(published in El.Voulgarakis et.a. (eds.),"ÐïñåõèÝíôåò...". ×áñéóôÞñéïò ôüìïò ðñïò ôéìÞí ôïõ Áñ÷éåðéóêüðïõ Áëâáíßáò Áíáóôáóßïõ (ÃéáííïõëÜôïõ), Áthens, 1997, pp. 77-97.

Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, to whom this contribution is dedicated on the occasion of his 40 years of active missionary activity and  upon the fifth aniversary of his elevation to the throne of of the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Albania - perhaps the  field of Christian Mission par excellence -  is the theologian and ecclesiastical figure, who more than any other else in the Orthodox world has enormously contributed to the field of Christian Mission. He not only devoted his entire concious life to Christian witness, the most important but at the same time most neglected area in the Orthodox Church;  he has also been pioneer in the academic discipline of Orthodox Missiology, to the extent that one can fairly say that he has been the scholar who practically introduced the course to the curricula of the Orthodox Theological Schools and Seminaries, more particularly in Greece.[1]

To honor such a distinguished figure, one would not dare think of a scholarly contribution other than a missiological one. And on my part  I will deal with the burning (on both sides, Orthodox and ecumenical) issue of Proselytism in its ecumenical perspective.  My point of departure will be my Orthodox conciousness, but my approach to the subject will be neither strictly historical,[2] nor purely confessional, but theological  and ecumenical, i.e. critical and sometimes even self-critical.[3] After all, the real function of “theology” is to be the critical conscience of the Church. I addition, I will not to refer in detail to the various agreed ecumenical statements on Proselytism, the various arguments of both sides, and the various legitimate and justified complaints by the Orthodox Church, the most affected in the last two centuries by this caricature of authentic evangelism.[4] On the contrary I will reflect on what one can describe as a new understanding of “Mission, Proselytism and the Ecumenical Movement” as we approach the third Christian millenium.


In order to properly tackle the issue of Mission and Proselytism within the context of ecumenism,[5]  one needs to examine a variety of terms and notions involved in current ecumenical discussions, expressed by such words as mission, conversion, evangelism or evangelization, christianization, witness  or martyria.  Of these terms only the last two have been widely adopted in “ecumenical” circles as the more appropriate for a genuine and authentic Christian mission[6], 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.[7]

Martin Goodman in his recent book Mission and Conversion. Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire,  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.”[8] 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.”[9] The first monastic, 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.”[10] 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.”[11] No doubt, this last type of mission, for which the terms “conversion” and “christianization” seem to apply better, was the ideal behind the universal 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).

This pluralistic understanding of Christian mission in the history of the early Church, apostolic and post-apostolic alike, has undoubtedly 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 Church,[12] 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 concerns 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.[13] 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.[14] 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”.[15]

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.[16] For the understanding of mission, these mean 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.[17] 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”[18]- 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”.[19] Rather it is a radical reinterpretation of Christology through Pneumatology,[20] through the rediscovery of the forgotten  Trinitarian theology[21] 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 due not only 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.[22] It is my firm conviction, that  the revival of proselytism by certain evangelical groups both outside, but also within,  the WCC is not so much the result of historical circumstances (collapse of totaliterian regimes, in particular in Central and Eastern Europe etc.); it is rather a conscious reaction to the “openness” of the Church to the outside world, especially after the latest developments in the ecumenical movement by the more “traditional” - some may label them even “funtamentalist” - segments of Christianity. These segments, of course, mainly belong to Protestantism, but they can also be found in Catholicism (cf. e.g. the issue of Uniatism, or the very narrow interpretation of the Bishops’ recent appeal for “re-evangelization” of Europe), and undoubtedly even within Orthodoxy (the Old Calendarists and other traditional groups e.g. are the most active in proselytizing among western Christian Churches and denominations, and the most reacting against the inter-faith dialogue). To some extent it is also due to the still unresolved tension within the WCC with regard to its stance toward the other religions. If this is so, and the revival of proselytism is an attempt to reverse the understanding, and of course practice, of Christian mission, then the problem of proselytism is to be addressed by a thorough reconsideration of the discipline of mission, perhaps through an widely agreed new charter.[23]

Since, however, most of the argument, especially by those of the evangelical stream of our Christian tradition, is still elaborated through the fundamental classical biblical references, I will now turn to them. Through a theological reflection on the basic biblical references I will try to tackle our subject with my limited resources as thoroughly as possible[24].


For hundreds of years the European churches have  based their mission on our Lord’s demand at the very end of his earthly ministry, as this demand was written down in the well known Matthaean passage:

«All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching  them  to  observe  all  that  I  have commanded you; and  lo, I am with you always to the close of this age»  (Mt 28: 18-20).

