(Published in I.V.Leb [ed.], Tolerentia si
Convietuire in Transilvania Secolelor XVII-XIX, Cluj 2001, pp. 207-218, and
in Roumanian under the title " Reconciliere si Tolerantia dintr-o
Perspectiva Ortodoxa", pp.15-26)
Any dialogue among people from different religions is
both a delicate task and an extremely difficult enterprise. On the Christian
side, despite isolated cases, for more than 50 years now - since the 1938
meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at Tambaram, India -
all Christians have affirmed that respectful dialogue with people of
other faiths is not only a necessity, but an imperative; all the more so because
of religious intolerance and fanaticism in all religions. This conviction is
also high in the theological agenda of the Roman Catholic Church, and was
reaffirmed in the 1989 World Mission Conference of the WCC in San Antonio,
Texas, the principle reason being the humanitarian dimension, or to put it in
more theological terms the issue of Christian anthropology. "The needs of
humanity", it was stated, "are not divided among religions, but human
needs for life, for meaning, and for hope is surely one".
We live in a period of nationalistic outburst, which inevitably causes religious
fanaticism and intolerance, eventually undermining the peaceful coexistence of,
and the imperative of reconciliation among, peoples.
When one comes to deal with the
issue of reconciliation and tolerance,
the tension that historically existed among different religions, but also among
segments of the same religion, unavoidably comes to one’s mind. Reconciliation
and tolerance as a burning issue occupied the agenda and the philosophical and
theological reflections for the most part of modernity, especially in Europe
with the rise of Reformation (16th century CE). It is, therefore, a religious
rather than a social issue, although these two dimensions epistemologically are
inter-related and cannot (and should not) be dissociated.
It has become a real issue ever since the various world religions have
come to understand their mission in terms of universalism, and because of their legitimate conviction to remain
faithful to their fundamental truths, one of which certainly is their view of
salvation, i.e. soteriology.
In my presentation: (a) I will briefly
review this basic problem of universalism, common more or less to all world
religions, from the point of view of the Orthodox understanding of mission; (b)
I will present with the help of
cultural anthropology - and also of (c) Orthodox theology - the importance of
ritual for developing new criteria for reconciliation and tolerance among world
religions; and finally (d) I will draw some conclusions.
order to properly understand the importance of universalism in dealing with
“reconciliation and tolerance”, one needs to examine a variety of terms and
notions involved in current discussions, expressed by such words as mission,
conversion, evangelism or evangelization,
Christianization, witness or martyria.
Following Martin Goodman’s classification, I argued elswhere,
that in the early Church the Christian mission was understood in a broad variety
of ways: following the steps of Judaism Christianity developed informative,
educational, apologetic and proseltyrizing mission to propagate its faith.
However, this pluralistic understanding has gradually given its place more or
less to auniversalistic 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
with very few exceptions of course.
proselytizing mission had
a significant effect in the future of our western world, and to a
considerable degree also determined the shaping in later times of the western
theology of mission, Catholic and Protestant alike.
In fact, it 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 book Ecumenism
in Transition. A Paradigm Shift in the Ecumenical Movement, has rightly
argued that because 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”.
In ecumenical and missionary circles it is a common view that with the
contribution of the Orthodox theology modern ecumenism has taken radical steps
towards a fresh understanding of mission. It was this development that made K.
Raiser suggest 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 also
towards an “Oikoumene” as the one household of life.
For the understanding of mission, this important development means a total
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
Nowadays, the problem of reconciliation and tolerance in the religious field,
has become not simply a social necessity but a legitimate theological
imperative. The peoples of other faiths are “no longer the objects of our
discussions but partners in our conversation".
The Orthodox theology of mission, starting from the fundamental
assumption “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”, no longer insists on making
primarily new converts, but on witnessing to their faith in an authentic way; in
other words Orthodoxy no longer insists—or rather to be honest should no
longer insist—on a universal proselytizing mission that aims “at the
propagation or transmission of intellectual convictions, doctrines, moral
commands, etc.”, but on a witness that in fact aims “at the transmission of
the life of communion, that exists in God”.
