Anyone interested in understanding more about Christianity east of the Baltic-to-the-Balkans fault line we talked about last week is welcome to join us in a Consultation on Orthodox and Eastern Christianity, in Agios Konstantinos, Greece, Feb 2-4 2004.
How should those of us with western roots approach mission work in countries like Greece, or in post-communist countries with a long Orthodox tradition?
What are the distinctives of the various Orthodox churches (Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Russian…) and of other ancient oriental churches, including the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Nestorian Church – also known as the Assyrian Church of the East – and the Egyptian Coptic Church?
Where is the Spirit of God at work within these traditions?
What can western believers learn from their eastern counterparts?
What have we westerners to offer? Where does evangelism end and proselytism begin?
Ach, you may be thinking, that’s not very relevant for us here in the west. That’s just for those working in eastern Europe.
Think again! The guy selling you kebab at the end of the street in London may well be a Nestorian, especially if you have just come out of the underground at south Ealing, where Europe’s largest Nestorian community can be found. The Nestorian Church was one of the most missionary-minded movements of the Middle Ages, spreading across from Syria and Persia to establish cathedrals right up into north-west China. Somebody ought to rekindle a fire under that missions heritage.
In recent decades, some of the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East have been forced to emigrate to the west from their centuries-old homes in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Many have settled in many of our European cities, and further abroad in America and Australia. Others remain in their original homelands, occasionally finding themselves in the global spotlight, as was recently the case in Iraq.
The forty-eight hours we will come together in Greece will obviously not be sufficient for in-depth profiles of all of these traditions. Neither is our intention to be academic and scholastic. We plan a relational, informal yet informative gathering among those seeking to build bridges of understanding and fellowship between believers from east and west. We hope to arouse awareness of the riches of these heritages, and understanding of what we may have to offer and how best to do that.
Among those thus far who have indicated their intention to attend and give input are:
Dr Alet Aziz, a Coptic priest from Egypt, who lives in a Christian community in a desert oasis, and who has paid a high price for promoting renewal and reform within his own tradition.
Dr Petros Malakyan, a graduate of Fuller Seminary, professor at the Apostolic University in Yerevan, Armenia, and mentor of a group of Apostolic Armenian students towards liturgical renewal and missions.
George Robinson, a former YWAMer living in Moscow, now with the Russian Orthodox Church in Australia, and who decribes YWAM’s potential engagement with the Orthodox world as “a dream, prayer and vision I have held for many long years”. ‘For YWAM to in reality win the nations for Christ, Orthodoxy must be on the agenda (200 million believers world wide…..) – not to make them protestants but to help them in their Christ-centered Orthodoxy,’ adds George.
Father Tofana, of the Romanian Orthodox Church, a close friend of the YWAM work in Medias, Romania.
Dr Bill Baldwin, of the Greater Europe Mission seminary in Athens, theologian and church historian.
Information about costs, transportation, accommodation and registration is available on the YWAM Europe web site, www.ywameurope.org/news/events.asp
One of the main catalysts of this event is the upcoming Olympic Games Outreach in Greece next August, when teams from around the world will visit the Olympic sites and the hundreds of Greek islands engaging in appropriate forms of witness. YWAM has a history in this country when, in 1986, senior leaders were charged with proselytism and sentenced for three and a half years prison, a sentence which was suspended under international pressure. We trust that this consultation will help prepare us better for this major outreach opportunity.
But we are also aware that we wrestle not against flesh and blood in this part of the world. There are deeply entrenched spiritual forces supporting the status quo of division, nationalism and religiosity.
At our recent prayer summit in Delphi, in preparation for the Olympic Outreach, I believe we caught a glimpse of the awesome influence this Greek spirit has had on our world, east and west, ancient and modern – for better or for worse.
More about that next week.
Till next week,