The centrality of this passage in the theological foundation of the European churches’ mission was to some extent due - at least in my view - to the over estimation during the pre-critical era of the Gospel of Matthew - which was for some time considered the Gospel of the Church - at the expense of the ‘tetramorphon’ Gospel. On the other hand, the place of this important missionary statement at the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry was interpreted as inaugurating the close of one era, that of Jesus’ mission, and the start of another, that of human mission. Only under such or similar circumstances can one explain the widely accepted, but at the same time one-sided, consideration of this otherwise important biblical passage. As a consequence, an undue emphasis was given to the individualistic and antropocentric understanding of ‘making disciples’. As a result, our Christian mission adopted an expansionist attitude in the past and, in some places, imperialistic tendencies found their way in, thus eroding the spiritual character of the Churches’ mission. In addition, our scandalous divisions have resulted in a denominational antagonism, which in turn led to proselytistic attitudes transplanting the old-fashioned theological debates and practices from Europe to non-European missionary areas.

However, it would have been otherwise, had the trinitarian dimension of the Church’s mission been emphasised. The making of disciples is meaningless without a reference to ‘baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. After all, the call of the Church to mission is rooted in the fact that Christ himself was sent by the Father, in the Holy Spirit. ‘As the Father sent me so I send you...Receive the Holy Spirit’. (John 20:21-22). And going a little further: the sending of Christ was the inevitable consequence of the inner dynamics of the Holy Trinity. In fact, the justification of Christian mission can only be founded if we conceive our missionary task as the projection in human terms of the life of communion that exists within the Holy Trinity. That is why the subject of mission is not the individual believer, the missionary or even the Church as an impersonal corporate entity, but the Triune God. Humanity enters into the missionary field only within the framework of the synergia. This greatly emphasised patristic idea does not mean that we are equal partners with God himself, or that he cannot act independently of mankind, even in the form of the ‘little flock’;  it rather means that our Triune God in his divine economy has consiously decided to work through us. According to Ion Bria,

“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”.[25]

Coming back to our Matthaean passage it is necessary to make the following remarks:

(i) The entire scene of Jesus’ sending out his disciples is clearly set within the framework of the resurrection event. This obvious setting is repeatedly emphasised in our biblical commentaries: its consequences, however, have scarcely been drawn to the extent it deserves. We are called to give our evangelistic witness to the world not as a continuation of the Kerygma of Jesus of Nazareth, but out of a deep understanding and experience, and in the light, of the resurrection of Christ. Our vocation, therefore, is not to propagate religious ideas or to establish religious sects, but to reveal Jesus Christ as the Lord and to introduce into the world the reality of his Kingdom. It is for this reason that every Sunday, when we meet to workship Christ in the eucharistic gathering, we celebrate the day of resurrection. If we now conceive this eucharistic liturgy as we should, not only as the springboard for mission, but as the missionary event par excellence;  not only as the true expression of the divine revelation, but also as a living anticipation of the kingdom to come; not only as a means of perfection of individuals, but also and primarily as a means of the transformation of the Church as a community into an authentic image of the Kingdom of God, and through the Church of the entire cosmos, “so that (by our light  shining before others the world) may see (our) good words and give glory to (our) Father in heaven”  (Mt 5,16); then it becomes quite apparent what the task which lies in front of our Churches, at least within the WCC, really is.

(ii) The sending out of Jesus’ disciples is preceded in our text by a solemn declaration that the resurrected Christ in invested with full authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. Throughout the history of patristic interpretation this verse was understood against the background of the incarnation (cf. for example, Basil the Great). Actually the authority that Jesus Christ acquired was not bestowed but recovered (âðáíáäñïìÞ, âðáíÜëçøéò according to Cyril of Alexandria). This means that there is perfect harmony between the Lordship of Christ and his presence in the world. From the biblical and the apostolic period and throughout the history of the undivided Church, our forefathers (and silently our foremothers too) constantly fought against any overemphasis of either the divinity or the humanity of Christ. The meaning of the Church´s resistance against docetism, gnosticism and all the heresies, theological issues that were settled in the Ecumenical Councils, was her conviction that Christ remains wholly transcedent to, but at the same time immanent and present in, the world. The Matthaean passage which we have discussed presents this truth in a perfect way. Alongside the reference to Christ’s transcedent authority we read his assurance: “and Io, I am with you always”. Thus, the transcedent and resurrected Christ is made the motive force of mission in the world. Transcendence without immanence leads with mathematical precision to secularisation of the world, depriving the world of its holiness, acquired through the creation, incarnation and re-creation (àíáäçìéïõñãßá), and reducing it to its purely material aspect. We are led to a similar distortion if we emphasise Jesus’ immanence without due attention to his trascedence. The consequences of such a Christology will result in the impoverishment of the prophetic meaning of the Church reducing her to a mere social movement. In addition, therefore, to the resurrectional aspect, the incarnational one is of greatest importance for the Church’s mission.