If one now takes this understanding of mission a litle further, one can
argue that the problem of overcoming the evil in the world is not basically a
moral or even a social issue. Strictly speaking, it cannot be measured in
conventional missiological terms. It
is rather, and for some primarily and even exclusively, an ecclesial issue. To put
in simple terms, it depends on our Orthodox Church’s identity. This of course
by no means excludes the moral and social responsibility of the Church (both as
an institution and also of its individual members), but this comes as the
logical consequence of their ecclesial self-consciousness.
is exactly for this reason that so much emphasis was placed in the Orthodox
Church, both in the past and in the present, on ritual and Liturgy. In dealing
with Liturgy Orthodox Christianity deals with the very being and the identity of
the Church. Of course, having said that I cannot deny the real fact, that
throughout the history there have been numerous cases, where the liturgy, the primary expression of the Church, and the Eucharist as
its center and climax, became in some cases a useless typolatry, and in other
worse cases a sacramentalistic (for some even demonic) ritual, which instead of
directing the community towards the vision of the coming Kingdom, it lead it to
individualistic paths, with hostile and intolerant behaviour, with no sense of
the moral imperative of reconciliation. All these eventually distanced the
members of the community from the “other”, any “other” (Jew, Muslim,
Buddist, or believer of any other religion, even atheist), and therefore from
God, the real “Other”, leading them to death, to hell.
In the remaining time I will try to reassess the understanding of mission with
its consequence to reconciliation and tolerance by reference to the liturgy and
ritual. And I will do this by using both the insights of cultural anthropology
and the results of theology.
doing this, however, just as an illustration, allow me to make a quick reference
to the Bible, the most revered book of Christianity. In particular to the famous
passage of the Gospel of Matthew concerning "The Last Judgment"
The scene of the story is an imaginative royal court in which God will judge the
world at the end of history. One can paraphrase the story by saying that human
beings are judged entirely on their behavior towards their fellow human beings.
What is significant here is that there is neither mention of faith as a
presupposition of salvation, nor of religious duties toward God (in fact there
is nothing about what we normally consider duties: we are judged on those things
that we are accustomed not to consider duties, any kind of duties, religious or
otherwise; not to mention of course that in this passage all religious or
confessional boundaries are dramatically brought down. We come face to face with
the importance of humanity in all theological considerations in that God
identifies himself not with any religious establishment, but with those to whom
service is given or refused:
"I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave
me a drink; I was stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you
clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited
me", (vv. 25:35f. and the opposite vv. 25:42f;) and to their astonishment
the reply was: "whenever you did this for one of the least important of
these brothers and sisters of mine you did it for me" (v. 25:40, and the
opposite v. 25:45).
Christianity, especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition which I represent, it
is believed that the revelation of God took place in a certain time in the
person of Christ. This once-and-for-all revelation, nevertheless was not a
finished process but continues to the end of time through the presence of the
Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. This continuous revelation, however,
takes place neither in a vacuum nor in an abstract ideological level, but
in the liturgical life of the community.
The importance of liturgy and ritual for the identity of the religious systems
was actually reinforced by the social sciences, and especially by cultural
of the most imaginative insights of modern cultural anthropologists is their
conviction that ritual, and the liturgical
life in general, is a form of communication, a "performative" kind
of speech, instrumental in creating the essential categories of human thought.
They communicate the fundamental beliefs and values of a community, outlining in
this way its "world view" and its "ethos".
The rituals do not only transmit culture, but they also "create a reality
which would be nothing without them. It is not too much to say that ritual is
more to society than words are to thought. For it is very possible to know
something and then find words for it. But it is impossible to have social
relations without symbolic acts".
Even the texts, as A. Destro and M. Pesce have pointed out, “are not just
writing, literature, or communication, but above and beyond all this, especially
in the religious field, part and instrument of a
This conclusion is in fact in accord with the affirmation of modern
Orthodox theologians, like George Florovsky, who rightly declare that
"Christianity is a liturgical tradition. The Church is first of all a
worshipping community. Worship
comes first, doctrine and discipline second. The lex
orandi has a
privileged priority in the life of the Christian Church. The lex
credendi depends on the
devotional experience and vision of the Church, more precisely on the authentic
(i.e. liturgical) identity of the Church."
are two major understandings of the Liturgy. According to the first one, Liturgy
can be treated as a private
act, functioning as a means to meet some particular religious needs: i.e.
both the need of the community to exercise its power and supervision on the
members, and the need of the individual for personal "sanctification".
We could label this aspect of the liturgical act as juridical.
According to the second one, the Liturgy functions as a means for the upbuilding
of the religious community, which is no longer viewed in institutional terms or
as a cultic organization, but as a communion and as a way of living. We will
call this second understanding communal.
The juridical understanding
of Liturgy encourages and in effect promotes a sharp distinction between the
various segments of the religious society (clergy and laity, etc.), thus
underlining the dimensions of super- and sub-ordination within the ritual, and
contributing to the maintenance of the social structure not only within the
religious community itself, but also by extension within the wider social life.
