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Towards the Growth of Orthodoxy in the Diaspora

1. Introduction: The Nature of Orthodox Missionary Work

Orthodox missionaries are not like Protestant missionaries. For Orthodox, the concept of missionary work is part of all pastoral work. Missionary work may, for example, simply be visiting parishioners. Missions are both external and internal. Many converts to Orthodoxy from Protestantism do not understand this, even after decades. What are the other distinctive differences between Orthodox and Non-Orthodox missionary work?


Protestant concepts of mission and missionary work are often foreign to the Orthodox Church, because they are aggressive and proselytising. Often they may be backed by Protestant States and used as tools to colonise foreign countries. This is the case, for example, of North American ‘missionaries’ in Latin America, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Eastern Europe. But they are only continuing the colonising and largely condescending work carried out by British Protestant missionaries in the British Empire in the nineteenth century.

Although there were some remarkable exceptions, most of these missionaries were simply spreading their own culture, even their own particular manner of Victorian dress, hymns and architecture, rather than the Gospel of Christ. Of course, it is also true that these Protestant missionaries were only in turn continuing the earlier work of colonising Roman Catholic missionaries, at first from Spain and Portugal, later from France and Belgium.

All these forms of ‘missionary’ work were and are compromised as forms of mere cultural Christianity, ‘Christianisms’. The same can be said of Uniat ‘missionary work’ in Eastern Europe. Any rooted Orthodox can smell out Uniatism from miles away. Authentic Orthodox missionary work is not State-run colonisation, whether the State involved is the Vatican or another State. Orthodox missionary work functions not through ‘thumping’ Bibles, through aggressive proselytism, through threatening potential converts with hellfire or bribing them with material goods, but showing them, through concrete living examples, love.

b.Live first

Secondly, in Protestantism, all you have to do is read the Bible and then you can affirm that you have been ‘saved’ by ‘Jesus’ and can go out and ‘save’ others. This is not the case in Orthodoxy, for whom salvation is about lifelong repentance and ascetic struggle. Orthodox say that you have to live Church life, before you can do anything for others. ‘Save yourself and then perhaps others will be saved around you.

So it is not possible to ‘become Orthodox’ through reading books. Orthodoxy is a way of life, incarnate in daily life. This is because it is Christianity, a faith lived, not imagined. No-one can suddenly ‘become Orthodox’. It is possible only with the grace of God, with time, patience and perseverance. Let ten years of parish life and temptations pass and then we can talk about real Orthodoxy, about being a Christian. People have to work through their secular complexes, working off the inherently worldly values and culture of Non-Orthodox Christianity, of which recent converts are often completely unconscious, before they can actually become Orthodox.


The third major difference is that genuine missionary work is carried out by monastics, not by the married, unlike in Protestantism. This means authentic monastics, who have lived in traditional monastic life for decades. Genuine monasteries keep the Tradition and do not introduce strange innovations. We can see this in Church history. For example, it was the monastic apostles who introduced Orthodoxy to the countries of the Mediterranean Basin, modern Greece and Cyprus, Italy, Spain and Portugal; in the north-west it was St Martin and St John Cassian in Gaul, St Patrick in Ireland, St David in Wales, St Columba in Scotland, St Augustine in England, St Gall in Switzerland, St Boniface in the German Lands; in the north-east it was Sts Cyril and Methodius among the Slavs, St Stephen of Perm among the Zyrians, St Herman and St Innocent in Alaska, St Macarius in the Altai, St Nicholas in Japan. They were all monastics.

2. Immigrant Orthodox

Any ‘missionary’, that is pastoral, work must take into account the realities of the people before them. Who are the people you are encouraging to live a Church life? The sociological and historical realities of the Diaspora may seem obvious, but obvious points are often overlooked.

a.First Generation Orthodox.

As regards recent, first generation immigrants, it must be understood that they did not come to Diaspora countries as missionaries. They came as political or economic refugees. Often they came to preserve their Faith which was under attack. They should be appreciated.

Even if monastic life among such immigrants is weak, if their Orthodoxy is reduced to Churchgoing once a year for twenty minutes, food and drink customs, ethnic traditions, clothing and dancing, this is not a reason to despise them.. Their faith is innocent, but however marginal the practice may be, it is better than nothing. Do not condemn them, however weak they may be, encourage them and sympathise with them, learn from them. Are you seriously saying, in your towering pride and condescension, that you are better Christians then they are? If so, then you have understood nothing. You may have read the Bible, being able to quote chapter and verse, the Fathers, the canons, the typicon and a thousand other books, but you are not even at the first letter of the Orthodox Christian alphabet. Beware - your fasting may be that of the demons, that is, fasting without love, and you have not learned to walk before you began running. Therefore, you have already fallen over.

Secondly, it must be understood that such immigrations may be divided by politics: left and right, or ethnic, for example, Ukrainian or Macedonian. The only dangerous groups here are the smug ones which say that they have no politics. They are always those who have deserted the Tradition, they are always the most political and therefore the most deluded. Many of these people suffer from these delusions because they do not and refuse to commune with their roots - the realities of their Mother Church.