(iii) Recent historical-critical research has almost unanimously reached the conclusion that our Lord’s demand “go forth and make disciples of all nations”  at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel is a later product which came out of the resurrectional and pentecostal experience of the early Christian community. It represents the ideal of universal mission which was the result of the success of the Gentile mission, also expressed in other indirect references of the synoptic tradition (Mk 13:10, 14:9 etc.), which, nevertheless, contradicts the exclusive mission to the Jews practised in the earthly ministry of Jesus (cf. Mt 15:24). This seeming differentiation from our Lord’s mission is nevertheless misleading. For it is quite apparent that the missionary statements and discourses of Jesus in the earliest strata of the Gospel tradition (Mk 6:7ff; Mt 9:37ff; Lk 9:1ff; 10:1ff) have a clear eschatological meaning. The ‘harvest time’ metaphor, which is so often alluded to in the Gospels, is in fact in accordance with, or more precisely a re-interpretation of, the Old Testament and later apocalyptic eschatological pictures (cf. Joel 4:13 LXX; Mic 4:12f; Is 27:12; 2 Apoc. Bar. 70:2, 4 Ezra 4:28ff). In all New Testament contexts the overall mission is, therefore, an “eschatological” event and should be viewed and practised as such by the Church.

It is not accidental that St. Paul, the greatest missionary of all, was waiting for the Kingdom to appear in the near future, yet he made and accomplished far-reaching plans for evangelizing the entire Greco-Roman world. This eschatological perspective, implicity or explicity considering the eschaton as an imminent event or fully projected into the present, is dominant to a greater or lesser degree throughout the entire New Testament. And this is clearly echoed in the concluding reference to “the close of this age” of our Matthaean passage (28:20). If we, therefore, consider the word “nation”, in such an eschatological perspective, the thorny question of the relationship between Gospel and culture becomes in effect marginal. The multiplicity of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious etc. diversities of the world is valued and accepted as such; to a much greater degree, of course, the plurality of Christian expressions of faith; [26] provided that the final target always remains the transfiguration of the entire cosmos, humankind and nature alike, into the original beauty and harmony, which not only existed before the Fall, but to a much greater degree it will be acquired at the eschata. This is the real meaning of the Lordship of Christ, who at the End “will place himself under God, who placed all things under him; and God will rule completely over all” (1 Cor 15:28  “i{na h\/ oJ qeo;" ta; pavnta ejn pa'sin”).

(iv) The meaning, therefore, of the universal mission  assigned by Christ to his disciples by virtue of his unlimited authority as we described it above, i.e. as a projection of the communion of the Holy Trinity takes the form of two distinct, but at the same time interrelated, actions: (a) of “baptising” the world, in fact each one personally, “in the name” of the Triune God; (b) of “teaching” them “to observe”  all Christ’s commandments. Both actions point to the Kingdom of God. Baptism is a rite of initation; more precisely it is the sacramental act of entering into the Church, the little flock which will transform the entire world into the Kingdom of God, exactly as “a little bit of yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise”’(1 Cor 5:6). In a similar way “teaching all Christ’s commandments”  does not aim at establishing a new Law by transmission of doctrinal or moral values, but primarily of a New Covenant. The phrase “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”  echoes St Matthew’s habitual presentation of Jesus as the new Moses of the new Israel. Even in the Old Testament (especially in Deuteronomy) God’s commandments are inextricably bound with, in fact they stand as, a consequence of the Covenant that God himself in his initiative established with his chosen people.[27]

It is not accidental that in the Lord’s Prayer the petition ‘Thy will be done” follows the previous fundamental petition: “Thy Kingdom come”. In the New Testament, therefore, God’s will for his Church, the New Israel, is related to God’s New Covenant, being in fact identified with the realisation and manifestation of the Kingdom of God. And for the Church there can be no other will of God than the coming of his Kingdom, no universal proselytizing mission but proleptic manifestations of God’s coming kingdom, beyond cultural, confessional, or even religious boundaries. In one of my contributions to the preparation of the last World Mission Conference in San Antonio,1989,[28] I concluded with St. Chrysostom’s  following comment:

“(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”.[29]

These sacramental and covenantal aspects, which both point to the Kingdom of God, should never be lost from the missionary perspectives of the  Church. After all, true evangelism is not aiming at bringing the nations to our religious ‘enclosure’, but to ‘let’ the Holy Spirit use both us and those to whom we bear witness to bring about the Kingdom of God. This means that in the Church’s mission priority should definitely be given not to ‘quantity’ conversions,  but to the ‘quality’ and exclusiveness of the Kingdom of God - or to use K.Raiser’s new paradigm - of the household (oikos) of God.[30]