What, however, is even more significant for our subject, is that the juridical understanding of Liturgy develops separation and certain
barriers, sometimes even hostility, between members of different religious
systems, thus intensifying phenomena of intolerance and fanaticism.
At the other end, the communal
understanding of Liturgy discourages all distinctions between the
various segments within the religious communities, but also by extension within
the wider social life. And to come again to our subject, the communal
understanding of Liturgy disolves barriers between members of
different religious systems, thus promoting religious tolerance and
What has been so far
analysed with reference to cultural anthropology, holds also true on a
theological basis. It is almost an assured result of modern theological
scholarship (biblical and liturgical) that the principle rite of Christianity,
the Eucharist, was “lived” in the early Christian community not as a mere
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, men and women (cf. Gal
3:28). 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 a Triune God (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) 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. In
brief, if one wants to approach any specific issue, like “Reconciliation and
Tolerance”, one should start from
this primary liturgical experience, the eucharistic eschatological experience,
the matrix of all theology that produced all theological interpretations of this
However, since it is a
common place to relate any Christian understanding, and especially that of
mission, to Christ, I will also refer to His teaching, life and work. His
teaching, however, and especially his life and work, cannot be properly
understood without reference to the eschatological expectations of the Second
Temple Judaism. Without entering the complexities of Jewish eschatology, we
could say very briefly that it was interwoven with the expectation of the coming
of the Messiah. In the "last days" of history (“the Eschaton")
he 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 (11:51-52) 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."
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 that the early Church has developed its ecclesiology,
on which its missionary practice was based. This teaching is reflected in images
of the Church as the Body of Christ, as Vine, and especially as unity. The
apostle 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.
Christianity believed that the Eschaton had already entered history, and that
the Church as an eschatological community becomes a reality each time they
gather in one place to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. The mission of the
early Church stems exactly from their awareness that they are the Kingdom of God
“on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10 par).
The apostles were commissioned to proclaim not a set of given religious
convictions, doctrines, moral commands etc., but the coming Kingdom, the new
eschatological reality, which had as its center the crucified and resurrected
Christ. They were called “holy”; because
they belonged to that chosen race of the people of God. They were also
considered a “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.
And finally, they were called to walk towards unity ("so that they may become perfectly one”,
In sum, the Church according to the Orthodox theology is identified not
by what it is given to it in the past,
nor by what it is as an institutional
reality in the present, but by what it is
supposed to become at the end of time, at the Eschaton.
At the same time, the Church’s mission is to be understood as a dynamic
journey of the people of God as a whole towards the Eschaton, with their main
rite, the Eucharist, being their point of departure. There were, of course,
periods in which the center of gravity moved 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);
and all these resulted in certain aggressive, unpeaceful and intolerant
situations. Nevertheless, the Eucharist always remained the sole expression of
the Church’s identity and mission.
any conclusion is to be drawn from the above analysis, this is an affirmation
that the “old paradigm” of the Christian “exclusivity” must give its
place to a “new paradigm”, the main focus of which will be the priority of
“communion” with the “others”. Only then, will Christianity - and this mutatis mutandis holds
true for any other religious system - avoid imperialistic expansionism and
confessionalist attitudes. Only then, all kinds of nationalistic and phyletistic
behaviour will definitely and once and for all overcome, thus
contributing to the struggle for the unity of humankind through
reconciliation and tolerance, and for the unity of all creation, through a real
concern for a just and enviromentally sustainable society.
this way the mission of the Orthodox Church will have to take the form first and
foremost of a common Christian witness. After all, the real issue in
Orthodox Christian behavor is not so much the act of accepting, and
believing in, the abundant love of God (which leads to a “confessional and
religious exclusiveness”), but the concious act of exemplifying it to the
world through a peaceful, conciliatory and tolerant witness (this can be labeled
“ecclesial inclusiveness”). The new understanding of mission is beyond any
caricature of proselytism; the real aim of evangelism is not to bring the
nations and the people of other faiths to our own religious
"enclosure"; its real aim is to "let" the Spirit of God to
use both the faithful and those to whom the faithful bear witness, to bring
about the Kingdom of God. According to this understanding, everything belongs to
that Kingdom, that new world and new reality. The Church in the conventional
sense does not administer all reality, as it was believed for centuries; she
only prepares the way to that reality.
and far more importantly, the real mission of the Church will go far beyond
denominational boundaries, beyond Christian limitations, even beyond the
religious sphere in the conventional sense.
