understood in its correct and primitive sense - and not how it has come to be regarded even in Orthodoxy under the influence Western scholasticism - the eucharist is first of all an assembly (synaxis), a community a network of relations..."(Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church,  New York, SVS Press 1985, p. 60). Cf. also his interesting remark:"the Fourth Gospel identifies eternal life, i.e. life without death, with truth and knowledge, (which) can be accomplished only if the individualization of nature becomes transformed into communion - that is if communion becomes identical with being. Truth, once again, must be communion if it is to be life" (p. 105).

[35]Cf. my Bible study “Towards a Costly Eucharistic Vision”, in Eucharist and Witness, pp. 1-6.

[36]A “costly eucharistic committment”, I must confess, is indeed dangerous for authoritarian mentalities.

[37]Cf. Mt 25:31ff:, where what it seems to really matter is not so much accepting, and believing in, the abundant  love of our Triune God (confessional, religious exclusiveness), but exemplifying it to the world through an authentic witness (ecclesial inclusiveness).