After the great schism and the eventual split between Eastern and Western Christianity, which seriously wounded the ‘oneness’ of the Church, European theology developed a scholastic system in isolation from its trinitarian basis and developed, perhaps unconsciously, a distorted notion of christocentricity. This was the case, for example, with soteriology, whether it goes back to the anselmian ‘satisfaction theory’ or not. Its classical expression with the extra nos - pro nobis formula, which resulted in the passive role the European churches have played in the socio-politico-economic developments, leaving thus an indelible mark on western civilisation and culture, was in fact due to the transference of the decisive point of salvation from incarnation and the whole of divine economy to the specific moment of Jesus’ death on the cross. As a consequence, soteriology - as all the other ‘-ologies’ of Christian theology, including missiology - gradually shifted away from christology, viewed always within a trinitarian perspective, and eventually became a separate chapter of (denominational of course and not ecclesial) dogmatic theology. However, this was not the way the early undivided Church used to consider soteriology. Our Church fathers answered the question of salvation in close relation to - in fact as a consequence of - the Christian doctrine of the nature, essence and energies of the second person of the Holy Trinity.

By losing the trinitarian dimension in the understanding of Christian mission, we lost the holistic and cosmic dimension of salvation which is clearly implied in the advanced christological statement of the corpus paulinum:

“For in him (Christ) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross”. (Col 1:19f).

Only a few remarks need to be made on this passage:

(i) In all religions, except Christianity, the concept of deity is an abstract one; God is the great unknown, whom noone has ever seen face to face. He cannot, therefore, be classified with existing things, because he is above existence itself. Christianity, on the other hand, believes that God revealed himself to the world through Christ, the means of revelation being Christ’s incarnation, namely the act of his flesh-taking. Christ is, therefore, the actual door through which human beings enter in to the knowledge of God (“he who has seen me has seen the Father,” John 14:9). He is the authentic “image of the invisible God’, the Father - Col1:15; “for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’. This truth, is perfectly demonstrated by the Greek letters  «ï ùí»  in the orthodox icons of Christ. In the Christian East the icon of Christ is an icon of God. By seeing the image we are aware of what is revealed. Without denying the historical-critical views on the origin of the Greek word ðëÞñùìá (fullness) we must remind ourselves of its identification in the patristic exegetical tradition ‘to the essence and not to a certain energy of God’ (Theophylact). Even Theodoret’s view (who on the basis of Eph 1:23 parallel and not of the more relevant Col 2:9 has related the fullness to the Church) has something to say: the fullness of God in Christ is shared with the Church, thus affecting the whole creation.

(ii) The reference to ‘reconciliation...by the blood of his cross’ has, no doubt, soteriological connotations. Recent New Testament scholarship has almost unanimously agreed that St. Paul’s understanding of salvation was not an evolution ex nihilio but a development and re-interpretation of the early (pre-Pauline) Church’s considerable variety of attempts to give a theological interpretation to Jesus’ death. Our great apostle preserves, and to a certain extent accepts all the traditional interpretations,  but without showing his preference for any of them. A quick glance at the terminology used by him shows his real contribution to early Christian soteriology. There may be some objections as to the real meaning of the ransom terminology (cf. àðïëýôñùóéí  in Col 1:20), the concilliatory (cf. àðïêáôáëëÜîáé  in Col 1:20), or the juridical (äßêáéïò, äéêáéïÜí  etc.) terminology, with which the mystery of salvation is expressed in the Pauline epistles, comes from St Paul himself or expresses the faith of the first Christian community. What no one can deny is that the theological meaning attached to óôáõñüò (cross) and its cognates constitutes one of the most characteristic features of St Paul’s theology. The ‘word of the cross’  becáme for St Paul the decisive parameter which gave new perspective to the traditional understanding of Jesus’ death. And this new perspective is determined by the meaning this capital punishment had in the pre-Christian era. It was St Paul who transformed this most terrible, disgracing and humiliating symbol of Roman society into the most significant element in the divine economy. More precisely, while accepting the traditional pluralistic interpretation of this greatest event of the earthly ministry of our Lord, any time his opponents challenged his Gospel, he re-interpreted the significance of Jesus’ death on the basis of his theologia crucis with all the socio-political consequences this humiliating symbol connoted in contemporary Roman society.

If St Paul’s soteriology, the quintessence of our Christian dogmatic theology, has such sociological connotations, we realise what the task of our mission must be. Such an understanding of Christian soteriology would never allow us to be trapped in dilemmas between faith and science in a world facing the ecological extinction and genetic manipulation; or between individualistic spirituality and social responsibility in a society controlled by an unjust global economic system, and facing a nuclear panic and AIDS epidemic. It teaches us that the Christian Church should never lose its social and cosmic dimension and become a ‘privatised’ religion of individual or even denominational interest.

