Alison Ruth Kolosova, Tartu University (Tartu, Estonia)
Dr Alison Ruth Kolosova studied Theology at the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, before gaining her PhD at the Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, UK. Her thesis focused on Nikolai Il`minskii and the influence of Russian Orthodox missions on the cultures of the Turkic and Finno-Ugric peoples of the Mid-Volga region in the late 19th century. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Ethnology at Tartu University, Estonia where she is pursuing her research interests in the area of the inculturation of Orthodoxy among Russia’s non-Slavic peoples.
Fr. Michael Oleska, Orthodox Church in America (Anchorage, Alaska, USA)
Fr. Anastasios Elekiah Andago Kihali, Diocese of Nyeri and Mount Kenya region (Kenya)
Dr. Valentin Kozukharov, European Eparchy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (London, UK)
Fr. Ioan Sauca, World Council of Churches (Geneva, Switzerland)
Dr. Evi Voulgaraki, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (Athens, Greece)
Since its beginnings the Orthodox Church has always been a missionary Church, and the fruits of its mission are evident even in the remotest corners of the world. The Church has not always found it necessary to reflect on mission or to offer extensive missionary writings, thus leaving the study of the theology, history and praxis of mission (missiology) somewhat outside the main focus of its theological reflections. Consequently, Orthodox missiology as a theological discipline remained largely neglected until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Russian missionary revival of the nineteenth century led to missiological reflection which was partially curtailed in the early twentieth century but found continuing expression as émigré theologians and communities sought to understand their Church’s role in new homelands. An awakening of Orthodox missiology among Greek Orthodox from the mid-twentieth century has also taken place against the background of emigration and as a response to involvement in missionary situations both in the West and in regions of the world with other living religious traditions such as Africa and Asia.
The reemergence of freedom for Orthodox Churches in post-communist societies has raised missiological issues such as how to draw the unchurched back to faith in Christ, and how to relate to the religious and confessional pluralism and secularity of the twenty-first century. These different factors contributing to an awakening of Orthodox missiology have arisen at a time when other Christian confessions have faced a dramatic paradigm shift in their missionary theology and praxis in the late twentieth-century post-colonial world.
Responding to these challenges, Orthodox understanding of the “economy of the Holy Spirit” has impacted inter-faith dialogue, while the concept of the “liturgy after the liturgy” has challenged Christians to reflect on how Eucharistic worship can be lived out in the context of daily life. The term “witness” (martyria) has contributed to an understanding of Christian mission as dialogue and reconciliation rather than one-sided proselytism. Orthodox theologians have contributed to a renewed awareness of mission as something vital to the very nature of the Church as it participates in the mission of the Triune God, while their holistic understanding of salvation has challenged Christians to expand the scope of their witness to engagement with global economic, social and environmental issues.
Despite these significant contributions to contemporary theology of mission, Orthodox missiological scholarship continues to be greatly neglected. The lack of courses in Orthodox missiology at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, as well as the lack of research and faculty posts, deprives the Orthodox Church of the fruits of scholarly reflection in this vital area of its life. The Missiology Group seeks therefore to offer informed reflection on how mission and missiology are understood from an Orthodox perspective and to discuss the ways in which renewed missionary awareness and evangelistic practice can become a feature of local Orthodox churches.
This reflection on the missionary dimension of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world needs to take place alongside a re-articulation of her missionary heritage throughout history. While an incarnational understanding of the Church’s task has frequently led to commitment to use of local languages, indigenous leadership, and sensitive approaches to local cultures, the close identification of Orthodox faith and national culture means that missionary work in the context of empire has at times involved cultural imperialism and violence. The rediscovery and critical reassessment of both the strengths and shortcomings of the Orthodox Church’s missionary history would both inform and enrich contemporary missional vision, vocation, and practice, thus promoting the renewal of the Church.
The title of the Missiology Group’s prearranged panel, “Living Tradition in Local Contexts,” reflects an understanding of the apostolic faith as a Tradition that “lives” as, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is creatively received and authentically inculturated or contextualized in new cultural and social realities. The title speaks of how the Church witnesses to God’s salvific presence and action in the world through “living out” the apostolic faith in contemporary local contexts. This witness may take many forms as God’s people seek to bear witness to the gospel: prayer, worship, catechization, and education, compassionate diaconal service and social involvement, engaging with contemporary social, economic and environmental issues, dialogue and cooperation with other living faith traditions, the evangelistic use of the Internet and social media. The authentic contextualization of Orthodoxy in new cultural realities raises pressing issues such as the translation, publication, and distribution of biblical and liturgical texts in local languages, local expressions of Orthodox theology, liturgy, music, and art, the empowering of local churches through the building of high-caliber local clerical and lay leadership with missionary vision and skills.
The panel title also gives scope for discussion of important ecclesiological aspects of mission, such as how the unity and catholicity of the Church can be expressed and maintained alongside the inculturation of Orthodox Tradition in local contexts, and how the pitfalls of the colonial era can be avoided in contemporary missionary collaboration between local churches across international boundaries.
We seek to raise the profile of the study of missiology at all levels of theological education for both clergy and laity, from universities and seminaries to local diocesan and parish communities. We envisage the creation of a network of scholars and practitioners engaging in an ongoing process of dialogue and theological reflection in which the practical concerns and challenges of Orthodox mission at the grassroots level can be shared in a spirit of mutual listening and responsibility toward one another. The fruits of this dialogue can be made known to the wider Church and world through conferences and publications in order to raise awareness of the missionary dimension of the Church’s entire being and promote vision of a Church which exists not for itself, but for the life of the world. Collaboration with other IOTA groups engaging with different aspects of contemporary culture is essential, and the Missiology Group will also aim to initiate dialogue with other Orthodox organizations, educational institutions, laity, and young people seeking to evangelize in contemporary contexts.
We realize that we have much to learn from the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the areas of the inculturation of the Christian faith into indigenous contexts, dialogue with other living faiths, and engagement with issues of justice and poverty. We will also seek opportunities to contribute to ongoing missiological discussion in ecumenical contexts, both learning from the experience of other Christian communities and providing Orthodox perspectives on contemporary issues.