The real mission of the Christianity has to do with the manifestation of
the Kingdom of God, the restoration of the “household”
Thirdly, through such an understanding of mission one can expect much
easier to overcome the corrupted hierarchical order both in society and in the
priestly ecclesiastical order; such a hierarchical
order is a reflection of the fallen
reality 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
religious life (i.e. full, unconditional, and inclusive participation of the
entire religious community to the priestly, royal and prophetic ministries), and
to a genuine community of men and women.
(ed.), The San Antonio Report. “Your
Will be Done. Mission in Christ's Way, WCC Publications, Geneva 1990,
these terms the last two have been widely adopted in “ecumenical”
circles as the more appropriate for a genuine and authentic Christian
mission (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”), 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 (cf. 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).
and Proselytism. An Orthodox Understanding”,Eucharist
and Witness. Orthodox Perspecrives on the Unitty and Mission of the Church, WCC
Press-Holy Cross Press, Geneva, Boston, 1998, pp. 29ff.
Goodman in his book Mission and
Conversion. Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire, Clarendon
Press, Oxford 1994, 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.” (p. 3). (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.” (ibid.). (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.” (p.4). 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.” (ibid.).
Goodman, Mission and Conversion ,
mission, perhaps wih the exception of the Russian mission, has been till
very recently latent ......Cf. also D.J.Bosch,
Transforming Mission. Paradigm Schifts in Theology of Mission, Orbis
Books New York, 1991, who discribed through the “Paradigm-Shift-theory”
the development of Christian understanding of mission down to the most
recent ecumenical era.
was the conviction that the "Decisive hour of Christian Mission"
had come that impelled John R. Mott to call the World Mission Conference of
1910, with the primary purpose of pooling resources and developing a common
strategy for the "world's conquest" for Christ. The task of
"taking the Gospel to all the regions of the world" was seen to be
of paramount importance. On the recent history of Christian mission see
J.Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An
Introduction, engl. transl. Grand Rapids Michigan 1978.
Ecumenism in Transition. A Paradigm
Shift in the Ecumenical Movement, WCC Publications Geneva 1991
(translated with modifications from the German original Ökumene
im Übergang, C.Kaiser Verlag München 1989), p.34.
development is a radical reinterpretation of Christology through
Pneumatology (cf.John Zizioulas, Being
as Communion, SVS Press New York 1985), through the rediscovery of the
forgotten trinitarian theology of the undivided Church (cf. A.I.C.Herton ed., The Forgotten
Trinity, London, 1991).
Guidelines Ôn Dialogue with People of Living
Faiths and Ideologies, WCC, Geneva, 1990 (4th printing).
Cf. Stanley J. Samartha, (ed.), Faith
in the Midst of Faiths Reflections Ôn Dialogue in Community, WCC,
(ed.), Go fourth in Peace, WCC
Press Geneva 1986, p. 3.
Incidentally this passage in the Orthodox liturgical
tradition has been placed at the outset of the most important and holy
period of the Church life, the Great Lent. (cf. A.Schmemann, Great Lent, SVS Press Crestwood 1974).
The Elementary Forms of the Religious
Life (transl. by J.W.Swain, New York: Free Press, 1965, reprint), p. 22.
and Th.Luckmann, The Social
Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New
York: Doubleday, 1966). C.Geertz, The
Interpretation of Cultures. Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books,
1973), pp. 126-141.
Purity and Danger. An Analysis of the
Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul,
1966), p. 62.
- M.Pesce, “Anthropological Reading of Early Christian Texts”. According
to them “a text is the product of a human activity which is at the same
level of all other cultural manifestations” (from the Engl. transl. of the
enlarged edition of their book Antropologia
delle origini cristiane, Editori Laterza, Bari-Roma, pp.1ff).
"The Elements of Liturgy: An Orthodox View," Ecumenism 1, A Doctrinal Approach, vol. XIII in the Collected
Works, p. 86; also in C.Patelos (ed.), The
Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement, Geneva WCC Press 1978,
Cf. John 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).
The Elect and the Holy, 1966, has
redetermined on the part of the Protestant biblical theology the real
meaning of the term «âáóßëåéïí éåñÜôåõìá», which has so
vigorously discussed since the time of Luther. Cf. R.Brown, Priest
and Bishop: Biblical Reflections, 1971.
my article “Óôáõñüò: Centre of the Pauline Soteriology and
Apostolic Ministry”, A.Vanhoye [ed.], L’Apôtre
Paul. Personnalité, Style et Conception du Ministère,
Leuven 1986, pp. 246-253.