(c) Of similar importance is the use in our passage of the hapax-legomenon åŒñçíïðïéÞóáò (making peace). It expresses the consequence of the cosmic effect of God’s power working in Christ and in his ‘body’, the Church. It is neither a stoic idea, according to which peace can be restored if one achieves harmony with his/her inner nature, nor a political idea of the type of the externally forced Pax Romana. It is Christ’s sovereignty over the entire cosmos, the cause, source and manifestation (in concrete actions of his body, the Church) of real peace. As is clearly shown in our passage, there is also a sharp contrast with its contemporary Jewish apocalyptic view that shalom (peace) will only be restored at the eschata. Unlike the apocalyptic literature, in the New Testament, especially in the Apocalypse, peace and final salvation are not envisaged at the once-and-for-all event of the cosmic transformation at the eschata, but in the specific historical event of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God and the subsequent efforts of the Church as the authentic manifestation of that Kingdom to overthrow all contemporary faithlessness and injustice. It is firmly believed that God’s people, despite all difficulties, at the end “will reign on earth”  (Apoc 5:10).

This is not naive millenarianism, but an affirmation of the Church´s eschatological, i.e. historical, perspective and an attempt to prevent the christian understanding of salvation fron becoming an illusion or being limited only to the  spiritual life, as the Gnostics attempted to do (cf. the Gospel of Thomas). Only when Satan and his concrete expressions in history no longer rule on earth, giving their place to the reign of the Lamb, is salvation accomplished. What is essential in Christian theology is not the expectation of salvation of the world, but its completion with the final elimination of evil. There is no dilemma, therefore, between the present world and the world of the future, which has so often led to dread, despair and resignation. 

(d) Christ is the  “first-born of all creation”  (Col1:5); “in him were created all things” (1:16); “in him all things hold together” (1,17); but he is also “the first-born of the resurrection” (1:18); and through him God reconciled “all things...whether on earth or in heaven” (1:20). What makes this passage  unique for its soteriological significance, is unquestionably the use of the word ðÜíôá  (all things), a word that occurs no less than nine times (!) in the christological hymn proper (Col 1:15-20). Christ has wrought salvation not only for all humankind, but also for the entire cosmos, the whole creation. Here the emphasis is not just on God’s immanence, but on the cosmic effect of God’s power working in Christ and his ‘body’ the Church.

There was a prevalent Jewish belief that after the fall the entire cosmos, man and nature alike, fell into a state of alienation; in man by reason of sin and in all creation by the loss of unity, harmony and beaty. As result God’s creation fell into the captivity of intermediary (angelic) powers. Christ redeemed the world and took away the control these angelic powers exercised upon humanity. According to various New Testament texts (most notably Rom 8:20ff) this redemption is not limited to liberation of individuals from sin, death and the satanic powers; is not even extended to liberation from alienation, oppression and injustice; it goes even beyond: it is expected to cover the restoration of the whole creation. The uniqueness of the Colossians passage lies in the fact that this state of cosmic restoration to its original harmony is already a persene reality. And according to the neglected Marcan  Passage (Mark 16:15) this truth is the primary object in Christian mission and evangelism; for the disciples of Christ are sent to proclaim the good news to the entire creation (ðÀóÖè ôÖÖƒ ëôÝóåé).

This doctrine is nowhere better presented than in Orthodox iconography. Icons in the original Byzantine art do not express a de-materialisation of the depicted scenery, as was wrongly believed in the past. What they actually express is the reverse process, i.e. the transfiguration, and consequently sanctification, of matter. It is not only  the holy figures which are treated with this tranfigural technique, but nature too. The material and cosmic elements which surround the holy figures are also transformed and flooded by grace. The icon reveals how the entire creation, humans and nature alike, can and will be transformed to the harmony and beauty, which not only they originally possessed before the Fall, but will also aquire to a much greater extent at the eschata. It was firmly believed that not just humankind, but the cosmos in its  entirety participates in God’s redemption in Christ. The same conviction lies even behind the fundamental orthodox teaching of theosis; for the notion of deification, far from implying disregard of matter, mainly refers to the body’s redemption and the restoration to the glory wich the whole creation possessed before the Fall, but will also acquire in its fullness at the eschata .


There has been an edless debate in the history of our Christian theology as to the relationship in terms of priority between faith and love, between dogma and ethics, between orthodoxia and orthopraxia, even between ‘Faith and order’ on the one hand, and ‘Mission and evangelism’ on the other. It is very often argued that love (praxis) comes only as a consequence of faith (theory); or that the former is the ultimate virtue, the achievement of which presupposes all the other virtues, including faith (St John of the Ladder). On the other hand, there is much truth in the argument that Christian theology would never have reached its climax, when the final articulation of the Trinitarian dogma took place, had a communal life full of love preceded in the early Church. ‘See how these Christians love one another’, an ancient Christian apologist pointed out; and St John Chrysostom insisted that church members’ behaviour and their mutual love among themselves was the only effective missionary method.

