An International Theological Conference

The Mission of the Church and Orthodox Missionary Activities

was held to commemorate the 600th anniversary

of the decease of St. Stephan of Perm.

An International Conference of Modern Mission, blessed by the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexey II, was organized by St. Filaret's Moscow School for Advanced Theological Studies. The agenda of the Conference was topical and very much in line with conclusions of The Bishop's Sinod of the Russian Orthodox Church held in 1994 which summoned the pastors and members of the Russian Orthodox Church to "engage in new missionary commitments".

More than 250 people from nine countries took part in the Conference. These included the representatives from a number of departments of the Patriarchate: the Missionary Department, the Department for Religious Education and Catechisation, the Department for Social work and Charity. A new religious schools also took part in it, including the St. Petersburg Church Academy, The Open University named after Fr. Alexander Men, St. John's Orthodox University, St. Andrew's Bible Theology College and also secular agencies and educational establishments.

Twenty-three lectures were presented at the Conference, dealing with the experience of the Orthodox Missions in Russia and abroad as well as missionary work of non-orthodox and inter-denominational missions.

The keynote running through a number of lectures was a deeper awareness of the essence of Church mission. First and foremost this means proclaiming the Gospel of the True God who saves the world in Christ.

Missionary work springs from the depth of the Church's being. In its extent Church mission is aimed at the whole world according to the words of The Saviour (Mk.16,15) and inwardly it aims at the heart of every human being.

Special attention was focused on two problems which are considered to be of extreme importance today. Those are relationship of the Orthodox with the non-orthodox and with non-christians in terms of mission work; and the question of mission-minded parishes and in connection with this the principles of living in Christian community.

The Conference began by reviewing the proceedings of the Russian Orthodox Church Local Council in 1917-1918 relating to mission. For number of reasons independent of the Church these could be hardly put into effect at that time and the Conference devoted most of its time to the problem of mission in the contemporary world. Orthodox mission must continue its 2000 year tradition which was interrupted by the communist and atheistic revolution. In addition to this the current situation demands some reorientation of efforts for dialogue with other denominations and religions when they are ready to have a such dialogue. Insistence that nothing be changed and conflicts aggravated will create nothing but further obstacles for Orthodox mission. B.Z. Falicov, a lecturer in St. Filaret's school spoke of the difficulties which arise when the orthodox try to engage in dialogue with the members of new religious movements because of their inability to be constructively critical to themselves. On the other hand the traditional confessions, including the Orthodox, were often unwilling to accept members of NRM as equal partners in dialogue and considered them to have gone hopelessly astray.

At the same time it was also often noted that many missionaries in Russia are superficial and aggressive. They work in Russia on their own initiative though some of them are quite sincere. It was emphasised that no compromise in matters of faith and morals is compatible with the Spirit of Truth which is given to us by our Lord. (John 3,24)

Some speakers (archimandrite Victor Mamontov and Fr. George Kochetcov) said that to their minds the best way to witness to Christ is to live in a parish where people have a strong feeling of belonging to one community. Being gathered in small groups they are active in looking for the people who are in search for their way to God and to the Church. They can witness to God in words and deeds.

The Conference was unanimous in acknowledging that a variety of approaches in Orthodox mission enriches the Church. Mission cannot be reduced to only one pattern.

In view of the 600th anniversary of St. Stephan of Perm and his missionary service to God in evangelising the zyrans, the Conference called modern missionaries to follow the example of our great countryman, who was ready for service in every way.

It was noted among other things that he painted missionary icons. He consistently involved people in church worship and one of the way of doing that was to translate the Holy Bible and Liturgy into their native language.

Modern Russian Society is obviously secular. However one can easily feel that it is thirsty for spiritual life and this need has not yet been met. This need to hear again the Gospel is very urgent.

"The new situation forces us to revise our commonly accepted approaches and return to the Tradition (with a capital T), to the True Church Tradition. We should pay attention to the language of worship in order to make our worship understandable and powerful in demonstrating the communal character of the ... which is the centre and the basis of Church life", that was the conclusion of the lecture of Fr. Dimitry Grigoriev who is the rector of Washington Orthodox Cathedral.

The diversity of views and arguments which sometimes occurred did not hinder the fruitful and constructive search for ways to meet challenge of our times.

The participants of the Conference thanked God for the blessed holy spirit of unity and the wealth of new experience in missionary activities and they demonstrated their sincere wish to promote Orthodox mission.

The Mission of the Church and Orthodox missionary activities nowadays.

Proceedings of the Conference.

Christian mission in modern Russia should be discussed in details from the Ortodox perspective. The Orthodox view of the task is based upon the tradition and on the instructive missionary experience of the Russian Orthodox Church, although it is not known by and large. It is appropriated to recall that last Sunday our Church celebrated the canonisation of the great missionary, bishop and preacher Innocent (Veniaminov), Metropolitan of Moscow, whose 200th anniversary will be celebrated next year.

The first problem an orthodox missionary faces today is the need to understand the nation to which he is commissioned. He has to understand its mentality and values, to experience its culture in order to find a common language, to be able to get across the Gospel to this people. Of course, we mean first of all the Russians and the other peoples of Russia and not a mission abroad. We mean christian education of our own people who are now far from being a religious nation and have into neopaganism, superstitions and who are now tempted once more by false gnosis.

(Orthodox mission in modern Russia and the need for its ecumenical openness by senior priest Vladimir Fedorov, director of the Orthodox Institute for Mission, Ecumenism and New Religious Movements at The Russian Christian Institute of Humanities, St. Petersburg).

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