Of course, communion with the Mother Church must not mean the inability to see that it is not free. Therefore, communion with the Mother Church may only be a spiritual communion, it may even mean not communing in the sacraments, but only in the broader sense, of having contacts and human relations. Thus, in recent history the Russian and Balkan Churches were enslaved and used as tools by Communist States; the Patriarchate of Constantinople is in thrall to Turkish and American politics; the Patriarchate of Antioch is in thrall to Middle Eastern politics. Nevertheless, spiritual communion can always remain unbroken. .

b. Second Generation Orthodox

Second generation Orthodox, with a dual and even schizophrenic cultural background, often suffer from teenage revolts. Suffering from an inferiority complex as immigrants, they may be full of the spirit of conformism to the Non-Orthodox culture. They want to break free from their parents, but actually are too immature to do so. They often confuse Orthodoxy and their Non-Orthodox culture and want to mix them together.

If they do break free, in a rush of adolescent ‘autocephalism’, they will soon find that they cannot stand on their own two legs. They will discover that immature means premature and premature means immature. Teenagers who dispute parental authority fall into drink, drugs and illegitimacy. There are also such things as spiritual drink (dependency on immature behaviour and revolt), spiritual drugs (cultish worship of false intellectual gurus) and spiritual illegitimacy (the spawning of Non-Orthodox ‘children’). Since the Russian Church took 500 years to become autocephalous, why should small immature Diaspora groups think that they are ready for it after only two or three generations?

c. Third and Later Generations of Orthodox

It is often only in the third or subsequent generations that a sense of balance can be retrieved. Balance means the sense to take from the Diaspora culture only what can be baptised into the Church, through looking at it through the prism of Orthodoxy. This means renouncing political admixtures and psychological inferiority complexes

3. Native Orthodox

People who are native to the countries of the Diaspora convert to Orthodoxy for different reasons. They have different perspectives.

a.Conversion by Marriage

Some people convert to Orthodoxy by marriage. They are not to be despised, for the Faith often wears off onto Non-Orthodox spouses, as the Apostle Paul says. For instance, in the Orthodox Diaspora in England today, some of the finest Orthodox ‘missionaries’ are Slav, Romanian and Greek laywomen married to Englishmen.

b. Conversion by Choice

There are also those who are attracted to the Orthodox Church because they are unhappy with their current religious choice. If their attraction is for negative reasons (discontent with a present religion) and not positive (love of living Orthodoxy and conviction of its truth), they will only suffer nostalgia for their previous faith after formal conversion. They do not even recognise that they must unlearn all the falsehoods and reflexes they have been conditioned in, before they can begin learning. Then they will want to remake Orthodoxy after their own image, rather than simply accepting the reality as it is. The result will be a Protestantised or Catholicised Orthodoxy, a complete lack of authenticity. Impatience here is fatal – it takes years to unlearn the false culture, before you can begin learning Orthodox culture.

The attitude of such converts to local saints is here very interesting. Time and time again, I have seen converts from a Protestant (Anglican) background, who have no love for their own local saints. They may, for example, be interested in obscure Irish or Breton saints, of whom not even those who still live in the Irish or Breton villages, where those saints were remembered a thousand years ago, have heard. Lives of local saints are written, services composed to them, their icons painted, their patronal feasts celebrated, and yet they are still ignored by converts and venerated only by ‘ethnic’ Orthodox. The only occasions when I have even been asked to do services of supplication to English saints is by Russians, Serbs and Greeks. The conclusion must be that those who converted did not convert for the right or positive reason, but only for some negative, self-serving reason.

However, apart from conversion by choice through dissatisfaction, there are also those who convert by choice through conviction. Often these may be native Orthodox of no previous faith. Without any previous religious or cultural baggage, they generally convert more easily, for the simple reason that they are blank pages, on which the name of Christ and His Orthodox Church can be written. They do not have to unlearn before they can start learning, unlike those of a Protestant or Roman Catholic background.

c. Children and grandchildren of converts

Even simpler, in general, is the case of the descendants of converts. If they have a solid Orthodox family heritage behind them, as they should have, they will possess Orthodox reflexes: the faith has entered into their blood and bones.

4. Conclusion: Development through Authenticity

From the above, we hope that it is clear that certain factors must define any positive outcomes for the growth of Orthodoxy in the Diaspora.

a. Authenticity

The Orthodoxy of the Diaspora must follow the same, uncompromised, authentic Tradition as in traditional Orthodox lands. It must correspond to the forms of the Orthodox Tradition in those many lands and not be the fantasies of some eccentric immigrant intellectuals.

b.Local Languages

The Orthodoxy of the Diaspora must be expressed in whatever language it needs to be expressed in, in order to communicate with all who are interested in following and living the Word of God and His Orthodox Church. Wherever necessary, translations of quality must be used. They should neither be archaic and obscurantist, but neither should they be modernist. Authentic liturgical language is always the best language that we can offer to God, not the language of the street, the office and the kitchen. In the same way, liturgical singing should also express the authentic tradition and not some heterodox variant of constipated pietism. The key here is whether people can pray in church. Orthodox go to church to pray and for no other reason. If the atmosphere is authentically prayerful, and not just ‘pretty’, the language being used for services is entirely irrelevant.

c. Monastic Life and Parish Life

Authentic monasticism and parish piety are always linked and interdependent. Strong parish life cannot exist without links to strong monastic life – and vice versa. Monastic life is at the heart of the Church and, as we have said, authentic mission work cannot be done without it.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

26 October/8 November 2009
Great Martyr Demetrius

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