 If, however, we make the suppeme axiomatic definition of our trinitarian theology our starting point, we never enter into the vicious circle of the above dilemmas and we never fall into the trap of such tragic  and schizophrenic dichotomy. All fundamental christian dogmas: the creation of the entire cosmos by God, the redemption in Christ and salvation through the Church, but beyond her boundaries, in the Holy Spirit; all are conceived as the inevitable consequence of the inner communion and love of the Holy Trinity. There can be no other expression of faith than communion and love. This perfectly demonstrated in the Johannine passage:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you  also love one another. By this all  human beings will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”  (John 13:34f).

I will very briefly commend on how this trinitarian love was understood in our past (apostolic and post-apostolic) and present (ecumenical) history and has been projected: (a) in our self-understanding (ecclesiology); (b) in our evengelistic witness (missiology); and (c) in our social but at the same time cosmic responsibility (socio-cosmology).

(i) By its nature the Church cannot reflect the worldly image of a secular organisation, which is normally based on power and domination, but  the kenotic image of the Holy Trinity, which is based on love and communion. This image is nowhere expressed better than in the early (apostolic and postapostolic) Church’s self-understanding.

In the first two decades after Pentecost the early 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 (ëáüò ôïõ Èåïõ), 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 ëáüò (in Greek), whereas the people of the outside world were designated by the Hebrew term goim and the Greek one Ýèíç ( 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 âêêëçóßá in the Old Testament meaning; it is not accidental that this term (ecclesia) in the Septuagint, corresponds to the Hebrew qâhâl , i.e. to a term denoting the congregation of God’s people. The Saptuagint never translates as åêêëçóßá  the Hebrew ‘edhah, the usual translation of which is óõíáãùãÞ. 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 characterised 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 her 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 óùìá Xñéóôïõ  (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 exist a variety of ÷áñßóìáôá, exercised by the individual members of the community, and necessary for the building up (oéêïäïìÞ)  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 óùìá, the double scheme aìðåëïò- êëÞìáôá  (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” 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.

The whole ecclesiological process from the eschatological kerygma of Jesus of Nazareth, announcing the coming of the kingdom of God in his mission, to the understanding by the first apostles of their mission to evangelize the world as a sign of the eschata, and further down to the Ignatian episcopocentric concept of the Church as a eucharistic community, reveals that it was the eschatological, and not the hierarchical (and therfore authoritative) nature of the Church that was stressed. The early Christian community understood itself as portraying the kingdom of God on earth; and the primary consern of the great theologians of the apostolic and post-apostolic period was to maintain clearly the vision of that kingdom before the eyes of the people of God .

The ecclesiological problem, therefore, for our Churches, which is so important an issue in our ecumenical discussions, is a matter not so much of organisation and structure, but of eschatological orientation. And there is no better way to rediscover our eschatological self-consciousness than through the Eucharist as the sacrament of love, communion, sacrifice and sharing.[31]

(ii) All churches within the ecumenical movement have eventually realised, following the kenotic example of Christ,  that love in fact means that they leave for a while their selfish theological preoccupations and proceed to a “common” evangelistic witness.[32] They realised that, according to the Matthaean discourse of our Lord on the Last Judgement (Mt 25:31ff), what really matters 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 witness (ecclesial inclusiveness). Not because they are conscious of their share of responsibility, no matter to what extent, for the scandalous division of the one body of Christ, and for that reason they feel the burden  of the contribution to the work of the Holy Spirit for the restoration of the broken unity of the Church lying on their shoulders; not even because common witness is the only visivle sign that gives credibility to the Church in the eyes of the outside world, until the blessed moment comes when we all around the same eucharistic table of Church unity and share the same eucharistic cup and bread; not even because only in this way can our churches overcome the temptation of exercising among themselves proselytism - that terrible caricature of evangelism, a kind of “counter-witness - and rediscover the catholicity of the Church;[33] but mainly because the ultimate goal and the raison d’ être of the Church  goes far beyond denominational boundaries, beyond Christian limitations, even beyond the religious sphere in the conventional sense: it is the manifestation of the kingdom of God, the restoration of God’s “household” (ïrêïò) of God,[34] in its majestic eschatological splendour; in other words the projection of the inner dynamics (love, communion, sharing etc.) of the Holy Trinity into the world and cosmic realities.

(iii) Quite a number of theologians have argued that in St.Paul’s epistles the importance of faith for salvation is stressed, whereas in the Johannine writings it is mainly love  the sine qua non of Christian life that is constantly emphasised. The great majority of academic theologians, especially since the time of Reformation, regardless of their denominational tradition, have examined St.Paul’s theology exclusively on grounds of the old sola fide justification theory. This theory, significant as it it, has in effect pushed into the background the incarnational/ socio- cosmic aspects of his teaching. As a result, this great thinker and father of Christian theology has been accused from various quarters of de-radicalising the words of the historical Jesus and/ or of the kerygma of the early Church.

I will focus only on St.Paul’s collection project, this most representative side of his multifarious missionary praxis, which can serve as a test case showing how unjust the above accusation is. The project occupied a much greater part in the early Church’s activity than that presupposed in Acts; for St.Paul’s entire third missionary trip was almost exclusively devoted to the transfer of the collection to the Jerusalem Mother Church. Whatever the origin (Half Shekel Temple tax ) or its connections (Antiochean collection in Acts 11:27ff , 12:25) may be, it was St. Paul who attached special theological significance to the collection project. Beyond its ecumenical, ecclesiological and eschatological characteristic, its ultimate goal, according to St. Paul’s thinking - mainly presented in 2 Corinthians 8- 9 - was the ideal of the equal distribution and communion of material wealth. Using a wide variety of terms to describe the collection project , terms such as “charis”, “koinonia”, “diakonia”, “leitourgia”, “eucharistia” etc, St. Paul understood the collection as the social response of the body of Christ to God’s will. For him, and the rest of the Christian community, this act was not an social-ethical one, but the inevitable response to the kingdom of God inaugurated in Christ.[35]


I the light of all the above I would like to conclude with some practical remarks and relevant recommendations:

(i) Orthodoxy needs reafirm its commitment to ecumenism, if it expects a lasting solution to this most painful in present circumstances issue of Proselytism. I stress this, because it is a widespread conviction that nowadays ecumenism has entered into a delicate and crucial stage, with clearly evident the signs of a decline. The tragic events we experienced since the great changes in Europe - with Churches not in solidarity with, but fighting or undermining, each other; and with the nations and the peoples not desiring to live peacefully with the "others", but wishing to cleanse them -  are just a few indications that the titanic ecumenical efforts of the past definitely need re-orientation.

(ii) The thorny issue of Proselytism can only be solved with a profound  theological reconsideration of the notion of Christian mission combined with ecclesiology (unity[36]) and social ethics (costly unity[37]), with the involvement and active participation also of non WCC member groups. Gospel, evangelism, mission are not for inner consumption of the Church. They are primarily aimed at the world. Theology in the Church has always tried to have common language with the world, in order to explain the Gospel in terms of a given culture. The problem in today’s “post-christian era” lies on the fact that there is no more common language with the outside world.

(iii) The reasons of not solving the problem of proselytism within the ecumenical movement after so many  efforts and joint statements are to be traced in some inherent unresolved problems in the ecumenical movement. These are: (a) The Toronto Statement (1950) with its neutral ecclesiology which allows every member Church to have their basic beliefs (and for some Protestant groups universal proselytizing mission constitutes the core of their doctrine);[38] (b) The consideration of the issue of proselytism always in relation to - in fact as the unquestionable consequence of - the  “religious liberty”, which is in fact a by-product of the western ideal of human rights and above all of individualism, which is incompatible with koinonia, the heart of eastern orthodoxy.[39]

(iv) Orthodoxy to be consistent with its outright condemnation of proselytism, should abandon also any kind of similar activities in the West. There was a fine ethos, which is now fading away, not to consecrate for the diaspora Orthodox communities any Bishop to a place belonging to the West, thus respecting the jurisdiction of the Church of Rome, and consequently of western Christianity, of the ancient undivided Holy Catholic Church.

[1]When Prof. Dr. Anastasios Yannoulatos eventually occupied the chair of Comparative Religion at the Theological School of Athens, the chair of Missiology was successfuly occupied by Prof. Dr. Elias Voulgarakis, another distinguished Orthodox missiologist. The course of Missiology is also being taught for more than ten years now in the Department of Theology of the University of Thessaloniki by the present writer in an explicitly ecumenical - “common christian witness” - direction, and in the Department of Pastoralia of the same University by Prof. Dr. Christos Vantsos.

[2]This, of course, does not mean that I will discard the historical or exegetical critical approach; on the contrary I will build upon them. Actually the angle from which I propose to tackle the issue, mainly because of my academic speciality, will be the biblical one.

[3]Cf. my “Unity-Ecumenicity-Cosmic and Social Dimension of Orthodoxy (A Comment on the Message of the Orthodox Churches),” Lex Orandi. Studies  of Liturgical Theology,  Thessaloniki 1994 (EKO 9), pp. 157-166, originally published in Kath’Odon  2 (1992), pp. 119-125, where despite my general positive appraisal I made a few critical remarks, among which to its understanding of mission and proselytism (pp. 160f.).

[4]See a recent paper circulated by G.Lemopoulos and entitled “Threats and Hopes for our Ecumenical Credibility. An Orthodox Reflection on ‘Proselytism’ and ‘Common Witness’,” with a substantial number of referrences and bibliography.

[5]For a thorough examination of the issue from the Orthodox side see (Metropolitan of Ephesus) Ch.Konstantinidis, “Proselytism, the Ecumenical Movement and the Orthodox Church,” Orthodoxoi Katopseis  IV,  Katerini, 1991, pp. 45-134; also Leon Zander, “Ecumenism and Proselytism,” IRM  3 (1951), pp.259ff.

[6]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 ²1985 , 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”.

[7]Cf. the tension in the recent history of the world christian mission, which resulted in the tragic separation and the eventual formation of the Lausanne Movement for World Evangelization.

[8]M.Goodman,Mission and Conversion. Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1994, p.3.


[10]Ibid.., p. 4


[12]Ibid.., p. 7.

[13]Quite recently D.J.Bosch (Transforming Mission. Paradigm Schifts in Theology of Mission, New York, 1991) has discribed through the “Paradigm-Shift-theory” the development of Christian understanding of mission down to the most recent ecumenical era.

[14]On the recent history of Christian mission see J.Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, engl. transl. Grand Rapids Michigan 1978.

[15]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.

[16]Ibid., pp.79ff.

[17]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.

[18]This comes from the famous passage in Acts 4:12 “êáé ïõê åóôéí åí Üëëù ïõäåíß ç óùôçñßá, ïõäÝ ãáñ üíïìá åóôéí Ýôåñïí ...åí ù äåé óùèÞíáé çìÜò”.

[19]For the relation of mission to dialogue, as well as the repeatedly expressed concern over “syncretism” see Ibid., 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.

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

[21]Cf. A.I.C.Herton (ed.), The Forgotten Trinity, London, 1991.

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

[23]Cf. T.F.Best-G.Gassmann (eds.), On the Way to Fuller Koinonia: Official Report of the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order, Faith and Order Paper No 166, WCC Publications, Geneva  1994, pp. 256f. Also C.M.Robeck Jr’ s paper on “Evangelization, Proselytizing and Common Witness: A Pentecostal Perspective,” p.5.

[24]Most of what follows in sections B,C,and D is a slightly revised version of a previous article of mine  “Biblical Aspects of Mission,” The Mission of the Churches in a Secularised Europe, KEK Geneva 1989 (Occasional Paper No 19), pp.26-33; also in Greek, in Ion Bria-P.Vassiliadis, Orthodox Christian Witness, Katerini 1989 (EKO 1), pp. 119-140.

[25]I. Bria (ed.), Go fourth in Peace, WCC Mission Series, Geneva, 1986, p. 3

[26]Cf. N.Nissiotis, “The Witness and the Service of the Eastern Orthodoxy to the One Undivided Church,” ER 14 (1962) , pp.. 192-202´also in  C.Patelos (ed.), The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement, WCC Geneva, 1978, pp.231-41, which was his keynote address to the III WCC Assembly at New Delhi in 1961.

[27]Cf. my “God’s Will for His People: Deut 6:20-25,” IRM  77 (1988) , pp.179-184.

[28]P.Vassiliadis, “Your Will be Done: Reflections from St. Paul,” IRM  75 (1986) , pp. 376-382.

[29]“Homily XIX to St. Matthew’s Gospel,” PG  57 col. 280.

[30]K.Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition, pp. 102ff.

[31]More on this in my article “New Testament Ecclesiological Perspectives on Laity,” EEÈÓÈ  29 (1988), pp. 333-356, in which the final document of the Orthodox Seminar on Laity and Renewal, Prague Czechoslovakia, 21-27 Nov. 1988, was appended.

[32]Cf. among other important contributions L.Newbegin, “Common Witness and Unity,”, IRM  69 (1980), pp. 160ff.

[33]G.Lemopoulos rightly suggests that it is now time to move beyond the idea of “common witness” and explore the need for a “common mission” (“Threats and Hopes...,” p. 14); this of course presupposing the above eucharistic and trinitarian analysis, and not as a return to a christocentric universalism, which is not only an undesired return to the “old mission paradigm”, but it will also require a “common ecclesiology”, which is still a desideratum.

[34]K.Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition, pp. 102ff.

[35]It is time, I think for our churches to revive this very significant project, which in today’s ecclesiastical practice (both Eastern and Western) has been degenerated into an underemphasised institution, without the social and ecumenical dimensions St. Paul gave it. This is, perhaps, a more authentic evangelistic act than the old fashioned universal proselytizing mission, especially in the narrow confessional perspective.

[36]Cf. T.F.Best-G.Gassmann (eds.), On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, WCC Geneva 1994.

[37]Cf. the WCC booklet on Costly Unity, WCC Geneva 1992.

[38]Cf. ER  13 (1960) pp.85ff.

[39]More on this in J.Zizioulas, “Communion and Otherness,” SVTQ  34 (1994), pp. 347-361. Cf. however, a more positive evaluation from an Orthodox perspective in Kostas Delikostantis, Human Rights.  A Western Ideology or  an Ecumenical Ethos?, Thessaloniki, 1995 (in Greek).